This day has been on my mind for a month now. I keep thinking back to last year and reading the blog posts I wrote and wondering how I’ve gotten to this point – a year without my Mina. I’ve been near tears for days just thinking back on this time last year …

I miss how secure she made me feel in our apartment. I always knew that no one could walk by on the sidewalk or come up the stairs without a warning from Mina. She was a good judge of people and canines and kept us safe from those she didn’t trust.

I miss knowing that she was always close by, even when I couldn’t see her I could feel her presence.

I miss her unconditional love and devotion and understanding. If you’ve never been close to a canine, you’re missing something really fantastic.

I miss Mina every time I walk in the door, knowing I won’t see her happy face and wagging tail. I miss her on trips to the winery, drives out to the country, road trips …

Sometimes I see her; a flash of a tail going by behind the couch, a glimpse of her face at the window when I come home from work, in the way some dogs greet me as if I’m their long-lost best friend when it’s the first time we’ve met …

I’m not sure what I’ll do today – maybe I’ll go for a drive or visit some interesting site to distract myself from revisiting that awful morning. I wish I could sit by the river in my hometown and watch it flow by on its way to the Gulf or sit at Green Key beach in the sun. The goal is not to sit in my apartment and relive this day last year and spend it grieving and crying. Mina gets very upset when I’m crying and sad and, as Tosca’s mom reminds me, she wouldn’t want me to spend the day that way.

Mostly I wish she was here for me to take care of because I miss being the light of her life.

Mina, taken by her Auntie Lolo not sure of date but that's a summer shave

So, this blog … I’ve been writing in Mina’s blog since April 23, 2009. That’s one year, six months, two weeks, and two days. I think it’s served its purpose well and we get quite a few visits from people looking for various information about canine lymphoma. It will stay here to serve that purpose but I’m not going to write here much more. Sometimes when I have a happy memory of Mina I’ll sit down to write it in her blog only to end up crying and feeling the weight of my loss. I don’t want our happy memories to always turn to tears. If, down the line, something comes up that I feel the need to write about, then I’ll do it but it’s time to let it sit.

Mina is happy and safe and warm and loved and having fun in heaven. Sometimes the miracle really does happen on the other side.

Me and Mina

Summer 1997, on Mina's graduation day from basic training

All my love …

Advertisements

This weekend my college roommate, CW, came for a visit. She was in town for a conference and stayed over to hang out with me. Many times during her visit I found myself wondering if Mina would’ve remembered CW from the 18 months we lived in Denver and hung out with CW and her family. When I had to go out of town for business or to a family event, Mina usually stayed with CW and her family. I babysat the kids on a few evenings and Mina and I always had a really good time with them.

I talked about Mina a lot this weekend. I miss her every day but seemed to miss her more when our friend from our time in Denver was here. It felt wrong that Mina wasn’t here to enjoy CW’s company, too. I’m sure Mina would’ve slept out in the living room with her, and pushed the limit on her begging-for-food techniques and had a blast with us at the winery yesterday.

When we lived in Denver, CW and her family had an elderly, arthritic puppy named Spud. Mina was always curious about Spud, but Spud wanted nothing to do with a 2-year-old and her crazy energy. So Mina contented herself with getting on the furniture (forbidden!) and coercing treats from the kids. I know she enjoyed walking in their beautiful, leafy, older neighborhood and hanging out in the park.

Hanging out with my old friend brought back a lot of memories of our time in Denver, mostly remembering how young Mina was when we lived there. She turned three a few months after we moved and had her fourth birthday a few months before moved back. You can see pictures of our Denver days here and here.

There's my happy girl as we arrive in Denver, August 1999

We had a good time, we remembered a lot of silly stuff, we caught up on the news … I think Mina hung out with us at the winery, and I’m pretty sure she was riding with me on the way back from the airport.

I miss you baby girl …

I woke up this morning feeling Mina’s absence strongly. It’s one of the parts of grief that I find most disturbing, this sudden and unexpected surge of sorrow and tears. It happens to lots of people as I’ve found by talking to my friends and my Dad. It’s a short trip down bad memory lane because the good memories don’t usually make me feel sad and cause me to cry.

This morning’s trip was the last day Mina and I spent together, Sunday, November 8, 2009. I did smile a little remembering that long morning walk she took us on, marveling again at her ability to pull herself together for this last tour of her stomping grounds. We took a couple more shorter walks during the day, but that last long walk was incredible. Mina hadn’t walked that far in a couple of weeks, at least, and I wondered where she found the strength to hold her tail high and even bring out her perky walk for a few moments.

