Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Farewell, Old Friend

One of my last pictures of Rudy

We took Rudy to the vet yesterday, which was no small endeavor as he has never been a fan of riding in cars. Our last attempts (several years ago) resulted in either poop or barf in the back of the vehicle, sometimes both. So I got a sedative from the vet, gave it to Rudy, then an hour later loaded him up in the back of the Vanagon with Zion's help.  The reason for the trip was the new and sudden appearance of a wound on his stomach. We hadn't seen it the night before and had no idea what could have caused it. A couple weeks ago he had an incident outside and came in and seemed really out of it and weak, and he spent the entire next day in his bed. We really thought that was the end, but the next day he got up and ate some food and acted like a slowed down and older version of his old self. 

It turned out he had a large abdominal/chest tumor that ruptured--there were no outward signs of the tumor prior to the rupture. The vet said that our options were very limited. Of course they could do surgery, and the vet was willing to do the surgery if we chose that option, but he said there was really no way of knowing what they would find once they were in there, and that given the size of the tumor, there would likely be more. He also said the likelihood was high that it had been a fast-growing one, which also has a reduced chance of successful treatment or recovery.  He said that euthanasia was also an option, and one that he felt was acceptable in this case. We knew that we weren't going to put our sweet old friend through the risks and stress of surgery at his age, especially one that had so little chance of giving him a longer life, so the choice was pretty clear. But that certainly didn't make it any easier. 

I called David from the vet's office and tearfully discussed the news. David felt strongly that we should try and have Rudy euthanized at home, as kind of our last loving gift to this friend of ours. He has been a member of our family for over 8 years, and the kindest thing would be to help him leave his life of pain in a place where he feels safe and loved. After we got off the phone and the vet came back in, I spoke with him and he said this was a service he offers, so we scheduled it for this morning at 9:45.  The vet gave him a steroid shot with some morphine to help with his pain for the duration and we loaded him up and brought him home. 

I broke the news to the other kids (minus the twins) and we all cried together. We planned to discuss that night what we should put on Rudy's epitaph plaque that will be returned with his ashes. We spent a lot of time petting and loving on our sweet old dog. And more tears. We remembered funny stories and nicknames for him. We counted the characters in the different ideas we had and finally settled on something that we felt was a loving tribute and also a bit of a nod to Rudy's quirky side. I'll share it when we get his ashes back. 

Last night Rudy seemed every one of his 10+ years, and acted like a dog with cancer would be expected to act. He seemed uncomfortable, walked around and leaned to the side, favoring different feet at different times.

This morning, though, he was happy to eat the pampered breakfast and leftovers that we gave him. (He stopped eating much of his kibble several days ago, which was completely out of character for him.) Still moving slow, there was a bit more spring in his step. It made it easy to think that maybe it wasn't the time to say goodbye. My heart yelled to have more time with him. But my mind knew that with the state of his wound and his cancer, things were likely going to get worse fast and be really difficult in the meantime. He was in no condition for surgery of any sort, even to close up the wound, and he would have had to be on medication and steroid shots to try and keep the tumor from growing. It all was just too much to ask him to go through so we could get maybe another month or two with him. But to have to make the choice to say goodbye to a friend and hold that responsibility is positively heart wrenching. I do believe that we made the best choice for Rudy, to save him the suffering of what was ahead, but I still feel so much anguish over having had to make that decision. 

The vet arrived at about 10:00 and gave Rudy the sedative while David held him and Zion and I caressed his head. The boys went upstairs with the twins as they didn't feel like they were up for being present during this time. After a few minutes, Dr. Bott gave the injection and it wasn't long after that before he passed. We brought the kids back downstairs to say goodbye to Rudy one last time. 

I'm sure reading this, you can sense my sadness, but those words hardly seem to be able to convey the depth or breadth of my feelings. But you can't really write all the tears that were shed or the many many thoughts and questions and fears that race through your head when you are overwhelmed with emotion. Trying to balance my own grief while helping my kids handle theirs has been a challenge. I reached out to a friend who has had experiences with pet loss and I really appreciated her support today. Another good friend brought us lunch, which was wonderful as when noon rolled around, I was not any more productive than I had been since yesterday's vet visit.  Yesterday I shared a brief account of what was happening on Facebook, which I had debated doing because I hesitate to share really personal things like this. I was glad I did, though, as the kindness and love and support I received made a difference in my feelings this morning. I felt understood and less alone, and that was nice.

