Margit Novack of Moving Solutions, a senior move expert, wrote a touching article entitled Dog Gone Aging. In it, she talks about the people who describe their aging parents as “deteriorating,” an unkind word they’d never use to describe their elderly dog. Caring for an old pooch according to Novack, “is neither sad nor frustrating — it simply is.” She feels we see tending to elderly family members as an “obligatory, unwelcome burden” and that we get angry, frustrated, embarrassed and saddened by their needs. She makes the case that we have none of these sentiments with an aging pet.
Her story stirred up a lot of emotion for me. I’ve lost a dog and both my parents and cared for each of them with vast amounts of love. I felt no anger or embarrassment, but I was glad I had the time to attend to them or to get them the help they needed. So much depends on who the dog was or who the parent was, how they lived their life and the circumstances surrounding their decline. Just like childbirth differs widely from one to the next, so, too, does death.
In Pearl’s case, I witnessed the protracted excruciatingly painful demise of my once high-energy upbeat mother over a period of many years. Her death ultimately came as a relief…her suffering from cancer and a plethora of other illnesses was finally ended.
Dad, on the other hand, went swiftly and without too much fanfare. Although he was 94, I felt as though he should have had many more good years…but pneumonia took him. One day he was healthy, leading group conversations in his apartment building, and shortly thereafter we were planning his funeral. The feeling of what might have been was, and still is, sad for me.
And then there was my beautiful apricot pedigree poodle, Simone, the one Mother named her dog-grooming salon after. My pooch grew up alongside me like a sister, looking deeply into my eyes and understanding everything. In our home dogs were as beloved as people and my feelings for “Monie” ran deep. I still have her framed portrait, taken in a photography studio, by my bed. With seven years to every human year, when Simone was 16, it was as if she were a 112 year old lady. Like Margit Novack’s dog, she had lost the mobility in her hind legs and was barely eating. I was home from college when I witnessed her keel over and I shrieked because I thought it was “lights out.” Mother was able to swoop down and revive her, but her days were numbered. I was back at school when I got the call that she was gone; it was one of the saddest moments of my life.
The bottom line is, be sure to treasure your aging parents (and pets) while they still hear you and see you. You won’t regret it once they’ve passed.