Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Problem with Death

The other day I was training a client and he said something very interesting to me. He said “I realized the other day that I get to experience two things in life that men my age hardly ever get to experience. One is having a 90 year old father and the other is having a seven year old son.” My client is in his 60s and if you think about it, he’s absolutely right. How many men in their 60s still get to talk with their father, let alone have a son who’s still in elementary school?

In a similar manner, I've realized that at 34 years old, I’m inexperienced in something most people my age are not; I have very little experience with death. 

There are only three deaths I’ve experienced in life that have caused me a memorable amount of pain. One was my grandpa, one was my childhood dog, and one was a friend. But even these experiences seem distant. I was young when my grandpa died, I’d been away at college for a while before we had to put Sassy to sleep, and I hadn’t been in contact with my friend for almost a year when he passed away. 

While there have been funerals I’ve attended and acquaintances I’ve seen laid to rest, I've never lost anyone I was extremely close with. That is until two days ago, when my wife and I had to say goodbye to Henry, our beloved Basset Hound. 

If you know either me or my wife, you’ll know that “beloved” is an understatement. Our lives revolved around Henry. Our phones and Facebook pages are filled with pictures and videos of him. We tell stories about him to anyone who will listen. We talked to him, sang to him, and snuggled with him every single night. He made us happier than almost anything else in life, and we loved him more than almost anything on Earth.

My wife and I have been married almost nine years, and Henry has been with us for the entire ride. Until this weekend. This weekend will be the first weekend we’ve been married without Henry. 

The problem with death is that it slows down time exactly when we wish it wouldn’t. 

Most of us spend our lives in a state of perpetual motion. Everything seems to be moving faster and faster and we all just wish it would slow down. 

But then we lose a loved one, and time stands still.

As we snuggled with Henry on the bed in his final hours on Earth, the clock seemed to mock us as it ticked by. 

One second less. 

One second less. 

One second less. 

As we drove home from the vet, and walked into our quiet home without him, the clock creeped by.

One second more. 

One second more. 

One second more.

When we lose a loved one, all we want is for time to speed up so that we can put as much of it between ourselves and when the tragedy occurred. It’s not that we want to forget, we just want to remember without the pain, without the punch in the gut and the urge to dry heave. We want our regrets to fade. We want to remember the good times without needing to cry. 

To make the time pass, we distract ourselves. We check Facebook every other minute, we drink too much, we play video games or watch TV or buy things online. 

I admit, I’ve done all of these things over the last few days and I probably will for several more days to come. 

On the other hand, I want to make sure I don’t surrender completely to the distractions, because I want to appreciate the pain. 

The pain we feel after a loved one dies is proof that they mattered. It proves they played a meaningful roll in our life and that we’re better for having known and loved them. 

I hope somebody misses me someday as much as I miss Henry. 

Until then, it’s my job to ensure I become that kind of person who will be missed.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

In Remembrance of Henry.

I barely slept last night. I can’t remember a time I fell asleep in my house, in my bed, without you at my feet or snuggled up under the covers with me. 

That was my favorite thing about the winter. I’d pick you up and put you on the foot of the bed before I crawled in myself. Then you’d sit there looking at me and whining until I lifted up the covers and invited you in. Once you got the ok, and you never settled for less, you would trot up to the head of the bed, crawl in head first under the covers, and suction yourself to my side. That’s how we slept every night until spring.

When it eventually got warm enough to where you preferred sleeping on top of the covers, I still had to be touching you. Even if I was snuggling with Mindy, you’d whine until I stretched my foot out so that you could lay your head on top of it. 

And I really don’t know how I’m going to nap without you. You may not have been great at learning tricks or playing fetch, but you were the world’s best napper. You could hear those couch cushions creak from any room in the house, and the moment I laid down, it was as if blood hit the water and you were a shark zeroed in on the kill. You’d be there in a second, begging to snuggle up beside me and snooze the afternoon away.

