Her name is Sara, although her given name is Serendipity Chance, conferred before my husband met me, when he took her in as a puppy in a box, when she was “a baked potato with legs.” She is now thirteen, quiet and shy, our oldest and smallest in a pack of three, all lap dogs, weighing in at a compact 55 pounds. Sweet as candy, bearer of countless nicknames (including Bear) and our ferocious love. She is dying.
When Sara was diagnosed with a heart tumor in March, the cardiologist gave her a day or two weeks. ‘What about chemo?’ I blurted, immediately noting my own hypocrisy. Until that moment I had pronounced anyone who put their dog through such trauma as selfish and cruel, more interested in their own needs than their pets’. And, no, twenty-five years of meditation, mindfulness and yoga still does not inoculate me against these habits of judgment and disapproval, dispatched swiftly and certainly, loud as a thunderclap, sure as rain.
But there we were at the oncologist’s the very next day, where she promised more quality time with Sara and we grabbed it, postponing the grief that we know all too well, having lost three dogs in ten years. Too many. So we opened an account at the compounding pharmacy and found a well-stocked apothecary at the 99 Ranch Market. It turns out that the side effects of canine chemotherapy can be benign, except for the cost (nope, we do not have pet insurance).
Sara, for one, has greeted her new role as Identified Patient happily: lapping up pills dipped in butter, slurping herbal remedies dissolved in yogurt and thrilling at a recently added noontime treat, a scrambled egg served in chicken broth. It is a final tour of culinary favorites.
Our girl was energetic and herself, thriving even, until about a week or so ago. First, her leash jangled and she looked up but she didn’t want to go. Then she stopped eating her dog food, carefully curating the rotisserie chicken that she now expects. Her legs are wobbly, she steps gingerly if at all, seeming to calculate the need to get up and, most often, deciding to stay put. She looks at us intently when we tell her we’ll be okay, that whenever she’s ready she can go, that our job is to get this part right, to make sure that she doesn’t suffer.
This is mindfulness, it’s what a lifetime of practice prepares us for: paying attention to what is happening, holding each moment in awareness, meeting life on life’s terms. Mindfulness is simple but not easy, and life is joyous and wrenching, sometimes in such close proximity that we wonder how people do it.
This weekend we are prepared but nowhere near ready. We watch our precious girl and support her hind legs when she wants to get up. We wait, we cuddle, we stroke and tickle. We cry, but we leave the room so that if she understands we don’t weigh her down with our sadness. The menu this morning included pureed rainbow carrots and Sara loved them. It’s the weekend and we will all spend the time at home, together, fully present.