Life in it’s later stages, very often, is not pretty. My next door neighbors are a wonderful old couple in their mid 80’s we’ll call “Mary and “John”. They are great neighbors, we talk, sometimes go on walks together, one of their sons is a handyman who remodeled my bathroom and they love my Golden Retriever, Dixie. We are close as neighbors go. But it has been obvious lately that Mary has not been herself and her son recently informed me that the family is putting her in a nursing home next week because her Alzheimer's has gotten to the point that she may be a danger to herself or to John. It is heartbreaking. So in the evenings Dixie and I go over and sit with them. There are two things Mary always remembers, her great grandson Caleb and Dixie the dog. So we go and sit and Mary loses herself in petting and talking to Dixie. Once in a while she will look up and ask me how old Dixie is and if she just had a bath because she looks so good, for about the 100th time, and I respond and then she focuses her gaze back into Dixie’s deep brown eyes and stays there while the rest of her world crumbles around her. John is trying to be brave, but tears are just a moment away because he knows he is losing the woman he has loved for more than 60 years and he isn’t going to get her back. So he pets the dog, too and and together they share a moment about how old Dixie is and whether she has had a bath because she looks so good. Her children are on the verge of tears as they do what needs to be done, I’m on the verge of tears with a big plastic smile stuck on my face because it’s the best I can muster. Dixie, on the other hand, just sits calmly, accepting their attention, occasionally looking over at me for reassurance and I nod a silent “good dog” that she seems to understand. That’s all I can do, Dixie is doing all the heavy lifting here.
I know I’m going to reflect on all this later, as it sinks in. There is just too much to absorb right now. How do we make sure we get the most out of our lives while we can? What is the special connection we have with animals? Can you really prepare yourself for the long good-bye?
It’s been a long week, at home and at work, with little solace except for a pair of amazing brown eyes who are more accepting of the world and people than I can ever hope to be.