Sunday, April 13, 2014

OK Again

On the day Nike was dying, I had just begun to realize that this was not just a case of an upset digestive system when I had to call my father about another matter.
Nike on her 14th birthday

As I got on the phone with him, I lost control of my voice and started crying on the phone. He was at his office and understandably confused. I told him that Nike was sick and I was scared she wasn't going to make it. "But," I said, "she could be fine, she could be OK--I might be wrong."

His reply is something that has stuck with me: "Christine, she's not OK. She'll never be OK again." It took my breath away, because we dog people will lie to ourselves and to each other rather than admit this.

Thorn and Frost
But that is not my dad--he will not lie to you to let you keep lying to yourself. He had seen Nike the month before, at Thanksgiving--she was full of joy and happy to be surrounded by her family, but she was not "OK." She was having balance issues and her body wouldn't respond to her. She would fall while turning and fall down the porch steps if I wasn't there to help her. She was happy, she was alive, but she was not OK.

I know that when my dad said this, he was not just thinking of my Nike, my dog. He was thinking of his wife, my mother, whose body no longer obeys her like it once did. He was thinking of his parents and his friends. He was thinking of himself, his aging body that would never go back to being "all OK."

And he was telling me the truth, the hard, painful, undeniable reality--they will never be "OK" again. There is no undoing old age. There is no taking back or fixing the failings of an old body.

And yet... and yet, we go on. We must go on. We love the ones we love, we make them as OK as possible. And we make ourselves as OK as possible with the losing of them.

We fall in love again with the ones who are just entering this world, who are just now becoming part of our lives. With dogs and humans--and all the other living things we end up loving. We must not let these realities shut us down, close our hearts--or let us deny that they are the truth.

We who love dogs with their short lives enter into these relationships that we know will end in grief. We choose this grief for the sake of the joy that will come along the way.
The dogs who have broken my heart--Knight, Frost, Thorn, Enni, Ashen, Nike--I regret none of them. I am richer for the part they played in my life. And there will be others, will be more.

I have surrounded myself with their lives, so I must watch each of them eventually become Not OK, watch them unbecome, just as I watched them come into being.

Mjolnir (Hammer)

And I am falling in love right now with two puppies. They are unfolding into complex, funny, intelligent, joyful beings, and with every new unfolding of their personalities, I gain in joy and love for them.

And one day, it will be me who will be not OK. And that's a truth too that I am facing more and more. But we go on. Because we must. Because there is no other acceptable option.