The Second Anniversary Gift
I've been trying to write this story for over a week now. Last weekend was the second anniversary of Toby's death. That's what I wanted to write about. Whatever I wrote felt like I was just skimming the surface of my emotions. It was words without meaning. I didn't feel that I was doing justice to Toby's memory. And then last night, it changed. As I was writing, I remembered something about his death that has stayed in the back of my mind for two years. It came to the forefront, and I saw the importance of it.
Toby had colitis for the last year and a half of his life. He also had degenerative myelopathy during the last three months of his life. The signals from the brain don't make it down the spine to the hind legs. The condition is progressive and leads to paralysis. Toby had reached the final stage of paralysis.
A week before Labour Day, his health had declined. He was lethargic, and I had difficulty lifting him to take him outside. I made an appointment with the veterinary hospital and took him in right away. There was blood in his stool. His red blood cell count was low. His colitis had become ulcerative. His energy was low because he was anemic.
The veterinarian treated him. I took him back in on the Friday before the long weekend. His blood work had improved. The veterinarian treated him again, and I took Toby home, hoping for his recovery.
When I woke up on Sunday morning, my hope went away. I was turning Toby's body from one side to the other to prevent pressure sores, and I noticed that he had no tension in his neck. He had lost all his strength. I knew at that moment he was dying, and I accepted it.
I didn't turn him after that. I let him sleep, and when he was awake, I comforted him as best as I could. He slept for longer and longer periods of time. Over the weekend, his breathing had gradually become more and more labored. His abdomen would expand and contract with each breath. As time went on, his breathing became louder.
At 2:30 the next morning, I was awakened by the sound of his breathing. It had changed. It was louder and faster. I turned the light on and saw that his abdomen was expanding and contracting at a faster rate. This went on for hours, and he was unconscious the whole time.
I was surprised when he woke up. It was an abrupt shift from unconsciousness to being wide awake and alert. It was Toby. We made eye contact and he recognized me. I could see his body relax. I gave him water to drink and then dried him off. He was instantly unconscious again, and within minutes, he was gone.
I hadn't given much thought to his waking until last night when I was writing. I got to see him one more time. I knew he was approaching death and I accepted that he would remain unconscious until the end. His soul came back to consciousness to visit me, one last time before it journeyed home. In those few moments, I was filled with joy that I could connect with the dog I'd known for so long.
I don't know why it happened. We were given the opportunity to be fully present in the moment with each other. He, because he had regained consciousness. Me, because my attention was focused on fulfilling his needs and giving him comfort. For a few brief moments, the veil of death was pulled aside, so we could see each other and say goodbye. It was a special and precious gift. I am grateful.
When I told my students that Toby had died, one of them said, "Death is so ugly." I looked at her and said, "For me, it was beautiful." I didn't understand then why I felt that way. Now I understand.
Love ya, Tobes.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
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Debra J. Bilton: Author, blogger, lover of animals & nature, martial artist & sensei (teacher), Buddhist.