Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saturday, Sept. 22

It looked like a perfect early fall afternoon, mostly sunny, cool but not cold, no breeze. I got out the electric hedge trimmer and cut back the ivy that was encroaching over the rockery onto the path. It was like giving the rockery a quick, neat haircut, and I could feel I’d made a major contribution to the tidiness and well-being of the yard in a mere half hour.

Part-way through the job, I put the hedge-trimmer down and went inside to knead bread dough and put it in a pan to rise. For the briefest instant, I remembered what it had felt like when this act had meaning, when making bread was part of a life in which my actions impacted other people. The life was changeable and unpredictable and could easily fall but it was also full of warmth and solid goodness—just like the process of making bread.

When you’re clearing up a yard or baking bread only for yourself, you have to invent meaning. You have to believe there’s something worthy and satisfying in this work. Mostly you have to invent the belief that what you are doing matters in a way that goes beyond just you. Otherwise it’s difficult to keep going.

The darkness of the day is the impending death of my 9-year-old Airedale, Keeper. She has an inoperable mast cell tumor on her right front foot and one lymph node affected. The veterinary oncologist gave me a Sophie’s choice (see the novel by William Styron) of treatments that might keep her alive for a few months with one or a few more with another—maybe--at varying high costs financially and emotionally. This is not a cancer that can be cured.

People generally ask for more life. I don’t know if dogs do because they live wholly in the present, able to accept what comes along more easily than we can and never subject to wishing they had done something differently. The question of what is morally right for the dog is more compelling to me than the question of what I want, yet it’s nearly impossible to separate out what I want. Too often when people talk about what is best for the dog, they mean what is best for themselves.

It is Yom Kippur today, a day of reckoning, of summing up the past year and resolving to do better in the next. A day, a season, a life, ending.

The thought keeps coming to me, “Just let her go.” That would be to give palliative care and let the disease run its course. The death from this kind of tumor, the vet told me, would not be painful. But I don’t know if that’s my wisdom or my fear speaking, don’t know how I’d manage the guilt afterwards. Humans are social creatures. I’d compare myself to those who spend thousands of dollars to give their dogs a few more months and feel guilty that I hadn’t done the same. I won’t know what I’ll decide until we’re back at the clinic Tuesday morning.


  1. I should have read this post before emailing about Keeper.

    Monty died in November last year...November last year! I can't believe it has been so long, coming on near to a year. We didn't spend thousands, or, rather, we did but insurance covered it. It didn't matter in the end, because it would likely have given him 6 months more, and I still find it difficult to believe we would now be past that period, and perhaps even 4 months into mourning him.

    The months fly past, even while the minutes drag on. I want to help, to give advice, to tell you everything that it is or is not worth it, but where do you begin applying "worth" to such things? Everything you detail, in Keeper's and your own emotional currency, impinges on that worth, to the point that it is almost impossible (and thus perhaps pointless) for you to try calculate, and certainly presumptious and untenable for *me* to even start. I wish I could cook the books for you and Keeper both though.

    The thing is though, from this particular "social creature"'s viewpoint, if someone had to be making such a decision for myself then your fear and anxiety and self-reflection and potential self-criticism would make me wish it was you or someone like you.

    None of this helps, I know. I am sorry.

  2. Much sympathy, Sherry. And this is a lovely post.

  3. Having made difficult decisions, ones which pitted 'what is best for me' against 'what can I afford' against 'what would this creature who has given her entire life's days to me want', I have seen that the 'guilt' most often comes before the decision or the deed, not afterward.

    You know Keeper, and Keeper knows you, and her whole being will honor whatever decision you make. She knows you'll do the best you can for her, as you have always done with everyone who has been close to your heart.

    Doing things for oneself -- sometimes, just doing a job like trimming the shrubbery, or weeding the rock garden, is worth doing just because it makes YOU feel good. During times I've been alone, I'd put up a Christmas tree, and enjoy it every day during that season. I didn't care if no one saw it but me. Didn't care if it was a rather 'meaningless' gesture in the eyes of the world at large. I liked it. That was enough.

    Ironically, I have not put up a tree in years, even though I am not alone at present. Somehow, the other person's indifference takes away from my own sense of joy, my own reminder of innocent wonder and simple beauty. Isn't that sad.

    Do it for YOU. Create beauty for YOU. That's not selfishness, that's living the Life you've been given to it's fullest!