Mina has strength in abundance. Looking back over her months in chemo and her last weeks of life I realize it was Mina keeping us strong. It was Mina showing me, for the last time, how to live in the moment and to treasure every moment we had left together. Others have said it and I know it’s true, that last day together was her gift to me. She pooled all of her strength and left this world, and me, on a high note.

Now it’s my turn to make something of this day. I’m annoyed at the high winds blowing tree pollen all over and keeping me inside, but Mina wouldn’t let that keep her from enjoying every moment, no matter what she was doing. If she were here right now, she’d be napping in front of the living room window and I’d stop my chores to rub her belly now and then. Something about watching Mina sleep always comforted me.

Miss you, baby, every day and twice on Sundays

Five months is not a long time, not really. I guess it’s a long time when you’re sad and grieving but in regular, non-grieving time it’s not a very long time at all.

Mina’s been gone for five months today. I can hardly believe it because I miss her so much; as much as I love her. It still astounds and saddens me to realize how completely different my life is without Mina, and not in a good way. Sure, the furniture is the same but everything else is changed. Mina made everything better. I wasn’t alone, I had constant unconditional love, undying loyalty, a cheerful presence that I could feel even when I wasn’t in the same room with her. I knew she was there.

mina at ecow

Mina at ECOW on 4.25.09, taken by Carole of Chow Now Petfood

On the rare occasions when Mina was at a groomer’s for several hours or she had to go to her overnight petsitter’s the evening before I left on a trip, I got a small taste of what life was like without her. I never enjoyed those hours, I hated them. I remember thinking that someday this is what my entire life would be like, but I’d shake it off because I knew we’d be together soon. I told her every single time that I walked out the door without her that I’d be back. I promised her I’d be back and I kept that promise.

I wish I’d been able to promise her a few months of cancer-free life after all that she suffered last year. I wish …

I think that’s the title of a movie, that I’ve never seen, and it seems to fit my life at present.

I left normal the moment that Mina died in the wee hours of Monday, November 9, 2009. I didn’t realize it then, but my entire life changed, save for a few physical remnants such as our home, our car, my job. I feel like everything in the entire world is different now, and I don’t like most of it and I’m perplexed by some of it.

Mostly, I still don’t feel focused on the things I used to take very seriously. The weather here in Virginia has prevented me from helping at the sanctuary since my birthday, January 24. I get all these opportunities in my e-mail inbox to socialize with other vegans, help leaflet at Metro stations, etc., but I’ve only acted on one. My other blog, Please Do Not Tap On the Glass, sits dormant. Oh, I could post a bunch of canned stuff but I don’t feel up to writing my opinions on the various issues that blog addressed. What to do with it?

It’s as if I’ve lost my rudder or my map, or something to guide me on a purposeful path. I lost Mina to a fucking horrible disease that she fought so bravely and I’m still pissed off about it. So, I come home instead of doing something meaningful and I’ve taken to spoiling myself in ridiculous ways. I go to movies on occasion, arranging vacations, buying things just for myself, etc.; all things I don’t normally do. It feels decadent and wrong, in a way.

Mina, pet of the month, enjoying her spoils, 2008

That’s guilt, and I’ve got a fair amount of it. I know it’s typical when one has suffered a huge personal loss and it’s hard to fight off.

There are other, less important things that have changed, too. It seems that many things I enjoyed before Mina died have become unbearable. I haven’t listened to any music I bought before her death – not even my beloved Nine Inch Nails (if you know me, then you know how devoted I am to Trent’s main project). I’ve taken to listening to a lot of swamp rock and Southern rock and some country and bluegrass. I know, it’s definitely weird but I quite like it, apparently.

I still can’t watch old movies like I used to watch. I had an Audrey Hepburn thriller on the coffee table for three weeks before sending it back to Netflix, unwatched.

It seems odd that I cling to bits of my life with Mina such as my routine of coming right home after work, yet I’ve clearly rejected many things that I once enjoyed. I don’t know what any of it means, I’m just going with it because grief is a process that, if denied, comes back to haunt you later and I don’t want that.

So, normal is all new now and I’m trying to adjust, with various degrees of success. I know most people think that three months is long enough to mourn a canine, but to me the wound is still bleeding.

