Mom sent the innocent text on January 28th. From the warm and safe distance of sunny Arizona, it popped up on my screen – “No blog since December?”
I paused to breathe, and basically responded “WINTER.” Because on January 28th, when it was some combination of zero degrees and dark and gray and precipitating, I was in survival mode. Sleep, eat, repeat, and count the days til daylight savings. It is my song through every Kansas winter, but especially this one.
And just when more daylight arrived and I began to crawl from my hole, I had to say goodbye to this fantastic creature. And my heart cracked in two.
Warning: if you’re not a dog person, you’re gonna wanna stop reading here. Also warning: if you LOVE dogs, read on at your own risk.
On February 6th it was wonky liver enzymes. The next day it was a ginormous mass on her spleen. On Valentine’s Day, the spleen and the six pound(!) tumor were removed. It was myxosarcoma and had spread at least to her liver. Then we had four glorious and confusing weeks of a seemingly vibrant Ocho. She ran, she played, she ate everything. We had cautious hope.
And then on a horribly long March 13th night, while hurricane style winds blew (remember that night?), I laid on the couch and tried to get her to settle, with my hand on her side so she knew I was there. But also so I knew she was still breathing. I could feel she was well on her way to gone.
The next morning, the super human superhero Dr. Cindy helped us let her go. Ten years to the day after my own cancer diagnosis. She had just turned eleven.
When you have cancer and a one year old puppy, there’s no chance to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. She was the happiest distraction. She was motivation to get outside and walk and play. She was a clown and she was my security blanket. And despite me once rolling her head up in the car window and once slamming her tail in the car door, she went nearly everywhere with me for 11 years. I called her My Heart and made her promise to stay with me forever.
A few months ago, I was having a day with no trouble finding things to complain about. I have these days often. I’ve perfected a peculiar habit of wanting every thing in every moment to comply with my whims. It’s very becoming.
And on that particular day, a picture entered my head. Have you ever been to a four-year-old’s birthday party? They typically follow a script – the family plans a million details of delight for the birthday child. All of their favorite things. The decor, the food, the gifts. An extravagant show of love. And at some point, often during gift opening, there is a meltdown. Something happens that was not on the four-year-old’s agenda and they are displeased. Despite being surrounded by love and drowning in gifts, they lose sight of all of it. And it seems absurd. Until I recognize myself in it.
I am full of “thank you, buts…” (Which are similar to those worthless apologies that say, “I’m sorry, but…”)
“Thank you for this teeny home planet that sits in the exact Goldilocks spot, with the necessary churning energy core, protected by a gas layer made by microscopic organisms billions of years ago. I understand it’s swarming with life of all kinds in so many weird and beautiful forms and as far as we know, there’s virtually no life of any kind anywhere else. It feeds and nurtures 8 billion people, but could we do something about those cold winters and have a bit more 75 and sunny?”
“Thank you for this ridiculous body that’s faithfully carried me through 41.5 years and needs virtually no attention from me for my heart to beat 115,000 times a day. I understand my brain has 86 billion neurons and I can taste goat cheese and smell honeysuckle and see desert sunsets and feel Smitty’s hand and hear bird songs and thunder and I know all my parts are in a constant cycle of death and rebirth which allows me to continue to exist, but could we do something about my pasty skin and maybe my knees could be less saggy?”
“Thank you for the unexplainable kinship of a furry member of a completely different species. She understood my words, and wagged her tail when I laughed, and could somehow feel my feelings and help me cope. I know the last thing she saw here, in her bounded body, was my face, and the last thing she felt was her heavy, tired, soft, graying head in my hands, and the last thing she heard was my voice telling her what a good girl she is, but maybe she could’ve just stuck around, at least for my forever?”
This perspective transforms my deep, pure sadness and opens my eyes to the big picture – surrounded by love and drowning in gifts. And it feels like the right thing to do for my Ocho, who brought me nothing but joy and faithfulness for a quarter of my life. A thank you with a “but” wouldn’t do her justice.
Do you wear the mark of a dog (or dogs, lucky you) on your heart? Will you tell me about them? Their name(s), the funny things they did, the weird things (edible or inedible) they ate? How they made your life better? I need to hear their stories.
Thank you, Muppets, for being my authority on interspecies friendships.