life & death

Look deeply

Over the past few days, as we’ve been celebrating love in its varying forms, our hearts have been heavy. Our funny old dog Norma is beginning her inevitable physical decline, and we’re contemplating those long-dreaded questions nearly everyone who shares their life with animals will face. And as anyone who knows Norma and the trials of our 15 years together would expect: she’s not making it easy on us.

During a recent bout of pancreatitis, we established two clear lines we weren’t willing to cross in keeping her alive: no invasive treatments, and no pain. Twenty four hours ago, we were preparing to honor that commitment and say our goodbyes. Last night she turned a corner, and today her illness appears to be in retreat. She’s walking, eating, and pooping like a champ again. So now we’re left with the even more difficult questions: What does “quality of life” mean to Norma? And does she have it?

img_4515Norma is an unusual dog in many ways. Though fiercely protective of us, she’s never been affectionate. She outgrew the separation anxiety of her early post-shelter years with us, and still sticks close by at all times – but never quite close enough for a snuggle. A ball of uncontrollable energy for most of her life, she’s lived for long daily walks, weekly hikes in the nearby trails and canyons, and occasional swims in the ocean. Though her physical endurance has faded in the last year, she’s never lost her interest in going for walks, or eating. A more food-motivated dog the world has never seen. When over the last few days she wasn’t enjoying her walks or diving into her food bowl, we were sure it was time to let her go. 

This morning she took a long slow walk around the block, and didn’t miss a thing. We paused in each patch of sunshine we came across, she sniffed every blade of grass she could, and wagged her tail at every neighbor she saw. Though slow, her enjoyment was complete. When we got back home, breakfast wasn’t the usual run-and-dive-bomb into the food bowl, but she ate it slowly, has kept it down, and has been lounging comfortably all morning, keeping an eye on our every movement around the house as usual from her front-and-center perch.

In anticipation of today being our last day with her, yesterday we both made arrangements to take today off of work, and scheduled the dreaded appointment at the veterinarian’s office. Today we’re scratching our heads in wonder, and wringing our hands in a painful mix of relief and agony. We’ve decided to keep the appointment with her indescribably wonderful doctor and seek her counsel on these hard questions about defining quality of life for a dog who’s not giving up any of her secrets. I don’t know what the hours, days, or weeks ahead will bring, but I’m taking this final and most important lesson from Norma, and am going to try not to miss a moment of them.

“Look deeply. Don’t miss the inherent quality and value of every thing.” – Marcus Aurelius


8 thoughts on “Look deeply”

  1. I’ve been dreading this. I love you all and am sending my very best thoughts your way.

  2. My heart aches for you and Marc. Such difficult decisions and ultimately the huge void when she passes. My thoughts are with you as you make this journey with Norma.

  3. Reading this with tears in my eyes and a catch in my throat. I love how much you love that one-of-a-kind little dog and how beautifully you’re able to paint her for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to know her like you do. You’re ever-present in my thoughts today. ❤️

  4. Oh Amy, my eyes teared up reading this. Jeff and I send big hugs to you and Marc.

  5. Sending hugs and love to all 3 of you! Sounds like Norma’s having a little rally just to keep you on your toes for a bit longer.

  6. Oh Norma. Such sadness for you and Marc. And such gratitude for time with Norma and your stories of her unbelievableness. She was fortunate to have such understanding and patient parents, always seeing her intention to mean well (or protect her food source). I love her heart and vim and will miss her dearly. Remind her of how she could run faster than Bolt and give her a kiss from us, if she’ll allow it just this once. True love.

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