Home For Mom

Photo: Rob Bye
Photo: Rob Bye


While I lived in Ontario for a year, I came back home every month. It was not for a boy, but rather for my mom. She has terminal lung cancer. She won’t do chemotherapy. At the point where she was, there was no use- it could have killed her rather than saved her. Yes, her slow demise is really painful, and it’s been on my mind every day for more than a year.

I learned that my mom was sick in February 2014. Even before that, I had a feeling that the news would probably be gloomy because my mom warned me that she was going through a series of tests.

I was also worried because in December 2013, we went for a four-day trip in Quebec City and I realized that she was more tired than usual. She was dragging. She needed more coffee breaks.

I was fearing the worst while hoping that it would not be lung cancer. I’ve had the intuition that she was going to die from lung cancer for years. It was not a death wish but rather a strong intuition. I also have an amazing yet disturbing intuition, and it’s mostly right- precisely what makes it disturbing.

My mother smoked cigarettes for years. When we lived together, she would go outside, mostly, or smoke under the hood to mask odours. Sometimes, when I would come back from my dad’s place, she would have had opened all the doors and windows to ventilate the apartment. She would also often try to hide this because she knew that smoking in the apartment, and in general, was not a good idea. Still, she kept doing it, despite my many pleas. I even made no smoking signs in a heart-shape, imitating a Health Canada campaign from the 1990s.

When my mother told me about her illness, I was devastated. I kept it inside and went to my father’s place to pick something up. It was towards the end of the afternoon that I started crying and I couldn’t stop. At the same moment, my father and his girlfriend came back. They were shocked, but not as much as I was. They dropped me off to yoga class. I went because I thought that it would change my mind. I spent half the class crying, to finally breathe. 

A couple of days after this, I got a call: I was accepted in the master of journalism at the University of Western Ontario.

I felt guilty. I didn’t want to leave my mother in Montreal, yet I knew I had to go. One of my dreams was coming true. It was my second and last attempt to get into one of the few master of journalism programs in the country.  Again, my intuition was kicking in, this time telling me that I had no choice but to go.

Discussing it with my dad, he understood my dilemma. ‘‘There are times in life where you don’t know what is waiting for you, but you know that you have to go,’’ he said.

My mom wanted me to go, telling me that I had to. She didn’t want me to feel guilty. That being said, I also always felt that I had to be back as often as possible to Montreal to visit, and I wanted to. 

In February 2014, the doctors gave my mother six months to a year. I did feel guilty at times for choosing my future over my mom, yet I didn’t choose. I managed to give as much as I could to both. It was not easy because it required tremendous energy. I often felt discouraged, anxious, angry or sad, but I did it.

In the months prior to graduating, I applied to a bunch of jobs all around the country, not knowing what was coming up. I would have loved to move to a new city, probably Toronto, get a high-paying job, find a new apartment and buy new clothes. I would have loved to start anew. I would have loved to become a real adult, to enter middle class, to reap the fruits of my labour. 

Despite my lofty goals, it’s not what life has in the cards for me right now.

On Easter, I had breakfast with my mom and she told me the result of her last scan: she has six months left to live. While she has exceeded her original life expectancy, I know that she won’t this time. It’s more or less six months.

Over coffee, my mother told me that it was fundamental that I’m there for the end of her life. I knew it, but it confirmed it. Time is finite and life happens and then it’s done or as Nas would say, ”life’s a bitch and then you die.” Time with loved ones is precious and it’s probably the most important thing in the world. It’s something that can easily be forgotten in this individualistic and workaholic society.

I’m my mother’s only child and closest family member. While the responsibility can be a burden, it’s also an opportunity to prioritize what is really important. In a nutshell, life and death. In a word, love.

My mother is not the easiest person to take care of. She suffers from borderline personality disorder, which means that emotions are heightened and days unpredictable. Add to that the physical suffering that is worsening as days go by.

As she outlived her life expectancy, she stayed seemingly healthy for months, although inside she was losing every day. She doesn’t seem as healthy anymore. She coughs constantly, and it is harder for her to go to public spaces or to walk outside.

On Mother’s Day, we were walking on Blvd St.Laurent and she was coughing so much that a 20-something guy gave me a concerned glance. I will have to get used to those glances now.

