Bitter end

Echo Lake, Dexter, ME

When I spotted the toy Cocker Spaniel and sent it to my aunt, the niggling thought in the back of my head was that one day Kay might be in hospital and find comfort in it. She had been in hospital several times for short periods and it was that sort of thing I had in mind.

It never occurred to me that she would be permanently separated from her actual dog and that is the thought I should have considered. I should have acknowledged that, in fact, it was not all that improbable a scenario.

The nursing home in Dexter actually had a resident Labrador Retriever which is those days was still fairly progressive. They allowed people to visit with their dogs, just as Jazz did those few times. But even if poor Jazz had not been banned, I did not live nearby and Kay’s friend Mary was not in a position where she could have kept him long term and taken him to visit.

I have been told over and over that I should not be so hard on myself and I would no doubt say the same to another person in the same situation. But it wasn’t only my aunt’s pain I felt guilty over.

To the end of my days I will feel bad about what I did to Jazz. Of all my aunt’s dogs, he was the sweetest. He deserved a happy home to live out his days in peace. Instead I brought him to live with my aunt and uncle which was more like bringing him into a war zone.

I had not considered that my uncle would get to the state where he would feed Jazz bits that were so bad for his allergies. Realistically, maybe I could not have foreseen that particular development. But the rest…

When Jazz was banned, I thought my head would explode. I looked desperately for solutions that just weren’t there. I couldn’t take Jazz home myself because animals were not allowed in my building. I was able to conceal my illegal cat, but a dog would have been impossible. And with my work schedule it would have been totally unsuitable.

Maybe I should quit my job and move up to Dexter. And do what? I had many years invested in my job and a pension to think about. So that option was out.

The best I could do was find a home for Jazz and I had only a couple of days in which to accomplish it. It was a great relief when one of the nurses stepped in and offered to take him. I was forced to accept but it was not ideal because the nurse had children, the bane of Jazz’ existence. They were not small children, so I had to hope for the best.

Sadly, or perhaps for the best, I heard only a few months later that Jazz had been put to sleep. I shall forever feel guilty about that poor sweet dog.

Back in New York, I couldn’t even talk to Kay because she wasn’t able to speak. I had experienced the same situation with my mother although in her case, it was because Mum was very deaf. It is a hellish experience, being far from the people you care about and having no communication. My mum could still write letters, although they eventually tapered out when she took a downward turn.

My mother died in 1997, so at the time Kay and Ray’s situation was escalating, I was worrying about my father, now on his own in England.

My brother and I had always imagined, if my mum died first, that Dad would just give up and follow suit. It is what very often happens with people who have been together for a very long time and Dad was devoted to my mum as well as dependent on her, in many ways.

Which only proves how wrong you can be.

I should have known Dad wasn’t done with me yet!

Not only did he not give up and die, but he got a new lease on life. He decided to resume travelling. As he so hated winter in England, he organized himself to go to Australia to escape the worst months.

Then he made it known to me that he would like to go to Rome, to visit his old colleague, the lady who had lived with us in Cambodia, Mariella. So I agreed to take him.

Our little excursion to Italy was all set up to take place in June, 1999.

So when Kay was suddenly incapacitated by a stroke, I wanted desperately to postpone the visit with Mariella, or ask Dad to go by himself. I needed to spend as much time as I could with Kay. But at the same time, my Dad was a very old man. How would I feel if I cancelled the trip with him and he died?

Everything considered, why, oh why, did I allow this to be an issue?

Kay had been aware of my upcoming trip with Dad. She knew I wasn’t keen on the idea, but she had understood why I felt I should do it. Now that she could no longer communicate, did she still feel the same?

I so hoped Dad would understand my conflict and offer to either cancel the trip or go by himself to Rome, but of course he didn’t. He didn’t even seem all that sympathetic.

So on the last day, before I left Kay in the nursing home, I reminded her that I would be going away soon and told her that I would come back to see her just as soon as possible. She nodded her head but for once I couldn’t read her mind.

A couple of weeks after returning to New York, I got a call one night from the nursing home director. Kay was no longer able to swallow. I had medical power-of-attorney. Would I authorize a feeding tube? Without thinking twice, I said no. I was sure it was not what Kay would want.

Aware of what this meant, I asked for an expected time frame, mindful of my upcoming duties with my dad. It probably wasn’t even fair to ask, but they told me perhaps six weeks.

How I wish I could have talked to Kay, known what was in her mind. Did she die thinking I had abandoned her in favor of my father who had never wanted me and was now just using me? Did she think I had refused the feeding tube because I wanted her to die?

Maybe she knew the torment I was in and maybe that is why she willed herself to die, just two weeks after I refused the feeding tube.

Two months to the day after Ray’s death, I got a call to say Kay was gone. I was numb. I had no more tears left and I seemed to be devoid of feeling as I flew up, one last time, for Kay’s funeral. I called to let my father know she had died and he didn’t even say he was sorry. He just said “oh”, as if it was an inconvenience.

Mary had been keeping the flour jar full of the dog’s ashes and the compassionate funeral director said he would put it in the coffin. I didn’t see the toy Cocker Spaniel, but I was told that was placed in the coffin as well. I didn’t ask to see my aunt. I don’t think she would have wanted me to see her dead and I didn’t want that to be my last memory of her.

At the funeral I spoke a few words but what could I say about all that Kay meant to me? If I had been able to put it in words at that time, I should not have been able to speak them, just as I have never been able to tell this story without breaking down.

Kay and Ray lie side by side in a beautiful little cemetery on the side of a hill in Dexter.

Ten days later I was pushing my father around in a wheelchair, somewhere in France and thinking of how recently it had been Kay sitting in front of me. I thought I should feel something but I didn’t want it to be rage, so instead it was nothing.

Somehow, because I never had a chance to stop for a minute to think, I never managed to grieve for my beloved Kay and the grief got stuck which is something you don’t want to have happen.

It was not until years later when my cat Panther died, that it all came pouring out. It seemed such an inappropriate amount of grief for a little black cat, but it was as if he was the cork in my dam of grief. My funny sweet Panther.

How Kay would have loved him.

3 thoughts on “Bitter end

  1. Carolyn, I am so sorry to hear that you carry this burden of guilt. My heart goes out to you. I will say a prayer that you will fine some ease and peace. Janet

  2. I have found that sometimes it’s easier to express grief when we lose our beloved pets than when we lose our human loved ones. There’s no need to explain or dismiss the tremendous grief you felt over Panther’s death. I know that overpowering feeling as well.

Leave a Reply