I didn’t really like you much when you first came to live with us. You were annoying and disruptive to my peaceful existence. The house was all mine after Fred died. At times, it might have been a little lonely but I really didn’t mind. It isn’t easy growing old. I was 13 and a half when you arrived and my bones ached, my insides didn’t work right and I had to take pills with my food. One day, you’ll understand how it feels.
As obnoxious as you were, I have to admit that you brought me back to my days as a young pup. I guess it was fun romping at the beach with you and taking your chew toys. I give you credit, as much as I tried to intimidate you, you never gave up trying to make me your friend. Thank you for that.
You’re looking good, kid. A solid 77 lbs, you’re probably full grown. I bet you’re finally neutered, too. Now that you’re all grown up, you need to know what’s expected of you:
Bark at strangers. It’s your number one job. Heck, bark at everyone. It’s hard to know whose strange and who isn’t.
Walk in front of Mom. You’re there to protect her no matter what she says.
Always, always be the first one in the car so you don’t get left behind!
Cuddle often. It’s the only reason Mom lets you on the big bed.
When you have to go number 2, go off the trail so Mom doesn’t have to pick it up (even though she does anyway).
Eat fast. Someone might take it from you.
If Mom gets the watering hose, RUN!!
Practice your “sad puppy” look. You’ll get more treats.
Chew the furniture. You’ll get more toys.
Give lots of hugs and kisses. Mom will give them back.
It took two of us, both Fred and I, to take care of Mom. It’s up to you now, kid. If you need some help, just look at our pictures on the mantle and we’ll help you figure out what to do.
Looking back, I guess it’s a good thing Mom got you when she did.
It’s been two months that Fred’s been gone. People asked me how Ethel would be as an “only dog”. I thought for sure she would relish the opportunity to have ALL the attention. After all, she LOVES being petted and won’t let you stop once you start.
Occasionally, I’ve brought her to work with me and my co-workers seem to enjoy having her around. She doesn’t make trouble and stays in my office. I’m not sure she enjoys it though. When we go to leave, she can’t get out the door fast enough.
The past few years, I’ve asked neighbors and friends in similar situations how their surviving pet was after losing the other. I often heard that they didn’t want to have another dog brought into their home… the surviving dog didn’t want another dog. Ok, in both instances an animal psychic was involved.
So, I wondered, “Does Ethel want to be an only dog for a while? Or, is she lonely?”
We visited my parents for Easter and Ethel loved having us around all day. She especially loved the hike that was part mud and part snow. She even joined Coal and Jemma – her canine cousins – swimming in the cold stream running by.
Now that we’re home and she’s alone every day, I wonder if she misses having another dog around. Is she depressed? Is she lonely?
A week ago, she stopped eating and had little energy. I took her to the vet and for $185 I learned she had an upset stomach and got some pills that I had to bribe her to take. She’s better now but drinking a lot of water and having accidents in her bed.
Fred has stopped eating, except for a treat now and then. I think he knows that was the sign I needed to let go. He has no control of eliminations but it is mostly liquid now. Thank goodness for pee pads.
As I contemplated what to do, a friend suggested I talk with Fred about it. It is so simple. Talk to Fred. So, we talked. Ethel and I talked, too. After all, we’re in this together. That’s when Fred stopped eating. He still sleeps peacefully most of the time but he is wasting away, so skinny.
I called Doctor Jason from Lap of Love. He is amazingly understanding and compassionate as I deliberate over when to help Fred pass. What else would one expect from hospice, a hospice for pets. How cool is that?
Music has kept me company the past couple weeks. As we move into this coming week, I want to share words from a song by Sara Bareilles that will be comforting me and giving me the courage to let go:
So, here we go, Bluebird. Gather your strength and rise up. Oh, let him go, Bluebird. Ready to fly, you and I. Here we go…
After I made the decision to cancel our appointment with Dr. Jason from Lap of Love, Ethel and I went to the store to pick up some pee pads and a new, more decorative stand for the food bowls. It is easier for Fred to have his food raised off the ground. But I refused to pay $30 for a stand so I taped a plastic crate to a box and covered it with a plastic yellow tablecloth. The black wire stand is much nicer and worth the money. We’re starting fresh.
It was the right decision, cancelling the appointment. We spent the day cleaning up, laundering dog beds and towels, and enjoying a beautiful afternoon. Fred even got a sponge bath. Later, we watched Sunday’s episode of Downton Abbey. Wouldn’t you know it, Lord Grantham’s dog, Isis, is sick! I’m glad I didn’t watch it on Sunday.
Most of all, I feel calmer. Fred and Ethel must feel calmer, too. It’s like a storm was heading right at us and took an unexpected turn away at the last minute. The clouds have passed and a new day is dawning; a new day for all of us.
We had such a good night last night. Fred slept peacefully on his bed. He doesn’t seem to be in pain and he is still enjoying his food so much. I made eggs this morning and we enjoyed them together.
Would it be so terrible to postpone the inevitable? Would you, my readers and friends, feel led on, duped, to have made your sympathies in vain? This is such a struggle. But, you know that.
I’ve felt you, an army of friends, wrap your arms around us and send your love. You share your experiences of saying goodbye to beloved companions and empathize with my pain. You tell me “You’re doing the right thing” or “It’s time” or “You don’t want to wait too long.” Words of encouragement and support.
I know that either way, I’m making a good choice. A friend told me that today as I shared my anguish about moving forward.
The thing is that he still eats! And, drinks! He still wants to go out for walks and sometimes he even makes it past the driveway. And, he sleeps. He sleeps so soundly. He doesn’t seem to be in pain. Am I just rushing this for my own comfort? So I don’t have to get up in the night? So I don’t have to clean up his messes? So I no longer smell his incontinence in my skin and clothing?