As much as I love my mom, I hate life for giving me such a hard time. My favourite aunt (her sister) already died from cancer in 2005. Why is it happening all over again?

I want my family to be healthy and I want to get on with my life. But then, I’m conscious life is not only about me and the most important thing right now is to take care of my mom.

I find the situation increasingly difficult as her health is disintegrating. I have a guy friend who went through a similar situation with his mother and he told me that despite it being the hardest thing, it is very important to be there constantly, especially in the last moments.

It is fucking painful. I want my mom to revert back to a healthier state. Instead, I’m seeing her lose strength as the days go by. She is scared, she is sad, she is constantly living the full spectrum of human emotions.

I’m trying to ease her pain and help her out as much as I can. I help her clean, I bring her food, I listen to her talk, I record her voice so I can keep memory files.

It’s difficult to know that for me, my mother will disappear soon.

I will never see her become an old lady with a full head of grey hair. She will never meet my future children. That is one of the hardest realizations to have.

Also, the worst is that everyone wants to believe that things are looking up, that she will heal. She will not. She will lose all of her energy. She will die. So many people ask me dumb questions about her state, about whether or not she is doing chemotherapy. People hope for the best. I understand. But the best doesn’t always happen. 

My mother’s illness has made me realize everything that she has given to me, everything that she passed down to me in my lifetime. I wouldn’t be as smart, critical, funny, sensitive and artsy if I had another mom. Despite her difficult childhood, she gave me everything that she did not have. She worked hard at being a mom. She worked hard at being an artist. She gave me everything. The list is infinite.

I will never forget that. I will never forget her. And when I eventually have children, I will make sure to tell them who their grandmother was.

 

Talking Trash

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‘’I say too much sometimes…’’-Lindsay Lohan

In one of my classes, we all sit in a rectangular shape, with the dozen or so students staring at each other from across the table. This class focuses on feature writing and is taught by one of the most engaging and funny (not to mention stylish) professors that I’ve ever had the chance to encounter.

In total, there are 25 students in the professional master program that I am in. That means that by now, everybody knows everyone pretty well and we tend to debate and joke around a lot in class.

In one feature writing class last week, we were commenting on a sublime piece of writing about depression. My colleague who was facilitating the conversation paused on a passage, which for me as for others seemed out of place in the story. I was the first to comment, and I said the first thing that crossed my mind.

Bear in mind that I was born in 1980s Quebec, where feminism was strong and religious beliefs dwindling. My parents grew up with the Catholic religion and then grew out of it. Because of their experience that was transmitted to me and of the fact that I’m an atheist, I don’t innately understand religious beliefs. That being said, I respect and admire people who have a strong faith and a great relationship to religion.

Anyhow, what I said was an inappropriate comment about that passage. Before I was going to say it, I said, out loud, ”I can’t, it’s offensive.”

‘’Oh, go ahead!’’ My professor said.

So I said, half laughing nervously and half looking at my Christian colleague with one eye, ‘‘it was, for me, the Jesus Freak part of the story, if you will.’’

While I was pronouncing the first sentence, I saw my Christian classmate rolling his eyes.
I realized that I had gone a little too far.

My colleagues laughed, but then I explained further (and smarter) that the excerpt seemed out of place. It took me out of the story because I could not relate to it and the tone drastically differed from the rest of the piece.

When it was his turn to speak, my colleague explained to me, and the others who commented on the religious aspect of that excerpt, that he really hated when people looked down on religion, because it was really important for him and really helped him to strive when he was struggling. What he said was so powerful, the whole room went silent.

I remember last summer, when the same professor was in grief, he would sometimes be in a very weird mood. He taught a very intense class about the odds of getting ill. He was quite aggressive, saying that we will die one day and explaining the odds of getting cancer.

As I have a close relative who currently suffers from the illness, it was too much to bear for me on a weekday morning. And this happened twice. So I stormed out of class. My Christian friend was one of the few friends to check on me and give me a hug.

As I was thinking about that, I felt ill. The incident left a bad taste in my mouth. That night, as I was walking to yoga, I felt that I had disrespected him and that I had not thought enough about what I was going to say before I said it. I texted him, apologizing for my words. He thanked me for doing that.

Everybody comes from a different background, and it’s not because I grew up with a mother who has a very sarcastic, third-degree sense of humour that everybody gets the joke.

