the love of my life my senior dog Red

Life After Red

the love of my life my senior dog Red

You never know how you’re going to grieve, or what you’ll find the hardest to cope with, until that time when you say goodbye.

I knew Red’s time with me was drawing to a close, and I used to think about what life would be like without her.

Having spent almost every moment of the past 9 years with her (except for when I was on vacation), I couldn’t imagine a life that didn’t include her. She was around 8 when I brought her home, and being blind she did require some extra care. Of course as she got older and her health issues started she became my entire focus, and every day revolved around her.

I also have another dog named Jack, so between his long walks, feeding both (Red multiple times a day), making sure she ate on those days she wasn’t interested, and keeping her comfortable as she snuggled next to me on the couch, my writing was done in the quiet moments in between.

Naturally I knew I would be heartbroken and devastated. I knew I wouldn’t be sorry to see the pee pads off the floor, and I assumed I would be churning out articles like a machine with all the free hours (yes hours!!) I would have.

And then she died…. broken heart

I am heartbroken and devastated, and as predicted I’m thrilled to not see pee pads covering every square inch of my carpet, but the rest of it is a surprise.

I’m lost.

Every day consisted of a routine 100% dedicated to Red’s care, and now I have all the time in the world and I don’t know how to fill it. It’s been almost 2 weeks so I’m slowly starting to write again, and popping into my FB group to my senior dog Red eating a chew stickcomment, lend support, welcome new members, but it’s a struggle.

I’ve lost my muse and the inspiration behind my articles. I feel like a phony, writing about senior dogs and their care when I don’t have one anymore. The experiences are still there, my desire to help is still strong but the passion has faded. I’m sure when I welcome my next old dog into my home it will return, but for now I’m just going through the motions.

The kindness of strangers

The support and genuine outpouring of emotion from fellow bloggers and group members has been overwhelming, and I don’t seem to have the perfect words to express my gratitude. Take note – this is all from people I’ve never met.

Where is the kindness from people I know?

Life After RedRemember when I said you don’t know how you’ll handle things until they happen? I’m experiencing rage, something I never could have predicted. Don’t worry not the dangerous kind where I’ll do something stupid, but a slow simmering disgust and bitterness at every single person I know who has not bothered to say “I’m sorry.”

 

It makes me feel like Red didn’t matter. Boy did she matter.

What’s interesting is, most aren’t people I call friends so I’m surprised I care so much. Having said that they certainly are at the very least acquaintances, people I’ve known for years who I chat with when I see, which is almost daily. So yes I absolutely expect it. Not a word!

I don’t care if they’re uncomfortable, I care even less if their “reason” is because they don’t want to upset me. I lost Red, I couldn’t be more upset. A simple “I’m sorry” is all it takes…but nothing.

Of course death is a very uncomfortable subject and no one knows what to say, but I can’t imagine chatting with someone I know who suffered a loss and pretending nothing happened. I’d feel like crap.   

I’m as uncomfortable as the next, but the first thing I say is “I’m so sorry” and then I say “I know there’s nothing I can say that will help.” It breaks the ice, it eliminates the awkwardness, and most of all I’ve offered some comfort to someone who is grieving.

My two so called friends who I met because they’re neighbours…the silence from them is deafening. Yes they offered condolences when I saw them, but that was it. Yes they both know I like to be alone, but how about a text? my senior dog Red out for a strollNo awkward encounters, just a kind gesture. I intellectually know I matter to them, but that’s nowhere near enough for me to ever have anything to do with them again. They know how much I loved Red, but if that isn’t enough they certainly saw my support for them when they had surgeries. I’m afraid them telling me I can talk to them when I’m ready isn’t enough, not by a long shot.

Do you know two of the people I’m talking about are nurses, one a health care worker? Isn’t their behaviour even more outrageous!

My vet’s office was no better

My vet is amazing, and I know for a fact Red would not have been with me all these years without him. I also know they dropped the ball. I don’t know if Red’s ashes arrived yesterday when I called to find out where she was, or were sitting there a day or two. Ashes come in you call, that’s it.

You send a condolence card within a day or two, and take a minute to make it sound heartfelt.

My previous vet would send a handwritten card, signed by him, the next day. You can’t imagine how much that always meant.

The card I received from this practice would have been okay (barely) for someone they’ve only seen a handful of times…but us! I couldn’t even count the amount of time we spent there and how well they knew both of us, yet not a message from the vet or anything remotely personal.

my senior dog Red and I in El TorcalWhen I picked up Red’s ashes yesterday I brought the card along. I spoke to one of the staff (Helen) who knows me a long time (as they all do) and calmly expressed my opinion about the lack of effort or anything heartfelt. She told me it was their “standard” response, but she also agreed we deserved better. I told her not to bother asking them to send me another because it would have no meaning.

