The Last Tale of Nigel
The End of an Era
He wanders aimlessly starting sometime in the night, and keeps wandering until daylight comes. 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 echos 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 to 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. His eyes are now vacant, becoming void of expression. He is an old dog, a small reddish Norwich Terrier with a sweet face. He looks like our Nigel, but our Nigel left us months ago...
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 Nigel. This little old dog is confused and gets lost in his own home, and sometimes he does not recognize me. His tail has not wagged in months and he often moves away when a gentle hand reaches out to pet him. He now avoids people.
Nigel was a fastidious dog, especially in his potty habits, but this little dog seems afraid to go outside at all, 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 that connects us to a very special time in our lives, it is unfair to cling to him and burden him with that. He deserves better.
He has had a good life – he's had the best of everything. He's been immortalized in word and picture, and he las been loved deeply. He has traveled and enjoyed many exciting adventures such as hiking the famous Sedona Red Rocks, and frolicking through mountain meadows, gazing at his reflection in a clear mountain lake. He has waded in the Great Lakes and the shallows of the Pacific Ocean. But none of that mattered to him, except the part of being loved. He has been my most insistent teachers, making me reorient my thinking time and time again, and now he is teaching me his final lessons: 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 any more. He is not progressing, but regressing. He cannot be taught, he can only be accepted as how he is right now. As for the other lesson – empathy... 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 is still present but the mind is far, 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, 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 the changes, helping him feel secure, but now, he must take this 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 loved. Let peace wash over you. There'll be no more anxiety and no more confusion – only relief awaits. Thank you for the love, thank you for the laughter, and thank you for teaching me all that you did. Sleep now old friend, sleep. We will miss you old boy. We already do."
Sho-Me Ketka's Nigel The Terror 3/30/98 – 6/15/12