Dying Lessons I Learned From My Dog
My thirteen year-old rescued dog, Benny, has suspicious nodules in his liver. My husband and I will know in a few days if it’s cancer. Needless to say, I am watching his every move on a daily basis. Losing a pet is never easy and I hate having to go through this over and over (as we have with the many furry children we have lost and mourned over the years). However, I am in a new phase with the reality of death because of my mother’s advanced years, so Benny’s condition takes on a more profound meaning for me.
Death scares me. Death means losing loved ones forever. Death is final. Death is inevitable. Therefore, in order to combat this dark truth, I am concentrating on the essence of my Border Collie, Golden Retriever mix who came to us from a shelter as a grateful, energetic young dog almost twelve years ago. Benny is still Benny, yet age has given him a well-earned wisdom. Benny has become my Yoda. I am certain his lessons about dying will give me comfort for my own death someday.
Lesson 1. My greatest joy right now is watching Benny run and jump on our morning walks. He still barks gleefully for being off-leash in the greenbelt behind our house, while jumping all over our young dog, Brindey. They love running at birds and squirrels. Benny is teaching me to jump and run in the moment instead of worrying about that which hasn’t even happened.
Lesson 2. Benny follows me everywhere to get as many hugs and kisses as he can. Benny is teaching me to not hold back my feelings of love with those who are important to me. None of us know when we might not be around in this life.
Lesson 3. When Benny is tired, he finds a comfy spot and languishes in rest. Benny is teaching me to listen to my body when it is hurting. I have prolonged too many injuries because I won’t stay off my feet or miss one workout to enhance the healing process. It’s okay to be vulnerable.
Lesson 4. Doctor visits are always stressful when you don’t know a diagnosis, but Benny allows the doctor to probe and poke without complaint. He trusts that we are doing the best we can for his well-being. I am learning that we need to trust our loved ones and let them care about us without guilt or complaint. Benny is trying to make us feel better even though he is the one who is sick.
Lesson 5. Benny still smiles and wags his tail when he is with us. He is allowing the good things in his life to take precedence over the bad. Benny is showing us that even though there is a final end to life, if you have your loved ones around you, death might not be so awful or scary.
Finally, Benny’s love for us is his priority. He lets us know every day how much we are appreciated. So I say to you now, dear Benny, “Thank you for loving us unconditionally and for giving your furry siblings your patience and guidance. We will never forget how you dropped that pear, a favorite treat, in front of your older dog sister, Bonney, when she was struggling to breathe and could no longer eat. Also, you made sure Mr. Big, our cat, wasn’t so afraid by kissing him to come out of his hiding place when we moved to the new house. We love you to the moon and back, sweet boy… now and forever.”