Monthly Archives: March 2011


Did I act in his best interest? Not according to Gregory M. Dennis and the AVMA.

It’s funny how you can just be going about your day and then something comes along and punches you in the gut. Not that I have been feeling particularly happy lately. Though my mood is not as relentlessly wretched, I have not quite recovered my equilibrium after that post. I have been feeling sad and melancholy of late, just missing him so much. But today I was at work reading an article on pet guardianship vs. ownership from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that had landed in my inbox when I got to this paragraph:

Guardianship is a fiduciary relationship—the highest civil relationship owed by one person to another—in which a guardian must always act in the best interest of the ward. If this relationship were applied to animals and their owners, Dennis says any number of legal dilemmas could unfold. In veterinary medicine, for instance, euthanasia could become far more problematic because how can ending an animal’s life be in its best interest? (emphasis added)

And then I started crying. “…because how can ending an animal’s life be in its [sic] best interest?” How? Indeed. The guy who said that is an attorney and not a veterinarian. I can’t imagine a veterinarian saying this; in fact my trusted veterinarian gently but emphatically stated many times that NOT ending Alec’s life would not only not have been in his best interests, but also would have crossed the line into the opposite territory, because he had begun to suffer. And he was never going to get better. OR feel better. Ever again. In all likelihood he would die a painful and frightening death if I did not help him transition (a gentle, spiritual way to put what feels like the worst thing you could ever do: kill your best friend [and even as I type this I know it is wrong. I did not kill him – the cancer did. I helped him die, a tragedy of unimaginable proportions that was happening with or without me]). So I can’t imagine a vet saying the above. Even my dad (not exactly a radical type) would disagree. He often says it is ridiculous that humans don’t have the same right (except in Oregon and Washington) to choose death with dignity.

So I know this, right? And I know it is stupid. But why did tears fill my eyes? Why did I feel as though I had been punched in the gut? I emailed Mike and he told me what I needed to hear. He was there, after all. He saw Alec. He saw him more clearly than me because I didn’t want to let go. I had so much trouble. Again words could never capture my agony in taking that final action (how forced I felt…out of options, out of time), which I only could have found the strength to do if I believed with all my heart it was the most compassionate choice – that there really was no other choice if I truly loved Alec. And I did. I do. So I had to. But for some reason, reading this crushed me. I told Mike I feel like there is always just a thin layer between me and crumbling. He said “there is a thin layer for all of us, especially when you care about another being so much.” I guess that’s true.

It’s funny too because while the decision was the hardest most gut wrenching thing I have ever had to do, it wasn’t something I really questioned. Oh I did beforehand, of course. But I never would have made it if it was not the right choice. No, no, no. I have regretted many things since that day – most of all being put in that position in the first place. But I did not make that choice lightly. I guess it will always haunt me even though it was the right thing. What haunts me is having to say good-bye. Of course I wish I hadn’t. But he was dying, with or without my help. And because it was hard on me was not a reason to not end his life. It was an act of compassion, the last one I could do for him. As I have told so many people in a similar position: a painless death is the last gift you can give them (it was so obvious when I said this to my friends; it’s harder to heed your own advice), but it tore my heart out. And there is still a gaping hole there. The wind blows right through.

So you know what? Screw you, Mr. Dennis, for saying that and making me crumble all over again. I know you said it because you have an agenda, which involves trying to scare people away from the term “guardian” with alarmist hypothetical scenarios (even though it has virtually no legal significance). But you should think before you speak. You are wrong and it is not true. How can ending an animal’s life be in his or her interest? Ask a veterinarian. You should be ashamed of yourself, and the AVMA should be ashamed to have you working for them. I am aware that many people euthanize pets prematurely (or put them to death for trivial reasons involving convenience) and this is a tragedy, but many animals also suffer when their guardians, owners, caretakers — whatever terminology we use — well-meaning though they may be, selfishly make their animal companions hold on because they are unable to let go. I am sure you are aware of this fact, but disregarded it in favor of making a dramatic point. Well, I think you are a jerk for making me cry at work.

You see, that’s why writing can be therapeutic. I just shifted from crumbled to righteous indignation in about ten minutes. I am not a big fan of anger, but at least I stopped crying. Until the next punch in the gut. But that’s the thing about grieving: it’s not easy. And sometimes your emotions will be ambushed from the most unexpected places.

For every decision, big and small, I ever had to make on Alec’s behalf throughout his life only one question guided me, and it had nothing to do with finances, convenience, or expediency: What was in his best interests? I don’t mean to imply this was ever easy, especially when he struggled with terminal cancer, and later when his body began to succumb to the disease. In fact these were the most difficult decisions I have ever in my life made (even more difficult than those I had to make after he became paralyzed a mere two years earlier). It is much harder to make life-or-death decisions on behalf of someone else, someone who cannot talk and is entirely dependent upon your judgment. This is a lot of responsibility and it requires setting aside incredibly strong emotions so you can balance your own need to never let go of someone you love so dearly, and the need to see what is in his best interests (and then to act on this knowledge, a separate but equally difficult task).

