My geriatric lab, Lucy, and I made our way to the door as soon as she farted. I’ve had to decrease my response time when she does that because, as Dad always said, “Never trust a fart after fifty.” She’s now 14+, and in dog years that means that from the first fart and flapping of the ears, I have to have the exodus down to 1:45 seconds or there will be a clean up shortly thereafter.
So the fart woke me from a dead sleep and I was vertical in 30 seconds. I pulled an apron on over my pjs, (they protect clothes, cover braless boobs and have pockets for cell phones and cheesy treats) and struggled to get my sh*t kickin’ boots on while keeping my teetering dog vertical and moving forward. I mastered this technique with Dad. When working with or helping someone, you have to rapidly adjust to their and your body’s developing limitations, growing strengths, and their consequences. Like Dad, Lucy will now sit down when and where she never had any intention of sitting down. Her back legs just don’t work that well anymore. For Dad I had to drag chairs to places where there never was a chair, and sometimes scootch it just under Dads descending butt just in the nick of time. For her, I try to make sure she isn’t landing in something that she just… landed. Lucy gets a similar look on her face…. “well, I guess I’m sitting down now.” There were times that Dad ended up on the floor, that neither of us intended, and I’d just get down there with him and keep him company until we figured a way off of it. So this morning we turned it into a good moment. I just sat down with her, in the driveway, without judgement, and looked at and listened to the world that is our yard.
Just yesterday, we adventured out of it. I hoisted the dogs into the car, and drove them over the electric fence. I knew that the walk would be short, and that Lady who usually gets a bit of a run, would have to reign it in and go slowly, but I wanted Lucy to have an adventure too. Lucy blew my mind when, as we walked along our dirt road, she broke into a full-on gallop! I saw a flash of the powerful girl who ran beside my bike , and would race to the front of my tire, and I couldn’t go fast enough for her. There was a glimpse of the girl who would turn herself inside out for a frisbee. I saw the athlete in Lucy come out again and stretch her legs. Holding the leash, I had to jog to keep up with her, especially with the camera bouncing in my hand because her surge was nothing short of miraculous… it had to be documented. I could feel her joy coming off of her in waves… running beside her sister Dee. So even though I knew she’d be hurting later, I let her open up.
I wonder this morning, as I see her limping, if I made the right decision…but I’m a quality over quantity person. She’s 98+ in human years. I think the joy and the smile in her eyes and the wag in her ass was worth it.
Because I work as a synchronized swimming coach, I think about alignment, flexibility, and how to accomplish seemingly extraordinary things like split rockets and throwing swimmers off the tops of aquatic pyramids. Because I’m in my 40’s, I think about safety, and how can I do this without hurting anyone involved. The same thought process comes into play when applied to my helping someone up without injuring them or myself. When Dad could no longer do a modified push-up to allow me to lift him and get a chair, (he was a big, strapping guy) I had to call neighbors. It would sometimes take two or three people to get him from point A to B. Lucy isn’t nearly as tall… but she’s no toy poodle. Lucy is a sixty pound workout that requires some thought to pick up and carry if I don’t want a wonky back.
Consequently, as my dogs mobility declines, I’m finding my behavior is morphing into that caregiver mode again. I’m watching Lucy’s eyes for “the talk”. The talk when you just tell each other the truth. “This just isn’t fun anymore. I hurt. I wanna go home.” and the responding “I’m here for you. I’ll do what I can. I love you so much.”
I’m flashing back to those talks I’ve had in the past. Mom. Dad. When he asked me, through a haze of morphine, I wouldn’t get him the gun though. “Not like that. We’re not going there.” He found God through the pain a couple of months later, and went home to Him smiling.
Lucy already knows God. I’m waiting for the time she tells me she’s ready for her greatest adventure, and if I can ease it, I will. For now she’s still enjoying the little adventures. As she tottered around the yard this morning, she paused, ears alert, as she spied some movement in the flowers. I saw it too, and we both froze. I try to pay attention to what they pay attention to. When the frog hopped again, and I was able to see him clearly, my eyes got misty.
The Carter Family totem is a frog. An odd choice for a noble family crest perhaps, but it works for us. Mom was water. Dad was land. The resulting progeny is amphibian. But the symbol was derived from the pond that Dad had proudly dug in our back yard. Mom always joked that he wouldn’t be happy until he’d dug a moat around the durn place. but one of our two ponds was appropriated by an enormous frog who came to be known affectionately as Jabba. Dad would tell stories of the behemoth frog at the office, barbecues, and bridge tables, and from then on, whenever someone had to give Dad, the man who had everything he wanted, a gift…. it was frequently some artistic derivation of a frog. Our house is peppered with the statues, paintings, and cross-stitch, “Frogs are smart, they eat the things that bug them.” that resulted. Frogs make me smile. (I should have listened to my gut and broken up with the guy who filled in the pond in his yard “because the frogs were so annoying” much sooner.) In the back yard this morning, as she was reminding me so profoundly of Dad, Lucy and I saw a small brown, Spotted Dad Butt disappearing into the bushes. My throat closed a bit, and I smiled.
I read somewhere that the definition of “sublime” was laughing and crying at the same time. The pain is deep, but the laughter that transcends it, brings moments that send us galloping off with the joy of being alive, and nothing can take that away. I’m guessing my Lu will be galloping home soon. Knowing her, she’ll probably be farting… and Dad will be laughing her into his arms.
Life is sublime.