As I am creating this post, I have my old Bernese Mountain dog who is being "comfortable" with terminal cancer. Tommy, Tom Tom or "Tom de la bernoise "on his registered certificate would be 11 years old on December 21st 2022. He has been with me since 2015. Beforehand, he contributed to creating many little Tommies in the first years of his life.
As a breeder dog, he was not an indoor dog. He LOVED the snow which we have a lot in Northern New Brunswick Canada. He built a thick coat and was not comfortable inside. He would push his big fat face in the snow, roll in it and even would fall asleep snow covered when I'd go to get him. He stayed at the barn with the horses and loved his life.
Furthermore, he accompanied me when I cleaned the stalls, listened to the radio, went for walks. He loved EVERYONE. All the chickens, rabbits, horses, other dogs and especially his human family. He was ALWAYS happy to see us. He LOVED us all without any restrictions or conditions. This is why when we lose our beloved animals, we hurt so much.
They are part of our lives 24/7. They greet us, they follow us everywhere, they sleep at our feet or on us,, we share dinners, friends; we share life situations with them. Many times they are the only ones we have that will totally listen to us without judgment or interruption. We take pictures, videos, we create memories.
Tommy's aggressive cancer diagnosis was given in April this year. He had a growing mass and the x-rays showed spots on his lungs. The options were laid out to be considered, It was explained that because it was so aggressive, any operation would need to be done externally meaning I would need to have Tommy travel to another city where they do such surgeries. It was also explained he would need 24 hours surveillance, and most likely a blood transfusion. His age was also a factor, but for a Bernese, 10+ years old is excellent. It was made clear that there was no guarantee of his recovery. The recovery would require medication, chemo etc. Consequently, with my intuition and Tom's approval, we did nothing. He did not show any signs of illness other than the mass on his stomach. I wanted Tom to be Tom as long as he could and not put him through experiences that would affect his immediate quality of life. He became an indoor dog and quickly learned how to ask for his "business". He was ready for house life.
And here we are 7 months later. All was good and within 12 hours his health drastically diminished.
I have to say at first I was heartbroken, and then I started looking for little rays of hope, and was holding onto this hope of extending his presence with me just a little longer as I have started the process of grieving. This is part of denial. I know that ... but I am allowing myself to completely FEEL the emotions. It is not easy.
I sleep on the sofa, I bring him water, food, treats. I've been catering all I can think about. In this very personal process, I've been told by a few people: "Well, you knew that was coming. You gave him a good life". "Don't make him suffer, it isn't fair for him". Honestly, these comments do nothing to help me grieve, and they do not support me. I do understand that these comments are not said with bad intentions.
In accompanying a dying animal, our moments together are so much more intense. I've been extremely aware of everything in his presence, and I am grateful for this time, despite this experience breaking my heart. I am going through various emotions and sensations: I feel nauseous, sad, grateful, worried, happy of our lives together, scared of that moment when I need to let go. How will I deal with the intensity of emotions at that final moment? I use breathing to bring me calm and comfort. I did ask myself a serious question: "Frannie do you love holding onto Tom more than you truly love him"? The answer a few days late was I love Tom in my presence but I know I shouldn't.
Writing this is a process I have chosen that helps me with my grieving. We all need to find a way that will support us in our grieving. Some create videos or a collage remembering their life. Some do special ceremonies, other plant a tree in memory, some give money to various animal societies; some scatter the ashes, some keep them or burie them.
Grieving is a very personal experience. Some feel guilt for various reasons ... I should have .. .I shouldn't have ... Some shut down the idea of having another animal. No matter what, It is important to keep ourselves very present in our emotions, and have self-compassion so we can let them go. No one grieves the same and one thing that is really hard in grieving our beloved animals is that in our society many are limited in their capacity to understand .... it is NOT just a dog, a cat, a horse, a hamster and so on... Our beloved deceased are family members. So find someone you can talk to that understands and can hold space FOR you.
I've lost many over the years and this year has been a challenging one. I lost my beloved lead mare Cleo in April from a dislocated hip injury; I lost my very first horse Chinook at 25 years old and now I am preparing for the loss of Tom.
I still have MANY cats, dogs, horses, goats, rabbits, chickens and a steer ... I have a lot of grieving up ahead. I focus on the gratitude of what they have contributed and contribute in my life. It is so much greater than that painful moment they leave.
Thank you for reading me. Should you want to share your experience or story, I'd love to read it.
Love, Light & Blessings