A journey’s end

Zora died on Saturday night. In spite of what looked like a speedy and impressive recovery from a brief and bitter battle with cancer, a sudden turn had the final say.

After staying with my friend for about three weeks, we were finally able to return to my apartment last week when the subletters moved out.  I was sure this would be exactly what Zora needed to complete her recovery.  Once she could sleep in her favorite spots and return to her routine, all normalcy and happiness would be restored.

But even though we were at home, she stopped eating her prescription food. Then she wouldn’t eat her favorite (pricier) food, even refusing her treats – which normally would be the only thing to get her to break into a jog.  So on Friday, her doctor ran some tests to reveal that her kidneys were the issue – or was it the strange thing they felt in her tummy? – or was it just an infection?  They wouldn’t be sure until Monday when her test results would be returned.  In the meantime, Zora and I were sent home with a bunch of needles and medicines that I would administer over the weekend.

But within a couple of hours of returning home, Zora was different.  She no longer seemed sick.  I could tell she was dying.

Her eyes became a bit glazed.  Alertly disoriented.  Barely blinking, she didn’t sleep for the entire night.  She stared into what seemed like another dimension.  And although she was still aware of me, she also seemed to become aware of something – someone else. She would look up, somewhat startled, as if looking at someone who entered the room.  I wondered if (or hoped) it could be my father – coming to greet her, take care of her for me.

Awake through the night, I was strangely calm.  I understood our time was ending.  I understood that the battle was lost.  I just wanted to treasure every remaining minute.

But it wasn’t until the following evening when I forced myself to let it end.  Knowing this would be the last time she would be at home, the last time she would look out of her favorite window, the last time I would place her in her travel bag, I closed the door behind me and we went to the emergency room.

They prolonged it with some more tests, poking her belly, taking blood and x-rays, and giving me some small percentage of hope that she could come back from where she was going.  But finally they told me what I already knew.

I held her in my arms.  Although she was still disoriented, she looked up at me with recognition.  She was tired. Very calm.

The doctor explained that she would receive two shots – a sedative, then the euthanasia.  As the sedative was given, she curled up to me, turning her face into my chest.  And she was gone before even the first shot was finished.  Perhaps she was relieved.  Warm and far too still in my arms, finally she was resting.

I was broken.  I am broken.

Now the burden of recovery is mine to bear.  Just as she was doing her best to adjust to losing a leg, figuring out how to navigate without being whole, I’m suddenly doing the same.  Eventually my tears will dry.   But right now my heart just aches.

Zora and I were together for almost six years (my longest relationship to date).  She made some major moves with me, remaining patient through (almost) every life change.  Jobs, friendships, and scenery have been different at every turn.  And I’ll admit that sometimes I haven’t felt at all stable – financially…well, yeah, or emotionally.  But Zora was my stability – my consistency.  In spite of our nomadic lifestyle, Zora and I had a feeling of home wherever we went together.  And when I traveled alone, including the recent sojourn to Suriname, Zora still represented home.

Some people may think these types of love and family relationships should be reserved for humans.  But no.  The love of an animal can be given and received quite deeply. And the pain of that love lost is just as deep.

Reaching the end of her journey, Zora decided I would be strong enough to handle the next steps of my journey on my own.  I’m not so sure I agree.  But I have no choice.

Rest in love, Zora.

Zora

Advertisements

The Life List

Vacation in Mexico was enjoyable. It was great to be out of NYC and winter weather, even if just for a short time.

Prior to leaving for vacation, I was inspired by one of the newer reality shows on MTV (honestly, I watch most of them…but few of them actually inspire me), the Buried Life. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a group of white guys who travel the country in an RV, accomplishing everything they’ve previously decided they want to do before they die. Some people refer to a list of such tasks as a “bucket list” (what you want to do before you “kick the bucket”). I didn’t see the movie by that name and I’m not particularly fond of the whole bucket reference. So while I was inspired by the MTV show, I decided to create my own before-i-die list and call it a “life list.”

I put a lot of thought into my life list while I was in Mexico. And when I returned home, I actually wrote the list on paper. As we all know, once something is written on paper (in ink), it’s official. Official, but not complete. I plan to add to the list as new ideas come up. Perhaps I’ll eventually need to factor another person into these plans or I’ll simply discover brand new dreams. For now, I have 17 tasks on my life list. I figured I’d share a few:

*Meet Oprah Winfrey and respond to a question she asks me. I don’t know many people who would turn down an opportunity to meet Oprah. I thought for many years that at some point she would interview me on her show about something amazing I had accomplished. But now that she has announced this looming 2011 end date, the dream of sitting on that stage has fizzled. She simply isn’t giving me enough time to accomplish that amazing something. So instead, I am willing to settle for a brief encounter, during which she may ask me something as simple as “what time is it?” or “are you the one who slipped past my security?” As long as our meeting consists of Oprah asking me a question and expecting an answer, I will be satisfied.

*Experience genuine, authentic, romantic love. I have said “I love you” in several relationships (okay, four). I believed I was in love each time. But I also knew I was only capable of being in love to the extent that I understood what that meant. And my understanding of love has changed over time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still not sure I’ll recognize the real thing when I experience it. But I can say, with relative confidence, that I have yet to say the ever so important three words with any sort of accuracy or legitimacy. I feel confident that I will one day.

*Drive across the country (in either direction). This is just one of those classic things you have to do at least once. For all the time I spend on planes, one might think I had experienced more of this country. But my domestic travel experience is not so impressive. And since I don’t need to spend tons of time in most of those states in the middle, driving through should be sufficient. Both times I changed coasts (Philly to Oakland then Oakland to Brooklyn), I planned to drive. And both times the plan changed for practical reasons. I would prefer to make the trip under more leisurely, less stressful circumstances anyway. And although taking a vacation alone is another item on my life list, I wouldn’t want the cross country drive to be the alone vacation. I think this one would be best shared.

* Take an international vacation alone. I spend tons of time alone. And fortunately, I enjoy my own company. So that’s not a bad thing at all. But being alone under certain circumstances can become a personal challenge. Eating in a restaurant, going to the movies, buying a house. Big and small things can feel different when you experience them alone versus with another or several others. I have conquered the restaurant and movie thing many times. And I have taken tons of work trips alone that require solo hotel stays and dining. And I even spent a couple of months in Greece, visiting islands and exploring, most of the time by myself (and I was oh so happy to have visitors during that time). But I have never purchased an international flight and hotel with the intention of going on vacation for and by myself. I don’t feel the need to check this one off the list right away. I’m saving it for a time in my life when I will be seeking an opportunity to appreciate the alone time. I’m sure I’ll know that time when it comes. Hopefully the people in my life at that time will understand.

So there’s a sampling of my life list. So far I don’t have anything too off the wall. The list isn’t for shock value or to compete with other list-makers. It’s just for me. The things that will help me make the most of my time here. And since I’m a master at wasting time, I’m pleased the list is written in ink, official, and putting on the pressure.