I walk with Roxy each day in the local municipal Cemetery.
It started out because anywhere else, our self absorbed fellow citizens walk with their dogs off leash.. And the do it wherever they please. I suspect that many of them really get a kick out of scoffing at the leash laws right in front of all the signs that say, All dogs on leash all the time.
It is tempting to skewer that behavior with the long thorns of acidic sarcasm and wicked wit. Let me just dismiss that path by saying that we are merely seeing another manifestation of the heads in the sand, I’m entitled Unites States of Narcissism. It is our culture now.
i was struck by the quiet in the cemetery. Expecting to be put off by being around dead people, I was surprised. No smell of rot. No hands reaching up out of the grave to grab Roxy and pull her, screaming, back down undergroud. No apparitions being exhaled like thin smoke by the grave. Not a thing from Hollywood at all. Just quiet and grey stones in varying stages of wear stuck at tottering angles, like uneven teeth in an old man’s mouth, On brown grass. Gothic trees reaching with concentration camp limbs silently to something we cannot see, lording their powerful shadowed presences over us lesser mortals.
Nancy had found this place after having been frightened by dogs off lead while walking Roxy also. She had urged me to go, but I was reluctant. Why?
We had made a memorial to our three beloved German Shepherds Zora, Bruno and Kaiser. All three died in our house on the mountain with us right by their sides. I took to heart what Butch, our deceased Schutzhund trainer had said was his moral commitment to his GSDs: he would make certain that the last thing any one of them saw on this earth was his loving face. Amen. Me too.
We had found a cross shaped piece of wood, the day after Bruno died, on a spot in the woods where he loved to lie. More than coincidence, random chance? I stained it, found rocks and spray painted them gold, and made a little memorial mound on that spot. I loved to go there, sit on the bench I’d made of cinderblocks and boards, remember them while loving the beauty of the woods and feeling, still achingly sorrowful for their absence, grateful for their lives.
On the last night we were in that house, a really perfect cool clear night on last March 29-30, we took the urns with their ashes, and spread them in our woods memorial chapel. I read a farewell passage and prayer we had written for the occasion. We did the same at all their favorite outdoor spots.
That was supposed to have tied off the loose ends of grief. It did not. It did not because it was aimed,ever so subtly, at relieving me, at least, of my grieving for them — which I still am doing and most likely will do until the day when I die too. I had not gotten the message.
The cemetery is not colorful, and the plastic flowers or wilted real ones just emphasize by contrast the grey, colorless ness of a whole bunch of old and new graves. It is clear to me that there will always be loose ends, that I could well be one of those headstones one day, and at 76, not too far off. My memorial spot back up on the mountain– well, it was not an acceptance of life on life’s terms. And that was a well meant mistake, an act of American pretend. It was a way to hang on. You cannot hang onto anything gone from this world, it’s like trying to grab and hold a chunk of The Present.
What’s left? For me what’s left is the realization that this life, which seems so hard and sturdy with its atoms and molecules and thumbs that hurt when hit with my hammer, is just an illusion. When you cannot stop the show and cannot hold onto the present, how can it be otherwise? A glorious, beautiful, super ultra high definition movie which we crate as we act out our roles. A moving feast. What a theater, what a chance to grow!
So: Memento mori–remember that I too must die. And I’ve discovered that in doing that, I find much much more of rich joy in that ephemeral elusive thing we call the present. Heavens, today is a great day to die on! I now know that native American wisdom to be a statement of gratitude for reality, not a morbid preoccupation with Holllywood’s contorted view of death and dying.
Thank heavens for my cemetery walks. I have my beloved Roxy with me, sometimes my dear, patient, loving and long suffering Nancy — and being there above ground provesI’ve got one more day on which to enjoy the abundance of God’s earth. Carpe diem and memento mori.
I keep beating myself up with self-recriminations. Why didn’t I read the signals clearly and get help for Titanoman earlier?
It began after we gave him a bit too little food with his morning Augmentin on Wednesday. He walking into another space from his bowls and vomited. He repeated vomiting until it was dry heaves in the vet’s office in the early afternoon. An exam, more blood drawn and a hypothesis: his stomach was upset by the powerful anti-biotic.
But he needed to calm things down so that he could continue the Augmentin, the supplement which protects the liver, the prednisone and if he had any pain, the combo of Tramadol and Gabapentin. He needed all that to keep the lymphoma at bay and keep his blood count normal. He needed all that with this his third chemo protocol, the “rescue” chemotherapy, to give him maybe another two to six months, outside, to live.
And on Wednesday he refused to take any medications or eat any food after the regurgitation spasms. He had been given a shot of Cerenia and it helped with nausea, but something else was going on: not eating and hobbling on the left rear leg. The vet said take him home and let’s see if the Augmentin’s absence and the anti nausea med does the trick.
