Our dog Elyse passed away this week. I remember her now, based on revisiting the post Dog Blog: Don’t. Move.
I tried hard not to move, but she moved me more than I had thought possible after I survived movements that helped make my body attack itself. That is, after trying my best to teach high school English and journalism full time for two years and falling short while becoming ill, even after a break, caring for a dog proved much more difficult than I had anticipated.
And so much the better. She showed me I wasn’t all washed up. The challenges she continuously threw our way we met to the best of our abilities, and she became my new full-time occupation. I’d like to think I was good at the job.
In consequence, the bond we developed became close and deep, as we spent every day, most of the day, together while Daddy earned our daily bread. The greatest challenge, perhaps, was to keep trying, to renew my patience, forgive the challenges she could not help but pummel us with in her layered conditions of disease and neurosis. The serenity of the pack leader is the only surety for keeping the pack together, functioning, balanced.
Keep calm and lick. She would do that as long as I kept coming home, feeding her, maintaining her medications dosing schedule, going through our routines, showing affection, asserting my leadership, providing limitations and not just pity for the sweet, sickly little dog. She respected me to a degree, listened to me more than to Daddy, but she could be stubborn, too.
And there were certainly moments where she didn’t trust me. After all, it was primarily I who wielded the wipes, the ear cleaner, the comb, the towels, the dental hygiene products, and other instruments of regular torture. I would lose my temper, lose my patience, show my flawed humanity when she failed to stay put or stop prancing around in panic while I worked upstairs, or when she soiled the floor yet again.
With all the medication, and her neglected and abandoned past, I knew it wasn’t her fault, so I restrained myself. But she could still feel my negative vibes and would cower, hesitate, fail to come to me. I was hardly her North Star.
Still, she surrendered to my love, returning calm, and gentle hand. I became an expert of sorts in many aspects of canine care, not least of which was dog massage. Neither side had any choice, really. She was at our mercy. We coddled, spoiled, and humanized her with the best of them. We showered our only child with more affection than she thought strictly necessary, I’m sure. But love won out in both directions.
All things end, and now is her life ended. Dearest Elyse–our first family dog, adopted as a rescued American Brittany on June 29, 2012, laid to rest February 8, 2016–we will move on, eventually. As the snow finally seals winter in, and layers over your fresh grave, the temperature drops with my motivation.
Binding us so tightly to her with all that need for constant care–as much a source of stress as companionship, an amazingly tiny package experiencing and bringing such frequent struggle–Elyse has been my whole world for more than 3 and a half years. We certainly gave it our all. It’s time to re-invent myself yet again.
Irony comes calling again. Just when I’d get up the urge to write or read or improve my home or health, her own health would waver and pull me back from myself. Now that I’m “free” of her needs, I can scarcely think, choose, or move.
Is balance, after all, sheer impossibility? I threw myself into full-time teaching, hardly sleeping, barely keeping up with grading and lesson planning, making myself ill from the chronic strain and stress, not having been used to work in such a way at such a pace in such a place. Basically, not having been challenged enough before that point. Then, after nursing the wounds from dismissal, and intending to get a healthy, active dog that would help me become healthier, I found myself thrown into another nearly impossible project–taking care of an ailing dog.
I was partly manipulated into it by the rescue organization (they unmistakably lied about her age and misrepresented the severity of her health problems), largely smitten by the sweet little creature herself, partly pressured by my spouse’s falling as much in love as I had in a few short days, and partly led by my determination to get right whatever I undertook.
Am I finally to learn how not to go overboard? Or, at least how to do so gainfully? Am I discounting the gotten gains? Can I find balance at last?
Or, is it disingenuous to ask for this? Do I really just want fame and money, and only persist in denying my vanity and greed in the vain hope that I’m a better person than I seem to be? Either way, it will come down to balance, if no other kind but that between seeking ultimate “success” and seeking a balance between career and personal life. I take everything so personally, so seriously, do I even know the difference between work and life? Did I ever? Is there such a stark distinction at all?
Cesar Millan, best known as The Dog Whisperer, has said we don’t get the dog we want; we get the dog we need. I’m still trying to figure out how that was the case with Elyse and me. What am I supposed to have learned? What am I to take a way from all this? What about her did I need? And was the need fulfilled?
I don’t know. I think it may take a while to figure out. Everything with me does, but right now, grief clouds the issue. I’ll let you know if light dawns.
Of course, I’m assuming the verity of a pat aphorism that may be bull, even though the man may indeed know dogs better than anyone. As I established in my Five-Phrase Friday post last week, what’s true for some may not be true for all.
What I know to be true is this: I loved that dog. It was not all in vain. We do learn from experience. We have great, rich memories of our time with her.
What a sweet, gentle, affectionate, adorable, quirky, beautiful little girl. She only ever barked in her sleep and, in her immune-compromised isolation, energetically loved meeting any new canine friends.
I’ll miss . . .
- the sound of her long toe nails tapping as she trotted along the floor
- the jingling shake of her collar tags
- the oh-so-cozy softness of her fur coat and leg feathers
- her clumsy goofiness
- her insistent invasion of personal space
- those Dumbo-like ears of submission
- an eagerness to walk, sniff and mark
- her unabashed excitement and joy to see us come home
- her playful groan of a signal to go outside
- the thrashing of animal toys
- an obsessed tooth-and-claw attack of her Kong toy full of treat bits
- a thrasher hairstyle with head hanging, fast asleep, off her bed’s edge
- running in her sleep
- the frustrating way she’d wipe her face on your legs to get rid of the oozing eye goop
- her strength and resilience amidst 3 heart conditions, chronic coughing, painful arthritis episodes, blocked tear ducts, bad teeth, chronic shivering and shuddering, occasional choking on food, low blood sugar, isolated mystery ailments including seizures, limping, lost appetite, and reverse sneezing that would clear up inexplicably, bleeding toenails from quicks so close to the tip, being stepped on repeatedly, swallowing a frothy toad, freezing her paws in harsh winter, and stepping on a bee
- her huntress alertness, bird stalking, squirrel obsession
- the way she’d open her front paws and legs while lying down so we’d rub her fluffy chest
- her yawns of sleepiness and confusion
- the drollness of her growing directional deafness–2 feet behind her, called her, and she perked and ran towards the sound in the opposite direction
- her long, slender, elegant pointer legs
- those eyes, that nose, that tongue, and that nubbin!
- her love of peas and apple sauce and traces of flavored yogurt and peanut butter and
- . . . oh, so much more
I’ll miss being so constantly needed. I’ll miss my irreplaceable fur-baby and friend.
Rest in peace, pain free and joyful, baby girl.
A world of possibilities opens up before me now, and it’s ready for my forward movement. At some point, you get sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time—and do something productive. All hope is not lost.
Although I feel a little like Zaphod Beeblebrox when he failed to find the ultimate question–“Good stuff. I’ll just go find something else for my whole life to be about.”–I’m still hopeful that the best is yet to come, yet to be made and discovered. I’ve been blessed repeatedly, given many chances to start over, and now, aided by my circumstances, I have yet another gift of choice.
I will do my best to embrace this new freedom, in keeping with my values, in honor of my loved ones–the living and the dead. I’ll take responsibility for my life and health, not only to do but to be.
Life goes on, and the search continues.