The Journey Beyond

The hardest thing about being both Buddhist and pet guardian is to know what to do when the end of life as your companion starts drawing near.

As a Buddhist, I feel strongly the responsibility in having the wisdom to know when “the time is right” if the beloved pet doesn’t pass on naturally.  My cat , Taca [A-C-A-T spelled backwards] lived over 22 years and was with me for over 20 of them.  By the time of the end of his life with me came, he had added a range of physical issues to his ever increasing collection of quirks.  He refused to come indoors anymore, as he felt safer when he was outside and “in control” of his freedom.  He would sometimes be gone (or so it seemed) for the whole day, but could be counted on to show up for supper.  He had developed a thyroid condition that required daily meds – a challenge to fulfill for an outdoor roaming cat.  He had developed recurring urinary tract issues, that eventually needed more than just diet and meds.  He had started losing weight due to his hyperthyroidism.  When informed about the problem of his irregular schedule, the vet advised me to just dose him anytime I saw him to try to get enough medicine in him to regulate his thyroid.

A time came when he was having trouble keeping up with his grooming as well.  He was a thin-ish cat who had frequently dirty fur on his backside due to urinary incontinence.  I decided another visit to the vet was in order.  The vet examined him and the news was serious.  He had developed kidney issues – tumors.  In her sincere opinion, “the time” had come.  She was idly stroking Taca on the stainless examining table while giving me “the speech” about “the options” I had, leave him there, stay with him while they gave him “the shot”, etc.  Just at that moment, Taca stretch out and started to purr like a threshing machine.  He gave me his “sleepy happy” eyes.  I realized that to him, although he had all of this stuff going wrong, he was still basically a happy cat.   Who was I to judge his journey without taking the most basic of all elements – happiness into account.

By this time Taca’s world had constricted to his morning spot on the east side of the house and his afternoon/evening spot on the SW side of the house.  He would sit on the woodpile in the morning, migrate to the cement patch in the afternoon, and tuck himself into his little wooden house (custom made with a space blanket lined interior) in the evenings.  He hadn’t been on a walkabout in ages.  When we came back from the vet, I took him in my arms and we walked.  and Walked.  When we entered the woods his head raised up on his scrawny neck and he started sniffing the wonderful smells.  His “I-am-the-Tiger” glint in his eye returned.  We came back from our walk and he took up his spot on the sun-warmed concrete.

The next morning I went to check up on him.  He wasn’t in his usual spot on the woodpile.  I didn’t think much of it as he could have been off in the bushes doing “some business” or something.  When suppertime rolled around and he didn’t show up, I went and investigated further.  There Taca was, still curled up from the evening before in his little wooden house.  He was gone.  He lived his last day happy – remembering his days as “the tiger” in the woods, and drifting off naturally to his next journey.

Last summer in June it became obvious to me that this journey together with my Samoyed, Lady, and I would be drawing to a close in near foreseeable future.  She was in a gentle decline.  She was blind in one eye from glaucoma, but that didn’t amount to much because she could still see – some – out of the other eye.  She didn’t hear so well, but that  didn’t amount to much either, as her “running around the neighborhood” days had passed.  She had no major medical problems, other than a small spinal condition.  However, she was getting severely arthritic in her hind end.  The nightmare scenario for me was to reach a point when I had an otherwise healthy and happy dog, that I couldn’t take care of because she couldn’t walk anymore.  I knew that likelihood that  karma was going to be as kind to me with Lady as it was with Taca was slim.  There were many times when I chanted a bit about this – how would I know what I was supposed to do, and when I was supposed to do it?

