Downhill from eighty

Following two bouts of pancreatitis, our dog is now on a low fat diet and restricted to one brand of dog food, two moderate serves daily.

The vet told us we must avoid all other foods given the dog’s inability to tolerate fats and excess foods, including even the cat food, which is apparently higher in salts and whatever.

This dietary restriction has proved tricky in that we need to feed the animals separately with at least a door in between or a human body to stand over the cats while they graze.

Otherwise, the minute they’ve finished, the dog is into their bowls licking up the scraps.

He hovers around at our meal times also hoping for scraps, for anything that might find its way to the floor, like the uncooked rigatoni pasta rings that dropped out of the bag as I was putting the pasta into boiling water.

The dog grabbed a piece of pasta before I had a chance to retrieve it and was off over to the other side of the room crunching away on hard dry rigatoni.

‘He’s a desperado,’ my husband says.

A scavenger of the first order.

Anything will do. And I reason that a piece of dry pasta may not be enough to induce another burst of pancreatitis but so far, since November last year when I spent several hours of my birthday sitting in the vet clinic waiting for the dog to come out of overnight rehydration, he has not been unwell and we aim to keep it that way.

In the back of my mind, I aim to keep all the animals alive as long as possible, but more particularly until my daughter, who’s overseas in Japan, comes home, hopefully later this year.

I cannot abide the idea that anyone, pet or human, should die while she’s away, knowing how much she misses home and would feel tormented in a doubly tormented way, were she away during such a tragic event.

I can’t control these things, but I try.

I can still see my mother in my mind’s eye when the telephone rang at our house in Healesville when I would have been a four year old.

She stood there against the wall. The phone was one of those positioned on high on a ledge in the hallway. In Healesville we lived and worked next door to a shop and café and the phone was both an office and home phone, black and raised outside the door that led to the shop.

My mother did not cry, or so my four year old self believed, until that day when news of her mother’s death came along the airwaves from Holland. She leaned against the wall as if it was a person offering her support and she wept.

Twenty-five years later, ten days after my first daughter was born, I received a similar call but this time it was my father who had died.

Unlike my mother, I did not cry.

I did not lean against a wall for support. I stood instead in awe at the majesty of it all, that my father who had for so long terrorised me and whom I had come to hate so much, even as my feelings had softened since I left home and married and he stopped drinking.

Still I had for so long wanted him dead. How then could he be dead at last?

My mother delivered the news over the telephone from Canberra where she and my father had been visiting my oldest brother. She told me it had been a good death. That my father had asked after his other children at home in Melbourne, that he had talked about Saint Francis of Assissi as a beautiful saint.

For a man who eschewed religion in my childhood years, this evocation of a saint seemed anomalous, but I believe that he went, wracked by the pain of a series of heart attacks, while my mother later died of slow congestive heart failure, and both needed religious support.

And ever since I have believed my heart will one day take me away, too.

After I wrote in a recent  blog post about my slow heart rate here, my uncle, the last surviving sibling in my mother’s family of seven, emailed to tell me he had heard about my concerns over my slow heart rate and that I should not worry too much. It’s familial.

Six of the seven members of his family suffered from a low heart rate and all lived into their eighties and some including my mother beyond, but after that as he wrote ‘it all went downhill’.

My mother told me similarly, after eighty things go downhill.

Up hill to eighty and then the fast decline to death.

In dog years, our dog is now something like 72, he has a few years to go but since dog years go in multiples of seven, maybe only one or two more but people still see him as a pup.

I thought then about my mother’s last birthday in her 93rd year when we took her out for lunch to a hotel over the road from her retirement village.

My sister and I wheeled her along the street and her brother walked alongside.

The hotel dining room was loud and my mother sat at one end of the long table alongside her brother while my sister’s children and their children, many of whom joined us at the other end of the table, chatted about the antics of their children, especially the latest arrival, my mother’s seventh great granddaughter.

After wards my mother complained to my sister that it was her birthday and everyone had ignored her and paid more attention to the baby.

My mother would never have let such petty jealousies show when she was younger, anymore than I would, but I can understand those feelings, the ones we learn to put aside as we grow up.

And then when we get beyond our eighties and things go downhill, our inhibitions drop by the way side, back from childhood, to reappear in public and we all run the risk of becoming like Donald Trump – perish the thought.

9 thoughts on “Downhill from eighty”

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth and sorry to cause your stomach to lurch. But even here in Australia we feel his impact, though I had to think for a minute as to what you meant by 45, and then it dawned, the unmentionable odious man.

