It’s been a month and I’ve just gotten to where I can talk about it. Yes, Clara was a dog, but there are some dogs who are more than dogs. Even now, just remembering her big, soft ears and deep brown eyes, and the way she would lean on me so hard she almost knocked me down at times, brings me to tears. I know that the love of dogs has a price- their lives are far too short.
Everything I had learned of the Malinois breed indicated they are noted for health and longevity. Most of the 12 years she lived in our home she was happy, healthy and robust. In spite of Clara’s difficult start as a rescued dog with a laundry list of physical and emotional issues, she healed and blossomed with us. She mentored our other dogs. She visited the nursing home when my Grandma was there, and offered comfort to many of the residents. Clara was a gentle, intuitive dog, who even took care to mentor Brutus, her final protégé, who she had a month to teach, until she got ill. He has many of the same beautiful, intuitive traits Clara had. His gentleness reminds me of her.
I am thankful her final illness was brief. It took only a week from the time I noticed she was getting a bit melancholy and slow, then she stopped eating, and by then she was displaying all the classic signs of congestive heart failure. We took her, and for the first and only time, I had to lift her in and out of the truck- to our long time family vet. I hoped the vet would have a different answer than what I knew to be inevitable.
Our vet knew the labored breathing and heavy plodding of a dying dog all too well though. One look at a dog who used to be vibrant and alert and active, but now was struggling just to breathe and move a few steps, was enough for the vet to conclude that given her age, and the signs of heart and probably multiple organ failure, that Clara was, indeed, dying. We agreed that letting Clara go in peace without pain would be far more humane than heroics that may or may not buy a week or two. I held her in my arms as she passed, so she would know how much she was loved. We buried her near the gate she used to guard.
Clara was 14. I was blessed to have her for a little more than 12 of those years.
Unfortunately there is more impending death around me, and it will cut even deeper than losing Clara. Jerry is getting more and more ill from the pulmonary fibrosis. He keeps getting put on more meds. He tires easily and is spending more and more time on the oxygen box. The only hope for him to improve- and hopefully not die right away- is to get him on track for a lung transplant. He will have to go on disability to do that, which will be at most optimistic, the very least a month or two away.
To add more to the chaos in my life, we will be moving as we are buying my grandmother’s old house. Dad is selling it to us, and I am glad to get the strangers he’s been renting it to gone. They are supposed to be out tomorrow, then I can assess what needs to be done before we can move in. I will have a lot longer drive to work for me, but it will get him into a quiet neighborhood out of the city. The house is small but the yard is huge and there will (soon) be a large fence so the dogs can go out safely.
Talk about the psychological maelstrom that I am trying to navigate. I want Jerry to stay healthy enough for a lung transplant but the reality is that I may lose him too. Yes, he is difficult and high maintenance, and he takes out his frustration on his health issues on me, but contrary to logic and reason, I am in this regardless. Death, life, mourning or dancing- it’s all part of the drama of life.
I am looking forward to moving if only because it feels like I’m going home. I will finally be able to be in a home I will own, that nobody can arbitrarily throw me out of, and my grandparents’ house will stay in the family. I’ll also be closer to my parents, my son and my granddaughter.