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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Losing Our Joy

The past month has been bittersweet to say the least, ever since two of our 3 greyhounds were diagnosed with bone cancer. We've tried our best to keep our old girls comfortable with pain meds without sacrificing their quality of life...and we've been spoiling them rotten with lots of attention and tasty treats. We've also tried our best to prepare our kids for the inevitable...illness and death are never easy and for our kids, it's particularly difficult to accept. Max suggested that we just get the dogs robot legs and they would be fine; Aniyar didn't seem to understand at all; the other 3 kids struggled with the idea of putting the dogs to sleep when the time comes. Craig and I have tried to explain that we will do all we can to keep the dogs with us as long as we can...but when they no longer enjoy life and are suffering, it's time to let them go. For our Joy, that time came over the past weekend.

Joy's cancer was in her right foreleg, causing the bone to weaken rapidly. Her leg developed a tennis ball size swelling that was rock hard and hot to the touch, making it impossible for her to bend her leg and support her weight on it. Her back legs also weakened rapidly so that by the weekend, she could no longer stand without help and had to be carried up and down the stairs. She became incontinent, losing control of her bladder frequently. It was hard for her to lay down and she kept licking her sore leg. The vet said the bone was probably fracturing as it weakened and said all they could do was amputate the leg to reduce her pain...but it wouldn't save her life. We made the hard choice and encouraged the kids to say their goodbyes. The girls sat with Joy, stroking her and singing to her, feeding her tidbits of cheese and other tasty morsels...the one thing Joy never lost was her appetite. The boys wrapped themselves up in videogames and denial, avoiding a final goodbye as we left for the vet. Kate went with us, comforting Joy during the ride. On Sunday afternoon, just 3 weeks after her diagnosis, Craig carried Joy into the vet's office and we held her and cried like babies as she was put to sleep. We could see her relax, could see her pain ease...and then our tail-wagging, sweet tempered, enthusiastic, goofy, gorgeous silver brindle drew her last breath. Our Joy is gone.

Painful as it is, death can bring its own lessons. Our kids have been observing us closely as we go through this process of caring for our sick pups. They've asked questions like this one from Tanya as she watched me hand-feed Rika her dinner, "Doesn't the dog food feel gross when you pick it up and when she licks it out of your hand?" "Yes, it does, sweetie...but it's hard for Rika to bend her head down now to get the food from her bowl. I love her so I help her by feeding her." Tanya thought about this for a minute, then said, "Can I try?" Then there's Max who has watched me mop up dog pee several times a day the past few weeks, vowing that he'd never do anything so disgusting...but when I ran to the store last week and he was alone with Joy who struggled to get up, cried in pain and then peed all over the kitchen floor, my boy mopped it up and sat with Joy, feeding her peanut butter ("...to keep her calm, Mom") until I got home. Then there's Kate who smiles through her tears and swears that Joy is free and happy now ("I felt her, Mama, she told me she's OK!") and Madiyar, my strong, silent boy who met us at the car when we came home from the vet, wrapped his arms around us and held on tight because he knew we needed a hug...and even Aniyar who doesn't quite understand and who keeps asking, "No Joy?", then says, "Mama sad..." and pats my back, senses the loss. Yes, Aniyar, you're right...no Joy...and Mama is sad...but I'm also proud of our kids and the lessons they've learned about caring even in loss.

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