My goal was to keep her mobile enough to get up and about to do her own “business”.  If she could do that, I pledged to handle the rest.  Over the next months, her medication regimen kept increasing to try to keep her stiffness and pain manageable.   It worked for the most part – there were an evening or two that I wished I had a sedative or a “doggie oxy” just to get her to go to sleep.  Lady was a rescue dog, and while with me had learned that she could “ask” me for things.  However, she had only one “word” – arf {short, high, sharp}.  “Arf”  could mean -” it is time for supper”.  “Arf” could mean – “I need to pee”.  “Arf” could mean – “I hurt bad and please help me”.  There were a few evenings of extreme “arf-iness”.  One precipitated a trip in the middle of the night to the emergency vet when, after exhausting all other possibilities, I had NO idea why she was in such recurring distress.  It turned out to be a good move, as she had developed a parasite infestation in her vagina.  Ewww.  I would have “arf-ed” up a storm to if it had happened to me.

I read up on doggie acupressure massage but Lady was fussy about being touched on her legs.  Perhaps those pressure points *were* very tender, but she wasn’t going to have any of THAT.  I was so lucky to find out about, and live near to The Gentle Spirit Farm in Chester County, PA.   Diane Mayer does hydrotherapy for dogs there in a heated pool house.  The Farm also offers a lot of other services for natural health and rearing for dogs.  Hydrotherapy was a life-changer for Lady.  In August 2011, she could barely stand up and walk.  In a month of once weekly sessions, she was able to walk around the block again on the best of days.   Lady eventually learned to swim, rather than splash, in her therapy sessions.  Afterward, she would be raring to go for a walkabout on the farm itself.  In November, we had to start limiting her walks as she would feel so good after therapy that she would quite “overdo” if left to her own devices and be very stiff the next day.   The folks at the Gentle Spirit Farm helped me get the one thing I wanted for Christmas – to be with Lady at the holidays one more time.

In the new year of 2012, the care for Lady was quite detailed on a daily basis.  When I described it all to a friend who is a hospice nurse, her comment was – “You are running a doggie hospice”.  I guess so.  I was fully involved in keeping Lady just that little bit mobile and reasonably comfortable, which began to involve more and more meds and help.  She developed some “hot spots” under her fur on the side she always lay down on.  (Sort of akin to bedsores, I think) Those had to be taken care of and watched.  She was on prescription food for joint mobility, which she really didn’t like, so I had to disguise it with other things to get her to eat it.  Excluding the typical dog meds for heartworm and parasite control, we were up to seven other medications to be given on a daily basis.  I had switched from “Pill Pockets” to peanut butter to save my budget.  We still had some rather “arfy” nights.  However, I still had Lady.  And Lady still had the thing she wanted most – to be with me. By this time, I had made the “final plans”, and was well prepared for the last eventuality in practical terms.  I still worried about the responsibility I had as the judge of the remainder of time Lady had in this life.   Our lives are eternal and intertwined throughout this consciousness we call “time” as humans in ways that few ever grasp – even a little bit.  My most earnest prayer was to fulfill my promise to Lady when I rescued her – “I will take care of you.”.   She trusted me fully in this regard.

In the end of January, Lady had made 2 visits in one week to Gentle Spirit Farm, as they were planning a vacation and we wanted to get Lady what she needed before this interim.  The last Saturday of the month, she had her swim and was back outside the pool house.  It was obvious that she was less energetic than other times, as she didn’t take off down the hill to follow the deer smells to the creek.  She was obviously enjoying being there, but just wasn’t up to much more activity, not even meeting some visiting dogs.  She had three pretty good days following.  On Tuesday night, we had another major “arfy” night.  She couldn’t settle down, and kept getting up to move around.  I was trying to get some sleep, but would get up every two hours to “arf”.  She had tried to change her spot and had gotten stuck (which happened from time to time due to her eyesight).  Although by this time she had been living in only one room, I further confined her, using large cardboard cartons, to a 5 foot square space with no obstructions.  It was past 5 am by this time after all, and I had an early morning class at 8am.  I got up after another too-short nap and found Lady, sleeping.  She was breathing a little heavier than normal, but I didn’t disturb her because I figured she needed her sleep.  I came home 3 hours later to check on her and she hadn’t moved.  Still sleeping breathing heavy.  I put out fresh water and a full bowl of food with peanut-butter “canapes” with her meds.  When I returned again in 3 further hours, she still hadn’t moved.

