The Circle of Life


December 28, 2012. There was a dark cloud in our home. I found it hard to look at Simba that day without tearing up. So, I tried not to. I’m not good with emotions, so I tried to avoid them. I spoke to him, rubbed his head here and there, but I didn’t curl up next to him as he laid on the floor. I had done that plenty over the course of the holiday break. To do so now brought on too many difficult thoughts, so I didn’t.

Apart from that, Simba had a strange odor that day; nothing I had ever smelled before. It wasn’t a smell of being dirty or anything like that, but it was definitely unpleasant. I’ve read since then the smell has been referred to as the “death smell,” or the animal’s way of letting you know that he or she is ready to move on. I believe it.

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I’ve had Simba since I was 7 years old. I haven’t experienced a lot of loss in my life, but this one was certainly the hardest.

Driving to the vet with my mom was ominous. We barely spoke. Simba barely moved in the back seat next to the cage that contained our cat, Eli. On the radio, “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston came on. My mom quickly switched the channel. I wished she would have kept it on; that’s my favorite song by Whitney.

Once we arrived, my aunt met us there. My aunt had been there when I had first gotten him when I was 7 years old. It was fitting that she be there for the end. I carried Simba inside, since his legs had been weak for some time. His fur got all over my wool coat. I had a thought then that it would be really difficult to get off, but I didn’t really care. We waited in the waiting room for a few minutes before being taken into one of the operating rooms. We decided to let Simba walk around in the small room while we waited for the vet. Eli walked along with him. My mom and aunt spoke to one another, but I didn’t really say much. I didn’t know what to say. I just watched Simba.

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Simba would be 17 years old April 28, 2013.

Eventually, the vet came in to give him a sedative. Again, we let him walk around the room while she went to get the last of her materials. He walked. He walked some more. And he continued walking. Until, suddenly, his legs didn’t seem to work anymore. Before he knew what was happening, he lost his balance and slid to the floor. Eli ran into his cage and hid.

The whole time we had been there, I hadn’t said much. I hadn’t cried. I just watched him. But the moment — the moment — he fell to the floor, it clicked for me. This was it. In just a few moments, he would never look at me again. He’d never give me “nose,” our little version of a kiss when his nose touched mine. He’d never lay in bed next to me, as he did when he and I were younger and he had the strength to jump in and out of my bed as he pleased. He’d never bark at one of my friends or family members to “protect me,” as he used to when someone would pretend to shove me just to test how protective of me he truly was. In a few moments, Simba was leaving me for good.

I broke down.

I leaned over him, I held him though he was falling blissfully into a sleep, and I screamed at him not to leave me. I cried for him to stay, I begged him to, I told him I didn’t want him to go. I couldn’t say goodbye yet. He may have been ready to go, but I wasn’t ready for him to leave me. I didn’t want to do this without him. My mom and aunt told me he wasn’t going anywhere just yet, since it was only a sedative, but that didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t begging him to stay because I thought he had died; I was begging him to stay because I knew he wasn’t going to stand up ever again.

The vet returned and I lifted my sleeping dog onto the metal operating table. By now my mom, my aunt and I were soaked in tears. Simba’s chest continued to rise and fall as he laid peacefully on the table. He laid on his side, feet directed at the vet. I stood behind him, rubbing his chest. My mom stood in front of his face, speaking softly to him in his happy slumber. My aunt stood away from the table and watched. Eli was hiding still in his cage. The vet injected the needle into Simba’s leg. I continued to hold onto him, rubbing him softly on his chest. I didn’t say much, though. I had already said enough.

His ribs expanded and contracted as usual. His breathing continued, chest rising and falling underneath my grasps. And then, suddenly, it stopped. He just … stopped breathing. He was still as stone beneath my hands. He moved no more.

I’ll never forget that moment. I remember my reaction as clear as yesterday. I remember being confused, wondering why he wasn’t breathing anymore. I remember my eyes going wide and my breath being caught in my throat.

I’ll never forget that moment. I remember my jaw dropping as I moved my hands around his chest, desperately trying to find some sign that he was still alive. I remember frantically searching for his heartbeat, but coming up empty.

“He’s gone,” the vet said.

I’ll never forget that moment. I remember I couldn’t breathe, either. I remember the tears that fell out of my eyes, flooding my cheeks as I sobbed uncontrollably. I remember I wailed with a pain I had never known before. I remember I threw myself over my dog, my Simba, and held onto him helplessly.  I remember how hard I cried, how long I held onto him.

I’ll never forget that moment. I’ll never forget it because, for the first time in my entire life, I held onto Simba and he didn’t hold onto me.

It’s been almost four months since I’ve said goodbye to my best friend of 16 years. Almost four months, yet I still hurt like it was yesterday. On the 28th of this month, Simba would have been 17.

They say the bond a man shares with his dog is one that you have to experience to understand, but they don’t tell you about the pain of losing that bond. As someone who grew up with my dog, saying goodbye to him shortly after Christmas felt cruel. I understood that he had aged beyond the point of good health, but I suppose I never thought the day would come where I actually needed to let him go.

Then, it did. And I’ve never cried more in my life.

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