May 2, 2018

In Good Faith: Aging Gracefully

In my May In Good Faith column, I write about living with a Denial about what looms in the future is powerful. And I'm generally good with that.

Aging Gracefully

Delilah turns 14 this week. If she was a teenage girl and I was her mother, this would be an
intense time fraught with conflict and angst. But she’s a dog. An increasingly older dog. An “active senior” as her slightly more expensive bag of dry dog food proclaims, like she’s moved into a retirement community and keeps busy by playing bridge and attending Brigadoon sing-a-longs.

The multiplication tables drilled into my head as an elementary school student didn’t go up to 14 so I needed my iPhone calculator to figure out that she’s 98 in dog years. Regardless of species, that’s getting pretty long in the canine molar, if you ask me. And it’s starting to show. Like all of us, she’s slowing down. Walks are becoming more leisurely and rather than leaping up at the sound of the doorbell, she’s more apt to bark half-heartedly. 

Now, we talk about a lot of controversial topics in our household, from religion to politics to my eldest son’s inexplicable love of the New York Yankees. But the one topic no one will broach is the fact that Delilah is not, in fact, immortal. She will not live forever. 

Delilah’s advancing age has become our family’s elephant in the room. We’re all aware of it, but no one names it. For to do so would make a hard reality concrete and we’re just not ready to go there. 

Denial is not a healthy way to deal with inevitabilities. I’m always encouraging families to talk about and prepare for the death of a loved one. One of the greatest gifts you can leave your family is clear instructions for your funeral and burial so they aren’t left guessing amid profound and raw grief. “I think I once heard her mention she wanted to be cremated but maybe she was talking about her pet rabbit?” 

Yet, when it comes to Delilah, I literally can’t seem to practice what I preach. As with any adored member of the family, it’s hard to think about life without them. Our teenage boys can barely remember the years before we adopted her; she’s been that omnipresent in their lives. Her presence is intertwined with all sorts of family memories and it’s not just the myriad Christmas card photos that mark her yearly existence in our lives. That’s just a snapshot of what belies the daily interactions and informal encounters with our sweet yellow lab/husky mix. The same one who has come to work with me for well over a decade.

In the end (not Delilah’s end, since I can’t speak of that), gratitude for each remaining moment is what matters. Taking a moment to smile when she does that thing where she lifts up a single ear or summons the energy to sprint after the squirrel she’s never caught and never will, but not for lack of trying. Perhaps that’s the lesson for all of us as we collectively deny Delilah’s eventual demise: to enjoy the remaining time we have and stop to give her that extra belly rub. Which is not a bad way to interact with any aging loved one — minus the belly rub, of course.

In the meantime, we’ll celebrate her 14th birthday with reckless abandon. Since we adopted her the first week of May when she was “about one,” we mark it on May 5th. Or, as we call it, Cinco Delilah. 

1 comment:

Gale Grey said...

I don't know if your theology would allow this, but to me, God has made us in such a way that we can and often do let pets deep into our hearts. I am hoping that because God made us that way, he will allow pets in heaven. There are some critters I hope to see again. Why would He have created me such if there are none? Only hopes and questions at this stage.