The Power of Dog

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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.

 

You truly were the king of the world.

 


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Dogs are lucky….

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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…

 

 

 

Hoppy One Year Ampuversary!!!

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!

Hoppy Ampuversary, Rio

Well, they’re not pennies, but….

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!!!

Hahaha! Gotcha, Mom!

One Week After…

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.