Thursday, March 21, 2013

In the end


In the end, there is relief. Somehow, Bear made the decision so easy. For the last ten months after her cancer diagnosis we agonized over when we would know the right time.

“I’ll just know,” I said, repeatedly, believing it completely.

“But what if I know sooner than you?” Morgan would always ask. And I would shake my head because how could I say that he would be wrong, knowing his sense of doom is much greater than mine.

And so, as we stare at each other with tragic faces, eyes red and streaming over Bear’s body convulsing endlessly on the kitchen floor, there is no hesitation, no question. This is it. Of course that’s how it would happen. Bear has always been our glue, and in the end she took away all of the potential for argument, the possibility of a rift.

The vet is called, 9:30 at night, and we wait.

For a time the sadness is shuffled aside as the longing for it all to be over sets in, and the relief of finally knowing. So this is how it is going to end.

Bear spent months skipping around the periphery of death. This headlong rush into it is not what we expected. The last two months of her life she was better than she had been all year. Her new medication was a miracle, even banishing the side effects of her other medication. She was steadier on her feet, the tired head-jog that plagued her for the previous eight months was gone, the glazed look that sometimes passed over her eyes was no more. There was talk of us making it to spring, and plans for another trip to the beach.

Through the window I see the vet materialize in the yellow light outside our door. It has been close to an hour, this wait out in the country for the on-call vet. Bear has been in a seizure state for almost the entire time. It is like a switch has been flicked, Morgan says.

Just the day before we followed our usual circuitous route through the forest, Bear leaping ahead, ears flapping with each rolling bound as Murdoch flashed away around the bend. Our path is a well-worn groove in a blanket of snow that must have accumulated to almost three feet in spots. We have picked out a winding trail over the last few months, avoiding major obstacles for smaller ones made navigable by the depth of the snow so Bear could clamber more easily over them. We walked this every day.

That day Bear dug out of the snow a giant stick we had played with earlier in the week. It was at least four-times her own length and she wrestled it out on to the trail as Murdoch and I walked ahead, returning home. When I looked back, Bear was a small figure in the spot where we left her, chewing on one end of the stick while the other disappeared into the snow. I called her, then laughed as she picked up the stick by its middle and carried it along the trail, turning her head this way and that to get the length of it around trees in her path.

Now she has disappeared into a seizure and isn’t coming back. The vet has a hard time getting an IV started because Bear’s legs will not still, the repeated administration of muscle relaxants do not work. Time ticks on, a vein in one leg is tried, then another. It is finally in the third attempt, with all of us hanging on, that it is done. We kiss her nose a million times. “She’s my baby,” says Morgan with a sad smile. “No,” I say. “She’s my baby.” A silly game we have played from the beginning.

Afterwards we are set upon by a state of disbelief. It all happened so fast. She was fine, and then she wasn’t. “What happened?” I say to the room, feeling ill.

In the morning we lie in, because we don’t have to dash out of bed at the crack of dawn to administer pills and accommodate a restless bladder. We watch the ravens fly loops around the house, call to each other in their deep, rattling voices. The sun shines, the sky is blue.

We gather up memories. Remember the time when she ran the entire length of that beach to chase off one tiny seagull? Remember when she impaled herself on that stick at Cap Lumiere? Remember covering her in a blanket against the bugs on Superior? Remember teaching her to jump off a dock on the Saint John River? Remember Cape Breton? Remember Montreal? Remember when we stuffed her and Max into the back of the little Suzuki and went camping and Max got motion sickness and Bear tried to make herself tiny and couldn’t wait to get out? Remember the giant sticks and the tennis balls and the rain puddles and canoeing? They tumble in, these brilliant memories; we wrap ourselves in them. Weren't we lucky, we say.

In the end there is an emptiness and the tremendous sense of the passage of time. For a moment I can hold it in the palm of my hand. Twelve years. Gone in the blink of an eye.

