Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teacher and Friend Moves On

Written mid-January 2015:
I am not a person short on words or ideas or images. However, I am struck by the uselessness of them sometimes.

It has been like that in trying to write over the past year.

After continuing struggles over the past years, it is quite a show to watch stunning tragedies unfold. Last year's pain had a lot to do with family members with mental illness and/or addiction. I got to experience Nar-Anon's love and support - the 12-step program for families with a loved one with the illness of drug addiction.

In the middle of all of this, Finn developed a neurological problem. We thought we were going to lose him in August. His vet changed medications and put him on a drug that bought him time.

As we upped his medication with each backslide, there was a point in January of this year where he could no longer tolerate the increase in medication. He was incontinent, in pain, and having difficulty with getting up.

Partner and I learned about ourselves as we each dealt differently with Finn's decline.

I could see the pain, dealt with the incontinence, and overheard the vet staff talk amongst themselves about how a dog owner they'd seen before us was keeping a dog alive inhumanely, selfishly when it was in terrible pain. I felt a knife cut through my own heart as they were talking. Were we doing the same thing?

Partner was often the person who fed and got Finn up in the morning to go outside before leaving for work. He also played and talked with the dog after work. He had hoped that Finn would just die in his sleep (isn't that what we all want?) and that we wouldn't have to make a decision. But, who knows how long this could go on?

After Finn had several bouts of incontinence of bowel while I was on a medication that made me nauseous, I felt I couldn't keep this up. Partner and I spent time talking, processing our thoughts separately, and coming back to talk some more. There were tears. I spoke with the vet. They had difficulty getting him up and dealing with his incontinence when we left him with them during a visit to friends between Christmas and New Years. The decision was up to us. He had a good life with us. He wasn't going to get better.

Conversation with Partner also revealed a need not to have to bury him. Our new property is basically a crust of grass and trees over rock. Partner had buried our other animals for the past 30 years. Not this time. Okay, I'll have him cremated. Partner also didn't know if he could emotionally go with us to the vets. Okay, just help me get him into the car. The staff and I can get him out.

In the end, Partner did go with me to the vets. He came home from work, took Finn around the property to his favorite spots, loved on him, and cried the whole time. When it was time to go, he went in with me and stroked Finn lovingly. We both did. The vet gave Finn a sedative first. This is when Partner really got how much pain the dog had been in.

When we first got Finn, he was very anxious and panted for the first 3 days, puked from anxiety, etc. The way he responded to the shot was similar to his relaxation response when we got him to settle down. Pain creates anxiety and tension. Our beloved Finn never barked and was true to his nature of not complaining.

The vet came back and gave the final shot. Almost immediately, the breathing ceased. He looked asleep and relaxed. We sat with him a little while longer. But truthfully, we had been given plenty of time with him in the room while he was alive. We couldn't stand to be there much longer after the death.

We walked out into the snowy night and cried.

Finn got me through some tough times. I'd gotten him before the year of some big deaths: my last remaining grandmother, my dad, Partner's dad, extended family, friends and neighbors - over 20 deaths that year.

Losing Finn was like losing a spirit guide. He soaked up so much grief and anxiety. There is nothing quite like collie fur, so soft and fluffy. He was an easy-going friend who shared our home with us during his last years.

Thank you, Finn. We miss you.

On Finn in August 2014

Written mid-August 2014:
Finn is on his last legs, his last dog year, his last days. Our family is saying their good-byes to our sweet canine friend.

Below is a slightly modified version of a letter to a friend who asked how Finn was doing:

Talked to the vet this morning. We are in "doggy hospice" mode. I'm trying to be home during the day with Partner here in the evenings. Somehow, the Universe provided a light work week for me. 

Finn's having difficulty getting up. He walks in circles. Head is pulling to the left side today. Twitching eyebrows on both sides, but more on the left. He stopped eating from his dog bowl yesterday and stopped drinking today. He'll take his medicine tucked in a chunk of cheese from the floor while lying down or eat cooked chicken given to him yesterday from the floor; but otherwise, is not interested in eating.

Bowel movements have gone from solid to diarrhea this morning and this evening to mucus. He's been somewhat incontinent for a while now, just more so.

The vet tried to prepare us for some kind of progressive neurological degeneration a few weeks ago. 

Looking back at our most recent visit, I had asked for a six-month refill on heart worm medication and flea/tick coverage. They didn't give it to me. I thought they forgot and asked again. But still didn't give it to me when I picked up the first pain med.

Partner and I had our cry yesterday as it became clear that Finn is really sick and dying. 

I am so going to miss this dog. He's been such a gentle soul and companion. He has gotten me through so much. 
We are glad we could provide some safety and solitude for him these last 2 1/2 years after what appears to have been a very hard life.
Since the letter, his pain medication has changed and he is more animated. We are told this is temporary, but I'll take it if it means he feels better.

I hope our efforts are what you need. 

Blessings as you journey from here to the Great Outdoors, Finn.