Thursday, 11 July 2013

A Lesson in Grief and Illness from Our Poorly Dog

Yesterday morning our eldest sheepdog, Nell, had to be lifted out from her run, where she'd suddenly become very unwell overnight. We immediately took her to the village vets, but we were soon referred to the larger surgery in town. The village vet thought she was suffering from a womb infection, and the second group of vets seemed to agree. Nell then had various scans and tests, and eventually an operation that became quite major and messy.

I was dealing with it rationally, although this morning it all got too much. Five minutes before I was due to leave for work I heard that it could well be tetanus, as Nell wasn't recovering from surgery. The outlook seemed negative, but I was just about managing to hold it together. On the walk into work, I passed the post office and saw my Mum and her friend inside. Shortly after saying hello, I realised I wasn't feeling so good about it all. My lip wobbled, then I started crying, snuffling; the whole works. Ever so slightly embarrassing. Needless to say, I skipped work today.

The situation is still uncertain, with the team of vets uncertain as to whether it is tetanus, or something slightly less serious called myositis. However, she's in good hands, and all we can do is hope she pulls through.

I felt so stupid crying in front of people today. I was telling myself that I shouldn't get so worked up about a dog, particularly as we've had so many sheepdogs before. I was meant to be the strong one, and not fall apart at times of difficulty. However, I've realised that I need to let myself feel how I'm feeling. Nell has been around for over half of my life, and therefore a sudden deterioration in her health was bound to unsettle me. She's always been a happy, hard-working dog, and we've frequently commented on how she seems more like a human than a pet. I'd be heartless if I didn't feel anything towards what's happening.

Image from Goodreads
Nell is old, at eleven years old, and she is going to die eventually; these things I know. But it's so difficult to accept that now is the right time. This is the belief that affects us all again and again when dealing with grief and illness, and it's so hard to let go of. Because of this, I know that it's time to test out my own recommendations to others on reading for grief, loss and illness...

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson can show me that life is circular and repetitive, and while I'm not entirely convinced that I'll live my life again, similar experiences and attachments will both come to an end and replenish continually while I'm alive. While one person or pet becomes ill, another will grow up and enjoy years of health.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green demonstrates that death and illness really aren't fair. However, we can deal with these situations the best we can, and even create memories that stick with us in the process. We can remember the positive and healthy elements of a life, and dwell on what difficult situations have taught us.

Dealing with illness and death isn't easy, and nor should it be. It's intensely painful, whether on the scale of the loss of Gilgamesh or the illness of my sheepdog, and we're not meant to block out this pain. The best way forward is to consider what else we can gain from the situation apart from pain, sadness and grief. These feelings are to be expected, but they're not total. There are other outcomes and things to be learnt, regardless of whether we are not ready to handle them or not at the time. As the popular motto goes, this too shall pass.

I'll let you know how Nell gets on, and perhaps write another post on how I continue to deal with the situation. She may well pull through yet, which would be fantastic, but I can't predict this. Illness and loss are inevitable parts of life, and we shouldn't ignore the associated feelings, no matter how we feel we should act.


Kathleen said...

I'm sorry to hear about Neil, but good for you, acknowledging that you need to feel your feelings, whatever they may be. Another interesting book on death--Going Bovine by Libba Bray.

Sharon Henning said...

There's no shame in crying over our animals. They're our babies. I have two dog. They're half lab, half Blue Heeler. I've had them for ten years and I know it will extremely difficult when they pass.

Brian Joseph said...

So sorry to hear about this. i feel the same way about my pets. Hopefully Nell will recover. Do keep us posted.

Steph said...

I hope Nell makes a full recovery soon. We recently lost our oldest dog ... I was with her when she died. It's never "just a dog" -- they're family. :-) I'm glad you gave yourself permission to feel what you're feeling without worrying about whether you're being "the strong one."

I loved The Fault in Our Stars, and I loved how you explained what you can glean about loss and grief from that book. I need to read Life After Life soon.

