Big White

Written May 6, 2013

I was blindsided by grief. I knew it was going to be rough. I just didn’t anticipate the enormity of the loss for me.

I know…it’s just a dog, it will get easier as time goes on, she was so sick that there was no question it was time and no worries that we did the right thing, and all that. I’ve heard it all. From me mostly, out loud as well as my inner voice. The thing is, it didn’t put a dent in handling the grief.

Not knowing and possibly dismissing that it would be this hard made it even harder. The weekend after is a blur. I lost my camera. I lost my phone. I couldn’t make a grocery list or prepare a meal. Rather I stumbled through things that had been on my calendar already as well as sadly cleaned out her food dish and got rid of her leftover medicines and all of that tough stuff. But that should do it, right?

I finally gave in on Monday when I had lunch with my friend, Jane. When I told her about Rudy she said, “Ahhh…I knew something was wrong.” Seriously? It was that obvious? I thought I was getting over it.

When I got home later, I looked at myself in the mirror more closely. Dark circles under my eyes. Slumped shoulders. Vacant, bloodshot eyes. And I realized my whole body hurt. Exhaustion could have well been written on my forehead and sadness across my chin.

Jane kept equating my grief to hers when she lost her husband unexpectedly years ago. I kept discounting it. This wasn’t in the same category of course and certainly not the same degree of loss. Yes, but…

“How much time did you spend with Rudy?” Ummm…almost every day all day since I have worked from home the past 10 years.

“Would you say that you probably logged more hours with her in your presence than most of the rest of your family?” Well, yeah, I guess that’s true.

“Weren’t you also a caregiver for her in the most recent past?” Well yeah. For the last several months we gave her medicine stuffed into a hot dog chunk twice a day for some unexplained seizures and another miracle pill for her sore golden retriever hips. It got more intense in the last few weeks with constantly trying to sort out if she could take a long walk or a short one or none at all, making sure she didn’t slip down our hardwood front steps, monitoring her eating so she didn’t eat too much at first and then too little later, and communicating with the vet for updates and the prescribed next course of action.

Of course, the most draining aspect of caregiving was assessing the tipping point, that is when life for Rudy no longer held joy and it was time to help her move on to her next adventure. Yes, she slept a little longer in the morning and napped more during the day, but she also had bursts of chasing squirrels in her lumbering, never-going-to-catch-them gait. She wasn’t interested in eating her food anymore, but her twice-a-day hot dog chunk was ecstasy and laying under my feet in the kitchen waiting for a scrap to drop hung on until her last day. She had great difficulty standing up, but we still had to use code words when talking about a walk such as, “Do you want to take the D’s for a W?” (That’s Dogs for a Walk.) Or “You take LBD and I’ll take BWD.” (That’s Little Black Dog and Big White Dog.)

When I relayed to Jane how the last day of her life transpired, she said it sounded as peaceful and caring as hospice. In the morning we helped her outside so she could lie in the sun for a few hours and watch the birds and neighbors. When she eventually laid down in a corner of the yard away from everyone, we knew she had had her fill so we brought her inside. We took turns lying with her, relaying our loving last words and favorite memories as well as Alex’s and Calvin’s who couldn’t be home, but were calling and texting to check in. We made sure she got her last pill so she didn’t have a painful, confusing seizure in her final fragile state. And we assured her and everyone including me that it would be a peaceful end. By the time we had to go to the vet, she was so calm and ready that she never lifted her head and her heart rate stayed steady until her last breath.

And so, yes, with all of that behind me, grief settled in pretty hard and my normal routine was out of whack. As a result last week was spent being out in the fresh air and gorgeous sunshine. When I had a burst of energy, I enjoyed a little walk. And then I took a nap. I ate whatever sounded good and whatever was slid in front of me. And I let people give me hugs and scratch my back. Hmmm…that sounds familiar. I think I’m finally learning what wise Rudy already knew – go with your own flow, forget rational thinking, and never, ever judge what feels right for your body and soul. Thanks Big White.

me and roxy resized

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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