I want to share a personal story with you about the power of Presence & Perspective and how it shaped my life over the past 6 weeks in a very personal and powerful way. This story is about my beloved dog, Nora Bean.
Nora was one of my foster puppies 13 years ago who chose me. I like to say I had no choice in the matter. She implanted her imprint on my heart and I couldn’t bear to lose her. What sealed the deal was when I picked her up at the vet after she was spayed (all of her siblings had been adopted yet she mysteriously had not been even though it was clear to me she was the best of the bunch!). She was in her little crate by the reception desk and when she saw me come through the door, she wagged her tail so hard that the crate moved 5 feet across the floor. How could I ever let something go that loved me so much? I officially adopted her two days later.
Nora and I had many adventures over the years and, although she was far from the perfect dog, she was perfect for me. I learned more about unconditional love, patience and compassion through her than I ever could have imagined. When I got her, I was single (and remained so for another 8 years). After I adopted her, I never experienced the feeling of loneliness again. Although I desired partnership and love in my life in a bigger way, the companionship and love I got from Nora changed everything.
Nora had a good long ride. We celebrated her 13th birthday on February 14th with such gratitude that she was still vibrant, healthy and happy. Unfortunately, 2 weeks later, she went from being totally fine the day before, to displaying chronic and acute symptoms of something terrible wrong: Getting “caught” in corners and unable to get out, running into walls, losing her balance, pacing, panting and whining. We brought her to the Emergency Room where we were told that she appeared to have a brain tumor. They gave us pain meds, told us to say our goodbyes, and sent us home for a night full of tears and heartbreak. We brought her to the vet the next afternoon assuming that we would need to put her down. Our regular vet, who visits us at home, was booked solid, and the thought of bringing Nora to a clinic to put her down was heart-wrenching. She always hated the vet, which is why we switched to a home based vet to begin with. We went there fully prepared that this would be our last.
But it wasn’t. The vet insisted we try giving her steroids and see if that would help shrink the tumor, or at the very least, the inflammation that was causing the acute symptoms. It was a long shot, but if the steroids worked, it would buy us a few weeks, and perhaps months, of quality time with her.
We brought her home and lived through another painful night, worrying that we had made the wrong decision. But the next morning, we woke up and our precious Nora Bean was back. All of her symptoms were gone. It felt like a bloody miracle.
This is where the amazing perspective piece comes in. If I brought my beloved dog to the vet and she said “I’m sorry, but your dog is ill and probably only has a few weeks to live”, I would have been devastated. But, because I brought my dog to the vet and she said “your dog is dying. There is nothing we can do. Say your goodbyes and call your vet to make arrangements to put her down” and THEN I was told “wait, you have a few weeks or possibly even months”, well, shoot, I felt like I won the f’ing lottery! I was positively elated. I seriously felt so darn lucky to have the chance to spend more time with my precious beloved.
Now, we knew that, at most, we would have 36 hours notice when it was time to go. We knew the acute symptoms would come back fast and furiously and with little warning. We had no idea how long we’d have. What we did know, is that we had this priceless opportunity to be fully present with her each day, to love her up, spoil her and start living the Nora Bean Bucket List. We didn’t think about the future. We lived in the now. Each day, we went on some sort of adventure: to her favorite beaches, to her favorite hikes and walks, rides in the car whenever we had an errand(which she loved!), visits with friends she hadn’t seen in a while, visits to the farm down the street where she could touch noses with the goats and sheep. We gave her amazing yummy food (scrambled eggs every morning from our own chickens!), loaded up on special treats, and gave her more rubs, scratches and loves each day then we probably used to give her in a week. She gained five pounds in a matter of weeks and all those eggs made her coat nice and shiny. We lived each day as if it could be her last. And it was glorious.
I learned the beauty, gratitude and joy that emerged as a result of living with such presence. I started to notice the ordinary things in my life and started to appreciate them in a way that felt extraordinary. My days started to feel distinct and different, despite my daily routines. Time felt suspended. I felt more spaciousness than I had felt since I was a kid who had endless Summer days before school would start. My creativity started to re-blossom. Not only did I get this huge gift of having more time with Nora, but I suddenly just loved my life, and the people in it, so much more. Even though my beloved dog was dying, I felt so incredibly fulfilled. What a gift. And I don’t want it to stop. I even signed up for a 8 week course with the Mindfulness School that started this week. I want more of this presence in my life from here on out.
I’d love to say that Nora Bean defied medical science and became the “Miracle Bean”. Indeed, the other shoe did drop. We had less warning than we imagined. At 3 am on Wednesday, she woke me up, delirious, panting wildly and whining in pain. All her symptoms had returned. Interestingly, we already had the vet scheduled to come at 5 pm for a check up, and we knew we only had a few hours left with her. Although she was unsteady on her feet, we still brought her out for a walk, let her frolic with the chickens one last time, and spent much time just loving her up in the hours that we waited. It was the ultimate challenge in presence – not to let myself imagine the end and to stay in the moment with her. It was hard, as she was very uncomfortable despite the pain meds. The day seemed to last forever. In the end, she went peacefully, on her favorite dog bed, with sunlight bathing her, with her head on my lap. It was a good way to go.
And so, I return to presence. When I am truly in the moment, I do feel grief and sadness, but not nearly as much as when I think about yesterday, or remember her as a puppy, or think about what my life will look like without her. It is in those moments of the past and future that hurt beyond measure. When I am in the moment, I feel at peace, I am able to focus my attention on whatever is in front of me, and life continues to unfurl in it’s magical way. Sadness comes and goes, but it isn’t my constant. Having experienced much loss in the past few years, I am learning the value of presence in my grief process and how much it serves me in moving through my grief in a powerful way. When I start to focus on the past or future, I see how quickly I get balled up in pain. I gently remind myself to be present, and its shifts to something far less sharp and painful. Even in the sadness, there is space and beauty. I am so grateful for this fascinating journey of life and death, perspective and presence. I have learned so much through this experience and I have a great appreciation for the gifts that emerge from the painful, complex experiences that life has to offer. There is a gift in everything, should we choose to find it. In this case, I found many, and I imagine there are still yet many more to come.
I hope that, in my story, you found some nuggets of learning for yourself about presence and perspective. I hope you feel inspired to give this “presence thing” a try. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback!