Good morning dear family,
Zoe is still here, but she refused food early. I shall offer food again when she awakens, and seeks me out.
I am still thinking of Tennyson's famous "Break, break, break," written as a mournful meditation after his dear friend died suddenly of an aneurism while he was visiting Germany. They were then each about 22 or so, and this poem was written some few years later, I believe.
Consider the last stanza, because the poem builds up to it:
Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
It seems to me that the poet expresses his feelings very well, but in thoughts that are a partial truth, partial non-truth. Yes, "the tender grace of a day that is dead" will not "come back to me" in the form in which it came originally. Each moment is a unique creation, never to be repeated. But we need to think a little more about the matter, to balance emotional truth with a fuller and more truthful account of reality.
First, in some ways, through remembering, the experiences of the past ("grace of a day") are not simply "dead," but partially live. As we remember, we make present again, to an extent, albeit imperfectly, and surely changed, as we change. But that is okay. We can draw from the wonderful experiences of the past new insight, new inspiration, new love. The point here is not just to forget. True, Mr. Tennyson, what you experienced, and especially your friend as he was "will never come back" to you in the way he was present to you before. But that awareness should not close one off to other ways in which a friend and experiences may come back. And they do come back, if we are open to a fuller reality.
Compare, for example, that line from Shakespeare's Sonnets that remains my favorite line in that great collection, and one which I think about often. Writing to a presumably new friend, Shakespeare says, "Thou art the grave where buried love doth live." Ah. Yes. In loving anew, in truly loving, all whom we have loved are in some way present to us, if we but have the hearts/minds to see. Not the same, not exactly the way it was, or the one whom we knew, but the best of one's love lives again, and takes new flight. And in loving anew, our loves of yesterday not only live again, but are "purified," or made more whole, more balanced.
I know well that every friend, every one we love, is unrepeatable, unique. And yet, in the act of love, of genuine love, we experience an openness to being, to reality, and we may indeed find, put poetically, that our "buried love" lives in the one we now love truly. I hope that you have had this life-affirming experience.
As I think back, after the wrenching death of Rummy in 2005, and my early encounters with young Zoe, I gradually came to see that in loving her, I was also loving Rummy, and I let her know that. I do not mean to moralize about this matter, but it does not honor our deceased loved one to close up our hearts to loving anew. On the contrary, we honor those we have loved best by venturing forth to love again. Yes, it will be different, and of course every being is unique. But Shakespeare saw the matter truly: one experiences one's loves of old coming to life again as one loves, here and now. Love immortalizes.
Or so it seems to me. And in a few days or weeks when my beloved Zoe has left this world, do not hesitate to remind me of what I have written, and challenge me to love Moses, and perhaps another soul in need, as I have loved Zoe, and let that love live again in a new and life-giving way.
20 January 2014 0500
Today looks as though it may be rougher. Zoe went out at midnight to empty her bladder, and whether or not she vomited then, I do not know, because of darkness. At 0200 she was outside again, with Moses. She rested a while, but by 0430 she was sitting in front of me, looking up at me, and raising her paw. What she wants or needs, I do not know for sure.
Shortly before 0500, we walked in the backyard for ten minutes, and she urinated, rolled on the ground, sniffed, barked at someone walking behind the rectory at the school, but I did not see her vomit, and I was watching. We came in, I offered each dog a little scrambled egg, but she turned around and withdrew to bed. By her bodily restlessness in the past hour, I would guess that she feels some abdominal discomfort, and that dissuades her from eating. Moses ate his portion greedily, as a healthy Lab would do.
I keep thinking of the song, “Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine…” Living in the present is crucial, but one can take it too far, as this song does: “Who cares what tomorrow will bring?” Well, I care. I would have sung, “Who knows what tomorrow will bring,” which is true; but care we must, for it is part of our human task to provide for ourselves and our loved ones a safe, healthy life, to the extent possible. And I care what tomorrow may bring, because my dear friend is living on the edge of death. I care very much that she live, live well, be happy. That is part of love. And so is my bearing with her as she undergoes physical wasting away. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
May our common Creator sustain us, and give me insight as to how to help Zoe as well as possible. May I recognize and attend to her basic needs, and bear with her patiently and gently. And as Zoe dies, may I do my priestly and domestic duties as well as possible, and not neglect either the parishioners nor Moses. When sorrow arises in my heart, may I remember gratitude, and the sufferings of others. For all of us go through this process of dying with our family, friends, and loved ones, again and again. May the Creator help me to treasure Life, this day and always. As my grand-mother said in her dying words, “Don’t ever forget; life is a beautiful thing.” Life is beautiful and good, although it surely includes sufferings and sometimes evils with which we must live and overcome to the best of our abilities. For those with ears, there remains the divine promise: “You shall live and have your life as a prize of war,” of struggle, says the prophet Jeremiah (ch 21).
January 19, 7:00 p.m.
Today was a rallying day for Zoe. Last evening and yesterday morning I managed to give her some good nutrition, without stimulating vomiting. I pulverized chicken, and hand-fed it to her. Then this morning, our vet, Dr. Micki, came to Belt to attend Mass here, and administered an injection of a medication that blocks the trigger to vomit provoked by cancer. So today, Zoe has been fed. I deem it of considerable importance what I learned: that when a dog has cancer, do not feed carbohydrates, such as rice, but feed them protein and fat—including fish oil. So Zoe was given scrambled eggs today, and chicken, a couple cans of special diet for very ill dogs, a little pulled pork (without sauce), small pieces of cheese, fish oil mixed into her food. As of 7 this evening, the food has not been vomited up. That alone gives me considerable relief. How long will it last? Dr. Micki gave me pills to get into Zoe every other day to block the vomiting action of cancer. Only with some good food, not being vomited back up, can Zoe live more than a few days.
And yet, I know that this remedy is temporary, and one could say that it “prolongs her dying.” I see no reason to watch her starve to death, if medication is available to control the kind of gut-wrenching vomiting she has exhibited. Yes, Zoe is dying, but at least for today, she had some energy, ran a few tenths of a mile, walked a brief time with me, stayed close to my side this evening, and displays more of her characteristic life.