Walking our Faith: Because this moment is all we have (column)
August 3, 2018
Henry has cancer. We discovered it when a tumor on the inside of his mouth was removed and biopsied. The report showed that the density of cancer cells was Stage 4. Because Henry has already been diagnosed with late stage Geriatric Laryngeal Paralysis, a neurological condition which makes it difficult to breathe while simultaneously decreasing mobility, traditional cancer treatment is out of the question.
Since the diagnosis, I have engaged in all sorts of magical thinking. Since childhood I have used my imagination to concoct stories to soothe my soul when reality was too painful to face. The story I imagine for Henry is that not only will he make it to his 11th birthday, he will live two more years to the age of 13, which would be quite miraculous for an extra-large Newfoundland, who has already exceeded his life expectancy of eight to 10 years.
Yet, I cling to this imagined outcome because I believe Henry knows how difficult I will find life without him, and so he will live these two impossible extra years so I will not be lonely.
But this morning, I noticed the tumor on his upper eyelid has begun to re-grow and I realize my story may be just that. No matter how much Henry and I wish we could craft a different ending.
But this is not a eulogy. I learned an important lesson from the death of Max, my other Newfie who died from bone-cancer a year ago. After Max was diagnosed we had one month together. He could no longer walk very far, so we took car rides. One of my favorite pictures from this time is Max catching the wind, smiling his goofy ecstatic smile. Joy for the moment. He also ate a lot of steaks that month. And so will Henry.
I adopted Henry, as I have all of my Newfoundland dogs, from a rescue organization. He was 3 years old and often liked to jump the fence in the yard of my house in Evergreen and run up the hill. Henry is so large, weighing 170 lbs., that he is often mistaken for a bear. He's walked with me in the Breckenridge Christmas dog parade for the last two years and if he sticks around, I'll pull him in a wagon this year. He is the wisest, kindest dog I've ever met.
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But of course, this isn't just about Henry. Not very well hidden behind my fear of losing him, is my fear of losing those closest to me, my family and my friends. None of us last forever, that is a certainty. But when one loss looms large, I am swept into a rip-tide of worry which quickly becomes a tsunami of fear that I will lose everyone close to me. And being left alone is my greatest fears.
What does the Bible tell us? Not to worry about tomorrow, focus on today. That God knows all our needs and cares so dearly for us. Yes, he knows how our heart will break, but promises to help us bear the pain when it does.
But until then, God tells us to embrace today, because there is no promise of tomorrow and yesterday is gone. This present moment is where we build memories that will comfort us when the one we love has passed.
We must fill each day with love and laughter so our memories will be happy ones. Most especially so the one who is leaving us will have lived every final day, month or year with joy, knowing how much they are cherished.
So, every morning I look into Henry's beautiful brown eyes and tell him I love him. I tell him he is the very best dog in the whole world and I thank him for sharing his life with me. I give him belly rubs and hugs and whatever he wants to eat. I take him on car rides, let him nap outside in the cool evening air and when it's time to go to bed he comes inside and I kiss him good night. When he needs me, I sleep downstairs on the couch so I am close by.
I don't know how much time Henry and I have together. It might be days, weeks or months. I will look into his eyes and he will tell me. But until then, Henry will teach me how to live fully, not mourning the future before it arrives, but loving him each day, until it's time to say goodbye.
Jesus taught us that love never dies, it is infinite and grows more plentiful as we give it away. This is how I want to live. This, and knowing all good dogs go to Heaven.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is having a book signing on Aug. 25 from 3-5 p.m. at the Next Page Bookstore in Frisco. She will have copies of her most recent books: "Henry's Guide to Happiness," "Knit Together," "Comfort Me Cookbook" and "A Map of Heaven." Please stop by to say hello!
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