July 7, 2013

North Cairn: At least let this dog go to heaven

Now the gentle plans unfold, harsh as shards of granite beneath the skin, splintering every nerve.

The dog is ready to rest.

Meanwhile, resisting with every cell still storming, I try to organize the arrangements I hoped I would never have to specify -- the site and manner of death, dealing with the body and burial, holding her one last time.

On my mind these days, because I cannot envision my daily life without this dog, are details approaching nonsense: Do I own an adequate shovel? Will the landlord allow me space for a grave? Should I scatter her ashes over the sea she has so loved? Which of these present days will be the one of unforgettable detail and absence?

The golden retriever, gone far beyond epilepsy now, is already fractionally departed -- or so she appears most of the time now, slipping further and longer into dream, whimpering as she sleeps as though in pain she cannot for my benefit hide, dragging herself outdoors only to fail and fall on the stairs, sitting up only to stare at me for long moments, telling me what I already know. She is, at the last, as ever, waiting for me to catch up.

She is dying; she is dying, I intone to myself, making no sound but a subdued wail within, something like the low warning growl she has always issued over some imagined invasion, though the intruder now is unstoppable death.

She is dying; she is dying, I think with leaden repetition. But I do not want this going, my life opening on this clearing, this liberation of my leisure hours, this exemption from constant sweeping of dog hair from every corner, every coat. I do not wish this rearrangement of all my internal furniture, an empty room, minus the dog.

She has not eaten for five days, and the vet has decreed that intervention to give her a little more time cannot be delayed even a week. But I am suspending it forever. I know it is time to go.

The golden days left now are calculated by the measure of how much water she consumes -- a disheartening lowest common denominator on any day, but especially now as her liver fails, forcing her to lap up constant, unimaginable amounts of liquid, even for a dog of her size. I traipse back and forth to the sink, the levered faucet like the gear shift on an engine I am quickening or slowing by degrees, as I fill a fleet of water bowls and strategically position them so that she will not have to walk more than 10 feet to slake her thirst.

I have done my best to deny the ending that is coming, surely as sunset or a turning tide. I have indulged myself in pointless, perky rituals to reverse the real physical conditions -- broiling steaks for her, baking chicken in the 95-degree heat of high summer, boiling hamburger and rice, slipping bologna the diameter of a DVD out of its deli jacket and offering it rolled into a hollow cigar shape, torn into ragged pieces, uncoiled from edge to center like a yo-yo, flung through the air like little Frisbees -- all to coax from her a gesture of interest in life.

These are terrible days, fraught with this finishing, though all around us, friends and acquaintances, neighbors and veterinarians, are kind, compassionate and patient -- the three great virtues in departure. Many intimates have called to extend that odd permission we seem to require, even when ending suffering, because, we know, once the decision is executed, nothing will ever be quite the same again.

(Continued on page 2)

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