During the last year or so, life had grown too complicated for me to handle with grace. I maxed out on responsibilities, then struggled to keep up when some of my obligations grew to require greater physical effort, more time or a better attitude than I could muster to counter the stress. I was supposed to be working toward our move, and it was all I could do to get through the current day. I wished for life to be simpler, but the load wasn’t comprised of anything I could just inconsequentially drop.
Then, near the end of May, we realized we had to let our beloved 13-year-old Greyhound Grayson go. I would have continued the daily medical care, worry, cleanup and safeguarding if it had been something that would have helped him heal. But in doing all of those things we were just buying time, and it became an increasingly selfish thing to do as pain and weakness began to crowd out his joyful moments.
If you have a dog that is part of your family, as ours are, I don’t have to explain the sorrow and emptiness that filled the space Grayson left.
As our days with Grayson neared an end, our just-turned-13 Greyhound Sara began to refuse food. She’d always been a bit fussy about eating if everything wasn’t just right, and had not long before been given a clean bill of health, so I didn’t rush her to the vet.
Sara was my first Greyhound, and really my first dog since childhood. She’d been with me since 2004 and was my companion through all sorts of craziness. A half dozen or so years before adopting her I met a group of Greyhounds and their owners on the campus where I attended college, and that sparked my interest. After that, I regularly visited web sites and looked at photos of Greyhounds waiting for adoption, but circumstances never seemed to be right. They still weren’t right when I finally showed up at the adoption kennel. I didn’t have a dog dish or anything else for her when I signed the papers.
Once I’d decided to adopt Sara and was waiting to sign the paperwork, I sat down in front of her run at the kennel and choked back tears. The day was a long time in the making, and I couldn’t help the rush and release of emotion.
In recent months, Sara and John Lee (our four-year-old Greyhound that we fostered and then adopted a year or two ago when we thought we would lose Grayson from osteosarcoma) took a back seat to Grayson, whose physical condition required twice-daily medication and eventually assistance getting in and out of the house to relieve himself. I was too busy doctoring and cleaning up to worry about them.
We buried Grayson the Thursday before Memorial Day. Sara’s weight loss had become pronounced, and over the holiday weekend I did everything I could to get her to eat. Some things worked, others she refused. I called the vet and got her in the day after Memorial Day, and her bloodwork indicated a dim prognosis.
Maybe I was still in shock over the loss of Grayson. Maybe I just couldn’t imagine life without Sara, my “heart dog,” as some people would call her. Part of my unrealistic optimism stemmed from the fact that just two or three weeks prior to Grayson’s death Sara looked and acted healthy for a dog her age. I didn’t really hear what the vet told me. She wasn’t Sara’s regular doctor, who has a way of being honest – even blunt – but without a trace of callousness. This vet said it was either IBD or cancer. Diagnostic tests wouldn’t necessarily tell us conclusively. It wouldn’t change how we’d treat her. And they’d be expensive and painful. So it didn’t make sense to do anything. What I didn’t get was that she was probably suggesting that I put Sara down then and there.
I thought if it was IBD I could work with it. I owed it to Sara to work with it. I completely missed the part about IBD rarely just suddenly appearing in 13-year-old dogs. People from my Greyhound club suggested all kinds of foods that might tempt Sara to eat, and some of them worked – one or two times. The vet gave me a prescription for Sara that was supposed to be a “big guns” appetite stimulant. Yet its effect was marginal. Over the course of the days following our vet visit, Sara’s body dwindled to little more than a fur-covered skeleton.
I left messages for the vet with the receptionist two or three times and – quite out of character for this practice – could not get a call back. After two days of worry and waiting with phone in hand, I sat on the bedroom floor beside Sara, in tears, and phoned the vet again. I was angry that no one called back to discuss options I erroneously thought I had. The receptionist apparently interrupted the vet while he was performing surgery, and she came back on the line to tell me that he said I could bring Sara in.
And then she said “Based on what I’m seeing in this chart, I think you need to bring her in.”
That’s when it hit me that I might have to let her go. I grabbed a quick shower, put Sara in the car, and drove the hour it took to reach our favorite vet. We talked, I cried as I finally understood what we were dealing with, and as I sat on the floor of the exam room, holding Sara in my arms, I let him give her the injections that released her from her pain.
The vet saw evidence of colon cancer, so it had been hopeless all along.
Within a span of less than two weeks we lost a big part of our family. In between the deaths of Grayson and Sara, our daughter announced that she was moving out in a couple of weeks, as soon as she graduated from high school. I’m not sure about her dad, but I was numb.
Before I say anything else about the situation I must say that she hasn’t given us any problems other than worry about her general direction, and fear that she didn’t even know what she didn’t know. We just couldn’t reach her. When she was home – which was less and less – she’d talk on and on about everybody else for as long as someone would listen, but the second you asked about her, the walls went up. I parented as best I could, lectured her when she was thoughtless or dishonest, yelled at her when she did something I’d asked her not to do, or did something carelessly or sloppily because she didn’t want to do it in the first place. I’m a neatnik. She’s the opposite. We couldn’t seem to overcome the angst long enough to have some good moments to balance out the difficult ones.
Life at our house had become stressful for everyone even before we started losing Grayson. I didn’t say “Could it get any worse?” aloud, but I couldn’t help thinking it, and the question was answered swiftly and affirmatively. While we felt it would benefit the girl to be responsible for all of the decisions she made, and I was glad that we would have no further conflict over mostly small but constant infractions, I knew it was a break that might take a while to sort itself out. I think we will eventually arrive at a better place, but it felt then – and still does – like I’d lost a daughter.
It’s been a month since the last and worst of the three good-byes. I know better than to fail to count my blessings. The house is calmer. Life is simpler. I have renewed focus on my business, which I am counting on to help us leave Georgia. We have one child left at home, and only one dog, and the time and frame of mind to appreciate them both. I wouldn’t have picked the route that got us here, but here we are. Now it’s onward to someplace better than here – hell if I know the route.