As I was leaving a friend’s place for dinner later that night with my boyfriend, I explained what had happened to him. I told him that I tend to over-share rather than under-share.

That being said, I’m pretty outspoken and I believe that it is important to share and to foster conversations. I pride myself on being a good communicator and a critical thinker. A presentation I did on Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons this week reinforced the point that freedom of expression and independence of thought is not only important, it’s necessary.

The problem with being bold is to own your statements.

A few days ago, my dad was telling me that he was going to read all of my stories on this very website.
”I don’t know how I stumbled into this…’’ he began.
‘‘Probably Facebook,’’ I said.
‘’Ah, maybe.’’
‘’I don’t want you to read all of my articles dad… There are some I wrote about boys and stuff.’’
‘‘Well if it’s there, I’ll read it. Freedom of expression. It’s all good, Lili,’’ he said.

And it made me realize that it was all good. If somebody does not agree with me, they can tell me that. I don’t need to be afraid of their opinions, but rather open to their feedback.

Recently, my boyfriend pointed out that I was saying ‘‘f*** off’’ a lot. The other day while grocery shopping, I was tired and impatient. I was trying to find a certain product, and when I realized that I couldn’t find it, I said ‘‘f*** off!’’ loud and clear. As I turned my head, I saw a kid looking at me, wide-eyed.

In this case and in the other one in class, I felt terrible. I am a well-educated woman, and I know that there is a wide array of words to choose from, and swear words are not necessarily the best to get to the point. Once in a while, it feels good to let it go, to be open, and to swear (especially when tired, stressed or sick), but it shouldn’t become the norm.

That being said, life is absurd and real and humans are not robots. It is important to have honest conversations. At the same time, I need to take a breath and think about what I’m gonna say before I say it sometimes. I’m very spontaneous, which is both a blessing and a curse.

As careful as I am, sometimes I’m oblivious to swearing or saying it like it is. No filter.

Photo: Ellen von Unwerth, 1996

Lili Monette is a creative spirit and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently finishing the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Lonely in London

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So many times I have packed and unpacked, moving along to new cities in a effort to constantly feel alive, to make my dreams come true and to fulfill my inner free spirit. Every time I move to a new place to live, there is a big reality check coming along with it. Effectively, I need to learn how to live all over again. I need to understand the city and its culture. I need to meet the right people with which I will have meaningful relationships. I need to know the spots to buy cheap and tasty groceries, the cool cafés, the best parks, the splendid street art. It might seem easy and of course, it is blissful to stroll through new cities to discover new haunts. Alas, it is quite another thing to settle down in an unfamiliar place.

I just arrived in London, Ontario to start a Master in Journalism. I will stay here for one year and I already knew before leaving that it would be quite a challenge for me as a big-city girl that feels comfortable either in the countryside or in the city. I’ve always had trouble being in a small town or a suburb, as I feel that difference is more or less accepted. Despite having lived in London UK, Vancouver and Erlangen in Germany, moving somewhere else is always a challenge, even if it is the tenth time you’ve done it. It always means starting over.

Before leaving Montreal, I felt heavy, as though my past was weighing on my shoulders. As I was sifting through drawers of stuff from my twenty-five years on Earth, I reflected upon the fact that in life, nothing is forever and objects eventually have to live another life or disintegrate. I also pondered upon past trends, old friends, and my very identity.

It took weeks to sort things out. I had to make sure that I didn’t throw away useful stuff, or worse, keep too much. I have been moving apartments every year and downgrading in size, but I knew that this was my ultimate move. I’m going away to study now but I don’t plan on coming back to Montreal after I’m done. We’ll see where I’ll find my true calling (New York?).

Right now, I feel torn between missing my friends and my city and knowing fully well that I need to move forward in life and that my time in London will not exceed twelve months. I am now living in an apartment without internet (a devastating misunderstanding with the girl I rented the room from) which makes me feel insanely alone, helpless and empty. It makes me realize that this is a wonderful opportunity to stop and breathe but especially, reflect.

When I arrived in my first apartment in Vancouver at seventeen, I had constant insomnia despite being an usually sound sleeper. I could not fall asleep because I was highly receptive of the melancholy and sadness of life, and the fear of being alone and starting anew was keeping me awake at night. I felt miles away, physically and psychologically, from my loved ones. I still feel the same kind of restless anxiety years later as I’m trying to calm my nerves by myself, without being able to call anyone or say anything. In that case, writing is the only thing that really helps, in an effort to open up a conversation.

