If you could know the appointed date and time of your demise, would you want to?
Or, would you prefer the random, “when it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go” philosophy we humans abide by now? Perhaps just embrace the concept of YOLO?
Or what about this: what would you do if you knew the exact time and date of death for another? Would you tell them or keep it a secret?
July 27th, 2020. 4:30pm CST.
That was the knowledge I was doomed to carry for two whole weeks.
I lost a family member that day and I knew exactly when and where it was going to happen. I even knew how they would die. How would you feel if you were burdened with this knowledge? For me, it was absolutely crippling.
Anything you say (or write, in this case) in an emotional heat of the moment can have unintended consequences, so I tend to bottle up until I can make better sense of what I’m feeling before I speak or write. I’ve waited until now to pen this post in an effort let some of my raw emotion simmer down. I know it’s always going to be there but after time it settles into the fabric of my being. Now that I’ve had time to process, I feel I can write this with a small bit of coherence. As best an effort this will be, it will fall short of the eulogy this family member deserves.
Allow me to introduce you to Tinker Bell. Tink was our 14-year-old Akita/Pyrenees mix that, sadly, had to be put down after a long bout with hip and knee problems in her back legs. It wasn’t the standard dysplasia larger dogs are typically plagued with. A couple years ago, it was discovered she had damaged both meniscus in her hind legs at an early age. She never outwardly showed signs of injury, so it went unnoticed until it was too late to repair. As she got older, the problem manifested and robbed her of any remaining quality of life. She became almost immobile. The simple task of getting up from the floor to go outside was a painful chore that required human assistance, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed she could get up anyway. She was hurting, and we just couldn’t let her suffer anymore.
Let’s talk about that phrase for a second: quality of life.
Most people give context to that phrase at the end of a life as opposed to the beginning or middle. Think for a moment about what that phrase means to you right now, today. For humans, it might mean the amenities of your home or car, your decor and furniture, your bank account or investments. Most (but not all) younger folks only consider it as a material reckoning. I think very few in the human realm contemplate what “quality of life” means to them or that it applies until they’re at the end of it. Why wait til then?
I have found a thread common with some other friends of mine: J.J. in New York, Greg in Indiana, Mary Jane here in Tennessee, and my youngest son Eian. What do we all have in common? We were dog dads and moms who have all lost our beloved fur babies this year. Back in March, J.J. lost his Boxer, Memphis. In July, I lost Tinkerbell. Earlier this week, Eian lost his mixed-breed, Shiloh. Mary Jane lost her rescue dog, Simon, and Greg lost his beloved German Shepherd, Scarlet, just today as I write this. When they leave us, there is a chasm that even time struggles to fill. For me, I’m a better person because of my dog.
Something else we all have in common is that our dogs were a major part of our quality of life considerations, even though we may not have thought about it that way. They are our family. I feel it safe to say I speak for them when I say that our dogs, probably much like yours, provided some of the happiest moments in our lives as well as saved us in some of our lowest. There is no greater unconditional love on this earth than a dog’s love for their family. My friend Mary Jane even wrote a book about Simon: Life Lessons from a Rescue Dog.
If you want to see a grown man (or woman) cry, wait until something happens to their dog. I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I had to take Tink for her last ride, I bawled like a newborn baby that was just smacked on the butt. I mean I ugly-cried. I was a wreck and so was everyone else in the house. The vet could not have been nicer or more gentle, and gave me all the time I needed with her both before the deed and after she was gone. I’m terrible with goodbyes, but I stayed and made this one meaningful.
I say this often as a joke, but I mean it with some level of sincerity when I say the more people I meet, the more I like my dog. Sometimes people just plain suck. But dogs? Never. I’ll say it again: Never on earth has the unconditional love for people been seen in a greater host than a family dog, and Tink was no exception. I know I am not the first one to say it, but we do not deserve dogs. Cat people, I know you’re scoffing right now. You might argue that cats are the same way, but I will argue back that no greater love exists than that of a canine. None. Anywhere. Search your feelings… you know it’s true.
Read more about J.J.’s dog, Memphis, here: Goodbye, My Memphis
So, I go back to my original question to you: If you could know the appointed date and time of your demise, would you want to? Personally, I don’t. I can tell you from my experience with Tink that knowing for two weeks about her final appointment tore me apart. And even though we spoke different languages, I never told her. In the end, I didn’t have to. I think she knew, and I think she was alright with it. Godspeed Tink, Shiloh, Scarlet, Simon, Memphis, and all the other fur babies out there who left us too soon, with memories in our minds and aches in our hearts. Enjoy that big dog park in the sky until we can get there to throw sticks and tennis balls for you again one day.