Death planning for your dog

My dog Lexi is 13. She’ll be 14 in about 6 weeks. She has a progressive degenerative disease that will render her completely immobile sooner rather than later.

Lexi walking in the dog park with her harness.

Right now, she can still go for walks with the assistance of a sling. She’s still happy, though I fear she’s growing increasingly uncomfortable as the months wear on and she cannot readjust herself. The time I have left with her is limited. I’m guessing we’ll have to say goodbye sometime in the summer. I hate this. I wish it weren’t that way. But it is.

I’ve been thinking about and planning for this since she was diagnosed about two years ago. It’s not a morbid fascination or fatalism on my part. With this disease, her chances of dying peacefully in her sleep are slim. Her quality of life is going to deteriorate, and it’s almost guaranteed that I will need to make the decision to end her life when that quality dips too low. That sucks. But it’s part of the deal with owning a pet.

In many ways, this foreknowledge is a gift. Seven years ago, when I had to suddenly euthanize my dog Ruby, I wasn’t prepared. Her end of life experience wasn’t great, and we didn’t think about having her cremated so we could keep her ashes. I don’t even have a clay paw print, just her collar hanging on my mirror.

With Lexi, I’ve had time to think, and reflect, and decide what will make her the most comfortable. Because of her increased anxiety about going to the vet office, I plan to have one come to my house. I want her last memories to be at home, surrounded by her people and her little sister Jaina (who is actually three times as large as she is). I don’t want her to be stressed or upset. I want Jaina to be able to see and smell that Lexi is gone. And I want a clay paw print, and I want to keep her ashes in a nice urn. But above all, I want her to be peaceful. I want her to be comfortable.

Lexi with one of her (current) favorite toys (a worm with cat ears because it was a Halloween toy).

(Yes, I’m weeping as I write this. This reality sucks. This disease sucks. I can’t change it. I can only deal with it in the best way I know how.)

Because I know the time approaches, I can find a vet who’ll make a house call. I can figure out what I need to do to get Lexi cremated. I can pre-purchase an urn. I can make a clay paw print with her while she’s still here, still my girl. I can make an ink impression, too, in case I decide to get a tattoo (I’m sure I will).

And I can spend extra time with her each day, just petting her until she gets tired of it and shakes me off. I can take her for a short walk and let her smell the other dogs in our neighborhood, the cats and raccoons and groundhogs. I can take her with me to Home Depot and Wagsburgh or just out for a car trip so she can smell the air. These are things I’d do anyway–things I’ve done. But they take on extra poignancy now.

Still, none of this easy. But it’s easier now than at the very end, when I know the grief will settle in strong and fierce. Even if you don’t have this “gift” of foresight when your pet will die, you may want to take a few moments to think about how you will handle end of life care and what mementos you want of your pet. It’s not comfortable, or easy, but you’ll feel better when the time comes and the decisions have already been made.


Miss Migraine: Being a woman obsessed with Star Wars is kind of like having migraines

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on August 21, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

If you hadn’t guessed, I am obsessed with Star Wars. Obsessed to the point that I have it permanently inked on my body and spend inordinate amounts of money to dress up and go to conventions. My office is practically a shrine to it: Posters and action figures everywhere. Even my filing cabinet is covered in Star Wars magnets and hilariously bizarre phrases constructed from Star Wars magnetic poetry (“Have a slimy Skywalker scum?” and “Solo may do or do not this nerf herder.”). The cake topper at my wedding featured Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade (whom Luke marries in the expanded universe books and comics).

My mother knows the expanded universe well enough that on a visit to Toys R Us, she heard someone ask a sales clerk about action figures of “the twins” and knew immediately that this person must be talking about Jaina and Jacen Solo, Han and Leia’s twin children (and then she bought them for me, knowing they are two of my favorite characters). My mother also named her German shepherd Mara Jade, not because she had read any of the comics, but because she was familiar with the character (from my incessant ramblings) and liked the name.

To put it simply, Star Wars permeates every aspect of my life, and by extension, the lives of my family members.

Millenium Falcon replica, R2-D2

Me sitting in a replica of the Millenium Falcon at Star Wars Celebration Europe in London, in 2007.

And yet, many people have had difficulty believing I could be a Star Wars geek/nerd/fangirl/whatever they’re calling it these days. After all, you can find Star Wars t-shirts at Kohl’s and Target and Hot Topic, and it’s cool to wear a pseudo-nerdy old movie t-shirt. When I say, “I love Star Wars,” most people assume that I mean “Star Wars is an awesome movie.” If I say, “I’m obsessed with Star Wars,” most people still assume that I mean “Star Wars is awesome.” At least until I show them the giant X-Wing tattoo on my leg.

At conventions, when people would see me sitting with my dad in the food court, they’d come up and make a joke about how he’d dragged me to the con. My dad would always laugh and say it was the other way around, and the person — always a man — would look a little surprised, but pleasantly so. That has never made me feel better about the assumption.

Like my obsession with Star Wars, my migraines affect every facet of my life, and the lives of my family members. I have yet to get a migraine-related tattoo, but that’s only a matter of time, I’m sure. With 33 million migraine sufferers in the United States alone, I think it’s safe to say there are as many migraine sufferers as there are Star Wars fans.

