“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Part II, Day 61: A Pretty Good Day, Considering

Amazing how the new normal can be a peaceful place after an attitudinal adjustment--or two, or three.  So Zoe spoke on Monday and we heard her.  No more anti-cancer drugs, no more walks at set times, no more dog food, no more activities that Zoe doesn't choose.  That's our non-plan of a plan, and we've eased into it and set up camp there.

Kerry and Zoe
She perked up in late afternoon and asked for a stroll.  My husband and I put her on the leash and headed off in our usual direction, and even though we always think she has more fun off the lead, she seemed delighted to be out there in the 'hood with us, observing our neighbors' lives.  She marker peed on various shrubs and lawns, delivering her triumphant, alpha Zoe-was-here graffiti with gusto, and as usual she wanted to pull her way up to Rebecca's house to play hide and seek with the kitties.  When we steered her right on State Street instead of left, she wanted to stop in to see her friend Milo, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who Thinks he's a Greyhound, but his people's cars weren't there and we told her she would just have to make do with us as sidekicks.

On the way back down Riverside we passed the house where after an ice storm that became a blizzard this winter we saw a woman outside shoveling snow so her husband would be able to get their truck up the drive.  We'd all lost power that day and she was staying warm by keeping her driveway clear, but she was worried about her child and their cat in the cold apartment.  If the power didn't come on again that night, they'd be in trouble.  Even with all her worries, she had stopped to pet the cute three-legged dog and admire her dexterity in this crazy winter weather.  Now she said, "I remember how much energy and strength your dog had that day, the way she plowed through feet of snow and wouldn't stop.  The way she walked confidently through all those snowdrifts.  She was the most powerful thing out in the world that day."  It was such a kind thing for her to say, and now she and her little boy were patting Zoe, doing their own version of a laying on of hands, wishing her some good last days.  (I wrote the story of Zoe's first encounter with this woman in January in a post called "A Meditation on Power," which you can see here.)

Afterwards our vet, Amy Thompson, came by to see her and to drop off pain meds for when she needs them, if she needs them.  Zoe barked and wagged her tail and followed her into the house with great purpose.  Amy said, "Well, she may be putting on a show for me, but I think Zoe still has lots of Xi in her--a good, strong pulse."  We made plans for her to come back on Tuesday and treat Zoe with acupuncture needles: the first time she would ever be doing this solo, without the Vermont Dr. Thompson. After the visit, Zoe ate for the first time that day.  I think that once she realized we really got the message that the anti-cancer drugs were getting hard on her stomach, and she understood that we've ditched them, and that we'll give her whatever she wants, she was keen to tuck in.

Tuesday morning Zoe opted to hang out on the deck watching the house instead of walking with the gents, but then we took a stroll in late morning around the backyard, startling the groundhogs, admiring the wingspan of the great blue heron, playing a slow-moving kind of hide and seek in the tall grass by the river.  For most of the day afterwards we sat on the balcony together except for when rain chased us inside.  She ate a late breakfast of browned hamburger (organic, local) and grains and watched the river flow by our house while I brought my laptop out there and sat beside her.  When the rain came, we went back in and had a long and very honest conversation.  I lay down beside her and she presented me with her paw, as in, Nice to meet you again, as in, We've done okay, you and I, as in, We can do this part well too, we really can, as in, Thank you.  For a long time it was a contest to see who would break the gaze first.  Her stare is very intense and in the first round, she won, but in the rematch we tied.

Dr. Amy T and Zoe
I talked to Dr. Bravo in Ottawa, her oncologist, and she faxed over a prescription of prednisone to my vet, which many advised is good for the last days because it gives the dog a last boost of appetite and spring in her step and joie de vivre before it's time to say good-bye.

At five o'clock Zoe enjoyed another stroll through the neighborhood.  She met a young chocolate lab on the corner of Riverside and Prospect and it was such a sweet encounter.  They stood a few inches apart from one another wagging tails for the sniff-fest, and then they gently tapped snouts.   Later, Amy came over with the prednisone and her acupuncture needles and Zoe relaxed into a good session on her doggy day bed.  She looked content and peaceful when the needles went in, and afterwards she napped out on the balcony.

I think, from Zoe's point of view, the best part of this new phase is getting to eat what she wants.  We cooked her lamb chops from 8 o'clock ranch and served them on her organic grains mix and some wild rice with beet greens and she devoured every bite. We've got wild salmon from Alaska in the freezer for her, and tonight she'll get what we're having on a plate.

This is our office now
So now it's Wednesday morning and we're on the balcony together, where we'll be all day today when we're not taking a leisurely short walk in the yard or in the 'hood.  When she looks up at me it's as though I were her sculptor and she were posing, or maybe she's the artist and I'm her model.  We know each other's every expression, every head tilt and tone of voice.  She clearly knows we've moved on, into uncharted territory, but I think she also understands that even as I sit a few feet away from her, with every gaze, with every breath, and now, with every stroke of my fingertips at the keyboard, we're together.


  1. i love the conversation you had with Zoe, and she with you looking into each others eyes. When my loved ones have died, and to the people I'm closest to, I feel in our gaze "I see you." I'm lucky to get to see you, Nat. thanks for sharing in this blog.

  2. Sara, you need to be the one writing the blogs and the books. You're a beautiful writer.xxx

  3. When you describe how Zoe met the labrador, you mention how they "gently tapped snouts." My telling misreading of this sentence was "they gently tapped souls." Zoe has certainly tapped some souls through your postings here, and we are all the greater for it. Love you.

  4. Perhaps the soul IS located in the dog's snout? I love the way you read this! Thanks so much, Kate!

  5. I think Kate is right, "let's rub noses like the eskimoses..."
    thanks for your compliment Nat, but thank god you have a sense of humor and something else I can't name...it must be French "je ne sais quoi" , because without your whole self writing what you do, we'd be missing a lot. I first spelled it "je ne sais croix." like st. croix I guess.. see it's so good you are the writer!!

  6. I DID apply for a sense of humor- which may come by next fall. There is hope for me yet.

  7. two tender-hearted girls....it's all about love...xoxo

  8. I can only choose certain times to read this, I'm an extremely emotional reader which equals puffy eyes almost daily if I commit to you. But I do commit to you and I commit to puffy eyes. Thank you for loving Zoe, lovely, wonderful soul mate, as much as a heart can handle. With love to the three of you.

  9. To the emotional reader above--I would be the same way--I am the same way. I almost didn't go to Marly and Me because I knew the dog's death would devastate me. Which is why I'm all that much honored that you have been reading about Zoe and that you wrote these kind words above. xx