Thank you Bear, for everything.
xo

17 comments:

  1. So beautifully expressed, Heather, and hence so difficult to read. This is the one article I've been avoiding and yet here it hunches solidly in front of me, glaring straight up at me in black and white. I don't want to read it. Both your heartbreaking and your wonderously fond memories of lovable Bear strike deep. I find myself falling tearfully into a wash of my own memories, both dog and human,and I, again, am made acutely aware of the beauty and the arching thoughtfulness of your prose as it matches the beauty and mountain majesty of this soft bear, this quiet giant of a dog. Few people write about love, about friendship better than Heather Peden; few write better about animals, about the land. It's simple: you love and you love wholely. Bear gave you and Morgan much, but you also gave Bear just as much back. If he's looking at you two right now, I know "sweet Bear" is smiling.

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  2. Sorry, an amendment to be made. Bear would nudge me for such an error. The "he" in the last paragraph is a big "she". Apologies to female Bear. Somehow, don't know why, Bear always was male to me. I guess her size. Perhaps a Murdoch influence.

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    1. Bear would very much appreciate the correction. Thanks for that ;)

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  3. Ha Ha Ian that is like a final flailing on an answering machine :)

    I can hear you say "damn!" from here..

    There is much I would like to write about, mostly enveolped in the darkness of an ending, but Bear never once let her situation be anything more than just a challenge in the beauty of life.

    "Bear told me to say that...and xoxoxo to everyone :)"

    "Oh and Throw the damn stick already!!!"

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    1. Bear was, and always will be, MY baby!

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  4. I can imagine that you are heart broken, but I am glad that you can look back at the memories and feel good about them. At least Bear brought a lot of joy to your life and you must have to her's also. I am very attached to my own dog and can't imagine life without him, but just like you I will have to one day. I hope I will be as brave as you and find the words to express my love for him. xox

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    1. Bear did bring a lot of joy to our lives, it is hard to think of her as not being here any more. Very strange in fact. We miss her terribly. It sounds like your relationship with your dog is very joyful as well, hug him tight! We are so lucky to have these animals in our lives.
      Thank you for your kind words. :)

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  5. My deepest sympathy for the loss of *your* baby. This is a lovely goodbye post - my old boy is 15 and I can so relate to your thoughts of knowing when ... so far I know its NOT now. Not yet. Hoping for clear signs when the time comes. God bless you all as you grieve Bear. What a fabulous doggy.

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    1. Thank you Susan. I appreciate your thoughts and caring words. It is such a difficult thing to have to think about, that idea that some day you will have to decide. But I whole-heartedly believe that you just know when the time is right, and you will know. I am so glad for you that it is not now!

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  6. I am so very sorry for your loss Heather....I have walked this road twice before and am beginning to prepare for the inevitable loss of my own 12 year old lab...it's such a hard decision to make...I will be keeping you and Bear in my prayers!

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    1. Thank you Kim, that is sweet. And we will be thinking of you and the difficult road ahead with your lab.

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  7. making the decision is pure agony. i'm sorry bear suffered but i'm glad you knew with certainty that it was time. these months and weeks and even days toward the end are often so up and down that we doubt ourselves. i'm so sorry for your loss.

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    1. It is such a heart-wrenching decision to have to make, and think about, and agonize over. The end for Bear did suck, but we do take comfort in the knowledge that it was absolutely the right time. Thanks for your kind words.

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  8. Wow, how fortunate that you had those last two months with Bear feeling so well. But I'm sure that did make the sudden dramatic turn for the worst more difficult. That last hour waiting for the vet must have seemed like 10,000 years.

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    1. It has been all so very surreal. We were so lucky to have that time with Bear, we loved every second of it. But it was so strange to be plunged in to the end so quickly, and the wait did feel like 10,000 years.

      Thanks for thinking of us.

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  9. Heather, I am so glad you and Morgan have so many years of wonderful memories with Bear to comfort you in her absence. I know I have said it before, but your writing is just beautiful. I hope you write a book one day.

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    1. I would love that! Thanks for such a lovely comment.

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