By mid afternoon he was having troubles getting up and walking. We were at wits’ end about what to do until we found that our former vet here in our new hometown offered home care! Unbelievable. Nobody offers home care any more as a routine part of a medical or vet medical practice. But she does. And she did.
He verdict was: probably his spine. Lets give him Gabapentin by mouth, Prednisocw by mouth, more Cerenia and then morphine just to be sure. And if he cannot or will not get up after the morphine wears off around 11 PM, then tomorrow we will have to end his agony and life: euthanasia.
His morphine rest was restless. He really did not sleep, he just vegetated and began panting in earnest. OK, that could just be sensitivity to morphine. We will know after 11 PM what the score is. (Come on buddy, you can do it, God, come on, don’t let this wonderful friend down, don’t make Nancy suffer what I suffered when you couldn’t help us save Kaiser from hermangiosarcoma that windy night out on our deck April 2 last year. Please, please, please…)
He stood by himself twice between 11 PM and 3 am today. By 3 am he could not stand unless we hoisted him in the Help ‘Em Up Harness which Bruno had and which the vet and vet tech had helped us get onto him. Otherwise he was struggling with episodes of heavy paying and open mouth breathing while on his side in the hall, struggling to try to move himself, failing back into exhaustion and not getting up.
(Come on bud, you can do this! You just need a little rest and you’ll rebound. After all your blood tests just 5 days ago were all totally normal and your lymph nodes all right sized. If you’d only just eat a little, just drink a little more water. Should we try to get you to an Emergency Vet? Don’t know if we can lift you into the back of the car. But I think you want to be in the car, which is your safe haven and favorite place. Right? How abou some sign of agreement? But if I get you into the car, am I doing this just so that I’ll feel better or is it really going to serve you? I’m so rightly strung that I think I;ll bust.)
At 3 we realize that we need help, even if it is for a euthanasia. (Large, hard lump in my throat, nerves screaming, mind whirling, fatigue pushing me hard but not overtaking me). The Emergency Vet Hospital 15 minutes away says get him here. We haul and hoist him into the Outback “trunk” area on top of an old, soft deep comforter. He smiles the car is one of his homes. He is safe. By 4:30 we are there.
This loss is especially hard for Nancy: Titan was one of the greatest loves of her life. She and he were, are and always will be one. that is a once in a lifetime inimitable gift. Precisely that, however, insures that she will feel even more sharply the aching emptiness of the hole beside snd inside herself where he used to be, while the healing process of grief takes its course.
As for me, as I write I am quietly rehearsing my habitual though basec on his being nesrby: “come here bud, lets play tug the ball”. In that very instant Inrealize with a feeling of almost nauseating bottomless falling, that his physical being cannot do that any more.
Then I’m knocked down by the very big disaster for me, on older fellow who found his only effective cure for lifelong very severe ADHD in the companionship not just of dogs, but especially and powerfully with trained GSDs. The big knock down is realization.that for the first time in 17 years there is no GSD awaiting us at home when we return is daunting. It ties up my gut in fear.
Ut at least helping him with his dying we got right in the end. We are so very very glad that he died while in the hospital; we took him there because we could not handle his struggle by ourselves. And we wanted him and his body to be treated with the utmost care and dignity.
Things got so unbearably painful for him and us that night. We filled God’s inbox with prayers, petitions, even outright commands in less than civil language. With just an bour left for him, We achieved that at nearby Western Carolina Regional Animal and Emergency just in time.
We are so utterly grateful for the unconditional love he brought us — just as Bruno,Zora and Kaiser did. We are grateful to German Shepherd Rescue and Adoption of NC for having brought Titan and Kaiser to us. Our GSD companions have lined our lived for 18 years with safety, steadiness, solace and sweetly intelligent companionship.
Titan came to us on the 19th of April, 2013 via Connie from German Shepherd Rescue and Adoption, a group of some of the most loving and tough people I’ve ever known. It takes a lot to have to face a dog whom some dead-souled human starved, intimidated, kicked in 3 ribs and knocked out a tooth while scarring his muzzle and psyche — all before dumping in the woods to die? Is that love exceeded anywhere?
That’s what happened to Titan and the context in which he had lived when I fist met him at GSRA’s Adoption Event in March, 2013 in Cary.
We know who did it from what he feared when he came to us: a slim person, wearing dark shoes or especially boots, jeans or especially cargo pants and a baseball cap,. We think this person, if such a lowlife can deserve the appellation of human implied in the word person, must have been a male: titan was terrified of me, cowering, baring fangs, growling at first. We think he was protected by a woman–he had no fear of any woman who is comfortable around him. And in some way the back seat or utility area in the back ofd an SUV type vehicle was his safe haven: even dying, one hour before his body gave out, you could see the realization and joy at being in the back of our Outback–regardless of going to his final vet visit.
