What happened.

I’m not sure how it’s been one week already.

Let me start by saying, this post is sad. And it’s happy. But it’s sad. No matter how hard I try to inject joy or humor (I gave it my all!), the answer to the question that so many of you have reached out to ask, ends with some obvious heartbreak.

I thought Jake and I would have a little more time together. I had also hoped that I’d be able to share with you when his time had come, but as I realized what was before us, my mind and heart and existence only had space for Jake. In our last few days, I gave myself fully to my boy.

You knew Jake’s health plight, oh so well. He had a crappy spine that took his hind legs down. The mobility part, was a lot. But we worked towards solutions and he learned to move forward, literally and heroically.  When strangers would see Jake they would always say, ‘poor thing, he really struggles’ and I’d say, “he’s fine, he’s Jake”. And that was truth. But the secret life of a special-needs pet-parent is that you are constantly evaluating the current state of struggle and being. I was always tracking the balance of joy. Jake always just kept finding a way to move forward in his spunky little way. It was my honor to join him on his journey and share in such an incredible love.

He taught me so, so much.

Jake’s challenges did not end at his legs. If only they ended there. The universe seemed to single him out sometimes, with issues that we tried so hard to overcome and we could almost fix, but not really. He had a strain of MRSP with no compatible treatment. He developed not one, but two eye ulcers at the same time, one that formed a hole in his pupil and while emergency surgery helped keep the eye, his eyesight, his beautiful wall-eyed eyesight, suffered. So he had a hamburger eye. Yet, still he kept going.  He lost control of his pee and meatballs (to be fair, this did not bother Jake!).  Even though diapers helped, they also weighed him down and he battled many diaper rashes.

The spine and leg issues were enough. Add in all the other things and as his mom, I sometimes cursed the universe for unloading on my boy. But for every issue, we worked out a solution. For every single situation that made his eyes look at me with worry, I came back with something that helped it. My goal with Jake was that his balance always went towards joy. He returned my every gesture, with laughter and love.

Teamwork at it’s finest.

We even found our way after we lost Melvin. In the past year, we were each other’s everything. Our little family, was perfection.

Then came spinal cancer and the soft tissue cancer in his hind leg. The universe bearing down on him, again. A cancer that we couldn’t treat and one that would be painful. A battle we were not going to win or solve. My evaluation structure changed. I no longer had to balance the struggles, I just had to monitor the pain.

Or so I thought.

When Jake was diagnosed with cancer, he still had some upright moments in his hind legs. Not many, but he could wobbly stand to eat sometimes, or he’d do a walk-drag (a move that earned him a ‘drunk uncle’ nickname). But the cancer took his left leg down pretty quickly and then his right leg tried hard, but it too lost that fight. The odd part about this chapter was, the hind legs part was always going to happen to him. That was a plight we’d accepted after figuring out his wonky spine. So sometimes, I’d forget he had cancer or that it was actually the cancer doing the current damage. In a way, having had accepted his mobility plight before the cancer, helped us stay strong and closer to joy after he was diagnosed.

Yoga mat runways throughout the house helped a lot too.  He strutted his stuff like a boss.

Over his last few weeks, Jake became less active. Some days much less, but some days were better. When we’d go out back, I’d put him down to go potty and he’d just sit at the end of the ramp and pee there. I’d pick him up and put him in the yard and try to get him to move around but he’d just sit again, looking towards the door to go inside. I’d carry him inside. If it was a mealtime potty break, I’d go in and make his breakfast or dinner. Prior to this time, if I said ‘dinner‘ he’d come ‘running’. But now, Jake would still be sitting in the mudroom. So I’d go and get him and carry him to meals. His pain management was constantly reevaluated and he was, for all we could measure, comfortable. He just wasn’t moving around on his own very much.

He was still so happy though. His face was pure love.

There was also a  change in how he dragged his legs, going from dragging his legs to the side (normal and easier for him as he could use his bum to help push himself forward) to having his legs drag directly behind him (so much harder for him to pull his weight that way). He tired easily. I just loved on him harder.

