Both of the elderly gals in my life turned 91 this year — Mom in January and Maudy in February.
While I’ve known my mom my entire life, Maudy came into my world about a decade ago. Her fuzzy, sweet self has been by my side ever since. She’s been a pal to me and to my sons and an appreciated tension-reducer in the student newsroom when needed. When she turned 13, she joined my mother in the nonagenarian category.
While some people may be bothered by my comparing my mother to my dog, don’t be. Mom thinks the world of Maudy, and Maudy, though I can’t tell you how often she reflects on my mother, feels the same.
For the past two summers, I’ve driven across country with Maudy in the back seat watching the scenery go by, or snoozing away the hours. We’ve gone to Milwaukee to visit Mom for a month, and the two gals are always happy to see each other. Nearly every time I talk to Mom on the phone, she reminds me of Maudy sleeping on top of her feet.
“She just curled up and rested her head on my shoes, and fell right asleep. Remember that, Mare?”
This summer, though, I won’t be driving east with the Maudy girl. Like my mom, uncannily parallel at times, Maudy’s aging issues are rampant.
Both of these elderly ones have lost hearing and vision, and are sometimes confused. My mom wears hearing aids that she resents, has had eye surgery for more than one ailment, and some days is not quite sure of reality. (Though she still loves talking politics, and, a lefty, says our current political situation should not be reality.)
Maudy cannot hear me call her anymore, is nearly blind, and bumps into furniture. She has no trouble finding the treats I offer her, however. Late last year she took a stand and gave up dry food forever, finally convincing me that canned food was where it’s at. She had lost five pounds from September to February, and the vet agreed with her.
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I told the doggy doc that both Maudy and Mom were 91, and that, like Maudy and her new food demands, my mom would be happy to just eat Eskimo Pops (Dove Bars on a stick) for every meal, rather than the broccoli, fish and wheat germ she used to push on us, her six children.
“When I’m 91, I’ll be sticking with ice cream too,” the vet concurred.
A serious part in all this is how we treat our aging animals and our revered elders when it comes to the end of life.
As I watch Maudy lose control of her bladder, witnessing the failure of her kidneys and perhaps other organs, I have to face it: Some day soon, I will have to say goodbye. I will kiss her nose and thank her for all the good years: for the runs in the woods that nurtured me, for the fur that absorbed my tears, for the underbite and sweet disposition that made me smile. I will say goodbye and thank you, and watch her go peacefully.
It’s a quality-of-life issue.
But my mom? Even as she says she is ready to go, that she sometimes longs to move beyond her aging body and the brain that is betraying her, we can only sit with her, offer her words of consolation that ring falsely, and wait until, perhaps after lying in a hospital bed for years, she finally goes. Are we humans living too long? Is there not a better way for her to go in peace?
Meanwhile, though, to Mom and Maudy: Thank you for your years of patience, for the fun we’ve had, and for your sweetness and grace.
Two weeks after writing this column, Mary Tolan said those good-byes to Maudy, who after a gentle end now romps in puppy heaven, eating only human food straight from the holy table.