It has been a month since I lost my beloved Camilla due to a brain tumor.
Today I felt desolate. Tears sprang into my eyes when I thought of what we went through a month ago. The grief was fresh enough to constrict my throat and blur my vision.
I’ve been experiencing grief in waves, and chunks. Last week, I felt bereft and hopeless for a couple of days and had to talk to myself to keep myself going. “Anne, people need you. Isabella needs you. You have to take care of her. She misses her sister, too. Just give her extra attention and try to make it through to the next moment.”
But my grief was severe and I had to spend a few hours lying motionless on the couch, staring into space just to get back a little bit of strength.
I still feel weak – emotionally weak. Mentally fatigued. And physically tired. I don’t have much strength or energy or hope for what the future might bring.
I would give anything to pet Cami’s face again, to rub her belly, and whisper into her ears how much I love her.
I still love her very much. That feeling hasn’t diminished. In fact, when she got sick, and lost her sight, I felt like my love for her grew. I had the chance to take care of her in a way that was new. I adopted her when she was two years old, so I never had her as a puppy. Her illness gave me a chance to baby her. I would jump up a hundred times a day to help her navigate through the house, to find out if she was hungry or thirsty, or wanted to go outside. I hand-fed her treats, and stopped every couple of hours to talk to her and scratch her fur. I wanted her to have a good life.
When she went blind, people asked me if I was going to put her down. I said “No! She’s only blind, she can still have a great life.” I wanted her to experience her dogness, and so I continued to try to get her to walk up and down the straight sidewalk outside of my house. She gained more confidence in the few months after her blindness came on. And I did other things to help her experience her life as she had before, like sitting outside in the backyard with her, and taking her over to meet the new puppies next door. She could feel things, and she could still communicate.
Sometimes I think that I experienced blessings from her illness and death. Her blindness and subsequent debilitation made me a more attentive dog mom. I knew I had to be careful to take care of her because she didn’t have anyone else.
Her death came suddenly, because of the increasing frequency of seizures activated by the growing tumor on her pituitary gland. It was only 8 days from the first seizure to the day I put her to sleep. But the vet warned me that she could fall asleep and not wake up. So I spent some tender moments in the animal hospital saying my goodbyes in case I lost her, and I felt ready in my heart to lose her if she was ready to go. She made a miraculous recovery and I took her home – she pranced up to the house – and had a quiet week until her next seizure a few days later.
The vet told me that he advised euthanasia because she was likely to deteriorate quickly, and there was nothing else he could do for her. After crying for hours, I decided I’d make the decision and do it within a couple of weeks. I called my boyfriend and asked him to come and say goodbye to Cami. He came the next day. In the meantime, I realized that there was no reason to wait. And when he arrived at the bus station, I asked him if he would come with me the next day to put her to sleep. He agreed.
We gave her love when we got home that night and had a normal morning. I tried not to get overwrought or melodramatic. I stayed calm and made it easy for her and for myself. At 2:30pm we got into the car and drove to the vet’s office for our 3pm appointment. And we just waited in the room for our friend, the vet. I kissed her and told her I loved her and she was the best dog anyone could have ever wanted and I thanked her for ten perfect years together.
We had a perfect life together. I don’t have any regrets. I just wish I could have had her longer in a healthy state. But I really appreciated her in the moment more when she started to slip away because of the Cushing’s Disease.
When I think of Izzy’s last few years on earth, I know that I want her to be happy and healthy for as long as possible, and when it’s time for her to go – when the vets can’t do anything else for her, or she’s in too much pain – I have the power to let her go peacefully, and to prevent unnecessary suffering.
And even with my boyfriend, although we don’t live together yet, I can look at him and think to myself, “I want as many happy, healthy years as possible with him. And when it’s time for either one of us to go, I think we should just go. I’ll be thankful for the good times.”
The number of years together doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of the years that matters. And rather than wishing for a long life with the presupposition that I’ll be healthy for all of the years, I’m thinking that I’d rather have a long number of years of healthy and happy living, and then I’d like to release my loved ones when their pain, or my own, gets too great. We all need relief. Sickness and death are a part of life. And loving in the moment is the most important thing that matters.
I think that’s why the lifespan of our dear pets is shorter than ours. To have such loving creatures in our lives and then to have to face letting them go – this allows us to mature, and to learn how to handle death. It prepares us for the deaths of our significant loved ones. And the loss somehow teaches us how to regain hope for the future, and an appetite for living.
Anne Hamilton 2012