With each passing day my dog is closer to the end of her time with us. Our time has been rich with positive experiences and lessons. It has been so good that now it feels scary to imagine my life, and my day, without her big, mouth breathing, hairy presence. I’ll confess that I encouraged her to feel a certain equality in our relationship. Yes, I’m her guardian and caregiver but also her buddy. Her trust in me is everything.
Some of my fears about her time coming to an end with us is that I’m not done yet showing her my gratitude for all that she has given me.
Seeing Cleo as a bridge
I tell myself for the hundredth time that she’s not dead yet, that there is more to experience with her that will be positive and meaningful. I remind myself that right now she is the perfect bridge between me and my ailing father. His decline runs parallel to Cleo, starting with the toll diabetes has taken on his body. They both wobble when they walk, often lurching to one side or the other as they make their way down the hallway.
The real difference between them is that my father expresses his frustrations and depression with words. He gets angry at my stepmother over small things like a pile of forgotten clothes that blocked his path, then he feels regret because he knows she is suffering as well. The emotional roller coaster they are on looks very familiar. However while he is ready to give up and roll over, Cleo is not.
She continues on, only now Cleo lurches toward the door at the sound of a knock, and stumbles toward the kitchen when she smells something cooking. Cleo is a dog. A dog living in the present. A dog reflective of her environment. She focuses on the simplest joys at hand: picking up good smells in the air; napping by my feet; sniffing our tree-lined city block.
Rich. Complex. Worth it.
Thanks to Cleo, I feel an appreciation for what my father is experiencing but I am also learning that being old doesn't have to stop you from enjoying life. It’s up to you, it’s a choice.
I'm so grateful for my time with Cleo that, like her, I will try to focus on the simple joys at hand. I will try to manage my pain, maybe not by panting like her but by smiling through it, by letting the good overwhelm any bad.
Life with my old dog is rich, complex, and oh so worth it. I realize the bridge Cleo provides between my father and me goes both ways. My plan now is to share some of Cleo’s methods for a good life with my father. I know he loves her so I’m hopeful that he’ll find some comfort in her example. Wish me luck!
Has your dog taught you a life lesson? Share your thoughts in the comments.