Normally, through these changes, we’d be at the vet or have the vet to us. But I knew what the decline was about. And like so many things in Jake’s life, I couldn’t fix it. I could only try to make it easier on him. So I carried him a lot more, knowing him so very well and knowing where he liked to be at each hour of every day. When Jake was in my arms, he’d kiss me constantly, as if kisses were the gas pedal that kept me going. And they were.

I’d carry Jake to the end of eternity and back again.

Jake had also been having some very minor seizures. We were not sure why. Part of me thought maybe it was his medication. During his last two weeks he’d also started having little spasms when he was laying down. At first it was two to three a minute. Towards the end, it was 20-30. They were like these zingers, it almost seemed like he had the hiccups. But he didn’t have the hiccups. They seemed to bother me more than they bothered him.

Yet though it all, my bug still knew so much joy.

Then there was the terrible infection that stemmed from his most recent diaper rash. And all our usual tricks that battled diaper rash before, failed. Cancer was being a real jerk. The thought that a diaper area infection would take my ninja warrior down seemed so unacceptable so I fought that rash harder than I think I have ever fought anything. We battled it hours and hours a day. I set a time limit on the infection, if it continued to win, I could not let him continue battle it. It would have infected the joy.

But you know what, as of that last Saturday night, the infection turned a corner, and it was on the mend! And I high-fived the shit out of Jake and we did a ‘we won dance’  and it had been a long time since we got to do a ‘we won dance’ and we went to bed Saturday night renewed in our fight! The time I had given us to beat the infection had not run out.

Time is funny. It doesn’t care who you are or what you want or how hard you fought or how many things you faced down or how much you danced. It doesn’t care that your little guy worked harder to travel through life than most will ever have to.

Time didn’t care that Jake was only eight.

On Sunday morning, the day after our we beat the infection parade, Jake woke up, toppled over and had a seizure. This was not a minor seizure like the others, it was major and it was terrible. His body went so rigid that at first I thought he was having a heart attack. I held him in my arms and I told him that he was going to be ok and that if he saw Melvin he should run towards him with all that he had. I told him over and over and over that I loved him. During the seizure, he pooped (this is normal for a seizure but I think Jake was sending me a ‘I love you, too’). As his body started to relax, he stared up at me…with love and then kisses. And in that moment, in that tiny, giant moment with my little warrior, we were the only two living creatures on earth. In that moment, we won at love.

I called the vets. We briefly discussed the reasons it could have happened.  A conversation that didn’t really require words.

Jake was not himself on Sunday. I know some of that was the seizure. But as he and I traveled through the day, and as I started to paint the picture of our last few weeks and months…I knew.

I know Jake. I know his body better than anyone. I know the exact moment during that day that he let me know he was tired. Tired of challenges. Tired of having to overcome. Aware that his ability to travel though our life together, was becoming too much.

If Jake had a wonky spine and seizures, well I’d clear the calendar and we’d be a regular at the neurologist. If he had the worst diaper rash and wonky legs, we’d tackle it. If he had MRSP and a wonky spine and eye ulcer surgery with months of a cone, well we call that 2015.

Sometimes you can’t outrun reality. Even when you can’t really run at all and your mom is carrying you and she is running as fast as she can. Jake had cancer and all the other crap that the universe dumped on him and now seizures were invading our precious space and I knew, in a way that only I could know, that his joy would only be reigning supreme for a few more days.

I couldn’t let him go through anything more, except love.

The day I let Melvin go, he was not having a bleed. It was an ordinary day with my extraordinary boys, he woke up with joy in his heart. He ate, he walked out back on his own and he snuggled with me and Jake. His tumors hadn’t ruptured yet. There was no collapse. There was only joy.

I wanted the same for Jake.  His life had known such struggle, 100% more struggle than I ever wanted him to have known, and yet my little superman choose love and perseverance every single time. Jake’s end was coming and I would rather die myself than have him feel one more ounce of struggle or confusion as to what was happening now. So Jake had a beautiful Monday. His village came over and loved on him and he gave them the sweetest, gentlest kisses. He had the best meal he could have ever imagined. He and I went on a stroller walk, right down memory lane. To all the places he and Melvin used to walk, on all eight of their legs. We went out back and reminisced about all the things he ate in our yard. We did his last neighborhood watch at the front door.

