This will be the first entry of many to come. I can, and will now continue, somewhat where I last left off. Well, eventually - I will pick up where I left off. Now, I have to start at a different place: A goodbye.
I have not written for a reason. As summer turned into fall, I had a feeling I was looking at limited time left with Delsin. Not anything anyone else would see, and his vet check in September with a full blood panel showed a "very healthy dog". My heart told me differently.
I could no longer blog about Delsin, as I could not go forward and write about his life with me, without including what my heart told me. The private, introverted side of me - which is my dominant side....well, I choose not to be public with the process I knew I would be facing. The time would be spent instead trying to be fully "present" with Delsin. for whatever time we had remaining and whatever events happened.
I blog now, because yesterday, Thursday June 6th, 2013, I said my last goodbyes of many, and gave the nod to let Delsin go. I don't know when I will actually publish this entry of the blog, I will wait until it feels right to be public with a very private relationship with my friend Delsin.
I do choose to share though, because I realize Delsin had a public side - that side being pushed out further when he became lost, then was in the news, followed by the stories of our Westminster adventure. Life within the show ring is public and Delsin liked that spotlight. As long as that was also balanced with many other - non-show-ring events and adventures. So I write for mostly Delsin: to honor the great soul he was and still is, despite him not being here with my in body. A hard transition for both of us.
How do I even begin to share? ...with so many raw feelings - some yes, indeed painful, but many are heartwarming and bring me comfort as well. Delsin and I helped each other grow. We each are a better being for knowing each other and allowing the deep connection we had in life to develop, and now, continue, but on a different level.
But first, what hits me, is that I once again find it so sad, terribly sad, that my love is with a breed... a breed that we are "forced" to be happy when our dogs live beyond 8 years. When our dogs reach a mere 10, we celebrate and place our dogs picture into the (USA) national magazine. When I hear "Really big dogs don't live that long" I cringe... because A) this breed is not suppose to be a really big dog like a St Bernard, and B), it is not true that dogs in the 100 pound category live short lives (and I am sorry, 10 is a short life). This became a reality years ago for me, when I visited a yard of sled dogs. No, not the small racing sled dogs, but the big guys - the draft type sled dogs. These guys were all between 90-110 lbs. Berner sized. As I looked at these dogs - jumping high at the end of their chains, with excitement of possibly a chance to get harnessed up- and go - the caretaker of these dogs started telling me about them: "Yeah - that one over there, the one jumping so high - probably his last year on the trial. He is 16 <years!> this year". And that one over there, she is 15, she may have a couple more good years in her to run". He went on and on. These dogs were not grey, nor were they sedate. They were agile and jumping as high as the younger dogs around them. I was floored.
While diving into such a complex matter of long life span is not for this blog on this day, my memories of that day, seeing those sled dogs, makes me shake my head in sadness, that I had to celebrate Delsins last birthday - the 10th birthday - with the knowledge that it in fact was going to be his last one. And to have so many berner owners say how "wonderful it is to see such an old berner".
I would like to clarify it here: Delsin never, ever got Old. He got sick. Big difference. In looking back at any of my berners over the last 30 years... they didn't get old, they too were sick. Even as late as this past February, when cancer was well established in Delsin's body, after a bath I gave him at a dog wash, the dog wash owner saw him and said "He must be young?". When I said he was 10, the owner said - 10 months? I said "No, 10 years". Delsin didn't "look it" or " or "act" 10 year old. Or did he? Shouldn't a dog still look and feel young at 10 years? If our expectations are a dog is old at 10, or 9, or 8 or 7 ..... doesn't that just help perpetuate that?
Another soapbox, I will step down from now. At least temporarily.
What to say about my boy Delsin.... so much comes to mind...
At the forefront of my mind of course, is his loss. Yesterday at this time, I made the decision to end his life. Historically, I have been a wreck at the burden this decision makes combined with the loss. Wreck would be an understatement....I have entered into some very dark times in my life after the death of my dogs. So, as I faced Delsins cancer over these last few months, I also faced "would I go back to that darkness again?". I felt, with Delsin's help, I had found a clarity and balance in my life, but I knew that this would be a test for me. I was unsure I was really prepared for it.
