Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sometimes you lose

Lily, our dog, died this past weekend.

We arrived at my in-laws' house on Saturday morning, boys and baggage in tow. Lily has lived with Fox's parents for nearly two years. She has been in our world for eleven, almost as long as Fox and I have been walking Cupid's Grove. We entered the house through the garage, but when we met my mother-in-law at the door, we knew something was wrong. She was holding Lily, wrapped in a blanket, snuggled in her arms.

"Her foot is broken."

We asked how, why, what happened. You know, the usual questions, spoken too quickly because as much as you want the answer, you really don't. Mom-in-law and dad-in-law were taking Lily to the vet for an exam. After speaking with dad-in-law, we confirmed that he did not think it was a break. Lily is tiny - a chihuahua/dachshund blend - and it would be fairly easy to check her bones for obvious breaks. If it was broken, it was a hairline fracture. Her main symptom - she did not seem to be able to move her back legs.

That detail brought back a shadowy memory. In the early winter of 2000, I was just completing my first semester as a freshman at UMBC. My parents had come to Maryland to usher me back to NY for Christmas, and my sister was at home getting the house ready for this and that. We'd just crossed the bridges into NY when mom got a phone call. It was my sister, and there was something wrong with our collie, Sheena. She was lying on the floor, not moving, and crying softly. When we got home, we saw that Sheena could not move her back legs. Up we carried her, into the car, and right to the vet. Her diagnosis was grim. Sheena had had a stroke. Her legs were paralyzed. Worse, the damage was moving up her spine. She was gone in less than 24 hours.

Seeing Lily move like Sheena did - that half-step lurch, that stumble, that utter incomprehension that you, a human, are mute to explain. Memories flooded back, and it took great effort, and the distractions provided by the boys, to keep my mind afloat.

Lily went to the vet. The diagnosis did not, at first, seem as grim as Sheena's. It was not a stroke. She seemed to have something wrong with her spine, though, perhaps a bulging or cracked disc. The local vet said that she needed a trip to a neurological specialist. Mom-in-law and dad-in-law decided to do it immediately. Off they went to Leesburg. Fox and I were attached only by the tenuous line of cellular connectivity. We waited. The inlaws returned without Lily, because the tests would take all day, and perhaps last into the following morning. The first up (and the most important) was the MRI.

We got the call sometime after 8:00 PM on Saturday. Lily had degenerative disc disease. There had been only a 5% chance that that was her particular affliction. But it was the worst possible diagnosis. There is no cure for the disease, and all treatments are only minimally effective. As a family we had to decide Lily's life. I don't think I have ever agonized so much in so short a period of time.
What do we do? Do we bring her home and potentially increase her suffering? But what if she does recover? What if she doesn't? Couldn't she live in a box, a crate, or a cage? We could carry her everywhere. We would need to keep the boys away; they wouldn't understand. We love her. We aren't ready to lose her. She was supposed to live longer. She was a mutt. Don't mutts live longer? She was so feisty. She is all alone in that hospital. Can we make this decision?

Fox and I had made the decision before we went to bed. It is how we are. We don't sleep on much. We couldn't imagine Lily living in a box. She was a dog of life and verve, and anything we did to prolong her, we concluded would be for us and not for her. Unwilling to do that to her, we decided to - as they say - put her down. Rose took the phone call. She saw it as her responsibility. As always, when I grieve, I did not cry, but I think it would have been good to do so. It hurt so much. Flashes of Lily jumped in my eyes.

The day my eldest son was born, Lily was with me. We were snuggled warmly in bed. Fox woke up both us, and asked me to walk Lily. I did not understand at the time. It was very early in the morning, and Lily did not seem to understand either. She looked at me with bleary eyes. Then it dawned on me. Rose was in labor. Lily walked, quickly. And then we were off to the hospital.

Lily was with me so often. She was my friend, and I loved her. My baby girl. I can remember her smell, her warmth, the feeling of her heartbeat in my hand when I held her. I remember her growls, playful and grumpy. She was the Queen of her demesne. I miss her. I miss her more than I have ever missed anything. I have had several dogs in my life, but none were my Lily.

For love of the Queen...RIP.

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