One of my bookshelves collapsed the other day and the handyman said that, in order to fix it, I would have to remove all the books, not just those that had already fallen down. So I started piling them up on the floor of my guest bedroom, which usually doesn’t have piles of books on the floor — as opposed to some other rooms of my house, which do.
But when I took Frankie out for his last pee of the night, I walked through that guest bedroom in the dark, forgetting about the books — and stumbling over them.
Which is when I realized that this is what Frankie must be experiencing. I don’t believe in divine intervention but I think it’s a good idea to take life lessons when they hit you in the face — and almost land you on your butt.
Is This How I Would Want to Live?
As I wrote recently, a lot of the end-of-life checklists don’t apply to Frankie. He never liked car rides, or even walks, so his recent lack of interest in them proved nothing to me about his quality of life. What gave him joy was being with me and being the king of his domain — i.e., our house.
Now the house itself is a source of confusion. In this late stage of canine cognitive dysfunction, Frankie stumbles around blindly, bumping into things, night and day. His diminished sense of smell doesn’t come to his aid.
But I had refused to see things from his perspective. I had so many reasons shored up for the “it’s not yet time” defense:
- He still waits for me when he hears me drive up, often even in the proximity of the door.
- He still wants his food, though he can’t always find it.
- He still kisses me on occasion.
- He is still house trained, though he can’t find his way in or out of the house very well.
- He sleeps through the night.
What it boils down to: Frankie isn’t inconveniencing me — except, of course, for the fact that he tears my heart out every time I watch him stumbling around.
But what about him?
I began re-thinking my excuses.
The Hospice Vet
I’ve mentioned that, once I decided not to have Frankie’s teeth pulled, I began thinking of this phase of our lives together as hospice care. The book-stumbling incident gave me the impetus to make things formal — to call a veterinarian I’d heard about through a friend who specializes in the last phase of life and does in house consults. That is, she doesn’t only come over to administer a final needle, but also gives advice about quality of life.
I made the call — not necessarily planning on planning to say good-bye any time soon, though I suppose a part of me was hoping this limbo period would be over.
She was wonderful. I’ll tell you all about her visit another time. Bottom line: She felt that Frankie was very unaware of his surroundings, that he was definitely confused and possibly fearful much of the time.
That’s no way to treat a best friend.
The more we talked, the more I realized that I was ready (at least as ready as I’ll ever be, which is never) to let go. Because the more we talked, the more I realized that it’s not my Frankie I’ll be saying good-bye to, just a poor clumsy sprite that’s been occupying his body. It’s not an evil entity, just a sad one, but it nevertheless needs to be exorcised, so the real Frankie — a mischievous spirit if there ever was one — can return to take his rightful place in my memory.
Don’t worry. Frankie the imposter is still here. I’ll tell you more about my final plans. Hint: They include spoiling Frankie to the best of my abilities, which are considerable in that department.
29 thoughts on “Letting Go: Things That Go Bump In The Night — And the Day”
I didn’t know such services existed. I’m so grateful the visit gave you clarity and information to aid in your decisions. Quality of life is something I think about A LOT, with Lilly.
Few people know about them, and I plan to spread the word (I’ll see be doing an interview with Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby on the topic). I strongly recommend them to anyone struggling with this issues. I’m sure there’s one in your area.
We just faced this decision with our 14 year old Airedale, Cisco. It is a very difficult decision. I contacted Dr. Sheila Kirt from Home At Last in June and she did a quality of life evaluation in our home and together we decided it was not quite time. My biggest concern was for Cisco’s comfort. I sought a professional opinion to make sure that I had proper emotional perspective given his presenting heath issues. She was wonderful, frank and reassuring. I felt comforted to have her involved in our lives. I was elated to have a little more time with Cisco. It’s been a week now as a one Airedale household. His 13 year old sister Zoey is having a hard time with the adjustment but getting a little better every day. Dr. Kirt was helpful in offering advice about that too. Needless to say, I am a huge proponent of hospice care for pets. I now feel at peace about making this choice, a feeling I hadn’t anticipated I would feel. I strongly urge anyone faced with these issues to seek counsel. For me, it was invaluable. I wish you and Frankie the best.