He became noticeably more agitated at the vet hospital. It was hard to draw blood because it was thickening inside his veins. He began to breath with his mouth wide open, tongue hanging out, long, loose, pink in color but dry as a bone and oozing a sweet-rotten smelling green nd black gelatinous goo which had to be wiped from his lip: dehydrated saliva. He was alternately restless and almost senseless.
The vet was in a hurry to get his blood tested. Maybe there was something that could still be done.
(My God, is he dying right before our eyes? He isn’t even whimpering. Don’t worry bud, we’ve got you covered, we won’t let you suffer : dammitallanyway, the signs of all this were evident 5 hours ago at home, my God, my God, my God it was my need to keep him around and then to be his savior that made him suffer needlessly.)
I say that to Nancy. She says remember we did not think we could lift him into the car. (Yeah, I forgot, it took us one hour to move him basically two car lengths with the Help ‘Em Up harness and then every ounce of strength we two oldsters could muster to heft him, feeling like a burlap potato sack filled with lead potatoes, into the rear. Oh thank you God;, he looks so peaceful here. He seems to be smiling, and the panting is far less severe. He’s safe and we did it!)
The vet had sprinted with the blood to the testing area at about 5:15 am. He’d given T an injection of painkiller to slow the stress on the heart and lungs. Nancy was talking to him – T – and turned to do something at the counter in the exam room. I was sitting a bit away and behind where Nancy was standing. The instant she turned away, he raised his head, looking for a split second up towards the corner ceiling in the room to his front and left. He had not been able to raise his head or even react for hours now. And now suddenly he sits up?
But that’s not even the half of what I saw and cannot explain.
Just before Nancy had turned around, I had noticed that, lying there on his side, panting, those deep, large brown eyes had begun to shine a glazedgolden brown . Suddenly the great bear head raises up, just as if he were at home and had heard something outside that was not supposed to have been there: high alert. It was as if he’d seen something beyond that room. But his alert was suddenly ecstatic. We all know what our dog looks like when he is overjoyed to see someone he loves. Those golden brown eyes the instant he showed his joy glowed molten gold.And then, the golden light just stopped and he slumped slowly, head first and neck curved, as he’d been doing when tired from exertion all night to his right. My eyes went instantly to his abdomen: the lifting and falling of life was gone. He was dead.
I had seen something that we just do not get to see on this earth. Please don’t ask me to prove it — you were not there, I was. It overwhelmed me, I knew biblical awe in a flash, but my mind was kicking on my thoughts saying, tell her, tell her. God I did not want to tell her that but I did. She screamed for the vet — but more for her loss, and he came running. No heartbeat. Just a very very handsome boy lying there, eyes open but with a gentle far away stare, those large black coal nugget eyes that always had had that polish and questioning look, were dull and blank..
I am editing this on October 23. My oh my how that hole in my life still aches, how that empty hall still hangs dark with shadows of his suffering and last nights struggle. I’d do anything to get him — and Kaiser, and bruno and Zora — back. But I digress.
The blood tests showed that his kidneys had failed. We were right in deciding not to do resuscitation.
So it would not have made one iota of difference whether we had gone there earlier or not. He was on his way out all during those two days. He was trying to tell us that by not eating. He was trying to get, not to the hospital, but back into the car. At least just about his last experience was a 15 minute car ride. He wanted to leave from his safe place.
Of course now we are enduing the wrenching and lurching agony of separation, parting with no debrief afterwards. We are doing all the phases of grief. But they say that the brain remains active for a period after the heart stops. I am so utterly grateful that that night shift vet gave us 10 minutes with him and then promised dignified and caring treatment of his body. Indeed when he came back, he sat down in front of T, told him how handsome he was, and stroked his head, neck, legs and sides. But in those 10 minutes, when I now believe his true eternal self had made those eyes glow and was still gently hanging on to this world, he heard, saw, felt and knew a love song enough to break the bonds of death itself.
The miracle was that we wound up doing it all just right. Or more accurately: we were guided by him to take all the right actions at all the right times.
We are devoted to German Shepherds and after a pause to grieve and reorient ourselves, not only want to bring more into our lives. We feel strongly that we must do that, that it is our lot in this life to provide a home and a good life for GSDs misunderstood as “aggressive”, rejected, dumped, abandoned, beaten, starved and worst of all, ignored. We owe it to Bruno, Zora, Kaiser, Titan. Having our hand out for them is our responsibility.
Thank God he chose Nancy for his earthly commitment. Thank God that we had the honor and sublime joy of having been his companions for four years. Thank God that we gave him in return the best life we could. Thank you Titan for having given me just a quick glimpse of whatever it is that animates all life. Thank God for Titan and German Shepherds.