If you haven’t read C.S. Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed”, I highly recommend it. It’s more a short story than a book really – only four little chapters. But somehow within the few pages the author expressed so much so well.
I got to thinking about this book today, as I felt the ache in my heart swell and ebb throughout the day. My situation is quite different of course. I am only anticipating the passing of our faithful canine companion not living the moments after the death of my spouse as Mr. Lewis did. But it still hurts, and the love is still real, and there are still moments when my mind and heart are overwhelmed by this experience.
One significant difference in my situation (besides the obvious difference in species and relationship) is that I am facing the choice of whether or not to have her euthanized. The last thing I want is for her to suffer; it is not a question of us doing this to make things easier or more convenient for ourselves. But she is old, and she has cancer, and it breaks my heart to think she might be in misery. I will do anything to prolong her life, but I will not prolong her death. So I watch and wait and guess and try to figure it out – and I pray, and pray, and pray. And at the moment this is the greatest part of my pain – my fear that I’ll wait too long and she’ll suffer, and being afraid I’ll act too soon and….
Last night we started to prepare the kids and ourselves. She had refused to eat all day, and wasn’t drinking water either. Then today the same. I contacted the vet, got the emergency number, and kept trying to get her to at least drink some water. The questions kept coming – should I try a different food? Buy a roasted chicken (her favorite) to see if she’ll eat that? I just kept hearing Tim say the other day, “We have to trust the process.”
So I decided to trust the process and let her go.
It was so hard not to do anything except stroke her and talk with her and just be there for her. So at one point I squirted some water in her mouth just to make her more comfortable; or maybe it was to make myself more comfortable. Two days of no water must feel bad. She fought me, then hid her head under the couch. She was telling me she was done, or so it seemed.
As we were sitting down to dinner I had the thought to offer her some of the meat from my plate. She took it eagerly, then some more, then some more. Next thing you know I had cooked up a pound of hamburger and she had devoured almost all of it. Suddenly our energy had shifted and it was about getting her to drink some water. Tim suggested he take her outside to see if she’d drink, because her favorite water bowl has always been a mud puddle and with all the rain there were plenty of puddles. Sure enough, after a little coaxing and a potty stop she was lapping eagerly from the pond that on dry days is our lawn.
I was amazed at how uplifted I felt just knowing that her tummy was full and her thirst was quenched. Will this change the outcome of the situation? No. This is not about healing or lengthening her life by any significant amount, but it did momentarily relieve my feelings of helplessness and the pain of imagining our sweet Caia in quiet misery.
Tomorrow is another day, one that I suspect will be emotional too. The waiting is hard, the experiencing is hard, but I will try to savor each moment that my grief is bringing into sharp focus. I dread the experience of dealing with her actually passing, of watching my family mourn the loss, of living with 12 years of daily habits that will have me missing her many times each day for months to come. And of course I dread facing the truth that there will be even greater times of grief in the future.
But for today Caia is sleeping peacefully on the floor next to Tim’s side of the bed, and all is well - even though there is this terrible weight on my chest, an ache in my stomach, and tears in my eyes.