Getting Better

As my 92-year old mother often tells me, it’s hard to be old.  I may be almost thirty years younger, but trust me, I know what she’s talking about.  I’ve never been a vain person (or had reason to be), but never before has looking in a mirror resulted in quite so much shock and dismay.  It’s been years since I could read a book without a pair of reading glasses, but now I also need the glasses when I go shopping, because otherwise I can’t read the price tags and expiration dates.  And when I first started walking shelter dogs over twenty years ago, I was happy to walk any dog that needed to go out, no matter how strong or rowdy.  These days I gravitate toward the dogs that are smaller and calmer, desperately hoping that someone else will get to the mastiffs and rottweilers before my walking shift is over.

There was a time when I took my pants to the tailor to have the waistline taken in, because my waist has always been one size smaller than my hips.  Nowadays, I take my pants to the tailor only if I need them hemmed…..and that’s not because my hips have gotten smaller.  I could go on, but the list is too depressing.  I know all these physical changes are a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t always make them easier to accept.

Still, the part of aging I find hardest isn’t the loss of my youthful vigor or looks, but the loss of the many people, both family and friends, that I have known and loved.  I know I’m lucky to have my mother still in my life, as many of my friends have become the oldest generation in their immediate family.   But I still miss my father and my grandparents, and all the other people who passed away before I was ready to let them go.  Loss of loved ones is a part of aging that can be very hard to accept.

Thankfully, there is an upside to growing older, and that is that once we’ve reached the point where we have more years behind us than we do ahead, we’ve also had the time to learn a few things.  We’ve figured out just what a precious gift good health is, even if we can’t read the small print anymore.  We treasure our friends and family even more because we know they won’t be with us forever, and we also know how much we’ll miss them when they’re gone.  If we’ve been paying attention at all, we finally realize just how precious and fragile life really is, and that so much of the stuff we spend our time worrying and fretting about doesn’t matter in the least.

The good thing about aging is we often become more honest with ourselves and with others, daring to share our true selves with the world and allowing those around us to do the same.  We know how important it is to support each other through hard times, and we learn the value of overlooking so many of the things we’ve allowed to divide us.  If we let it, aging can actually bring out our best selves, which is always a good thing.  Even if we can’t actually see it in the mirror……

A Little Longer

They say that cats have nine lives, and I’m beginning to believe that is also true for my dog.  During the sixteen years Lucy has lived with us, we have prepared ourselves for that “final goodbye” no less than three times.

The first was when she was only eight years old and came down with a serious case of pancreatitis, which the vet warned us could be fatal and that required an extended stay at the animal hospital.  But she recovered and came home with no ill effects aside from a very large vet bill.  The vet did tell us there was a real possibility the disease had shortened her life span.  But since Lucy is almost seventeen now, I can only assume that no one explained that to her.

Then one night last summer we found Lucy staggering in tight circles around the yard, panting hard and drooling, and finally falling over, unable to get back up.  Assuming she was having a major stroke, we rushed her to the emergency animal clinic and called our kids to warn them that the time had probably come to say goodbye.  Turns out, she was suffering from Vestibular Syndrome, which is common in old dogs.  The symptoms do resemble a stroke but most dogs usually recover after a few days.   And sure enough, Lucy did.

These days, Lucy is really beginning to both look and act like the extremely old dog she is.  She no longer always eats her breakfast no matter what tempting and tasty treats we put in her dog bowl, so I didn’t think too much of it last Thursday when she left her breakfast untouched.  But she also didn’t sit begging at the table while I ate, nor follow me around the house as she usually does.  By mid-afternoon, she was struggling to control her hind legs and she couldn’t stand properly or walk across the room without falling and/or repeatedly bumping into the furniture.  She ignored me when I tried to comfort her and seemed terribly weak, confused and unhappy, panting relentlessly and staring blankly ahead.

I thought, once again, the end  had come.  I contacted my family to tell them it was time to say goodbye.  Then I called the vet’s office and scheduled a euthanasia for the next day.  Lucy slept, sprawled awkwardly on the family room floor, for a few hours until my husband came home.  I was surprised to see her get up and greet him.  Later, when my daughter and son-in-law came, she seemed to be back to her normal (if elderly) self.  And my family was wondering exactly why they were supposed to be saying their final goodbyes.

Naturally, I changed her appointment from a euthanasia to an evaluation, and the vet assured me that Lucy was fine for her age.  She believed that Lucy had a neurological episode which she somehow managed to recover from.  Knowing Lucy, I’m quite sure she heard me say “euthanasia,” and immediately thought, “Holy crap!  I’d better snap out of it!”  Lucy is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

fullsizeoutput_48feClearly, Lucy is not quite ready to cross over the proverbial rainbow bridge.  Equally clearly, she will not make that crossing until she is darned good and ready.  I know that we are living on borrowed time now.  As the vet so eloquently put it, we are in the “gift stage” of Lucy’s life, since every day we have her with us is a gift.  And it’s a gift we’ll gladly accept, each and every time she gives it.