Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Twitter: messages in bottles from stranded naufragés

A very dear friend Twittered last night that he might be dying.*

Depuis 15 h, ma température est passée de 99,3 à 100,7. Je suis conscient que ma vie peut se jouer dans les heures à venir. Sentiment d’aventure…

He’s worried about the folks he’d leave behind.

Il y a des gens ici qui ont besoin de moi. Je ne dis pas émotionnellement, bien que cette dimension soit évidemment présente, mais directement, de manière très concrète, parce que leur vie est imbriquée dans la mienne. Je ne connais pas de tristesse plus profonde que ce sentiment de devoir, peut-être, abandonner ces gens qui m’ont donné leur confiance. À nouveau se battre.

He has a form of muscular dystrophy. Ten years ago he weighed 56 pounds, including the three steel rods in his spine; today he probably weighs less. He has trouble breathing because of his muscle wasting and he has just caught some sort of nasty cold from one of his staff. She was really really sick, so he is expecting to get really really sick, and when someone in his condition gets that sick they don’t always get better. He was watching his temperature go up last night and wondering whether to call an ambulance to be taken to the Montreal Chest Hospital. I’ll be making calls later this morning to find out the outcome.

He and his sister (who has the same genetic condition and lives in an adjacent apartment) do some wonderful, intensive work for people who are marginal in our society. They have employed illiterate people, drug addicts, people without family, and immigrants – particularly from Haiti. They employed me. They don’t pay much: they receive an allowance from the government to hire staff for a little over minimum wage, so the staff they hire are people who are unable to find better-paying work. They teach them french, they coach them in relationships, they explain Québec culture and help people figure out how to cope with their new situations. They have shared their living space. Whatever they can do to help someone develop their full potential. Most of all, they offer profound, unjudging friendship.

My friend is a disabled man without paid employment, but far from being a burden on society he is a householder who will leave behind people who will be poorer for his loss.

We all know he is going to die. We first met in the late eighties, when he was seventeen. He thought he might have ten years left then, for the last five of which he wouldn’t have the strength to lift a pencil. He’s outlived everyone’s expectations. But we all hope… not yet. Please.

*** *** ***
A friend responds, “What an incredible opportunity to thank him for all that he has meant to you and the world.” Wise advice, and I will follow it.

* If you’re wondering why these tweets are longer than 140 characters, it’s called Twitlonger.

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Little things.

Filed under: compassion — alison @ 08:16

After a series of little things, or perhaps not-so-little things making themselves felt as little things, I came home last night, yelled at Mark and threw myself onto the bed, kicking the mattress and sobbing into my pillow.

This morning there was a busker in the metro. An old west-indian guy who’s been a regular as long as I’ve been working downtown. Strumming his acoustic guitar and singing his familiar, comforting, hopeful reggae.

I gave him a dollar. He gave me a smile.

Little things.

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009


Filed under: compassion,death,dogs,how to,vet — alison @ 22:13

We found out about the brain tumour on a Friday. Over the weekend I called the people who needed to know (the dog lady; my ex) and mentioned it to the neighbours. By Monday I had made up my mind, so I called the vet to book the final appointment. Pepe was not in immediate distress, so I just asked for the first sunny day… which turned out to be Tuesday, the next day. I called Mark to tell him, but he just wasn’t ready. I asked if he wanted to wait, and he said yes. So I cancelled the appointment.

Over the next few days Pepe had ups and downs. Sometimes he would eat; other days he would just sleep. I asked Mark if I could make another appointment, and he agreed so I did. This appointment was again on a Tuesday, a week after the first one.

On the weekend we took Pepe on a nice long walk along the river.

When we got back we dug a nice big hole under the patio stones in the back yard.

Pepe tried out the hole and approved it.

Today I came home from work at mid day and we took the dogs out for a sunny walk in the park. Pepe peed on things.

I took off his harness and he stolidly pressed on and followed me. This was poignant because Pepe runs away and is not bright enough to come when called. Today he was slow and tired enough that for the first time ever I could let him off leash and he could walk around on his own.

When Pepe got tuckered out we dropped our other dog off at home, picked up a towel and continued to the vet.

The vet handled everything beautifully and quickly. She reassured us that we were not being premature.

We held and petted Pepe for a few minutes after his heart stopped until we were sure he could not be conscious any more, wrapped him in the towel and carried him home. Mark wanted to bury him right away, but I felt as though he were just sleeping so I insisted we wait until he got cold so that he would feel dead.

After about an hour I acknowledged that he was cold enough. We put him in the hole.

I didn’t want dirt to get in his eyes so I put a paper towel over his head. Mark filled the hole halfway with dirt, I used the hose to fill it with water, then Mark filled it in with the rest of the dirt. I put the patio stones back to cover the spot. When the soil settles Mark will reset the patio stones so they are level.

We went into the house to put away his things – collar, winter sweaters, the baby carrier I used to carry him when we went for long walks, his basket. Then we went out to a Mexican restaurant in his honour and came back to no trace of him left in the house.

(No need for sympathies in comments or emails; he had a good life and we’re fine.)

Thursday, July 30th, 2009


Filed under: compassion,death,dogs,vet — alison @ 11:01

Pepe has his final appointment at 14h40 on August 4th. The receptionist at the clinic offered me the choice of two vets, both of whom I like, so I told her to choose whichever one coped best with performing euthanasia. “It’s hard on both of them.”

Yeah, I figured as much. That’s why I had been kind of hoping it would be the vet I like less.

I’m ok with it. I’ve been reviewing my dates and I think he’s 15 years old. It’s just hard getting the balance right: you don’t want to drag an animal’s life out with indefinite suffering, but if the only goal is to spare suffering you might as well drown them at birth. 

Of course it’s going to upset me more than I think, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

Next decision: shall we spend our weekend digging a nice deep hole in the back yard?

Monday, July 27th, 2009

À chaque jour suffit sa peine.*

Filed under: biblical quotes,compassion,death,dogs,vet — alison @ 12:26
Thanks for everyone’s warm thoughts.
We’ll be taking Pepe for his final trip to the vet in a week or two. I’d be ready to take him this week, but Mark is not. I’m keeping an eye on the weather forecasts so I can spend a day in the sun with him and take him to the vet right after.
He’s not suffering today, and that’s the point for me. I know he will start suffering again soon and taking him in while he’s still cheerful is the only way to avoid it.
I expect it will be harder than I think when the time comes, but that is the future. I mean for Pepe and me to enjoy the present.
 *Matthew 6:34. The English version is the convoluted “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Apologies for those allergic to religious texts, but they can be goldmines of pithy aphorisims.) (Interestingly, the Dutch version “Leef dus gewoon bij de dag” does not refer to pain or evil at all, whether elegantly or inelegantly.)

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

crimes against the present

Filed under: compassion,death,illness,woo — alison @ 06:15

Mark brought our excellent neighbour over to the house yesterday to give her a tour and show her how to water the plants while we’re gone. She’s been preoccupied lately with her brother, whose health is not good these days. He has cancer which has progressed and metastasized to his brain. Our neighbour described in detail the support she is offering him: potent vegetable juices to boost his immune system; coaching to boost his morale. “You’re only fifty-seven! You don’t want to die now. Just think, you’re about to enjoy your retirement! Fight! Live!”

Oh dear. Magical thinking. Ineffective remedies. And badgering the poor man in his last days. Can’t she just let him die in peace?

And then I thought: good thing he’s not my brother. I’d probably be muttering “What, not dead yet? What are you waiting for? Look, it’s in your brain, no point in hanging on now.” At least my neighbour’s brother knows he is loved.

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