Mina, my Mina … I miss every single thing about you …

s.

“Sometimes the miracle happens on the other side.” That’s what my former Episcopal parish priest told my sister after our stepmother died of cancer. It rings through my head today as I think about Mina, now enjoying a peaceful afterlife filled with happiness, joy, four good legs, a permanent summer shave (thanks, Natali), and all the snack food she can eat.

I tried my best to work that miracle on this side, and together Mina and I are a formidable pair, but it was not to be. In my whole life I will never find anyone as brave and as strong as my Mina. She was my perfect soul mate, and my heart will miss her every day of my life.

This blog started as a way to document our journey through chemotherapy and cancer. It was Mina’s cancer, but it was our battle and I’ve never fought harder for anything in my life. All I wanted was for my darling girl to have a few months of peace and good health and I didn’t believe it was an unreasonable request.

So. Here we are at what appears to be the unbearably painful end of our journey together. Right now, buried under an overwhelming grief, it certainly feels like the end but a little voice keeps bugging me to tell Mina’s whole story. I certainly hope I can manage that in future entries, but for now I want to tell you about Monday morning.

Sunday morning found Mina brighter than she had been in a couple of days. She was eager to get outside for a walk in the sunshine and cool morning air. We took a longer walk than she had managed in a week or more, stopping often to indulge in her favorite outdoor activity – sniffing absolutely everything. She seemed happy and that’s all it took to make me feel happy.

Mina ate a hearty breakfast, then she had some of mine (I think it might’ve been French toast). She napped, went outside for pee breaks, got belly rubs and kisses, ate some more, napped some more, and around 3:30 p.m. we went outside again to walk in the unusually warm November sunshine. Mina had a little perk in her walk and it was such a joy to see. Later on we had some vegan pizza together, and Mina had some freshly baked chickens.

We were doing really well until later that evening. I offered her a jar of her favorite organic baby food as a snack around 7 p.m. She ate a spoonful, then walked away, turned and came back for another spoonful, then walked away, came back for one more bite and retreated to the bedroom. The next couple of hours led me to believe that Mina was nauseated, because she was restless and couldn’t find a place to be comfortable. Her panting was coming out raspy and dry, too. I made some popcorn, because she loves it, but she ate only a couple of kernels before laying down on the tile entry way.

All of this worried me and I needed to keep myself calm so she didn’t know I was worried. I kept an eye on her and acted like I was watching a movie or playing a game on my iPhone. We went outside a couple of times for pee breaks and around 10 p.m. we went to bed – me on the couch and Mina in front of the TV.

Her breathing was ragged and gurgly and it sounded as if she were pushing out every breath. I tried to lay beside her and comfort her but she would start panting again. Finally, somewhere before 1 a.m. I found myself dozing off and Mina sounded calm. That lasted for a short time and the awful-sounding gasping for breath became more pronounced and I had this feeling of cold dread.

I turned on the lights and sat next to her and she lay on her side with her eyes open and her entire body shuddering with each ragged breath. It was horrible. I know part of me was trying to believe this would clear up in a while and she’d get some sleep and Monday would be just like Sunday, but my rational side told me to call PWEVC and find out if Dr. Smith was working. I have never in my life made such a heart-wrenching phone call. I’m nauseated remembering it.

He was there. He came to the phone and said he’d read the e-mail update on Mina that I’d sent on Saturday afternoon. He told me: “You come in and I’ll have everything ready and we’ll do this as a family.” I broke down as I hung up the phone and called Sue to come and get us.

While I waited for Sue, who drove 35 miles to help me face the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my 50 years, I did what I hated most – cried in front of Mina. I buried my face in her neck and sobbed and asked her forgiveness and promised I would join her some day. Mina looked at me with her soft brown eyes, licked away my tears, and kissed me. We looked into each others eyes for a few moments and in hers I saw love. I’m sure she saw fear in mine.

We got Mina into the car, I had to carry her part way and lift her in. I think she was confused about seeing Auntie Sue and then getting into a strange car. I carried her to the door of PWEVC, and they let us in. Once inside, Mina did her usual “I know this place!” tour of all the exam rooms and was happy to see Dr. Smith. I knew if Dr. Smith believed I was making this decision too soon, he would tell me and send us home. But he looked at Mina and told me I made the right decision.

