As I began to write this essay on a Monday two weeks ago, I did so with mixed emotions. Ever since our seven year old doggie Sophie had her initial symptoms, surgery and rare bone cancer of her upper jaw diagnosis over two months ago on May 2nd, we knew that she was living on borrowed time. But what we didn’t realize then was that we were also living on borrowed, time—because when your home and/or life has someone with a terminal illness in it, your reality changes. Their illness becomes your “new normal” as you care for them, be with them, and grieve with them for their inevitable passing.
This “new normal” happened when my late father was ill with strokes for two years before his death 11 years ago and my mother’s cancer for two years before her death 31 years ago. You cling to every scrap of a moment that you are with your loved one. Since my father could no longer speak, I read the newspaper and Reader’s Digest to him and we would collapse into giggles over their jokes. For Mom, as long as she had her telephone handy, she was still able to be “in control” and help us in our lives—such as lining up a rental car for me my last week of student teaching out of town because my car broke down. She couldn’t walk—not even to the bathroom at that point, we carried her—but she could dial.
And with Sophie, we have cherished these last two months that we have had with her, adapting where she needed it to insure her comfort. So from her perspective, there was a little bit of a plus side with all of the pampering we gave her—we hope. Sophie couldn’t jump up on the bed to claim her spot to sleep at the foot of our bed as she used to—so we put graduated steps for her to get up there. And Sophie very much liked the soft dog food she had been eating for two months so that she wouldn’t break her jaw from the bone cancer. And the sliced ham treats to entice her inside when she barked at the UPS truck visiting the neighbors were definitely a step up from generic hard dog biscuit treats. Who knew that dogs liked pork? She was a real doggie gourmand. And no need to worry any more about her girlish figure.
And Sophie had a few good days in the beginning of her diagnosis when we could toss the ball with her—though she always set the ball down ten feet away from me. So maybe she was playing ball with me. Ha! Now if only our other and younger 4 year old doggie Max had remembered his place and deferred to Sophie even more, Sophie felt that would have been ideal. Still, Sophie never missed an opportunity to put Max in his place by assuming the dominating mock humping pose over him—at his rump or his head, it was all the same to her. And if food dropped on the floor–even if it was a bite from Max’s own lips–Max knew well enough to discreetly back away as Sophie swooped in to claim her prize. My husband and I say that Max was “Sophie whipped”. Ha! Yes, our girl Sophie was all attitude. And Sophie even greeted my work colleagues cheerfully when I brought into my office Tuesday afternoon so she could be with me during her final hours–I joked that it was on her bucket list. She was always a curious dog, so she had to visit all of their offices and be petted by them. They have followed her illness and been caring friends during this time–as have my many online friends whose love and support means the world to me.
Blessedly for Sophie, she didn’t know that she was dying—not in the way that my husband and I knew it. Oh, she felt poorly. And her ouchy near her eye kept growing again after surgery to remove it and imposing on her vision–and the pressure of that enlarged tumor was probably painful. Though Sophie didn’t whimper or shiver in pain, more and more she wincingly looked at me as she presented the left side of her face for me to look at and see if I could make it better. But I couldn’t make it better. Sophie stayed very close to me these last few weeks–even more than usual. Sophie’s head would pop up under my laptop writing desk when I was blogging or chatting, such that I would have to push it back and give her my undivided love and attention. Sophie never ceased to make her demands for love to me–wanting to be petted, let outside, and given treats–reminding me daily of the precious gift that she was in our lives.
However the last two weeks with Sophie were a gift that we almost didn’t have. And we hope that we haven’t been selfish in having that time with her. So last night, Tuesday July 10th, 2012, we said farewell to Sophie. We knew that it was her time by the aggressive advancement of her upper jaw tumor encroaching on her left eye and the cancer spreading to other parts of her body. And our normally humorously wisecracking young vet Dr. Matt–who haltingly and somberly gave us her cancer diagnosis two months ago–said that it was Sophie’s time, to prevent her from feeling excruciating pain and suffering from her bone cancer, especially were she to break a bone. But, my husband and I suffer with Sophie’s passing and feel excruciating pain with no relief for us.
Love does that to you—it gives you sorrows amidst the joys. And Sophie’s life with us has been a very great joy. So my husband and I were grateful that Sophie had a peaceful death–being cradled in our arms, us kissing her and telling her that we loved her as she took her last breaths. Our caring Vet Dr. Matt first gave her sedation so she slipped into unconsciousness, and then the final injection eased her from living in this world to forever living only in our hearts. My husband I thank Dr. Matt greatly for his tender care of Sophie during her life and now during her illness and passing. And we also thank Dr. Matt for his tender care of us, helping us to come to terms with the inevitable.
My husband and I will cry for many hours and for many days and for many weeks with Sophie’s passing. And I am crying now as I finish writing and prepping this essay–because Tuesday night belongs to our loving memories of Sophie. We will be bereft of comfort and our sorrow will be beyond measure. But we hope that in time, our memories of Sophie will focus on the joy she brought to our lives–and that we hope we gave joy to her life. And yes when my time comes in the distant future, my heaven will have Sophie in it.
I close with the touching hymn “All things bright and beautiful” sung endearingly by children, in a video by lindamattkids
NB: All Sophie and Max images were by my husband. The clouds image was from MS Office Clip Art.
P.S. Here is a link to a poem “As Beautiful a Spring Day as I will Ever See” by Sophie that talks about her life: