Letting Go Of Ruby: A Lesson In The Dying Light



My elderly mother adopted an Italian Greyhound named Ruby eight years ago. 

Ruby brought out a maternal devotion in my mother that made my sister and me more than a bit resentful.  Ruby has more clothes than we did as kids, and, more to the point, had to jump through none of the hoops we did to earn her love.  Ah, but then dogs are less complicated than people, making the give and take of love fluid and easy.  Ruby makes my mom happy; she’s a good companion and a social bridge to people.  She gives mom a reason to get up in the morning, take walks and keep going.

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year, she was in the early middle stages.  Confused at times, unable to manage her finances, hold anything in her short term memory.  But Ruby’s routine — her feeding schedule, her medications, her walk times — were firmly embedded in the part of mom’s brain that wasn’t dying.  Ruby even moved with mom from her house to a facility that provided a bit more care when that time came. 

Alzheimer’s is much like any other progressive disease in that it teaches you, among so many other things, to live in each moment.  You can never get time back once it is spent, and you can’t plan very far ahead.  Like on a map:  You.  Are.  Here.  Here is vast and very fleeting.  Here is full and even if you are attending to it closely, you miss so much. 

Mom’s decline has been very swift.  Her brain is dying.  She can’t tell night from day.  Phone numbers do not make sense to her.  She is repetitive and often abusive with the staff.  She swears like a longshoreman.  She needs a walker but uses a cane and the wall.  And Ruby is with her like Velcro.  Although scared of the changes in mom’s behavior, her devotion will not allow her to abandon mom.  I know Ruby recognizes the essence of mom is unchanged.

The dilemma is that Ruby’s routine is slowly vanishing from mom’s memory as mom becomes more of a ghost of herself.  She cannot remember whether she has given Ruby her medications or if she has just taken her out.  To balance what is best for mom and what is best for Ruby breaks hearts all around.  In a quiet moment a week ago, she asked my grown nephew Ben if he would take Ruby, even though she is not quite ready to let her go.  She needed the assurance that her dog would be looked after.  And Ruby will.

In that moment, a moment unintentionally overheard by me, I realized that my mother is still teaching me.  Her journey through Alzheimer’s may be a path on which our individual paths intersect but ultimately we each walk alone.  As my mother’s corporeal light dims, I am reminded again that the things we accumulate in life are shed as we approach death.  They are unnecessary, and my mother’s disease prevents her from clinging to them.  At some vanishing point, she will be free of everything.  And illuminated.

You.  Are.  Here.



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About Going To The Dogs

Writer. Personal essays, creative non-fiction, and memoir. Currently at work on my first book about life on the farm.
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168 Responses to Letting Go Of Ruby: A Lesson In The Dying Light

  1. J Forest says:

    Reblogged this on Beatnik Flop and commented:
    I don’t have much to add other than this hits a lot of still tender spots with me.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes. In my day time life I am a hospice social worker serving in a bereavement counselor capacity. So many of my former patients died from some form of dementia and it is a heart wrenching disease. Research informs us that pets help delay the disease process and bring much needed life to those who are barely hanging on. I was so touched by your mother’s brief trip to being in touch when she asked your nephew to take care of Ruby. As a dog lover my DH and I own and operate a pet sitting service and are strong advocates for the human-pet bond. We are very involved in resuce. You might enjoy reading the FB page of Lil Olive (she is a rescued Iggy). Sending you peace, love and healing.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness. The hardest part of this for us is that mom can no longer care for Ruby, even with help. It became dangerous for the dog. And heartbreaking for mom.

  3. Snippets says:

    Reblogged this on Diary.

  4. Sophie says:

    Your mother is still teaching you and you are open to the lessons that come your way. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Mel says:

    Powerful. Emotional. Heartbreaking. I am so sorry.