Alec didn’t like cameras much but I (obviously) overruled him on that; however, I always put his needs first when it counted. There were too many things that were out of my control, but I did the best I could. I think I did okay. I think he was happy most of the time. All I ever wanted was to give Alec a good life. When that was no longer an option, the only thing left for me to give him was a good death. I’m so sorry, Alec. I wish with all my heart I never had to make that decision. I never wanted to let you go. But it would have been wrong to let you suffer.



Filed under Euthanasia, Grief and loss


“May I accept the rhythms of grieving. I have enough to worry about without scolding myself that I’m still so vulnerable.” This is the daily affirmation for March 12 from Healing after Loss. Sound advice. So I will not apologize or feel bad about my previous meltdown (or continued blue mood), but in the name of balance, today I would like to discuss something more positive: lifeboats.

After tearfully typing out my previous post I stumbled over to the couch and sank into wretchedness. I was a complete and utter wreck. I tried to read, but could not. I tried to do other menial tasks, but could not. I contemplated leaving my apartment, but could not. So I just sat on the couch and cried. I tried to fend off the tears at first, but once I gave in, they did not want to stop.  As I sat there lost in misery, quickly decimating a box of tissues, my phone rang. It was my friend Mike, asking if I wanted to take a walk with him and his dog and then drive downtown, maybe do some shopping, grab a drink. Oh thank goodness!! It was exactly what I needed and he absolutely rescued me from the the wretchedness of that wretched day. I could not have been more grateful, not only for a reason to leave my apartment, but also for the company. He saved me on a very bad day with the simple act of inviting me out. He listened to me cry as I explained what I was feeling and why, and then we moved onto other subjects. I immediately felt lighter for having talked about it and I  appreciated him asking, and listening. I know it is not easy to sit with someone’s tears and just listen to the stuttering and blubbering (in my case). I’m sure it’s frustrating to know you can’t make it all better, but it is tremendously helpful to someone who is grieving to GET IT OUT (another reason this blog has helped me, but writing is not the same as having a two-sided conversation), especially when enough time has gone by where you don’t feel comfortable reaching out, if you ever did in the first place. Sometimes you don’t know you need to talk until you do it. It was a case of excellent timing, that day. So thanks, Mike.

I will never forget when Mike said good-bye to Alec. He told him: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her.” Though we have had our ups and downs certainly, he has kept his promise and been a lifeboat for me many times since Alec left. Such simple things like friendship and companionship can be so comforting (although nothing is simple when it comes to grief, and some relationships don’t survive the strain). It helps that Mike’s dog is his best friend, too. He “gets it” as much as anyone can, although he is as much a stranger to what I am going through as I was before it happened.

I can’t thank all my little lifeboats here, but Mike would be at the top of the list, along with Kristine, who babysat me for a whole month after Alec died, and Cara, who never stopped checking on me and letting me know in a thousand ways big and small that she was there, even though she lives far away. And of course Alec’s wonderful vet (now my friend), Dr. Kristin Sulis, who patiently and with compassion listened to me cry, beg, bargain, deny, rant, talk in circles, and ask a million questions over, and over, and over again in the heart wrenching days and weeks leading up to the awful day when I was forced to separate myself from Alec, forced to make his suffering stop.

When Alec and I were together, I felt grateful all the time; now it is harder for me to access this feeling. But I am grateful to the people — some good friends and some I have never met — who have reached out to me with love and empathy. So, to anyone who has listened to me cry or laugh or just talk about Alec since he died, thank you. To everyone who has left an encouraging word on my Facebook page or a kind comment on this blog, thank you. I realize how hard it is to know what to say in this situation; I get it. If you said something, anything, thanks. It has truly meant a lot to me.

I happen to have pictures of Ali with three of the people I just mentioned, so this helps me with my slow motion project of starting to go through photos. Today’s entry: Alec and a few of my lifeboats…thanks for keeping me from drowning.

Ali and Mike on a sun-soaked afternoon in June 2010, the month before Alec died. Mike will always have an extra special place in my heart because he was there when I said good-bye to Alec. He also took care of me (and many details I could not handle) that night and in the next few days before I got on a plane and fled to Kristine in N.J. I will never forget he was present when I did the hardest thing I have ever had to do: authorize the shot that would make Alec go to sleep forever. This I had to do because he was suffering. I can’t put words to how awful it was, but it would have been so much worse if Mike wasn’t there.

Thanks, Mike, for making (and keeping) that promise to Alec.

Me and Ali and Cara, June 2009. Even though we had not been friends very long, Cara called and emailed me countless times after Alec died and never gave up reaching out to let me know she was thinking about me, even when I could not respond. Thanks, Cara, for being a constant presence even though you were far away.

Isn’t he beautiful?