I remember when I was living in Erlangen and my bedroom was by the window. Evidently, as it was summer and that there were picnic tables just outsides, engineering dudes used to drink beer and speak loudly when I was trying to sleep. A similar pattern was happening last night, as my apartment was vibrating from loud music and that shouting from drunk dudes was coming across. When times are though and that I feel grumpy, I’m trying to be grateful nevertheless, otherwise life would be too melodramatic.

Yesterday was rainy and I walked kilometres in the windy and rainy weather to go downtown. I stopped at the river where I watched the geese swimming and listened to the water flowing down. I also saw street art under the bridge. I kept walking to see a clothing store that I was surprised had an outlet in London. I was in much need of retail therapy although it had to be a cheap session, given my financial circumstances. I got a new shirt, earrings and a badass women of hip-hop colouring book. I paid for my items and left the store to spot, right across the corner, a lady in front of Wine Rack with a sign written ‘‘Free Tasting’’ on it. What better way to invite people in? I came in and started talking to Megan, as her name tag suggested. She made me try two wines and a cider and listened to my newly-arrived desperate tale. She helped me with directions and encouraged me to come again on my way back.

I kept walking with the humidity making my bones shiver. The mix of bad weather, sadness and poor architecture was putting me in a bad mood again. In a shop window on which was written ‘‘free henna tattoos’’, I saw a girl rocking multicolor dreadlocks. I thought she looked cool but especially, that she looked like an individual in a city where people tend to look the same. I was tempted to go in but she was busy with somebody else. I thus kept walking, failing to find a grocery store.

I was downtown and there was a lenghty line-up to enter a comic book store. People were either disguised or wearing normal attire, and it made for quite a scene. As I kept walking, I ran into heaps of hobos, and I felt that I had hit rock bottom for the day. Despair was seizing me, and I knew that I had to head back. Walking on the same street again, I finally entered the elusive store, where I was greeted by two sunny ladies. I sat down with the dreadlock girl for a henna tattoo and we started to chat. It did not take long to realize that we were both from Montreal and felt quite different here. That conversation brought about a much-needed feeling of acceptance and relief. I knew right then and there that I was going to be friends with that girl. We spoke French and it was so comforting to let my guard down. She invited me to an 80s night tonight and even if I have school tomorrow, I’ll probably check it out.

Following that moving encounter, I went to the Covent Garden Market and got quite long-faced when I realized that organic food in London was way more expensive than in large cities such as Montreal or Toronto. Upon talking to a lady in the store, I got a list of other organic stores in the area. She winked at me when I was walking around, and I was so thankful to her for understanding the situation and sending positive vibes my way. It calmed me down to realize how people could be lovely. I know that I will make friends here, but I’ll just have to find my tribe, like anywhere else. I might be alone right now, but it’s an occasion to reflect and open up headspace for new experiences.

If I do feel lonely, I can open up a box of photographs, look at the pictures on my walls, or else at the henna tattoo on my hand. I’ll have to be brave, but I’ll be able to go through this, once again. Hopefully, the dudes downstairs did quiet down around eleven and I slept like a baby for twelve hours. I woke up to a sunny morning. As a French saying goes, ‘‘après la pluie, le beau temps’’.*
*After rain comes beautiful weather. 


Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Photo: Autoroute 10, 2013 by the talented Olivier Gariépy. http://ogariepy.tumblr.com/

Girl’s Best Friend

Mags Trell Sleep
Maggie is my shih tzu. My girl. My geriatric mostly blind, deaf and legitimately demented girl. I love her to bits, which makes my sentiment terribly difficult to admit and even harder to deal with: I’m prepared to say goodbye because I’m running on empty.

I don’t like taking care of her anymore, watching her walk around in circles and listening to her whimpers of confusion. The difficult part is when she doesn’t act sick at all, it’s when she goes and finds one of her toys and barks happily at it. Or she runs around outside and I swear I can see a smile on her face. Her steps are even peppy. But then it’s back to being fussy at meal time. Peeing in the kitchen. Wandering around in the middle of the night until she’s lost in the living room and whining until I retrieve her and bring her back to her bed. She has to feel tired of this charade that is our daily life too, right? Who’s to say? Not me. Not now. She’s physically still “okay” (despite renal dysplasia, failing kidneys, being mostly blind and deaf and full-on in the throws of doggy dementia). So what do we do? We keep on going. I keep taking care of her because she’s my dog. She’s my girl. I love her. I miss her. She’s in there somewhere, but she doesn’t come out to play very often. And I’m sad during parts of every day.

