When it comes to animals or people I care about, I always try my utmost to do what is best, but alas, no-one can think about everything. Although, – there was that niggling thought in the back of my brain. I really should have pulled it out and considered it in depth.
The trouble is, who ever wants to acknowledge that their favourite person in the whole world is likely to be leaving soon? I must have been in deep denial because when my mother started to fail I was totally aware of what lay ahead. Losing one’s parents is a part of life. It’s inevitable, unless you happen to depart first.
But I could not allow myself to consider what it would be like to lose Kay.
Around the time Ray had the heart attack, Kay lost her last remaining Cocker-spaniel, Taffy. It wasn’t a huge surprise as Taffy was getting on in years, but it was a hard blow for Kay because her dogs had always been what kept her going. In the past, when Kay had found herself suddenly and sadly without a dog, there was always the joy of new puppies to look forward to.
At the age of 80, Kay could not realistically take on a new puppy, much as she would have loved it. Ray was obviously in decline and Kay herself had health issues. A puppy would not have been a good idea and Kay was desolate without a dog. I was seriously worried about how depressed she became.
Then I had a thought.
What about an older dog?
A friend told me about breed-specific rescue and with a little investigating, we located CSRNE.
Cocker Spaniel Rescue of New England.
They were very nice and yes, they had a little dog that badly needed a loving home. His name was Jazz.
Jazz had been brought to them by an owner who could not care for him anymore because he had food allergies and needed to be on a special diet.
He needed a home with adults because he had been teased by children.
I didn’t think the diet would be an issue with Kay, but I checked to see how she would feel and she was overjoyed at the idea of taking in this little dog. I don’t remember precisely where Jazz was but I was able to get him transported to Dexter and my aunt fell deeply in love with her new little boy dog.
The food allergies were serious but could be controlled. It was not a problem for Kay and for a few months I thought I had really done the right thing. Jazz was the sweetest little dog that absolutely craved all the love he could get, and because he was older, he was happy just to go for little walks with Kay. He didn’t need all the energetic rushing around of a pup.
Ray loved his dogs too and Jazz was no exception. He didn’t even seem to mind too much that Jazz really bonded to Kay. I’m not sure he even noticed. The dogs had always slept with her and that suited Ray just fine.
It was maybe a year later that I realized I had made a bad mistake.
As a younger man, Ray was impossible to reason with, but he would at least always do the right thing by his dogs. After his heart attack though, Ray’s mind began to slip and no matter how many times Kay explained to him that feeding Jazz “bits” was really bad for the dog, Ray could not grasp the concept that he must not do it.
Ray had always spoiled the dogs and he loved sliding them treats. The worst thing that ever happened was that they sometimes looked a bit plump. Mostly they had kept their weight down by running around. But Jazz was terribly allergic to all sorts of things that made him itch terribly.
Kay began to sound stressed again. If anything could make her more unhappy than being dog-less, it was having a dog that was unhappy.
I drove up for a few days and got to view the scene. Kay was beside herself because poor Jazz was itching and constantly licking and scratching. Each time Ray had a snack, which was about 12 times a day, Kay would tell him off for giving bits to the dog. Then he would get mad and start calling her names. Quite often it degenerated into an all-on fight.
Jazz was suffering, not just from his allergies but from the raised voices and the tension and distress he felt particularly in Kay, but in the house as well. What had I brought this poor dog into?
A matter of months later, Ray was hospitalized again with heart issues and because of the dementia it was clear Kay was not going to be able to care for him much longer. We went looking for a home which was quite one of the most depressing tasks I ever attempted. I could not imagine placing my worst enemy in most of the places we saw.
In the end a room became available in the local nursing home at just the right time. It was a wonderful facility and it was right in Dexter. Ray was admitted permanently which was a great relief. Except that Kay was now in the house alone, in the middle of nowhere with winter coming. I persuaded her that she should move into assisted living and that I would sell the house for her.
As luck would have it she found a very nice place very near the nursing home, and we got her moved in. It was a very comfortable apartment and she made some friends nearby to play cards or scrabble. It ought to have all worked out. But it didn’t.
After all the years of verbal abuse and fighting, I thought Kay would be so happy at last to have peace, but maybe it was too late. Or maybe Ray had cast a spell on her. Every day, Kay took herself down to the nursing home to visit Ray and he would hurl insults at her.
Then she would come home and after a while she would call him just to listen to more of the same. All the while dragging poor Jazz along. Kay was a nervous wreck and she got so preoccupied she would forget to eat and almost put herself into a diabetic coma a couple of times.
Once, she went out onto her porch at the back of the apartment complex, and the door slammed shut. She was locked out, in the cold. Fortunately, after an hour or so, someone noticed that her front door was open, and they went in and rescued her.
