It’s been two years, two months and 12 days, and I still can’t get over you. Every inch of my life was colored with your presence and energy, and even though I’ve tried so hard to move on, I really haven’t. I tried to fill the void with life — two puppies, cuz it was a really BIG void — and that just made me miss you more. I see your picture every time I log into my computer, and its as large as life. I think about you every day. I miss your Woo-ness every day. And it takes next to nothing and the tears still fall. I never believed in the whole “one true love” thing –the “one” you never get over. Who knew that my soul mate would be a dog.
How can it be that an entire year has passed since I said good-bye to my Rio and kissed her lifeless body farewell? I don’t understand that the world didn’t just quit spinning the second my heart shattered into pieces. And while I miss my girl with a pain beyond belief, life has managed to keep marching on. The sun keeps rising and setting, and the days keep coming and going. And I think, one of these days, I will start to feel alive again. One of these days, I won’t feel the sting of tears when I speak her name. One of these days, I won’t feel the familiar ache in my throat when I try to speak about a memory of her. One of these days, I won’t look for her when I come home. And one of these days, I’ll be able to reconcile the guilt of feeling like I didn’t do enough or perhaps I did too much. One of these days, I’ll put the pieces of my floundering life back together and stop trying to fill the hole in my heart she left behind.
One of these days…. Just not today. Today, I have given myself permission to wallow a bit. To fully feel the sadness and grief, and just miss her… Tomorrow, I can resume the effort, but today… Today I just gotta get through it…
Rest in peace, my heart, my Woo, my Rio-girl.
4/2000 – 1/20/2012
As a final chapter to Rio’s blog, I wanted to say thank you so much to my Tripawds pals who’ve been so supportive through both my Rio Journey and the personal losses that my family has faced, as well. As I wrap this up, I thought I’d share a final dog-related story with you.
My father-in-law lost his lengthy battle with cancer on May 15th. He’d been in and (briefly) out of the hospital for over three weeks with complications from his radiation treatments last summer. During the course of the hospital stay, his short term memory had gotten pretty spotty, and you never really knew for certain if he understood much of anything from one moment to another.
My mother-in-law had spoken with hospice folks to see if we could bring him home, and they had recommended giving him a goal to work towards. On that final Sunday afternoon (Mother’s Day), we had reminded him several times of his role in my nephew’s senior project, and how he was counting on his Grandpa to help him finish. He’d answered appropriately when asked about the project and why he needed to go home, but it seemed to me his heart wasn’t really in it — like he knew that it wasn’t going to happen. At one point, somewhat out of the blue, he said he needed to go home so he could see Jackson, my in-laws’ little Cocker Spaniel. My mother-in-law repeated this story to the nurse on duty, who told us that if we waited until just before 9:00 PM, when the front desk closed down, we could sneak him in the back way and bring him up for a visit. She told us to just say he was a service dog if anyone asked.
As the afternoon wore on that day, it was pretty clear that Dad was failing. We kept trying to buoy him up by telling him that Jackson was coming, and he just needed to wait a little longer. By 7:00, his pain was increasing, and we weren’t sure that he would be able to hold on very much longer, so we sent my husband and his sister to pick him up. While we waited, I kept telling him Jackson was coming, and once Dad had visited with him, the nurses would come and give him his pain meds, and then he could sleep. I felt though, when I said this, that he understood that I meant it would be alright to leave us altogether.
When my husband brought the little dog into the hospital room, and set him in Dad’s lap, there was an immediate recognition, a big smile. He said, “Jackson,” and it was the first time all day that he’d really recognized anyone. He asked if he could give Jackson a kiss… He fed little Jacky several cookies and gave him a kiss, and then he said, “I’m done.” My husband picked up the dog and headed toward the door, and as he walked away, his father’s eyes dilated and fixed on a place somewhere across the room. Although he lived for two more days, he never came back to us after that moment.