It was obvious something was going on.  I woke her up so she could eat, and drink, and get her meds.  I tried to give her the “lift up” with my foot I usually gave her to help her stand.  It was no go.  I picked her up with my arms and put her on her feet.  She fell down, but not into the alert lay down she usually did when her hind end gave out unexpectedly.  She couldn’t stand, sit, or lie with her head up.  I carried her outside to do her business, and with me holding her up, she peed a river.  I tried again to ease her gently on her feet, holding her for a bit so she could get her feet under her – literally.  She fell down again – totally.  And she began crying – not “arfing” – crying.  I carried her inside, and held her up so she could drink – and she did.  I held her up so she could reach her food – but she really didn’t want any.  I put her back down on her therapeutic little mattress and tried to get her comfortable lying down.    It was obvious that we had reached the end of our journey together in this life.

My original plan was to have a mobile vet meet me at Gentle Spirit Farm  and together with her friends there we would give her the last meds she would get in this life.   I put this plan into motion for the next day, but as the evening progressed it became obvious that it would be cruel to let her endure another 10 hours until that could happen, unless I could hold her up in my arms the whole time.  When I picked her up completely off the floor and held her – she was quiet.   There was no position, however, to settle her lying down than didn’t distress her to no end.  No “arfing” this night.  Just desperate crying.  I put her in the van for our last trip – once again to the all-night vet.  It wasn’t the poetic, gentle send off in nature, in a beloved spot,  I had envisioned.  It was however, a kindly, compassionately performed task in which I could hold Lady the entire time,  and pray with her.   She was snuggled up in a comforter and, she smiled at me again.  

Yeah, Lady, I will take care of you.  I will do this one last thing.  I do love you.  I will miss you until we meet again.

Things I won’t Have to Do Now

  • Give two sets of eyedrops two times per day.
  • Give 1 ml gavapentinol dilute with water once per day.
  • Prepare 1 tablet of tramadol with peanut butter on a cookie  two times per day.
  • Prepare 1 tablet of Rimadyl with peanut butter on a cookie once per day.
  • Worry with the hots spots on the fur, shave, and apply ointment twice per day.
  • Pick up after the #2s incontinence several times per day.
  • Take outies breaks for #1s – of increasingly longer times – several times per day.
  • Carry the furry butt to the grass if she can’t get there on her own in time.
  • Lift the furry butt in and out of the van.
  • Prepare meals of prescription food with beef stew mix ins three times per day.
  • Give snacks of banana-chicken or turkey jerky or apple-cinnamon or peanut butter cookies.
  • Rush home at lunch time and dinner to take care of outies.
  • Trip over the bar at bottom of gates on kitchen doors.
  • Keep kitchen garbage in trash bin with a lid.
  • Go to hydro therapy once per week.
  • Go visit with friends at Playtime Doggie Daycare.
  • Walk behind the perky white ears at least once per day.
  • Get Lady kisses.

sigh.
Love You Little Bear.

I Think My Dog Likes Hurricanes…

at least I think that is what she would tell you, if asked.  The weather before the hurricane cools off and the weather after the hurricane is usually spectacular.  Case in Point:  Late this afternoon (Sunday Aug. 28) was the most magnificent day.  It was warm with a cool breeze.  The sky was exceptionally clear with a few cumulous clouds.    From my dog’s perspective, the time spent inbetween brings many welcome friends to stay the night (just like holidays) and everyone is home all day long.  Plenty of company, which Samis (Samoyeds) crave.

I do not like hurricanes.  Then again – I have yet to hear of a person who does.  This year it was a  Category 1 hurricane named Irene.  I was relieved to find out that I have recovered somewhat to my hurricane PTSD (thanks to Isabel, Charlie, Katrina, Rita, & Ike).  Two years ago, if the word “hurricane” was mentioned in the media, my first reaction was panic.  I did not experience much anxiety about Irene, until in the midst of her arrival, she began to spawn tornadoes.   Here we were, about 20 miles or so from the eye of the hurricane,  being given advisories about tornadoes that were coming closer and closer to our direction.   FEMA advice:  Take refuge in basement.

