Tuesday, June 30: Day 11
Oh, was today ever a wrenching day.
We started off with journal entries, where I was starting to realize that I am not sure I would want to pursue my pre-disability career dreams, even if I could. I…I just don’t know. And even if I did, I don’t think that Hudson could change my life enough for me to do so (though Hudson combined with the most recent addition to my medication regimine…perhaps).
It’s kind of a bewildering place to be. I’ve spent so much of the past two years trying to hold on to that dream, and then deeply grieving as I realized it was no longer obtainable, that this new perspective is utterly perplexing. I mean, that had become part of my identity – a year of doing my damnedest to figure out a way to still make it work, and then most of a year of trying to learn to live with the fact that it wasn’t possible and work itself was iffy.
I know we worked on service skills this day, but to be totally honest I’m not sure what. Perhaps this was the day we started with tugs – a skill the dog can use to pull open doors, drag laundry baskets, remove socks and jackets, so on. We probably started touch – the command for a dog to hit something with his paw. But the afternoon was so upsetting that I don’t remember what we did.
Today we talked about ending the partnership. First, well, what becomes of Hudson should (heaven forbid) I die? The service dog organization reserves the right to make that decision, though they typically do follow the human partner’s wishes. Some dogs stay with the families of their partner. Some – dogs who have been placed for only a short time – return to the service dog organization and are given new partners. Others return to be placed as home companions – dogs who can do service skills, but are placed in the home only, often with children with disabilities. A great many of these recipients are autistic children. While this was a little uncomfortable, and definitely something that required thought, it didn’t especially bother me. When you have a condition that can cause organ rupture, aortic dissection, and cerebral hemmorhages (the first of which struck my grandfather, and last of which has killed his mother and brother), you have to get a certain degree of comfort with your own mortality. It’s never a comfortable thought, really, but you look at yourself and say ‘these things are possible’.
And then we had to talk about the other side of things. The side we know will someday happen – that Hudson will grow older, slower, and need to retire…and that he will die. I think a good third of us cried during this part of the day. It is strange, these dogs have been in our lives for less than two weeks, and yet we are already distressed by the idea of losing them.
Developing fibromyalgia* two years ago, I remember what it was like to suddenly lose a great deal of my physical abilities. I know that when Hudson retires (or dies before he is old enough to retire), I will go through that again – the loss of what has become part of my self. If he is retired, then hopefully he will be able to work until I am able to get a new dog, so that it will not be this huge loss of abilities as well as this loss of the constant company of my partner.
And I remember when we put the dog I grew up with to sleep. Sarah came into my parents’ life 6 months before I was born, so she was always there in my life. When I was 12, she became very ill – she was having seizures, and the seizure medication made her confused. As I recall, they believed she had brain lesions, but without performing an expensive MRI, they could not be certain. That summer, when I went away to camp, my parents put her to sleep. I did not know it would happen; I came home and her collar was on the kitchen table. I have not entirely forgiven them for that, for never giving me a chance to say goodbye. I loved Sarah.
How much more traumatic will it be to lose Hudson? He will be a part of my self, this furry four-legged partner who is never away from me. I do not even go to the bathroom without him now, and I care for him already.
The person who leads training – the founder of this organization, and a woman who is on her second service dog – retired her first service dog a few years ago, and lost him two years ago. She still has not bought his memorial stone, though she has decided what it will say, because she still grieves too deeply to do it. These dogs are best friend, partner, self. If you could have heard the way her voice breaks when she talks about it, and seen the tears well up in her eyes two years after losing Nelson (who was an old dog when he died), then perhaps you could understand the depth of the relationship between a person and their service dog.
On the way home, I asked the boyfriend if he would want to keep the dog in the event I passed away, and he said that of course he would. I intend to add the contingency that if he and I should not be together, or if he should be unable or unwilling to take Hudson, he will be offered to my parents – though I suspect that if they know that Hudson will be placed with someone he can help (another service partner or as a home companion), they will likely decide they cannot give him the kind of life he ought to have.
Our homework for the night was more reading on the subject – a chapter in a book about a blind couple’s several service dogs who have been retired, a piece written as the ‘last will and testament’ of a service dog, and an article about the transition between old and new dog.
Aiya. What a hard day. A full week later and my eyes are tearing up thinking about this again. I hope…I hope…that Hudson and I have a long partnership, and that he has a long and happy retirement. Life does not always turn out as we wish, but I hope.
*not an official diagnosis, but a highly suspected one
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