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.