Animals, Don't Let's Call It a Diet, Family, The Inner Landscape


Molly is quite lame at the moment. She does not want to get up and walk around. I had a hard time getting her to go out in the backyard this morning, and an even harder time getting her back inside. This was true last night as well. She stayed in her cool spot under the forsythia until late in the evening.

When Molly was a puppy, about 9 months old, she was diagnosed with bilateral hip and elbow dysplasia. At that early age, she already had arthritis in both elbows and one hip. We took her to Tufts’ Vet hospital for a Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (to shore up the better, non-arthritic but also dysplastic, hip), followed three months later by arthroscopy on both elbows. She really had a great recovery and four excellent years following the surgery.

But this is not the first time since she turned 5 last February that we are seeing more lameness. She takes Metacam, a Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory (NSAID) each day as well as Dasuquin, a chewable form of Glucosamine and Chondroitin intended for dogs.

Every time I see her laming around, and particularly when I see her walking with one paw in the air, as has been going on this past week, I wonder how much longer we can keep things together. There are some other options, I learned last time: pain-killers that are in fact narcotics, which I hate to start using with a 5-year-old dog, or perhaps trying acupuncture, which is practiced by one of the vets formerly affiliated with the vet we use.

I’m feeling guilty because I don’t know if this lameness is due simply to aggravation of arthritis or an actual injury. I wish I had taken her in to be checked last week. But these things usually pass with her.

I find the idea of losing her absolutely terrifying, in part because I feel it’s so likely that her eventual end will be euthanasia. (In fact, I dread it so much that I left this sentence out and had to come back to type it.)

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of my father’s death. October 8, 1997, was a day I had been dreading as it was the first occurrence of my wedding anniversary after my divorce. I woke up feeling a little sorry for myself, planning a morning of moping and a little studying of Church History while my children were at school and preschool. My father, far away in Virginia, woke up that morning and felt unwell, tried to reach his lady friend to take him to the hospital and couldn’t, so called 911. They delivered him to a hospital that could not respond to his aneurysm. He could not be transported because the journey to the proper hospital included a tunnel, and they could not get him stable enough for the ambulance ride. I never got to talk to him, to tell him I loved him, to see him and touch him and be present for him.

And although I was saddened, I was not surprised. From the time my mother died, four years earlier, I had a sense that I would not have the same opportunity to be with my father when his life ended. Like our Old Man Cat, he did his best to hide his ailments, something my mother could not do as metastatic melanoma ran its course.

At the same time I’m working so hard to lose weight, I am aware that I am holding on tight to other things, creating a mental climate of containment, and the two are in obvious conflict. I’m strategizing, or trying to, when it feels "safe" to grieve for the Old Man Cat. I’m learning to live with just one other person for the first time in 21 years, and it’s a major shift even if a temporary one. I’m pondering a very different way of being in ministry than I imagined five years ago or even one year ago. I’m sorting through both the outer and the inner closets, deciding what to give away, what doesn’t fit anymore, what fits but does not flatter, what is marred beyond repair and ready to be discarded, once and for all.

Some of that feels like loss, and it makes me a little anxious about holding on to the things, the roles and the relationships I know belong in my life, but over which I do not have complete control. You may, for instance, strive to be a different sort of mother than you believe your mother was, but some other configuration of temperaments and interests and life circumstances may lead to similar feelings of distance or aggravation or dissatisfaction. You may understand yourself to be in love with a person who ceases to love you. You may love a dog or a cat, knowing full well that they will not outlive you, and still find yourself shocked when the possible becomes reality.

When I lost a baby in 1992, a loss complicated by my feelings of anger with God and a mixture of relief and guilt about the decision to end the pregnancy in the face of a bad prenatal diagnosis, I found it nearly impossible to grieve. It was so much easier to find a place in my mind to put the feelings, and to close the door on them. I’ll get back to these later, I told myself. I’ll go to the beach and sit on the rocks and look at the ocean and cry then. But I never did that. Instead I began to draw tighter and tighter boundaries around what I designated as "safe" territory, the places where my feelings were not too frightening and too powerful and too potentially destructive to allow myself to feel.

I’m trying to make room for those feelings, but I must admit I am still a bit cautious, still inclined to set them aside the way you might a bill you can’t afford to pay this week and put in a "safe place" on the kitchen counter, and then cover with a magazine or a book or a box of dog treats.

25 thoughts on “Losses”

  1. A lot to think about. I had a book of Kipling’s dog and cat writings as a child and there was a poem with the line “You have given your heart to a dog to tear” (which is what we do when we take one into our lives, or a cat either). And I have often thought about that locution “lose weight” — and whether it makes it harder for people dealing with other losses to inflict another “loss” on themselves, even when it is a desired and needed one. Thinking of you, Molly, and Old Man Cat.

  2. Oh, Songbird I’m sorry so many things are standing at your door. I hope and pray that you can deal with them in a way that is not too painful. There are pieces of your story that sound oh so familiar. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. Sounds like good work going on here, girl. Difficult to experience but a blessing in the process. You will work out your salvation AND your humanity with fear and trembling, face your biggest fears and feel your deepest pain, and still go on living. That is the source of hope. In living it, you can share it.
    Thank you for posting in such a vulnerable way about your losses – those you’ve lived through and those you fear. Your words are life to me tonight.

  4. Thank you for trusting us enough to share these trials and burdens. I pray for resolution in the best possible ways for you and for Molly. I know how our furry family members capture our hearts so completely. And to carry other deep struggles at the same time – tough stuff.
    Love – prayers – hugs – all sent your way.

  5. As the owner of a 9-year-old dog on Metacam who finds it hard to go up and down stairs (and refuses to sleep alone downstairs) I so identify. When we love, we open ourselves to loss. There’s no way around it, and so we have no choice but just to go through it.

  6. Prayers that you will feel embraced by the arms of God, and your little one, and feel safe to gradually grieve and release the losses old and new.
    Thank you for sharing so honestly with us.

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