  6. oconnoroz says:

    This was a beautiful if not sad post. I happen to think that dogs are better than humans and the pain must be awful. I have a dog who suffers dementia and is going blind(from the oppostite side I suppose) and it is so sad to see him standing outside not knowing what he is doing there. The vet says despite this he has a good quality of life and to send him to doggy heaven at the moment would not be necessary. However, he has a younger companion and the younger dog makes sure nobody annoys him, gets in his way while, at the same time, cleaning him. He makes sure the older dog has eaten before he does and curls up with him on the bed at night just to comfort him. My heart is with you. Chris O’Connor aussiedogblog.wordpress.com.

  7. Pingback: Letting Go Of Ruby: A Lesson In The Dying Light | Australian commentary

  8. Reblogged this on thedreaminsideblog and commented:
    This is one of those profound posts that state feelings we can relate to in a clear and eloquent way.

  9. Thank you for sharing this story. I loved the photo of the dog. I cried as I read your story and I can relate as my mother is elderly. Life is a process and so is letting go. For me letting go has been painful, but then I am reminded that I am alive and I am here. TheDreamInside

    • Thank you. I understand your pain, too. I think someone once said transcendence isn’t just sitting on a cushy pillow and meditating. It’s like walking through a plate glass window. Naked. It hurts. Moving through life’s thresholds is hard work. Hang in there.

  10. Run A Muck Ranch says:

    The lessons of being better people can only be taught by a dog.

  11. Things That Matter says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I found it very touching! I printed out a copy for a friend who is going through this very thing with her mom having to give up her dog of several years, too.

  12. Zeljka says:

    Your post made me cry – thank you for sharing this, really beautiful and touching story, from your heart to ours.

  13. I cry a little each morning I think of my mother disappearing slowly in front of my eyes. Your story touched me in a way that brought the emotions of this disease to the surface. I will hold this story close and read it each day I struggle with the thought of losing her. Thank you.

  14. Reblogged this on ANIMAL POST and commented:

  15. vmartinez00 says:

    Touching. May Ruby have a fulfilled life and your mother be at peace. May you continue to write poetically. Thanks for sharing.

  16. This is such a lovely and personal entry. The love of a pet is truly unconditional and touches the soul like no person can. Whenever you look at Ruby you will find the happy memories of your mother….

  17. lobestir says:

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! This was a lovely and haunting post. The way you repeated “You. Are. Here.” was incredibly moving. Also loved “Here is full and even if you are attending to it closely, you miss so much.” I have nominated you for the Liebster Award. Check it out: http://lobestir.com/2013/10/03/liebster-awards/.

  18. artsyandrea says:

    Moving story. Loved it!

  19. trusam says:

    Thank you for posting such a wonderful post. Alzheimer’s show you the beauty in such a fast disease process. It helps put things in perspective. Thank you.

  20. sowingmercy says:

    Amazing. Thank you.

  21. PAZ says:

    As a veterinarian, I have been euthanizing animals for 22 years. I have killed cows, horses, ducks, parakeets, cats, dogs, and wildlife. I have mostly used lethal injection, but I have had to resort to other uglier methods when veterinary facilities weren’t nearby.

    I am tired of it, but I keep on doing my job. I am tired of seeing people tormented by the decision, of seeing grown men cry publicly the only time in their lives, of seeing an elderly person have one more loss piled on, but it’s my job, and I do it.

    Try this poem about the loss.


  22. Pingback: Liebster Awards! | lobestir

  23. What a beautifully written post. Last year, I was my father’s main caretaker as cancer spread to his brain, causing him confusion and fear that was so hard to watch. Worse, the radiation (which did not help) only caused him to go completely deaf, worsening the loneliness of an already frightening experience. And yet, I am so thankful I got to walk that path with him, at least off to the side, because as you said, we all ultimately walk alone. Our family dog was the one thing that could bring a true smile to his face, as he would sit and pet his head and stare off into only he knew where. Much love to you, your mother, family, and Ruby. Peace.

