I'm With You
This is what life is like now. Partially blind, moderately deaf, and slowing down. I've lived this before, guaranteed more years behind us than ahead. Thirteen years and I want more.
In a way, our roles are reversing. It's less about her being responsive to me and more about me being responsible for her. I am her eyes and ears; I must remain vigilant. Walks are less about our physical exercise and more about her mental exercise, encouraging the engagement of scent and touch. It's about shared experience and time together. It's not about when I want to run or cycle, it's about when her body is inspired to sprint and how I can safely support that desire. I'm with you.
When she relies on me most, that's what I want her to know. Isn't that what we all need? To be seen? To have someone come alongside when we are at the end of our ability? For someone to simply "be with"?
If "Me, too" feels powerful, then "I'm with you" is powerful, personal, and prioritized.
Our culture would have us believe that we can, and should, be able to do everything. Every mom I speak with can attest that this version of equality has become exhaustingly unattainable. The idea of having-it-all (successful career person, primary parent status, home sustainer, family manager, counselor/nurse/teacher, memory maker, story keeper) is like the enticing yet ever elusive dangling carrot. The attempts to be everything and do everything leave us distracted, disconnected, and depleted. And yet we try.
I'm with you. I can't show up this intensely for everyone, my humanity won't allow it. I am finite, with limited energy, time, and resources. In fact, one of the most intriguing things I believe about God is that God can be fully present to everybody. I can't be there for everyone, but I also can't show up for anyone if I'm distracted, disconnected, and depleted.
At church we've been exploring the speed of love, and the importance of living at a pace that allows us to be fully present. Slowing down enough to create margin in our lives: space in our calendars, flexibility in our resources, reserve in our energy. It wasn't long ago that our pup seemed confused and unable to discern my location despite my calling and waving. More recently there have been collisions with anything on her right side. We have had to change the way we approach and care for her, but this could not have been possible without being tuned in, connected, and alert. Becoming aware of the need requires us to slow down enough to notice, to actively observe. Slowing down creates the capacity to seek resources and make preparations.
It has been said that how we respond to inconvenience is a measure of who we truly are. "I'm with you" realizes that it's not an inconvenience, instead it is compassion.
Slowing down helps us re-learn how to invest in what is truly important, rather than being tossed from one urgency to the next. I want to show up as my best self for my children, my loved ones, my precious friends, my dear clients. "I'm with you" is impossible unless we take the time to exist, sit, be with, feel, hold space.
So I am building margin in my time, energy, and resources. I am saying "no" to some things so I can fully exclaim "yes!" to the right things. My job now is to prepare...for loss of hearing...for blindness...for the beautiful and challenging days ahead. It's not so different with a canine companion as it is with people.
As we prepare now for what likely lies ahead for our family, some things are foremost on our minds. If you are navigating life with an aging canine companion I hope you find these insights helpful. Though the applications will be very different while interacting with our human loved-ones, we do well to consider how the highlighted concepts may be transferable when caring for aging family or friends.
Other senses will strengthen to compensate for weaknesses. In the specific case of our canine family member we notice she is becoming much more "nosey". To ensure she doesn't become too assertive with begging for food we expect her to give us space while we are eating, thus she stays in a comfortable, safe, and nearby location. This is a work in progress. Our goal is to encourage her sense of smell and set her up for success instead of chastising her for following-her-nose. When sight diminishes for a dog, pad sensitivity also increases, much like a person's sense of touch. She will detect changes in flooring and use this information to navigate her mind-map of our home and yard. For this reason it is important to keep furniture and floor coverings consistent. No re-arranging!
Things that once were safe might not be safe anymore. Getting down to her level to identify any obstacles (pointy objects, tripping hazards) revealed that we needed to protect her from the edges of the coffee table. Some people use pool noodles but we opted for pipe insulation foam tubes cut to fit our table since they come already sliced and are less bulky. Stairs can be extremely hazardous, so closing the door to the basement or blocking off access in some other way will be important to prevent falling. In the event that your companion becomes separated from you while out in the world, make sure others are aware by noting the conditions somewhere visible (eg. having a tag on the collar to indicate deafness/blindness).
If sense of hearing exists, use it. When you are home,talk to your companion often to assure them, and leave a radio on in the same location every time you leave them alone. It will help to orient their mind-map if they know where the sound regularly originates. Carry jingle bells with you whenever you go for a walk to keep your companion aware of your speed and location. Begin teaching verbal cues like, "step UP", "step DOWN", "slow", "right", "left", etc. Begin teaching touch cues so that when needed your companion will already be familiar with this way of communicating (eg. gentle tap on right hip for "go pee").
If sense of sight exists, use it. Begin using big gestures with your cues for "come", etc. Continue to smile and show joy when interacting with your companion, even if you sometimes feel sad realizing your days together are diminishing. Remember that your companion will be acutely observant of your emotions. Let your appreciation for your time together be visible in your facial expressions.
Be considerate with approaching or touching. Sudden unexpected movements and contact can be surprising and upsetting. Best to approach slowly and let your companion encounter you through smell or vibration, then smoothly link any contact from one area to another. No surprises!
Existing at a hurried pace not only makes us sick, it also robs us of the exquisite honour of experiencing the loved-ones nearest to us. Let's slow down and resist living with our nervous systems in a constant state of stress. Let's intentionally create lives that are tuned in, connected , and alert. It's time to establish a climate that supports compassion. At some point we each long to hear, "I'm with you".