Saying Goodbye

Truffle on Her Final Afternoon

Truffle’s Final Afternoon

This morning I said goodbye to a loyal companion. My dog Truffle was only 13-1/2 years old, and because she was small I hoped to have her for 20 years or so. Fate doesn’t always fulfill our hopes, however.

I wrote here early in 2014 that Truffle had been diagnosed with Doggy Alzheimer’s Disease. I dealt with this challenge using a combination of medication, observation (some techniques worked better than others!), and patience.

Despite her dementia—and despite her eventual total blindness—Truffle had a lot of fun over the past year and a half. Together we walked, cuddled, shared meals, and entertained guests.

The fun had just about come to an end, however. Truffle’s unhappy moments each day increased, and her happy ones dwindled. In the past few weeks her nighttime fear and aggression worsened. And she started having trouble sleeping. She panted and paced on the bed, not certain where she was or what was going on.

Believing that her life was no longer a good one, I made an appointment to take her to the vet today. The prospect was daunting, particularly since I had never had to go through this process alone before. I reminded myself that my mother had managed alone several times with previous pets—in large part to spare the rest of us the pain of having to witness the death of an important family member. I tried to view her courage as a challenge.

I was with Truffle when she died. It wasn’t easy. The blindness and the dementia made her nervous although the vet, his dear assistant Robin, and I did our best to reassure her. It’s a good thing my current nutritional cleanse requires me to drink a gallon of water a day. My tear ducts need replenishing.

My friend Michael Collins accompanied me to my biweekly television appearance on Wednesday; he is a chef and made a dish on the air with me. Michael and his partner Tony recently had to say goodbye to their dog Spotty (a friend of Truffle).

I told Michael that Truffle’s time was coming, and he observed wisely that taking care of our elderly pets—and then saying goodbye to them—is the price we pay for the short but full lifetime of love they share with us. Truffle certainly fulfilled her part of that bargain. I tried to repay her with comfort and love as she left me.

We enjoyed a last outing together yesterday afternoon at the Dam, where Truffle spent many glorious summer afternoons sitting and swimming with my late mother.

With My Mother in Happier Days

With My Mother in Happier Days

Truffle no longer swam, but she waded into the water yesterday afternoon and lifted her nose to smell the grass and feel the breeze. For a minute or two, her blindness and dementia didn’t matter. She found herself in a familiar environment, in what my neighbor Ruth calls a person’s (or a dog’s) “happy place.”

The Dam is my happy place as well. I did swim, and the experience was refreshing. Gliding through the water, I saw birds swoop down to take a drink. Wading to shore, I noted that the tadpoles were getting bigger. And so I was reminded that life goes on.

I have taken final swims at the Dam with beloved dogs in the past, and with luck I will swim there again someday with another dog. Yesterday the experience helped both Truffle and me reconnect with nature and with each other.

I think it helped me get through today’s ordeal, to say goodbye to my old friend as gracefully and generously as I could. Predictably, Truffle was as sweet in dying as she was in living.

Truffle with heartweb

Return to the Land of Dementia

Truffle:  Confused but ALWAYS CUTE

Confused but ALWAYS CUTE

I have spent a lot of time dealing with dementia in my life. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. My father contracted Binswanger’s disease, another brain disorder that leads to confusion and memory loss.

Most recently, as many readers know because I discussed it in my book Pulling Taffy, my mother had Alzheimer’s disease. She died two years ago.

A month ago I would have told you that I was through with dementia—at least until such time as it might hit my own brain. Unfortunately, I was just plain wrong.

I am now dealing with … doggy dementia!

Recently my 12-year-old cockapoo, Truffle, has become irritable late at night. When the time comes for her to go outside just before bedtime she growls, snaps, and barks aggressively. This behavior is just NOT like my little dog. In general, Truffle acts as sweet and cuddly as the stuffed animal she resembles.

Once Truffle gets back inside after her late-night walk she returns to her normal affectionate self and snuggles all night. Those moments of panic and confusion (on her part), of fear and anxiety (on my part), mar the evenings, however.

So I consulted with her Virginia vet, Terry Donahue, yesterday. Sure enough, Truffle appears to have cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a.k.a. doggy Alzheimer’s disease.

We are trying various strategies to cope with this. Some are (surprise!) expensive. Terry has prescribed anti-anxiety pills and suggested special food and nutritional supplements. These are certainly worth a try. It always amazes me that Truffle’s haircuts cost more than mine. Now her daily food and medicine budget may grow greater than mine as well.

Some remedies are already in the home. I turn on as many lights as I can as the sun goes down each evening to increase Truffle’s feeling of being bathed in light and to decrease the sundowner’s syndrome she seems to be enduring. The apartment now looks as bright in the evenings as it did when I was taking care of my mother. It goes against my Scotch upbringing to use so much electricity—but I have to admit that the brightness cheers even me in dark, cold January.

The greatest gift I can give Truffle, of course, is love. As I did with my mother, I try to be as patient and gentle as I can. It’s not Truffle’s fault that she has no idea who I am or what I’m trying to do with her when I ask her to go out at night.

