“When we look at a chest Xray, we should see all black. His picture is white – filled with white cotton balls. Does it look much worse than the picture I saw last week? Not really. But he’s taking shallow, rapid breaths. We know he’s not going to get better. He’s going to continue to get worse. The chronic diarrhea and the chronic weight loss he can live with, it’s the breathing that’s most acute that I worry about. We don’t want him to get to the point where he’s suffering and we’re not going to let him suffocate. I can’t make the decision for you, but you need to start looking at your calendar and thinking about what’s best for him. He’s not comfortable. He’s trying to be brave for you. But his quality of life is not what it should be…”
I was ready all day for this…all week for this…and yet, when I was sitting listening, with Reggie on the table, smiling at me, I could not stop the tears. I don’t know how many times I apologized (a lot) for crying and having a difficult time making a decision. She was waiting for my answer. I felt my head spinning. I couldn’t process it.
“You don’t have to decide today. We don’t have to do anything today, but I can’t decide for you when it’s time.”
We went back and forth about options for me, and left it with one more re-evaluation, soon, and here I am taking a chance to have a full day with him, to take him on another road trip – tomorrow of all days, it means so much to me to do that.
I could go back and forth about which day, which time, and where – but it comes down to one thing, I have to let go.
I told her that I thought I was ready, it was more clear with Toby, with Lizzie…I described how he still is eating a lot. “Give him a cheeseburger,” she said. “Take him out and spend time with him so you can say goodbye, but if he is having trouble breathing, it won’t matter if he loves car rides or going on trips, if he’s having trouble breathing, he won’t care about eating or being outside…”
Earlier today, I was walking Reggie in Epps Shopping Center again, waiting for the car, again, and he was tired. We sat in Jittery Joe’s, and he looked so tired as I pet him and kissed him. I didn’t have time to take him home so I took the chance to take him to the chiropractor with me. On the way, he climbed into my lap while I was driving and began to whimper. I pulled off the freeway into Logan’s parking lot so he could go – made it this time – and when we arrived at the doctor’s office, the ladies in the front kept him company, petting him and loving on him in his stroller. They said he was so peaceful.
Based on the vet’s assessment, which I promised myself I’d listen to and use to guide me, he’s peaceful largely because he’s tired and breathing is more difficult for him. Like she said, it’s only going to get worse. He’s not going to get better.
Peaceful – how tired he must be. He does not sleep at night. I hear him rustling around every half hour or so on the trash bags. He has to go every half hour or so lately – he can’t help it, and he doesn’t sleep on the bed because he can’t get rest – it keeps him awake. When I’m awake, he tries to signal me by crying out, so I know. Like the vet said, he can go on like that for a while, but the lungs are getting worse. If only we’d caught it sooner…
My friend, Sharon, and I have been texting back and forth about directions to Anna Ruby Falls in Unicoi State Park. “Is the weather supposed to be nice tomorrow?” I’d asked the vet. “Has it been nice at all the past couple weeks?” she asked sarcastically.
I smiled. I knew what she meant. And my body hurts everywhere, from the cold, from the stress, from the cleaning, who knows.
My other tire is low ( I really do not like this particular tire store and I had to really hold my tongue this week) but I’m crossing my fingers it’s nothing, no more nails, I hope. This may be my last chance.
My stomach is in knots. It has been for 24 hours. I’ve felt sick to my stomach, I canceled a bunch of things I would normally have done -not being in a frame of mind to think about anything else but him.
“I don’t know how to let him go,” I said, amid tears. “I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t know how how to do this…”
I don’t remember what I said, exactly, but I know what I was feeling: I don’t know how to live without this dog. I’ve been through this three times, once already in the past 3 months, and I have had my mind resolved for over a month, especially this past week, and then, I couldn’t do it. I just could not do it. I could not set a date.
I walked out in a fog, quiet, and asked a stranger to take our photo. I take a lot of photos of him lately.
I knew I had to take him to Barnes and Noble – and roll him around the store in the stroller, not looking for anything, or at anything, in particular, just to be there. People smiled. They know him. They absolutely know him. Some of the others, other patrons, just smiled at him, “Awww, what a cute dog. How old is he?”
“Almost 13,” I answered, barely above a whisper.
Only the girl at the register whom I’ve talked to many times got the true answer. “He has cancer, I have to put him to sleep soon.”
“Aww,” she replied in her usual quiet tone, “I had to do that last year. There’s this place that has beautiful urns, that’s what we did with Pepper. They have a cemetery, too.”
“Do you mean the Memory Garden?”
“My dog Toby is there.”
I should call him sometime this weekend and ask how much notice he will need or I will have to let the vet use their people, like they did for Lizzie, since there was no time.
“If he goes into distress and you have to take him to the emergency, you’ll have to do it in the hospital,” she warned me, nicely, but firmly…I went through this over and over when Lizzie was declining in the fall.
It suddenly feels like deja vu.
Reggie is under the table, his back is rising up and down, fast. He is breathing quickly.
My breath has been catching in my chest, choking me. My stomach is being held hostage by fists clenching, wringing like hands squeezing water out of a wet dishrag over and over again.
