Part of being a mindful mom is to sow seeds that may not be reaped for a long time. Back in 2007, when my brother's dog died, I began to consider how we would handle to death of our beloved pets, in particularly the lovely Loa. While one dog ran off and we had to give away another due to a move, we had never had a pet die on us at that point (except for nameless fish). When our parakeet Lily died in 2008, we chickened out: Steve came home with a new parakeet and then we broke the news. I even mentioned in the blog post how we had spotlighted that moment because we would eventually have to face the death of Loa. At the time, she was still in good health except for hypothyroidism which brought on arthritis more quickly and caused us to restrict her food intake. This girl would balloon if fed according to directions on the dog food bag. Later that year, Loa started developing a horrible skin condition which eventually led us to put her on Limited Ingredient Diets dogfood. We had to make a fifty-minute round trip just to buy her special food, which also happened to be gluten-free, casein-free, but she was worth it.
Elderly Loa had slowed down considerably a year later. While she had always been docile, we never trusted Pamela with her in case a squirrel caught her attention. The dog's movements had become so stiff that even Pamela could walk her. The signs of aging had become more and more clear in the past year. Loa's joints swelled, and she had to hurl her front legs when she walked. Her coat became more gray and sparse around her legs and tail. On Steve's visit early last November, he noticed how much weight she had lost. I tried fattening her up with some coconut oil and increased her daily allotment. Before Thanksgiving, she had a nasty allergic reaction to anti-flea medication. She appeared paralyzed but was too alert for it to have been a stroke. She recovered some of her leg function and could walk very slowly. When the steroids wore off, her back legs went cold and she couldn't hold her own weight.
Off and on in the past year, we have made little comments in front of Pamela about Loa getting old. Every single time, we were met with screeching and loud protests, "Loa's not old! She's YOUNG!!!!!!" We persisted in bringing up the topic calmly to probe her reaction. Oddly, when Pamela saw the decline herself, she made comments like "Loa is floppy." Then, I added something to her comment. "She can't run outside anymore." Pamela watched me prop her up to drink. She saw that Loa kept having accidents. She could not deny that Loa was not only old, but dying. Pamela stopped freaking out when we talked about this painful topic. I think she realized that Loa was not living life to the fullest. She was no longer the dog the kids could use as a pillow for she yelped, even when treated gently.
In that last week, we had to broach the next issue. Having two households, eleven-hundred miles apart, makes pets an inconvenience. We always have to finagle someone into watching the bird and to kennel the dogs. This time we would not buy a replacement pet. At first, Pamela freaked out about that, too. I explained why and my reasoning must have made sense to her. She negotiated and asked for a toy dog instead, and I gladly agreed.
Two weeks ago, we said our good-byes to Loa and I took her to our vet (who, by the way, was absolutely wonderful to us). Pamela remained quite calm and has yet to buy the toy dog. She has been reading the blogpost about Lily to reassure herself (yes, she reads my blog--"Hi, Pamela!"). Steve and I were much more emotional about it than Pamela, and my tears are far more cleansing than Pamela's meltdowns.
And, in God's perfect timing, Loa died on the day of one of our walks in the swamp with its ghostly pines. We just "happened" to be reading poetry by Walt Whitman, who captured the mood of that day so well. We are near the end of a term, which means saying good-bye to a pile of books, and reading of the death of beloved companions like Louis Braille and Alfred the Great. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the morning we let our sweet old dog breathe her last, a lost soul far to the north was heading out to commit an unthinkable act to our nation's youngest and bravest.
And, of course, it was a season rich in carols for the One who was born simply to die...
Then with the knowledge of death
As walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close
Walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions,
And as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding
Receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water,
The path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars
And ghostly pines so still.
And the singer so shy to the rest received me,
The gray-brown bird I know
Received us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death,
And a verse for him I love.
From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars
And the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.
And the charm of the carol rapt me
As I held as if by their hands
My comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit
Tallied the song of the bird.
Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world,
Serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.