Then he and I tuned out the entire world and we snuggled. We snuggled so hard and so perfectly. I breathed him in. He kissed away my tears. I told him all the things I wanted to tell him and he looked into my eyes and told me all the things he needed me to know.

We could not have loved each other more. We got each other through the roughest year of our two lives. We chased joy, and we caught it.

I let Jake go at home. In his favorite spot.

I know that as his vision of me faded, Melvin appeared. I know that Jake leapt into Melvin’s face with an unimaginable joy and I know Melvin shared gleefully in that glorious moment. Jake moved forward, cancer free and struggle free, eyes wide and his second leap was likely straight towards Melvin’s butt. There is a part of me that finds such peace in that even as the whole of me grieves. The heartache and sadness I feel, is worth every ounce to know that Jake and Melvin knew my love and that they are reunited in sweet, joyful, odd-couple joy. To know that they have each other, for forever this time.

#loveliveson #findyourjoy

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Heartbreak.

I miss Jake. That is my entire existence right now.

All of me, misses all of him.

I’m surprised to even be here on the blog.  When I learned of Jake’s cancer, the future of the blog loomed in the back of my mind. I thought that when I lost him, so many things would go silent, including this space. This is a blog about my little family. My little dog family. And that little family…is gone now.

It has only been two days. To say it’s been two days seems crazy because it feels like forty lifetimes since we parted. I’m not sure why he feels so far away from me, I’m sure it has something to do with my protective barrier. Losing Jake is familiar in some ways, Melvin has not been gone that long and I know how grief goes. I know that sadness will try to hold me down and that I have to move through it. But like any loss, losing Jake is also completely different. Jake is my baby. Jake and I got each other through the last year. I know, I will work through this. This part, I know is torture and heartbreak that will one day find its way into joy and love and memory. This part I know is the heavy debt of true love.  I know that wonky little monkey will light the way with his magical googly eyes for me. I will learn to persevere the same way he did, making every difficult step count.

I keep telling myself, it’s only been two days.

If it was just losing Jake, that would be enough, losing him is unbearable. While that part is ‘the given’ part of loss and grief, there is this new and complicated part of losing him that began to suffocate me an hour or two after Jake died and that has continued to spiral ever since.

I am overwhelmed to not be caring for Jake.

Not the normal things we all miss about caring for our pets, like meal time, or potty breaks or walks or training or treats or them just being there and needing us. I am overwhelmed by the things that fill up the day when you are taking care of someone with special needs. Like getting up several times a night to check to make sure Jake has not fallen out of his bed and to make sure he is not sleeping on or near poop. To carry him down and out in the morning, to clean his diaper area in case bugs got on him while he was outside. To change his diaper 25 times a day. To clean up all the accidents. To apply ointment after ointment after ointment to his infection. To care for his eyes, his MRSP, his mobility, his movement from room-to-room, to cook for him, to answer the ten alarms I had set throughout the day for all his treatments. To get him to the front door for neighborhood watch, to his stroller for walks, to his sunspots in the afternoon and to the couch for evening lounging. To carry him upstairs and help him get into his bed each night, tucking his legs in exactly the way he liked them. I do my laundry once a week.  I do Jake’s laundry daily. I don’t leave the house for more than 3-4 hours without making a plan to have Jake’s diaper changed or to go home and change it myself. Jake is gone and I have gone from providing 24/7 care to providing nothing. Every minute that goes by and he does not need me to help him anymore, breaks me. I get up at night and he’s not there. I stand up at 1pm and 2pm and 3pm to change his diaper. I had alarms set for the entire day so I would stay on track with his treatments and although I have silenced the alarms, I am unable to silence the ache that occurs each time I realize, he does not need my nurturing anymore. Additionally, with or without the alarms, my body still gets up to stay on track with our schedule.

I have no idea how to transition from caretaker to just me. Not on top of dealing with the loss of Jake. As Jake’s mother, there is nothing more I want for him than to be running and jumping and leaping in heaven. To be able see all the loveliness and all the joy with both eyes. To be struggle free, infection free and most importantly, enveloped in Melvin’s embrace and love. Soul mates, reunited eternally. Being together, is where they belong. But there is still a part of me, a raw part of me, that also wants Jake here.

