Monday, June 29, 2015

Lessons to Be Learned from the Terminal

We thought it was just the post-winter blues. Gain a little (lots) of weight, age, fighting to get back to a daily activity level appropriate, all that. I’m talking about The Beagle, the beloved fourth member of our little family. I just had this feeling – call it mother’s instinct – something just wasn’t right for the longest time. Turns out I was right. Something is wrong.

The best part of The Beagle is his heart. And now, it’s also his worst part.

We brought him to the vet about a month ago. They diagnosed him with pancreatitis and gave him new food and a few drugs. A week later, he was worse. The Dad and I spent a lot of time lying on our bellies that week, up in our dog’s grill, trying to coax him to do things. Eat. Swallow pills. Wag his tail. Breathe. Don’t you go dying on us!

The things you do for your kids. Even if they’re not of our species.

He has a bad ticker. Technically, it’s a tumor around his heart, that’s essentially causing him to be in congestive heart failure. We’re sort of stuck in limbo at this point, three+ weeks post operation that was literally a life-saving procedure. We were sent home with our boy with the instructions no one ever wants in their pocket; wait for the decline, say your goodbyes, and bring him back.

And because of how I’m wired, I always look for the positive in most scenarios. It’s one of my superhero powers. So in that vein, I started to see some lessons to be gained from the terminally ill:

1. Dogs Smell Fear
Regarding instincts, dogs have amazing radar when something isn’t right. The Beagle has always slept on my side of the bed on the floor – right next to his Mama for nine straight years. A month before he got sick, he abruptly switched to The Dad’s side. Strange, we thought. Then when he slept on Kid Rock’s floor for the first time in either of their lives the night he had surgery, we got it. Dogs can sense anxiety, and he was just making the rounds to ensure his humans were all okay.

2. Humor is Always the Best Medicine
There are jokes and there are inappropriate jokes and we’ve been saying them all recently. The whole, he’s kicking hospice’s ass, and be nice to him, he’s dying, keeps us smirking a little, and the mood, light. We’re trying to be normal for our daughter’s sake, but I think a lot of it is going toward our sake, too.

3. Shoot it Straight
Having Kid Rock hug her “brother” goodbye before he went in because we didn’t know the outcome was awful. Awful. But so would’ve living with knowing we kept her from saying that goodbye in case he never came home. Being honest with her was the best policy, even if it gutted us a little. Face the music. That’s not the worst part. The worst part is waiting to have the conversation in the first place.

4. Live Like You’re Dying
Because we are. This includes astronomical grocery bills because your dog now requires people food for his last meal(s), and getting over your issue with pet hair on your furniture. Think of two adults, one kid, and an overweight, geriatric dog in one queen bed on a Saturday night. So much snoring and kicking … and so many memories.

5. Never Give Up
As The Beagle was trying to shake his post-winter blues, I began training for my first half-marathon. Naturally, I wanted to help him overcome the holiday weight and sluggishness so I began my training with him. Poor little guy! Running in harsh the Midwestern climate while in cardiac distress? The humanity! I had no idea he was sick. His eagerness never wavered. I got my shoes; he got his leash. There were a few runs I had to call home for a doggy pickup after a few miles, but damnit if he wasn’t begging by the front door the next time I went out. American author Charles Bukowski said, “My dear, find what you love, and let it kill you.” For The Beagle, it’s running full speed via leash, tethered to his people.

6. It’s Never Just About a Dog
It was a Friday when The Dad called me from the vet with the diagnosis. He was crying, I was crying. I was at work, a safe place I’ve only been part of for six months. When my coworkers saw me crying my face off, they moved right in to comfort me. I kept repeating, it’s only my dog, it’s only my dog by way of explaining it wasn’t something BAD. They all assured me of course it’s bad. It’s your dog, your love, your life. It doesn’t matter how big or little it is to you or anyone else, if it matters, it matters. Period.

7. Hope Floats

We have no idea what to expect. We only know it will get a helluva lot worse before it gets better. And that’s okay. We went to some dark places with this whole thing, saying we’ll never, ever get another dog. But that’s just not true. We’re dog people and dog people have dogs. We’ve had nine incredible years with BeagieSmallz. We couldn’t imagine never having that kind of love in our lives. We will say goodbye. We will grieve. It will be awful, but we’ll sign up to do it again and again because the pain is always, always worth the price.

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