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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Waiting at the Bridge

My dog Tia, a 12-1/2 year old golden retriever who spent the first seven years of her life living on dirt in a California puppy mill, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor last fall. The tumor caused her to have seizures, which were well controlled with medications until recently.

She had another seizure on April 25, as I was in the Denver airport awaiting my flight home. My daughter was at work, but her boyfriend was at our house with Tia. When the seizure didn't stop, they rushed Tia to the emergency veterinary hospital. I was out of touch until my flight landed an hour later, wondering what was going on with my dog.

Shortly after my flight took off, I noticed a beautiful orange-red sunset. The sun's rays beamed brightly through a low layer of clouds. I wasn't able to get to my camera to photograph the sunset, but as I watched the sun's brilliance burn even more brightly and then fade, I somehow knew that Tia would not survive the night.

As I watched the red sun blaze even more brightly and its brilliant rays penetrate the layers of clouds, I thought about Tia, as she burned brightly once she escaped the horrors of the puppy mill. Her life force multiplied as she learned to play with toys, to overcome her fear of water and paper, and to be part of a loving family. Then, as the setting sun's brightness began to fade, I thought of how Tia's life was fading as the tumor in her brain began to dim and ultimately destroy her life force.

Like the sun, her happy spirit and 'everybody is my friend' attitude burned brightly. Despite her miserable life as a producer of puppies to satisfy the greed of the puppy mill operator, she was remarkably well-adjusted. She quickly took to her new life. She loved attention, she loved her tennis balls and her soft toys, and she loved to roll in the grass, even when it was covered in frost. Following our morning walk each day, she would seek out a sunny spot on the floor in our house. She liked to snooze outside in the sun if I was working in the yard.

Every day since her adoption in August 2008, Tia enjoyed a life of love, walks, toys and companionship. She seemed frightened by the seizures, but she didn't fear the inevitable outcome of a brain tumor. She simply enjoyed living the life she had known for 5-1/2 years since her rescue. She was happy, she was home, she was loved. Following her tumor diagnosis, we did everything we could for her. We gave her medications to control the seizures, we switched her to a raw diet and supplemented her food with a variety of immune-boosting powders. Most of all, we loved her as we have always loved her, perhaps loving her even more.

The tumor caused changes in her; she paced and sometimes seemed anxious. Her back legs occasionally seemed to give out. One day, my daughter found her staring at the door to the laundry room. She became withdrawn, and some days, she didn't feel like going for her morning walk. On most days, however, she wanted to walk, trotting along happily, stopping to sniff the desert plants and setting the pace and duration of our walks.

And when her light went out, when the tumor finally defeated her body, we were with her, as we had been every day since this sweet little dog came into our lives. As we were with her to release her spirit from her failing body, she will be with us until we meet again and cross the Rainbow Bridge together.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Really Matters

Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.

When we are young, we tend to focus on the material things in life, on getting ahead, on buying our first house or a new car. In my case, and with others I know, age has brought an increased emphasis on giving back, on helping those in need, on sharing my blessings with others, and on simplifying my life a bit.

I don't intend to live in poverty or to become a hermit. I live in a nice house and I drive a good car. But amassing more material things is not of any importance to me. Recently, I took 20 books to the local 'friends of the library' group to sell. I delivered bags of clothing to a local animal rescue group's thrift store.When I visit a new country, I'm not interested in buying knick-knacks to sit on a shelf and collect dust. The best mementos of my visit are my photographs and memories, along with the occasional coffee cup, which I use for my morning cup of tea.

And as I get older, the finite nature of life begins to hit home more forcefully as well. We can lose those we love in the blink of an eye -- a car accident or disease can snatch people from us in an instant. I recently learned of the passing of a member of my extended family (the wife of my brother-in-law's brother) who was only in her 50s. I often hear about someone who died at an age younger than I now am. And my dog was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor last fall. Watching the tumor cause her to have seizures and some loss of coordination is difficult. But knowing that she is reaching the end of her life also has caused me to be more patient with her and to cherish our remaining time even more than I previously did. I also appreciate that as a dog, she doesn't know what lies ahead and she therefore has no fear of death.

Of course, I  also see the physical changes in myself -- the gray hair, the slower recovery from strenuous work or exercise, the age spots. These changes -- not sudden by any means -- have prompted me to take better care of myself and to get the periodic check-ups, vaccinations and tests recommended by medical professionals.

I can't stop the march of time; all I can do is to maximize whatever time I have left. I can focus on the people and things that matter most. I can pick my battles and the things that frustrate or upset me. I can focus on the big picture and let the little things go. I can spend more time doing the things I most enjoy, such as travel and photography.

After all is said and done, the little things won't matter anyway. What will matter is the difference I hope to make during my short time on earth, the people who were touched by my presence, the causes I may have helped and the lessons I taught.

Just maybe, if more people focus on the things that really matter, this world will become a happier and better place for all.