Sunday, April 27, 2014

Learning to let go

“You never think you’re going to miss animals as much as you do. It was just nice having some creature in my life who never disappointed me. Never judged me. Never showed up late at my 50th birthday with freshly pierced nipples and a barely legal Filipino boy named Pogo.”

I remember right where I was when I heard that line, delivered by Dr. Kelso on an episode of Scrubs where he dealt with the loss of the family dog. Mr. W and I promptly put down our drinks, looked down at the floor, and called Dexter up to the couch to wedge himself in between us.

Owning a pet is an interesting thing. The lessons, entertainment and experiences are invaluable—and yet, when you make the commitment to get one, you’re guaranteeing yourself a 100% chance of heartbreak if you have a soul. The average lifespan of a boxer is 10-12 years. If you make it past 10 years, you’re lucky. Dexter is 11.

My intuition has skyrocketed since I got pregnant. And if anyone has the balls to tell me that intuition is fake or imaginary, I will punch them in the face, because let me tell you, this shit is legit and it’s ridiculous. It’s more of a curse than a blessing, honestly. When you get a sense that something bad is happening and you can’t do a thing to stop it, you feel pretty powerless and sad.

So when I was assured that the recent thickening of Dexter’s neck was just blood clots and a build-up of blood from a surgery he had in January to remove a fatty lump (they had to close a blood vessel so that was to be expected), and my intuition screamed at me that it wasn’t true, I took him to see a canine oncologist with a heavy heart. I was expecting to hear bad news, but that doesn’t mean I was prepared. And unfortunately, I was right.

Our sweet baby has hemangiosarcoma, a very nasty cancer common in older dogs. Due to the location of his mass, surgery would be extremely risky as well as so outrageously expensive, we couldn’t even hope to consider it with a baby on the way. Chemo might be possible, but it wouldn’t extend his time with us much. On Friday we’ll take him in for an expensive round of tests, X rays and ultrasounds to see if it has spread so we’ll have a better idea of how much time we have left. From there, we’ll decide on a course of action for keeping him comfortable.

We have been preparing to lose our boy since we got him. We know this is a part of life, and truly, I feel grateful that he lived over a decade without something like this happening. He’s had his share of bad luck, like eye ulcers and undescended testicles and bouts with fleas, but he’s never had anything like this. In fact, after his surgery in January, the vet said his blood tests came back great and we’d done a good job keeping up his weight and health.

I’m still heartbroken. I hate looking at his sweet face and knowing his time is short. I hate seeing him still so full of energy for his old age, not having any idea he’s about to get very, very sick. I hate that soon I won’t be comforted by his familiar sounds. I hate that this is out of my control and I can’t stop it from happening. But most of all, I hate that I’m facing the loss of my first baby while I’m growing my second. I figured he wouldn’t be with us too much longer, but I wanted him to “meet” the baby. Every night he insists on lying on my growing belly as if he’s a mama hen incubating an egg. He always falls asleep and starts snoring. Over the last couple of weeks I have felt the baby moving around while he does that. I smile, wondering what boxer snores must sound like to something that has just formed ears.

One of the hardest life lessons for any of us to learn is the act of releasing control. It’s so hard. I know how I want my pregnancy to go. We find out the sex on Thursday and yes, we do have a preference since this will be our only child, but I know I’ll accept whatever fate has decided for me. I know how long I want my dog to live, but that’s not up to me to decide. It is true that sometimes when we give up control, things turn out better than we ever could have imagined. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

There are a lot of uncertainties right now. Facing this battle with the dog while we’re trying to save for a baby, all with the fluctuating income of self-employment, is scary. All I can do is face each day with courage and do the best that I can for both of my babies. And I can be thankful that I’m not facing any of it alone. I truly do have the best life partner by my side, someone I grow to love more every day, and I have some extremely understanding friends.

There’s nothing that life could ever throw at you that can’t be fixed by the support of people who love you.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Guided by a beating heart....

I have lost people I loved throughout my life….people who have died of old age, people who have died after long illnesses and some people who have died much, much too young. But I’ve never been present when someone I loved has died. And I’ve certainly never been present when someone I loved dearly was dying of cancer.

I’ve heard stories from people who have. I’ve read written pieces from loved ones left behind. I don’t know what it’s like, but I can imagine. I imagine that once the person is gone, really gone, it feels like a cord has been suddenly severed. When someone has a deep connection to another person and that connection is suddenly cut off, it has to be intensely painful, like a part of them is forever missing.

My friend lost someone she loves to cancer last week—someone very young. And she was there when it happened. This is not the kind of woman who approaches her life in a practical way (a quality I truly admire). This is someone free-spirited enough to take off to Nicaragua for a week when life gets too quit jobs with asshole bosses on a whim and buy a one way ticket to Tokyo… and to live in Australia and Tasmania for a bit, you know, just because. I don't know how such a free spirit will even begin to process her grief.

I didn’t know her love well enough to say that I’ll be able to miss him, but I’ll miss his presence in my friend’s life terribly. I’ll miss the love they had. There never was and never will be a love like theirs. It was unique, strange, beautiful, unconventional and amazing. Over the years I watched her fall into it, run from it, embrace it, learn from it, run from it again and finally accept it. I’m glad the love existed in the first place, but knowing that their story has reached its end kills me. That’s the part of young death that is so sad—not knowing what might have been.

A few days after it happened, I heard my baby’s heart beating for the first time. One minute I was kicked back on the stirrup-laden table, chatting comfortably with my doc, and the next minute I was unexpectedly bawling my eyes out. I spend every day wondering how things are going down there in my uterus, and to hear confirmation that I have indeed managed to keep that little heart beating was reassuring, to say the least. It was so powerful and so strong. I spent the rest of the day on an emotional high, wanting to hug everyone I saw as if I had just taken six hits of Ecstasy (which would admittedly not be good parenting).

Hearing that heartbeat so soon after that other heart stopped beating got me thinking a lot about life and death and what I believe. And I realize there’s so much I don’t know, and so much that’s possible. I absolutely don’t believe life begins at conception, and I absolutely don’t believe that it ends with the physical death. Plenty of people can and do argue those beliefs with me until they’re blue in the face, but those are two things I believe to my core.

I don’t know when it begins, when it ends or what happens when our hearts stop beating. I’m growing comfortable with the not knowing. Because I think what matters is what we do with the time we’re given. The man my friend loved lived more in his 28 years than many people will in 80. He touched so many lives, and he’ll never be forgotten. The little human growing inside of me has already changed Mr. W and me in a few short months in ways that are so profound, we’ll never be the same no matter what happens from this moment on.

I know people who are just coasting through life, trying to leave as little wake as possible until they die. And in some ways I think that’s more tragic than dying young. Dying isn’t the worst part of life—giving up while you’re still here is. It doesn’t matter what you want to do while you’re here, whether you want to have a prestigious career or work part-time at a grocery store to pay your bills while you pursue your non-paying passion or travel the world or drink a beer in every state or read every book that has ever been written. What matters is that you know you are worth pursuing the life you want, no matter what anyone tells you.

I hope the tiny heart that is beating inside me grows big and strong and continues to beat for the next 120 years. But my job will be to teach my little one that whatever he or she chooses to pursue during that time spent between the first heartbeat and the last, that he/she is worth it.

You’re worth it, too.

Enjoy your next adventure, Jordan. RIP.

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