As so often happens, something I read winds its way into a current experience. This time it’s about living while dying, and making those last days, weeks, or months memorable. Eight years ago when we adopted Holly, our rambunctious and nervous doberman, we said that we would give her a good life for as long as we had her. We have honoured that promise. Our furry, high-maintenance, “4-legged personal trainer” loves us as much as we love her.
Driving Miss Norma
I recently read Driving Miss Norma, a story about a 90 year old woman who opted to travel with her son, daughter-in-law and Ringo, their Standard Poodle, rather than be tethered to life-sustaining, but not necessarily life-enhancing, medical devices. The book chronicles the beautiful, poignant relationships that develop between Norma, Tim, Ramie and Ringo, while they travel the U.S. in their motor home. As the miles flew by, so too did the year. Joy, love, tears, pain, surprise, friendships, adventure; all the things that are part of the human experience, but with a difference. Those experiences occurred as the family travelled the contiguous states in their motor home, with the shadow of Norma’s cancer growing larger as the miles rolled by.
This book is more of a celebration of life, family, resilience and love. I smiled, I laughed and yes, I even cried. It reminds me that life is made up of choices, even when it seems that there are no more choices to make. Tim and Ramie found a way to make Norma’s remaining time memorable and as pain-free as possible. As a consequence, Norma was able to regain the sense of adventure that was at the core of who she was.
Driving Miss Holly
We’ve had nicknames for all our dobies. Harley was Harley Davidson. Of course. (Not because we love those motorcycles, but because Harley was the name he came with.) Murphy was Murphy Brown. We thought we’d call Holly, Holly Golightly or Holly Berry, but Miss Holly is what her nickname became. Holly loves when I ask, “Store?” That’s when she gets to accompany me on small errands in our neighbourhood. A quick trip to the grocery store, the library, or the pharmacy, provides enough distraction for her. Big ones tend to stress her out too much and her whining and restlessness are not worth the anguish. When I glance in the rear view mirror, and see her looking out the window, it feels just like a scene out of Driving Miss Daisy. I do enjoy Driving Miss Holly because it brings her so much pleasure.
Recently, we learned that Holly has an inoperable mass along the base of her spine. I was surprised and I wasn’t. I had a vague sense that something was going on with her. I’m happy to report that her appetite is still good. (Just like her mamma’s!) She is still energetic and wants to play her usual games, although her rest breaks are now longer. Like Murphy before her, I trust that Holly will let me know when it’s time to drive her once last time, when enough is enough. In the meantime, we’ll continue to do what we normally do with an even bigger helping of love, if that is even possible.
These last few months haven’t been easy. In addition to Holly’s diagnosis, I had surgery for a ruptured tendon in my thumb and a family member is in and out of hospital with a variety of medical complications. Stress techniques help me to maintain a wobbly sense of equilibrium. “Wobbly” because I’ve been better, but I’ve also been far, far worse. I’m more tired than I usually am with living with a systemic auto-immune condition like rheumatoid arthritis. That’s to be expected.
Arriving at acceptance of what is, whether it is a medical condition like RA, or an end-of-life diagnosis, is a stage that brings peace, albeit a sense of peace that is tinged with sadness.
Here are just some of the things we celebrate about Holly:
- The way she maintains deep and searching eye contact.
- Her joy at playing “Go Sniff” and “Roller” in the evening.
- How she waits beside my chair for some “toodle time.”
- Her sensitivity to tone of voice.
- How she curls up under the desk when I’m working in the office.
- Her ability to luxuriate in sunbeams.
- How content she is to sit with us on the bench in the back yard in the spring and summer.
- The excitement she feels when playing with the ball launcher.
Other things I want to remember about Holly:
- The way she roams the house on the off-chance there’s a tissue box at her height. She does love those tissues for some strange reason!
- Her lopsided ears.
- The bark that lets me know that she is stuck around a tree while on her long leash.
- Her intensity when she swims.
- The satisfied groan she makes when I rub her ears a certain way.