I'm giving her hospice care; neither hastening nor prolonging her life, just providing support and giving her the best quality of life possible. She's clearly not ready to give up, but is becoming a shadow of her former self; quieter, and thin. It's so difficult to see her go through this.
I'm realizing that in some ways, though I treasure the time I have with her, I'm in the most difficult phase of her life—for myself, emotionally. While Atom's death was heart-wrenchingly fast—only 4 days from diagnosis to his end—in some ways it was easier to take. I didn't see it coming. Gypsy was diagnosed with kidney disease the same day that Atom died, so I've basically been grieving for her ever since. I'm torn between the hope that she can overcome this for a time, and the pain of watching her decline. It is awful to be grieving for someone while they are still here, and I remind myself that she will sense this and take cues from me.
I feel so deeply sad, but am trying to allow myself some grace. I remind myself that I've been fortunate to have been spared the loss of someone so close to me for many years. Atom was gone so quickly that I didn't have time to stop and think about it. I've lost both my grandmothers in the last few years, but never in my life did I live close to them, so although I loved them, we didn't have a tight bond. Mom has lost Bailey and Madison, her Golden Retrievers, with whom I used to live. But I was already living in Kansas City when they passed, so I was sheltered from the pain. They didn't feel like "mine" anymore—I was sad for her, not myself.
The last time I felt such deep pain was when I had to say good-bye to Justin, another Golden, when I was in college. He was the family dog, but really he was mine—like a big, furry little brother. I grew up with him at my side. He was ten when he was diagnosed with cancer. I'll never forget that call from the vet. Justin had been dropped off for exploratory surgery, in an attempt to determine why he had been so sick for a few months. "His body is full of cancer," the vet said quietly. "What do you want us to do?"
I knew that he was so uncomfortable that it didn't feel right to let him come home and continue to suffer. I met the vet at the office—Charlotte drove me there. Justin's tail thumped against the inside of the metal cage when he saw me. He thought he was going home. I knelt and held his big, heavy head in my lap while she gave him the injection. It was the hardest thing I'd even done. I was twenty-one.
These intense feelings were matched when I said good-bye to Atom. He declined so rapidly, and when I went to the emergency vet to visit him (he was on an IV for the weekend, to see if he'd respond), I knew immediately that the right thing to do was to let him go. He looked miserable. Yet, almost imperceptibly, he lifted his head and purred when he felt my hand stroking his face. His nose twitched. He knew it was me, coming to say good-bye, and he was glad I was with him.
Gypsy will be the hardest yet; she has been with me longer than any animal, and we've had the tightest bond. It's hard to even describe how close I feel to her. I can't imagine life without her.
No matter how long our pets are with us, whether it's one year or twenty-five, it's never long enough. And there's really no way to prepare for the big hole that they leave in your heart when you lose them. No matter how difficult this is, I'm reminding myself that they all have had amazing, happy lives that I have helped provide for them. They are the family that you get to choose. And my life is immeasurably better because of them.