Anne Hamilton’s real-time memoir A FOREVER DECISION, is about her journey through the grief of losing her beloved dog Camilla, and then finding that her Uncle Steve is suffering with terminal cancer. Begun in September, 2012, she is writing this memoir as the real-life events of her uncle’s illness unfold in order to record the grief process and help to heal through engagement in self-expression and community support. As a playwright and dramaturg, Anne has written articles, and appeared on internet and radio shows to speak on the Topic of Healing Through the Arts. For the past few years, she has been writing articles on Open to Hope’s website, which helps people to find hope after the loss of a loved one. This series was originally published there. She is pleased that this memoir is now appearing on the Grief and Loss blog of YourTribute.com.
– – – – –
A Forever Decision (Part 5)
By Anne Hamilton
I am beginning to remember things about my daily life with my dog, Camilla, that give me pleasure.
When she lost her sight, I would walk her up and down the straight sidewalk in front of our house. When we came to a step, I would say, “Step,” and stop her. Then I would reach down and take her paw and pat the top of the step so she could get oriented. Then we would walk on the steps.
I feel a warm swelling in my heart when I remember it. To think that I loved her so much that I protected her when we were walking so that she didn’t stumble.
I had to learn how to protect her when she went blind. It didn’t come naturally, I am embarrassed to say. At first, I walked along heedlessly and didn’t look out for the things that would be problematic for her. I forgot sometimes that she couldn’t see a bush or a rock, and she would walk into them because she would stray off the path. I didn’t understand at first that she couldn’t see the path or walk in a straight line.
Then I felt so badly when she stumbled into something that I refocused on watching her at every moment and warning her when she was about to walk into an impediment. I started saying, “Watch your nosie” when she was about to walk into something. And she learned to slow down or stop, or at least know that she was about to touch a foreign object. I would say, “Watch your nosie” a hundred times a day, and soon it became a way to tell her that I loved her.
Another thing I would do to help her out is to clap to help her find me. I would clap to help guide her in and out of the back door. I guided her back into the house countless times from her place in the backyard. I loved watching her coming toward me. My neighbors got used to hearing me clap for her and encourage her by saying, “That’s right, keep coming! Good girl!”
She also learned ways to cope. When she first lost her sight, she would go into the backyard and walk until she found the fence, and then follow it along the perimeter of the yard until she found the shed and the patio. Then she walked along the patio until she found the plants near the door. I placed a watering can next to the back door, and when she bumped into that, she knew she was close.
It didn’t seem to bother her to bump into things after a while. She just readjusted herself and kept going. It was a sight to see. Sometimes, in the second year of her blindness, she would walk a straight line from wherever she was, right into the back door with no adjustments. It was amazing.
I would never move any furniture or place a large item on the floor. She needed to have her touchstones. She would often lie in the funniest places, like the middle of the hallway, where I needed to step over her all day long, or in the middle of the kitchen near the stove when we were cooking. Or right in front of the front door. It was funny. She was a funny dog.
But I want to remember the good things about her and it occurs to me that I feel proud that I showed kindness to an old, blind dog. With so many people talking about how bad the world has become, I feel good that I took the time to care for a pet who lost her sight. It was a blessing to care for her and it restored a little bit of faith in myself.
It is a privilege to be protective of the ones that we love. We all learn to adjust when our loved ones get sick. It’s always a learning process, but it’s one that allows us to be endlessly inventive, and to try to retain as much normalcy in life as possible, given the circumstances. That is a blessed thing. And there are always ways to learn to express love, whether it’s making up a catch phrase, warning someone before she stumbles, helping her stay on the straight path, or guiding the way back to shelter, safety and warmth.
And now that I’ve lost her, I can still remember the look on her face – her innocence, her acquiescence in the face of her illness, and her trust in me. She knew I would take care of her. And she took care of me in a strange way, by trusting me and following my lead. That’s a lot of trust, and maybe it did more for my understanding of myself than it did for her. I can trust myself. I can rise to the occasion. I can help someone else, day in and day out. I can care for someone on a long term basis, despite many challenges. It was a gift to discover that.
Camilla was a Beagle/Husky mix. She was primarily white, with black ears, and she had a blue eye and a brown one. She was the sweetest creature you would ever want to meet. Besides physical beauty, she had a beautiful, loving personality. It was easy to feel relaxed around her. She kept to herself – she liked to sit and think – and she never demanded anything.
Periodically, even when she was blind, she would find her way over to me and present herself to be petted. I always put aside my laptop and petted her, because I realized how special it was that she was seeking out some love. Physical touch and sound were ways to communicate with her after she went blind, so I made sure I talked to her throughout the day.
Now, with Isabella, my remaining dog, I take time several times a day to go over to her, scratch her ears, give her kisses, and tell her how much she means to me. This is the kind of demonstrative relationship that makes me feel good about being a dog mom and gives me a sense of community. After a loss, it is very important to feel connected to a community, whether it’s one’s own family, or neighbors.
I’ve learned to be active and innovative after the loss just as I was when faced with Cami’s sudden loss of sight. I have written this ongoing series of articles on my journey through the grief process after losing Cami, and I have shared them with close friends by email as well as posting them on the Open to Hope website.
I would like others to know that they’re not alone when facing loss, and I don’t want to feel alone now. Writing helps me feel connected. It means something to me and to others. I had no idea when I was experiencing Cami’s illness and loss how much I was learning, and how much I could express that experience to others. But writing has been an important part of my healing process, as always. It keeps me on the straight path and helps me to find a safe space within myself.
Copyright Anne Hamilton 2012
Updated: September 6, 2013