Dr. Sheila Kirt was who I consulted too! She’s incredible. I’m very sorry for your loss, but it’s clear that you feel as I now do: That you made an informed decision and did the best you could by Cisco. I hope Zoey adjusts well and continues to heal. You too.
That counsel is priceless. We had to be talked through letting our darling Charlie cat go, before he went into the severe, inevitable decline of pancreatic cancer, but I’m so grateful we did — our vet, like yours, did a beautiful job of discussing with us his dignity, and the nature and quality of our relationship with him. But my God, even knowing it’s the right thing to do….
Sending you such love.
I’m glad (well, and sad too) that you know what I’m talking about — and I do so appreciate the empathy as well as the sympathy. Knowing you’re doing the right thing doesn’t lessen the pain of saying good-bye, but it helps a lot with the guilt.
Aha. Rolled beef flying in from NY for Frankie maybe?
Spoil Frankie rotten for me too, Edie.
Anything’s possible — yes, even the mysterious rolled beef! — though apparently dogs have decidedly lowbrow tastes. I am told that they love cat food, especially the really cheap varieties so I’m going to start with that. For one thing, I won’t be tempted to steal any from him.
I will definitely give him something duly indulgent for you and tell him it’s coming all the way from Denmark!
I’ve had the experience of hanging on too long and I realize now it was not out of true love for my pets. They deserved better. I was just postponing my own guilt and grief. You should never feel guilty for doing the right thing for them.
That’s the best things about these hospice vets — they can’t take away the grief, but they can definitely help with the guilt! I still have a modicum because the vet said, If it was my dog I would have said good-bye already, but I suspect she might have wanted to be perfectly clear because she could see I was wavering a bit.
Frankie has taught us all so much. It would be an incredible mitzvah to write about that there is such a thing as a hospice vet, and how to find one – for example, in Albuquerque.
I will be doing an interview for About.com but I will also write more about this. In the meantime there’s this site that might help: International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care: http://www.iaahpc.org/ I skimmed through the directory and saw one in Las Cruces.
I can’t think of a more worthwhile subject.
I’m so grateful for your willingness to share this journey. I’m not sure I could have done so. Virtual hugs and treats for Frankie coming your way.
I didn’t know if I could do it either, but I’m surprising myself… I’m so glad that it’s helping others. And I will send treats for Frankie from you too!
Heart wrenching Edie. I know it so well. There is only one guarantee we get from our dogs and that is that they will one day break our hearts.
Hoooo boy….tears in eyes. I am going to have to snuffle through this one.
I knew my beloved Mikey had some brain thing going on because within about six months he had three fairly mild seizures. The first one was the most terrifying. After he calmed down, I took him to the emergency vet where he was admitted for observation overnight. In the morning I was horrified when they told me they had put a jingle bell collar on him to detect any more seizures. This may have have been fine for most animals, but Mikey was 82 pounds of fearfullness, I am sure it was the worst night of his life. When one Saturday morning he was unsteady on his feet, he looked like he was a landlubber asea, I knew it was time to let him go. I treated him to all the things he loved for a day, then a friend of a friend who works at PACC (our local animal shelter) came over and we did the deed.
As traumatic as it was, I deeply believed that I did right by him, keeping him alive would have been self serving, and, possibly, inhumane.
Dogspeed Frankie, we love you. And we love you too Edie, be as kind to yourself (leggo da guilt), as you are to Frankie.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was to get the word from a professional of Frankie’s state of being. We woke him from a sleep so I think he may have been a bit more out of it than usual, but it’s definitely time.
I’m better than I expected to be, honest. And I treated myself to a chocolate croissant this morning — in addition to giving Frankie lots of treats that he never expected. He thinks he’s experiencing Christmas and Hanukkah and every holiday he never experienced — and his happiness makes me happy too.
I’ll email you about the wake…
There is so much to think about here Edie…It must have been heartbreaking to hear that assessment of Frankie’s current state, especially that the vet thought he was probably fearful…One of the things we strive for as per parents is to make sure our pets feel safe and nurtured…Thinking that my once-safe home had become a scary place would just tear me up…I’m following your and Frankie’s journey now and hope that I can store up some of this wisdom for the next time I have to make the choice…
It made me sad, yes, but I think she also saw him when he was a bit more out of it than usual — we woke him up to assess him — and now that I know that I don’t have to give him exercise or keep him on a restricted diet (with the stipulation that I don’t make him sick) I feel that I can give him a few great weeks. And that makes me happy. He keeps finding delicious food in his bowl. If the house was scary for a bit, it isn’t any longer.
My one bit of wisdom is easy: If there’s a hospice vet in your area, don’t hesitate to get a consult. You may find you have plenty of time — or very little. Either way, it’s a huge relief to have someone take control of things.
Edie, just got back from two weeks in China, where there is no Facebook, so catching up now on this saga: seems to me you’ve got a great plan, both for you and Frankie. Though a “Rainbow Bridge” fan myself (for a variety of reasons!), I promise not to inflict that on you when the time comes. You’ve given Frankie a sensational life, and it appears he’s brought many things to you, too. Thinking of you both, and wishing for many good moments ahead, still.
China, eh — sounds wonderful (even without Facebook)! Thanks for your good wishes. Frankie is going to eat very, very well and not do anything he doesn’t want to do, so I think we’ll both be content.
I’m so sorry, Edie. We went through something very similar a few years ago with a beloved cat and it was so hard to make the decision–but it was the right decision. We also had a very kind vet who came to the house, and he made all the difference. Big hugs as you go through this very hard stage.
Thanks, Laura. I appreciate the support — and the virtual hugs. There’s nothing like being able to have the comfort of home for this difficult time, is there?
That is wonderful that you can have a hospice vet come to your house for a consult. I never knew that was a thing/option. It sounds like it was a very difficult but clarifying conversation for you. I can’t wait to hear how you are going to spoil Frankie. I know you will be wonderful to him.
Whoa…I’m sooo sorry. Yes, getting this kind of professional assessment is important and helpful. We sometimes see through eyes in denial, and that robs our best friends of their right to die when it’s time. Still, I’m really sad to hear this news, but glad he’s getting yummy things to eat every day. Give him a kiss goodbye from me, Edie…
We dealt with this situation just a little over 2 years ago with my 15 year old shep-mix Tino. I struggled with the decision just as you because there were certain ‘signs’ that he still was living his life. Tino was also blind (had been for 5 years), so some of the disorientation and confusion I chalked up to that. But after a few month’s of pretty regular bowel incontinence and seeing him sleep about 23.5 hours per day – I realized what you did, this was no life – I was keeping him alive for me. I did the same thing, spoiled him rotten for a few days and then said a quiet peaceful farewell in our backyard – his favorite spot.
First of all, thank you for sharing your experience with such openness and honesty. I know there are no words, but please know I’m thinking of you. It sounds like you’re doing the very best for dear Frankie. He may be confused about his surroundings, but I’m sure he’s confident about your love.
I’ve had to say goodbye to two dogs in my adulthood. The decisions wer painful, but not nearly as hard as yours. Pepper had cancer and when we could no longer keep the pain at bay I made the call. Logan was heartworm positive when I found him. We killed the worms but they had done permanent damage. When his heart began to fail 7 years later we knew it was time. Neither decision was easy, but I didn’t want to force them to live in pain because I was too selfish to let them go. It helps when you have a good vet working with you.