Each additional incident chipped away at her self-confidence and she seemed almost afraid of being alone.
Kay still had her old car and that became a big problem when it started to snow. She needed to move it for the snow plow but had no-where to move to. A friend agreed to keep the car in his garage for the winter and another friend came by daily to take Kay to the nursing home.
I tried so hard to get Kay to give herself a break. I told her she didn’t need to subject herself to being called such horrible names. Ray sometimes followed her down the hallway calling out things that made everyone look up, appalled. But I could not talk her out of it even when I was there to take her place.
Ray only seemed to want to berate Kay. After all the issues I had with him, I would not have been surprised if he had yelled at me but I have no idea what happens to a human mind when dementia sets in. To me he apologized , saying “I’m so sorry!” But I had no idea what in particular he was talking about. I think he was really worried about meeting his Maker. I told him it didn’t matter. What I wanted was to ask him to be kinder to Kay, but what would have been the point? I have no idea where so much rage was coming from, unless perhaps he thought Kay was his mother. I had heard him call her some of those names.
I looked at the man that had tormented me for so long, and I couldn’t seem to feel anything. I wasn’t angry, or disgusted, certainly not glad to see him suffer. He was no different from all the other patients in that home. I had great empathy for all of them because I realized it could so easily one day be me.
It was the last time I saw him.
Ray died at the end of March, 1999. I flew up to be with Kay although the funeral would have to wait until the ground thawed. Now that he was gone, surely Kay would be released from his hold?
Perhaps if the funeral could have taken place immediately, it would have made a difference. She kept worrying about what she would wear for the service. Nothing seemed to be right and she couldn’t sleep. She fretted constantly about Jazz as well, although the dog seemed to be doing better. I was very concerned, but I had to go back to work.
As it turned out, Kay need not have worried about what to wear for the funeral as she did not have to attend it. A day or so before I was scheduled to fly up for the service, I got a call to say that Kay had had a “mild” stroke. She was now in the home that Ray had been in. Jazz was with her good friend Mary.
I went immediately to work and asked for compassionate leave. Technically, it could have been refused, as Kay was not my mother, but I was fortunate to have an understanding boss. I am still grateful that I never had to worry about getting time when I really needed it.
Nothing could have prepared me for what followed. Kay’s “mild” stroke had paralyzed her right side and she was unable to speak. Jazz came with me to see her and he sat on the bed with her. Kay’s eyes seem to plead with me to make things better. God knows I had tried before and not succeeded, and now it was beyond my power to try.
I drove over to the apartment and started packing Kay’s things up, not knowing what to do next. In her bedroom, she had all the ashes of her beloved dogs, in boxes. I seem to have been on auto-pilot because I picked them all up and took them into the kitchen. In a cupboard I found a large glass jar that contained flour.
I emptied out the flour, washed and dried the jar and then I emptied all the dogs ashes into it, saying a little “God bless you” to each one as I tipped it’s remains in to mingle with the rest. I didn’t know how soon the time would come, or how I would make it happen, but I knew Kay would want to be buried with the remains of her beloved dogs.
Next day Mary took Jazz to be with Kay as I attended the funeral which I can barely even remember. It was such a horrible day. But not because of the service.
From the cemetery, I went direct to the nursing home where I was immediately intercepted by the director who looked very distressed. Poor woman. She was a wonderful, compassionate lady and the news she had to deliver could hardly have been worse.
She was so sorry to tell me, but Jazz had been banned from the nursing home. While I had been at the funeral, some kids were visiting in the facility and teased him. Jazz remembered being tormented by children, and bit one of them.
I understood, of course. There was no sense in arguing the point. But I had to tell Kay. The director offered to deliver the news but I didn’t even consider it.
To this day I don’t know if Kay ever forgave me for the dagger I stuck in her heart. For that is what it felt like. She could no longer speak, but she could scream and she did, so loud and long people rushed to see what was amiss.
I saw anger flash in her eyes and I could feel it bursting out of her. All I could do was sit and wait for it to pass. Which finally it did when she saw the tears rolling down my cheeks. Then she became horribly calm and I sat holding her for the longest time.
Kay and I spent the next day mostly looking at each other and holding hands. I brought the toy Cocker Spaniel from her apartment and she clutched it fiercely as I wheeled her around the garden outside. One of the nurses had agreed to adopt Jazz and I thought there was always hope that Kay might recover enough to go and see him one day.
The following day I had to leave to go back to work. I remember how Kay looked at me as I turned at the door to wave goodbye. She tried to smile but I suppose she couldn’t, and I can still see her beautiful, intensely sad blue eyes. I never saw them again.