I had the honor of being next to his bed, along with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and niece, when he took his final breaths. We held his hands and sent him on his way with so very much love. After he was gone, we all kissed him goodbye, and as I did, I told him that Rio was waiting for him and she would take care of him for us. Even though I’m one of those people who doesn’t really believe in an afterlife, it still makes me feel better to think that somewhere Rio is bringing her grandpa a ball to throw for her.
We don’t know which day it was, but sometime, some sweet day in this little window of time twelve years ago, my Rio was born. She was a small miracle, although the family into which she was born didn’t see her in that light. And I had no idea, on that day, just how much my life would change in just 7 or 8 short weeks.
And although she’s not here to celebrate her birthday, the resilience and stoicism that she faced her cancer with have remained. She taught me about strength, about continually moving forward, about taking the cards that I’m dealt and making the most of them. She taught me about unconditional devotion, love and loyalty, and how even when dealing with a sh!tty situation like cancer, there can be good that comes from it. And the good stuff remains, long after the storm is over.
So, wherever you are today, take a moment and remember Rio. I know I will, but then I do that every day….
I’ve decided that dogs are the lucky ones. When we got Rio’s cancer diagnosis (the first time), I felt sick, scared, chewed up inside as if the very disease were eating away at me. She didn’t. She didn’t hear the doctors words. She just checked her for treats — thrilled when they materialized, and demanding when they didn’t. Her only concern through all of her treatments was whether she was getting her fair share of love and cookies. Not to gloss over her battle, yes, she had days of pain with the surgeries, and there were days where she was under-the-weather with the radiation and chemo, but she never had the despair of knowing that inside her the cancer was gathering strength for a new assault.
As a person, to hear the words, “you have cancer,” is devastating. Suddenly, you are thinking “oh, god, I’m gonna die.” Then every twinge you feel, every ache or pain, you wonder, is that the cancer? And if it is, how much longer do I have?
Before you start being concerned that I’m speaking from personal experience, I am, but it’s not me who has cancer. My father-in-law (whom I wrote about in my I HATE CANCER rant a while back) has waged a long and challenging battle with prostate cancer which was first diagnosed back in 1995. After surgery, he was in remission for a number of years, but had it resurface 7 or 8 years ago. He was able to get into a drug trial for a novel therapy about 6 years ago, one that my husband had been instrumental in the early-stage development of (not a coincidence). Obviously, the treatment was considered a success, since he was given that much extra time. But the cancer has reared it’s ugly head again — in his pelvis, ribs, spine, and skull, as well as his bladder and colon.
We visited with my in-laws over the holidays, knowing that this will likely be our last with Dad. And we made the 500 mile trek again a couple of weeks ago to celebrate his 83 birthday. The difference in his condition in 6 weeks was alarming. He was in a great deal of pain, and he was scared. He’d been feeling fine, he said, up until a day or so after we arrived, and then his condition seemed to deteriorate overnight. Both he and my mother-in-law were terrified by how quickly things had gone downhill. Both spoke of how they weren’t prepared, and that it had happened so suddenly. As a caretaker, I could empathize with her fear, but I was having a hard time getting my brain around how scary it must be for Dad. Rio had taken everything in stride, had never once been concerned about her eminent death and the enormity of what that meant to those of us around her. I kept thinking of the phrase, “be more dog,” and I wondered how we, being the cerebral creatures we are, can really do that. How can we put aside the fear and really focus on living each moment? Is this even possible? And how can I convey this sentiment to someone faced with the finiteness of their own life without sounding cliche and even callous?