  1. Like you I take owning a pet seriously. Okay, we never asked for a cockatiel to land on our windowsill but he arrived and for the last ten years we’ve allowed him to monopolise our lives. Were he a kid the pressure would be off by now but he’s not; he’ll perpetually be a two-year-old with a penchant for destruction and obstreperousness. But we love him. And I do dread the day when we lift his cover in the morning to find him lying feet up on the floor of the cage. I dread more him becoming ill because birds are notorious at hiding signs of sickness until it’s too late to do anything not that there’s much that can be done.

    Mum had two cats put down over the years, Tom and Snowy. I forget what was wrong with Snowy but Tom arrived on our doorstep one day dripping in oil and was never the same after although it didn’t finish him right away. I got the job of cleaning him off and he was as good as gold as I soaped him down in the garage; he knew he was being looked after. My dad supposed he must’ve swallowed some of the stuff because he began having fits although it took a while. Terrible to watch. Heart-breaking.

    Minstrel (named because he was black and white) I found lying in the gutter on the way home. I had my little sister with me at the time and so had to force myself to ignore him so as not to upset her. Minstrel was one of the few cats we’d had since he was a kitten. Mostly we ended up with adult strays and no sooner had one died than another found its way to our back door.

    Tigger was probably my favourite of Mum’s cats, the scardiest cat you’re ever likely to meet. (Tom was the bravest.) Lived his entire life in our garden. The furthest he’d roam would be to the two gardens on either side of ours to do his business. I remember when he died. I was living in Glasgow at the time and Dad phoned as he usually did on a Thursday night. In the background I heard Mum’s voice, “Don’t tell our Jimmy.” She hadn’t wanted me to hear the news over the phone. She knew I’d be upset and I was, terribly. It was like losing a kid brother.

    I’ve never really understood people who talk about “only a dog” or “just a cat.” Yes, I know if I had to save an animal or a human I’d opt for the human but I’d still probably dive back into the fray after to at least try to rescue whatever it was. The only cat to survive Mum was Biggie (because he was big—Mum didn’t have much imagination when it came to naming her cats) and my sister took him home with her. Anything else was unthinkable; we had a duty of care.

    1. Good to hear that you’re also a responsible cat, pet person, Jim. I reckon so many of us have these stories to tell about our beloved pets, their lives and deaths. Especially when we’re little. To lose one can feel like losing a sibling. And yes, even today all grown up, I can imagine it’ll be devastating for you to lose your beloved cockatiel. I hope it takes a long long time before that happens. Thanks, Jim.

  2. I recently had an interesting conversation with my doctor along the lines of familial history, Elisabeth. Heart disease is also my family nemesis. I declared that if I did not have a sudden event in my early 60’s, then I would probably go slowly in my 80’s, as that appeared to be the pattern.
    He confirmed that it was a very scientifically supported statement. So I have decided that my next few birthdays will be well celebrated!
    I have also recently become a foster mother to 2 cats, each of whom belonged to different members of the same family, and I am now currently juggling the introduction process. It feels a little odd as, of course, the family members know each other, but the cats do not. I’ve also noticed that the responsibility I feel towards their well-being is quite different to other pets I have owned, as I feel I will have to answer for any care I extend to them, necessary or otherwise.
    I wonder if it will change my previously pragmatic approach to pet-care?

    1. Good grief, Karen. You can’t go suddenly in your ear sixtes, despite the pattern. I won’t hear of it. The second option, a slow decline in your eighties is preferable, if you’re anything like me and not yet ready to die. As for taking on the foster mother role, it seems to be the way. You take on other people’s babies – in my case my children’s pets – and before you know it your’e responsible to keep the pets going, not only for yourself and the pets but for your children a well. Mixed motivations, calling for even more pragmatism and a great show of compassion and care. Thanks, Karen.

      1. Well, alright Elisabeth. If it upsets you so, I’ll do my best to stay upright and breathing. It’s the pragmatist in me that has to call it as I see it.
        Thanks for such sweet concern.

  3. Pancreatitis is so dangerous, potentially fatal—your poor little dog. I must say, though it sounds mercenary, it’s also expensive—I hope you have pet insurance. And pasta is low in fat!
    The memory of learning of your father’s death—pivotal moments that stay with us forever.
    And bless your mother and her petty jealousies! I know it’s easy to laugh when you didn’t have to live with it! xx

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