Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A Long Goodbye


A Long Goodbye

This afternoon my dog is sitting next to my computer, his usual place.  His breathing is shallow and too rapid.  I’m awaiting the latest test results from my veterinarian.  Sterling is fifteen and a half, ninety in human years.  His spleen is enlarged.  He’s on steroids for kidney disease and atrophied leg muscles, and is prone to debilitating diarrhea.  He almost died when I was vacationing at Christmas.  So I wait for the phone to ring as if knowing his kidney values and red blood count can prepare my heart for the fact that he is dying.  Not today, not tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe…the truth is I don’t know when.  And the not knowing has me wrapped in worry, running like a hamster in an exercise ball, spinning pointless circles, crashing into walls, completely without direction.  I’d like to find the right direction.  Any direction, for that matter, that can bring me into the present. 
Even though it won’t add a day to my life, and even though Jesus promises that like the lilies of the field, I will have everything I need, I spend a lot of time worrying about the future.  Planning for the future.  I have airline tickets purchased for travel through August and events on the calendar in October.  I like to know what’s going to happen and when.  On the up side, to the world, I appear highly organized.  On the inside, I fear that my incessant planning and future orientation is nothing more than an attempt to buy insurance against repeating a past where chaos felt palpable and imminent.  When I was a child I couldn’t control the big things, like whether or not my parents were going to stay married.  And I couldn’t stop either my stepmother or stepfather from running away without saying goodbye to me.  I exercised the little power I had over the small things.  I finished my homework, folded my laundry, and packed tuna sandwiches for lunch.
So now, I return to the small things.  I boil pork and potatoes for my dog, who after a lifetime of kibble has said, No More.  If one of the few pleasures in his life is eating, I’ll gladly feed him something that doesn’t smell like stale bread and look like dirt clods.  I cook.  I wash urine-soiled towels, the result of his new incontinence. And I vacuum, taking great satisfaction in sucking wads of fluffy white fur into the machine.  Dishes, towels, floors are clean.  There is order and control, and my mind is less easily cast into the future when I’m scrubbing my pressure cooker, than when I’m not occupied with concrete tasks.
Night falls; Sterling’s breathing becomes more labored, his pain and fatigue evident.  The veterinarian gave me bad news this evening.  Kidney failure, worse than we thought.  I ask how long, and she is noncommittal.  She is not God, but gives me advice reminiscent of Jesus’ words; No one knows the hour or the day and a twelve-step bumper sticker, One day at a time.  “When Sterling’s bad days outnumber the good,” she says, not finishing the sentence.  I call my daughters, away at college, ask if they’d like to come home this weekend to say goodbye. 
I can’t sleep these days, anxious about my dog.  I’m afraid to leave him.  He’s always been nervous, and his separation anxiety has been manifesting in physical symptoms (loss of appetite and bloody diarrhea) that at this stage could kill him.  It’s not that I need to be with him every moment, or that I feel obligated to orchestrate the moment of his demise so that I am there.  He could slip away while I’m at the grocery store or the chiropractor and I wouldn’t hold myself responsible.  But weeks of out of state travel loom large beginning the end of this month.  I have made commitments, paid fees.  I’m supposed to follow the plan.  This is why I’m fretful.  I am torn.  The part of me who plans against bad things happening, is afraid I can’t cancel, that to be responsible I need to show up and do what I’ve said, or I’ll disappoint people, perhaps alienate them.  But much more of me has a different need.  I want to be present for this daily long goodbye.  I don’t want to board a plane and let someone else, even someone I trust, shepherd my dog through his last days. Some people might say he’s just a dog.  They’re right.  He is simply a dog.  My dog.  For thirteen years he’s been part of my life, and it hasn’t been an easy road.  His nervous anxiety, stroke, rattlesnake bite, have challenged and shaken me.  His sweet nature, exuberance, genuine affection and smile—really he smiles—have filled our home with love. 
I toss and turn until I allow love to rule.  I will choose being with him over any other commitment.  Finally, I can rest.  I close my eyes, and I focus my thoughts on Sterling lying on the floor at the foot of the bed.  With each breath I wish him love and light. My he be bathed and swaddled in light and love.  I relax and drift to sleep knowing it is my great privilege to take this journey with him.

9 comments:

Kristin said...

D.O.G. died in my arms... the vet couldn't tell us "when", but I knew the moment had arrived when it finally did and I held him until he expelled his last breath.

it's almost been three years since that day and I can still well up with tears at the thought of not having him. The remedy? There is no remedy for letting go - we each have to accomplish for ourselves what is needed to move on.... to move past the pain.

Sterling has had a MAGNIFICENT home for more than 15 years... let that FACT warm your heart when nothing else seems to work.

I love you.
Kristin

Tarah said...

The journey you travel with Sterling is indeed a sacred one for which you are privileged to sojourn. So seldom do we allow ourselves to experience the gift in the midst of our grief--yet, through this story you have done just that. Beautiful.
Tarah Trueblood

Swaziland 2009 VIM said...

With you in thought and prayer,
Becky

Wade Huntsinger said...

Just happened across your story and I too am facing the fact of my dog Benji at around 15 starting to show the signs. It's only been a few weeks now but he is becoming very clingy. When I take him out he is like a pup for he loves the snow. It's hard not knowing when, but we don't even know when our time is up.

Amy Spears said...

What a heartbreaking and touching story! A dog is never a dog when he is part of your family... we love our dogs like they are our children. I wish you peace and tranquility during this time of pain.

Paladin Accounts said...

what a sad story. . =(

YuFu said...

I am very sorry about that. When the pet became our part of family, we cannot regard it as a animal. We treat them as our family member. Humans and animals have their life.We cannot stop the time and keep our life forever but can keep our beautiful memory forever. If your dog can feel your love, that is the best thing for him.

mj said...

Your dog is so cute. But is so sad to know that he is gone. So sad :(



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Wynn Bexton said...

It is always so sad to have these heartwrenching decisions to make about our dear pets. They are so much a part of our lives and familes. I felt tears when I read this. Rest in Peace dear puppy dog.