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, Brian. I'll be sure to let you know how she does. Thinks are looking more hopeful now, but there's still the not-great possibility of tetanus.

I hope your pets are doing well :)

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, Sharon. Yeah, I've come to terms with the fact that it's ok to feel pain and sadness towards our pets when they're unwell. They're big parts of our lives.

I hope your dogs are doing well and bring you happiness and great memories for years to come :)

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks Kathleen :) In the past I've tried excessively hard to repress or ignore my feelings, but I've come to understand that this really isn't healthy at all. Getting my PTSD under control has done a lot to help me in this.

And thanks for the recommendation!

Melissa Vizcarra said...

Lucy, I'm so sorry your dog is sick! I hope everything turns out ok! I completely understand how you feel, my dog got sick when she was a puppy and the doctor thought it could be parvo and I also cried. Thank God it wasn't and she pulled through. Let us know how she does.

Jennifer Hartling said...

(((Hugs))) I hope Nell is okay!!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, Jennifer :) She's improved so much after a very precarious day on Thursday! She'll definitely have to take it easy for a while though.

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks for the message, Melissa. We've been allowed to take her home today, which none of us were expecting! The vets have said that she's improved so much since Thursday - no one was sure if she'd make it when we were contacted that day. They're still not entirely sure what was wrong with her, although tetanus is still the most likely explanation.

We're giving her lots of rest (and pills, it seems!), and will make sure she takes it easy for the time being. I'm sure the sheep can wait till she's better for now!

I'm so glad your dog pulled through too, it's so difficult dealing with pets (and people for that matter) that are suffering.

Thanks again, I hope work is treating you well currently!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, Steph. I'm sorry to hear about your oldest dog - it must have been a difficult time for you all. We've always had several sheepdogs, but dealing with their illness and death never seems to get easier.

Nell has luckily come home today! She's still a bit out of it because of all the pills but she seems glad to see us :) We've certainly been very lucky, and have a lot to thank the vets for. We're having to keep an eye on her at all times, in case of further inflammation or changes, and she'll be back to the vets for a check-over on Monday, but it seems like she'll be ok.

Thanks again for your message, and I hope you and your family (and pets!) are doing well. I'd definitely recommend Life After Life, a lot of other bloggers also have good things to say about it!

Melissa Vizcarra said...

That is really good news, I'm so glad she's home! Dogs can be surprisingly resilient sometimes :).

Work is actually treating me well right now, I just had a couple of wonderful days without work and spent most of my time reading Wolf Hall. :)

Keep us updated!

Steph said...

Glad to hear Nell is on the mend!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks! She certainly is a resilient dog, she's already wanting to go back to work! She's currently looking sad outside while the other dog is off rounding up sheep...

We're taking her to the vets for a check-up this morning, although she's seeming a lot better. She's still quite dazed, but that's probably more to do with all the pills she's on.

Those days off work sound great. I look forward to your thoughts on Wolf Hall! I'm sure if you enjoy it I'll end up reading it too.

All the best :)

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks Steph! It's so good to have her back :)

anneishia said...

Dear Lucy, I've just read this post of yours and I truly hope that Nell is feeling much better by now. Never mind people who are ignorant and don't know how much love a dog is able to give. Believe me, I now exactly how you feel. About half a year ago I wrote a very similar post over at my blog, see: In the meantime, my doggy healed, and I'm crossing my fingers for yours.

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you so much for the comment, Eszter. Nell is recovering so much quicker than we thought she would, I'm glad to say, and she seems so happy to be back with us after four days in the vet surgery. She's still on a lot of pills, and we'll have to keep a constant eye on her for a while, but she seems to be well on the way to recovering. It's so great to have her back :)

In hindsight, I'm glad that I felt emotional about her illness - it wouldn't have made sense to hold feelings in, and it would have been heartless to deny myself feeling pain towards the situation.

I'm so glad that Sunny recovered, and I'm so thankful that you shared your blog post with me. It's made me feel reassured about how I reacted, as well as glad that I shared my feelings with my lovely blog readers.

Best wishes,