So many of us who have lost those we love know all about waiting. Waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for a test result, waiting for medical appointments and more . Time seems to drag at these times.

As a child I could hardly wait for Christmas and then I waited to be 16 years old so I could drive. And I waited for the love of my life, Bill, to come along and share his life with me. But waiting took on more difficult challenges as the years passed.
When I started this blog post a few days ago I was waiting for the results of some blood tests for my companion dog/friend/fur baby Bentley. The University of Wisconsin Veterinary Hospital suggested I send his blood to the Colorado State University national lab where they study Golden Retrievers and cancer. I was aware that these results could results in a diagnosis of lymphoma in my beloved Bentley but hoped the problem was an easily treated inflammation.
PictureBentley at 10 weeks.
The results indicated a rare and thankfully slow growing form of lymphoma...cancer. 

As I waited, many memories of waiting when my husband Bill was so sick flashed through my mind. Waiting at Mayo Clinic to see a neurologist. Waiting to see if a new medication helped even a little bit and then ended up making things worse. Waiting to see how each day, actually each hour, would go as Bill wrestled with the increasing and devastating symptoms of Alzheimer's; symptoms that robbed him of his ability to think, to remember, to be himself. Waiting each day hoping the confusion and restlessness of sun-downing might take just one day off come 4:00pm. The wait that stands out most in my heart and mind was the last night of Bill's life. I knew he would probably die within the next 24 hours and I sat at his bedside all night holding his hand. Periodically I would crawl into his hospital bed with him for a while but fearful of falling asleep out of the sheer exhaustion of the previous days and months...years, I would move back to the chair. I wanted to be with him, really with him, when he crossed that threshold we call death...and I was...as I held his thin body in my arms and felt his final heart beat beneath my hand.

Now, just four years later (though it seems like yesterday) I wait for information about this rare and little studied form of lymphoma that has invaded my my sweet Bentley's has beautiful body. How long will he live? Will he have quality of life for a month or a year or even more? What treatments do I allow, what tests do I allow? How do I enjoy every moment with him when my already broken heart is breaking...again? Bentley has walked through so much with Bill and with me. And he has been my constant companion since Bill died. He is there to greet me when I come home. He sleeps on the bed at night...at least until he gets too warm and heads to the floor. I walk with him at least twice each day and love to hear his breathing in this silent house. His antics make me laugh and when I have wept so often through these four years since Bill's death, he is immediately on my lap licking my hands. I can't imagine life without him but those words, "I can't imagine life without him" are becoming all too familiar and too often spoken in my life in regards to too many people (and dogs) that I love.
Bentley's first grooming. One year old...with Bill
At times like this I think of parents waiting to see if their child has cancer or to see if a baby born premature will survive. I can't think of much that is more difficult than that. As gut wrenching and painful it was to watch Bill suffer and then to lose him (and it was and is) he had lived 79 years; many of them filled with the joy of our love. A ten year old or two minute old child is another story.  But waiting is part of what each of us will experience in our lives. I remember my mom waiting for a phone call when one of her many siblings was sick. I remember sitting at the Intensive Care Unit two weeks after my brother's ordination to the priesthood to see if he would survive a melanoma cancer discovered three weeks earlier. The doctors did not give us any hope. He was 28 at the time and just this week thankfully celebrated his 77th birthday having now survived cancer three times, one of which he deals with even today.
On the floor on my lap sound asleep
Wearing his Therapy Dog vest.
So what do we do while we wait? Well, there are options. First: it is important to acknowledge the reality and the pain. Going into a denial mode only makes things worse. Trust me on that one. Second: holding on to hope matters even when the diagnosis is terminal. We hope for a peaceful death and we hope for the strength to deal with the loss. Third: in the case of waiting for test results, I distract myself many times a day because there is just nothing I can do until I know what is on my plate. Obsessing about the worst case scenario does not help though I slip into that too often. My typical distraction is playing with Bentley, walking him, or just sitting quietly with him as he sleeps on my lap. (Keep in mind Bentley weighs in at almost 80 pounds but still thinks he is a lap dog.) I gave up trying to concentrate enough to read but walking with Bentley; coffee with a caring friend; writing this blog; being there for others who grieve...are all helpful as I wait and deal with another huge unknown in my life...one that, like Bill, will ultimately end with Bentley's death.
Bentley is my last living tie to Bill. He was like our child. I am so grateful for his presence in my life through so much pain and yes...so many incredible joys. I will walk this path with him for however long he will live...trusting we still have maybe even two years. Since this rare cancer is also slow growing I pray he continues to feel well, be pain free and be my companion for a long while. My goal is to live in the now, maximize the time we have and grieve now for both Bill and Bentley, as I am also grateful for every moment we have had and still have. Right now my goal is to get symptoms managed so he is comfortable, minimize vet trips, and refuse any treatments that will sacrifice quality of life.
Being groomed on June 14, 2014 at Arnette's Grooming near Dodgeville. Arnette is Bentley's other mother.
As I said in a previous blog post, many who have not been blessed to have a pet frequently do not comprehend the loss. Pet loss is often minimized. People who do not understand will even say things like, "you can get another dog". Little do they know that like a person we love, a dog can not be replaced.

