We are practicing letting go, wondering how we will say good-bye to the magical and anxious little man that follows us from room to room. We are without a map or clear directions on this journey and find ourselves a little lost. He lies now on a blanket in the sun that will soon drift across the hard wood floor, lifting his head from time to time and looking into space.
We spent Sunday night in the emergency room, after Rob found Tigger lying on the floor crying, making a sound he had never heard him make. I was walking out of the bathroom when I saw Rob gently stroking Tigger’s head which was angled away from me until something, maybe it was his almost blind eyes becoming aware of my shadow or movement, caused him to swivel his head to face me.
His eyes were pleading and frightened and I can’t quite remember whether I first went to put on my shoes or began to look for his crate, but after I tried to pick him up, I knew we were on our way to the vet. Immediately.
When I lifted him he arched his back and almost flung himself out of my arms, and how he didn’t remains a mystery to me. I began to sob then, I think, and Rob said, “Do you want me to come with you,” and I said, “no, I’m okay,” because the Broncos were on and he had done so much for me over the past week bringing the girls out for the holidays and because somewhere in my brain I still held out hope that Tigger would never die.
Who was I kidding? Looking back at Sunday today, there are missing pieces in the puzzle and countless gaps in conversations and I needed Rob by my side, just to hold his hand, a hand that was tethering me to the universe. Rob somehow knew this and ignored me telling me to get in the back seat with Tigger.
He is still alive. There are no easy answers, and logic doesn’t have much input or weight in this process of deciding when to let Tigger go. I suspect this is a place for me alone to navigate.
Tigger is almost 16, becoming incontinent, vomits frequently, is deaf and mostly blind, can barely walk thanks to nerve damage in his rear legs after emergency back surgery over ten years ago, and he has heart cancer and advanced mytrovalve disease. He can no longer navigate the two steps to our front door and sometimes just stands and stares into space as if seeing ghosts. He is failing more every day.
But Tigger still enjoys his meals and every now and then wags his tail when Rob walks in the room and he is comforted by my hand on his spine. He likes to be picked up and placed on the couch next to me where he snores lightly as he sleeps. I still see the puppy he once was, leaping like a bunny as he ran in our yard back east and how he vomited on my lap the minute we pulled into our driveway when we first took him home as a baby and the way he sat in his booster seat when we drove from Boston to Boulder as if asking, what are we up to this time, but trusting me all the same.
Tigger has been the one steadfast constant in my life as I raised two daughters, ended a marriage, tried to remember who I was, moved to Boulder, fell in love and moved again. Rob and I had joked that he should be our ring bearer when we get married, though we worried he might not be able to find us. Tigger used to sleep with me, curled into my spine as close as he could get, and I found great comfort from him. I still remember the days before he had back surgery when he hiked with me in New Hampshire, romping ahead with a smile on his face.
I’ve abandoned his leash now when I walk him because he is so unsteady on his feet and become accustomed to the moments he just stands in the living room looking at nothing at all joking with visitors, “he’s talking to dead people.”
I was as certain as I could be that this trip to the emergency room was it, this was the moment he would leave me. I sat in the back seat with my hand on his back saying, “it’s okay, Tigger,” and if I am honest I was not offering those words in comfort, but as a way of letting him know it was okay for him to let go.
He was whisked out of my arms when we arrived at the emergency room, after I blubbered the basic information they requested, immediately wondering if I had even answered the questions and we began our wait.
I signed a DNR.
The vet was a kind woman, but as she gave me information about his condition and what our options were, I found myself frustrated and confused. I told her that at his age I was not looking for heroic efforts to prolong his life just to give him exta time. I told her I wanted him made comfortable and most definitely did not want him to feel pain. I told her I knew he was dying.
I wanted her to advise me. I wanted her to look me in the eye and say…something. Anything that was not medical gibberish. I wanted her to tell me my options and compassionately point me towards the right path. Was it best to treat him knowing his death was coming around the bend quickly? Was I caring for him best by prolonging this downward spiral?
I want to be with Tigger when he dies. I want to be resting next to him with my hand on his back and his almost blind eyes locked on mine. I want to be the last thing he sees so that when he leaves this world, he does so feeling nothing but love.
Oh if he could only talk.
Rob and I went to get something to eat while they tapped the fluid out of his belly and I asked him, “When is is best? Do I wait until he has completely lost all capacity for being Tigger or is dying with dignity something that only happens when I head that off at the pass?”
I suppose I am trying to answer a question that has no definitive black and white. And I suppose I am trying to answer a question that is different for each and every one of us.
Today, Tigger had a follow up appointment. We think he may have had a seizure yesterday, which seems likely given the fact that he seems more confused and lost than ever. The vet told me that this new medication was Tigger’s last chance. His tumor had grown and was blocking the valves in his heart. It was only a matter of time, he told me, but perhaps this medicine would buy him a few more months.
Still I ask myself, when will it be time?
I went for a walk this afternoon in the almost-spring like sunshine in January and began to cry. I suddenly knew deep in my belly, the place that always tells the truth, that Tigger’s time was running out and it was time to let go.
I am not looking simply for more time in this universe. There must be quality of life for me. And that means I am able to enjoy the outdoor air, that I can enjoy food, can use the bathroom alone, and look at those I love and tell them how I feel and what I am thinking.
I texted a friend and said, “He keeps looking at me as if pleading for me to save him,” and my friend said, “You just need to figure out what save is.”