THROUGH THE FIRE: Death Not for Sissies (or Doggies)



My apologies in advance for writing on such a gloomy topic, but death is a subject with which I have been consumed lately. Like tsunamis and cancer, death is something we have little control over, but a controlling person like me can’t help but try to figure out some way to manage it. So here I am writing about it in an attempt to somehow ameliorate its impact.

I’m not pondering my own mortality — even though as I edge closer to my 70s (eeek!), perhaps I should. I’ve been thinking about all the people who have been dying around me — whether they are celebrities like Dr. Oliver Sacks, Wayne Dyer, even Jackie Collins — or a member of my own extended family. In our community, there has been a constant stream of recent notable deaths, like Rafu columnist George Yoshinaga, and WWII vets Mas Takahashi and Ben Kuroki.

When I read about those with whom I might have shared some part of my past, it brings up all the ways in which their lives have affected mine. Mostly, I think about the people close to them, and what a hole their deaths leave in their hearts, not to mention in their daily lives.

Unlike many of my childhood friends, I lost a parent early in life. My father died when I was 12. The night after he died, I remember overhearing the late-night sobbing of my mom and obachan echoing through the house — sounds I had never heard before nor since. Not wanting to face the finality of never seeing him again, I dreamt that night he was still alive and then had to wake up to the heart-breaking realization that he was, in fact, gone.

sharon's dogI was reminded of that feeling recently when Rosie, my 12-year-old dog, was diagnosed with cancer in her throat. Even though 12 might seem old in dog years, a canine cardiologist (yes, there are such doctors) told us she had the heart of a dog half her age. It’s not surprising because Rosie was my faithful running partner from the time she was a year old. She ran with me at least twice a week, and just last December she and I won our senior age group in the Venice-Santa Monica 10K.

Rosie had been sick for months and because animals can’t talk, we subjected her to a slew of tests to no avail. By the time she was finally diagnosed, my once energetic running companion couldn’t walk a few steps without panting. Encouraged by my veterinarian niece to seek comfort for her, we subjected her to five sessions of what they call “palliative radiation,” and after initial improvement, she began to worsen. Last Tuesday, we took her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with yet another life-threatening condition, this time in her heart.

For those who’ve never had the companionship of a pet, it may be difficult to understand the feelings I’ve had since realizing that she would soon be gone. Our daily walks and runs bookended my days, and I would look forward to her cheerful wagging tail the minute I came home. Wherever I went she would follow as if trying to tell me she couldn’t live without me and I without her. She brought an indescribable joy to our lives, and we would often say, “This dog does something to make us laugh every single day” — whether it was walking with a wiggle in her tail, coyly demanding a treat, or smugly looking away when given a command.

Rosie became famous as our helmet-wearing dog that clocked thousands of miles atop our bicycle basket. Her 20-pound body topped with a ridiculous pink helmet was a road stopper, and our bike rides were interrupted many a time for picture-takers. She begrudgingly accompanied us in the cramped bike basket since staying home alone for hours on a Sunday morning was clearly not an option for someone used to traveling everywhere with us.

I’ve had to deal with putting her down more than once during the past two weeks when her health began to repeatedly falter, and the pain of seeing her suffer was too much to bear. Each time, tearfully resigned to taking this final step, she would miraculously perk back up — whether by her own doing or with the aid of modern medicine. Last night, she was the most energetic she’s been since we started treatment.

Regardless of her sporadic bouts of recovery, I know the time is near when we will have to say goodbye to her one last time. The finality of death is the part that is hardest for me — even though these memories of her will certainly last my lifetime. For now, I get to hold her in my arms and find solace in all the happiness she has given me for 12 years. Perhaps focusing on those good times is one small way of facing loss—no matter how death touches your life.

Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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