Today Spirit stumbled coming up the three steps from the back patio. His hindquarters just collapsed. I helped him up and he was wagging his tail as soon as he made it into the house, thanking me and trying to reassure me that he was OK. He will be 13 this summer.
I am preparing myself for the inevitable. Not in a frantic, resisting sort of way, but by diving deep into gratitude for every day that I have with him.
Gratitude has become part of my morning routine. Every day (weekends included) I get up anywhere between 5:00-6:30 a.m. I meditate, ticking off one more day of my mindfulness training with Andy Puddicombe’s Get Some Head Space program. I am close to the end of my year-long subscription, but will extend since I still have a lot to learn.
The truth is, I may have grown a little too accustomed to hearing Andy’s endearing British accent over my computer or phone app first thing in the morning, long before anyone else in the house is awake. I haven’t seen the movie Her yet, but I may have a similar attachment to a voice coming through my computer speaker. That’s a topic for another post.
After meditating, I tiptoe past my sleeping sons’ bedrooms, trying to minimize the squeaks in the hall floorboards and stairs (which are now an excellent alarm signal with teenagers in the house). Once in the kitchen, I fill the electric kettle with water and flip the “on” lever. I dump yesterday’s coffee grounds from the French press into the compost container and rinse out the beaker. I add four fresh scoops of coffee grounds.
While the water is heating up, I go to the laundry room and, holding my breath a little, open the door. Spirit is there on his dog bed, usually up on his forearms with his ears perked in a happy greeting. But every so often–and if I’m honest with myself, increasingly–he’s still sleeping deeply when I arrive.
Either way, when I see that he’s breathing, I exhale, flooded with gratitude. I am so delighted to have another day with him. I sit down on the floor, we look into each other’s eyes, he sinks his head into my lap, thumping his tail against the floor. I press my forehead against his in a Vulcan mind meld. The click of the kettle tells me the water is boiling and I get up to finish making the coffee. Spirit follows me into the kitchen, nails tap tap tapping the hardwood floor. As I pour the water into the French press, he leans his 90-pound body against my legs.
I stir the grounds and water with a chopstick, insert the press to the top of muck, and set the timer for four minutes. Then Spirit and I head back to the laundry room, where I proceed to stuff five pills down his throat in four installations (three of the pills are small, so I can do two at once).
He makes choking, gurgling sounds, and my hand is covered in dog mouth slime. I have a permanent cut on my thumb joint from his teeth catching that spot every morning and evening. Mark usually does the third pilling of the day after I’m in bed, so my cut has just enough time to start to heal overnight before being re-opened again in the morning.
It’s worth it. The pills–12 per day between the three installments–have controlled the seizures that Spirit and the rest of us suffered from for a decade. And though he should by all accounts be a zombie under the high dosages of Gabapentin, Keppra and Zonisamide, he is not. He is still Spirit. In every sense of the word.
It’s true that he has daily bouts of old man trembles. Sometimes his teeth chatter. He makes indescribable, asthmatic hairball-y sounds. But he doesn’t seem to be in too much distress. He just wants to be with us. Just wants to BE.
But changes are happening. He needs help getting up stairs. His hearing is fading. I don’t take him on long walks (let alone runs) anymore. A couple of months ago on a sunny, optimistic day, I gave in to his longing looks and snapped the leash on him. We headed to the roughly 2-mile loop through the forest near our house, the loop we walked and ran together for so many years.
It was Spirit, in fact, who kept me going when I had to incorporate running into my routine after breast cancer. Eventually, though, he couldn’t keep up. Finally, after he had a seizure on the running path about three years ago, I had to leave him at home. Even on our walk on that sunny, optimistic day, he had to lay down and rest three times before we made it home.
I may tear up at the mere thought of the day when he won’t be with us, but I am not panicking. I am simply very aware of the reality of where he is in the journey. If I could, I would extend my subscription with him. But I know I can’t. So I kiss his forehead a dozen times a day. I stop and get on the floor with him when I have a free minute. The boys do the same.
The dog has lived a life that makes his people stop what they’re doing to lie down next to him. To wrap their arms around him and feel the dog hug them back (which he does). To inspire teenaged boys to look deeply into another being’s eyes and say with no inhibition, “I love you.”
Spirit is not on his deathbed. Not by any means. He may have two or more years in the tank. But in the greater scheme of things, it’s the blink of an eye.
“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”
~ Kahlil Gibran
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