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.Caregiver of the Month
November 2001

I watched tears drizzle down her face as she stared silently out into the cold December night. Because I watch faces carefully and listen to the tones of voices, I knew something was wrong but couldn?t identify it just yet, so I patiently waited for her to reveal a more definite sign.

I need to explain to you that I'm a...a...ok, I'm a dog. Oh, how I hate that word! Except Mom once told me that "dog" spelled backwards is "God" and she said that was a very good thing. My name is Cody, and I'm a two-and-a-half year old Beagle-Jack Russell combo. I live in a suburb of Dallas with my human Mom and Dad.

This story is my final gift to my Grandma Mickey, who came to live with us the night I found my Mom crying. Although Mom was the caregiver for Grandma during her final months, I was lucky to be able to help in ways that most humans would never imagine.

The night of Mom's tears was in December 1998. Dad was enroute home with Grandma, my Mom's mom, after her release from the hospital. No one had told me Grandma was dying. My thoughts were of a happier nature, as Grandma usually visited on holidays and I had wonderful memories of those occasions.

Grandma didn?t leave the next day as usual. I didn't care, for I loved the extra attention she gave me. I noticed how different she looked, how much slower she walked and I was fascinated by some funny little tubes running from her nose to a machine by her bed.

Days turned into weeks and changes began taking place. Grandma was staying in our guest room and I spent most of my time keeping her company. Mom worked in an office down the hall, so when Grandma left her room I became her guardian escort. I knew if anything happened to her I would be the one to run to Mom for help. You see, they needed me-they just didn't realize it!

When Grandma began staying in her room most of the time, we had to take things to her. One of my first jobs was to take a small bottle of eye drops from the refrigerator to Grandma without biting into it or dropping it on the way. Mom knelt down as she put the tiny bottle into my mouth, giving me explicit instructions on where to take it, to whom, and of course she had to throw in what would happen to me if I didn't do it right. No problem! I carefully walked into Grandma?s room, climbed gently up onto the bed and dropped the bottle into her lap. Obviously she was expecting my delivery, for she praised me until I thought I'd wiggle myself into a pretzel.

Each day brought new challenges. I now was Grandma's full-time companion. Oh, people would come and go to check on her, bring her trays of food or medicine, but I happily stayed by her side.

As I mentioned at first, I watch faces carefully. It was during Grandma's nap times that I began to realize something was wrong with her. She would wait until Mom left the room before frowning, tightening her jaws or letting soft moans of pain escape her lips. I guess she knew her secrets were safe with me. I always stretched out alongside her, but it was only when I knew she was asleep that I could relax and close my eyes.

Mom began letting me help even more, since she had to stay in her office most of the day. In addition to the eyedrops I now was sent to get Grandma's socks, slippers, nail file or anything she needed from another room that was small enough for me to carry. All Mom or Dad had to do was identify the object once, and I was off and running all for the joy of Grandma's praise.

Days grew warmer, but because Grandma couldn't come out into my yard to play with me, I chose to remain indoors with her. I also began paying more attention to Mom, as she began crying more when she knew Grandma was asleep. Soft, silent tears. I knew the tears were somehow associated with Grandma, and I couldn't make her stop crying, but I always licked away the tears. Mom always smiled after we had a session together like this, and I knew this was just one more way in which she needed me.

Since her arrival Grandma had always visited the bathroom twice during the night. She instructed me early on to remain outside the door (something called "privacy") so I sat patiently waiting to escort her back to bed. Now Grandma began calling Mom to help her with these late hour trips, using a doorbell button Dad had put on her nightstand. I was confused. Had I done something wrong? Had I let Grandma down? I did notice that she leaned on Mom for support, which obviously was something I couldn't give her so my feelings weren't so hurt, and of course I just escorted two back to the bedroom instead of one. Weeks became months. My days and nights were now centered around my "patient." I never left her side except for my quick pit stops outside. I sat with her during meals. I waited outside her bathroom door when Mom gave her a shower. I brought her everything she needed that I could get a grip on, and I even watched soaps on T.V. with her, although the only interesting parts were the dog commercials. I tried hard to entertain her myself, sharing my toys with her, retrieving expertly when one was thrown, and performing my tricks for her when I had her undivided attention. Oh, I know my folks did the big things, but in my own little way I felt responsible for her now.

Soon I noticed Grandma's eating habits change. She began leaving more food on her plate. Confusion set in again. Did I make her feel she had to reward my devotion by sharing more of her food with me? She had always sneaked me tidbits but now the bites were coming as fast as I could eat them.

