In Sickness And In Health

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We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog because I’m sick. But through my haze of illness I’ve had a revelation.

Before bed last night I’d read a post on the Greytalk (www.greytalk.com) message boards about a woman’s sadness as she watched, nearly overnight, her beloved pooch get old. One day you look over, she remarked, and your pet has aged–dramatically. Maybe it’s weight loss that finally sinks in. Or they way they walk. One woman talked about finding her dog, fallen, and unable to get up.

So last night, while I couldn’t sleep, as I lay awake with my chest tight with congestion, my head pounding and my stomach churning, I began thinking about death, dying and illness. My mind drifted back to those posts and then to my illness that had me laid up with fever, aches and chills. I wondered what life would be like if I was told my misery would be permanent, that there was no chance for improvement. And what if, while I lay here miserable and, like a dog or cat, I remained unable to communicate and articulate my suffering? This question is not new but having put down two cats and presently in possession of a brand new puppy, I thought it was time to revisit. 

The flu feels lousy. But we know there’s an end in sight. But what if, just what if, there were no end? And what if we could do something about this situation to stop the suffering. I could hear Stella sleeping in her crate and this question pushed me want to get out of bed and write a manifesto–a note to myself–so that when the time comes, I’ll do the right thing.

Dear Stella, 

As your owner, caretaker and friend, I promise to give you the best beginning, middle, end and everything in between in your sweet life.  For my end, I will make you a part of my life, will let you open up my heart and anyone’s else’s with your charm. I will do my best to help you become the best dog you can be. I will give you training, expose you to people, animals and situations that will allow you to sail through life calmly and happily.  I will keep a close  eye on your health.  I will exercise you as much as I can and as much as you need it.  I will try not to leave you alone too much. You’re a dog and you’re social. You especially, you are very social. Remember: You’re Miss Congeniality.  

I will not, as you get older, allow you to suffer if I feel you are getting sick. I will try, as hard as I can, to recognize the signals that life is painful for you. If you lose your appetite, can’t walk right, struggle to get up in the morning or at all, I will try, as hard as it will be, to make your being, your well being, your life and your pain a priority. Keeping you around so that I don’t have to ride those waves of grief is not acceptable.  

Stella, you are only now eight months old and I’m thinking about your death. But death is the dark shadow that life casts on all of us. And it’s your dumb luck that you have an owner that thinks about these things. Or maybe not. As you sleep in your crate right now, you’re in the moment. As I type out here, I’m in the future—far into it—wanting to take care of you as you breathe your last breaths.

I finished my letter and closed the document and saved it.

I crawled back into bed. I felt better. I could feel that the congestion had eased off in my chest. I felt thankful for my good health, for an immune system that could whack back a pesky virus pretty quickly.

And I felt thankful, at this very moment, that I had rescued a puppy because I would have her—hopefully—for a long, long time.

I forced myself to think about the positive—about the idea that it would not be out of the question that I could have ten years—one hundred twenty months—to spend with this wonderful black and white creature.

As I drifted back to sleep I imagined those hundred wonderful months. I thought about the sun soaking the planet each day and the moon pulling at the oceans’ tides. I saw waves lapping up onto the sandy beaches and then retreating. In my mind I could hear the waves come in and out, in and out, in and out with the same steady, wonderful rhythm, the soothing, wonderful rhythm of life.

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2 Responses to “In Sickness And In Health”

  1. bookbabie Says:

    Yes, enjoy the time you have with your dog now, as Eckhart Tolle says, “The present moment is all we really have.”

  2. mel greene Says:

    I am so glad I read this, even though it did make me cry. I have an elderly “pup” who means the world to me, & this actually made me appreciate her more.

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