Me and My Shadow

Helen follows me wherever I go. Getting up from my desk at work to get a drink? She’s right behind me, her cold, wet nose touching my left thigh. Walking into the bedroom to get my glasses? Her nose is booping my left calf. Going to the bathroom? I haven’t done that by myself for years.

So it should have come as no surprise how attentive Helen has been as I recover from neck surgery. From the moment I got home from the hospital, Helen has been at my side. I wasn’t as surprised about her keeping a close eye on me as I was at how she’d interacted with me while doing it. Those boops and nudges were gone. She gave me plenty of room for my walker, walking a step behind, never rushing to get in front or demanding my attention as I moved slowly from one room and chair to another. Once I was settled, she’d find the closest dog bed and settle herself there, always facing me. If I shifted in the chair, her head popped up, ready to move. You’ve heard of “mother’s ears?” Helen was weaning a litter of puppies when we adopted her 13 years ago. She’s never stopped mothering her toys and me. Even at 14, she can detect even the slightest movement and be ready for action in a split second.

I think about how much I observe her and wonder if she’s doing the same to me. I watch the hitch in her get-along for any progression in her arthritic hips. I note where she sleeps, in what position, for how long, and how stiff she is after rising. I pay attention to her interactions with the other dogs in the house- is she more careful or more reactive to rough play? I monitor how much she eats at each meal, mindful of her appetite swings and their effect on her body and mind. I run my hands across her coat, feeling the texture of her coat. Is it still soft, or has it turned dry and brittle?

It’s evident to me now that we’re always watching each other. We’re assessing the status quo, sensitive to small changes in the other’s physical, emotional, and mental states. Helen and I connect through our own language of observation and inspection, checking in with one another in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. It’s not that we aren’t independent souls – we just prefer to be independent together. I like to feel her head under my hand as I shuffle from room to room. She likes me to be in the room while she eats breakfast or dinner. We both feel a duty to care for each other and enjoy caring for each other. I hope this feeling lasts a very long time.

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