Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Sharon of GrouchyPuppy. This is an especially meaningful post to me as this is something I’ve been dealing with as Emmett has started to encounter many age-related health problems. Thank you, Sharon, for contributing an open, thoughtful post about this important topic.
In the movie The Shawshank Redemption there is a key moment near the end when you hear Morgan Freeman’s voice say the phrase: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” You don’t see his lips move but hear his deep distinct voice inside your head. I’ve seen that movie several times and that is a favorite scene. The movie came on TV recently and once again the words resonated, only this time when I heard them I was looking down at my old dog lying at my feet. As the credits rolled, my eyes teared up as I had one of those aha moments.
The first time I realized that I was stricken by anticipatory grief was over two years ago. My dog was showing signs of aging but otherwise life was good, then suddenly she developed diabetes. The toll on her big Shepherd-Husky body showed. Overnight the aging process sped up, and before we knew it she lost her vision from cataracts.
Managing her diabetes had us radically changing our life. My husband and I rarely go anywhere together because someone needs to be with her. In the beginning we had an elderly dog walker who was willing to keep Cleo with her for a day or two, and was comfortable giving her insulin injections. Unfortunately she retired. With Cleo’s complete blindness we now schedule our days so one of us is home.
Why did I react differently this time when Red had his own aha moment, and uttered those words? While I thought I had successfully gotten past my anticipatory grief over a year ago, I realized it was a lie. As I looked down at my sweet old dog, I knew that for months now I was seeing Cleo as if she was busy dying, rather than busy living.
She will eventually leave this world. Cleo is an old dog, and I can’t change that, but why was I skipping to the end? Our experiences togethers are pages and chapters in a book. What joy is there in reading a good book when you jump ahead to the ending? You miss turning all those pages, and experiencing the journey and story as it unfolds. As I thought about Cleo in this context, and the current chapter we’re in, I felt better. Our time together felt natural again.
I realized that if I stay busy living my life with Cleo, I will have many more memories to carry with me until we meet again. So for anyone else out there living with an older dog, or one whose time here is coming to an end, take heart, I believe Morgan Freeman is onto something.
Have you ever or are you currently experiencing anticipatory grief for a dog? How have you managed it? Any tools or resources you’d recommend to others?
- The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement website http://aplb.org
- You Are Not Alone – Experiencing Loss Today — http://www.lifeanddog.com/you-are-not-alone-experience-loss-today/
About the author: Sharon Castellanos is a long-time blogger, marketing and communications professional, and occasional consultant. In addition to founding the award winning GrouchyPuppy dog blog in 2010, she is an Editor for LIFE+DOG where she contributes regularly with a byline and without.