As we get older, none of us are strangers to loss and death. It is an inevitable part of life. And it is never the right time, nor does it get any easier as we get older. Part of living is learning to accept this cycle and recognize that nothing in life is permanent, no matter how tightly we try to hold on. This is the one of the unavoidable truths of life.
My family is facing this now, as we just recently said goodbye to my husband’s stepmother, Barbara, and now we also look at a future without our 8 year old Golden Retriever, Comet. Comet has been a member of our family since he was 4 weeks old, and frankly, I cannot even imagine life without him.
Last week, we attended a memorial service for Barbara, and then several days later, Comet had emergency surgery because of a bleeding tumor in his abdomen. The surgery saved his life, but now he has been diagnosed with a very nasty and virulent type of cancer, and even with treatment, probably the best we can expect to get is 4 – 6 months more time with him. I am stunned by this news, yet also grateful that we will have a little time to process it all and to say good-bye. We almost lost him last week, but since the surgery, he is doing much better and we now have time to face this with him, rather than without him.
Three years ago, we lost our first Golden Retriever, Clyde, at age 13. I was devastated at the time, but had Comet there to help me through. Ironically, two days ago, when I got the call from the surgeon telling me the diagnosis and how grim the statistics were, there was Comet again, right by my side. I was in tears, and he was there to comfort me, completely unaware that I was crying for the eventual loss of him.
That is Comet in a nutshell. He has been trained as a Therapy Dog, and he knows how to make others feel better. His presence is so serene and so profound. I can’t explain how he does it, but people feel better around him. As Barbara was declining with Dementia in recent years, Comet would go with us frequently to visit with her, and she always seemed to come to life when he was there. This was one of the reasons that I thought he would make a wonderful Therapy Dog.
A few weeks ago, on one of our visits to an Assisted Living facility, one of the women there looked me in the eye and said “You just ENJOY him while you have him! They don’t last forever, you know.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, though little did I know how portentous that was…
Shortly after Clyde died, I wrote the following in a blog:
“Through my work as a Yoga teacher I have been exposed to many facets of yogic philosophy, and one of the things that Yoga teaches is that the biggest fear we have is the fear of death. As I watched Clyde at the end, though, I could see how peaceful he was and how he just wanted to be free of the constraints and pains of his body. There was no fear for him. It was much worse for those of us left behind with a gaping hole that will never quite fill in all the way. Even though I knew that Clyde was not going to be around forever, and even though I thought I was "prepared" to lose him, I still miss his wagging tail that never stopped. Wherever you go, Clyde, I wish for you that your tail wags forever...”
Well, that big gaping hole is about to get much larger. All we can do is ENJOY the next few months with Comet while he is feeling good and able to enjoy his life. We will do our best to help him live his life to the fullest.
And when he starts to suffer, we will take solace in the fact that he has given us way more than we could have ever imagined. He has taught us about unconditional love, and he has helped me be a better listener and a better person.