Norma Jeane Barker by Steve and Carlton / Daddy Steve and Daddy Carlton

Our vet . . . crying . . . bless him . . . informed us that Norma Jeane’s time had come and we shouldn’t wait too long before doing what had to be done. She started having really bad problems when I was in New York in late July. My friend Toni died my last day in NYC and I was praying I wouldn’t have to deal with two losses at the same time. During the days I was gone, Norma Jeane had stopped eating and drinking and there were alterations in her behavior.

When I returned home, she seemed to rally quite a bit. Though she hadn’t been willing to take any water or food at all the last few days I was away, with me home, she first agreed to take water from my cupped hand. Then she slowly returned to lapping at her water bowl. Only a couple of times would she ever again agree to eat her specially formulated dog food, which she’s had all of her life. However, by hand-feeding her boiled egg, ham, crackers, cheese, bran flakes, bits and pieces of fruit . . . whatever we could come up with . . . she started eating again, first from our hands and then from her bowl. She’d lost quite a bit of weight, but she started gaining a bit of it back. She was leaking whenever she slept, and often she had a full bladder release at night.

Things weren’t “normal,” but relatively so. A test of her urine was made Friday, August 26, and our vet gave us the news Monday, August 29 that her kidneys had failed. She was releasing water only. When Dr. Szanto learned that she had stopped eating and drinking altogether this second time, he told us the time had come and, for her sake, warned us not to put it off too long. Later that day, I called and made the appointment for 9:45 Wednesday. That began what was the worst week of my life. I’ve lost a lot of people. . . my mother, my father, two brothers, two of my best friends since childhood, cousins, uncles, aunts (several of whom I dearly loved), and more people than I care to remember during the height of the AIDS crisis . . . but NOTHING, not a single death . . . has come close to the agony of having to let loose of Norma Jeane.

Something I’ve observed: When we lose a human being, people are constrained in their response. A hug, an “I’m so sorry,” perhaps a brief inquiry about the person’s age or cause of death. Lose a pet and something very different occurs. People want to talk about their own losses. “You lost your brother? Oh, I know how it feels. I lost my brother too.” That doesn’t occur. But, “I heard you lost your doggie yesterday. I’m so, so sorry.

When I lost my Buster, it just destroyed me. I got him for Christmas when I was nine years old, and he slept with me under the covers on those cold nights in Tulsa. But he passed away not long after I left for college and it almost broke my heart.” And then you can openly talk about your own loss. Communication starts . . . and this truly
does help in the healing process.

A friend from college lost her husband three years ago. She recently told me that after stumbling awkwardly and painfully through life these last years, she finally sought help from a therapist. He asked her how she had handled the death in terms of discussing her husband, their life together, the dying process . . . and she responded that she never talked about it. She felt somehow that she would be making people feel awkward. She had seen talking about it as asking for people’s pity or something. “WRONG!” barked the psychiatrist. “You MUST talk about the one you’ve lost. That’s an integral part of the healing process.”

I’ve always known losing Norma Jeane would be hard. She was, after all, our baby. For almost sixteen years she was dependent on Carlton and me. We got her right after we got the condo, and every nook and cranny of this place says “Norma Jeane” to us. Just making the appointment to take her in was so very, very painful . . . but I had no idea just how deep the pain . . . no, not pain, really . . . agony . . . would be in the days that followed setting up the appointment.

I stayed home from school Tuesday and spent every minute with her, crying, sobbing, blowing my nose, burying my face in her fur, telling her how much I loved her and reminding her of how we picked her up from her mother, Lady, when she was eight weeks old. I told her all the little stories of her life and explained the joy she had brought us. I told her that we’d always protected her and held her closely to our hearts and that we always would. She didn’t understand any of it, of course, but she’d let me love on her for a while and then would generally fall back asleep. Basically she was pretty much her normal self that day.

Wouldn’t take any food or water, of course, although she was constantly checking her food and water bowls. She’d beg for food when we were eating, but she wouldn’t take it when it was offered. She had the strength to go up and down the stairs when she wanted to, but preferred to be carried if we were handy. She continued peeing (clear urine only), but never had a bowel movement. She’d lost a lot of weight and had to have been dehydrated, but her skin was taut and she looked beautiful. (After she was gone, we checked inside her mouth and
there WAS moisture there.)

Tuesday as she and I were together, I decided that I wanted some pictures of her on her last day, and then thought it was just too ghoulish, almost like photographing a body in a casket. After all, we have hundreds of pictures of her throughout her life. Then I changed my mind, figuring we could always destroy them if they made us uncomfortable, but we couldn’t get them later if I didn’t act at that point. So, I shot 24 pictures, all of which turned out great. She looked so beautiful. I did something I’d never done in all these years: I even took a picture of her peeing on the patio. Memories of something (private) that was a part of our lives. Silly? Well . . . .

