I spent some time the other night with an old friend. He's actually not that old, 50 something, but he sure looks it.
Cancer tends to do that to some people, especially if it's winning.
It started out as prostate cancer, but it didn't want to stay put, despite the tremendous efforts of the docs. It's now in his spine, causing him "discomfort" as he calls it. Gawdawful and almost unbearable pain is how I know it really is. He's been fighting the valiant fight, not letting it be all consuming, but it is of course- physically, if not mentally. Paralyzation is probably on the horizon for him, but you'd never know it.
Talk about dying with dignity. This guy is the epitome of spirit and joy. He doesn't give a flying flip that he's dying of cancer and he's not letting it slow him down a lick. As I've mentioned before, I'm usually scarce around these parts because of my involvement in a charitable organization. This guy, knowing his time on God's good Earth was limited, stepped up into the top leadership position for that group. He was absent a few times early on, as chemo and radiation were in full swing, but he still showed up in between sessions. And he keeps on keeping on.
I thought it would be a little sad to visit him, and it was, but only for a minute. His exuberance and zest for life is almost contagious. He doesn't ignore or deny the disease, he just doesn't make a big deal out of it. I soon caught his attitude and we had a really nice visit. We joked about a few things. I made him laugh out loud with the sea story about my call sign and a few others that aren't quite as tame. I thought I'd spend just a short time- 30 minutes at the most, expecting his pain to get the best of him, and then I would need to graciously bow out. The visit was a true pleasure though and I was there for nearly two hours. I think I got more out of the visit than he did.
Here in the communist state of California, he's free to off himself, because just like my other home state- Oregon, we have our own Dr. Kevorkian law. It's currently allowed to those with a terminal disease and six months or less to live. Of course, there's a push to allow it within 12 months, and I've even heard talk of a full year and a half. My friend will have none of it of course- respecting the sanctity of life from birth to natural death. Some would say that succumbing to cancer isn't a natural one, but it is, and much more so than taking a lethal concoction of poisons.
Earlier in my life, I never really knew death. Now that I'm older, I'm making up for lost time it seems. My maternal grandparents had passed before I was born, and my father's folks didn't go until my folks were divorced and I was away. There were some fellow aviators of course- Naval Aviation is an inherently dangerous sport and you can't go a full career without knowing someone whose time had run out, but no one very close to me. It wasn't until I'd been married for almost 10 years that I experienced a loss that truly affected me.
His name was Jack and he was my wife's West Highland White Terrier.
It's strange how a family pet can weave its way into your heart. Jack didn't like me at first- quite jealous he was, of her affection for me. But he quickly became my buddy and the affection shifted. When my wife had to put him down after he fell down our stairs and slipped a disk in his back, I was out to sea. So the grieving had to be in the privacy of my stateroom.
I probably already wrote about Mickey- our rescued Jack Russell in the picture with the Teenangster above. 17 is quite old for any dog, even a little guy like him. He gave us 12 great years, and we realize that we tripled the life he was supposed to have. My wife bribed the handler at the kill shelter in Florida where we saw him just on the other side of the rope- in the "unadoptable" side. She sneaked him out the side door and he's been very loyal ever since. Vet visits, some accidents in the house, a couple of very frail legs and doggy dementia have been what he and my family have experienced recently. Par for the course we believe. It's just what a pet owner has to deal with when you love a dog for its whole life.
That life had to come to an end last night however. All the factors I'd mentioned above had gotten worse and the vet said he definitely had debilitating arthritis, and probably cancer of one kind or another. He had his good days and his bad days, but the good days were far outnumbered by the bad ones. When his legs would give out, he'd often lose control of a certain function, looking up at us as if he felt ashamed, and that we'd punish him or something. We'd just pick him up, clean him off, and give him a good scratch behind the ears. Even that seemed to be uncomfortable to him recently though so we knew it was time.
My wife had given him the best last day ever, taking him through the drive through for a cheeseburger, a huge spoon of peanut butter for dessert, and lots of loving. We called in a vet who does final house calls and she was great- explaining everything to us in detail, preparing us for the transition. My wife was a mess, but she knew we were doing the right thing by him. My daughter was teary-eyed, as I was, but kept her composure. She is her father's daughter after all, sometimes to a fault.
That'll be the last of the pets for a while in the Tuna household. The losses add up and we need a break. Approaching the mid-century mark, I know more and more old folks, and their losses tend to happen every so often. I know it's part of life, and I should get used to it, but it still hurts.
Especially when it's a member of your family. Here's to you Mickey, our lizard-slaying, bunny-chasing spring-loaded little buddy. Thanks for being my pal for so many years.