Since the beginning of June I have been acutely aware it has been a year since my dog had the first of many strokes that robbed him of his sight.
We never thought he would survive to live another year and yet here he is today, jumping on me with excitement when he's told we're going for a walk, running around parks without a lead and, sometimes, even daring to chase crows and butterflies.
This blog is in celebration of his life.
Being still unemployed means that, unless I am on an internship, I spend entire days at home with only Binks for company, sat in front of the computer for entertainment or for job-hunting. Binks likes to lie at the entrance of my office where he can "keep an eye" on me. Whenever boredom hits me, I get up to give him a cuddle. If you are a dog owner, you know they make excellent stress busters.
While I wrap myself around him and stroke his fur, sometimes I catch myself having odd toughts about mortality. When a friend of my husband's lost her dog to cancer, she said, 'I miss touching his soft fur.' What would I miss the most about Binks if he were to die tomorrow?
It is a terrifying thought but we know for a fact he is not going to outlive us. His health is now stable again, but he is still an ageing dog and not getting any younger. I hold him more tightly then, trying to imagine the vaccum inside my chest the day he is no longer with us. I feel his mortality pulsating under his skin. I know it is as transient as mine is, but his seem so much more palpable and real.
As I kiss his head, I feel his doggy smell and the warmth of his outbreath on my cheeks. This is life: the smell of life, the breath of life.
I have read somewhere that when a person you love dies, their image becomes diluted with time, even if you loved them dearly in life. Perhaps it is our mind's own way of coping with grief and loss, an intrinsic part of the healing process. Oblivion can sometimes be a blessing.
But as I hold Binks against my body, I suddenly panic at the idea of losing him. I think I never want to forget his body temperature, his smell, the feel of his fur, his snoring noises. I try to desperately cling on to a memory that I know will one day become cloudy and fade away.
Then I snap back into reality and laugh. I laugh at the absurdity of it all because my parents, my brother, my husband, my friends are all mortals as well and will one day pass on. And yet, when I see them, I am not tempted to squeeze them in my arms and say, 'I want to remember how you feel and smell for when you die.'
We tend to think we are a bit less mortal than our pets because their lifespan is much shorter than ours. Perhaps because of that we often forget to appreciate the people in our lives who love and care about us. We think there is always tomorrow for those things. Tomorrow we will say thank you, or I forgive you, or I love you. But what if tomorrow never comes?
So I have started a game in my own head of "how I want to remember you". Whenever I am talking to a friend or a beloved one, I bookmark in my head the moments I would like to remember for posterity. Just as you would "add to favourites" on your Internet browser. A friend who extended a helping hand at a time of need, a loving smile from my husband, a gift in the post from my mother. Each moment that represents an expression of love and connection I add to my list of things I want to remember.
We often feel grateful for things that were done or given to us, but we are not always mindfully grateful. Even Christians who pray before their meals and thank God for the food on the table may be doing so mechanically, out of habit. How many actually feel thankful that their dinner is laid in front of them when they have never faced starvation?
The last time my mother sent me a small parcel from Brazil with some of my favourite foods, I made a point of thinking, "Thank you, mum, and I will remember this when you are no longer alive." When a friend did or said things that felt hurtful at the time, I made a point of thinking, "I forgive you, and I will not remember this when you are no longer alive." Whether I will die before or after them is besides the point. Death is not important; it is life that should not be wasted or lived with our conscience submerged in and numbed by ego-centric thoughts.
Binks' life feels fragile to me because we nearly lost him a year ago. We value things more when we become conscious of their impermanence even though we are persishable creatures ourselves.
I should know – I had a brush with cancer myself four years ago, and survived. I felt my mortality acutely then, but now I hardly ever think about the what ifs. It would drive me insane, if I had to remind myself daily of the finiteness of my life. I would spend the entire time drawing up my will and writing farewell letters instead of fillling in job application forms.
It occurred to me that perhaps people, and pets, die around us during our lifetime as part of our soul's education. With each loss, we become more aware of the limitations of our physical bodies and somehow more accepting of death and dying. Some with resignation, others with anger. Still others with a deeper understanding that death is only life's way of teaching us not to hold off living till tomorrow.
Try telling Binks he can't have his pig's ear till the next day when he knows it is lying on the kitchen counter right now.
I guess it is time we started wagging our tails and celebrating, not only our anniversaries, but also and especially the small daily treats that ultimately make life worth living.
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