From a fellow pet owner

Our late doggies, L to R: Ramses, our beautiful brown sugar-coloured first dog who we raised from a puppy, and Isis, our sleek black female rescue dog who joined our family a little later

I had something different planned for today’s post, but I saw a link to an article in an excellent newsletter I receive by email called The Red Thread Swipe File by Tamsen Webster, and I had to read it, and then respond to it.

The article is written by Eric Kaplan, a thought piece on the loss of his dog and how we deal with grief. He asked for suggestions to be sent to his Twitter account, but since I’m not on Twitter I felt I wanted to blog about it, having had to euthanize our own two dogs when they got old and terminally ill 16 years ago.

The fact that my hubby and I have never been able to get more dogs even after all that time will tell you something about how deeply we felt their loss, so to Eric I would first say: my heart goes out to you.  

Losing a beloved pet, or any great loss, is quite literally heart-breaking – you feel as though your heart has torn open and will never be whole again.

For all that, though, it was such a gift to have our dogs in our lives and I wouldn’t take that experience back for anything.

We learned a lot from our dogs. Their acceptance of life as it unfolds – their resilience in dealing with every illness that arose, from arthritis to heart problems, while still happily enjoying every day’s simple pleasures – helped us to work our way through our grief at losing them.  

For everyone, like Eric, who’s struggled with the paradox of trying to enjoy the highs of life amid so many lows, maybe this will help a little:

One of the things I’ve realized over several decades of existence is that life is going to throw sorrow at us no matter what we do, no matter how much we might suppress feelings of joy in case they jinx something.

The only way to balance out the lows is to enjoy the highs for the gift that they are.

I’ve had fibromyalgia for many years, and the good days are rare, so I have learned to the most of them! With enough self-care, there are not too many bad days. Mostly I have so-so days that are pretty livable. I can be like our dogs and make the most of every day.

As humans our initial reaction to misfortune is anger – understandably – but eventually, to cope and move forward, we have to reach a state of acceptance and look at how to manage things long-term. Animals, although we can’t know exactly what they’re thinking, seem to go straight to acceptance and change management. While they absolutely feel pain, sadness and fear, like we do, the next beautiful moment that comes along for them is embraced unreservedly. Watching a dog give its entire being over to rolling around in the grass, or chasing a Frisbee across a lawn, is a lesson in mindfulness.

Eric, I hope this blog finds its way to you (@ericlinuskaplan). Please carry on your dog’s legacy of how to live in the moment. It’s a good way to go on.

Valuing every day

Ancient headstones, Glendalough, Ireland

I often feel that it’s sad how quickly we want Fridays to arrive (and the fact that there’s an entire restaurant chain called TGI Fridays speaks for itself), but some weeks are legitimately dismal and call for a drink by their end.

This has been one such week for me, still feeling poorly from a virus, and attending the funeral of a friend’s life partner, who died suddenly sitting in his living room chair (from a heart attack). I am heartbroken for my friend, who lost her beloved of more than 35 years with no warning or time to prepare, and for his family as well — at the service, everyone just seemed shell-shocked.

There’s not even very much we can do to help our friends under these circumstances, apart from being company through the grieving afterward, and these events have a ripple effect, prompting us to feel insecure about the safety of our own partners in the wake of the devastation we can see in our friends’ faces.

Grief is gut-wrenching and painful, but I offer you this excellent essay, The Awe of Being Alive, that I happened to come across this week. The writer talks about what value such traumatic events have in our lives, having lived through one himself. For my part, feeling deep grief affirms the love we have had for a person, or even a beloved pet, and that it was a great gift to have had them in our lives.

These events also remind us to cherish every moment we have with a loved one, because life can change in an instant, and to try to make the most of every day.

Go out and do wonderful things now, as many as you can. Don’t wait for a day in some misty future that may never come.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, or spend your time worrying about what other people think. Be true to yourself, be a nice person, in some small measure leave the world a better place than when you entered it. Those are the things that truly matter.

Lessons in a sunset

Savute sunset, Botswana 2007 - photo by E. Jurus
Savute sunset, Botswana 2007 – photo by E. Jurus

I was driving home this evening from a funeral home; a friend’s mother, who’d been ill for quite some time, passed away unexpectedly from a sudden heart attack. As I crested our local skyway, in the distance a beautiful sunset lit up the sky in a rare burst of glory. It seemed a metaphor for life — moments of grief counterbalanced by moments of beauty. We all know the impermanence of life, but it’s hard to accept when we lose someone close to us. If I’ve learned anything from all the friends, family and pets we’ve lost over the years, it’s that time doesn’t really heal wounds, it just makes them bearable so that you can do what you have to do to survive, which is to move on. After I lost my beloved dog Ramses 8 years ago, it ripped my heart out; it took me months before I could even say the words “he’s dead”. Gradually I was able to go a day or two without crying, then maybe a week, then longer and longer, but even as I write this I feel the pain of his loss and miss him enormously. I wouldn’t change having had him in my life — his love and courage taught me a lot. And so life goes on, and after our adorable second dog Isis passed away the following year, also from old age and sickness, my husband and I went on a trip to Africa that we’d been putting off for a while, and we discovered magic and some healing in the beauty of nature.

This evening I couldn’t stop anywhere to take a photo of our local sunset, so instead I offer you one of the magnificent sunsets we enjoyed on that first safari. As I drove down the far side of the skyway, watching Nature’s artwork in the sky and musing on the meaning of life, I watched an idiot driver cross two lanes of traffic to take the exit ramp, just barely missing the concrete abutment. Sigh. The lesson of the sunset was clearly lost on whoever the driver was, as was the concept of driving safely. Here are two thoughts to take home with you:

1. We only get to watch so many sunsets in our life — don’t squander them!

2. Nature is the mother of all that’s great on our planet — we can only use the tools she gives us to make beauty, or ugliness. Which would you like your legacy to be?