And last but not least, my sweet sister Kristine, to whom I ran in my darkest hour of need; she took care of me for a whole month after Alec died. After more than 30 years of friendship, we also share a special and uncommon bond. Thank you, Kristine, for sheltering me. This was taken in December 2009 at Kelly Point Park in North Portland.

Finally, to the greatest lifeboat of all. I miss you so much, Ali.

(and I am most grateful to you.)


Filed under Grief and loss, Love after death


And today I can’t stop crying. What is this? Nothing makes sense to me anymore. All I keep thinking is, “I am pretending.” I am pretending to be okay. I can’t really grasp what has happened. Not just his death, all the circumstances surrounding it. Why? Why did it happen? I know that no one can answer this. There is no reason. But I miss him so, so, so much. And some days I can’t keep up the pretense that I’m fine without him. That I’m fine with time rocketing me away from the place where I last saw him. What is wrong with me? Will I never be okay again? I know loss can be transformative but not in a bad way, right? Everyone talks about the gifts. I feel nothing but robbed. It sounds self-centered, I know. Why am I not grateful for the time we spent together? Why do I just dwell on him dying too soon? On his being struck down when he had already been through so much. I was so happy. I feel I will never be happy again. There is the ugly truth. It is wretched. I am wretched. And I miss him so much I can’t stop crying even though it has been seven months.  I want him back so badly. Please come back. Please come back. Please. come. back.  How on earth do people deal with this? There is obviously something wrong with me, something missing, that I can’t get over this. Will a drug help me? Some magic pill? I tried to embrace the faith that I will see him again, but some days it is so hard and it seems impossible. I went to a party last night and drank too much. I am hungover today and already felt awful. I know this is making me raw, my emotions are bubbling too close to the surface because I don’t feel well. I guess the lesson is to take care of yourself when you’re grieving. Everything is always worse with hangover. I learned that in the beginning, but I guess some lessons keep coming back around. But this wretchedness is almost unbearable. It is a place without hope or purpose. It is like a trap I can’t get out of, because that trap is me. Me without Alec. Everyone says this is the cost of loving someone deeply, and that it is better to have loved. I just don’t know. The price is too high.

I have a little book called Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Though Grief. In the beginning I read each entry every day; now I flip it open occasionally, usually when I need some help or guidance. Today’s entry was, appropriately, about mood swings:

Whereas previously our moods seemed simply sad with occasional patches of light, now we may find an unsettling variety in our feelings, as happy times seem engrossing and satisfying, and then we are plunged into sadness again. Perhaps we can learn to accept these mood swings, recognizing the reality of each, knowing light gives way to darkness and darkness to light.

When we begin to feel better we enter a new range of feelings, maybe even some guilt – How could I feel good when the one I loved is gone? but even putting that false monster aside, the mood fluctuation can be unsettling. We’ll be having a genuinely wonderful time, freed at last from that continual background music of sadness. Then we remember and it feels like dropping through a trapdoor – a much more sudden and upsetting shift than when sadness was our prevailing mood… (March 6)

It does feel like dropping through a trap door, one with no floor, like you will never stop falling. And the thing is, I know that what I am feeling is normal. There will be ups and downs. Better days and harder days. Hope and despair. I know this intellectually. This is grief. Seven months isn’t that long. There probably isn’t anything wrong with me other than the usual. But this knowledge doesn’t help. It doesn’t lessen the pain. Because while there may be nothing wrong with me, my life feels wrong…which happens to be a title of a nice pop song by East River Pipe, so here you go: My life is wrong. Why not make a mix tape out of my grief?

you were a meteor
you were a dinosaur
you were the two by four
that cracked me in my head last night
let me wake up right
let me wake up right
because I know my life is wrong.

Post Script: I banged this out yesterday morning while sobbing and making my way through half a box of tissues, and yes, it was a wretched day and honestly, it scared the shit out of me. I have had inklings of this feeling, but now I realize it’s hiding just underneath at all times and when I get tired, sick, hungover, or even emotional about something else going on in my life, it comes roaring to the surface, snarling and gnashing its teeth, and makes everything so much worse. I don’t mean to imply I don’t miss him every day – of course I do – but this feeling of frantic desperation, almost of terror, is more rare.

I realized this new cheery certainty that I am going to see him again, that this is a temporary separation (it’s like he’s just out of town! [chirp! smile!]), is like the nervous too-wide smile plastered on the face of someone who is perilously close to panic. I am trying a little too hard to convince myself everything is okay, maybe. I didn’t realize it was work keeping that up. I am not doing it for anyone but myself and it is what I need to do, so I have embraced it, reason be damned (intuition be embraced!). But it’s only part of the story. I guess the takeaway lesson is to never let myself become hungover, tired, or emotionally upset ever again lest the demons of doubt, hopelessness, and wretchedness come screaming back to tear away my tenuous and uneasy peace. Sigh. Good luck with that, right?

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Filed under Grief and loss