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That Lucid Moment

I was in PetsMart the other day browsing collars for my dogs, two pretty strong Irish Water Spaniels. As I was looking for heavier nylon martingale collars, a pink flash yanked me upward to a delicate ribbon of a collar perhaps half an inch wide decorated with sewed-on multicolor rosettes. I touched the collar and thought, " I'd have bought Gracie this one" and surrendered to insistent tears. Gracie left us a few months ago and still, nightly when I shut the overhead kitchen light, I turn on the small utility stove light for her, as I did every night when she was alive, and announce to the spaniels, "Let's leave the light on for Gracie." Then the three of us exit the dimly lit room and go upstairs.

I once bought her a pink rhinestone collar and told her they were diamonds. She believed me. Then about four years ago the great folks at Bark Avenue Mall gifted us with a beautiful crocheted pink collar and leash set adorned with large plastic "gemstones." Everyone who saw her "twin set" remarked on how special it was. She loved that, too. It still hangs at the front door.

When Gracie first showed signs of cognitive impairment -- early Alzheimer's -- she did so by refusing to join us upstairs, this after twelve years of sleeping in, alongside, or beneath my bed. She suddenly stopped socializing with us, and it was not for fear of the steps. Occasionally I'd find her sitting at the top of the stairs or on the second to the top step, and if I verbally acknowledged her, she'd speed downstairs, horrified that she was "caught." In her illness she sought invisibility. My challenge was to detach and grant her that wish. Reluctantly, I allowed her to be who she was becoming and missed her terribly in the years even before her death.

Early in her dementia, she conducted secret late-night espionage missions. I'd hear her nails tap tap tapping on the laminate floor at different pitches, back and forth, back and forth, somehow looking for some hidden treasure. At the time, our new macaw (who now sleeps with us, too), spent the night in a wheeled cage in the living room . One of Gracie's first midnight maneuvers involved relocating him. When I heard the tap tap tapping with an accompanying unidentifiable rattle and roll, I tiptoed halfway down the stairs to witness Gracie walking upright, pushing the bird cage into the dining room like a toddler with a baby carriage. I still love this image of her.

I crated at night after that for her own safety, and she rarely ventured out of the crate. She conducted her sporadic spy missions during prime time (scurrying back and forth, back and forth from the crate to the living room window, looking for this mystery object). Because I wanted her to be more comfortable in her preferred confinement, I set up a 36 X 36 plastic pen, open at the top, and placed inside it two beds, a mat, and water and food dishes for her. We called it Gracie's "apartment." She loved it, and every so often redecorated it herself, rearranging the beds and dishes. I left the door open for her to come and go as she pleased during the day, but as she descended deeper into her condition, she left less often. The last thing I'd do for her each night was turn on the range hood light and kiss her round Schnauzer head with a "Goodnight, Grace."

She eventually grew unaware of her surroundings and more than once stood immobilized in the dining room, panicked, unable to navigate an exit. On her last day with me, when I brought her in to the animal hospital, a place she'd been many times for fourteen years, she was anxious, unsettled, disturbed. She'd been the only one of my dogs who didn't succumb to nervousness at the vet's office; she'd eat treats before, during, and after an exam, unfazed by prodding, injections, blood draws. This time she ran in frantic circles around the exam table legs, under the chair, doing a high speed figure eight around the furniture, panting rapidly and heavily, running and in and out, t his way and that, unable to settle down. The vet tech said, "I'd never know this is the same Gracie I saw two months ago." When Dr. Kuhn sat on the floor with us and watched Gracie's nonstop laps around room, she assured me that the Gracie I loved for almost fifteen years no longer existed. We talked on the floor for about fifteen minutes while Gracie panted and scooted, panted and scooted, uninterested our conversation, in the blanket on the floor, in the hypodermic needles protruding from Dr. Kuhn's pocket. Then unexpectedly, as if party to some other-wordly intervention, Gracie had her lucid moment. As in a Flannery O'Connor revelation, she became her name and we touched souls in a most Divine instant. She stopped running and stood still, staring at me, holding the gaze for what seemed like minute, giving me not permission but conviction. Then she stepped onto the blanket and we gave her back to the Universe.


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