Dr. Smith told his staff to put a blanket in the center of the lobby floor because “Mina doesn’t like exam rooms.” I’m always impressed with his understanding of Mina. I signed some paperwork, I have no idea what it was about, then we all gathered on the blanket with Mina, and the techs helped her lay on her side, her favorite sleeping position. Dr. Smith asked to hug me first because he said he was going to be emotional but wanted to be clear-headed to help Mina.

Mina seemed a little worried at first as Dr. Smith shaved a spot on her left rear leg for the butterfly catheter. I was half lying beside her, with my arm under her head and rubbing her belly and talking to her. Dr. Smith told me to look at her face and talk to her about how much I love her and how happy she makes me and he asked Sue to do the same. I recall hearing him tell Mina that he loved her. In a moment, her head relaxed against my arm and her breathing was no longer ragged. I cried, buried my face against hers, kissed her, told her that I’ll love her forever and in another moment Dr. Smith said, “Ms. Bottner she’s looking down on us from heaven now.”

I broke into a million pieces. I hugged her against me and sobbed. The staff left the lobby and Sue and I said our final goodbyes. I asked Sue if Mina looked scared and she replied that she’d been watching her eyes the entire time and Mina was not scared. That’s my baby, brave until the very end.

When I stood up, Mina looked just like she was sleeping on the floor in front of our window. I touched her again, then told Dr. Smith we were leaving. He hugged me again and as we went out the door I turned to look at my beloved, the love of my life, one last time.

Sue brought me home and together we got rid of the cancer evidence. I threw out every sheet, blanket, and towel covering the floor to help me identify Mina’s urine spots. I grabbed all of her pill bottles, at least eight altogether, and threw them in the hazardous waste bag. Sue left and felt like I was the only being left in the entire world. The emptiness left by Mina’s death is undescribeable.

Today, VIMP called to tell me that Mina’s cremains are ready and I can pick them up whenever it’s convenient. Her body lies in a wooden urn, and I requested her nickname, “Mina Bean,” to be engraved on the urn along with her birth date and the day she died. Dr. Smith made a certificate for me with all four paw prints and some locks of her beautiful hair. We’ll pick them up tomorrow.

I am, as my Dad described, “a ship without a rudder.” I don’t feel like me without Mina. We lived together since she was three months old and she took care of me, put up with my drama, never once complained about anything, loved me unconditionally, showed me true courage and patience, shared my pizza and long road trips. Sitting still long enough to write this is difficult and I can’t tell you why. Yesterday, I walked around the complex, following all of Mina’s various paths through the place, for the equivalent of nearly five miles. When I wasn’t outside walking, while clutching her favorite Vermont Man toy, I was pacing in here and wondering why I don’t feel her presence? My Dad said it’s because I’m swamped in so much grief, but some day I will feel her with me always.

Dad also recommended driving to get out and feel less suffocated. I found myself taking our favorite route to Warrenton and then I was walking through the door of our vet’s clinic. Both Drs. Cliver and Nolan were happy to see me, gave me enormous hugs (hugs = crying), and we talked about Mina. As I left, I put one of her favorite biscuits in my jacket pocket.

Her toys are still scattered about under the coffee table, her bed is still in the corner. Her water bowl sits with about a half inch of water and some remains from her last dinner. Her carpus brace is on the counter in its usual spot, and her harness and leash hang on the doorknob, as always. What used to be “home” is now just “the apartment” and it’s the emptiest place on earth.

Last night I managed to eat some toast, I slept for about 3.5 hours, and this morning I ate half a bagel. I can’t think of a damn thing that would make me feel better. Everything seems hollow and dark and lonely.

My friends and my Dad have all been wonderful. Thank you, all of you, for calling me and letting me cry and ramble about Mina. Thank you for all of your comments, and e-mail notes, and tweets, and your concern for me and your grief for Mina. She is the better of the two of us, the outgoing, social girl who loves meeting people and has a deep affection for her fellow canines. We are so connected that we can read each other’s eyes and facial expressions and there is no one we’d rather be with than each other.

Right now, I don’t know what to do. I’m returning to work tomorrow and I can’t even figure out what time to set the alarm. The first hour and 15 minutes of every work day were devoted to Mina, to her comfort, to helping her get ready to be alone until Sherrie came to rescue her and, during chemo and cancer, Auntie Lo Lo. Everything hurts.

I love you, Mina. I will love you forever.

s.