20 January 2006

Thy will be done

Death came

A dear friend wrote to me about Rosie's dying:
I do hope that Rosie's not in pain as well as glad to be with you, for I have to admit the word "euthanasia" entered my mind when I read your last description of her condition. (The Supreme Court just allowed Oregon to have legal "assisted suicides" as a state's right, and I was partly thinking of that.) Please don't think I'm criticizing you at a time when you're so unhappy! I just wondered if it would be an option, or whether you're totally opposed to that sort of thing.
My friend is more tolerant by far than I, or is perhaps more diplomatic than I would be capable of, if I thought that a dear friend called what can only be cruelty: "compassion". We all deserve our dignity respected in life and in death, no matter how many feet we have.

But especially, the animals we bring into the world deserve this.

Rosie died yesterday morning, held by four hands, being talked to by those she knew loved her, all her life. She was ready to die then, but not sooner.

We knew that death was days away just before Christmas. I rang our vet, who is a model of what doctors should be. He came once, barefoot when we had an emergency, arriving so fast that I know that he risked a whopping speeding fine. He's our family doctor, the kind who never talks down and never lies. He's one who can handle dealing with a family in which the ones who can speak English have read, examined, and know intimately, both what symptoms mean and what manifestations are, with each family member he's had call to care for.

We spoke about exactly what was happening with Rosie, arranging that he would come if need be, but he thought he wouldn't be called by us because she wouldn't be distressed or in pain. He predicted that she would die in her actual sleep or that dreamy state that comes on from the self-starvation that is a natural part of this process.

He was right, but there was something else that happened that I'll have to talk to him about.

Rosie did understand something in those final days, something that she should not have been able to, as she truly didn't suffer.

I don't know what she understood. She knew death, of course. She'd seen it. But to see her own mortality? What a risible concept, for a dog!

Then you tell me why she wanted to play games she'd stopped playing years ago, why she leapt for sticks that she wanted thrown, forgetting that she has arthritis. She forgot all about her arthritis, in fact, and seemed looser all over, her beautiful pace an ironic movement when there were no longer her "wonder thighs" as we called them, bouncing with each step. She wanted to go on a certain 500 metre walk around our place, 2, 3, 5 times a day. She looked into our eyes with what one could only call, a fierce desire to live. A will to savour every minute she had left. It was our duty and our joy to give her everything we could, except that thing we desperately wanted for her, to the very end.

The last three days she shat blood, as we knew she would. She grew weaker and weaker, and yet she still continued to want to live.

She wanted to climb up and run down stairs even when she was clearly too weak, We picked her up and carried her, though wished for her sake that she still could do this safely. For she never lost her dignity.

The night before she died she asked to go out for what we thought surely must be her last time. We'd been thinking this for days, being fooled by her love of life and her tenacity hour after hour, day after remarkable day. But this was her last time. She was so very weak at this point. She squatted and had a pee, stood up, squatted again, and voided a large amount of blood, and then collapsed. It hit me then how much more dignity she had than so many humans. It was her sense, not ours, that made her act the way she did. And it was consistent with her life.

We owed her everything possible; to put our "normal" lives on hold, to make her feel clean and comfortable all the time, to be loved and watched to see what she wanted; and never never left alone. To have our eyes to look into whenever she wanted, our arms lifting her, caring for her, throwing sticks for her, accompanying her on her joyful last walks, those walks that we asked each other if we'd even contemplate if we were at her stage, and said "No." But she did. And so she got them, walking as much as she liked, rubbing her back in some mysterious smell in the clean green grass. Smelling the blossoms in the air and looking at her other family members. Drinking from puddles and outdoor tubs, and ultimately and finally, from our cupped hands, the only way she wanted liquid, just as the only way she wanted her last food was from the hands that loved her, all her life.

And so she had a dying and a death that both had dignity, the only proper way to live and die for any person, whether Rosie or some saint-to-be who preached the value of pain and suffering, in its place, which didn't include her body.

Rosie lived and died naturally because she clearly wanted it so. Her eyes didn't dull. Her spirit didn't lag. She didn't want to die. But if she had, if she lost loving life, wanting to be alive, if she had suffered at all, of course she would have been (as we so easily euphemise when it's only "animals") put to sleep. People with two legs should have the same choice.

This blog was not meant to be autobiographical, and I don't want to turn it so, but here I must interject yet more me-ness, to give clout to my condemnation of those who seek to deny the choice of life and death, and the judgement of life's quality to those whose choice it should be. Ourselves.

It is easy to say that there's enough pain cures to solve the "depression" opponents cite as a reason for wanting euthanasia, and thus a reason to condemn the choice.
I can say from experience that when one is living with intolerable pain, there isn't an accompanying angels-playing-soccer joy tingling in the brain. There is, on the other hand, a selfish takeover by Pain itself, of everything that constitutes a person's personality. I can say from experience that that state of being can be something that is not caused by a life-threatening illness, but instead, by a simple design fault in the glorious body corporeal.

I can say from experience that if that state ever happens to me again, I do not want to live. I know what is fixable and what is beyond the pale for medicine. I don't ever again want to live in a state of loss of me-ness with no real road back to the faulty but able-to-enjoy-life me.

Those who preach that life, no matter how lived, is precious without having lived a life that is 110% physical pain, should have that pain transferred to them. I choose mouth and back for the sites of purity. Pure nerve pain. That'd do me fine. Give them all the pain management that exists, and of course, your efficacious prayers.

Then laugh along with them, or just watch the beauty of pure suffering, and glory in its purpose.

Which reminds me of one of the best horror stories I've ever read: "Do Not Resuscitate" by Lia Matera. It is in a wonderful though modest-looking little paperback called Crimes of the Heart, Berkley Publishing, New York, 1995.
The book is worth finding for this story, and the utterly delightful "Valentine's Night" by Nancy Pickard.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad the end came as Rosie herself would wish it. And one more bit of my original e-mail could be repeated here:

May the eeyores and the beautiful birds around you offer some comfort! And you can rest assured that you gave Rosie a wonderful
life, with just the right people.

anna tambour said...

Your whole letter was so very inspiring. The eeyores and the birds are indeed a comfort, as are the spiders in the house, who are even more enjoyed now than they were previously.

Ed Y said...

Dearest Anna. I hope Rosie is there to meet my Rusty. And show him all the fun places to run and play.

anna tambour said...

My dear Ed, What a splendid thought. It never occurred to me, but this is Rosie through and through. Not only did she love having someone to look out for, but she was an inveterate inventor of games, and she never wanted to play alone. She wasn't a social butterfly, however, wanting deep friendship and the kind of intimacy one can never get in a group. So I have no doubt that she's picked up my thoughts. Although she wasn't the best communicator, she was pretty preternaturally prescient, and knew what I needed better than I ever have. So you can be happy in the knowledge that Rusty will have a most happy forever. I doubt they'll have time to think of us, which is well and good. Dogs are so much deeper than we are.