What Brings Your Life Alive?

By Darren Stehle

Reggie-Face

Our dog, Reggie, is dying of lymphoma.

There is something akin to an elegance of going about your life unaware of tragedy, pain, loss, or even death. To be blissfully ignorant that we are going to die, that those closest to us may die before us, is elegant in so far as it protects our hearts from constant pain.

The Buddhists may talk about non-attachment, and on an intellectual level I understand it. I learned a lot about it when I did a 10-day Vipassana meditation many years ago. And yet somehow I think the only way non-attachment is attainable is to become a monk, head down out of respect for not making eye contact with others, and thus not having to interrupt another’s inward stillness.

I think that loving kindness is the more and most important aspect of Buddhism. I’m certainly no expert, but these concepts are swirling about in a vortex of uncomfortable thoughts in my mind.

We are watching our dog slowly die from cancer. And unlike the cancer that is eating away at his insides, the acute awareness and acceptance of his mortality is eating away at my heart and my ability to cope. In the last two weeks I’ve let so many business tasks slide. I’ve had to. I’ve had to allow that to happen because I wasn’t able to distract myself from the power of the emotions I was having in response to losing Reggie.

He’s not yet three years old and we only adopted him from Boxer Rescue Ontario in December of last year. He was found as a stray, no microchip, and in need of health care. He was 65 pounds when we adopted him, but with love and lots of healthy food, he grew to a healthy, muscular 80 pounds and is one of the most well-tempered, calm boxers I’ve ever met.

Reggie in car

One year ago on September 28, I lost my first dog, Buster, to leptospirosis. That was the same day this year that we brought Reggie into the vet’s to have surgery to remove a polyp in his rectum. And that was the beginning of us finding out about his cancer, lymphoma.

The proximity of these two events (losing Buster and Reggie’s diagnosis) does not go unnoticed. The hardest part now is trying to keep my temper in check, have any semblance of patience for myself or others, and to be kind to myself and my partner, Christiaan. We need to support each other since we both respond in different ways to how this is affecting us. I think, as of today, I’ve moved more into acceptance and should be better able to focus in the coming weeks.

At this point Reggie’s prognosis is from a few weeks to who-knows-how-long. I know he will tell us when it’s time to go. For now he’s in good spirits, he’s happy and inquisitive, albeit slower, in a bit of pain, and suffering the side effects of the cancer and steroid medication – excessive thirst, hunger, fluid retention, and urination.

Reggie couch

I’m posting this because sometimes it really doesn’t matter how fit we are, or how well we eat, if we don’t have a greater purpose and meaning in life. Having a purpose or meaning gives us the drive to create, to work hard, to support a family, and to love another person, or to love and foster an animal. Having a dog has been a choice, a need, and a part of my lifestyle – Reggie is part my core values of love and companionship, and Reggie is “our dog”, which is significant to me in how I think of the “three of us”, me, Christiaan, and Reggie as a family.

When I get to the end of the week and wonder, “What have I accomplished?” or, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” (which is part of my weekly written review process) I am looking for more than just the accomplished tasks, but if I’m still doing what matters most to me.

Have something that matters deeply to you. Something so worthwhile that the loss of it will hurt, not for the sake of the hurt, but for the powerful experience and awareness it will bring to your life. These are the moments that transform us.

What brings your life alive?

Reggie in the park

Live, Love and Be Well.

Darren

  • I just read your post about Reggie…it brought me to tears…I am so sorry to hear this horrible news. Please give Reggie a big hug and kiss from me. I will keep all of you close in my thought and prayers. Alana

    • Thanks, Alana. He’s such a sweet personality and it seems so unfair. All we can do is to enjoy him even more, so long as he is here with us.