Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Subtle Changes

Please bear with me. This will probably be long. And while it may seem like it's all about the death of a family dog, that is just the beginning...

Last weekend, my parents' fifteen-year-old lab/husky mix, Prissy, woke them up in the middle of the night. Over the past year or so, her health has slowly deteriorated. She couldn't hear well. She could no longer control her bowels. She was stiff. However, she still had a hearty appetite and retained her sunny disposition and playfulness (at least what her body would allow). We weren't sure she'd survive the winter, but she did. However, we were sure the blistering days we've experienced so far this summer would be too much for her. Mom and Dad kept the back porch watered down and kept a box fan running to keep her cool. On Saturday night, though, she began crying because she could not get up. My parents helped her up and spent most of the night tending to her and consoling her. On Sunday, Mom called to tell me that Prissy was very sick and that on Monday she would need to go to the vet, this time not to be treated but to bring an end to her pain. Sunday night was worse, with Mom spending much of the night on the porch, petting Prissy and
talking to her.

Black Dog by Amy Godwin

On Monday morning, I called Mom and told her I would come down to help in any way. Any of you who know me very well know how I am about dogs. I generally prefer their company over the company of people, and I consider my two dogs to be as much a part of my family as any human relative. I knew the task before me would be difficult since not only would I be dealing with the death of a dog but also my mother's sadness. As I drove down, I prayed out loud for God to give me strength and peace.

When I arrived at my parents' house, mom was outside sitting with Prissy. Mom had given her some Vicodin to ease her pain and help her rest. Prissy couldn't get up or even roll over, but she still had her doggy smile.

Dad had started a grave down by the woods and asked me to go and look at it to see if it was wide enough. I found the grave--only about six inches deep--and it was only wide and long enough for a small dog. I didn't ask Dad to dig any more. He's been to the ER several times in recent years after passing out. They've never found a reason for this, but I figured digging a grave in the June heat couldn't be good for him, especially since he's 77 now. My friend Vaughn came to help me dig (though he moved a lot more dirt than I could). The ground was hard and full of roots, but we managed to dig a hole both deep and large enough to hold what would be the remains of our Prissy.

Mom put a tarp in the back of my Highlander because I couldn't stand the thought of her sliding around in the back of the pickup. Since she couldn't walk and we were afraid we'd hurt her or drop her if we picked her up, we had to place a sheet under her and carry her to the car. As Dad and I prepared to leave, Mom cried said goodbye to Prissy. I said a silent prayer again for strength. Seeing my mother cry devastates me, and at that exact moment, I needed to hold myself together for the drive to South Jackson.

I had forgotten how much Prissy doesn't like cars. Couple that with her fear and pain, and the ride to the vet was excruciating. She cried and moaned which made me cry. Since she can't hear much, nothing we said comforted her. Dad asked if I wanted to pull over and let him drive so that I could climb into the back with her. I knew, though, if I sat that close to her I would completely lose all composure. I hated to seem cold, but I knew I wouldn't be able to follow through with what we had to do if I sat with her. So I drove. I drove and I tried to talk about anything besides what we were doing.

We arrived at the vet and I filled out the necessary paperwork. I guess I had blocked out how expensive it is to have a pet put to sleep. It almost seems cruel that some people have financial stress added to the emotional stress of losing a pet. Though the money wasn't an issue on Monday, several years ago I had to have a stray puppy we picked up put down because we didn't have money for parvo treatments (John was in school and I was teaching). I remember wondering what WE would have to sacrifice to pay for euthanizing the puppy, which in turn made me feel like the most selfish person ever.

A vet tech carried Prissy inside and placed her on the table in an exam room. I sat with her while we waited on the vet. I was holding everything in, not wanting to cry and scare her. I talked to her and told her she was a good dog and that she was going to be okay. When the vet came in, though, I couldn't help it. As he very kindly explained the procedure I started crying. He asked us if we needed more time with her. I shook my head, knowing I had to get out of the room. I kissed my fingers and touched her face. I promised her, "You won't hurt any more."

Dad stayed with her since I couldn't and I didn't want her to be alone. It all took less than two minutes. When he came out, he told me that she closed her eyes immediately after the injection and that it was very peaceful. I began to text message furiously, anything to take my mind off of what had just happened a few feet away behind the door of exam room #2.

