My dog is dying.
I am desperate for a greater gift. I long to write something profound. Something so moving that people will read it and say:
Oh, yes, that is exactly it. That describes what it is like to await Death’s dreaded arrival, to look it right in the face and to bow before it with acceptance and grace.
Except I am not Anne Lamott and I can’t get anywhere near profound.
I’m idling at the intersection of grief and exhaustion, and what I think about is how much I am going to miss her. How much I dread the silence of coming home to nothing. Oh, how I’ll miss that full-on celebration of owner/doggie reunion, as if we’ve been apart for eons when, in reality, I have returned from a 20-minute zip to the supermarket.
Diamond, my 11½ year old bulldog, and I have been together for nine years. She has been there, at a height somewhere between my knees and my ankles, for a full decade of my stuff: my mother’s death, the end of a friendship it damned near killed me to let go, my diagnosis with a life-changing disease. My red hair, my blond hair and my fuck-it-let-the-grey-come in hair. Some men who came along and broke my heart. A man who came along and underwhelmed me, even though he was very nice. One who came along and wholeheartedly campaigned for Romney and was therefore out of the question.
Diamond was by my side when I had to put down my other bulldog, a 2-year old named Diego.
I thought I’d die from the pain of having to make the decision for euthanasia. Playing god. Deciding that quality of life was non-existent.
For three days after Diego’s death I couldn’t speak. My girl sat right by my side and from time to time laid her heavy paw against my leg. She reminded me that life is right here right now. That we live in the present tense. She brought me back from despair.
I’ve brought Diamond back from various brinks, as well. Two hip surgeries. A long, difficult and expensive return to health from hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, complicated by pneumonia at the same time. Seven days in an emergency veterinary hospital with ‘round the clock care. I sat on the floor of the Intensive Care unit for hours every day and I’d like to believe I encouraged Diamond to stay here, to make it through.
She gave me a look, as if to say, “Oh, Christ, this is awful, but okay, I’ll rally.”
She’s Boston-strong, this one. She hangs tough.
Given our history — her stubbornness and also mine — I know we’re going to hang tough through this final chapter, too. This is the kind of hanging tough, however, that is the hardest for me. Because it requires letting go rather than hanging on through the tsunami, the hurricane and the plague of locusts. I’m better at perseverance than I am at surrender.
So, here’s where we are in the process. Diamond started her chemotherapy treatments last night. She’ll take a powerful dose of Lysodren every day for the next week. It’s a round white pill and I can easily bury it in her food. After seven doses, the vet and I will take a view on how she’s doing and how the disease is doing. If all goes well, Diamond will then receive just one treatment per week. Until the disease prevails.
The treatment will hopefully slow some of the disease’s symptoms. We’re aiming for remission; a 3-month reprieve would be a real result. A return to some degree of normalcy in the bathroom habits would also be a real result. And a welcome reprieve.
The other morning, a few days before the diagnosis and the chemo, Diamond had a massive attack of diarrhea. I found her in the kitchen, shivering in the corner. I hugged her and told her everything was going to be okay. Then I cleaned up the mess.
At four in the morning, I washed my kitchen floor while my dog slept, exhausted from old age and failing systems. And I thought to myself, “This is love, Amy. If you’ve ever wondered if you’ve experienced the real deal in your life, well, here it is.”
My relationships with men have pretty much sucked. (It’s liberating just to say it!) I have, at various times over the last 30 years, wondered if I have ever really known love. I have doubted it.
(Writer’s note: I wrote this paragraph six times before I simply said, Just say what’s true. Forget trying to position yourself as successful in life but flummoxed in love. Who cares about context? Just fucking say it.)
Well, now I have an answer to the question of whether I’ve known love beyond my parents, sisters and a few friends. And it is yes. Maybe not the conventional form, but love is love. When we feel it, we know it. It comes in lots of shapes and sizes. It’s a chameleon. And a prankster, too. Love surprises us. It hurts sometimes and that’s part of the bargain.
Love isn’t delicate. When we love, we do things we never dreamed of doing.
We clean up, for example. We wipe drool, vomit, snot, shit, pee, pus, whatever. We change the diaper. We hold the spoon and encourage just a little bit more applesauce. When the one who’s dying is a person, we hopefully manage to forgive whatever it is we have to forgive. That the person wasn’t there, that the person was too present, that too little was said, that too much was said, that perfection was never achieved and that we’re still mad about that Thanksgiving or that birthday or the time they told us they were concerned about our drinking. Oh boy.
So with this sadness comes a form of…wait for it…joy. Seriously, there is joy here. In the ability to be grateful, for example. For all the love I feel and all the love that has been returned to me. For the sloppy wet bulldog kiss. For the flat-nosed, snorting companionship that I will both miss and always treasure.
We humans are pretty damned amazing sometimes. We hang tough. And in the hanging we find parts of ourselves, dimensions and depths, we never knew were there.
There is so much power in the surrender.
There is so much power in the grace.
There is so much power, ultimately, in the love.
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