Let me back up a bit.

When I first walked in yesterday Helen gave me such a warm and genuine hug. She loved Red, as they all did, but wasn’t there when it happened, so it was the first time she had seen me. That hug showed me compassion and that Red and I mattered. She told me she had wanted to call the next day, but the staff told her not to because I was too upset.  

I know they were trying to be considerate of my feelings, I just wish they had realised how much her gesture would have meant.  

Am I being too hard on people?

I suppose some may think I am but I don’t care, I will not make excuses for anyone in this situation. Even if the attitude is “she was just a dog” it’s about the person grieving, me in this case and what I need, not about them and how uncomfortable they are.

Is it possible to know what will make someone feel better in this situation? I would say the answer is no, but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate knowing you cared enough to offer some form of comfort. How about a card slipped through the mailbox? Some flowers left on a doorstep? A text letting them know you’re thinking about them?   

A lesson to be learned

I now know the greatest lesson Red was here to teach us is compassion.

Not just by people seeing the worth of a senior dog, how much joy she brought me, or the way I cared for her. I my senior dog Red in Spainnow clearly see it will be to teach people to reach out to anyone who is grieving. I don’t suggest knocking on peoples’ doors, goodness knows I wouldn’t answer, but offer your condolences. It won’t take away their pain, but I can assure you they won’t be any more upset by it then they already are. What it will do is show them who they lost mattered in this world, and so do they.

My final words

No amount of comfort can mend my heart, but boy do the messages of support make me feel like Red and I matter.

I can’t imagine ever looking at any of those people with anything other than the disgust I currently feel and I’m okay with that, although it makes me sad to be in that position.

Thank you Red for teaching all of us a very important and painful lesson about compassion.

You did good in this world!

Red in her stroller in Spain

Saying Goodbye to My Sweet Girl Red

Red enjoying the sun in Spain

One week ago today, on May 18, 2018 at just after 11:00am UK time, I said goodbye to my sweet girl Red.

This is not easy for me to write, especially because I never discuss my feelings, but it’s spilling out of me and I can’t stop it.

What inspired me? While there have been some lovely condolences expressed by my incredible Facebook group members, one I saw this morning really hit me and the words started flowing.

Saying Goodbye to my Sweet Girl Red

Her name is Paula Busch (Paula I hope you don’t mind me mentioning you), and even though she has said goodbye to her much loved dog Ramsey she still stays in the group to help. There was something about the way she asked how I was doing that opened the floodgates…so rather than just replying “fine thank you” I realised this post needed to be written, and for people to know the impact Red had on my life and others.

How am I doing? Not well. I’m heartbroken, I hear Red coming down the hallway and pushing against the hallway door to come and see me. I find myself just about to tell my husband to not bang the door because Red is sleeping, and I’m still surprised when I don’t see her bed on the floor next to mine.

I’m having a very hard time checking in with the group at the moment, but I’m forcing myself to offer a bit of advice when I can. You’ve all done such a great job of keeping things going the past week, I’m so grateful, but I also feel responsible for things as well.

I managed to write a couple of articles, but that’s only because they were mostly written and just needed “tweaking” but I’ve lost my enthusiasm for my much loved website.

I’ve lost my muse and feel like a phony both with my website and my group. Yes the years of experience I have caring for senior dogs is with me, but I feel like “who am I” when I don’t share my life with an old dog at the moment. Jack isn’t at the “senior” category yet!

Sightseeing with her dad and brother

In the past when I was living in Florida and lost one of my “oldies” I would go back to the shelter where I volunteered and bring home another one. Although I’m no longer there, sadly there is no shortage of old dogs that need homes, yet I can’t offer mine just yet.

I loved Red more than words can ever express, yet I would be lying and deceiving you by saying it was all a bed of roses and nothing but a love fest. For most of the 9 years we spent together it was, but when I realised she had dementia 2 ½ years ago, that’s when the really challenging and stressful times began. When her dementia progressed and her selegeline was no longer helping like it had been (that was about a year ago), the stress was pretty much constant.

She was blind when I adopted her, obese with a heart murmur, and over the years she developed many health issues but they were all managed thanks to my wonderful vet Lubo. It was the dementia, and more recently the chronic pancreatitis that make things extremely difficult at times.

I had no problem making her the centre of my universe, and having my life revolve around her. I adopt old dogs and with that comes the responsibility, and of course the joy of caring for them…whatever that means.

The financial strain was enormous as well. She was on a lot of medication, and some of it was crazy expensive even buying online.

The worry she might have another seizure, the panic she would need emergency care in the middle of the night with no hospital near me and no car to travel, and the dread when she needed a vet and mine was not working that day absolutely took its toll.