They wrapped her body and placed it in a box. The techs put her body in my car and we began the drive home. When we got there, dad wanted to sit and rest for awhile but I insisted that he get up and help me get her down to the grave. Knowing she was in my car made me anxious. I needed it to be done. We carried her down to the edge of the woods and placed her in the grave. We started to shovel dirt. In less than a minute, Dad was flushed. I told him to go inside, that I would finish. He put his shovel down and walked to the house.

I spent the next little while burying one of the sweetest dogs I've ever met. Thinking about it now, I can't believe I did it, that I did ANY of it. I obsess over stray dogs I see walking down the side of the road, worrying for miles that they will get hit by a car. I'm not sure how I held up as well as I did through the death and burial of a beautiful dog.

It's been two days now. I'm sad about Prissy, but I'm thankful she had a long life and that she did not have to suffer long. What has stuck with me and perhaps haunted me is the role reversals I experienced that day.

I've always accused my mother of being over-protective, but it's not something I mind so much to be honest. Not only has she tried to protect me from danger, she has also tried to protect me from sadness and heartache. My mother is one of the most empathetic people I've ever met, and she doesn't like to see people hurt--especially her children. When I told her I would come and take care of things with Prissy, she agreed. Don't get me wrong, I didn't offer to do it because I thought she'd refuse and I wouldn't have to follow through. I wanted her to let me handle it. She is so emotionally taxed by my grandparents that I just couldn't let her bear this burden, too. But when she agreed, I was surprised. I was ready to insist, but it wasn't necessary. I've had to take care of my mother physically in the past, but never emotionally. I've never had to step up and protect her from experiencing any more sadness. And while I'm not the least bit hesitant to do it, it was a reminder that both my mother and I are getting older.

Monday was also a reminder that my father--my strong, protective father--is not a young man anymore. He is not frail by any means, but he is not able to perform the physical work he once could. When he put down his shovel, I watched him walk toward the house, still with a slight limp even after having both knees replaced. At my insistence, my father had stopped working to return to the house, leaving me alone to bury Prissy. As I shoveled dirt back into the grave, I found myself worrying about my dad's health, both physical and mental. I suddenly assumed the role of a parent, hoping that he takes care of himself and doesn't do anything to push himself too hard. Though part of me still feels like Daddy's little girl, the other part of me feels like I should be protecting him. It's not a feeling I like but it is one I must accept.

I am blessed with wonderful, loving parents, but I am not fortunate enough to have parents as young as some of my friends. I am 30. My father is 77; my mother, 62. Every visit to my grandparents is sad and scary, watching time rob them of their minds and often their dignity. I pray that my parents remain healthy, both physically and mentally. It's not that I'm afraid of the physical commitment a child must make to take care of ailing parents, though I know how grueling it can be. I just can't bear the thought of my father not knowing who I am or my mother becoming a totally different person. But it is not for us to decide our fate in our last years and I pray that God will once again make me strong and give me peace. I pray that I can be the daughter that my mother has been to her parents, never giving up even when it would be easier and possibly less painful to walk away.

On Monday, I buried a dog. But I also buried a small piece of me, the little girl me that I still cling to.

I think I'm officially an adult now.

And I want to go back.


Anonymous said...

you should write a book!! I am sorry that you had to go through that. It is just terrible to have to be the one to make the decision and I cannot imagine what your mom felt. Our first child is Jack, a 12 year old Jack Russell. When we got him and took him to the vet they told us he would not live a year. He has a terrible heart murmur. He is still alive and kicking, thank God. If there is a time that we have to make the decision, my hubby will not be able to do it and I pray that I am as strong as you are. I really understand your love for dogs as I share it. And the statement about strays on the side of the road is so me. Thanks for sharing. Julie

Pint of View said...

God put dogs here for a reason. It's amazing how much love they can cause in us. If we could only do that with each other more.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know your dog, but it's like I did. I'm so sorry about your dog. My sister had two dogs and when they died, I cried too. My husband had a greyhound who had to be put down from age, and I cried like a baby. I get so attached to animals after only a short time of knowing them. Heck, I've got a neighbor who has a cat that I'm attached to. She comes in our house and we feed her sometimes. I feel your pain and wish you didn't have to go through that, but it is amazing how something like that can really make you realize you're not a kid anymore.