My Dog Won't Live Forever

Last week life happened, and I lost my footing.

A little over a week ago, I noticed Edward do this weird shiver thing. It was quick, a fraction of a section. He seemed oblivious to it. Then the shivers became jolts, still only lasting a second but increasing in frequency. The best description I have is to say he looked like a robot short-circuiting, glitching. On Friday, the vet confirmed that he's having focal seizures. This type of seizure is abnormal brain activity in a specific, isolated area of the brain (as opposed to a generalized seizure which is abnormal activity over the entire brain. That looks like what we classically think of when we hear seizure).

Edward is thirteen and a half, so for a dog of his age to start having seizures, the most likely culprit is a brain tumor, cyst, or lesion. His doctor started him on the anti-seizure medication, Keppra, right away, and he hasn't had an episode since (that was Friday and it's Monday as I'm writing this). Aside for these seizures and some arthritis in his lower back, he's as healthy as he's ever been, so full of life and love and curiosity. He's tolerating the Keppra well, and it's easy to pretend the past week was all a nightmare...until eight hours has passed and he's due for another pill.


This week I had to make decisions. Do I put him through anesthesia in order to have a CT scan or an MRI only to have them confirm what we already suspect? Friday I would have yes, now, I'm saying no. Knowing there's something in his brain causing the seizures won't change his treatment outcome. I would not, at his age, put him through any kind of chemotherapy (and success rates will canine brain cancers are poor anyway). I do have an appointment at the end of June to see a neurologist at the University of Missouri's Veterinary Health Center. I'll get a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis and the treatment path, and beyond that, I think we'll just continue to live our lives together.

It's funny because we all know, everyday, our time on this material plane is limited, that our time together is limited. And my spiritual beliefs are strong; I know Edward and I will stay connected beyond this mortal existence. And yet, the awareness that this experience has slammed in front of my face––the unavoidable truth that the countdown has begun––is almost unbearable. Physically excruciating. To say he's my best friend is such a gross understatement of what's between us. He's my soulmate: he's everything that's beautiful and good and pure in this world to me. I can say without a doubt that the only time in my life I've ever truly been in love has been with this dog. He's healed me on so many levels, and he's stood by me when no one else was willing or able.


Right now, it's hard for me to complete mundane and seemingly inconsequential activities like posting on social media, answering emails, or basically caring about anything but him. I just want to sweep him up and hold him tight in some divine bubble that's frozen in time, where nothing can touch us and we can stay forever together. I know that's not possible, but what is possible is that we make the most of whatever time we have. And no one knows how long that might be. When I was a RN working with oncology patients, it was a common occurrence to meet people who were told they had months to live and were still going several years later. Logically, I know that, but the pain and the fear and the sadness and the shock are so raw, I can't get there yet.


Saturday, we went to the lake. He ran in the sun and rolled in the grass. I watched him play as tears streamed down my face, and I begged for more time. In my better moments, I hold on to what I believe to be true about this universe: that no one ever truly leaves. We just change form. That spirits speak across dimensions. That Edward was sent to me, my guardian angel in canine form, to help me awaken to my higher self. He came to me at one of the lowest points in my life, and I know, if he leaves, it will be because his work here is done. I'm so filled with gratitude for having had this amazing experience with another living creature. Some people go their entire lives and never share this kind of bond with anyone. I am blessed, and I also want more time.


There's no grand takeaway here. I know narrative nonfiction is supposed to have that for the reader, some reason for you to be reading. But I'm not really writing this for you. I'm writing this because writing is what I do when the pain is overwhelming. I'm sharing it with you, because maybe you've felt pain like this too. Because maybe, in an era when there's so much to divide us, maybe if we get more honest about what's in our hearts, we can start to actually see one another. It's a cliché to say life is short, and it's an understatement.