In order for me to “be more dog,” I think I would probably need a lobotomy… I’m one who overthinks everything. The phrases ad infinitum and ad nauseum were invented for folks like me (as demonstrated by the length of my blog post). I would literally have to be unconscious not to think about life and death and grief and pain and how to cope with these. Dogs are oblivious to this metaphysical conundrum. I’m not saying that dogs are not conscious of death. I truly believe that death does affect them on an emotional level. Tosca and Zephyr have both been grieving the loss of Rio in their own peculiar ways. (You can say that it’s simply a reflection of how I’ve been feeling, but I would point to evidence to the contrary.) It’s just that dogs don’t hear the doctor when he says, “you have six months to a year,” and this is something which, when heard, can’t be forgotten. Dogs don’t understand what the word “metastasis” means — they don’t process the fact that the cancer is devouring them, one cell at time, and that at some point it will be excruciatingly painful as it does. They have no idea how scary it can be to face your own mortality, and the feeling of helplessness that goes hand-in-hand. They will never be fully conscious of the fact that every day takes you closer to losing someone you love, which, to me, is even more terrifying. And for that, they are so very lucky…
Today… this day, one year in the past… It was a scary, scary day and I cried so many tears. But because I was brave enough to go forward with Rio’s surgery, instead of the 6 weeks to 2 months the oncologist said I’d be lucky to get, I got 11 months, 1 week and 5 days. Those days were filled with ups and downs, good times and bad, but we made the most of them. We shared smiles and tears, sometimes both at the same time. We fell, but then picked ourselves up and kept going.
In the last year of Rio’s life, I think we squeezed in more adventures and more living than we did in the first 11. We took more photos. We shared more ice cream and hamburgers. We went to the beach. We snuggled on the couch. I learned not to take even a brief moment for granted. You’ve got time for one more ear skritchy, one more nose smooch, one more belly rub and one more “I love you.” Take advantage of that time, because life is capricious and there are no guarantees.
To celebrate her life, her spirit and her memory, I made a video scrapbook of my girl. I hope it makes you smile as much as she did me!
I went to “Rio’s beach” this afternoon on my way home from a job. It was the beach where we had her photoshoot at the beginning of December, and it was the beach where we would occasionally sneak off to for a little “Rio and me” time. We’d sit in the sand and watch the birds and sniff the air. Today was my first visit to the beach without Rio, and naturally I was feeling a little sad and I was really missing her, so I asked her to send me a sign. I told her I needed to see her and I needed her to show me she was still here.
The tide was going out and the beach stretched out further into the water than normal. I kept walking out towards the water, and everything on the beach was the usual beach stuff. Clam shells, oyster shells, seagulls, driftwood, ravens, seaweed… Nothing out of the ordinary at all. I told her I needed to see something that wasn’t supposed to be there, something completely out of the ordinary. I got to the water’s edge and stood there, the seagulls and ravens arguing over the surf, and still everything was completely normal…. I was starting to get sad because the “sign” wasn’t materializing and I realized I was probably just being silly, so I decided it was probably time to go home. I turned back towards my car — and instead of shells, there, in the sand were ….. golf balls…. not one, not two, more than a dozen of them, more than would fit into two of my jacket pockets… I just started laughing. My Rio always did have a crazy sense of humor….
A footnote: I counted the golf balls when I got them home — 20 white ones and 1 yellow… I wonder what she means by that!!!
It’s been a week since we said good-bye to our girl. And there hasn’t been a moment that I don’t miss her.
I’ve been without her for longer periods of time, but never here, never in this house. She’s always been here, a permanent fixture as much as the the walls and windows. She was here for the building of this house, the moving in and furnishing of the rooms. (She even christened the sub-floors in a couple of spots before she knew better.) Her presence is everywhere… But she’s not in all of the usual places. She’s not lying on one of the beds that we’d strategically placed for her to lay on. She doesn’t pop her little face around the corner of the kitchen cabinets with an expectant look on her face whenever I’m in there. She’s not waiting for me outside the bathroom door because it’s right next to the “magic cupboard,” and since she’s here she might as well have a cookie. She doesn’t follow me up and down the stairs 9 times in a row because she might miss out on what momma is doing. She doesn’t curl into the bend of my knees to keep herself warm at night.
It seems the only solution to my eyes’ constant search for her is to get out of the house, leave, go anywhere but here. And yet, in the car I still search the rearview mirror for a glimpse of her face, and my heart hurts as I pass the places that she loved: the park, the beach, the ice cream store…
But even with the current pain and grief, I know that it won’t always feel this bad. I am searching my memories, even now, for a smile that she gave me. She left me with so many smiles. I just have to remember to look for them.
