When I first brought her home that evening for her last day of spoiling, I thought I made a huge mistake. Partly it was because it was hard to know just how much pain she was really in. Nancy was very stoic and independent. But she was also pretty stubborn. Put that together and you have a sick little girl in pain, and didn’t want your help. I felt this almost panic about how this poor girl was going to stubborn herself into not taking advantage of her last day, or worse, that she was too far gone to be able to.
She could barely sleep because of the discomfort. We were up a lot. I lied beside her trying to get her into a comfortable spot but she wouldn’t be having any of that. I tried comforting her with pets and cuddles but she didn’t want them. That wasn’t new. I tried not to take it personally. She likes getting pet, for sure, but when she’s ready for sleep, she’s kind of had enough of me already. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch her in pain, trying your best to comfort, knowing she just wants to be left alone for a bit. It’s not about me. She’s got a lot going on and doesn’t need to manage my feelings on top of it all. So I spent a good portion of the night just watching her, helping her try another position when she tried to move. When we came back to bed after a 3am pee break, I put her down where I was sleeping for a moment, only to come back and see her sound asleep. It seems she just wanted my spot.
In the morning it was more of the same. We cooked her fresh steak as the super treat-iest treat we could think of. She didn’t want it. Or anything. I lied beside her bed and she seemed too in pain to interact. It’s a weird balance to try and be there for someone but not bother them and defeat the purpose of why you want to just absolutely smother them. I guess I’m bragging about my restraint.
So instead, I decided to record everything I could. I was very conscious of this being the last chance and didn’t want to miss anything. I was also conscious of being “in the moment” and to be present, but I really didn’t want this day to go by and think I missed anything. It was also a great way to keep me from bugging her all the time.
But then after a couple of trips outside, just standing in place between pees, she seemed to want her “I produced outside so give me a treat there buddy” treats. I reached in the cheap bag before realizing this wasn’t the day for that. Where’d I put that steak? I gave her piece after piece until she didn’t want them. It took a while, thankfully. She was coming around, in fact. It seemed she just needed a few hours to warm up for the day. A few more than usual. I get that. I really get that. She even seemed to want to walk. Actually, she wanted to poop, and was being stubborn about where she’d go (again, as per usual). It was also really painful for her to get into position for it, so it was hard to know if she was being stubborn or just didn’t trust that it wasn’t going to hurt. Probably a bit of both. You’d feel so much better if you tried, maybe even be hungry, I tried to tell her. Nope. She was going to just stubborn her bowels together and will it away instead. That is to say she farted a lot – sadly, this too was the new normal (the act of farting, that is; the old dog smell of them, I wouldn’t describe that as “normal”). You do you, Nancy.
Our walk was slow, but she got a chance to see her neighbourhood. I’m glad she was finally feeling better enough to take advantage of things she liked. Later we would have chicken, again, as much as she wanted. And she finally let me pet her. She perked up when I came over, and I gave her a bit of a scratch. I cupped my hand under her chin the way I know she likes, and she finally gave in and I felt the weight of her head as she relaxed into my hand. I felt so warmly useful that she was finally able to just relax and take some affection. She must have felt good too because rather than resist with her unsteady legs, she collapsed fully into my hand pushing it and herself into a lying position. She felt completely relaxed and comfy, so I sat there for a while with her soft face in my hand, long after she got a bit of sleep, long after my arm went to sleep too.
The absolute miracle was that I got it on video. Check it out. I can’t believe, as overwhelmed as I was in the moment, that I managed to keep her in frame. That was a total accident because I was not looking at her through the camera. And I was shaking a bit, if I’m being honest.
The best part of the day was now that she was feeling a bit more energetic, I could take her to one of her favourite places for a nice last walk. Over the last year she hasn’t been into walks often, but she often would perk up when we took her to a local cemetery to get a bit more of a nature walk. Some days she’d shock us with how spry she was suddenly. And so too today. At least as much as she could.
Sadly the day had to end. I of course had the thought that she might be rebounding, and maybe today wasn’t the right day, that she’d be good until tomorrow. But I knew, she knew, tonight would get bad again, and tomorrow would be worse. And at the end of all good days, she was exhausted.
I was able to hold her in my arms, just the way she liked me to. The way I’d hold her chest, pulling her into me and rub her side, I knew I’d got it just right when she’d lean in to me, and I could feel the muscles she’d use to push up against me as much as she could, and relax all others, enjoying the attention, focusing on the affection. This is how I held her for the last time, how she let me hold her, and her in turn holding me.
This is how I held her as all her muscles would relax, even the ones pushing into me, as she let go, as she was free from all her pain, at peace with whatever comes next. I both couldn’t breath and yet gasped long breaths as I heard someone say “Oh Nancy” over and over again, until I realized that was me.
She was gone. An unnatural calm, absolutely peaceful version of the dog I had known for so long. Still so soft, I stayed a while with her. As I calmed I started to think I should leave so my last view of her was this peaceful, but I really didn’t want to go. How long did I have? Man, I hate that question now.
And then her little, soft, calm, peaceful body… farted. I cried exhausted tears, but they felt like laughs. Oh Nancy. Oh Nancy. Oh Nancy.
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