“Ain’t No Sunshine…”

A grieving milestone

It has been 6 months, today, since my sidekick, Jessie, died. I suspected that there would be no “getting over” her loss. I wasn’t so prepared for the lingering heartache and sudden tears whenever she enters my thoughts. I think I may have figured out why she is that special, one-in-a-million dog that I just can’t let go.

One year ago, today, I wrote about the juncture of my own medical condition, and the care of Jessie and her adoptive brother, Maxx. Jessie had a full measure of social and physical vulnerabilities, no doubt stemming from a shaky start in life as a stray. She was heir to the worst attributes of her German Shepherd genes; rear-leg weaknesses and a host of digestive issues, just as I had grown up with a series of infirmities, culminating in stage 4 NET cancer and severe kidney disease. She was a shy introvert, anxious about every new and unfamiliar experience, mirroring my own retreats from social involvement. Rather than being one of those pairings where the strengths of one support the weaknesses of the other, we were alike in our struggles with living in the world. Through some inexplicable and silent communion we kept each other from succumbing to our own fears and infirmities in a “if you can do it, then so can I” kind of way.

Of course, there was also the promise.

An unspoken, inter-species mutual support system only goes so far, as one of us naturally carries the burden of sustaining the other. Being the human in a human-dominate world, that responsibility fell to me, and I took it most seriously. I had already forged a commitment within myself to assure a home and care to both dogs. To Jessie, though, I said it aloud. I knew that Maxx, in a pinch, would transfer fealty to whosoever was lord of the food bowl and treat pouch. With Jessie, it seemed that she looked to me for more than just creature needs, and I reflected back my solemn vow that I would do whatever possible to provide care and comfort to her until the very end of her life.

It is with that mission always before me that I found motivation to stay with diet and exercise plans designed to keep me as healthy and strong as possible, and to follow through with medical care crafted to slow disease progression and keep me alive longer. In this way it is no exaggeration to say that Jessie kept me going, kept me alive, and gave me purpose.

The last few years of her life were, for me, such a profound mixture of happy and sad. Her back legs continued to weaken to the point that I had to have her wear a sort of doggy orthopedic boot to protect the top of her paws from scuffing whenever we went for a walk. Her coat dulled and lightened, she spent most of every day napping, and, we feel certain, her eyesight dimmed. She became too frightened to walk down the stairs each morning after sleeping with us upstairs, so Maxx and I slept downstairs with Jessie (I exercised human prerogative, and claimed the couch) every night. The last 6 months we had to watch, helplessly, as a mass steadily grew behind her left eye. All of that was the sad part, and I was on an emotional hair trigger throughout.

The sad was balanced by a kind of blossoming that came about in Jessie. While she never outgrew her wariness of unfamiliar people, she did begin to widen her circle of exploration around our community. This lead to a widening of her socialization when, for the first time in her life, she began to make friends with various dogs she would meet on our walks. In her closing months she found great joy in her explorations. On the last day of her life, when the mass behind her eye had robbed her of most of the pleasure in her life, the very last thing she wanted to do before the doctor arrived at our home was to take one more lap around the neighborhood.

So, what is there to say about the end of a beloved dog’s life. We did our best to downplay any drama. We had the doctor come to our home, rather than have to face the scary veterinary office. We gave her the kind of massage she enjoyed, and we told her, over and over, what a good girl she was, how much we loved her.

And, I was determined to hold my tears so that she would not be troubled by them, and so I could focus completely on comforting her, my ultimate promise. Somehow I held on until the moment the doctor assured me that Jessie was beyond any further suffering.

The tears have been much harder to control since. With Jessie went so much that had given my life purpose and joy. I’d have to confess that I let myself go for several months after, and only recently have I found the determination to restrengthen myself. I do have my wonderful and supportive wife, who certainly seems to enjoy my company, and I hers. There is still Maxx, he of the shifting loyalties, entering into his own old age. I have made a similar promise to him, and I intend to help him find joy and comfort in his closing years.

But, for me, there has never been a dog quite like Jessie, nor, I feel sure, will there ever be.

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