I feel old today. I awoke feeling as though the inside of my chest and skull had been scrubbed with the abrasive side of a dish sponge and the backs of my eyes were tied together.
More and more, I’ve been finding myself singing familiar hymns, memorizing verses I’ve forgotten along the way, and attaching new meaning to the words with each note.
Yesterday, Bandit took a turn for the worse. He wouldn’t eat, couldn’t stand up, and was fairly non-reactive. After noting various symptoms, the vet told us she suspects he has a central brain legion, which means a tumor on his brain stem. All of the other symptoms he’s exhibited in the last five weeks fit into that diagnosis, too. The only caveat is that he had some buildup in his left ear, so they cleaned that, gave him subcutaneous fluids to keep him hydrated, and sent us home – in her words – because “If I keep him here, I’ll just stare. And if you stare, you don’t notice change” for the night.
Immediately, I couldn’t stop it. Why him? How did we not think this sooner? Why didn’t I notice his pupils are uneven? I should have noticed. I should have suspected. Maybe it’s my fault. I wanted to take him to see more things because he was so sweet when he saw the river.
We went home. We made our unhealthy-as-all-get-out yet not expensive because it’s all frozen food dinner. We ate. We watched a show.
As the questions and guilt swirled in my brain, another thread entered, quite unexpectedly, yet right on time. Anger. Why does God have to do this to him? What did he ever do to anyone? We were supposed to have more time, dammit.
“Do you want anything else?” Tom asked.
“I want to go swimming in a bit. Will you come with me? We could even take Poop dog.”
At 8, we took Bandit down in his crate, set him on the picnic table, and Tom sat on the bench, reading a book. I’ve never been so thankful that the other apartment building shades that area all afternoon and I’d never noticed that picnic table before. They sat, quietly. And me? I thrashed in that pool like it was my enemy. I swam hard and fast and sloppily. I got out of breath (that’s not hard to do at the moment since I’m in terrible shape) over and over and I beat my body up with exercise more fervently than I can remember doing. I was only in the pool eighteen minutes when a group of teenagers came in, so I hopped out and dried off by my boys.
Back in the apartment, I showered off the super chlorinated water. And I sang “Abide with Me.” I’ve sung it many times before, more in my home than in services, and more in times of need and pain and hurt than any other. Eleven years ago, I sang it at Nana’s funeral. Last year, I found myself singing it while a loved one clung to the pages of my hymnal from a hospital bed, desperate for its comfort. During Advent, I sang it during my home mid-week “services.” I sing it often at night to calm my anxiety-addled mind and spirit. If you’ve never heard it, here are the verses.
1. Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!
2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!
3. Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
4. Come not in terror, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.
5. Thou on my head in every youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
6. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the Tempter’s power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, oh, abide with me!
7. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if Thou abide with me.
8. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!
Verse one’s, “When other helpers fail and comforts flee / Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!” hit me hard because I feel like I’m a helper who is failing my sweet little Bandy man. I feel helpless, too, and need the support of loved ones, Tom and the Lord to abide with me.
Verse two’s, “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; / Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away,” struck the cord of recognition that at some point – much sooner than we’d anticipated – we’ll have to make a decision about our little guy’s quality of life. That’s not something I’m ready for. I want more time.
Verse three didn’t strike me last night, save that I’m so thankful to believe in a Creator who isn’t just a puppet master, but a confidant and parent who isn’t only there in these rough waters, but also on the calm seas.
Verse four’s, “But kind and good with healing in Thy wings; / Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea,” choked me. Too often, God is boiled down to the negative aspects. The Lord is kind, good, and has the power to heal. And even if my prayers are focused on a little furball while tears stream down my face, my God is empathetic. My Jesus knows the pain of loss, the feel of tears, and I am truly heard.
Verse five’s, “Thou on my head in early youth didst smile, / And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile, / Thou hast not left me oft’ as I left Thee. / On to the close, o Lord, abide with me!” reminded me that, unlike me, God has watched my Bandit every day of his life. He’s seen him grow and mature, He knows his every struggle, He knows his story, and He brought him to us. Bandit has his issues, just as we all do – but God’s eye isn’t just on the sparrow, it’s also on this Pomeranian.
Verse six’s, “I need thy presence every passing hour. / What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?” was harder to swallow than normal. Grace is hard when you feel cheated of time with someone you love, who loves you endlessly. And I’m still not okay with it, but I’m thankful I have people and a God who abide with me “Through cloud and sunshine.”
Verse seven’s, “Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness. / Where is death’s sting? Where, grave thy victory?” weighs extra heavily when bitter tears are mixing with steamy shower water. But, then, I remembered that my grandfather refuses to tell me that animals don’t have a place in heaven because animals are family and “How could they not?”
Verse eight’s, “Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies! / Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee,” through the triumph of heaven in my face again. I don’t believe it ends here. As easy as it has been for me to be angry with God about this and as often as I’ve asked, “Why,” or blamed myself in some way, there is yet hope.
This morning, I held Bandit on my lap and I talked to him about heaven. We talked about who’ll be waiting for him and about all the cool things he’ll get to see there. Because, to me, heaven isn’t too different from earth, except that it’s perfect. So, like, if you want to go to the Grand Canyon, you can think yourself there. And if you’re a dog and you want to eat chocolate, have at it. And no one hurts, no one hates, and no one is angry. I think people’s personalities remain, but are restored to how they were before the pains of this life taught them to react.
When Tom came home to take us back to the vet this morning, Bandit woke up more than he had been with me. He wanted to eat, so we fed him a bit before taking him in. We got him there – a little late because real life – and the vet was sad he wasn’t barking, but glad he was more alert than yesterday. She did some tests on his eyes and everything still points to a brain lesion. Taking him to a neurologist, most likely, wouldn’t be very helpful, as even after shilling out a few thousand, the diagnosis would likely not be something we want to treat – even if it could be treated. We want him to be happy, to be himself as much as possible, for as long as possible.
In that hope, we’re moving forward with steroids to treat any inflammation associated with a mass. Our self-proclaimed PollyAnna of a vet also prescribed an antibiotic, just on the off chance and in the hope that this is all caused by some bizarre middle or inner ear infection.
We got home and took him out for a while. Bandit ate some more (apparently not eating yesterday made him ravenous) and walked a bit. He looked drunk, but he was happy to be home. I ate a little, took some Tylenol, and Tom talked me into sleeping for a while around 11:30, as I slept for maybe four hours in hour and a half intervals last night. I think Bandit slept for the most part, too. I awoke three hours later feeling loads better and immediately checked on Bandit. He was hungry again, but walked better than this morning.
He’s resting now, in his carrier, on the couch next to me, with the door open. I’m so thankful for this little guy and all he’s taught me about unconditional love. Hug your furry ones close; things like this can literally happen overnight.