Monday, March 9, 2015

In Memory of a Loving Friend

This weekend, my family had to say goodbye to one of its members. Charlie had joined us in early 2000, after a sudden loss of one of our former goldens. He hailed from Phoenix, and was the sweetest dog we had ever encountered. He never complained, and always come to our side if he sensed unhappiness or distraught. He always wanted us to be happy, and took it upon himself to make sure of it. He never once wanted to be a burden or inconvenient. He internalized so much so as to make us pleased with him. Of course, we loved him no matter what, and his ongoing health issues (triggered by our emotional fluxuations), were a constant struggle. Regardless, we'd do anything for him, but as time wore on, so did his body. He lasted over 15 years, unheard of for most golden retrievers, and definitely longer than any of our prior ones.

We learned so much about dogs over the years with Charlie, mainly regarding how tied they are to their owners emotionally. Their loyalty is unparalleled to that of humans', and our emotional state has such an impact on theirs. As a dog who never made a peep, never once fussed about anything, even in his later years when he couldn't go on walks anymore, and had to stay home, Charlie never once complained.

On his last day, a giant tumor was discovered occupying his gut, pushing all of his other organs out of the way, and hoarding blood. He was acting spacey and lightheaded, and was so lethargic, he had to be carried out of the house. The tumor had been growing for years, unbenounced to any of us. He seemed to act normally, never in pain. He had trouble standing, but we assumed it was from old age, not due to a suffering abdomen.

The devastating diagnosis came as a surprise, but also provided relief. Knowing what pain he was enduring could finally come to an end allowed us to make the call. There was little chance he'd even survive a surgery, so the answer was clear. Charlie's suffering was brought to an end Saturday afternoon, and was released to run free with his late friend, Bucky, who passed away almost six years ago.

What's ironic, is that the tumor that brought Charlie's life to an end, also caused his successee, Molly, to be put down. It's a common cancer that golden retrievers face - their one and only flaw. What's more interesting, though, is that both dogs shared a similar personality. They internalized. They didn't want us to be unhappy, so they would take it upon themselves to be by our side, never complaining about their own pain, their own suffering. They held it in, and it manifested in their gut.

It's an important lesson for us all. We have to be vocal. We can't internalize for the sake of making someone else happy. We have no control over someone else's emotions. Their reactions to us are rooted in their own experience, not our actions. We have to complain, we have to express our feelings, even if it's inconvenient for someone else. The body alone cannot digest these powerful emotions.

Let us also recognize the ones in our life that are less likely to be vocal. Just because they aren't complaining, doesn't mean they aren't suffering. Ususally they're the ones who are suffering more, but don't want to displease us by talking about it. I know I have these tendencies. I am much more likely to internalize (and get sick), than to confront the issue head on. I've noticed that when I get sick, it's because I haven't dealt with some deeper issue, and it isn't until I recognize and honor what's going on below the surface, that I begin to heal.

Our animals can teach us so much about ourselves: how to live and love unconditionally, how to live in the present moment, and how to face the emotions that our evironment evokes. The joy brought on by having dogs in our lives has far outweighed the hardest moments when we have to say goodbye; when we have to unclip the leash and release them to God. There isn't a day that goes by where we aren't more alivened, awakened, and present, as when we're in the presence of dogs. They are a gift, that each person should have the opportunity to experience. We should remember, too, that a heart broken by the loss of a dog, is quickly healed by the love of another.

Goodbye Charlie, may you run wild and free through the fields of heaven.

Painting #6: Baby Charlie (3x4 inches, watercolor)

Original Instagram Photo (original photo taken Jan, 2000):