Caretaking is damn difficult.
For the past days I have been with my elderly dog, Joy. If you read about her story before, you’ll know that she was on the brink of death about a year ago. Lots of Chinese herbs + healthy home-cooked food later, she’s still here.
Last Thursday, she had another series of mini strokes. She’s had them before, including the week before our Pink Moon Flowerlounge Tour. That was the time she couldn't get up at all, when I carried her 50 lbs outside and threw out my back. For a while, both of us laid on the kitchen floor without being able to get up.
She bounced back to normal + I slowly healed in time for the tour + life as usual.
Until last Thursday. Several mini strokes later, she’s almost fully blind. For the first few days it was rocky. Again, I prepared myself for her flying off, and it’s such a weird feeling to be in a holding pattern from your normal life. It brings up a lot of strange emotions, and there’s a sort of adjustment period of your body + mind getting used to the full stop from normal life.
That salsa dancing weekend with all of my favorite teachers I had been looking forward to? Nope. Planning for the next Flowerlounge tour, because we leave in two weeks? Nope. All those things on my to-do list that is growing by the minute? Nope.
Time slows down to a snail’s pace, when you spend all day, every day at home, trying to stay totally present for your best friend.
During the first few days, after the stroke, Joy’s right side mobility was severely diminished. Almost fully blind after the strokes, she stopped eating and her ability to walk - even with assistance - went away. I slept next to her + trained myself to wake up the moment she would move at night (because even though she couldn't walk, she’d always try, which was a reckless disaster).
Then something kind of miraculous happened. As usual. A la Joy style.
A massive wave of strength + determination took over her and she pretty much demanded that we help walk her around. NON-STOP. It was as if the walking was balancing her brain, getting her muscles working again + helping her regain understanding of the inside and outside spatiality of our house.
For several days my roommates and I walked her around with a harness + a super short leash to help stabilize her. When she’s awake, it’s go time without stopping. Seriously, hours + hours of walking. Only when she finally gets exhausted, she takes a nap.
Last night we woke up so many times during the night … at 1am, 3am, and then up for the day at 5am. #totallysleepdeprived but it has been worth it to see what happens when you trust in the wisdom, spirit and instinct of an animal to know what it needs. Annnnd push past your own irritation at being a 24/7 physical therapy slave. She’s been exhausting all of us!
Today I took her off the leash to walk unassisted for the first time in my bedroom. She walked in circles getting a feel for it by herself, staying on the perimeter and feeling out the edges.
As I write, she’s taking a nap as the sun goes down.
I have always been determined to let my pets transition on their own timeframe. It’s not easy, this care taking. Normal life stops. Emails, routines, leaving the house, ‘me time’, freedom to do whatever you want in any moment - all of it stops. I imagine it’s somewhat like having a baby or caring for your aging parents.
It’s such a huge job to devote yourself to caring 100% for another. I imagine all the people who have loved ones that they look after non-stop. There is pretty much nothing more profound, important, valiant, compassionate and challenging than that. A huge bow of respect to anyone who has looked after a pet, a child or taken care of their elderly parents like this. It’s not easy.
And yet: this precious life. Impermanence. We never really know how long we are here, and how long our loved ones are here. Caring for another being in such a full-on way forces us to be present.
It also encourages us to notice what our minds are like with the full-stop from our lives. What thoughts arise, what unresolved emotions arise, what responses we have to not being able to do the things we love …
Joy’s eyes just opened. She is licking her lips tenderly as she’s waking up, the reflection of the dusk sky in her eyes. My job will start in several minutes. Go time. Compassion in action.
How lucky we are to be able to care for another being. And should that we be cared for in the same way when we are sick or elderly.
Love + flower petals,