I have always wanted to be able to face change <loss> with grace...something I have fallen extremely short of in the past. While I have faced more than my share of loss in my lifetime, with each one, I have only gotten more fearful, more distant, maybe more crazy. Up to Delsin.
Yes, there have been plenty of tears. Facing something with grace does not mean to ignore or bury the pain. Death and loss IS painful. It IS profoundly sad. Facing something with grace does mean to be present to the pain. Yes, allow it. Feel it. But, let it go then...don't bury it.
Daily, I would pull myself back to the present, back to simply being with Delsin. If my mind wandered to the days ahead, days of letting go of Delsin, or the days without him, I would guide it back to the present, to being with Delsin. As his health declined, I choose not to feel sorry for him, but find ways to change with him, find ways to support what he was going through, but also to enjoy where he was at. At shorter walk, which eventually turned into short wanders...I would simply follow him where he wished to go. I adjusted my schedule, so my days were simply about being with him. I never told him he was old, nor that he was sick. He knew he was sick, I didn't need to remind him. I didn't place limits on him, I encouraged him to continue to do all the things he loves, even if it was just for a little bit. On good days he would run again - although not as fast as he did before he got sick - and he would toss his ball into the air, boss around the other dogs. On days he was tired, we just sat together, told him how wonderful he was and we reminiscence about all we had done together. I treated him like I would want to be treated if I were dying: with support, but not sympathy, only empathy. And just to be there fully present with him - really, truly, present. If I was on the computer - on something relatively stupid like facebook - I would think "why am I doing this, when I can be fully present with my dog instead?. After all, he IS still alive". I would get off of the computer, just so I could sit and talk to Delsin. Yes, there were many times I was just there, doing my own thing while he slept. But, more and more frequently I became aware that I needed to be more to him: to touch him without letting my mind wander to other events of the day, the to-do list, what I am going to make for supper, etc. But to interact only with him on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level. While I suppose this could be viewed as exhausting, it was not. Due to being fully present with him - fully present to life - I found a renewed energy. And I found a relative peacefulness about a process that has nearly killed me in the past.
My approach to health <vet> care is on the holistic end....generally far on the holistic end. It is not a "right or wrong" as some people try to make it out as, but rather, it simply comes down to what with each are comfortable with in our gut.
I choose no invasive procedures with Delsin...a choice I have made for my own life as well. Delsin has had a lot of holistic modalities during his life and I continued that throughout his death process as well. The cancer was "verified" in late January 2013. But I saw some subtle changes as early as September 2012, when I had a complete blood (chemistry) panel done, because I knew something was off. I was told everything was "remarkably normal, especially considering his age".
In November I started some more "aggressive" (but holistic) health regimes with my vet for Delsin. His appetite by this point was only fair at best and he had lost a significant amount of weight. Initially he responded and felt better, then gradually I saw him just not be right again.
January 2013 I opted for more diagnostics, but nothing invasive. Blood and chem panel still was great. UA showed nothing bad. His physical check up was fine. Then there were the x-rays. Changes to the lungs, possibly more. X-rays sent off to a radiologist where he confirmed changes in the lungs, stomach, and likely spleen and liver. Cancer fully expected, probably histosytosis. They suggested needle biopsy, I declined. I wouldn't do a different approach regardless of what it came back as.
I made a decision at that point, not to share with people that Delsin had cancer. Yes, I am private, but it went beyond that. I wanted people to greet him with their usual "hi there" and not a "oh, I am sorry you have cancer" vibe. I did not want people to feel sad when they saw him, but continue to feel happy he was alive and lookin' good. I knew after Delsin had passed, I would share. I believed this approach was best for Delsin as an individual, but not as a judgment toward others and how they may approach their dogs death. We each walk different paths, and that is a good thing.