Mags Back in the Day
Maggie, the month after I brought her home

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I adopted her. No, I do know. I was feeling excited, nervous, scared – so what are all of those emotions rolled into one? Anxious? Yes. Anxious. I was going to adopt a dog! I really wanted a dog. I had always wanted a dog. As a little girl, an only child growing up in suburbia, I asked my parents for a dog for every birthday, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and at the beginning of summer holidays.

“No, you can go and visit your friends’ dogs,” my mother would say, “NO!” And my father would always defer to her stern rule.

I remember we babysat my friend Kelly’s dog, Sandy, for a week when I was around seven-years-old. It was great. I felt blissful. Sandy and I ran and played in the backyard until the sun set. She slept at my feet in the evenings. I brushed her. I didn’t watch TV for the whole time she was there! Even reading a book was better with a dog by my side. Ever since I was a baby, I would spend part of my summers in Newfoundland with my Aunt Dolly, Uncle Ray, cousin Chris, Nanny Marge, and my favourite one: their dog Mandy. Mandy was a mutt. A real mutt. She was black and white, had scruffy fur and a tea-stained hairy snout. My Nan used to leave her half drunk cups of milky tea on the floor and let the dog lap up her dregs. I remember I was crying one day; I don’t remember what I was crying about, but I remember Mandy the mutt sniffing out my hiding place with a box of tissues clenched in her jaw. I loved that dog. When my aunt called to tell me that Mandy had passed away, I broke down. Heavy tears. Cried so hard my whole body hurt. Newfoundland wouldn’t be the same without her. She’d been my bestest pal since I was a toddler and teenaged me, naively, thought she might live forever if I hoped hard enough. (Years prior, she’d been hit by a car and broken her legs, her insides all sloshed around, and she recovered from that. She was a tough girl. I thought she was invincible.) This was the first time I had to say goodbye to a furry part of the family. Yet, I had no idea what heartbreak was truly like.

Maggie Sideways
Maggie liked to sleep in my bed and would spread out after I got up in the morning. She doesn’t do this anymore.

Mandy and I only spent one season per year together; the other three were filled with distance and dogs aren’t really the telephone or Skype types. I didn’t miss her so much everyday because she was never part of my everyday. Not like Maggie. My Maggie.

It was March 2003. I was in my early twenties. I was anxious. I wanted a dog. I was going to get a dog. I’d studied for all of the questions I was told I’d be asked in the “are you suitable to adopt a pet” interview. I’d visited the Toronto Humane Society heaps of times before and I was determined to come home with a furry companion. I wanted. a. dog. Specifically, I wanted this little shih tzu who had just been rescued from an abusive home, had surgery to remove mammary tumours and be spayed, and was afraid of everyone. I hadn’t even seen her. She sounded like a handful. But she felt like mine. I walked into the room of pets available for adoption. It smelled of urine and fear and hope. There, in a giant cage, crouched a frail and precious creature. The name plate said “Portia.” Okay. She didn’t look like a Portia, but we could change that. I walked back to the waiting area and paced until it was my turn for an interview.

I was ushered into a small room called the “meeting” room, where I was told to wait for a THS worker to go and get “Portia” and we’d meet in this room to see if she liked me. So now the dog interviews me? That’s a crazy, yet awesome, thing. They brought her in. She looked like a puppy in the arms of the attendant. She was shaking mildly. He put her down on the cold linoleum floor and she so very timidly stood there, gazing up at me. (I guessed that she was looking at me. Even when she had full sight, it was hard to tell where Maggie was directing her gaze because her eyeballs are angled in opposite directions. She literally looks like a Muppet.)

I knelt down and put my right arm out. She inched toward me, this charcoal and white smoosh of a shih tzu, a real live fluffy toy with giant (Muppet) eyes. Slowly making her way closer to me, almost there, she stuck out her neck to sniff. I crouched down and stuck my face closer to her. She crept closer, stretching herself out further, extending her snout, and then she licked my nose and backed up with the ferver of a cartoon and stared at me. What a little fart! I teared up and smiled so widely I’m sure the corners of my mouth graced my earlobes. I scooped her up and she was at ease. No shaking. Okay, where do I sign?