Nature will take it’s course. And, while I wish for a natural death, I know I may have to intervene. But, not today.
In the wild, Fred would have been taken by some predator by now. But he isn’t wild. He’s a pet; a domesticated, mixed breed dog. It falls to us to help them find their way to peace in a painless, humane act of selflessness.
I sit watching him, lovingly rubbing his beautiful fur and thick soft ears. He sleeps so deeply, oblivious to the tears rolling down my cheeks. His legs start to twitch, he grunts and his eyes move back and forth. He’s off in dreamland, chasing rabbits, enjoying the fresh air of an open meadow. He’s free. Free of the limitations of his body. Free of pain. Free of the awareness that things aren’t the same anymore.
There is a checklist one can take to determine quality of life that measures mobility, nutrition, hydration, interaction, elimination and his interest level in his favorite things. Fred scores pretty well, just above euthanasia. He still eats his food – it takes more than one sitting – and drinks lots of water. I wish he would stop eating, stop trying to please me. That would be a true sign that I’m doing the right thing. All I have to do is watch him struggle out of his urine soaked bed, attempt to leap the step that isn’t there and I know what has to be done.
The clock showed 5:00 a.m. Fred had been struggling in the other room. I’d heard him sliding around on the floor but my sleep was too hard and my dreams had kept me from waking. Pulling myself out from under the warm covers, I find him stuck in the hall, the carpet runners pushed up against the wall. He is wet and when I pick him up, his legs won’t hold him. Mopping up the mess, I am sad; not angry, not frustrated, not afraid. Just sad.
We go back to bed for just a little more sleep, a little more respite from the struggle of consciousness.
Fred won’t wake up for our morning walk so Ethel and I head out. I realize that this is how it’s going to be from now on, just the two of us. Our friends on the trail ask “where’s your other one?” I just reply, “He’s home today.” Soon, I’ll say something else.
Breakfast is only appealing to Ethel today. She must know what’s going on. It’s the natural cycle of life and death. You can’t have one without the other.
It is a beautiful day and the sun is shining brightly. It will be nice for Fred to spend some time outside in the sun. I’ll give him a sponge bath and get him clean for his “dad’s” visit. We’ll try to eat again. And, we’ll sleep again, escaping the sadness and pain. Another day closer to heaven.
From the day we arrive on the planet And blinking, step into the sun
There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round
It’s the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life
We went for our walk tonight. Fred had spunk, his ears flopping with each step. “He’s doing really well tonight,” I thought. “Maybe Tuesday is too soon?” I shined the flashlight back on him to show him the way. First telephone pole. He was keeping up at a good pace. Ethel and I kept going. Fred lingered to smell a branch that had fallen in the wind. “Come on, Buddy. Keep coming.” Second telephone pole. Fred’s back legs were beginning to scrape. The rain wetting our faces. Third telephone pole – time to turn around. The scar on the top of his paw broke open with a bubble of red blood starting to flow. “Okay, Fred. Let’s get you home.”
Walking backwards, I watched Fred carefully as we made our way home. He stumbled off the curb and into the street. His vision is getting worse, evidenced by the milky cataracts forming in his eyes. I wonder what he thinks and feels. Is he ready to leave this world, be relieved of the pain and discomfort, stop fighting such a good fight? He is my cherished companion and forever friend.
I can’t help but think “just 5 days more…” but I don’t want to do that. I want to live in the now and cherish every moment that I have with Fred and with Ethel. We don’t know what the future holds and there is no sense worrying about it. I feel the same about regretting past mistakes. It’s a waste of energy. All we have, the best we have, is to live each day as it comes; awake, alive and ever present to where it takes us.
Fred had a good night last night. He slept until 4am. The night before, we were up 3 times to go outside. Sometimes he can get up on his own and other times he needs a little help. I have to be careful how I lift him or I will squeeze the pee out of him. I know, it sounds gross. I’m no stranger anymore to cleaning up messes. It makes me think about what caregivers go through with aging loved ones. It is easy to get resentful when our lives are consumed by taking care of someone else. Chaplain Michael Byrd says, “Our greatest frustrations come from unmet expectations.” So, we just need to change our expectations. And, remember to take care of ourselves. And, cherish every moment we have with those we love.
I have a book of letters written by people to their dogs. Starting this blog at this time, it seems right to begin with a letter to my boy, Fred. In a week, we’ll be saying goodbye.
Dear Fred, my loving boy.
We’re almost at the end of our time together in this life. Still, your fur is such a creamy white and so super soft. Just the other night, three ladies adored you as you walked to them in the dark. They don’t know how you struggle to make your legs work or how they give out when you stand too long. You are so good at hiding your pain and the embarrassment when your bladder gives way before we make it outside. Someone suggested that you know I’m not ready to let go and so you keep it from me how much you hurt.
Was Ella right when she said your bunny like ears stand out so you can hear us better? Now, you fear the step on the curb that you can’t seem to see anymore. Sleep is interrupted by uncontrolled movement of your bowel and you slip and slide instead of getting up on your feet. It’s time, isn’t it?
We made it through this past year. You made it through, with me, knowing how much I needed you. It’s okay now, Fred. I’m better now and it’s time to think of you. I thought you’d tell me when it was time but I guess I have to be the one to decide. Only a pup like you would give such love to a person like me. I’ve loved you so much.
We’re a family – you, me and Ethel. She and I will miss you terribly. Our memories of being together for so long and through so many good and challenging times will fill our hearts forever. For the rest of our time together, we’ll just love and cherish each other and make more memories to fill the void that will be there without you. My sweet, sweet boy. I love you and will miss you.