This afternoon while cleaning the kitchen, I was cutting up a piece of leftover pizza from lunch to toss to the dogs, and it was so weird that there were only two of them. And Zion and I took Orbit and Daisy out on a walk (while the twins rode their scooter bikes) and I commented that it was weird and sad that we were out with all our dogs, and that only equaled two. We've had three dogs for 6 years, so it feels empty to only have two.

After his passing, I started making notes of fun memories or particularly Rudy things, as I'd like to make a memory book of pictures and fun thoughts about him. I filled up three pages in my Moleskin book. It was therapeutic and something to do when I didn't have the energy for anything else. We also made some paw prints with Model Magic clay and are planning to make a little memorial in a shadow box for him. In my sadness today, I wanted to order a memorial rock, a mug with his picture on it, and a blanket with a collage of pictures, but I opted to hold off and let my emotions settle a bit. Not that those things wouldn't be lovely tributes to him, but sometimes it is probably better to let the sadness settle a bit. 

I'm grateful to have this day come to a close. So many tears and so much sorrow and a lot of feeling empty. But also bits of joy and love recalling his years and being grateful that we got to have him. I feel completely spent, but I didn't want this day to end without recording my thoughts somewhere, and while this blog is very neglected, it still exists, and that's something. 

This is Rudy the summer after we adopted him from the Utah Friends of Basset Hounds rescue. 2008

He had gotten so white the past couple of years. Still the sweetest eyes. 

Sweet Rudy, waiting for a treat. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Since I blogged last, I have had three friends pass away and a beloved uncle. My friend Pam Williams, who commented here quite often (when I would post something--rare the last 3 years), was diagnosed with breast cancer last February. She went through chemo and had a mastectomy, and it seemed she was going to mend and be with us for more time. Then things took a rather sudden turn for the worse and they found cancer elsewhere. Only about a month after her mastectomy, she passed away. Though she and her husband Roger had only lived in our neighborhood for the past several years (5 or 6, I think) I had gotten to know her especially through book club and she had also generously shared her time with Zion as a writing mentor and tutor. I have missed her a lot.

That same month, I found out through Facebook that my childhood friend Cassandra (Cassie/Cass to me growing up) died. She had dealt with a lot of health issues over the summer and had dealt with diabetes since she was about 19, I think, and had also battled cancer in her late 20s, but with her positive outlook and zest for life, I didn't know that things were so serious. We had lost touch after elementary school, but reconnected several years ago on Facebook, and it had been a joy to get to know her again. Our elementary school friendship is filled with so many sweet memories. She had one of those large "tricycles" with the basket in the back, and we would give each other rides in the basket. We called it our Buddy Bike, and we called ourselves Best Buddies. I remember setting up an intercom system that I'd built at school in our rooms so we could talk to each other from our rooms. We made up our own dance routine to the oldies song "Lollipop." We loved playing Popples as well as with other toys in elaborate worlds we would create. For the first day of 4th grade, we dressed as matching as we could, complete with denim skirts, colored suspenders, and side ponytails! We had such fun times. When she died, it felt like those parts of my childhood somehow died, too. It made me sad that there wasn't another person who shared those memories with me anymore. I believe that she is still existing somewhere, but it felt like a profound loss. She also was the sort of person who brought joy and delight to everyone she knew, so I know that her death has affected many who were closer to her than I. It's just sad when people like that die, and even sadder when they are still quite young.

That same month, I heard that my college friend Aaron Boyce was diagnosed with a very difficult to treat brain tumor. The family was looking for options to treat it, and they did pursue some of those options, but by Thanksgiving it was pretty apparent that there wasn't anything more to be done. He passed away around Christmas.

My uncle Bill Wagstaff, in his 70s, passed away unexpectedly just a couple of weeks ago.  My memories of Uncle Bill are of his love for jokes and silliness and laughing. His family owns a couple of cabins up at Lake Couer d'Alene in northern Idaho, and they have always been so kind to let family visit there and use their cabins for visits and reunions.  My siblings and parents were able to travel up to Washington for the funeral, but I couldn't make the trip.

It all makes thoughts of mortality and what kind of life I want to live swirl through my mind. I have come to realize over the past couple of years that somethings are much less important to me than I thought they were. I've also come to let go of most of the certainty I felt earlier in life about big questions about the purpose of life or the nature of God and eternity. I used to take comfort in the feeling that I KNEW what the purpose of life was and what awaited us after death. Now I find the ambiguity and uncertainty more comfortable. I am okay trusting in what I feel is a loving God, even though I don't know the particulars of how it will all work out. I feel most confident that my own role is to love others and try to make space for others to also feel loved and valued.