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.