Tonight, my Better Self has fled me.
I’m tired and frustrated and — yes — even resentful of my terminally ill Coyote. I’m cleaning up several messes a day — urine, vomit, feces — from everywhere in the house, even the porch. Despite my best efforts, putrid bodily waste is embedded in the carpeting, seeped into the wood, soaked into the grout between the tiles. After weeks of this, it feels impossible to keep up with cleaning the filth from the floors, washing the dirty rags, and I’m not sure how much longer I can continue.
But I shatter under the weight of what it would mean not to continue.
The burden of Coyote’s care robs Bodhi of meaningful play time with me, steals the space I might create for caring for myself. Relief from that burden, however, means never seeing her smile in that way that huskies do; never again watching her curl into an “O” while she sleeps, with her nose buried into the end of her tail for warmth. Yes, the time I spend crouched next to her bowl, feeding her one piece of baked chicken at a time — and, at the start of a meal, re-feeding her the same piece again and again until she can get her mouth and tongue and throat coordinated — could be spent doing yoga in the morning or reading in the evening. But not crouching there, patiently helping her swallow the last kind of food she can stomach, would also mean missing the uncharacteristically demonstrative way she leans her head into my chest when she can eat no more, an apology and a surrender. She knows it hurts the heart she feels beating through my t-shirt to see the weight melt from her frame. I can see the structure of her body too clearly now, the skeletal scaffolding that was once hidden by muscle and flesh and her thick, still-beautiful, white pelt.
And, yet, she’s in no pain. So I can’t simply “dispose” of her for my convenience.
She still finds pleasure in lying in the sunbeam that warms that one spot on the living room floor. She still wants a belly rub if I’m passing by. She still begs for walks, even if all she can manage is halfway up the block before her weakened, clumsy limbs betray her, and we have to turn back. She still owns a quality of life that keeps me in this holding pattern with her.
Still, I hate myself for gating her in the kitchen, where the tile is easier to clean, but where she can’t watch the squirrels from the windowed front door. I hate the disease that is slowly wasting her away, stealing the comical nimbleness and focused stealth she used in her play, so long ago. I hate the brevity — only 11 of her 13 or 14 years — of the time we’ve had together.
It’s exhausting to keep trying for her. It’s anguish to understand what it means to stop.