Yesterday was a very hard day. D'fer, my service dog, my best friend, my best and most favourite dog ever, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. This means that he will soon die, and likely he will, between now and then, suffer some terrible pain. This means that my heart will break again and again and again as I face the reality of life without the dog who has meant more to me than nearly any being that I have ever encountered. The sarcoma is located in the head of his femur, it is fairly advanced, and it is quite possible that there is involvement in the pelvis. This is a fast growing cancer, and it will likely progress to his lungs within months at the outside. D'fer has an unassociated heart issue, which means that he is not a terrific candidate for surgery, and the only available treatment would be amputation and chemo, and honestly, the results are not favourable even if we were to do this. Never the less, it will be alright.
|D'fer in his prime with the expression I love best.|
I am not going to tell you that some spiritual being will save him for me, or that I will see him at the bridge. I will not tell you what I do or don't believe about the afterlife. I am going to talk instead about love and leaving and loss and why it will be alright in the end.
Over the years, I have held many special dogs close to my heart. I didn't think there would be a dog after Buddy who would mean as much to me as he did. Buddy, majestic and beautiful, smart and strong, taught me about love and caring and change and accepting and working hard and being real with myself. He accompanied me on endless adventures and trips through learning and things I could not have ever expected. Buddy sure was special and he carried me through things I did not think I could survive. And then one day, he could not get up and he lost control of his bladder while I was out. He was very elderly then. He had to lie in his own urine and wait till I came to rescue him. He was too big to lift into the bathtub and he was too sore to get in of his own accord. The next day I helped him to die, in my living room. That last day, I double dosed him on pain meds and played ball with him. I read him poetry. I napped with him. And when he died, I thought my heart would break forever.
I thought there would be nothing that could ever come close to touching my heart the way that Buddy did. I grieved deeply and long and hard and publicly for Buddy. I still have pictures of him around the house, and at first every time I looked at them, I would cry. Now I can look and I smile when I remember the walks, the journeys, and the learning. I just didn't think then that there would or even could be anything remotely close to the love I felt for Buddy.
Then along came D'fer. Deef was supposed to be John's dog. He had other ideas. He was an annoying and frustrating puppy and adolescent. He was an accidental service dog. And over the years, over time, he and I developed a dance together that is unique, that is special. The dance has etched itself onto my heart and into my head until I cannot think about what is next. In some ways, D'fer taught me to remember Buddy not with grief but with joy. Surely, there cannot be anything better than the love that D'fer and I share? Maybe there isn't. But maybe there is something else. Maybe what Buddy did and what D'fer is still doing is not teaching me to be a better trainer, not teaching me to be a better person. Maybe what they have done is teach me to love better. While D'fer did not replace Buddy in my heart, he taught me something I have told others in a very profound way. True love doesn't divide; it multiplies. Buddy prepared me to love D'fer. D'fer has prepared me to love other dogs, and maybe, if I am lucky, he will have prepared me to love another dog as deeply as I love him. Once again, it was alright.
Five or six years ago, I lost my Dad. He was unexpectedly hospitalized due to a collapsed lung and suddenly without warning we were faced with a diagnosis of bullous emphysema. Essentially, his lungs had large holes in them, making it impossible for his body to take in enough oxygen to live unassisted. Over the weeks he was in hospital, I wanted the minutes. I hoped for the time minutes. I wanted just a few minutes to talk to my father. Those minutes were not possible. Over the weeks he was in the intensive care unit, D'fer took me to visit him. In one of my dad's few lucid periods he asked who I was. I told him I was his daughter, Sue, and he looked right at me and said "no you aren't...where is your dog?" When I showed him D'fer, he relaxed. He knew me, because he recognized Deef. D'fer facilitated that last minute with my father, a gift so precious. That last minute was a gift that D'fer made possible for me. In his patient way, he showed me that the minutes that counted were the minutes in the moment. Love is the minute we get.
I don't believe that D'fer is afraid of death. I know he doesn't like the pain, but we have good chemical control over the pain. I know that when we take the pain away, the joy and curiosity and intelligence and wonder that make D'fer special are still there. Last night, after we gave him his first dose of gabapentin, he started to dance around the kitchen where my desk is. He wanted me to play. In my grief, I didn't want to play, I wanted him to lie down and rest and not tax his body. I was thinking about the one more minute attitude; I just want every precious minute with my special boy, and I was crying because I know that there aren't a lot of minutes left. D'fer is wiser than I am. He always has been. He doesn't want one more minute. He wants to play frisbee. He wants to go search for things. He wants to run around. And really, his minutes are love. He loves me, he loves life, he loves his frisbee and his friends. When he is pain free he just wants to be himself, much more than he wants one more minute of time. His minutes are written in love.
I would give a lot to have one more year, or one more lifetime, but in the coming days, weeks and months, I will work to let go of wanting one more minute of time. I will work learn and relearn that minutes with D'fer are measured in love. Living carefully, feeding him only cancer reducing foods, and maybe putting him through very painful treatment will buy us time minutes, but will not give us even one more minute of love. Instead, I have to give up looking for minutes and instead, look for love. This is why I won't be even considering radical treatments, or herbs or a magic wands or crystal balls to address this. I am going to treat cancer with Frisbees and banana bread corners and his own pieces of pizza and little house searches and visits from friends.
Knowing that I won't have the years, months or days doesn't make this easier or fun. This is hard, and depressing and sad and terrible and something I don't feel ready to face, but I know it will be alright in the long run. I know this because I have been through this, as a part of an unbroken chain of the experience of thoughtful beings. I have faced loss, and in my turn, there are those who will face my loss. I grieved deeply for my father who grieved for his own father, and presumably, his father grieved for those who were important him when they passed in their turn. Grief is hard, and knowing that the end is near highlights coming loss, but then I come back to being a part of an endless cycle of gain and loss, of birth and death, and of love for those being who walk beside and before and after me. I know that right now, this time is an important time not to borrow grief ahead of time, but to cherish what we have together now; not to cherish what we have left, but what we have.
Now that I am facing the minutes, the hours, the days and hopefully the weeks or months that make up the end of D'fer's life, he is teaching me again that when pain is under control, the minutes we have are love. I will cry often and smile and throw the Frisbee and hide toys, and make sure that my special friend gets time with the people he loves. The support from my community, my friends and my students are the minutes of love that we get. And a Frisbee tucked in the bookshelf to find is one of those special minutes, when you cannot make the illness go away. In the end, when I lose him, I will grieve, and I will cry and then I will probably find his Frisbee and a minute of his love. It will be alright.
|D'fer has told me over and over again throughout his service career that I will be alright. He is right. In the long run, it will be alright.|
For those who follow my blog, please be patient. I may not be posting very regularly while I work through these last minutes with my very talented and special chesapeake, D'fer. I will be back when I can.