As we went for our first walk, Maggie thought it made sense to sit down in the middle of the crosswalk. This is when I first experienced that stubbornness of hers. She wouldn’t move. She became 900 pounds of muscle and brut strength. Luckily, in reality, she was only eight pounds, so I could easily win the stand-off… er, sit off.

Pumpkin
The first of many Halloweens I made my pumpkin wear this costume. She’s a good sport.

Name-changing time. I almost called Maggie “Petunia.” But she was a Maggie. She IS a Maggie. And still stubborn as a mule. We’ve been together 11 years. She’s been my constant companion: through three boyfriends, our beloved kitty BuffyCat, a move to Vancouver and a move back again, a house (home ownership in suburbia wasn’t for me), and now another apartment. She has put up with countless costume changes, above and beyond the necessary layers to keep her warm in winter, all in stride. She has greeted me with barks and jumps and licks after long days at work. She has been my hot water bottle and made my muscles feel better by lying on my abdomen during my time of the month. She’s been my partner in play at the beach and in the park. She’s watched movies in bed with me on sick days. She has the purest heart of any creature I’ve ever had the honour of knowing.

Right now: Maggie whines a lot. I mean heart-wrenching whimpers and whines. Maggie’s not whining due to her physical ailments–at least, the vet doesn’t think those things are at the root of her whimpers. The dementia is eating her brain. When she feels restless, she whines. When she wants a cookie in lieu of her food, she whines. She mostly wanders around the apartment randomly whining, trapping herself in corners, as if she is lost. The only times she isn’t whining is when she’s sleeping in one of her three dog beds (she snores) or when she’s peeing… which is a lot lately. I go outside with her no less than four times per day no matter the weather – ice storm, freezing cold, rain, and in the ridiculous wind tunnel that exists around my apartment building. I take her out when I’m sick and often (usually) when I’m tired. I’ve recently purchased doggie diapers for those times I just can’t keep up with her demanding and impromptu bladder release ‘schedule.’ She won’t use a potty-patch. She won’t go on the balcony. And I’ve lost patience with mopping the floor constantly. Maggie takes medication and it must be administered by way of her hand-fed meals (special prescription food complete with homemade beef stew broth) twice per day; and, although I can play with meal timing a bit, there isn’t much leeway (so that means every day is an alarm clock day). Do I sound like a neurotic pet owner yet? Probably. But I don’t know how else to be (and if someone has advice, I invite constructive words).

Maggie will be 16 years old in March – well, approximately. Nobody really knows for sure since her abusive former owner wouldn’t disclose her age, so based on her condition 11 years ago, the vets guess she was about five. The age guess was due to very bad teeth and mammary tumours that had developed because she hadn’t been spayed by the douchebag who had owned her. When she wasn’t getting yelled at by this scum-of-the-earth guy – or kicked, or left outside in winter – she was being neglected. She’d been matted down to the skin. The reason her teeth were so bad was because she ate only table scraps and had never eaten kibble or hard foods. (She still won’t eat kibble, but she does chomp on the hard milkbones. Win. And our vet says her teeth and gums are amazing now.) Maggie also has colitis. Her little body has a hard time eating and digesting. And the hand-feeding is because she’s usually too freaked out to eat on her own. She’ll stare at the food or hover over it and whine. If I hand-feed her pieces of her own food, something in her psyche tells her that it’s okay to eat that. It gets a little messy, but there are worse things.

Watching her fade away is one of the worst things. It’s mentally and emotionally draining day in and day out. When we go for walks, they’re more like meanders and just stand there time. Sometimes, she walks in small circles. Every day, Maggie is less and less like the charismatic, loving companion she once was. She does have her good days, when she actually runs around outside and I can feel how happy she is and it’s like a fix of emotional pain medication. But it’s those same days that make the bad days even harder. I feel like an asshole because sometimes I wonder how she’s hung on this long and how she continues to hang on and wouldn’t it be more convenient if I didn’t have to take care of her anymore. (Even the vet told me the other day that she was surprised Maggie is still alive and that she’s kind of a medical anomaly.) But she’s not physically at a point where it’s “time.”