“It’s only hard in the mornings,” I told her, “because he has to go every half hour in the night.” It keeps me awake, sometimes, but mostly I wake up half-asleep and vaguely hear him moving. I try to figure out if he’s made it to the tile. I can hear his toenails if he does. Sometimes I just hear the swishing of the plastic bags – if he moves them around enough, they don’t work. Then, the mornings are harder. But when that part is over, the rest of the day, I just watch over him and try to catch him if I can, if he catches himself in time.
“At this point, we’ve given him everything we can, all you can do is nurse him, like you have been.”
“Would the acupuncture help, with the pain and anxiety at least?”
“I don’t think so.” She shakes her head.
I haven’t seen Dr. Clifton in 2 weeks, but she says she’ll ask Dr. Stoppe for me, just in case. They are double booked tomorrow, she tells me, but they have all 3 doctors there. She can put me on the schedule at 4.
I sit there and think. For several seconds, maybe longer. She’s waiting.
“I’m going to put you on the schedule at 4. You can always call and cancel.”
I finally answer. “Not tomorrow, if he’s okay. It’ s my 10th anniversary of meeting Audie. It’s a hard day for me, I was hoping it wouldn’t have to be tomorrow – this is just the worst time. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time letting him go…I’m sorry…”
I kept saying it. “I’m embarrassed,” I told her.
I wasn’t sure what to make of her reaction except that she must go through this with so many people and she has to remain stoic and non-emotional, but she did tell me it’s hard on her too after treating an animal for years, it hurts them, too. But they have to think of what’s best for the animals…
We all do. They’re counting on us to do that.
We’re in the bookstore and he alternates between snuggling with his head buried in the blanket against the front of the stroller, hidden behind the mesh, and sitting up and looking around, people watching. He loves the store. He knows it now. It’s one of his places. One of his happy places.
He ate all his dinner, every bit, and took his pain medicines. But I can hear the sound, the huffing.
Earlier he was on the purple cushion, and I thought about him not being there again. I had to stop.
When I came home from the counselor today (I could not bring him because of the accident he had there a couple months ago), he was laying by the door.
Lately, he is always laying by the door when I come home.
When I open the door, he sits up quietly and wags his tail.
But he is tired. He can climb up the stairs but he often doesn’t. He sits at the landing and waits.
This house will consume me with a void, I can feel it already, closing in, just at the thought of coming home to no one. No one. I never, ever thought that would happen. Not in this house, of all places.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or if we will make it to Anna Ruby, or any other park. It was my goal to try. I am dreading tomorrow, January 25th – 10 years – Damn me and my dates. I wish I didn’t have this uncanny memory for dates…just once, tomorrow, I’d like to forget.
He is sitting up at my feet now. He is salivating – they gave him fluids, I wonder if he’s nauseated. He does this a lot lately.
What will I do when I sit at this table and write and he’s not sitting at my feet?
What will I do when he is not waiting for me by the door?
What will it be like walking into Barnes and Noble without him in the stroller?
What will it be like without him sitting next to me in the car?
How will I never be able to pick him up in my arms and hold him and kiss him again?
When I look at photos of Lizzie, and Toby, I try to imagine what it used to feel like to hold them. The memories start to fade after a while, at least, the memories of what their fur felt like, exactly. And what it smelled like.
Too many paw prints. No more paws.
My room will be filled with photos and paw prints…
I just want paws.
“You’ll grieve, and you’ll get another baby. You need to have one, ” Dr. Clifton said today.
“I can’t. I can’t afford another dog. And I take having a dog very seriously, it takes time to train them…”
I don’t know why I said that, when I said that to her.
“There are rescues filled with dogs that need homes,” she said, “you need to have a dog with you.”
I knew what she meant. She knows the black phantom surrounding me like a wraith I can’t chase away – I can imagine, seeing me with Reggie, seeing me with Lizzie – they can’t imagine how I could not have one.
Seeing everyone at Hope Animal Medical Center has been another lifeline the past several months. I have had to say goodbye to others, not by choice, because life changed – I know if I had another dog, I would not need to, or have to, say goodbye to Hope, but that’s not a reason to get a dog. It’s not that simple. Can I even come by to say hello?
When Lizzie died, I meant to make a framed photograph for them as a gift. I went looking for one but did not do it…not yet.
I guess now, it’s better I waited.
I can make them a framed photograph of the two: Reggie and Lizzie.
Reggie and Lizzie. My God. I can’t believe they are both going to be gone.
Reggie and Lizzie.
I don’t even remember my life without them anymore.
And what will happen to the girl with the dog in a stroller? First it was Lizzie, then it was Reggie.
I’ll just be the girl, the one who used to bring her dogs in the stroller.
That doesn’t matter.
What matters is everyone is gone…my family – one by one by one – this year 2018-19, they’re gone.
“Reggwood. Lizzie Bear. Tob-er,” he used to call out. And then I started doing it, too.
I think this is what true aloneness must feel like.
Except I hear him breathing, moving against the carpet under me.
For a little while longer, a few more days, he’s still here.
I don’t have to be alone yet…not yet.