So our old dog is reaching her end-of-days. My husband and I picked her from a litter as a newborn pup (truthfully, she picked HIM -- I should have known better), and we have trained, raised and loved her for over 12 years (as best as she would allow these things). My son just turned 10, so she has been part of his everyday life for his entire life, and he will be profoundly affected by the loss of her. We are trying to prepare him, but we know that when the time comes it will be heart wrenching for all of us, even me. I say even me because Zoey, crotchety old lady that she was born to be, has always viewed me as her rival for house alpha. Therefore, far from being the loving and devoted companion that most people experience in relationship to their dogs, I have had a girl in perpetual puberty. In dog language, her every response to me is sighing, eye-rolling, screaming "I hate you!" and storming off. In dog language "storming off" is skulking away with occasional reproachful glances over her shoulder. Zoey has perfected the skunk eye and frequently growls when I try to cuddle her. My son adores her anyhow, and in processing his grief over her imminent departure accused me of never wanting to get another dog again. I told him I will get another dog for him, but I don't need another because I've "been there, done that." In thinking about it more, I have come to realize that really isn't true at all.
I am not a big fan of rap (translation: I am not a fan of rap AT ALL), but I am going to paraphrase the rapper Drake here: Sometimes I wish I could go back in life; not to change things, just to feel a couple of things twice. There are so many moments like that, aren't there? Picking a wriggling puppy for your very own, falling in love, having your breath taken away by something, someone... those peak experiences that seem to hold every single bit of the whole universe in one moment. All those firsts: the first time you rode your bike without training wheels, the first time behind the wheel of a car, your first kiss; these memories are so indelible you can conjure them completely and feel the fear, triumph, exhilaration all over again. But what about those other moments, the quieter ones? The ones you took entirely for granted, but now wish you could go back and re-experience, just to appreciate them? In trying to imagine how our life will feel once Zoey is gone, I find myself wishing I could go back to a time when my dad was still alive. No specific time... I just wish I could remember how it felt to know he was there and to assume he always would be. I used to love listening to my parents speak to each other -- so much love and affection and respect. What would I give to go back in time and hear their voices together again, even just coming from the other room?
There is an amazing scene in the movie "Peggy Sue Got Married" where Peggy Sue picks up the phone and hears her long-dead grandmother's voice. Of course, since Peggy Sue has gone back in time, her grandmother is alive again, but it just hadn't occurred to her until that moment. Kathleen Turner nails it, and I defy you to watch her reaction without crying yourself. When we are young, we take so much for granted; our grandparents, parents, life and world... it feels like they all exist FOR us somehow, and therefore will not go away unless we wish them to do so. But that first loss, whether it be a dog or a person, rocks that perception to the core. Life becomes impermanent, the world uncertain. We then have to make a choice: Do we embrace uncertainty, or become rigid ourselves in order to create an illusion of permanence? It seems like such a natural response to death to shut down, close up the shutters, batten down the hatches... but what if instead we became more fluid, rolling in the grief and allowing ourselves to feel all that pain? Would it not stand to reason that in being open to experiencing anguish, we open ourselves a little more to experiencing joy? Doesn't it make sense that shut down to pain is shut down to everything... but open to pain is also open to joy? Queen Elizabeth II said, "Grief is the price we pay for love," but consider, isn't grief just another form of passion?
That is why I am asserting now -- there is NO SUCH THING as "been there, done that." Because each experience changes us, we can never really encounter the same thing twice. "You can't go home again" is a vernacular wisdom that speaks to this; but more accurately, I think we come to understand over time that we ourselves are "home." Home is not out there, someplace to get "back" to... it is within, the complete picture of all you are and all you have experienced. When we open ourselves to life, be it loss or peak experiences or mundane moments, we become more and more at home with it, and with ourselves. You are the peak experience, the vessel that contains the entire universe in it, so all things become welcomed in your life.
Pain... grief... melancholy... joy... desire... wondering... it is all there, all the time and yet always new. As you allow yourself to own all of your feelings, you come to realize that even on a day to day basis you have NOT been there nor done that. Because you are constantly renewing, you never feel exactly the same way twice. So relish it all! Relish it as it happens, and you will live life without regrets. As Rumi wrote, "You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in one drop."
This first appeared in September 2015 on "Your New Best Friend" (http://karapostkennedy.blogspot.com/). Zoey was a fighter to the end, but left us to romp in greener pastures on January 12, 2016