I still feel the same worry and stress, I guess they’re residual!

Snoozing with her foster puppy

I have been able to take the pee pads off the floor and now I walk into my home and I see just carpet…a high price to pay. I admit I’d rather see pee pads than a stain on my carpet, but they were always messy and made me feel disorganised.

I knew the day was coming when I would have to say goodbye, and I was sure it would end up being a quality of life decision because of dementia. The type of decision I’ve only had to make once before and haunted me for months. Did I wait too long? Should I have waited a bit longer? Every day in the last few months I would think about it. Red was never in pain and I always knew as much as she had my heart, I would never allow her to linger because I didn’t want it broken.

I prayed for a bad test result one day, because then I knew my decision would be “easier” to make. There it is, black and white, nothing else to be done and then last Thursday I got that bad test result. I was shocked, devastated and relieved knowing it was pretty much made for me. I could have said goodbye that day but I would have felt like I rushed something, and that kind of decision can tear you up inside and haunt you if you aren’t sure.

When I took her home and she didn’t eat I made the call for the next day. Did she eat later? Of course she did. Did she eat that Friday morning? Of course she did. I brought her to the vet anyway and we had a conversation.

I could have waited a few days but why? I couldn’t reverse the test result, she was still so skinny and barely eating, how would postponing my heartbreak help her?

First place in the dog show

I have devoted the last 9 years of my life to caring for and loving her. Did she stop me from taking vacations? Not when my pet sitter was around. Did we take lots of day trips together? Absolutely. Was she a very well traveled dog? You bet. She came from Florida, flew for a couple of short visits with me to Toronto, and made quite a few trips between our places in Florida and England. Did she bring me incredible joy? No question about it, and now I am paying for it with incredible sadness.

It is because of her I started my website, and because of my experiences with her and those who came before her, I created my group as a way to help others who may not have the support and access to information they need.

In the aftermath

I’m lost. I always thought when I didn’t have Red to care for, all the extra hours would be spent writing even more articles and helping even more. Sadly I now have all those extra hours, but I struggle to have the strength to fill them. I wander aimlessly, turn the tv on during the day (something I never, ever, ever do until the evening) and get through the day.

I’m hurt. I understand it’s probably a generational thing, public displays of emotion, every thought bared on social media, and condolences offered. Okay but don’t I deserve more from a family member who did nothing more than respond to my notice with a sad emoji?

enjoying a walk in the park

My 2 “friends” who like to tell me how important I am and that we’re like the 3 musketeers have disgusted me. One of them replied to that same notice on FB with a “so sorry babe you were a great mum” but how about a private message? She knows I turn inwards in grief, but how about a text to tell me she’s thinking of me or here for me? She’s my neighbour so I see her around, and she knows I don’t want to talk about but how about some flowers?

When she had surgery or broke her nose in a fall recently, how many times did I check on her?

My other “friend” was away for 10 days, but news travels fast where I live so I assume she knows, certainly the first friend I mentioned would have told her. Let’s say she didn’t know – she’s been home 4 days and no text to say hello. If she did know it’s even more upsetting. When her mother died did I not express my condolences to her right away? When she had surgery recently was I not checking on her every day, asking her husband how she was doing? Did I not prepare a basket for her so she wouldn’t be bored during the day?

I have been called self-absorbed and I agree to a certain extent that is true. I’m not always the most thoughtful person, but I certainly have been to them.

Nothing can excuse what they’ve done, or haven’t done, and although I may be friendly when I see them, our coffee mornings and get togethers are over since I can never ever see them in the same light. As comfortable as a topic this is for all of us, there is no excuse for not even sending a simple “so sorry thinking of you” text.

Snoozing with her foster puppy

My plan

I’m slowly starting to get back to my website and my writing, and I will do my best to spend more time in the group.

Today has been a really bad day, I’ve been crying most of the morning, even during my acupuncture session!! It’s expected of course, but Red’s ashes will be back with me soon enough and I will take hers and Saffy’s and put them in a memorial urn necklace I have, to carry them with me always.

I will adopt another senior dog, quite possibly from Serbia. My husband and I would like to go away January and February (if we can figure out what to do with Jack) so ideally it wouldn’t be until March. Having said that there’s no way I can wait that long to care for someone else that needs me. We’re going away in 2 weeks for a few days and perhaps I’ll foster some kittens that need to be bottle fed.

I wasn’t blessed with this level of compassion and not always have an outlet in which to express it.

I have no idea if this made sense or not but I wanted this to be straight from the heart as the words flowed.

 

I love you Red more than words can ever express. My heart is broken, I know in time it will mend, but I will never forget you and the joy you brought to my life, and by extension the good you did in this world.