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.




  1. J Forest · November 17, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · November 18, 2013

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your sharing. There are so many of us going through care taking our parents. Cheers

  2. coddlecreekpetservices · November 16, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · November 18, 2013

      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 · November 14, 2013

    Reblogged this on Diary.

  4. Sophie · November 11, 2013

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

  5. 25castleson25clouds · November 8, 2013

    Beautiful!! Thank you

  6. Mel · November 8, 2013

    Powerful. Emotional. Heartbreaking. I am so sorry.

  7. oconnoroz · November 4, 2013

    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.

  8. Pingback: Letting Go Of Ruby: A Lesson In The Dying Light | Australian commentary
  9. thedreaminsideme · October 26, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 29, 2013

      Thank you so much. I am so grateful for your comments and for sharing the story.

  10. thedreaminsideme · October 26, 2013

    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

    • Going To The Dogs · October 29, 2013

      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.

  11. Run A Muck Ranch · October 19, 2013

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

    • Going To The Dogs · October 19, 2013

      So true. And they love us in spite of our failings. I really enjoy your blog, by the way. You have a great way of letting us walk along with you.

      • Run A Muck Ranch · October 19, 2013

        Thank you!

  12. Things That Matter · October 17, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 18, 2013

      Thank for reading and for sharing with your friend. I wish your friend well.

  13. Zeljka · October 11, 2013

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

  14. badgerchemist · October 11, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 15, 2013

      Thank you so much. My heart goes out to you, too. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me.

  15. Michael Elton McLeod · October 10, 2013

    Reblogged this on ANIMAL POST and commented:

  16. vmartinez00 · October 9, 2013

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

  17. vikkilynnsmith · October 8, 2013

    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….

  18. dliw canis · October 8, 2013

    Reblogged this on dliwcanis.

  19. lobestir · October 7, 2013

    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/.

  20. artsyandrea · October 7, 2013

    Moving story. Loved it!

  21. trusam · October 5, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      Yes, it does. It provides the caretaker with an ironic sense of clarity while at the same time robbing the stricken of theirs. I think that is my mom’s final gift to me.

  22. sowingmercy · October 5, 2013

    Amazing. Thank you.

  23. PAZ · October 4, 2013

    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.


    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      Wow, Paz, that is a powerful poem. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  24. Pingback: Liebster Awards! | lobestir
    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      Thank you Liebster. I am grateful for your kindness.

  25. kirstie collins brote · October 1, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      You are so kind, Kirstie. Thank you. I’m sorry for your loss. While grief is a part of life, it’s a hard road itself.

  26. thismomisalwayswrite · October 1, 2013

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

  27. curvyroads · September 30, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      Far too many of us are going through this with a parent. All we can do is find the grace in it somewhere. Hang in there.

  28. Spider · September 30, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      Thanks, Spider. The beauty of dogs is that their hearts are wide open, and Ruby is loved by our family. She is adjusting to her new home pretty well and loves her two new children and back yard! My mom gets daily Face time with her.

      • Spider · October 16, 2013

        I’m glad to hear that, for them both.

  29. izzisuddek · September 29, 2013

    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.

  30. quirknjive · September 29, 2013

    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.

  31. juliaverbatim · September 28, 2013

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

  32. Ghost Writer · September 27, 2013

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

    • Going To The Dogs · September 27, 2013

      I completely agree, having seen it so many times. They take “being there” to an art. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  33. denisentexas · September 27, 2013

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

    • Going To The Dogs · September 27, 2013

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

      • denisentexas · October 22, 2013

        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.

      • Going To The Dogs · October 23, 2013

        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

  34. ystungar · September 27, 2013

    Reblogged this on jal bin machali nrutya bin bijali a movie having s and commented:

  35. mnmrage · September 27, 2013

    Reblogged this on potatoes.

  36. CKwong · September 27, 2013

    Your blog was incredibly heartfelt and beautifully done.

  37. alison678 · September 27, 2013

    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.

    • Going To The Dogs · September 27, 2013

      Alison, I’m sorry for your loss. But you get it, and it’s something I work at remembering while her life winds down. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  38. inanoctopusgarden · September 26, 2013

    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.

  39. Karen Taylor · September 26, 2013

    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. ❤ Thank you for sharing this!!

    • Going To The Dogs · September 26, 2013

      Thanks for sharing your story with me, Karen. Love to you and your mom.

  40. tamberrinoartstudio · September 26, 2013

    That was beautiful. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  41. abimbola4real91 · September 26, 2013

    wat a touching post

  42. docp226 · September 26, 2013

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

  43. nylana23 · September 26, 2013

    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 ! 🙂

  44. shooting70s · September 26, 2013

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

  45. The WiseGuy · September 26, 2013

    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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