  24. So beautiful. I am sorry for what has happened to your mother. Alzheimer’s is such heartbreak.

  25. curvyroads says:

    This post was the first I read on Freshly Pressed, due to the tag. I was so touched by your expression of your experience and the rapid decline of your mother. I am going through the same with my mother and it is comforting to read such beautiful words when you feel so helpless.

  26. Spider says:

    A beautiful and heartfelt piece of writing. Animals are our most loyal friends. I don’t doubt that Ruby will never forget her mistress, even if the mistress can no longer remember her. Also a poignant reminder that we enter this world with nothing, just as we will leave it.

  27. izzisuddek says:

    A well written piece targeting death and all it’s wonders. We will never know what is beyond but it is true to think that we shall reach some sort of enlightenment and higher level of being.

  28. quirknjive says:

    Just last night my husband and I were discussing his father’s passing, and my husband noted how strange it is that, despite the fact that his Dad was surrounded by loved ones, in the end, he was alone in his final journey; we all are. Thanks for sharing. A beautiful post and an important reminder to us all.

  29. Ruby probably is grieving along with you and your family. Grieving the thief that is Alzheimer’s.

  30. Ghost Writer says:

    Animals instinctively know how they can help people by just being there

  31. denisentexas says:

    Thank you for this reminder that even something as ugly as AD has a lovely and beautiful side to it.

    • Thank you for reading, Denise. It’s something I work to remember when the going gets tough.

      • denisentexas says:

        You’re welcome. I enjoy reading your blog and entries like this, on any blog, keep me coming back. I’m the stepdaughter of a man with Alzheimer’s and it’s a very long and tough journey we’re traveling.

      • It sure is. Good wishes to you, fellow traveler. Take care of yourself. There is an awesome website for caregivers called Don’t Lose Heart (www.dontloseheart.org) if you ever feel the need. Lots of good articles too

  32. CKwong says:

    Your blog was incredibly heartfelt and beautifully done.

  33. alison678 says:

    beautifully expressed. And the final realisation that there is preparation through letting go resonates so well with my recent witnessing of my own Dads dying – not through dementia at all, but still the same essential process enabling them to let go of this life and then go peacefully. Have faith she will, when the time comes.

  34. so painfully truthful…I lost my mother to alzheimers 10 years ago… my heart is heavy with emotion for you and it breaks for Ruby. We look back and saw that hard decisions that were made only paved the way to what lie ahead. Know that your mother would only truely want the best for Ruby and having her in a loving secure home will be the best. Bring her for visits a gentle petting will be thearputic to both.

  35. Karen Taylor says:

    I know the pain of Alzheimer’s all too well as I care for my mom who was diagnosed în the early stages 5 years ago. I feel that while it is painful, it is also beautiful. I get to say all of the things I was too afraid to say. She tells me that during the period I felt I let her down the most, she was incredibly proud of me. I will forever miss the light she once had in her eyes but will never feel that I could have or should have done more. <3 Thank you for sharing this!!

  36. That was beautiful. Thanks for sharing. :)

  37. WOW,
    wat a touching post

  38. docp226 says:

    what a great read. It is truly amazing, the love and commitment that dogs give us in our weakest moments.

  39. nylana23 says:

    Thank you for sharing, I’m just new in here(blogging) and finding posts like this are worth searching and reading for.

    Regards to your family and to Ruby ! :)

  40. shooting70s says:

    Wow, beautifully written. Simply beautiful. Blessings to you.

  41. The WiseGuy says:

    Lisa, A truly heartfelt thanks for giving us such a wonderful piece of artistic writing. Reminds me of when my Mom had a similiar dog as a companion and then passed from Alcoholic Dementia. I think I’ll sit down and write a story and call it, ‘Brandy’, as she was such a fantatstic animal, and place it on my blog, The WiseGuy Diaries. Then maybe when its done, I can put away both the audio and written memories of the grief and horror I’ve carried for so many years depicted on ‘When my Mom Wasn’t my Mom Anymore’. Thanks for the inspiration. The WiseGuy

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