Mimi and me in 2012, three days after we ‘rescued’ her.
Every morning my heart breaks. Every morning I wonder. Will I have to force the medicine in? Too many days of pills hidden in clumps of baby food and she wont eat the beef in beef broth I serve up on my finger any more. I change to peanut butter. “All dogs like peanut butter” I boast to a friend.
And Mimi used to, only now she keeps her mouth firmly closed. She sits in my lap and quakes. Tiny shivers as if she is cold. I hold her tight to my body trying to make them stop but they only grow more and more determined until they overtake us both. I stroke her slowly and gently down the length of her body, the way I learnt in doggie massage class. Does she feel my love through my hands as I deliver Reiki? I learnt it long ago but have not used it for years. Maybe since Jesi lay ill in her hospital bed.
The medicine goes down…eventually. I try not to feel anxious about her taking it as I know she will pick up on my feelings and it will not help. Three pills for her heart twice a day. I am waiting for them to arrive in a compounded liquid form so I can syringe them in. I chose cheddar cheese flavor as we haven’t tried anything in cheese lately so I think she might like something new….at least initially.
Then there are the pills for nausea and pills to stimulate her appetite, as she has stopped eating in the morning. This worries me. The missing breakfast happened about a week ago. We were staying at a friend’s house, minding her three cats and dog. Oh, it’s just being out of our normal routine, I told myself, but when we returned home it didn’t change. Then I took her to the groomers for her monthly grooming and she lay on the table, not even enough energy to resist the clip and the comb.
“Do you see a difference?” I asked Julie, who has been grooming Mimi for the five and a half years Mimi and I have been together.
“Oh yes. She’s more lethargic today.”
“I gave her less Trazadone.”
“Less?” I heard the inflection in her voice, the surprise…unmistakable.
When Julie gives her to me and I sit her on the counter so I can pay she flattens her sweet soft body against it, her head resting on it, not even acknowledging my presence. I stoke her back and tickle under her chin while I chat.
I do not make the usual four week follow-up appointment.
The shaking does not go away. Every time I pick her up it starts. At first I think it is because she dreads me holding her. She knows I give her medicines. Then I ask Chris. “No, she shakes when I pick her up too.”
I watch her sleeping. When she sleeps deeply she seems to be still, but there are even times when in her bed I can make out the vaguest quivering of her fine white and grey hair. Is she scared of something? Or cold? What is it?
I want it to go away so I hold on to her tighter. One bitterly cold night when she comes in from peeing, despite the pink sweater I had got accustomed to leaving her in and the quilted winter coat and hood over it, she shakes so much her teeth chatter. I crouch down on the floor behind her covering her both with a blanket and my body, hugging her tight until the chattering goes away. “I love you so much, Mimi” I repeat those words over and over as I snuggle my face into her fur, caressing it as I whisper to her. I want her to remember my love forever. I want to take all her suffering away.
The most wonderful gift is when one afternoon the two of us together fall asleep while I am sitting in my comfy chair, the light streaming into the living room of my small apartment. I am holding Mimi, bundled up like a baby in my arms. Somehow, perhaps like a mother intuitively knows not to drop her baby, though I am deeply asleep, I hold Mimi tight. And the shaking and shivering vanish.
I want to remember that feeling forever now that Mimi has gone to be with Jesi…
It came too quickly in the end. I knew it was coming. I knew on the Saturday before ….. But that afternoon she barked at me, telling me not to leave her in the car while I ran errands. She was her old doggie self again. So I decided to take her to PETCO. She led me around the store sniffing at everything. And when we got home she ate a full bowl of chicken for dinner. I took a photo and sent it to Chris. I was so overjoyed.
That was the last meal she ate.
Now the picture hangs above where Mimi’s dish used to sit. Somehow she feels closer to me when I look at it and remember…
The next morning she had diarrhea. I cleaned the carpet, my heart full of fear as to what was causing it. She would not eat or drink, and was not peeing despite the Lasix.
I spent the day with her, anxious, hoping for some miraculous turnaround. I took her for an afternoon walk in the sunshine. She pottered along the asphalt, her little head down sniffing at the dirt and grass. I loved to watch the way she navigated with her nose. Then she squatted and had more diarrhea. She walked a few steps and stopped for a very long time. I picked her up and carried her inside. My heart screwing tighter and tighter like a piece of paper winding itself up inside my chest.
I didn’t want to go to the ER but I knew she was not well. I didn’t want her to be whisked away from me and taken into the back while I sat there in the waiting room with the incoherent babble of the TV trying to drown out my anguish. Too many dogs ended their lives that way.
What I needed for Mimi was to have her with me where she could be safe and loved. I called Melinda who had been supporting me through Mimi’s illness. We decided I should stay stay in. We spent the rest of the afternoon cuddling, Mimi and I sitting together in my cosy arm chair. Mimi didn’t object. She lay sleeping in my arms.
Perhaps she would feel better in the morning.
But morning came and I sat her in my lap to give her meds. She didn’t struggle. She was limp. I had booked a vet appointment for the afternoon. We needed to go sooner. She hadn’t peed or been drinking. I was worried about dehydration.
We were in the car within half an hour.
I had known Mimi would not live to see the year out. I don’t even think I needed a voice from above to tell me that. I had been surprised she had been with me through all of 2017. In fact, since I first learnt that she had inflammatory disease in her lungs in the middle of 2016 I had been expecting her to leave me any day…
It was then the vet told me she was older than they first thought. More like 16, not 12… You say she is 16 years ??? I had never had a Shih Tzu before who had lived to be older that eleven. And Mimi was my fifth Shih Tzu.