So through my alternative vets' help, we together and continually adjusted the game plan for Delsin. I have had a lot of "energy work" done (of various types) with all the dogs over the years and that continued with Delsin as well. We also used the drug (anti-inflammatory) deramaxx - which greatly turned Delsin's appetite around. He became ravenous and ate everything I gave him. He never was able to put weight back on, despite getting almost 5 pounds of food a day (cooked, homemade diet - high protein, extremely low carb... i.e. a "cancer diet"). But he felt better, I felt better that he was able to eat.
The ebbs and flows happened, but it mostly flowed I would have to say. While his life was different than in the past, it was also very high quality. He remained engaged in life.
Six weeks before he died, I started going to my vet twice a week for energy work (verses the 1 time every 2 weeks, then 1 time every week). The energy work simply helped Delsin feel better. He would come back home barkin' and telling the world how great he was...something that his son A'kash was not very impressed by! But Delsins big, "look at me" energy would come out after his treatments. It was great to see
The down side of it was that something had changed in Delsin so that he no longer liked to ride in the car...something he always had loved doing. And my vet was an hour away. So that meant 4 hours a week in the car - time Delsin did not enjoy. But I made the decision that he overall felt better because of the frequent energy work. I know in my heart, without a doubt, that both his quality and quantity was increased, and I would do it all over again.
While there was a lot of gradually changes along the way, by and large, he enjoyed his life. If he had a bad day, he rebounded, and I celebrated that we had more time together. We (vet and I) adjusted to his needs, and he would respond. To look at him, no one would have suspected how sick he was. In fact, one day as we left the vet, a woman commented on how great it was to see such a "young and vibrant" Bernese.
When the changes came that lead up to the end of his life, they came relatively quickly. The appetite quickly faded despite cooking all sorts of things for him. I knew with that, things had advanced far within his system. This time he wouldn't rebound.
His last energy treatment - Monday June 3, he did respond - and once again he came home barkin' at the other dogs and tossing his favorite ball in the air. He ate that evening. My hope went up; perhaps this was not the end after all.
But by morning, I could tell that he still was on a downhill decline.
It is personal, perhaps too personal, to talk of the last days of exchanges between two beings that love one another. We both knew we our time together was ending and we both knew that our life together was magnificent. Delsin and I did things that few will ever do - all the travel all over the country, not for shows, but just to travel. He and I saw and experienced many things. Yes, his show career was wonderful as well, and to be on the other end of the leash for an all breed Best in Show when he was almost 9 years of age, is an experience I will never, ever forget. But I hesitate to even share that, as the perception could be that I loved my boy due to his beauty, and it could not be any further from the truth. Delsin was a great being and part of that is he liked to show and he did it well. It simply was something him and I could do together and do well together. But it wasn't the only aspect of him, nor the biggest aspect. I don't need to show to complete me, and neither did Delsin.
When the end came, it came with peace, calmness, and love filling the room....something I have never, ever experienced before and did not think was possible for me. He had energy work before, during and after the injection. I felt the presence of all those that have died before him - both human and non-human - surround us and I felt the compassion in the vet and staff as he slid away. Heartbroke? Yes. But defeated? No. Far from it. I have never experienced the calmness I am feeling now after I have lost a being that I was so connected to in life....again, I simply did not think that was possible for me.
I realize that the days ahead without Delsin will have times that I get hit with a profound sadness. I will break down. And that is okay. Because I now know that my boy gave me so much of himself in life, helped me through so many things, supported me through dark days but most importantly - he guided me to healing myself. I am sad he is gone. But I am more happy he shared his life with me:
When I first held you to my chest, when you first entered my life,
we had an unspoken truth between us:
No matter how long we are together, or how the end comes,
The connected joy we have together in this life, will far out weight the pain at the end,
when ever and however, it comes.
Anne Wolff Nichols
BIS GCH Rogel's My Delsin B of Nighttime RN
9-26-02 to 6-6-13