I may be just a fur person but I'm not dumb. I could see her getting thinner and thinner. She tried to eat, but the four or five bites she ate at each meal became the hardest task of her day. We became partners in crime, with her sneaking bites to me, and because I loved her so much I ate them so she wouldn't get in trouble with my parents.

I now saw changes almost daily. If Grandma had to go anywhere outside her bedroom she had to now use a walker. The regular showers and hair rolling ceased, as she said she didn't have the strength to stand that long.

Meals became liquid with names like Ensure, juice or soup. Those funny tubes never came out of her nose. I felt like I was losing control of my part in this situation, as if it were out of my paws now.

Late one night as Grandma and I slept, Mom quietly entered our room. I awoke to watch her sink slowly down into the chaise lounge at the end of Grandma's bed. As our eyes met, she shook her head "no". I knew she was telling me to stay still so I wouldn't awaken Grandma.

Mom practically carried Grandma to the bathroom that night, with me by their side. We then returned to the bed and lounge respectively. No questions were asked about Mom's presence. However, when we all settled into our positions the next night, I decided to help Mom as best I could. I knew if I scooted down towards the foot of the bed (towards Mom's lounge) and stretched out as much as possible, Mom could lay her hand on my "rump".

Since she was such a deep sleeper I could move and awaken her if Grandma tried to sit up or needed help. To my delight, it worked! As soon as Mom felt me move she awoke and came to Grandma's aid. The fourth night with Mom in our bedroom didn't feel right from the start.

Grandma had needed more pain medicine all day and had refused to eat dinner. I didn?t understand the significance of the additional medicine, but I sure knew that the lack of food meant something bad. Grandma drifted off to sleep with her hand, as usual, on my head but Mom never closed her eyes. When Grandma suddenly sat up and swung around to put her feet on the floor in the middle of the night, both Mom and I jumped to her side.

There was no sound from Grandma. Mom repeated her question, sitting down and putting her left arm around Grandma's shoulders. I stuck my head through the middle of the two, feeling their warmth. After what seemed like hours, Grandma began to slowly sink back onto her pillow. Mom straightened her out and leaned over to kiss her forehead. Grandma was already asleep. The light of dawn began a day like no other I had experienced nor will I ever forget. To begin with I was put outside and no amount of barking, yelping or whining made a difference. Strangers came and went, as did several of Mom's closest friends. I was so upset as I sat outside the screen door whimpering. How was Grandma getting along without me? We hadn't been apart in months. Who was being so cruel as to keep me from her now? Dad finally let me in with strict instructions to stay by his side. I walked slowly with him to Grandma's room where I saw Mom sitting on the side of the bed. She called me over, and as she picked me up I noticed that Grandma was sleeping. Mom held me on her lap. She picked up Grandma's left hand and moved it up and down my back as if Grandma was stroking me herself.

To me, the four of us were the only ones in that room. Suddenly Grandma jerked violently although her eyes remained shut. Her arms were flying in all directions as Mom and two strange ladies tried to control her. I think Mom called them hospice. I ran to safety, sitting down just outside Grandma's door. I was scared for the first time in my young life. I didn't understand what Grandma was doing and I was scared Mom would get hurt. The jerking stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Grandma appeared to be asleep, as her eyes never opened. Mom cried as friends left. I wanted to go to her, but I was afraid I would be sent back outside if I got in the way. It grew dark and only a few remained. Grandma had been still for a long time with her face turned away from the room and her eyes shut. Mom sat on the side of the bed, silent in her watch over my companion. It all happened so quickly. Grandma jerked her head around to face Mom with eyes suddenly wide open. Their eyes locked as Grandma took a deep breath. No words were spoken. Mom stretched out her arms as Grandma fell silently into them. I raised up in the hallway. Something important had just happened. In the silence someone said a prayer. I knew what a prayer was, for Mom and Dad say one every night and I knew to hold still until I heard "amen".

Then I saw Grandma's eyes. They were open! She was awake! Maybe this was a good time for me to bring her my newest toy. Before I could turn I saw Mom slowly close Grandma's eyes, and for some reason I knew they would never see me again. My companion, my dinner partner and the lady I had centered my life around was gone.

It's been six months since Grandma left. At first I couldn't go into her room. I still felt her there-just couldn't see her. Ond day Mom went in and without thinking I followed. I still felt her presence, but it was a comfortable experience this time. I spend most nap times now on Grandma's bed. I can't see her, but love the touch of her hand moving slowly up and down my back!

Patti St.Clair
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