July 25, 2023
It was 22 days ago that I wrote that Kirby was home. It was three days ago that we said goodbye to her. Start to finish, our journey with her illness was 28 days. I knew on July 3rd that the future was uncertain (isn’t it always?) and I said I was grateful for every day.
In between, we had learned that her tumor was still on her abdominal wall, albeit reduced in size. Cytology revealed almost nothing: necrotic cells and spindle cells. Could be a sarcoma, could still be a hematoma that was dying. We opted against surgical intervention in an almost 12-year-old dog. She was happy, she was outwardly healthy. Then, on July 19th, she refused her breakfast. We were concerned, but then she ate dinner ravenously. The next day (sorry if this is gross) her stool was black. That means blood in the digestive tract. We took her for bloodwork.
The senior vet at our regular practice reassured us that we were making the right decisions. “I always ask myself what I would do for my dog,” she said. Then she brought tears to our eyes by saying, “Well, Kirby is our dog. She’s part of my family too.” Kirby had that powerful an impact on everyone she met.
I still thought we might be looking at months of life, but, that night, Kirby couldn’t walk up the stairs to bed. The next morning, she fell just walking to the back door to go outside. Her doctor called and said her blood test was abnormal on every indicator. Liver and kidneys were failing, white cells were up, red cells were down. Kirby was dying. Fast. She might live through the weekend, her doctor said, but it really wouldn’t be in her best interests.
So, Saturday morning, with my wife, kids and grandkids all laying hands on her in the kitchen of my childhood home, Kirby left us.
We still watch our steps getting out of bed in the morning, lest we step on her. We still hear her sighing in her sleep in the other room.
And we still ask ourselves, “Did we do the right thing?”
As a backdrop to this, my mother, who has required 24/7 care for over two years now, fulfilled her neurologist’s dire prediction this week. Last Tuesday, she forgot how to walk. At first (with support from her aide and physical therapists) she could stand with assistance. Within 48 hours, however, “assistance” meant “picking her up bodily and holding her until her feet touched the floor.” It was traumatic for all of us, most of all for her. So, we put her to bed and there she lies. A last stab at in-bed occupational therapy yesterday failed. We’ve signed the papers to start at-home hospice care. Will she stay at home? We hope so, but the situation changes daily and drastically.
Kirby was a connection to the last years that we were a family of four, mom, dad and two sons. She was a connection to Christian’s childhood and having someone still in the nest. My mom is a connection to my own childhood, now so far away.
How do I feel about all this? Driving home the other night, after scheduling Kirby’s euthanasia and having an opening interview with the hospice, I wondered, “How much is too much to take? Will I get through this?” And then I asked myself, “What does ‘through this’ look like? What do you expect will be on the other side? What is this magical place you seek where there are no troubles?”
Perhaps counter-intuitively, I stopped believing in life after death two years ago. I was raised as a Southern Baptist. I believed, the day I walked up the aisle and whispered to the Pastor that I wanted Jesus to be my savior, that I had guaranteed the immortality of my soul. Later I came to believe that the immortality of every soul is guaranteed, baptism or no baptism, Jesus or no Jesus. God loves us and created us eternally.
And then my daughter-in-law died. You would think I would seek the comfort of my spiritual beliefs, tell myself, “She’s smiling down on us, and we’ll all be reunited in the next life.” Some days I do believe that. But my overwhelming takeaway from saying goodbye to Jess, to this beautiful 25-year-old who was part of my investment in the future, is that tomorrow is never guaranteed. Right now, we are here, we are alive. We were always going to be here right now. We will always have been here right now.
Right now is what we have, and it needs to count.
So how does it count when your friend’s death is scheduled for 9:30 Saturday morning and your mother is entering end-of-life care? When you’re exhausted day and night from making phone calls, signing documents, running out the door to help the aide, picking up the prescriptions and the groceries, fighting the pharmacy over benefits, and trying (in vain) to borrow the money to pay $12,000 monthly for at-home care?
Where is the joy? Where is the peace? Where is the end of the rainbow?
You know, I found the end of the rainbow once. In Hawaii, appropriately. You know what was there? Nothing. Not a damned thing. Some rock and some sea water and probably a few minnows and frogs. It ended plunging into a tidal pool.
The end of the rainbow is a pointless goal. It’s the rainbow itself that matters. It’s beautiful. It makes you point and cry out, “Look at that!” It may even quicken your pulse, lift your spirits, make you forget your troubles.
The rainbow is here right now. When atmospheric conditions change, it goes away.
Just like us.
So, what am I seeking? I’m seeking to be the thing that makes someone point and cry out, “Look at that!” To make someone’s pulse quicken. To lift someone’s spirits and make them forget their troubles.
Even if that someone is only me. Maybe most importantly if it’s only me.
In all this craziness, I can’t just keep moving forward, I need to keep being.
Somewhere under the rainbow.