Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Playing God

Dear Mackenzie,

Everybody likes to play God now and again. It feels like it would be great fun to make decisions about life and death. But in the real world those decisions have consequences, so be careful what you ask for.

Many years ago I had a wonderful golden retriever named Banana.  She was my loyal companion for more than 13 years, until her death in 2000. I still miss her a lot.

When Banana got sick, the vet told me that there was a small chance that surgery might extend her life. Of course I wanted that if at all possible.  But at the same time I didn’t want her last days to be spent in an animal hospital hooked up to machines.

After consulting with several veterinary surgeons and doing much soul searching, I decided we had to try. So Banana went under the knife. The surgeon called me after the surgery and told me the operation had been successful. She predicted Banana and I could look forward to some additional quality time together in the future. The surgeon said I could come see Banana the following day, and that with any luck she would be home within the week. I was beyond relieved.

Early the next morning, however, the surgeon called again to say there had been a major complication. She explained that unless she operated again immediately Banana would not survive the day.  A number of hours later I was told Banana was again out of surgery and that I should come visit her.  But before I got there, Banana died.

Hindsight is 20/20.  Yet every once in a while I’m still tortured about my decision. Had I been selfish to have her undergo surgery? Should I have let her wonderful life end on a much more graceful note? Had I played God for her sake or mine?

Life went on, and when you were about a year old we got another golden retriever, which Jaime named Dixie.

Time went by.

Then in late October 2010 Heather noticed that Dixie was getting increasingly lethargic. We monitored her for a few days, and when she didn’t seem to be getting any better Jamie and I decided to take her to the vet as a precaution. You and Mom were living in New York at the time since you were working on “Nurse Jackie”, but no one was overly concerned.

The vet examined Dixie thoroughly and told us she was very sick and had only days to live. He said there was nothing that could be done for her, and sympathetically suggested that though the choice was ours, it might be best for Dixie if we euthanized her that day.

Only days to live? Euthanize her that day? What was he talking about? We were numb.

I called my friend Nancy who is very involved with dog rescue and knows the best vets around Los Angeles. Nancy referred me to a specialist, who in turned referred us to another specialist, but everyone said the same thing. Dixie couldn’t be saved, and a natural death from what Dixie had would be a painful one. We were fighting both the clock and Mother Nature.

With very heavy hearts, on the evening of November 1, 2010 Heather, Jamie and I took Dixie on her last car ride. Late that night, I sat in bed and wrote your mom the following email:

Hi Honey,

I didn’t want to call you because it’s almost 3:00AM in New York and hopefully you and Mackie are asleep.

Dixie went to her play date with Banana about 10PM tonight.  She seemed calm and peaceful and not at all afraid.  They laid down a blanket for her in a room and Dixie lay on it wagging her tail and happy. Heather, Jamie and I petted her and held her and kissed her until the end.

Dixie had a wonderful last couple of days.  I sense that she was happy that Heather was there, and she was showered with love from all sides.  Five or six of Jamie’s friends threw Dixie a goodbye brunch yesterday and she was the center of attention, which she loved. I think the only thing Dixie would have loved more would have been if you and Mackenzie could have been there as well.  At least she got to skype with you both.  Wait till she tells her friends in doggie heaven that she was skyping! Today she ate McDonald’s, matzo ball soup, pepperoni, and countless dog biscuits.  She was a happy girl.

You should know that Heather and Jamie were beyond courageous. I know how hard it was for me to be in the room at the end, so I can only imagine what it was for them.  But they never faltered, not for an instant.  You would have been so proud of them.  I sure was. You have raised two wonderful, amazing women and it is such a gift that I get to be part of their lives.  Heather of course wears her love on her sleeve and Jamie, for all of her gruff exterior, is remarkably profound.

The one other thing that bears saying is how proud and amazed I am by how Mackenzie handled all of this.  I was just re-reading some of her Facebook posts and it’s incredible how resilient, profound, kind, loving and wise she is for a nine year old. 

As you said, Dixie left us too soon.  She was never the most easy going dog in the world. She was not the best-trained dog. Given her temperament, she may have been better served being an only dog. And I have sometimes wondered if given our crazy lives over the past few years we didn’t make a mistake not giving her to Jenny Lee at that time. 

But all in all, Dixie was a happy dog and she had a wonderful life.  She was more bonded to you than anyone (don’t tell Heather I said that) and you rewarded her love, as you do to all whom you touch, by loving her unconditionally, and caring for her, and making her feel the gift of you in a hundred ways every day you were together.

I love you more than I can say, and I wish you were here to comfort all of us as only you can.


As it turns out, my sweet daughter, playing God is not all it’s cracked up to be.

All my everlasting love,


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