Life After Epilepsy

The words seem to echo in canine epilepsy forums, *My dog is/ was my life. Chimette truly was my life- part due to his epilepsy, but also due to my reliance on him as my combo trained assistance dog. After the dust had time to settle; after I no longer felt like a bystander in a world passing me by; I had a choice- remain *stuck* in my grief or take the steps necessary to not just adapt to my limitations following Met's passing, but to also make the *choice* to take the lessons and life Met had given me and move toward the future. It seemed an insurmountable thing to do. I had just spent nearly eleven years melded into a life with severe vaccinosis. At the onset, I was clue-less to the vast implications this would hold for us not just on the medical side of things for Chimette, but in our partnership as well. Little did I know then how much this journey would teach me; how vigilant I would become; how alike the two of us would really turn out to be; how lessons learned for my dear boy would in actuality impact my own health as well and visa versa.

So how does one just turn all of this off instantaneously when their epi has gone to the rainbow bridge? My life had been totally with or for Met. Just about every list I was a part of on the internet was either health or assistance dog based. I had to get through that *outsider* feeling with the lists I chose to stay with. I had to learn how to have a life again, like the life I had before canine epilepsy. This certainly did not all happen overnight. Though I was preparing for the inevitability of retirement, Met's swift decline and death caught me off guard. I always seemed to be able to pull rabbits out of the hat where Met's health was concerned. When there were no more rabbits to be found, I was forced to admit his time had come. In the days that followed Met's death, I learned not only how much more he had been doing for me than I realized, but also how very much his journey had impacted not just me and my family, but people all around the world. It was you (and you know who you are) who helped me begin the process of putting one step in front of the other; of moving forth with no regrets of the journey behind me- lessons learned for sure, regrets *NEVER*.

I always knew I would want to train a successor to Met. Living independently despite my disabilities has always been very important to me; not to mention that it is more risk than benefit for me to hire human assistance. The process for me was not just the decision to move on and knowing when it was that time, but also of finding that *perfect* candidate and someone who believed in me and my training abilities enough to give me a chance to move on. One can adopt to comfort their heart, but in order to truly move forward, one has to be ready enough to make the right choice- not just for you, but for your *future* companion.

After a time I was able to admit that with Met's passing, I felt relief that the burden and stress of our life had come to a close. The constancy of being on alert to every little change in food, supplements, fillers, environmental issues- it had taken a toll that I still don't believe I fully appreciate the magnitude of. I was terrified of living through chronic illness again- especially epilepsy and uncontrolled hypothyroidism. I had no idea during our journey how much the stress of disease affected my own health and well being. Moving beyond this fear to faith that my new dog *could* in fact be a *healthy* animal  as I applied the lessons learned this past decade  was so essential to my progress and consequently my healing.

Thane was the dog to do all of this for me. Just like I could not turn off my connection to Met overnight, I could not turn off my *fear* of problems overnight either. It took a very patient, wonderful  friend and breeder to help me begin this transition from so much illness to well being. Catherine O'Driscoll's book, Shock to the System, took me the rest of the way with her insights on stress. It helped me make the conscious decision to do everything possible for Thane, not only by giving him the energy outlets he needed, but also by believing that my dog was and would continue to be healthy!

The process was far from over here. Some days are/ were easier than others. Moving on did not mean I would never think of Met again- in fact quite the contrary. It did help, however having something else to focus on. I needed the distraction.  I threw myself into raising and training Thane. From the overwhelming realization of how much I had to teach my new companion, to the joys of puppy fun and silly antics, to the frustrations that went with obedience and household training, to his belief that even guide canes need herded, he slowly drew me back into the real world again. Through Thane I realized that even in training, Met had taught me valuable lessons to live by. Many tears were shed amidst applying these lessons to Thane's training as my successor. In this, Met is always with us. The choice to continue living the life Met had helped me experience for nearly a decade was not as easy as it all sounds. It was a choice though that has truly put a smile on not only my face, but the faces of those who have watched me make this journey back towards independence again. 

As winter let loose its grip here in the Pacific Northwest, so was the grip of grief that had broken my heart released through my early journey with Thane.  Little by little as training progressed with my new lil' man, one could see glimpses of the old me returning. This wasn't to be the me that had been worn down by the stress of living with a dog with chronic health problems, but the person I was before epilepsy shattered my life. One can see happiness emit from my physical demeanor and hear the echoes of laughter that seemed a thing of the past. As Thane and I pounded the sidewalks of our town learning  how to trust in each other as I had once done with Met, true life was oozing back through my veins. It almost seems like the changes occurred overnight. Thane blossomed into a wonderful but youthful guide dog all the while I emerged from the cocoon of pain that followed Met's passing. Life couldn't be more wonderful right now.

 I have begun the training of an awesome dog who will undoubtedly have much of his own to teach me in the days, months, and years ahead.  The decision I made, the hard choice to pick up the pieces and move forward was the right thing to do at the time for me.  You too, have a decision ahead of you. The ball is in your court. Do you move forward experiencing what life has to offer you, or continue reliving the moment of your loss with every breathe.

© 1997 - 2013
by Karyn LaGrange