So many words are bouncing around in my brain right now, but not many of them are making any sense at all. But I want to write this now, while it’s all still fresh in my mind, so that I can remember it later exactly how I remember it now.
Since my last post, Rio’s condition had steadily declined. In the evenings, she’d always just lay next to me on the couch, snoozing comfortably, but in the last few days, she’d been unable to really get comfortable. Her breathing had gotten a little more wheezy and shallow, and she’d cough after any level of exertion. But what really told me it was time was the fact that she rarely lit up anymore. I loved walking into a room and seeing her, because she’d always look like “HEY, IT’S YOU!!!!” The face that greeted me was always so happy, and in the last week I had rarely seen it. She perked up a bit when I mentioned going for a buh-bye or when I brought out the very favorite orange and blue rubber Chuck-it balls, but there was mostly no light.
I’d been thinking we were getting close… and I had spoken with her doctors about “the plan.” But part of me wanted so badly for her to keep fighting. I couldn’t really admit to myself just how much more tired and uncomfortable she was. I was still hoping she’d rally…
Wednesday, we had quite a bit of snow, and she was excited to go and catch snowballs, but after about 3 or 4, she was tired and didn’t want to play any more. I had to run over to her doctor’s house to pick up a box of Trilostane, and so she had a chance to take a look at Rio and see her in action. That day, she was almost crouching on her back leg as she hopped, because she was so tired. But the crazy girl kept going, kept running up to people and checking them for treats (there were a group of neighbor kids sledding in Dr. Rachel’s yard because she had the only good hill in the neighborhood, and Rio had to sniff them all). I finally put her back in the truck to rest while I finished talking with her doctor.
The next morning, Rio woke us before the crack of dawn coughing and vomiting, but then with a little coaxing, she ate breakfast, and by the afternoon, she seemed pretty normal again. She ate her lunch without any encouragement, and also her dinner. Even “second dinner” was eaten with some enthusiasm. But she wasn’t comfortable. She was restless, and having trouble finding a position that she could relax in. She moved from the couch to the floor, and then a few minutes later would ask to get back on the couch. This went on most of the evening. I chalked it up to a little too much exercise the day before and the fact that I hadn’t given her any of her meloxicam. (Her doctor and I had talked about moving to Rimadyl or other NSAID because it didn’t seem like the meloxicam was doing anything for her. But to do that, Rio needed to be off the meloxicam for 2-3 days.)
When Rio woke us Friday morning, again before daylight, coughing, gagging and vomiting, and refused her breakfast (this time no amount of coaxing could get her to touch it), I knew… If you could have seen her face… she just looked beaten, worn out, exhausted. I called her doctor and told her that Rio was finished fighting, and that it was time for her to rest. She sounded almost as heartbroken as I felt, and she said she’d come when she got off work.
I had wanted to take Rio out for one last adventure in her “Ride,” but the weather Friday was dreadful. It was literally pouring rain, and all the beautiful white snow was turning into sloppy, slushy, ankle-deep muck. But we could go for a ride in the Expedition, and so I loaded the girls in the back and drove around Kingston. While I was driving, I was trying to think of things that Rio loved that we could squeeze in on such a foul and stormy day. She loves ice cream, but the place that gave her the free ice cream this summer was closed for the winter season. The other place that we used to go was also closed until the end of January for some remodeling or something. I didn’t feel up to facing a bunch of people at the burger place either (no drive-through window), so I just made a quick stop at the grocery store, bought some hamburger and vanilla ice cream, and then we drove home.
