When I took Maggie, our geriatric dachshund, to the vet the last time I stood there and looked at her and confessed to the vet, “Every morning for the last few weeks I looked in her crate to let her out and kept hoping she had died in her sleep.”
The vet looked up from her business with Maggie and said softly, “That rarely happens with dogs who are well cared for.”
Maybe she told me that to assuage my guilt for doing in my old dog, maybe it’s really true, maybe well cared for animals live long, comfortably and fight to the end. Maybe it’s just happy talk, I don’t know.
I want to believe there is a little truth in what she said and I wonder if the same could be said for people. I wonder if maybe, as we get older, more infirmed or deathly ill good care means we don’t go easily, good care means we hang on a little longer to live and love those loving us.
My mind, being what it is, obsessed and a bit crazy; I ruminated over the vet’s comment and I eventually thought of how the comment applied to my life with Marty. Of course that’s where my little pea brain went because all things, especially notions of life, love and death all come back to Marty.
No, I don’t secretly hope she dies in the middle of the night, not at all. Marty has beaten the odds so many times in this whole journey; she has already outlasted any common sense mortality projections. Marty has been at death’s door and refused to walk through; in fact she nailed the door shut.
The question is, did she do that because she has had good care, did she do that because she wasn’t ready to go, did she do that because she is one stubborn lady? All three of those things are dead true but I don’t know how we have arrived at this point in our lives.
I know that Marty gets exceptionally good care. She has me watching over this team of amazing people ranging from a marvelous Family Practice Doc to our children and their partners to four fantastic care givers. She gets good care, she gets good love.
I also know that good care often leads to really hard decisions like telling your doctor to put that purple wrist band on your loved one, you know the one, the one that has DNR scrawled on it. I know that most of us will eventually be making some of those hard decisions affecting the people we love and some of those decisions will literally be about life and death. Hard, really hard, impossible decisions lie in wait for all of us.
Having your long time canine companion put down is nothing compared to deciding to end life saving medical treatment, even when you know, even when you are sure with every fiber of your being that you are being true to a loved one’s wishes, even when you know death is a release. I’m sure it feels like giving up on someone who needs you, someone you love enough to let them go.
I have known Marty for over 40 years. She and I have talked, like most, about this very thing. I know with every fiber of my being that she does not want to be on a vent again. I know very clearly she does not want to have major surgery again, I know she does not want to ever darken the halls of a nursing home, I know what she wants.
I don’t know what I can do, I’m the weak link in this particular chain, just like so many of the people who stand over their loved one’s bed trying to decide when and whether to unplug. Knowing what’s right doesn’t make the decision easy at all.
I don’t want Marty to die in the middle of the night like I wished for with Maggie. With Maggie I was in my own way wanting to be spared the weight of having her put to sleep. I’m not asking to be spared any part of this journey with Marty or any of the gut wrenching decisions that are part of that ride. Shoot, the way this ride is going it may be Marty and our kids figuring out what to do with me.
Ultimately, almost all of us will have to make a stop on this ride to contemplate and decide, how best to honor and care for the person we love.
My wish for me and all of you, I hope it happens rarely, I pray it happens with love, and I hope we all show remarkable courage.