Watching our dear, furry companion of 13 years disintegrate before my very eyes these last several weeks has made me sensitive to those who are unable to make sense of their suffering. Whether my mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s the last decade of her life, or the young woman in Oregon who decided how and when to die rather than be ruled by incurable cancer, or Robin Williams who chose to get ahead of the demons that evidently haunted him.
“Pulling the plug” was very difficult for me. I wanted someone else…my husband, the vet, or Mocha herself…to decide. I could not wrap my brain around the idea of ending a life, even a pet’s. Yes, I’d done it before with 2 cats but in this situation, experience doesn’t soften the blow.
Fibromyalgia and arthritis are with me daily. I do whatever I can to ensure that I have more good days than bad. Of course I’m human, so I fail, probably as often as I succeed. Diet and exercise being my personal demons.
The upside is that I’m at the controls, at least for as long as I still have my wits about me. As my time draws near I’m pretty sure I won’t be calling all the shots. That’s just how it is.
What is it like when the sun gradually sets on one’s horizon? Only the one going through it knows for sure. She alone is living through every nuance of every moment. No one can step inside another’s body and experience the physical, mental, and spiritual deterioration. Not even the closest of loved ones.
Each of us is consumed with our own lives. Taking on someone else’s life, especially one fraught with emotional turmoil or mental and physical decline, is nearly impossible. Short term responsibility might be doable; going the long haul can decimate the caregiver’s life in the process.
Issues with her sciatic nerve compromised Mocha’s mobility. Her front paws did not always work. Sometimes they carried her through a brisk trot; oftentimes, she would spill forward onto her knees. Being part-terrier, part-beagle served her well for she would stubbornly pick herself up, and carry on as though nothing was amiss.
Neither pouring rain nor plummeting temperatures could deter our little pal from being about her doggy business. Mocha loved encountering the outdoors…its sights and smells. With her I bore witness to Mother Nature’s immense beauty time and again. Left to my own devices, I would choose hibernation.
Helping to stave off the inevitable, Mocha was downing meds for an underlying heart murmur as well as her debilitating sciatica. As her primary caregiver I monitored her intake of pills, deciding whether or not they were doing the job for which they were prescribed.
Were the pain meds working or were they making her condition worse? Were they causing grogginess, adding to Mocha’s inability to walk without flailing? Were they causing digestive issues? Did they make her nauseous and not want to eat?
I could only rely upon what I saw and the symptoms Mocha exhibited, as to whether or not she was making progress, plateauing, or regressing. Perhaps if she spoke my language, we could have discussed what was really going on with her body.
And yet being able to speak doesn’t always resolve matters. There are those who aren’t up to the task…aging parents, overwhelmed or dysfunctional individuals, the mentally ill, the impoverished, and folks battling incurable diseases.
Walking that last mile is a solitary hike. Climbing the next precipice, big and small, is helped or hindered by one’s own capabilities…physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. No two individuals are alike in that regard. Similar maybe, but never exact.
Perhaps the only props we have as we near the end are our instincts to survive and our fear of the unknown. Coming to terms with both is an individual endeavor. No one else can determine how we manage that.
In Mocha’s case, I think she just kept on going with every ounce of passion for life she had left. Only her failing body forced my decision to halt her suffering.
Surrounded by the loving veterinary staff who had catered to Mocha’s medical needs since she was a pup, I maintained eye contact with her as she succumbed to the first injection of anesthetic that lessened the impact of the second injection that ended her life.
Finally, my little friend relaxed and lengthened into peaceful composure. The pain which had racked her body since early spring had abated. Peace. And in peace relief. Maybe even a sliver of happiness.
I’m not making the case for human euthanasia or even legalized suicide. I believe in God and the sanctity of life, all life.
Compassion is just as important to me however. I can’t sit in judgment of another’s life. Only he knows the potholes he’s facing as he…
…rounds the final bend.