Wednesday, July 18, 2012

month of beauty: something hard

We took our dog to the vet today. He's getting so ancient, all creaking joints, whitening fur, and a limp becoming more and more pronounced; he even lies down in the middle of walks. But always, and still, he is so happy to be out, walking, sniffing, rolling in the grass. He is our sweet old boy.

He's going to need stronger pain relief, and today it was decided he'd go on daily pills.

I can feel how our time with him is shortening. Part of me wants to warn the kids, warn my own heart. Something hard is coming.

Before seeing the vet, we stood in the reception area, waiting to check in. A woman was standing at the desk talking into her phone, to her mother. Her dog was badly injured (it sounded like a car had hit him); broken jaw, on oxygen; it didn't look good; he wasn't in a good state (here is when her voice broke and she began to cry); could her mum help pay for the vet visit?

I looked over, once then twice, then three times, over to this devastated, weeping woman. I didn't want her to feel I was prying, but I wanted her to know that I felt for her. I tried to give a look that said, "I feel, and feel, and feel for you. Here is the hug I can't give you because you are a stranger. Here is the hankie I wish I had. Here is the talk I would sit and have with you, if you were my friend."

Then the vet came and we sat in the consultation room and my dog nuzzled my knee and my daughter was quiet by my side.

We made a plan for our old boy. We will try these pills and if they don't work then it's on to steroids. I thought, so this is how it goes. We take care of the things we love, and the care changes over time, becomes something different. Then something different again. It is part of the moving we do, through the years, into something Other, always.

I said gently to my girl, "He's so old, isn't he? We may not have him for a whole lot longer."

Her eyes widened.

"So," I continued, "We'll love him to bits, and give him the best life we can for as long as we have him. Right?"

She nodded. Reached out and smoothed her old dog's fur with her hands.

When we left the room to pay for the pills and consultation, there was a little dog in a man's arms. The man and his wife were bringing him to be euthanised.

Ah, and ah.

I couldn't protect my girl from any of this; she heard the conversation as it was all decided, watched as they signed the forms and as the man paced nearby with his dog, cradled.

He said to me, "I'm sorry about all this." Meaning, I suppose, I'm sorry you have to witness this hard thing, and your girl is here. I am sorry you are part of it. And I'm sorry I am living this, and I'm sorry I am here and I am sorry for my dog.

I said, "I am sorry. I'm sorry you're having to go through this." And he and I gave each other a small smile.

He leaned forward, and his dog peered over with the quietest eyes.

My dog walked forward, tail wagging and wagging.

He and this old dog sniffed each other carefully, gently, so calmly. Time slowed down.

It was infinitely beautiful, that moment. It felt so fragile, made of the thinnest glass, of rice paper, a single moth's wing.

And then the man put his dog down onto the floor, said, "See. He can hardly walk."

The dog tottered, just a little. But then, he did walk. He could walk, just enough, to follow his man across the floor, through the doorway, and into his very last room.

I turned away. If I had been at home I would have bawled. Instead, I gritted my teeth, pressed down on my eyes for a second, and held it together. Enough to pay the vet bill, enough to go pick up my boy from music lessons, enough to get home, enough to make dinner, and enough to talk to my husband who's been away.

I've been carrying the visit around with me, all afternoon, all evening. Holding it in, holding it together.

But now I'm feeling it. Not crying or feeling overwhelmed. Just feeling. Letting myself feel.

Just now, I was lying in bed saying goodnight to my girl. She asked, "What thing of beauty are you writing about tonight, Mum?"

"Well," I said, "I'm not sure it was beautiful. It's about the vet visit. But then it was, beautiful, too."

And we talked about the dog and we talked about sadness. And we talked about beauty and we talked about loving, how beautiful it was to love. And I said how beautiful it was, simply to feel. To go through life allowing yourself to feel deeply, love and love and love, deeply.

I said, "I hope it's not too hard, having a mum who feels everything this much! I think I'll always be this way."

My girl didn't answer. She simply reached out her arms, and scooped me in.


  1. It is not often that I am brought to tears reading a post. Today I start my day in tears, the kind that every dog owner can relate to.

    When we first adopted Jake, a week later he became very ill from something he ate at his previous owners house. He needed emergency surgery. While waiting in the lobby I overheard a very similar conversation from a woman whose small dog was attacked by a larger dog that entered her yard. The woman was distraught over whether to save her dog's life or to have money to pay rent. No one should be in that position. Not that vet care should be free, or below cost, but there should be payment plans available and better pet insurance options. It was heartbreaking and stayed with me to this day.

    Watching pets age is the same as watching people age. You love them each and every day. It is a lesson in life really. Every day is a gift. Respect it. Revel in it. Rejoice.

    Thank you for sharing this touching post.

  2. So beautifully written-so many tears here!
    In my life before kids I was a vet nurse and had to be there for both the animals and the owners in those final moments. I feel lots too so it was so hard and I cried with so many families as they said goodbye to their pets. But it was all worth it because it is a part of the beauty of life.

  3. Oh, Helena. So sad. I'm sorry.

    My sister is an Emergency Room nurse at a veterinary clinic. Wrenching.

  4. Oh man. You made me cry. Cry because it is sad, trying to look after aging animals. Cry because is it sad, when something you love has had its day and it's time to say goodbye. Cry because as usual, your words are beautiful.

  5. I sitting here barely able to see through tears! I am definitely a Mom who feels too much. Strangely, Keilee isn't. I sometimes wonder if she feels she can't be because I am such a mushmellow [Her word for me]

    Here is hoping for tons and tons of beautiful days with your beautiful dog. For runs and rubs and happiness galore.

  6. As hard as it is for you to wait for the inevitable, you are so fortunate to have had your sweet dog into it's old age, to share it's whole life and it's whole love.
    Last weekend I watched as my dog fought to overcome rat baiting. She's fine now; we got her to the vet in time but it was truly awful waiting and watching. We've had a terrible run with pets. My children have never had a dog grow old with them.
    So while you feel pain and sadness, I see beauty in this post too.


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.