The world always offers us more lessons to learn. Next time it’s time for me to further my education, I’d prefer to learn about something OTHER than dementia. For now, however, Truffle and I will do the best we can and enjoy life as much as we can.

Coming Home

I am writing from Massachusetts! The dog, the cat, and I drove up from Virginia on Tuesday.

For the past couple of years I have missed spring in my hometown, mostly because of my mother’s health. Last year, for example, she was sick pretty much nonstop from March until late June. So we stayed in Virginia. We did see Virginia daffodils, but somehow the daffodils of home are always sweeter and yellower.

This year I was determined to take in some of the spring sights and smells in New England. I knew I couldn’t travel north until after last Saturday since I had committed myself to singing in a fundraiser in Virginia.

This is SUPPOSED to be a glamorous photo of me singing. My brother had technical difficulties, however. Next time, we'll pack a better camera--and I'll try to put on more makeup and stand still occasionally while performing.

I hoped that at least some of the Massachusetts daffodils would wait for me. They did!

As I drove through New York into Massachusetts spring greeted me. Leaves were just unfurling onto trees. Forsythia popped out in yards. Daffodils gently nodded in the breeze. To cap it all, the sky was cloudy so the light was almost always filtered, making the colors on the ground appear miraculous.

When I got home I even found violets underfoot.

To tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings about all this spring beauty. Part of me is sad that my mother can’t enjoy it this year. Like me, she cherished the promise of spring’s light green leaves and lawns.

On the other hand, I am HUGELY enjoying my little cat’s reactions to the spring air, the car ride, and her home in Massachusetts.

The start of our journey wasn’t entirely promising. Miss Rhubarb had never been in the car for very long, and she got bored after about an hour and a half. She was also miffed that I was unwilling to let her climb on the dashboard. After lunch, she blessedly decided to lie down next to her dog and nap, which she did for most of the rest of the trip.

When she arrived in Hawley late Tuesday afternoon, she was mesmerized. She had never seen grass up close and immediately decided that it is one of her favorite things. As for the house … after life in an apartment it seems to hold unlimited promise. So many rooms to explore, so many windows to gaze out of, so many piles of things to knock over!

She spent all of Tuesday night and most of yesterday exploring. She would return to me from time to time for food or a session of purring; then she would resume her walkabout.

Last evening she finally found an afghan in which to curl up and rest. She finally slept … and stayed asleep until morning.

Today she is wide awake again, nibbling on the pot of rosemary in the living room and taking in the sunshine through the windows. She makes me smile pretty much nonstop—and I know she would make my mother smile.

Perching in between them mentally, I feel ready to celebrate the season. And I’m even more determined than ever to get lots of work done so that I can afford to keep my lovely home in the country!

Getting ready to sleep at last......

Straightening Myself Out

Busy kittens can make their companions tired.

I don’t know how many of you out there cry on a regular basis. I’m not a frequent crier—and I think by and large I’m doing pretty well adjusting to being an orphan. Nevertheless, every once in a while I involuntarily turn on the waterworks. They came roaring out at about midnight a couple of nights ago.

A contributing cause for my tear fest was my adorable but sometimes maddening three-and-a-half-month-old kitten, Rhubarb. Like many babies of different species, she can’t manage to sleep through the night.

It doesn’t seem to matter what time we go to bed or how much I play with her in the evening before retiring. After three or four hours of shuteye (occasionally five if I’m really lucky!) she transforms herself from sleepy kitten to attack cat, pouncing on Truffle the Dog and me as we attempt to finish our night’s sleep.

If I lock her out of the room, wails of anguish fill the apartment. If I allow her to stay in the room, the mayhem continues until I’m ready to get up in the morning. At that point Ruby quietly curls up for a nap.

I know she will grow up soon. Meanwhile I’m perennially a bit groggy.

The other night I as was getting ready to go to bed I decide to search for the charger for one of my (too) many electronic devices. I ended up in the kitchen—not the neatest room in the house. As I lifted clean laundry to search underneath I managed to hit one of the wine glasses hanging on the rack above the kitchen counter. The small goblet fell to the ground and shattered into myriad pieces.

The broken glass wasn’t one of my late mother’s best—I’d guess that it dated from the 20th century, not the 19th—but it was graceful and attractive, with a curved cranberry cup and a clear stem. Its set was one of the few for which my mother owned twelve matching glasses. My brother and I now have eleven left.

The remaining glasses still hang in the kitchen. (They aren't this messy looking in real life; it's hard to take photos of glass!)

As I swept up the shards—or most of them; I found another just this morning—I berated myself.

I was a terrible daughter, I thought. I couldn’t take care of my mother’s things. I couldn’t even manage to put away my clean laundry—something that would have appalled her. I started crying, and for a little while, despite the dog and cat’s best efforts, I was inconsolable.

I put on my nightgown and washed my face as I cried. As I dripped down onto the bed with the animals around me, I recalled my mother’s attitude toward tears.

An eminently practical woman, she had absolutely no use for weeping. I decided that if she were looking down at me from heaven, she would more upset by the tears than by the broken glass. I have broken things all my life, and thanks to that practical streak she was pretty much resigned to the breakage.