I miss school and work because of the intense throbbing in my temple. My family has learned to identify when I’m in pain and they know what they can do to help me get through it, the same way they know how to make my month by picking up an action figure of my favorite Star Wars character as a surprise present.

And yet… People sometimes interpret, “I’m in excruciating pain, I’m sorry I have to cancel our plans,” as, “I don’t want to hang out with you.” Or, sometimes, “I have a migraine every single day,” as “That’s utterly impossible, she’s lying.”

X-Wing tattoo close up

A close up of my X-Wing tattoo. The colors are much brighter in person — this is the best I could do with my camera phone.

Professors have refused to give me extensions on papers, even when I have multiple doctors notes and discussed my condition with them at the beginning of the semester. Other professors have told me they will give me an extension on a workshop piece (which goes out to the entire class, not just the professor) only if I agree to letting the professor tell the class my piece is late because of an illness.

In these situations, my X-Wing tattoo equivalent is my paperwork from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that my professors must accommodate me. Once they realize I’m not faking or trying to get out of my homework, their entire attitudes toward me change drastically. I understand that many students do fake illnesses, just as some Star Wars fans wish to appear more into it than they are to impress someone. But that doesn’t make me feel any better about the assumption.

On the bright side, my many years of practice as a semi-marginalized Star Wars fan have prepared me beautifully for the challenges of navigating life with an invisible chronic illness. And I’m happy to say that as time has progressed, the disbelief at a hardcore lady Star Wars fan has pretty much vanished. So I have a feeling — call it a premonition from the Force, if you will — that things will only get better for migraine sufferers, too.

Do you have an “X-Wing tattoo equivalent?” Have you ever felt marginalized for something other than your migraines?


End of year resolutions

At the end of every calendar year, I like to take some time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished, any goals I failed to meet (and analyze why), and what my goals and intentions for the upcoming year will be.

For me, 2017 was particularly difficult, between the emotional and mental stress of the current administration, changing careers, dropping out of library school, dealing with my dog’s degenerative disease, and trying, through all of that, to make some progress on my house. I know many of my friends from more marginalized groups feel even worse.

Now, with the very real threat of this awful tax bill, a lot of those worries have come back. The bill is terrible for universities and grad students–my partner works at a university and is currently enrolled in graduate classes. I’m now teaching at a community college. If, as many are predicting, the corporate tax breaks create an investment bubble that bursts in 5 or so years, will I still have a job, any job?

There’s no way for me to predict the future. The bill hasn’t been signed into law yet; it still has to go through reconciliation. I’ve let my reps know how I feel about this bill, and will continue to do so. And certainly there are other actions to take, but ultimately, I can’t control what happens here, and I can’t control what might happen to the economy in a few years.

Instead of letting all this anxiety dictate my actions, I’m attempting to be sensible and to focus on the things I can control. Namely, my own actions. This month, as a sort of pre-New Year’s Resolution, I’m concentrating on the following things that sort of fell by the wayside this year: my health and various creative projects. I’ll also be thinking about ways to increase my financial security in the coming years, and setting goals for 2018. But for now, here’s what December’s all about for me.

My Health

Many years ago, I stopped eating processed food and most sugar. But I’m an emotional eater, and those bad habits have crept back over the past few years. Paired with a medication that exacerbates food cravings, I gained quite a bit of weight. I wish I could say it doesn’t bother me, but it does. More than that, though, is the simple fact that eating crap makes me feel like crap. Excess sugar consumption leads to all sorts of terrible things, from diabetes and heart disease to Alzheimer’s. That’s right. Eating too much added sugar can increase your risk for and ability to fight Alzheimer’s. Most processed foods contain added sugar, plus migraine-triggering preservatives, and very little in the way of nutrition.

For the rest of December, I’m going to cut out as much processed food as possible (pretty easy considering this just means I need to cook for myself instead of eating out and avoid Trader Joe’s delicious but deadly snack items), and stick to the WHO’s recommended max daily added sugar intake of 25 grams for women. I’m also going to go back to eating four smaller meals per day instead of three large ones–this is mostly because a steady flow of energy reduces migraine attacks for me.

I hate to spend the money, but I’m also considering investing in a membership at a yoga studio or gym. I can and do use yoga videos at home, but I think even going to a studio once per week would help with form, posture, and maintaining my motivation. If anyone has any recommendations, I’m all ears!

Creative Projects

Here’s the thing: creativity, whether in the form of writing, gardening, or sewing, is essential to my mental health and emotional well being. Making things makes me happy, and I know the things I create make others happy. Writing fiction always gets tough for me as winter sets in, because the limited daylight and cold make me want to hibernate. And that’s okay! I don’t feel like writing right now, so I’m going to give myself a “vacation” this month and allow myself to focus on other creative projects.

I’ve got a few home decor projects in the works, plus a Rey costume that’s half finished. I’m not going to get all of these things done by the end of the year, but I can probably finish the costume and make a set of fancy curtains for my dining room. And if I only get one of those projects done, that’s okay, too!

Sewing is relaxing to me in a way writing isn’t, probably because it’s so much more physical than writing. I like that as I sew, the thing I’m making takes shapes right in front of me. It’s physical and tangible, and in the case of curtains, very useful and pretty to look at.


December is also a time to spend with family and friends, and I’m looking forward to doing that, too. (Not to mention…. STAR WARS.)