Monday, November 26, 2012

The Private Life of Love and Death

                My dog, Princess Tiger Lily, a boxer, is presently fighting for her life. She is lying in my bed on a pile of towels, blankets, and layers of absorbent plastic-backed pads. Her head is on Dave’s pillow, and she is presently sleeping, breathing hard and fast, probably due to her high fever. She has cellulitis—a deep tissue infection, in her upper thigh. This has caused a number of eruptive lesions, from which vile, putrid drainage has been coursing. She is on two antibiotics, pain medication, and a stomach medication. She has been getting hot baths in order to soak her in wounds in Epsom salt-laden water, to help them drain. She has lost a lot of weight, and had none to spare in the first place. 

                I have spent the last three days literally tending to her around the clock, with Dave’s help. I carry her outdoors, and she is such a good girl, despite feeling awful, and cold, and weak—she eliminates outside. I then pick her up and carry her in for her soak, which helps offset the chill. We then do some disgusting postural draining, and then change all of her bedding and clean and dry her wounds. We give her water in bed, and then feed her a serving of boiled rice and ground beef. I wrap her wounds loosely, cover her with a blanket, pet, cuddle and encourage her, and tell her how sorry I am she is feeling so bad. I remind her she is a strong “working dog” breed, and she is brave and courageous. She is a boxer, a fighter—a 14 rounder. I remind her we have all sorts of things we've still not done together. I tell her I love her, and lay my head against hers. She looks at me with big, sad eyes. Sometimes she offers me her paw, and today she wagged her little stub (docking is evil!) of a tail. Tomorrow Lynn, the vet, is paying a house call to help clean and debride her wounds (gross.)  I am hopeful she may pull through this, but her history of health troubles and her challenges with maintaining her weight are concerning. Lily is a young-ish dog, and I hope we get more time together.

                This all reminds me of Nefer's downhill decline, last year, and her eventual—though not untimely, considering she broke the record for Pharaoh hound life expectancy—death. Nefer's death was not a highly publicized event outside of my immediate family. I've been thinking about the stories I share—and those I do not share—with my students. This has come up in reaction to comments made just this week by a past, somewhat challenging, client of mine who is presently working with my daughter, as a house sitter/ dog trainer. Apparently while still attending my classes, this man asked me “how’s Nefer?” to which I purportedly replied “dead.” I did not elaborate, or share any emotion, or publicly perform my grief, and I guess this didn’t set well with him. He has mentioned my “coldness” and “lack of emotion” to my embarrassed daughter more than once, shaking his head with disgust that I could be “so insensitive and uncaring” regarding the loss of my pet.

                During this time of tending to Lily, I've mulled a bit on this man’s opinion regarding my failure to share a proper performance of a very private grief, and it comes around to that very point. My grief is private, not a flag to wave, and the death of my dog was a huge and profoundly personal loss. It isn't for display, or for good advertising. I will say this: her death came tenderly, with her head in my arms, and she died at home, helped out of this world by my caring veterinarian friend, Lynn. Tomorrow Lynn will come again, to help me with another struggle, this time in efforts to save Lily’s life. I really hope I can share a joyful announcement, in a few days time, that Lily is on the healing side of her battle.

                As I am writing/ venting about all of this, I am wondering: will my writing about my desire to have my privacy respected, and to have the benefit of the doubt if I choose not to share deeply, make you hesitate to ask me how Lily is doing? I hope not;  if you happen to read this and then see me some time after, please do ask. I am not unwilling to share what is going on in my life, with my pets, to the level I am comfortable. If she survives, the grueling nature of our struggle will be worth talking about—probably way more than you want to hear--for having resolved happily. If, on the other hand, Lily does die—though I desperately hope she doesn't—and if I seem terse speaking of it, please understand the depth of my sadness is something I’ll again keep private. I appreciate empathy, care, and commiseration, and believe the sharing of personal stories regarding love, life, and even loss can be healing. However some things are very private, and some loss transcends simple explanation, in passing, to casually interested persons. Nefer's life was bigger than this little story, as is Lily's.