In addition to the loss, and the disruption to the beautiful cadence of my day with Jake, I am also now a mom, with no dogs. The boys are both gone. If I thought coming home to Melvin not greeting me at the door was hard, coming home to no Melvin and no Jake and no need for a noise machine and radio is a most deafening silence. This one, this one is just going to have to suck until I get used to it. It’s more just a reality that will have to sink in.

When Max died, I got up because Melvin needed me and he kept me going. When Melvin died, I got up for Jake. Jake needed me and we moved forward together. In this now dog-less house, I get up because I know  they would want me to. I try to remember who we are, even if we, is just me now. And there are parts of me that know I’m capable even though I feel incredibly weak.

It’s only the start of day three. I’m trying to be kind to myself.

I will find my way. The boys will guide me and love will continue to live on.

Thank you for your messages, your comments, your thoughts, your prayers and your general awesomeness. Thank you, for you. I do plan on sharing with you what happened with Jake, probably next week. Until then, here is a photo of my little angel from our recent photo shoot.

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Run free, my love.

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Jake Holupka

September 27, 2007 – July 18, 2016

“I know you haven’t made your mind up yet, but I would never do you wrong. I knew it from the moment that we met, no doubt in my mind where you belong…

…no there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do, go to the end of the earth for you, to make you feel my love.”

I love you, bug. Forever. xoxoBT4A9988

The infection.

Jake still has an infection.  He has had it for a few weeks. Other times battling his diaper area infections have turned out fine. Those other times however, we were not also battling cancer.

This infection has consumed me. It owns my mind and all my time and energy goes into battling it or worrying about it. This is one of those times when you start to understand what they mean when the cause of death is something other than the disease at hand.  Like…he died of complications from cancer. This infection, is most certainly a complication.

There have been a lot of vet visits, countless efforts to fix it, so many creams that I had to make room in the garage. There have also been some tough conversations in the case we can’t get it under control. Luckily, his pain meds seem to be protecting him from feeling much of it at all.  And his wonky spine takes care of diminishing the rest of the sensation, so for that I’m thankful. He is for the most part, still Jake.

Since returning from my trip, I have not really left Jake’s side. I lay with him so he can have the infected area uncovered and untouched. I put different medications on him. I have to use surgical gloves which makes sense but feels strange.  I do homeopathic treatments (made for us by our amazing holistic vet), making a paste out of herbs and honey and I put that on the area for 15 minutes.  Then I meticulously clean it off and start back on the medications. I have everything on a timer and the timer is almost always going off.

I’m desperate for more time with him.

But more so, he still feels joy.

I had the worst migraine of my life this past weekend and every time that alarm went off, I somehow got up. He is my purpose right now. He is my goal.

There is a part of me that knows that this infection might be the sign that it’s time. To let him go before the cancer takes him. I know that his time is coming. But there is also still this light in him that ignites a light in me and it makes me wants to solve just one of his problems before I say goodbye. I’m not sure that light ever goes out. But I have started adjusting the glow. Instead of always saying ‘you’ll be fine bud’, I have started saying ‘if it’s time to go to Melvin, I understand.  I’ll carry all the sadness bud, you need only travel with joy’.

I had a conversation with someone recently. I was working through a let down, trying to focus on forgiveness so I could move on. Forgiveness is way better than bad mojo. I learned that from Melvin.  During the conversation, came some great advice.  He said… ‘never set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm’.

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And I thought a long time about that and it hit home in ways that were probably way outside of the scope of his meaning for it (although it made sense that way too).  I decided I was going to cut back on everyone else’s needs for a bit and only focus on Jake and me. I had been spreading myself too thin. I recall feeling this way last year with Melvin. When my capacity was focused on him.  And now it’s the same with Jake.

Right now, my plan is Jakey. His time is short and my time is his.

It’s funny, during this past week with Jake, I realized that the fire advice has some parameters — if setting myself on fire would help Jake, I’d be ablaze right now.

