1995.05.15 - 2011.10.04
I include a few photos of Nalu in this section not so much to force readers to view my photo album, but to show that aging gracefully is not, as some mistakenly believe, just about keeping animals alive; it is very much about preserving quality of life. This image was taken 3 months before Nalu died. We had daily strolls at the beach, the forest, the pet store, the village shops even into his last week of life.
Someone told me that I should just write from my heart. Truth be known, I keep that pretty secret. I practice with compassion. I understand the human-animal bond, and I recognize it when I see it in others, and I honor it. But outpourings of emotion were not encouraged in my upbringing, and though I have evolved, I still tend to be more reserved about about my own heart.
That being said, I've made a commitment to empowering others who feel towards their animal companions as I feel about mine. I share other people's stories and experiences, and I should be willing to share mine, even the hard parts.
Nalu was my canine counterpart. Reflecting on Nalu is a collection of excerpts from my private notes and correspondences with close friends during the last six months of his life and after.
2011.05.23 (16 years, 8 days): It started off with the occasional "senior moment." Nalu now has all the signs of doggie dementia. His bloodwork is perfect. His xrays are normal. His heart is strong. His mobility is phenomenal for his age. He does get confused, and occasionally anxious, but mostly he does not seem unhappy. We have the daily "hour of the dog" walks on the beach at sunset where he ambles along with us. The western drug, Anipryl, didn't help. He is on Chinese herbals for "phlegm misting the mind" and he does get the occasional Alprazolam for anxiety.
I have scaled back my practice. I feel compelled to be there for my existing clients and patients, but I'm not taking on anything new. Nalu can't travel the long days with me anymore and I just want to be there with him to share in his periods of clarity and to help him through his periods of confusion. It makes me sad to think too much, so I focus on making life as good as it can be for him (as I promised I would), and that every good day is a gift.
Last Sunday was Nalu's 16th birthday. When we go out, people still tell him how cute he is.
2011.09.10 (16 years, 3 months, 26 days): Debated for several weeks and decided to do the esophagostomy tube. There is still enough Nalu present that I can't kill him. His digestion is normal, but the dementia has affected his ability to eat that, try as we have, we can't get quite enough calories into him to maintain a positive energy balance. He is getting thin and we don't want to watch him starve to death. Poofy collars and les provide camoflauge so it's pretty hard to notice (photo below).
He still nibbles -- some bird pellets, (human) cereal, a few kibbles, and some welsh cheese were today's choices. The tube doesn't seem to bother him and I'm able to get several ounces of AD (a commercial "recovery" diet for pets with the consistency of baby food) into him via the tube quickly and easily. It actually allows us to spend more quality time with him rather than always thinking about what he might eat, as we were doing for the past month or so.
Several friends who have known Nalu all his life have emailed to check on him. It's hard to talk about his situation. It's hard to think about and make decisions when it's your own family. Did I actually write a book about this?
Nalu's last summer with us during one of his daily "hour of the dog" excursions. The feeding tube tucked under his poofy collar doesn't seem to bother him.
2011.10.04 (16 years, 4 months, 21 days): Nalu was remarkably connected last week; but this week, he appears to have resumed living in a mental fog. The days are not so bad; he might be in lala land, but at least he isn't distressed. The demons come at night; it is heartbreaking to witness. I have been sedating him when it gets really bad, but that is not a fix and it doesn't help to his mental clarity the next day. I made a promise that I would support this dog, whatever it took, as long as it could be good. It is time for our paths to part ways.
I opted to be the one to administer the euthanasia solution to Nalu. I'd been involved with his care since he was 11 weeks old. I made certain that he had the best patient experience possible every time he had a health care need. I made a promise.
Nalu was still kind of sedated from the night before. I thanked him for all the dog wisdoms and told him I loved him and gave him another dose of sedative -- teeny tiny needle just under the skin. When he was in a deep slumber, I administered the euthanasia solution. No more demons.
Nalu is the Hawaiian word for "wave." He was cremated and his ashes returned to us so we could release them over the ocean in the waves for which he was named. I confess that a small bit of those ashes were sent to a glass artist is Washington, David White, who integrated them into a glass sculpture of a wave. It is one of the ways that I chose to honor his memory.
2011.10.07 (3 days post Nalu): Yes, this sucks being Nalu-less. But it sucked more watching him not be able to break out of the mental fog for most of the day and then be inconsolably anxious and distressed at night. It was time to part ways and Rod and I did not come to that decision lightly.
2011.10.14 (10 days post Nalu): I made a promise to a prince of a corgi and I (we) fulfilled that promise. It was a good life.
2012.02.14: Four months after the passing of my canine companion and partner, I am still shadowed by sadness. My husband and I know we did well by Nalu. He had a good life and a good death. We fulfilled our promise; we were there for him, in good times and in bad, in health and in sickness; we supported him as long as life could be good. Sometimes the journey was difficult. No one can say we didn't put out. Sad, but no regrets, and no guilt. We have wonderful memories, we still smile at his quirks, we both have photos of Nalu on our desks and our computers. We carry on. We work. We go on dates. We are planning the vacation together that we postponed for two years during Nalu's golden years and convalescence.
I've never been one for moping around because it's just not productive. But where I was working on this manuscript like a maniac last fall, I found myself suddenly not wanting to think about aging and care-giving and dying, however graceful. At this stage of my life, I have enough professional experience that I am able to continue to put out for my patients. Presented with a patient and a client in need, the call to jump in and help overrides whatever sadness I may be dealing with in my own personal life. But I find myself more emotionally depleted at the end of the day than I used to.
Many years ago, a client said to me several months after the death of a canine companion who was particularly special to her, "No, I'm not over it. I'm not sure I'll ever be. But nobody wants to be with someone who's always moping and depressed, so I go about life." I get that now. The intensity of the sadness is equal to the joy of the journey that we shared.
I have met several people who were so heartbroken after a pet's passing that they decided they could never have another pet. I will always treasure my journey with Nalu. At the same time, I expect that I will have another corgi some day.