We had wanted to bury her in my veggie garden because she loved to hang out with me there when I worked, however the ground was so saturated that the hole kept filling up with water, and there was no way I could put my girl into that cold brown water. I decided then to let the doctor take Rio’s body with her…
Shortly after we got home, a friend came over to say goodbye to Rio. Tosca and Zephyr were also very excited to see her, and they kept crowding between her and Rio. I finally gave them each a Chuck-it ball so that they would chill, and Allie could give Rio some loves. But Rio wanted her ball, too. She laid on the floor and tossed her ball to me and then to Allie, over and over, just as happy as could be. When Allie left, I made a special homemade “flying dutchman” on the grill, and while they were cooking, I fed the girls some ice cream.
And then Dr. Rachel arrived… Rio finished her burger and asked to get up on the couch, where she promptly went to sleep. We talked for a while, remembering funny stories about the Woo, about how she got her name, about the day I brought her home, about her unwavering ability to poop where ever she went, regardless of how many times she’d already gone that day. Dr. Rachel cried with us as she explained what she would be doing. And then she administered the sedative. Within just a few minutes, Rio visibly started relaxing. And that was the point at which I knew unequivocally that I was doing the right thing for her. Just seeing her so at peace, so restful after so much struggle and fight — that helped assuage my fears and doubts.
I kissed her sweet face and breathed in her Woo scent, trying to memorize the feel of her, the smell of her, telling her all the while how much I loved her, how sweet she was, how there would never be another dog like her, how lucky I was to have had her in my life. I told her now it was time to rest. She was very tired from her long fight, and now she she didn’t need to fight any more. She was so strong, such a warrior. And then we kissed her goodbye. And then we wrapped her up in a little brown blanket, and inside that bundle with her tired, battle-scarred body was my heart.
I slept badly last night, awakening frequently and spending hours staring out the window into the night. I watched the sun come up this morning with Zephyr spooned tightly against me, softly running my fingers through her silky curls and wishing, wishing that it was Rio’s softness and warmth just one more time….
Yesterday, we found out what was causing Zephyr’s (and to some degree, Tosca’s) incessant chewing and scratching… Yeah, my favorite: fleas. So, I dropped everything and bathed three dogs, washed several loads of bedding (both doggie and people) and vacuumed the entire house. The ironic part of the story is that I didn’t find a single flea on either Tosca or Zephyr, even though I looked and looked, both before, during and after their baths. When they both started scratching and chewing on themselves after we got home from Oregon, that was the first thing I did — look for fleas. Nothing. Absolutely not a single flea, no flea dirt, no sign, no nothing. Instead, I was sitting next to my sweet Rio on the couch and all of a sudden one crawled out of her fur at her amp incision scar and onto her naked belly, just as brazen as could be, followed by a complete mom freak-out. (About the only thing in the insect world that grosses me out more than fleas are ticks. Ugghh!!!) I don’t want to give Rio any unnecessary meds right now, so I will be rubbing her down daily with a few drops of eucalyptus oil in hopes that it will discourage any more nibbling by the stinking fleas. I did, however, douse the Monkey-doofuses post-bath with flea-killing chemicals (of which I am not proud)….
Speaking of the Woo, her fan club has been clamoring for an update on how she’s doing. Let’s just say, she’s battle-scarred and tired, but still fighting. I would love it if she makes it to her 1-year milestone (and then some), but I am fully aware that it might not happen. The swelling in her belly has gotten worse, and has moved down into the knee and ankle of her remaining back leg. Her mobility hasn’t been that great lately, either. She’s unsteady and frequently loses her balance and has to catch herself. I’m not sure if it’s due to the swelling in the leg, or if her floppy belly-skin is making her lose her balance. Regardless, she still has flashes of a younger, healthier Woo — especially with the snow of the last couple of days. She’s always loved snow, and my heart is happy to see her boing-boinging around in it. She got all silly after her bath yesterday, too, racing down the hall, tossing her head and snorting, grabbing her toys and flipping them into the air. And when I was giving Tosca a much-needed brushing, Rio was being “the Sheriff.” (She always polices certain activities such as brushing and toenail clipping, in case I need some protection.)
So, here’s hoping for a hoppy 1-year, but if we don’t make it that far, we’re gonna go out fighting…..