I recently said goodbye to my beloved Basset Hound, Baxter. It’s been almost a month without him, and while that is a blog post on its own, I want to share some things I noticed in the letting-him-go-ness of it all:
Impending death is about food and having “Bucket List” adventures
When I had that life-changing conversation with the vet—where she told me that if we dove into more tests, we would basically be chasing cancer—she gave me what I’m sure was standard advice. It was something I had heard before:
“Keep him comfortable. Spoil him rotten. Enjoy the time that you have left.”
And this was glorious permission that I wished I had given myself from the moment Baxter came home with me when he was just seven weeks old. Sure, we had many adventures together (I didn’t dare say “walk” around him, as to avoid excited chaos that made leaving the house take triple the time it should have), but sometimes they felt more like a chore. I was usually interrupting work to go out with him, and I know now that I was not always purposeful and present in our time together.
In the last weeks of his life, I made a point of taking him to his favourite places, and showing him all that I hadn’t already. It was the dog-parent equivalent of cramming for an exam. He may not have cared at all, but I felt like I wanted to have all the time with him that was suddenly running short.
I also loosened the reins on what I would let him eat. I was well-known for keeping him at his desired weight for most of his life; I policed his cookie and treat intake so that he didn’t get too fat and thus stress his joints and back. At his first geriatric check-up at the vet, I was congratulated on maintaining his ideal weight because it’s not an easy thing to do when you have a creature who thinks about food as an obsession—he would injure himself to get at a petrified french fry on the floor of the car under the seat. I assure you, “obsessed” is not any sort of exaggeration.
In his final weeks, he got to have bites of whatever we were eating. He even got his very own order of fries from the drive-through, and he gleefully consumed all of it. I’m sure he was just happy that I had finally come around to all of his pleas to be able to enjoy all the food in the world.
When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer we had been given the same advice: she was given carte-blanche permission to eat whatever she wanted (she was terrified of consuming sugar, convinced that abstaining would be her cure). I could see it was the moment when it hit her that she was going to die.
Food is the final frontier, and the thing of joy we seem to hold from ourselves; on death row, when an inmate has reached the very last day of life before it will be taken away, they are allowed to choose one final meal of whatever they wish, and when many women become pregnant, one of the side benefits (and consolations for the discomfort) is that for nine months, they can eat whatever they like.
At the end of this process, I decided to recognize that there is adventure in every moment, and know I can create that at every stage of my life, not just the last one, should I be so blessed to know it is coming. I will suck the marrow out of life, eat because it gives me joy (within moderation, so that my clothes continue to fit) and to treat each day like it’s my last. Let’s be honest: it could be.
The truth of it is, we are all dying. Right now. And we are all walking each other home. Don’t wait till you’re given permission to live and eat and be joyful in whatever that is for you. Take the permission. Please share in the comments: what are you going to allow yourself to have, be, and do?