Oh my what a dilemma – the basement was flooding due to the hurricane, and two of our house occupants were elderly and could not walk to the basement themselves.   And then there were the cats.  Just how do you coax an anxious cat who is already hiding somewhere from the hurricane storm sounds, out to get in a carrier?  NOT happening.  I stood in the middle of my little ranch house and knew it was just plain beyond us.  Perhaps next time, I will confine my cats ahead of time for rapid evacuation.

In retrospect, in comparison to Isabel (Category 2 – 2003),  Irene was a category “Meh” on the scale of hurricane trauma in our area.  Many thanks and appreciations for being in this category of East Coast residents.  As my niece said after Irene passed further NE,  “Was that IT?”  I was heavily involved with animal rescue efforts in NOLA post-Katrina, and was quite pleased to see that the memory of that trauma had borne some good down the road.  Red Cross shelters and NY taxis were permitting owners to evacuate with their companion animals.   Though there are always those who make themselves feel better about criticizing government leaders in the wake of any crisis, I can’t help but compare the status of our governments pre-Katrina and pre-Irene.  The attitude of the Federal Government pre-Katrina was – “If they need us, they will let us know”.  Pre-Irene the FEMA etal were taking a pro-active stance – contacting all local government leaders, staging supplies, making all kinds of contingency plans.

Could say a lot more comparing post-Katrina to post-Irene.  I will just finish by saying, I am willing to bet good money that six years from now, the number of people who are still out of their homes and neighborhoods due to Irene, will be negligible.  I still have friends who are not living (yet) in their NOLA homes, as it is still beyond their financial means to do the necessary repairs.

Refreshed and Renewed

I have returned from a reprise of the Ultimate Clown School.  It was the most perfect thing I could have done for myself at this time.  I was so far in an artistic funk, beginning to question me, my ideas, my talent, everything.
I got some sorely needed validation from some of the best in the genre today.  I was so fortunate to meet and work with Tom Dougherty especially.  A very special person, and an exceptional clown.

I Fail as a Reliable Blogger

okay – Facebook has drained my “social networking” energy.  I wonder how many bloggers are writing less now that they are spurting out their thoughts and life reports in 200-or-so character “status updates”.

Resolution – get back in habit of WRITING about what is going on rather than dribbling out my communication in random spurts.

and BTW – I have been advised that I fail as a “real Facebook user”.  evidently it is *not* about only  “friend”ing  people you would want to meet at a cafe over coffee.  I don’t update my life “enough” there either.  Evidently.
Is it a sign of aging or maturity that one does not mind being labeled “old school”?

The Steves (Jobs & Wozniak) Were Undeniably Califirnians

and all the Apple products developers are too. It should be a law that all personal tech devices be beta-tested in Chicago. In the winter. In the park on the lake.

Today it became obvious to me that no one ever considered the use of all these touch screen devices in climes and times where and when bare fingers on a keypad are beyond be torture.

I was wandering around West Philly looking for a place that Google maps kept dropping the pin in various spots. ( it eventually settled on one location , which turned out to be locked. note to self: there is such a thing as being too early to a NET venue. ). I was nearly in tears and eventually didn’t care what passersby thought when the observed me operating my iPhone with my tongue.

Note to gift givers: you can hook me up with some of those convertible mittens or gloves.

Musings: On Riding the Tech Wave

The feeling of surprise and joy washed over me.  It took about a half an hour, but I finally found the way to activate the drop down menu on the web site, in order to post a submission.  The site design was classy, sophisticated – I admit.  However, the GUI tricks were new to me, and for one of the pencil-paper generation, definitely not intuitive.  I began to wonder – Why do I feel happiness when I muddle through the techno-gizmos of the early 21st century internet, when others are overcome by (understandable) frustration?