Mags Van
When she could see, Maggie was a ham for the camera.

Which leaves us at an impasse. Our situation is not ideal. It’s laborious for me. It’s inconvenient. But I can’t put an end to her because she’s inconvenient. I love her. I don’t want her to suffer. I don’t want to kill her. But I also don’t know how to keep going as we are because each day I feel my patience fading away. And, each day, I feel guilty about that. Part of me wishes I could give her to a loving home to live out her days so I don’t have to watch her deteriorate, but that would be giving up wouldn’t it? Am I actually an asshole for feeling like this? Maybe. I can’t stand the whining. I get no peace. I’m always on edge. Judges, go ahead and rule. I love my dog. I also feel like I lost my dog a long time ago and in her place is this helpless, moody, distant creature who acts like my Maggie just often enough to pull at my heart strings and give me strength to keep on keeping on.

I can understand why my mother never allowed me to have pets growing up; however it would have been beneficial to know such love and loss before I was an adult. Children process hardships better. They don’t overthink things. They see a situation for what it is at its core. When it was time to say goodbye to my dear, sweet BuffyCat in August 2012, I remember my mother was so distraught.  She said, “See, this is too hard. This is why you couldn’t have a pet.” I think my mother didn’t want to be responsible for the decisions that need to be made toward the end of a pet’s life, specifically: THAT decision. A kid doesn’t get to make THAT decision. Making that decision for my BuffyCat wrenched my heart and soul and mind in more ways than I had ever imagined or experienced before. I never want to make that decision again… of course, I have Maggie, so unless she spares me and peacefully passes during her sleep, I’m going to have to make it. And I’m going to be judged for it. I was judged for even asking if it was time due to her mental struggles. Apparently constant whining due to mental illness is totally fine. She’s miserable. I’m miserable. So what’s the solution?

Perhaps that’s what you sign up for when you adopt a pet. “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” is a terrible song because the sentiment in it is completely and wholly shallow and does not even hint at what being a pet owner is about. I commited myself to my pets. I have to make the best decisions for them, which are not always the the best decisions for me. I would not forgive myself if I gave up on Maggie before her time; and, simultaneously, if I prolonged any suffering. This literal flogging of my feelings is beyond circular at this point. I think I know. I don’t know. I’m wrong… I  believe (finally) that I made the right decision for my BuffyCat. It’s funny – I always thought Buffy was invincible. She was a street kitty who found us. She took care of Mags and me. I thought she’d be there to help me through losing Maggie. I thought Maggie’s body would give way before her mind. Fucking dog. She is in diapers only because I can’t keep up with how often she needs to go pee. I’ve stayed home from social engagements to be with Maggie because I’ve felt like guilty for even thinking about leaving her again after leaving her alone while I’ve worked the whole day.

Yesterday’s vet visit cost me $150. Food for her averages out at about $80 per month. And time spent taking care of her (not playing with her or having a rare cuddle) if tallied in billable hours would easily equal three hundred and fifty minimum wage dollars per week. I haven’t purchased a new pair of boots in three years. I’m also in a long-distance relationship and plane tickets are expensive. It takes me a long time and much financial creativity to save for a plane ticket. And when I do manage some vacation time, I have to arrange for temporary care for Maggie. I love her with all my heart; but I can’t say that anything about having my dog is easy or great anymore.

I believe that Maggie has been a gift in my life. Gifts come in all shapes and sizes and forms of tangibility. Loving Maggie has forced responsibility, compassion, generosity and gratitude into my being. Maggie has challenged me every day we’ve been together. Somtimes moment by moment.  I was very much a kid when I adopted Maggie. I never thought I would be taking care her of her alone (read: in my early twenties I couldn’t fathom not being married with a family of my before age 30, so naturally adopting a dog was part of this fairytale thought process). My life wasn’t supposed to be like this. But apparently the rule of the universe is you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. (Maybe my cosmic GPS is broken?) Based on where I am now, I think Maggie’s made me a better person, in spite of the days I feel and act like a sad and bitter bitch… and in spite of the days Maggie acts like a sad and bitter bitch.

Trell Mags Christmas
I used to make her pose for a Christmas photo every year. Bless her heart.

Trellawny works in advertising, loves cooking, and her boyfriend too. Her latest goal is to try and find the happy in her remaining days with Maggie.