For more information on pet loss:

Saying Good-bye to a Beloved Pet by Mary Friedel-Hunt

The Death of a Pet Can Hurt as Much as the Loss of a Relative
by Joe Yonan

Children and Pet Loss by Marty Tousley

The Psychology of Waiting by David Maister


How do I deal with waiting?
What does pet loss mean to me?



07/06/2014 2:25pm

We are waiting with you, dearest Mary ♥

07/06/2014 2:45pm

Thank you so much, Marty!

Anne Gorman
07/06/2014 5:22pm

Thank you for this update on Bentley. Know that I am 'waiting' with you as you move through this journey. Anne

07/07/2014 8:18am

Thank you, Anne. Bentley is better today after a rough weekend. I know you totally understand the stress and worry having gone through so much with Benji.

07/06/2014 6:19pm

I am with you in prayer and spirit, Mary and Bentley.
Mary, thank you for this beautiful piece.
I am 'waiting' with you also.
Much Love,

07/07/2014 8:20am

Thank you so very much. I so appreciate your love and support. We are doing ok today.

07/07/2014 10:31am

Dearest Mary,

Since my dad was ill from the time I was two until he died when I was fourteen, I grew up on waiting and learning love always ends in grief. I still forgot in the good years of my marriage. My friend laughed with me in the parking lot at Hospice after I'd visited his wife who was dying of cancer. He'd also lost his first wife to cancer. "Why are we surprised?" he said. "We're so stupid to be surprised." And at that moment with this guy who has gone through it twice, I was able to laugh at my ego that always imagines times without trouble and life without death.

And on we go, deciding to love anyway and then waiting, whether it be days, months, or many years. I hope you and Bentley have a good long run ahead, and I know somehow you'll get through whatever happens even though it all feels impossible.

Your posts always help me see more clearly,

07/07/2014 2:22pm

Thank you, Elaine. I hear you loud and clear, Elaine..."imagining times without trouble and life without death". I think my denial kept me going sometimes with Bill..i.e. "maybe he won't die". But alas....he did. And yes, when the day does come that Bentley dies, I will love another dog...because love is just so powerful and healing.

I have to say that your blog posts and other things you post also help me see more clearly also.

Peace, Mary

07/07/2014 3:54pm

So much easier to take a philosophic stance with someone else's situation. Vic and I were also in denial, I recognized in retrospect. We talked about his death. We knew it was coming. Yet, we chose to live life as though there would be tomorrow--until we couldn't. Now, I imagine a time with good or adequate hearing rather than accepting what is and working from the reality. I can't imagine loving another dog, but if I look at my history, that's the pattern. Some are still much closer than others though. Like my dog Daisy, Bentley got you through the worst times, and Willow made me laugh again. With love, Elaine

07/07/2014 2:12pm

The picture of Bentley with his groomer: BEAUTIFUL!! I think of him and you a lot and hope/pray for the best!

07/07/2014 2:24pm

Thank you so much, Deniece. Hoping this is a long wait with Bentley feeling good. Thanks.


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