Monday, January 11, 2010

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

The cost benefit analysis of bringing animals into your life can vary for person to person.

There are of course the financial expenses -- cost of animal, medical care, food and treats, chewies, toys, equipment, grooming, boarding, training, dog walking, day care, and possibly the loss or replacement of valuables your dog destroys during phases of development. Certainly those in the animal welfare world are well aware of the current economic crisis having a very high toll on the loss of animals of their home simply because of financial issues.

Then there is the more important cost of getting emotionally involved in the animals you take on responsibility for and the knowledge that there is a very high likelihood that you will outlive an animal and the grief that follows, often misunderstood or dismissed by other people in your life.

Four weeks ago today I learned Lily had an advanced case of hemangiosarcoma. Based on her radiograph and blood tests, I was told she would not last long. Kindly I was told by my vet he would be surprised if she lived a month.

I have gone through the stages of grief during this past month of hospice culminating in Lily's death Sunday night at 9:20 pm. She was one day shy of his month prediction. I consider this last month a real gift. I had an opportunity to spend quality time with her and to savor her on those days she felt well. Just being quietly near her on the more difficult days seemed to comfort her. Her pattern seemed to be a few good days (good appetite, spring in her step, her general joie) followed by one or two not so great days (no appetite, vomiting, lethargy, trouble breathing).

Friday was a very good day. Lily had a sudden surge of energy and seemed almost puppy-like in her enthusiasm and indicated desire to go for a drive even though it was freezing cold and snowy. I was thrilled that something I had already let go of just a week or so ago could be revisited -- at least one more time.

Off we went to visit my father, her "grandpa". She was solicitous of affection and was her old, sweet, usual self. No obvious signs of distress, heavy breathing or a dulled affect. She was downright perky!
I watched in awe but had in the back of my head the end of care guide, specifically the section in which it was written:

Surge of Energy
Occasionally, when someone is close to death, he has a temporary increase in energy and alertness. He may become talkative after a period of disorientation or sleepiness. He may ask for a favorite food after having refused meals and he may ask for visitors after a period of withdrawal. Take advantage of this time; it can be one of special closeness and a chance to express your love and support.
She remained pretty chipper the rest of Friday and had a great appetite.

Saturday was not a great day, but not a horrid one. Aside from a few potty breaks in the cold and snow, Lily mostly slept. But early evening she began to get up and instead collapsed, unable to get up. I helped get her on a dog bed and dragged her into the the living room. She rested there the rest of the evening.

My daughter Callie and I made a nest of cushions and warm blankets next to Lily on her bed

and along with all the other animals -- Bean, Trip, Grace, Lola and Byrne -- spent the night with her on the floor. I knew she would never go upstairs again. I cried myself to sleep, quietly, so as not to stress out Callie who was herself already openly grieving for a dog she had known from her earliest memories.

Lily remained unable to get up in the morning, and it had been nearly 18 hours since she had last gone out for a potty break. I put a towel under her hindquarters on the bed in case she lost control of her bladder or bowels.

At noon, as I was getting ready to take one daughter to begin a bus journey for a 3 day field trip for school and pick up another who had been at a sleepover birthday party, I went in to check on Lily and she was gone! Not one of us had noticed that she had gotten up and returned to her crate next to the radiator.

I was able to roust her long enough to get her outside one last time. On wobbly legs she made a successful potty break and came back in. Back to her warm crate and rest.

Throughout the rest of the day she rested. She refused food, drank some water. Visitors to the house included grandpa again as well as my sister in law and 5 1/2 month old nephew.
Lily rested through it all.

Shortly after 9, guests long gone, I went to try to roust her for one last evening potty break. My two younger girls were nearby. I helped her up and out of the crate. Lily let out a very sharp, loud scream. It had a guttural, primal sound, and it shook me to my core. Her ears, usually flopped over softly, stood straight up in a way I had never seen before. I called Callie to grab the dog bed from the other room and together we helped get her fully back on the bed. Lily screamed another singular wail, sank into the bed and died.

The girls and I sat on the floor in the dark room surrounding her. We stroked and petted her. Bathing her in our tears we told her how much we had loved her. I thanked my sobbing girls for being such great friends to Lily. I also told them it was such a gift that she had allowed us to be with her at the end, and it was a gift for her that we could be there, stroking, loving and generally doing everything we could to help her onto her journey to the Rainbow Bridge.

The flipside of grief is humor. We sat there for a very long time as Lily's body began to further shut down. I had been around enough dying dogs to know that she was already gone in spirit; now it was her body turning off the rest of the lights in the house.

The other two dogs and cats came by to sniff and regard the body. Each addressed her differently, and the girls asked a lot of questions about the surviving animals' take on her death. It was one of those parenting moments you dread and savor all at the same time -- an opportunity to share the experience of the death of a loved one is a bittersweet time. I told the girls I couldn't begin to know what animals think, I can only observe. To my mind, all were exhibiting more or less respectful behavior.

Finally Trip came over to sit on my lap as I sat on the floor and make what Sophie calls his Old Man noises. I began a dialogue.

Me: "Just because you are now the oldest animal does not automatically make you royalty."
Trip: "grrrr moan, moan grrr, moan moan whimper moan grrr."
Me: "I don't care how much you think the crown will look good on your head. Passing of the crown has to go to the animal amongst the remaining pack who exhibits the greatest leadership while maintaining dignity. I think we can all agree that Bean, loving as he is, does not convey the greatest attributes of royalty. And Lola and Grace just can't be bothered.

And frankly, although you are smart, funny and certainly have seniority age wise, I just don't think you have the sobriety needed to rule fairly. You're too happy happy joy joy all the time, and it doesn't help that you get too overstimulated in that terrier way."
Trip: "grrrrr...moan, grr, grr, moan, whimper, grrrrr, moooaaaannnnn."
Me: "I know, sometimes the truth hurts. But I have to know the passing of the crown goes to the one who deserves it."

The girls and I realized that of the remaining 5 animals, Byrne, although still young and very much a punk much of the time, has the greatest leadership qualities.
But until the crown can fit snugly over his adolescent ego, we shall carry on during the interregnum.

We'll all need some time to adjust. Lily's death has left a huge hole in our hearts and hearth.


Anonymous said...

Rachel, My heart goes out to you and your family at this time of grief and passing of Lily. May her memory be but a blessing. Teresa

Anonymous said...

Rachel there are tears in my eyes as I write this. Lily was such a wonderful girl. She displayed such grace and charm and was so deovted to you and the girls.

There were times early on when we first got Molly that I used to wish she were more like Lily, but I knew that was up to me to make her more like Lily. Molly is her own girl and we love her dearly for who she is. Even when she steals a whole meat loaf because I was stupid enough to leave it out!!!

I wish Molly could understand that her sister is gone and it is a true loss, but I will still go home today and hug her and tell her all about it. The queen will be missed. Diane

Amy Friedman said...

I love my nieces, all of them, and Lily was one of my favorites. I'll never forget her as a pup--all that exquisite, passionate, wild energy. And I can't imagine being in your living room without that nose slipping under my hand, begging for one more pet, just a little more attention. Farewell, Lily. Give Kell and Jazz and Teisha my love when you see them on Rainbow Bridge. Love, Aunt Amy

Dave said...


I too had tears in my eyes reading your post. But I also appreciated your sage approach to an otherwise traumatic event. I'm sure your daughters, although they can't realize it now, will benefit greatly from this and will draw upon the experience in the future.

I do however question the wisdom of putting a cat in charge. No offense to Bryne, I am a cat person myself, but isn't this a bit like giving the inmates the key to the asylum?