Almost 10 months ago, my dog Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer. Since we think she’s almost 12 years old (a rescue, so we’re not sure) we opted to not have her endure treatment, but to make her “last days” comfortable.
I put last days in quotes because here it is, almost 10 months later, and she’s doing so well she may outlive us all. I’ve learned over the past 10 months to take each day as it comes. I wake up, gauge how she’s feeling, and go from there. Some days she’s bounding out of bed before me, a big grin on her face, tail wagging, giving me body slams to get me up, licking my face. Other days I’m up first and she looks at me forlornly, her chin on the ground, big eyes gazing up as if to say, “Sigh. . . Mommy I sure wish I felt better. I feel like shit today. Why do I feel so bad?” On those days I take it easy with her and stay home if I can, giving her extra pets and love, extra treats if she’ll take them, walking a little more slowly with her around the yard. Hoping that she’ll feel better tomorrow and that this isn’t indeed the beginning of the end.
But seriously, the “bad” days (also in quotes because every day with Miss Lois is a good day) are few and far between. Sometimes I forget she’s sick. Sometimes I look to the sky at whatever god may be there (take your pick) and ask, “Are you granting me a reprieve? May we have her just a little bit longer than we thought? Is this all really just a bad dream or a misdiagnosis?” Then another bad day happens and I’m reminded of how precious every day is, every moment is really. Every second with her that she feels okay I’m eternally grateful for. I’ve learned through her to not just be grateful for the big stuff, a house, a car, a loving husband, but the little stuff. The moments, the seconds, the minutes when she’s lying beside me in the early morning and I can hear her breathing. Every second.
On her bad days I’m reminded of the fluidness of time. Nothing stands still, we’re all moving, changing, flowing, getting older. I’ve noticed little changes in her during this time beyond the diagnosis. She moves slower, has a cloudy blueness to her eyes, has a calmness, a resignation that wasn’t there before. She doesn’t react as psychotically to thunderstorms and fireworks, but resignedly goes to a closet or the shower. “Not again. . . sigh,” she seems to say, her paws padding on the wood floor clicking away from me. “Not again.”
I have days, weeks even where I think it might always be this way. She will always be okay, we’ll always be together, everything will always be fine. Time stands still. Then something happens to remind me that nothing stands still. Everything moves and changes. Her salivary gland blocked up a month ago and I knew this was the end. I prepped myself for it, steeled myself to feel the pain. But after overnight minor surgery? She’s a new dog and again I’m looking at the sky in gratitude.
This past week, my good friend lost her beloved horse to cancer. Blue had been diagnosed almost the same month as my Lois and over the past 10 months my friend and I had consoled each other and talked with one another about our fears and our hopes for our loved ones. In a weird way every time Lois did better I thought maybe Blue was going to do better too. Sometimes this was the case, sometimes not. When he passed suddenly I was reminded like a savage blow to the head that nothing stays. People and pets pass. Time passes. Hope isn’t always enough to keep the ones you love with you for as long as you’d like. The anger and frustration I felt, the sadness I felt for my friend was overwhelming. I felt hopeless to help, was at a loss for words when I called her, just felt damn mad that someone I cared about had to go through this. The hopelessness was a like a tight collar around my neck, choking the hope out of me. It made me hold Lois a little closer every time she walked near, gripping her around the belly in a tight hug, smelling the beautiful doggy smell of the fur on her neck, vainly trying like hell to just hold onto one damn moment of good against all that pain.
Not too sound too “guru” or anything, but because I’ve been meditating a year now, in a weird, strange way I’ve been able to relay all of this shit into my practice, which has been struggling as of late. Since Lois’s diagnosis my distraction has reached new levels of hilarity, getting so bad that I was actually reaching for my phone to check email during my 20-minute sessions. It was weeks before it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t the way to go about things. I put the phone on a high shelf, backed my minutes up to 5, and started again.
Now I’m up to 12 minutes as of today and am slowly building up to where it was before Lois got sick. It’s okay I did that, obviously I needed to. No beating up of the self allowed. And it’s okay I get frustrated I can’t hold onto anything. Everyone does. You’re not supposed to be able to hold onto anything in this life. And you’re supposed to go through frustration after frustration until it hits you like a Tyson blow that maybe this is the point. There is no holding on. You have to let go. Of everything. Every minute. Every minute of life is a free fall. Loosen that gut you’re holding in during meditation. Loosen the grip on your doggie’s neck. Loosen your breathing. Loosen your thinking. Breathe. Loosen the criticism in your head about how you can’t help your friend. Let go of it all. Every minute. Every second. Instead of holding onto the moments with your beloved doggie daughter, practice just BEING in the moment with her. Lightly. And when it’s time (and yes, in my head I’m thinking, please don’t let it be time anytime soon), breathe. Then let her go.