Bittersweet reflections as our dog crosses the ‘Rainbow Bridge’

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by Helen Baldwin |

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The insidious nature of SMA type 1 that was affecting our baby Jeffrey intensified in October 1997.

While relatively calm moments occasionally appeared after a disastrous pulmonary consultation earlier in the month, Jeffrey began experiencing respiratory distress to the point of needing morphine. My frazzled mind filled with increasing anticipation of his final breath and having to hand his body over to the funeral home. Excruciating doesn’t begin to describe it.

And I hadn’t even seen his tiny white casket yet. I’d never be ready for that.

The Rainbow Bridge

This past summer, our affable old boxer, Maple, struggled with her hips. During Maple’s last days, Honey, our American Staffordshire terrier mix and Maple’s beloved sidekick for almost nine years, squeezed in beside Maple in the comfy dog bed our daughter, Katie, had ordered. Maple was squashed, but she knew Honey had good intentions. At least they were together.

Maple was sent loping across the Rainbow Bridge on the sunny afternoon of Aug. 29. Like the rest of us, Honey adjusted as well as possible. My husband, Randy, and I resumed activities with Honey that she and Maple had enjoyed for years: walking up our little mountain while she ran around in the woods, feeding the fish in the ponds, and going for rides along the nearby river.

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Honey spent a couple days outside, staring “out there.” Her pensive expression made me wonder if Maple was calling her.

Jeffrey used to stare “out there,” too, as if listening to instructions from the angels.

A sweet-looking tan-and-white-colored American Staffordshire terrier mix sits on a large lawn, looking up at the photographer with a wide smile and tongue hanging out.

Our daughter, Katie, and son-in-law, Paul, chose Honey for us from the Charleston Animal Society on Father’s Day weekend in 2014. What a gem! (Photo by Katie Fischer)

Mitty, the cat we inherited after my mother’s death, appeared puzzled as to why Maple was missing, but appreciated that the water bowl in the kitchen was no longer slobbery.

After a particularly active day on Oct. 12 (my late maternal grandfather’s birthday), Honey slept through dinner. She slept through dinner again on Friday the 13th, getting up only to drink water and relieve herself outside.

Honey still hadn’t eaten by Monday, Oct. 16, my late mother’s birthday. The vet had a cancellation that morning (an angel intervention!), so off we flew.

Bloodwork showed anemia and an infection, and X-rays showed suspicious spots in a few areas. It didn’t look good, but after an injection of a steroid and an antibiotic, Honey perked up, eating two flank steaks Randy had fixed for her. She climbed up on the couch with us for the first time in days.

Whew. We knew bidding Honey farewell when the time came would be agonizing. We were nowhere close to being ready.

SMA and the yo-yo game

Twenty-six Octobers ago, SMA took the yo-yo game to a new level. One minute, we could almost pretend Jeffrey was just a happy, contented baby. In an instant, though, his struggle to breathe warranted morphine, suctioning, or both.

Cheyne-Stokes, an irregular breathing pattern that includes a momentary cessation of breathing, began. Jeffrey’s expression sometimes resembled our dog, Duffy, while in shock after being hit by a car. One week later, we were hit by the SMA diagnosis.

Jeffrey’s need for morphine and suctioning escalated, but he still flashed a few fleeting smiles. Perhaps those angels had been telling him all about the perfect place.

So long, farewell

Honey didn’t eat the day after the vet trip, so I scheduled another visit for Wednesday. She seemed to have aged a decade in a couple of days. Randy and I were right up there with her. As I drove down our road with Honey — Randy followed in a separate car — a beautiful doe blocked our lane, staring at us. I wondered if it were a Maple sign.

The final results of the lab report indicated that Honey’s liver was a mess. Startling jaundice in her eyes and jowls had not been present just two days earlier.

Randy and I repeated our questions, and the vet’s patient explanations clarified that the only real option for Honey’s sake was the one we’d dreaded.

Two dogs, the one on the right sitting up, stare toward the camera in what appears be an office, with gray and brown file cabinets behind them.

The treat-begging duo of Maple, left, and Honey work their magic as columnist Helen Baldwin works on the computer. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

It was a glorious sunny morning when possibly our best dog ever joined Maple and a host of other much-loved family pets. Through tears, I pictured goofy Maple bouncing giddily for Honey to hurry up across the Rainbow Bridge. Imagining their reunion made me smile. It also made me weep.

On Nov. 4, almost 26 years ago, Jeffrey took his final breath. The crisp night was stunningly clear, with a twinkling star I took as a signal of his safe arrival in heaven — a bittersweet moment for sure.

I likely missed countless subsequent signs that our sweet boy was not only fine but also not too far away, until a hefty one on our mountaintop ensured that I’d be on the lookout after every loved one’s earthly departure.

Sure enough, the morning after Honey joined Maple, two deer stood behind our big pond, where the girls spent so much time playing chase. Neither doe looked away from me. If they’d been closer, I probably could have seen their beaming smiles.

Honey’s ashes were ready to pick up Friday — on Maple’s birthday.

But of course.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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