Tuesday, though very painful, was a good day . . . until about ten o’clock at night. She began moving in circles around the couch and chair in the den. This went on for more than an hour. She’d let us touch her and make her stop for a moment, but only for a moment. Then she was off and circling again. We took her downstairs and opened the door to the patio so she could pee if she needed to. She continued circling, not following any pattern, but going pretty fast. Then she started moving behind things, trying to go through small spaces, attempting to butt her way into openings way too small for her or, in many cases, where there were not even openings. We couldn’t make her stop for more than a few seconds. We had to rearrange furniture. Move things. Block passages. She’d do something like try to go behind the toilet
in the half-bath and get stuck.

When she found herself trapped was the only time she’d make a sound. Now, she seldom barked (even though her name was Norma Jeane Barker), but when she got trapped that night, she would bark, asking us to help get her out of the situation, almost like saying, “I gotta do this go-go-go thing, but I know you’re still there, Daddies, to help me when I need help.” And then she would continue moving, always moving, moving as fast as she could go. This went on for ten and a half hours.
It was hell.

Our friend Nancy, whom I’ve known for almost 50 years, had volunteered to drive in from Rancho Cucamonga, which is 50 miles away, to help us get to the vets for the 9:45 appointment. Around 8:00, Norma Jeane’s hind legs gave out. She stopped panting and she collapsed. We thought she was dying. Holding her, we told her it was okay, but after a few minutes, she rallied and began circling again. We confined her to the kitchen and removed all obstacles, so she purely moved in circles, too weak at this point to run. Again she collapsed, and again she rallied. By the third collapse, Nancy had arrived and we got her into the SUV and off to the vet. Had Norma Jeane not collapsed so that we could get her into the car, I don’t know what we would have done. It would have been so traumatic trying to force her, and God knows what her reactions would have been were she still in the state that she’d been in those previous hours. The whole thing was . . . well, almost perfectly designed to enable us to get
through it as easily as possible.

There may be any number of explanations for what she was doing, but this is what we choose to believe: it was her gift to us. Had she “seemed” as normal on Wednesday at 9:45 as she was up until 10:00 Tuesday night, it would have been SO much harder on us to put her to sleep. As it was, there was no doubt that we were helping to ease her out of some brain malfunction wherein she had, for the most part, stopped being our little girl. The vet said her brain had gone haywire as a result of the organ failures. True? Some people have said she was in pain. Others have said that in some bizarre way, she was looking for a dark corner in which to die. We choose to reject any explanation other than she was helping us do what we had to do, her last act of love to make it easier on her daddies because
what had to be done had to be done.

I held her in my arms and kissed her head and she slipped away. We had her cremated. We picked up the ashes
three days later and brought her home.

A myriad of things people have done have helped make this a little easier . . . flowers from a friend, hugs from coworkers at school who’ve made special trips to my room to commiserate . . . neighbors we don’t even know stopping their car and hugging Carlton because some other neighbor we do know has mentioned that our Norma Jeane is gone. Numerous cards and calls and e-mails have assisted us in dealing with what has been an awfully hard . . . what? transition? The body-racking sobs and wailing have begun to wane a bit and every single thought about Norma Jeane that pops into our minds doesn’t necessarily reduce us to incapacity, so it’s clear we’re on the mend. Of course, our programming is still present; therefore, we still look for her when we come around a corner, think we need to let her out and then remember that we don’t, hear a noise and think she’s starting down the stairs, see the place where her water and food bowls used to be and wonder for a split second why they’re not there.

One thing: we now understand the Empty Nest Syndrome in a way we never could have before! No more hearing her barreling down the stairs whenever we go into the kitchen. With the tap-tap-tapping of her nails on the hardwood floor gone, the silence in the house is deafening. There’s no little girl at our feet begging whenever we eat. Her fur was so soft and always smelled so good and we ache to touch her and smell her and hold her and talk to her.

But that phase of our life is all over, and the pain is just so terrible.

In many ways I feel such a fool. I’m too old and have navigated the river of grief too often not to be able to handle things better. But there it is. I’m really hurting . . . as is Carlton. Of course, this has very much caused us to look at one another and realize that the day is approaching when one of us is probably going to lose the other, and this, although a kind of wake-up call, is adding to the pain.

Then we turn on the television and see and hear the images of how human beings are really, REALLY suffering . . . in Louisiana . . . and elsewhere as well, of course . . . and we feel a bit embarrassed. We recognize that we had a wonderful dog and sixteen beautiful years in which we were able to give her a very good life filled with love and the best medical care possible. All these things we recognize intellectually, but emotionally, we’ve had to struggle to get through a very difficult period. Contact with friends and loved ones has helped a lot. And that’s how it is here. Steve (and Carlton)

The years flew by so quickly. She grew to be an old lady in many ways, but she never stopped being our precious puppy.

Norma Jeane Barker was named after Marilyn Monroe, who was born Norma Jeane Baker. But, as our baby was a dog, she was named Barker. And, like Marilyn Monroe,
she will live forever in our hearts and minds.

Until . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

Author unknown…


So, until we, too, reach that Rainbow Bridge, Norma Jeane. . .
Norma Jeane Barker
Steve and Carlton