Mimi had given me more years of her life than I had ever imagined. Yet I had also never imagined that I would lose my daughter and the connection between them would make my bond with her so much greater…
The vet did additional blood tests and her kidney values, BUN and Creatinine were so high she was in danger of life threatening complications. “There is nothing more we can do” she said.
We discussed timing and whether it was safe to have a last night together.
That afternoon, I called Chris and asked him to take Mimi to Alan’s so he could say his good bye’s. When Alan lifted her up on the couch, Mimi scruffed her little paws and nudged her little face into the pillows, just like she always had done. She barked to go outside and sit on the porch, just like she used to. “She seemed fine.” Alan said. Was I doing the right thing? I wondered. I took her to see my friends who had been minding her on Monday’s while I go into the animal rescue to work with homeless dogs. When Larry, her chief caregiver got home, she got up from her little bed and sniffed her way over to the door to greet him, her little tail wagging. I picked her up and cuddled her into my sweater while we chatted.
I took her back to Melinda’s house so we could have a cup of tea. On the way I called Mimi’s petsitter. Missy had cared for Mimi (and before her, my previous dog, Elliot) in her home ever since Mimi came into our family. Missy had seen so many of her little “charges” come and go, and I know she loved Mimi. Her knock at the door around 5 pm told me what I had seen the countless times she said goodbye to Mimi carrying her downstairs to my car after I returned from vacations. Only this time she hugged and whispered into Mimi’s soft grey and white hair while she held her in Melinda’s kitchen. So many times recently I had wondered when Missy placed Mimi in her bed in my car whether this would be the last time.
Later I took Mimi home. Melinda was going to be at the vet clinic the following day. I had asked Chris to come too.
On our last night together Mimi sat in my lap and ate baby food and rice from my finger. Later in the evening after giving her medications in a syringe she took more. But for most of the evening we just sat in my comfy chair, Mimi lying across my belly while I stroked her back with long slow strokes; trying to remember the feel of her soft hair, the smell of her, the sound of her snuffling as she breathed a restful sleep. Tomorrow her sleep would be restful but without breath.
No one prepares for loss, and I was beginning to realize that in losing her I was grieving the loss of Jesi all over again, perhaps allowing myself to grieve it in a way I had never, as a mum, been free to feel it to before.
It has been a long winter… but the sun shone on Tuesday March 20, the official first day of Spring. I know because it was that date Mimi left. In the morning I played her my CD of Birdsong in the Australian Bush. We played this CD every morning. It would be lovely to do a final walk together I thought to myself after it finished. A few minutes later Mimi was standing at the front door asking to go out! Had she read my mind?
Mimi loved the walks around our apartment complex. And I loved to watch her sniff her way along, guided by her nose now that her eyes had failed her. She would walk a couple of steps, her little head slightly tilted toward the ground, stop and sniff at the grass, ground or a flower, and then shuffle on. I took out my phone and shot some video. Another occupant of the complex walked past and asked how I was. “Fine Lisa,” I replied, not looking up. I didn’t trust myself. Mimi was taking her time, entranced by sniffing at a plastic ball half buried in the dirt. I didn’t move her on. I stood there, my heart caving into my belly and tears swelling my eyes. When we crossed the road Mimi wanted to go to the left. That would have meant a long walk. I turned her to the right, unsure she would make the distance. We continued along, stopping to sniff enjoying this last time.…
On the way back into our building we met Bernie, one of the two Maintenance workers at the complex. I told him about Mimi. “If there’s anything I can do, Liz,” he petted Mimi as I held her. I took Mimi back inside.
When we left that day I placed Mimi in her bed next to me in the car. I drove with one hand on her back and one hand on the steering wheel. I sat with her in the sunny waiting room at the vet clinic, cuddling her while she dozed in my lap. I left her in Chris’s lap when I went a few blocks to walk a dog I had been walking twice a week since December. When I returned she picked her little head up from where it had been resting on Chris’s arm and watched me enter and sit down next to her again. We waited to be called.
The vet was soft spoken and spoke slowly. He explained that Mimi’s poor little body was not able to eliminate all the toxins that were building up now that her kidney’s had failed. This was the reason she had had diarrhea, was not wanting to eat or drink. She was feeling generally lousy. He explained what might happen if we left this unchecked. Again he explained there was no cure. I knew beyond doubt that it was time to say good bye. I never wanted Mimi to suffer and this was the most loving thing I could do for her.
The vet explained the process and as Mimi lay resting in Chris’s lap he administered an anesthetic. Then he gave us space to be with her until it took effect. We shifted Mimi to my lap…
Then the vet returned and we said our final goodbyes…
Chris and I had driven separately to the vet’s clinic that day. When he left … I’m not really sure where he went. He disappeared for some hours … I caught up with him later that evening. When I left I went back to Melinda’s house for a ‘cuppa’ and a nap. Eventually I had to go home.
I still remember standing on the porch steps at Alan’s house that warm September night in 2014 when the shiny black car with the two suited gentlemen drove up the street. They were carrying Jesi in a dark blue satin wrap in the back of their hearse. I still remember when Alan turned to me and said, “How can you be so strong?”
I remember turning off the road into my apartment complex that night in March. Slowing as I neared the door to our building where I used to stop to offload bags, before parking so I could walk or carry Mimi inside. I slowed my car, blinked away the tears, and moved onward to my parking space. I opened my apartment door in silence, walking into the silent empty space. The little bed where Mimi slept in its place… still in its place almost six weeks later, where I can see it from the door. I turned the radio on. Mimi used to love listening to classical music. I listened alone.
Or so I wonder…