They say endings bring new beginnings, but I never planned for this one

breathe self-care Jan 28, 2022

There’s a saying: When the dog dies and the kids leave home, that’s when life begins.

I never imagined that, but for me, it’s going something like this: When the dog is ready to die, the kids and the husband leave home, I have no clue how my life is supposed to be beginning.

I’m a wellness warrior, a self-care expert about to launch a in 2022 so I can help people live a more abundant life full of meaning, purpose and joy.

And yet, I’m embarrassed to admit that I am … just stuck.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m doing everything ‘right’: I practice yoga and dance several times a week. I sing in a virtual choir. I meditate and power-walk daily. I get regular acupuncture, Reiki and therapy.

But if I’m being raw, authentic and honest with myself – and with you – the cold weather, COVID culture and way too much personal crap, I’m just feeling like everyone else these days. I’m floundering.

I was supposed to go on vacation to Puerto Rico with my son earlier this month, until the vet found a suspicious lump under the armpit of my 10-year-old Golden Retriever, Benji. The x-ray showed a softball-sized mass in his abdomen, and an ultrasound revealed tumors in his heart and kidney.

The vet told me on the phone that this type of inoperable, incurable cancer (Hemangiosarcoma) is common in Goldens. I was assured he was not in any pain, but Benji was weak, anemic, could barely walk and was at risk for internal bleeding. The prognosis was bleak.

The vet suggested scheduling an appointment for the following day for Benji to be euthanized. I was inconsolable.

But then, something amazing happened. When I arrived at the vet’s to pick Benji up, he walked straight out of the clinic and into my arms. I brought him home, and he seemed to be back to his playful puppy self. He went up and down the stairs, and even played Frisbee.

I thought Benji was gaslighting me. Maybe he was thinking I was nuts to assume he was frail and ready to die the following day. He was showing me such joy, such a will to live and continue being part of the family. He was eating, drinking. Smiling!

Benji was telling me that he still had lots of living to do, and that he would skip the following day’s appointment. So I cancelled the euthanasia, and decided to follow Benji’s lead until he decided when his time is up.

The vet prescribed steroids that boosted his platelets and red blood cells, which added a pep to his step. His energy and appetite improved, but he now needed doggie diapers. It was just like having a baby all over again. I put drop sheets and pee pads all over the main floor of the house, making it look like a war zone. And I brought a mattress downstairs so Benji and I could sleep next to each other.

The late, great Betty White – who tirelessly devoted much of her life to helping animals – perfectly captured what I’m feeling these days: “Once someone has had the good fortune to share a true love affair with a Golden Retriever, one’s life and one’s outlook is never quite the same.”

Here’s what Benji is teaching me at the end of his life:

Gratitude. I am so grateful for the gift of time to enjoy every moment of Benji's life before it ends.

Being truly present. I’m blessed to just be with Benji and allow him to be fully present with me, too.

Stillness. We cuddle. Hold “paws.” Read together. I’ve also been singing to Benji - it’s comforting for us both.

Surprise and delight. Benji seems to have recaptured some of his puppy-like energy, and a new fascination with TV sitcoms!

Simplicity. Nothing brings me greater joy than seeing Benji eat, drink, lift himself up and walk, because that means he’s still invested in living.

The importance of family. Benji is a family guy. Most of the time, he doesn’t think of himself as a dog. He’s a little boy in a dog suit. This past week, my son was home from college and Benji just wanted to be with me and my daughter, as part of the family.

Humor. Goldens are notorious clowns, and Benji keeps me laughing: He counter-surfs for food, steals my shoes to play “cat and mouse” and stares me down when I eat meals without him.

Joy, companionship and unconditional love. I give Benji my heart and he gives me his unconditional love. I’ve cared for Benji since he was a puppy and will stand by him until the end.

Thank God I did not put Benji down last week! This extra time with him is helping me accept his end of life and is making me less afraid of his passing.

I am enjoying making him feel special: cooking homemade meals for him and spoiling him with treats, hugs and kisses.

I’ll keep you posted on how we navigate this journey together….

Be well,

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