Perhaps it can be attributed to one of the paradoxes of creative people [1] – the tendency to be both playful and disciplined.   Seeking the solution can be as much fun and as rewarding as gaining the end result, and having the persistence to muddle on to the end.  This trait is not a function of biological age.  It can explain the tremendous surges of new work in the last chapters of an artist’s life, as when Philip Johnson delighted in the experiments of the younger Charles Moore and other (soon to be titled) “post-modernists” and designed the ATT building in Manhattan with a “Chippendale” top.  As a young designer at the time (yes it WAS decades ago), I was inspired.  The apostle of apostles of the Modernist architecture was openly blaspheming the very “principles” that built his reputation.  Perhaps the building itself wasn’t as thrilling as the Taj Mahal, but the moment in architectural history was seminal.  He rocked.  As he said himself at an informal talk I was so fortunate to hear those so many years ago – “You can’t just keep doing the same thing forever.  Life keeps changing, so so must you.”  Or words to that effect.

I have a few decades yet to reach the advanced age Mr. Johnson was on that spring day in 1978.  I have taken his life lesson forward with me.  I listen, watch, look, and read with as much interest the musings and works of the peer group of my niece as I do to those who have been sanctified as “the masters”.  The next great idea is just around the corner, and perhaps is in that discarded notebook left at the bus stop.  The journey includes checking out the texting, tweeting, and Facebooking universe.  Occasionally it means learning something new on how to operate a web site.  Success may not mean a Pritzker or a Pulitzer, but it feels good nonetheless.

[1] This is one of the ten paradoxes of creative people itemized by the psychologist Mihaly ….{cut/paste} Csikszentmihalyi

Just Call Me a Millenial Girl

If I wondered what all of my work in my Second Life employment had been preparing me for, it was Day One of the 2009 VWBPE- Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference.   I and both of my alts were in full use all over the many venues of the conference.  I was pressed into service this morning to sit in Muse Isle partner site, to allow an overhead display of the broadcast in a faculty access lab, as there were issues with sound access on some of the computers.  At one point in time, all three of us were participating actively in some fashion simultaneously.   I know I wasnt the only one testing personal  limits of managing simultaneous IMs this afternoon.  I was managing 3-6 IMs on 2 different log ins at two different conference venues, and following a presentation at still a third and slipping in a comment or two.     Not something I would want to do hours on end – but today it would have to be classified as sheer fun.  Ha ha – you millenials – you aint’ got nuttin’ on me. 

Looking forward to what is coming up.  🙂

Journeys

I don’t often dwell on the past.  Perhaps it means I have been successful, to a degree, of incorporating the honimyo spirit into my psyche.  Perhaps it is because simply that no one likes to revisit a nightmare.

To speak metaphorically, it is as if I was forced to cross all twelve lanes of a Los Angeles freeway.  The price of my survival was to be transformed from a magical gazelle into a dusty banged-up turtle.   My chances of survivial were slim.  But I did.   I have been making my turtlish way through life since.  Most times I do not think of how far I wish to go versus how fast I can travel.  Or how often I am forced to just stop.  There are times though, I raise my eyes up and blink through the dust, and realize that it isn’t just a patch of iffy weather stirring up the earth.  It is the herd of gazelles and all other long-legged creatures passing me by.

I know then, that they will probably reach those purple mountains in the distance, and perhaps even decide that they wish to go on somewhere else.  I am reminded then, that I may never get there.  My terrain today is greener and softer than in previous times.   I have the company of the occasional butterfly and bird.  I do not struggle so for every step.  I treasure the beauty when I find it.  I savor those moments deeply and passionately.

I get it though.  My journey is NOT to be the one I wished for.  It is going to be the one that it is.  I do not have the simple luxury of ordinary choices.  I have lived the sonnet:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate

The challenge is to remember that it is not the glass half full vs. the glass half empty.  The simple truth of my life is that I still have the glass.