autism,  empathy,  family,  motherhood,  teen years

Saying goodbye

J and Fred Friday afternoon.

This post was supposed to be about saying goodbye to middle school and all of the mixed emotions that come from that. But it’s not. I’ll write that one next week. This post is about saying goodbye to Fred.

It’s funny isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice if life would let you just deal with one emotional event at a time, so you could really process it without anything else going on and just really use your emotional reserves for that one event instead of blubbering over a bunch of different emotional events at the same time? The last day of school and Fred’s downturn happened on the same day. I was anticipating the last day of school. I wasn’t anticipating Fred’s rapid health decline.

A little over a week ago, Steve and I took Fred to see the vet. Fred has been getting really “old” over the last part of winter. He has had arthritis for over a year now which has been manageable, but over the last couple of months he has developed a limp in his front paw. We finally went in to see the vet and she suggested that Fred could be developing arthritis in his front leg too, or the limp could be caused by bone cancer. She told us to up his arthritis meds to twice a day, and if, after a week, his limp didn’t get any better then it was probably bone cancer and because of his age (being 13 1/2) we should consider putting him down.

Fred Thursday night. He hadn’t moved from this spot for hours.

We gave Fred his pain meds and the limp didn’t change. Then we started realizing that he wasn’t eating much of his food anymore–he was having a hard time chewing his dry dog food and even dog treats, which meant it was harder to get Fred to take his pain meds. By Thursday we got our answer about what we should do.

Thursday morning woke up to hear Fred scrambling downstairs on the hardwood floor only to find he could no longer stand up. We took him to the carpeted family room, which seemed a little better, and drove the kids off to their last day of school. Throughout the day Fred just seemed to feel worse and worse. Steve and I could tell he was in a lot of pain.

W giving Fred some snuggles Friday.

It was Friday and the first day of summer holidays when J and W finally realized what was going on. Friday morning W called for me frantically, “Mom! Fred can’t get up, he tries to stand up but he can’t he keeps slipping.” I came downstairs to the basement to see W holding Fred and his dog food spilled everywhere. We had told W about last week’s vet visit and the possibility that Fred had cancer, and it was this moment that she realized how bad Fred might be and that we would be scheduling a time to be put down. We had held off from telling J, but decided we couldn’t wait any longer. I kept thinking how grateful I was that this wasn’t happening while school was in session. It would have triggered so much anxiety in J. The calendar date, the numerical day of school, J would remember forever as the day that Fred died and that anxiety could possibly pop up every year to come. How and where would he be able to process those emotions he needed to if he still were in school?

This is the letter J wrote to me shortly after I told him that Fred was sick and dying.

When we told J, he reacted just as we thought he would. “Shut up, he’s not dying!” he said. “I don’t like it that you’re saying that!” “Fred’s NOT going to die.”
“I want him to live forever.”

I didn’t know how to convince him that Fred wasn’t feeling well and that Fred was very sick. Then I asked him, “J tell me what you see when you see Fred?”

“I see that he can’t stand up.”

“Yes,” I said. “What do you think that means?”

“It means that Fred is very sick.” I was really surprised by his answer. I feel like he never really notices what’s going on with other people or things, that most of the time he’s in his own little world, but J knew exactly what was going on.

I told him that it was okay to be angry, but he couldn’t be mean to the rest of us, because we were all hurting. And over the next few hours J went through all sorts of emotions. He was angry. He told me “my feelings are hurt because Fred is going to die.” He kept saying,”I want another dog after Fred and I want to name him Fred.” He started asking questions about dog heaven. He started telling me that Fred would never die. He told me he would handle it when Fred died. He’s circled through all of these feelings over and over Friday and Saturday and by Sunday he seemed to be working through it better. We watched the end of Marley and Me to show the kids what would happen when we took Fred to the vet to put him down. J asked me if we could keep Fred’s food and water bowls. We cried. On Friday I didn’t know how capable J would be with processing this whole situation. Emotions are hard to figure out for any of us and his autism doesn’t let me see into his brain and emotions very well. But it’s been really interesting to watch him process this. He’s going through all of the feelings we are. He’s thinking about the things he wants to remember Fred by. He is understanding everything that is going on. He knows what’s right for Fred, even if he doesn’t like it.

Fred up and about, feeling much better Sunday.

This process has been so strange for me. Friday, when Fred was oh so sick, I was just praying that he would make it to the appointment on Monday. He struggled to eat his dry dog food and even stand up to take a drink of water. I couldn’t bear to think that he would die at home suffering like he was. Then Saturday we were able to put his pain meds into some rotisserie chicken I bought from the store and he was feeling much, much better. Saturday night he was back to digging into and nuzzling his blanket. Sunday he was back to the way he was a week ago, hobbling around the house, following us around. It’s made me question putting him down all over again.

Fred attending to his dog duties Sunday night.

But as we talked and remember the good times with Fred, we all realized that Fred can’t do most of the things we loved to do with him. I remembered that he goes to bed at 10pm and doesn’t wake up until 3pm most days now. And even though Sunday night he waited by the window as he always for Steve to come home, he’s still struggling to stand up straight. It’s hard not to keep him around for selfish reasons.

So now we say goodbye to our dear Fred–we take him in this afternoon and I know it will be really hard for all of us. He has been such a good dog for both of our kids these past 3 1/2 years and especially for J. When we picked up our kids on that last day of school, Steve said it was as if Fred was meant to be J’s dog for the middle school years. I think he’s right.

Goodbye sweet puppy, we will miss you dearly. Thank you for all the love you’ve given us!



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