A Good Death

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

hands

My sister and my grandmother: Two hands meeting across the generations.
(Photo courtesy of my younger sis.)
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(aka, “The post I meant to write when Uncle Ken died.”)

Yesterday my 97-year-old grandmother entered hospice care. She’d been hospitalized more than a week before, after falling in her bedroom – to which she’s been more or less confined for the past few months – and cracking her pelvis. While there, her condition declined steadily; by Monday the doctors were predicting that she wouldn’t last through the night. She stopped eating around this time and refused any further medical intervention. No more poking, prodding, or tests; no meals through a tube or artificial life support. After 97 years, all Arnie wants is to die in peace.

The last few months, her eyesight and hearing have failed her. The simple act of breathing – in, out, in, out; so instinctive that most of us take it for granted – proved a constant struggle; speaking, nearly impossible. (This, after more than a decade of carting around oxygen tanks.) She wanted to die; insisted upon it, much like her brother Ken before her (who, at the ripe old age of 102, preceded her by just over two years). Death became a constant topic of conversation, as my mother and aunt sat at her bedside, reading to her and making up puzzles in 2″ block letters that she could just barely make out. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream. She was ready – is ready, has long been ready – to enter that clearing. And yet her body, with those crazy long-lived Naber genes, stubbornly hangs on.

Today we enter Day Three of her hunger strike and, at last update, it appears that she’s actually doing marginally better: Her feet and hands, slightly less blue; mind still there, if drifting in and out of consciousness. Arnie wants peace, but it’s painfully slow in coming.

(More below the fold…)

Saying Goodbye (The Ralphie and Kaylee Post)

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

2008-04-30 - Dogs, After Kaylee's Surgery - 0009 [Gina 4x6]

4/30/08 – The pack (at the time), reunited after Kaylee’s surgery.
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The Power of the Dog

by Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passsion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find–it’s your own affair–
But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long–
So why in–Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

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2006-09-24 - RevisitingFairport-0049 [modified-square1]

9/24/06 – When Shane and I (with Ralphie, Peedee, and O-Ren in tow) visited our family in New York, we took Ralphie on a special trip (just us three!) to our old haunts in Fairport: old house, hiking trails, community center, Lollypop Farm. I’ll cherish these memories forever.
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The year that Shane, Ralphie, Ozzy, and I relocated from New York to the Midwest (then Kansas, now Missouri), I did some work on a pet loss website. In addition to graphics, I scoured books and the web for public domain poetry and whatnot for use on the site. While the whole project was rather maudlin and depressing, it’s the latter task that took the greatest toll on me. Oftentimes I’d find myself bawling at the computer screen, imagining as the subject of this essay or that poem Ralphie – my first-born, my baby, my little man – placing myself in the author’s shoes, contemplating just how utterly awful my dog kid’s passing would be. Sleepless nights spent crying into his gorgeous red fur, willing him to live forever; arms wrapped in a veritable death grip.

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Power of the Dog” and “Where To Bury A Dog,” by Ben Hur Lampman, were two of my favorites. Even though I’ve since realized that Kipling was a racist asshat, I still adore much of his animal-centric poetry. (As always, the speciesism is taken with a grain of salt. I don’t, for example, consider myself anyone’s “master,” nor would I ever buy a dog, puppy or otherwise.) Even today, I start to tear up over the titles alone – the feelings associated with each are that visceral and powerful.

Regrettably, my love for Ralphie carried with it a long shadow of sadness, colored by unhappiness and anxiety over the grief this love was sure to one day cause. Not any time soon, mind you; this was in 2002, when Ralphie was a wee little pup of four or five. Obsessing over a future hurt still a decade away – this just goes to show how utterly illogical it all was.

In retrospect, I was most likely suffering from depression. I’d just moved to a new state, more than 1,000 miles away from the friends and family I’d known for the first 24 years of my life, accompanied only by a man, a dog, and a cat. I didn’t know a soul aside from our landlords, who were perfectly pleasant people – except for the fact that they exploited nonhuman animals (cows and dogs) for a living. I’ve never suffered from a glut of social skills, and complicating matters was my budding vegetarianism and feminism, which slowly gave rise to a sense of alienation from others. I’d put graduate school on hold because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life (still don’t a decade plus later). Ralphie was my best friend, my responsibility, my reason for being; it’s no surprise that the inevitability of losing him, no matter how far off, exacerbated the depression and anxiety I was already feeling.

2003-04-09 - KellyRalphiePeedee-0003

4/9/03 – Ralphie, Peedee, and I taking one of our famous midday naps.
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Things got better when Peedee came into the picture. From the day we started planning our move to Kansas, we knew that we’d adopt a second dog so that Ralphie wouldn’t be alone. We even wrote it into our lease! (Luckily, Karla and Larry were nice enough to allow dogs three through five, even though they were not previously agreed upon.) Peedee took some of the pressure and focus off of Ralphie, allowing me to relax a little. Ditto Rennie, Kaylee, and Jayne, who came later (March 2005 and September 2006, respectively). While my dog kids’ mortality has been and will forever be a source of dread for me, it’s something that I’ve learned not to linger on. Whatever comes, we’ll all face it together.

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(More below the fold…)