The Last Tale of Nigel • June 2012
The End Of An Era. Saying Good-bye To Nigel
He wanders aimlessly beginning in the middle of the night, and he keeps wandering until the next day. He has no destination – he just wanders and paces as if compelled. He sleeps for a little while and then begins to wander again. As he wanders, he makes sweeping motions with his head, perhaps trying to see or listen for something. The house echoes with the sound of his dragging paw, sometimes accompanied by the sickening sound of his head hitting a table leg or a wall. He is unable judge distance; he does not know where his head and body are in relation to any given object. Sometimes when he stops pacing and stands still, his old legs refuse to stay under him. The look in his eyes is vacant – he is void of expression. He is an old dog, a small reddish terrier, with a sweet face. He looks very much like our Nigel, but our Nigel left us a long time ago...
Nigel was the most exuberant of dogs – athletic, energetic, brilliant, with a delightful sense of humor. Nigel loved people and by saying that, it does not begin to describe what I enjoyed for so many years. Nigel adored everyone and seemed confused when everyone did not adore him
in return. This little old dog, however much he looks like Nigel, bears no resemblance to that exuberant being. This little dog is very confused and gets lost in his own home, and sometimes does not recognize me. His tail has not wagged in many months. He often moves away when a gentle hand reaches out to pet him; he now avoids people.
Nigel was fastidious, especially in his potty habits, but this little dog seems afraid to go outside, and he has lost his instinct to be clean. He has lost his “dogness”, he is losing his sight, and he is losing his dignity. He exists, but that is all. When he lost his best friend Divot, he seemed to have lost his purpose. His mind shut down, and his body soon began to follow. Though he is the last thread connecting us to a very special time in our lives, it is unfair to cling to him and to burden him with that. He deserves better.
He has lived a good life – he has had the best of everything. He has been immortalized in word and picture, and he has been loved deeply. He has traveled and enjoyed many exciting adventures: hiking the famous Sedona Red Rocks, frolicking through mountain meadows, and gazing at his reflection in a clear mountain lake. He has waded in the Great Lakes and tested the shallows of the Pacific Ocean. None of that mattered to him though – only the part about being loved ever mattered to him. He has been my most insistent teacher, making me reorient my thinking on so many things, and I have wondered what his final lessons would be – they are patience and empathy.
This elderly little dog has taught me more about patience than Nigel the puppy ever did. This old dog will not learn anything anymore; he is not progressing he is only regressing. He cannot be taught he can only be accepted as how he is. As for the other lesson, I now know the pain of looking into the face of your loved one, only to find that they do not recognize you. They have receded into a secret place and cannot be reached. Their familiar body you know is still present but the mind is far away. For those who have a parent, spouse, or other loved one suffering with Alzheimer’s, your pain must be excruciating.
I love them both – my young, exuberant Nigel of the past, and this peculiar little old dog, but, without quality of life and dignity, there is no reason to go on. Nigel never accepted change easily, and throughout his entire life, he had us, and then his faithful friend Divot to accompany him through changes, helping him feel secure, but now, he must take the next step on his own…
“There, there. Close your eyes and sleep now my old boy. Rest your tired mind and body. I know you do not fear anything. Just let go and feel the love wash over you. There will be no more anxiety and no more confusion, only relief awaits. Thank you for the joy, thank you for the laughter, and thank you for teaching me all that you did. Sleep now old friend, sleep. We will miss you sweet boy. We already do.”
Sho-Me Ketka’s Nigel The Terror 3/30/98-6/15/12
Nigel hiking in Sedona, AZ. So exhuberant and full of life – Age 7.