Recognising the truth of something, no matter how banal, doesn’t make it less true, however.
My sister is out here from England; I am working five days a week in the dreadful truck rental job and weekends doing wine tours; my mother is really sick with uncontrolled pain from shingles and I spend a lot of time cooking/visiting/changing dressings; the dog died.
The last was really the most traumatic.
My mother was in Hong Kong, helping my little brother and his family to move apartments: I didn’t even know she was there as she has been full of the spirit of burning martyr lately, given that she thinks my lifestyle choices (boyfriend, unit – flat or apartment for the non Aussies here, lying about my financial situation – her refusal to actually believe me that I don’t owe people money) are ALL WRONG AND REFLECT BADLY ON THE FAMILY and therefore she prefers to maintain distance from this black sheep of the family and adopt an air of offended silence. I have to confess that I am not a good everyday daughter and don’t interact with her as much as I might, given my exhausting schedule and my dislike of constantly being aware of her dissatisfaction with me as her daughter. But I do love her and I do try and be there for her.
Anyway, normally when she goes away she asks me to feed the animals (very elderly dog and aloof cat) but this time she didn’t; probably because she wanted to pull the ‘my daughter is way too busy to devote any time to me’ card. (I am aware that this sounds bitter but all of my life my mother has left me in no doubt that I am a failure as a daughter: I do give her so much credit for trying very hard not to behave towards me the way her mother treated her but she wasn’t always successful and she resents very much any indication that this was the case).
She developed shingles in Hong Kong and ended up in hospital, due to the pain. I was so sympathetic when I heard, because I have had them myself and I know that it is much worse the older you are. I sent flowers (they never got there because they had booked her in under her passport name, not her married name) but didn’t hear from her or her husband directly at all.
Then, via the brother that lives here, I was asked if I could take over the dog/cat feeding and garden watering duties twice a day, as the elderly neighbours who had being doing it were now having all sorts of health issues. I immediatly agreed and collected the keys and started dropping by, both before work and afterwards.
The first day was fine. The aloof cat loved me, because I was food provider. The elderly blind and deaf dog was thrilled because she knows my scent from all the years I have been around and she was so happy to smell me and have me there. She golloped down her food and was in no way sick or miserable.
The next day was the same. No loss of appetite or any sign of not being well.
But the morning after was awful. I arrived about six thirty to see a pile of dog vomit by the front door. As I went further in, I could see many more piles of….stuff..
(Do not read further if you have a weak stomach)
It was vomit, mixed with stool, mixed with so much blood. Basically the poor dog had thrown up her intestines. I couldn’t believe that such a small animal could have so much stuff inside it. I grabbed a blanket, scooped up the comatose animal lying on the antique carpet and belted off to the emergency vet hospital. They were pretty reassuring and put her straight onto a drip and a heating pad and narcotics.
I then went back to the house and tried to clean up for an hour or so, calling work to tell them that I would be late and changing my clothes – very necessary. I was only at work for half an hour before the vet called and told me to come quick. I rushed back over to the hospital where he explained to me that he couldn’t do anything more and she needed to be euthanized.
I sat down on the floor and touched her paw and, even in her extremis, she recognised my smell and licked my hand. So, of course, I dissolved into tears and gathered her up into my arms, all bloody and covered with vomit and faeces as she was, and surrounded her with my smell as the vet put the medication into the drip. It took about thirrty seconds, tops. The vet said that he thought she had intestinal cancer and that the tumour had perforated the bowel.
The I had to get to try and get in touch with my mother and stepdad, which was really hard, given that she was in hospital and he wasn’t in his hotel room. I had to know what to do with the body. I went back to my mum’s house and started to clean again. It took me all day. I even went out and bought a steam cleaner because of the awful smell of it all. I have never been so annoyed with not being able to control my own body and I resented, deeply, my gag reflex as I dry heaved and threw up all through the afternoon. I have since been told by nurses that the situation I was in was the worst possible for smells, which made me feel a little better.
But i couldn’t leave it because it would have set in and stained the antique carpets and I couldn’t find any professionals to clean it up right away and so I kept going. Being unable to contact the parentals, I made the executive decision to bury her in the back garden that night. Regulations require a two metre hole, which boyfriend came over to dig, straight after work, while I carried on cleaning and then went off to collect the dog.
They had wrapped her in a maroon sheet, with some sort of deodorising thing, and tucked some local fresh wildflowers into the top. It looked sweet and caring but the effect was somewhat mitigated by receptionist discreetly taking me aside to inform me that she was tucked into a plastic bag, due to the ‘circumstances of her demise’ in order to reduce odour but if I was burying her, then I would have to cut holes in the plastic bag, otherwise natural breakdown would be interfered with.
When we (sister had kindly driven me to get the dog – I held the package on my lap on the way home and I remember thinking it was really heavy and very cold – maybe they froze her?) got back, boyfriend had just about finished the hole. The came the traumatic part – I had to unwind her sheet and slide her out of the plastic bag and rewrap her in the cotton so that we could bury her. It was getting dark and I was grateful for that because I didn’t want to see her again, remembering what she had passed looking like. I sort of slid her and tilted the bag and unwrapped and rewrapped her as i did, trying to avoid looking.
But oh, the smell. And I gagged again and again and it was just so awful. Eventually I got her wrapped back up and I discreetly turned away and threw up a little into the bushes and then we put her down the bottom of the hole and put in her favourite toy and piled the earth on top. My sister took photos in case my mum wanted to see.
I went all around the house and grabbed her beanbag and toys and bowls and food and everything else and threw it all away. I also washed everything I had to and hosed down the verandah and put scented oils everywhere. it was clean as I could make it; maybe not quite forensic clean but pretty damn good, considering that I had spent eight hours cleaning. I still can’t get over how much animals can hold inside.
So that was my last Thursday. It cost me $800 in vet bills and lost pay and if I never have to live through a day like that again I will be happy. Maybe it was so awful because it brought back memories of other dying days. I’ve been having nightmares ever since.