Love is so infinitely wonderful and so incredibly hard sometimes. What love looks like can change in an instant. We work so hard to make the end lovely but the reality is that it’s also impossible and messy and it always feels like yours is the very first end ever and no matter how many people surround you or call you or show up, you are still…alone. The end is lonely. So my advice is…don’t feel bad for needing ‘me/us’ time. Remember that being human has its limitations. For cripes sake, do not set yourself on fire! Most importantly, try to forgive the end (even more importantly, always try to forgive yourself).

But don’t forgive infections, they suck.

 

Side note:we had the infection cultured and it’s not an easy one to treat but there are medications we can try so we are going try that route, for now.

I promise you that suffering is not in Jake’s future. I’m still hopeful this infection won’t be the end.

Don’t forget to feed me woman. IMG_9625

 

Leaving.

I had to leave Jake for a few days.  Leaving anyone towards the end of their life feels impossible and complicated and emotionally painful but sometimes other loved ones in your life need you also and you make compromises.

The only saving grace was that if Jake were able to make his own bucket list, the first nine out of ten items would be to have his dog sitter, Tayler (and her mom), come stay with him.  He may love her more than me.  And I’m fine with that. For the record, Jake’s tenth item on the bucket list would be for us to go live wherever Melvin went and for me to pack really good snacks for the journey.

Tayler has watched him many times before,the last time this past winter.  That did not stop me from channeling my inner insanity detailing every step of Jake’s day in notes. Here is a look at the note, the highlighted areas are items that are new/different since the last time she watched him.

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Crazy, party of one.

The original plan was to take Jake on the trip. But sometimes life puts cancer in your day and you cannot add to your baby’s struggle anymore than it already does.

Jake’s bucket list: own a harem. Check.IMG_9599IMG_9600

 

Most of you don’t know this but I had to leave Melvin for a few days, just after we found out he was dying.  There was a very special and important family trip and although I could have canceled, there was the potential for regret no matter what choice I made. As it turned out, Melvin was just fine without me and he too got to spend a special last visit with his love, Vasha.

Even in dying and death, we have to live. It’s not always easy (I cried so much when I left Melvin for that trip but I also had some wonderful people around me, giving me strength to go back and face the hardest phase of my life).

So I left Jake for a few days, and there were tears (mine, not his!). I worried way too much, but I did relax some. I overthought everything and yet still found some clarity. I checked-in like a crazy person and even had the vet come by to check on him and of course, he did fine.

I would care for Jake until the end of time. I would change his diapers, care for his infections, carry him…forever. But it’s always nice to get a little break.  I came back rejuvenated and when Jake pooped on me as I was giving him my snuggly hello, I laughed so hard. That is what our love looks like and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

Formal wear.

I pride myself on finding solutions for Jake. There have certainly been times when those efforts have failed to produce options, but usually just for the minor stuff.

Jake drags his hind legs around now, which means his diaper gives me a big F-you every time I put it on him.  I readjust his diaper, true story, 100 times a day. Ask all the carpets we have waved goodbye too, the system was not working great. I had tried suspenders but Jake is pretty small and since he is on his stomach a lot, having the underside suspender part was not ideal because it would cut into him.  I also tried wrapping a scarf around the diaper (tighter), the scarf also gave me the big F-you. I even tried that mesh wrap the vet uses but I’d have to get a 2nd and 3rd job to afford that for every friggen diaper change.

So  I did what Elsa suggested and I let it go, and I just became the re-adjuster. Then Amazon, who serves up ideas based on my previous searches (guys, my searches would make you full on pee your pants — and we would have a diaper for you!), put the solution in front of me. Sheet binders. The straps you put on your fitted sheet to keep it in place.  They were 8 inches, the EXACT length Jake is from collar to diaper. Same day delivery? Yes, please!

We are only on day two, but my back is already hollering hallelujah! And Jake looks like he just came from a wedding reception. Pretty much the ONLY time you’d see white suspenders.

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It took a while to get the sizing right so he was not choking.  Choking is bad. IMG_9425

For the record, dude had just pee’d in this bed and I was taking it up to wash.  He has no shame. He is more like a wedding crasher. IMG_9437