I looked at the walls around me and noted that the pictures were all crooked. Worse than tears in my mother’s opinion were crooked pictures. She spent a lot of time adjusting them on the walls.

I got up off the bed and gently straightened the paintings. The worst offender, a portrait of me when I was 13 by M.F. Husain, looked a lot better when it wasn’t crooked.

Somehow the act of putting it into alignment it made me feel a little straighter myself. The tears subsided, and I went to sleep … at least until Miss R. decided it was time to start playing.

Lessons learned:

1. Action is better than moping.

2. Be useful rather than tearful. (This is really the same as lesson one–blame my kitten-induced fatigue!–but it sounds more positive.)

3. Put away the laundry as soon as you fold it. (This one is taking me a while to learn. A new pile has formed in the kitchen.)

4. DO NOT start search for things when you are tired. (This one I have taken to heart.)

I look--and feel--better when I'm in alignment.

What’s in a Name?

Having no name can make a girl a little wild.

This morning I received an email from my friend Kay, asking whether I had settled on a name for my kitten yet. “If not she will have a psychological problem,” Kay declared.

It’s true that it has taken me a long time to figure out what the little one’s name will be. My friend Peter always chooses his pets’ names before the animals arrive.

This strikes me as odd. It is what most people do with their children, however. In fact, people generally MUST choose children’s names in advance these days since post-natal hospital stays are dwindling and bureaucrats seem to feel that babies’ names must be on birth certificates before newborns go home.

I gather that at one point one could write “Baby Boy” or “Baby Girl” on a birth certificate. This is apparently no longer the case in most states.

And yet … what if the child’s name doesn’t work out? My birth name (which I won’t identify here) was replaced by Tinky a couple of weeks after I was born when my parents decided that I looked like a Tinky instead of a … whatever it was on the birth certificate.

In school I went back and forth between the original name and Tinky. At one point I even toyed with using the middle name on my birth certificate.

I knew I was in trouble when my undergraduate college, Mount Holyoke, an otherwise sterling institution, refused to give me a diploma with the name “Tinky” on it. The registrar argued that the person with my birth name could have a twin sister named Tinky who was appropriating her/my education.

Our compromise was to tack a name that sounded as though Tinky might have come from it—Katherine, my great-grandmother’s name—onto the front of the name on the diploma.

After that odd experience I just registered as Tinky in graduate school. Before I got my Ph.D., however, one of my professors remarked that Dr. Tinky sounded a bit like a weather girl … so the middle name “Dakota” was born. I am now sometimes known as Tinky Weisblat, sometimes known as Tinky “Dakota” Weisblat, and even occasionally known under the original name.

About 15 years ago when I complained that it was awkward not having Tinky on my driver’s license an obliging employee at the Registry of Motor Vehicles typed Tinky into my license file in front of the other name. (This definitely helped me cash checks since naturally my checking account is under the name Tinky.)

After 2011 this led to trouble when the name on my driver’s license didn’t agree with the name on my social-security card. Apparently, such discrepancies show up in the papers of suspected terrorists. I finally got all my identification lined up, but it was awkward to have the government think of Tinky as an alias.

If my parents had just waited a couple of weeks to finalize my name, I might have been saved all those complicated moments!

On the other hand, as Kay pointed out, parents can’t wait too long. I once knew a father and mother who gave their child a “holding” name and allowed her to change it to a name of her choice legally when she was 18. Let’s face it, 18 is a difficult and romantic age, and she chose something quite bizarre. (I can’t remember it, but I do recall that it was odd!)

Before we got the kitten my family and I thought her name might be Yoda. She has big ears, and she looked wise and thoughtful in the photographs we had seen.

She seldom looks or acts wise and thoughtful in person, however. A typical kitten, she is full of energy and always leaps before she looks. We decided to try out names as we got to know her.

Over the past couple of weeks the kitten has gone through several names. Social-networking technology gave me not only my own and my families’ ideas to consider but those of my Facebook friends … and in some cases THEIR Facebook friends.

Some names lasted for an hour. Some names lasted for a day.

The final (we think!) name came from Nancy Bischoff, a friend of my mother’s former business partner and chum Claire Roth. Nancy mentioned a movie about a cat named Rhubarb. This name appealed to me instantly.

Now that she has a name, Baby Rhubarb can rest.

Rhubarb works on a lot of levels, particularly when one attaches to it the nickname Ruby. (I know it should be Rhuby, but indulge me!)

I love rhubarb. I devoted a chapter to it in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. And I have many rhubarb recipes on my food blog.

Like my little kitten, rhubarb is assertive (some would say aggressive) and colorful. Like her, too, it responds well to sweetening.

And Ruby … well, if I weren’t named Tinky (and I’m not planning to change my name again, I promise), I’d love to have a chorus-girl name like Roxie or Trixie or Ruby.

Like the heroines of the Gold Diggers movies, little Ruby and I like to think of ourselves as street smart yet adorable.

And when I remember that one of the ultimate movie stars, Barbara Stanwyck, was born with the name Ruby Stevens, I’m particularly glad to call my little one Ruby. May she grow up to be as glamorous and self-assured as that Hollywood icon.