November is the month for giving thanks and we’ve started early this year. Flooded with appreciation for the 12 wonderful years we’ve had with Ruby.
We have unofficially entered the hospice stage. T made the call to the vet to ask about putting her to sleep. Although she might be around for a few more weeks, it is imminent. She just keeps getting worse: her legs are no longer able to hold her up and her heart races each time she collapses and struggles to raise herself up again. She’s incontinent. She sleeps most of the day. This morning she knocked over the plate with the medicine mashed into her food, then as I was picking it up she came over and sat in it. I clean up the mess after she’s finally able to lift herself up and speak to her gently, that’s okay girl.
We do not avoid the details, discussing the where, who and when. Our animal hospital recommends a service where a vet comes to the house, Lap of Love, to administer the final medication. Yet we really would like to use our vet, whom we’ve seen since a few weeks after we adopted Ruby, but only one person can be in the room with her. It’s okay I finally tell T, I was with both of the cats, you can be the one to hold her, I’ll say goodbye at home.
We tell her we love her, we thank her for being the best ever family dog, T gets on the ground and pets her and talks sweetly to her. We are emotionally ready.
Yet I struggle to resolve if it is actually time yet. You’ll know, people say. But it’s not as obvious as it was with the cats, with their failing organs. Ruby’s vitals still work but she can barely function, she has a bad day and we decide it is time, only to have a better day and she gets a reprieve. Is she still able to savor this world? In moments, yes, still going out for walks and sniffing- up the street and back, only a few minutes but still it’s something. She eats up her food, comes over for pets – enjoys life in the way she always has, albeit in a more circumscribed way.
Does that enjoyment of life outweigh the struggles of this last prolonged chapter? T carrying her out the door, I taking her out for the painfully slow walks, both of us picking up and mopping up after each accident – our floor has never been more disastrous, or more clean in the aftermath. Most of all watching her struggle to get up.
Where is she on the continuum? These are hard things to measure. Still our loving and beloved family dog; yet even at her best she is a shadow of her former self.
She is our Thanksgiving dog. We adopted her right before the holiday 12 years ago. V was 8 and B had just turned 11. B reminds me of the timing, how we took her down to my brother’s house where we celebrate Thanksgiving; I believe she was relatively well-behaved for a newcomer. Then right before we left to go back home we gave some turkey to poor sweet Ruby in the back of the car, which she promptly threw up all over the back seat once we were on the road. On the bright side, every year Thanksgiving is a happy reminder of the anniversary of when she became our forever dog.
The gift of the hospice stage, in my limited experience (tending to a friend; visiting several relatives) is a heightened awareness and appreciation for everything in this life, where gratitude is positively cellular and granular, not just a notion in our heads. It goes both ways: the thankfulness of the dying and of those left behind on this earth to process our grief,
Lately I’ve been most comforted by Walt Whitman: “All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses./And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” We’ll never know if he was right but we can always hope. And so with great thanks and humility we enter the final stage.