All That Remains


CharlotteandElizabethTaylorMy girl was a fashionista down to the last detail and when celebrities started donning dogs as a fashion accessory Megan wanted in.  While in a brief remission from adrenal cancer, Megan  researched a variety of tiny pampered pooches to accessorize her ever-expanding wardrobe.  She set her affections on owning a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the lovable canine who graced the couch of Sex in the City’s elegant Charlotte.

A newspaper ad and a few emails led Megan to breeder Penny Fattig in western Nebraska, and Buffy the King Charles Spaniel joined Megan’s heart and our home.  I don’t know why she named her Buffy.  The Vampire Slayer?  Certainly not. When you’re 26 and beautiful you can name your arm candy whatever you want.  However, not a name I would choose;  a 58-year-old woman yelling Buffy, Muffin or Puddin’ in the park also screams “I own ten cats and haven’t had a date in three decades.”

Remission moved Megan into seizing life at high-speed.  From dating to downhill skiing, she was often missing in action on the home front and Buffy became my constant companion, not hers.  Sadly, our lives were irrevocably changed in August of 2006 with the advancement of adrenal cancer and the removal of her left kidney.  In the hours before her surgery Megan took note of Buffy’s attachment to me and declared ‘She’s no longer my dog and I’m going to sell her to recoup my investment.’

Dog gone it!  She had a reckless disregard for the fact that over the previous 24 months we had spent thousands on medical bills – the Little Princess wanted her 375 bucks.  In spite of Megan’s tantrum, when I came home from her kidney surgery at 2 a.m., Buffy was standing in pitch darkness at the top of the stairs faithfully waiting for me and I vowed, “You are not going anywhere.”  It was one of many private and difficult moments as a caregiver.  My needs were irrelevant and Megan was oblivious.  National speaker on family issues Vanessa Nkwocha clearly states: “Those receiving care, without trying to be, can behave like real jerks.  That’s the nature of a cared for beast.”

Newly divorced, facing an uncertain future alone, I needed Buffy.  For the next 18 months she became that which I longed for;  someone who would listen without comment and watch without judgement.  She never asked me, “What’s the schedule?” as her timetable revolved around “I’ll be here when you get home.”  My bedroom suite was a sanctuary to me and the only corner of privacy in a watching world, but Buffy had access to those intimate moments where I would cry in the shower before facing each day.  At night she would lay on the end of the bed, facing outward, to guard against any intruders as I slept.  Somehow, she instinctively knew when Megan’s life hung in the balance, and would change her posture to laying directly across my heart until I fell asleep.

The ever forgiving pooch held no grudges and spent her days laying patiently by Megan for the last bed-ridden months of her life.  Megan’s dying request was that I would take care of Buffy and Winnie for the rest of their doggie lives.  Care, I did.  Winnie, the ever challenging tea-cup Maltese, crossed over around two years ago with a collapse of her skeletal system, sadly common in small dogs.  In her 10th year of life, my old girl Buffy began to lose bladder control in spring of this year…and it was pinpointed to an inoperable bladder tumor.  On a Monday afternoon, I stayed with her all the way to the end, and as the vet prepared the drugs I laid my body across her and wept in the same way she had blanketed me.

The vet asked about private cremation…something that I scoffed at in the past.  I asked what would happen if I didn’t choose that and I was told she would go in a pile with other dogs.  In respect to the creature that stood by me, I declared I would have none of that and chose to keep the sanctity of her bones and ashes separate.Faithful

The death of Buffy closed out a decade of unimaginable grief.  She was the last daily reminder of my passage through hell, and as I sit finishing “Put Up Your Umbrella” I sigh with some relief that Megan’s college graduation ring, one Tickle Me Elmo, two large black and white hounds tooth chairs and a small bag of ashes named Buffy are all that remains.

Key Notes:

  • I gradually let go of Megan’s earthly possessions over a period of time.  It was on my timetable.
  • I loved Buffy.  But she was one of many things as a caregiver that were chosen for me, and I had little input.
  • While some things, like Megan’s graduation ring, hold very fond memories, other possessions imprisoned my mind to remember that which was sorrowful.  Even Buffy was a reminder of coming home from long hospital nights to her big brown eyes waiting at the door.

On a Lighter Note:

  • I chose my new Boston Terrier and his manly name.  When I recently yelled “Pugsley!” across the dog park, the guy near me smiled and said, “That’s a great name!”










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  1. What would be a medical expense comparable to $375? A single aspirin administered via an official health care professional? Three boxes of facial tissues? The irrational hyper focus that seems to accompany dying certainly seems to add insult to injury. It’s not just that your beloved daughter is wrapping up a too short legacy or that her request for you to care for her pooches meant that you were then caring for three separate lives or even that the medical costs were rapidly becoming astronomical. Her request to recoup her investment stings because she couldn’t recognize that her premature absence from your world could be eased even slightly by the companionship of her former accessory, Buffy.
    I love you, Valerie! Your way with words will liberate masses!

    1. The challenge, dear Vanessa, is that no mom ever wants to be dishonoring to their child. Hard to be honest about this…but I’m not helping the next caregiver if I’m not. Thanks for your input!

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Article by: Valerie Bourdain

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