By Carol Mackenzie Jackson
Pets (and people) leave us in a variety of ways. Sometimes suddenly, often unexpectedly. And sometimes we are gifted with more time. So far the loved ones I have lost have left suddenly. I often wondered if I were brave enough to endure a long goodbye.
The answer came from my hamster, Isabelle, who “chose” to spend her final days (and nights) with me. She was sleepy and peaceful to the end -- despite her swollen belly and wasted limbs. Cancer can creep up quickly on older hamsters, as my vet explained. She gently drew off some fluid and provided a mild diuretic. Isabelle became and stayed comfortable. And so we received our gift of time, spent on long talks, formerly forbidden treats and even a road trip.
Isabelle wasn’t the prettiest hamster. When I met her nearly two years ago, her chaotic, calico coloring of black, orange and tan was somewhat startling. She looked like a miniature, disheveled Halloween costume. But her shiny black eyes pierced my heart and soon we were on our way home.
There is never enough time with something (or someone) you love. I was out of work during much of the time Isabelle was with me. We had our morning routine -- a chat on the living room floor while she savored a tiny fruit or nut treat. Like most hamsters, she slept most of the day. But invariably her pink nose would appear in the window of her house if she heard my voice. No doubt she was hoping for a repeat treat.
At sundown she would emerge from her house with a magnificent stretch and yawn.
She would putter around for a short while. Then just as I was sitting down to dinner she would post herself at her cage door. If not attended promptly she would gnaw on the bars or shake the entire cage from one of the corners. Her goal was to arrive on the couch with me, where she would scamper around, stand and sniff, and survey the small stockpile of food she had tucked behind one of the pillows. As she got older (and sicker) she would eventually tuck her head under my ankle and take an evening nap.
One evening I fell asleep, allowing Isabelle to stage a surreptitious escape. Fortunately I found her the next morning, dozing happily under the dishwasher.
Denial is a great protector – or at least it helps us to procrastinate. I could see Isabelle slowing down, but could easily equate that with age. She was eating (never a problem) and eliminating normally, and showing no signs of distress. However an unmated female has no reason to develop a swollen belly. Reluctantly I took her to our vet. It was there that my denial dissolved into sobs and the dying process began.
When time is short, it becomes achingly precious. I decided that since I didn’t know how much time Isabelle and I had left, we would make the most of it. That is, as long as she was comfortable. I had already planned a long road trip to visit my sister, and Isabelle came along. Mostly, she slept. But I’ll never forget sharing those long miles – all 500 of them, in fact, one for nearly every day we spent together.
The universe has a way of speaking to us. In order to hear Isabelle, I kept her cage by my bed at night. Occasionally I would wake to familiar chewing or sipping sounds. Near the end I thought I heard a sigh. I opened my eyes to find Isabelle directly in the beam of the full moon, sleeping peacefully. Her faint “smile” told me I had done the right things. She passed away quietly a few days later.
Good bye, Isabelle. You were the brave one.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright ©2010 Carol Mackenzie Jackson