I remember the first time I saw you. I’d bought a house a couple months before, and Mindy and I were going to be getting married later that year, so it only seemed natural to look for a dog. I remember I was sitting at my desk at work when an email came through. Mindy knew of a family looking to re-home some dogs and sent me an email with the dogs that were available. She thought I’d be interested in the Labrador, but when I saw your picture and your name, I knew you were the one. I replied “I want to meet Henry,” which worked out perfectly because Mindy wanted to meet you too. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking up information about Basset Hounds online while trying to simultaneously answer phone calls at work. Later that week I got called into my boss’s office for a call review. As she replayed the video capture of my call, the only thing on my computer screen was the wikipedia page for basset hounds. Needless to say, I was graded poorly, but it didn’t matter. By that time we’d picked you up and brought you home.

You were a challenge to begin with. Our first outing was to one of my softball games where you barked incessantly and then took a big dump in the middle of the picnic area. Being new dog owners, we’d brought nothing to clean it up with. Then, even though you were advertised as being house trained, you refused to pee anywhere but on the deep shag rug in the living room. Eventually we came to an understanding as to where the bathroom was, but it took some work.

Despite your stubbornness, you stole our hearts immediately. A few months later, as Mindy and I were making the final plans for our wedding in Jamaica, we realized we were going to have to leave you behind for ten days. It was seriously one of the most difficult decisions we’d had to make as a couple. When we got back, we could hardly wait to see you and bring you home. Coincidently, the friends that were watching you could hardly wait for us to take you back. 

No one has ever accused you of being less than a handful, and that was never more evident than our first night home as a married couple. Up until then it had always been Josh and Henry in bed. Now it was Josh, Mindy, and Henry in bed, and you were convinced there wasn’t enough room. It took a good week before you stopped being a grump about it.

Through the years you gave us so many good memories. 

The time a kitten hissed at you while we were walking, and you ran away howling. 

All the times you bulldozed yourself down a freshly mowed hill, staining your white fur green. 

The time you were literally broad-sided by a rabbit and you couldn’t figure out what happened. 

The times you gave Grandpa Jim and Grandma Melonie’s neighbor dogs the “what for and where how.”

All those times you showed undying patience with the nieces.

That time you ate a bunch of Molly’s poop and then puked it up at 3:00 in the morning, staining the carpet so badly that I had to cut it out and throw it away before I could go back to sleep.
I guess that wasn’t a great memory, but people sure do laugh when I tell them about it.

And the noise. You were almost always making some sort of noise. I remember walking in on you with your head in the bathtub, making noises and listening to the echoes. You would raise the biggest ruckus whenever we walked through the door. You would bark when you thought it was time to eat, bark when it was actually time to eat, bark as I was pouring your food, bark when you wanted to go out after you got done eating, bark when you wanted to come back inside. There were whines and groans and whimpers and grunts and moans and teeth chatters and licking. 

The house is too quiet now without you.

When you got sick the first time, I got depressed in a way I hadn’t been for years. Seeing you in pain was one of the worst things I’ve had to deal with in life. All you wanted to do was to snuggle, so I made it a point to snuggle as much as possible, even skipping work for several days to lie with you on the couch. I remember going to bed snuggled up with you one night but not sleeping. I was convinced you were going to die and I didn’t want to be asleep when it happened. The next day, as I drove you to the vet, I was convinced it would be our last trip together. 

When the Prednisone helped you start feeling better, I was relieved and heart broken at the same time. I was so happy that those few painful days weren’t your last, but I knew it likely meant you had lymphoma, and that we were living on borrowed time. I’m so thankful we got those last two months, but I still wish it could have been more.

I wish a lot of things. I wish I’d been more patient with you. I wish we would have gone on more walks. I wish we hadn’t gotten rid of your favorite couch. I wish I would have spent more time in the yard with you and less time scrolling through my iPhone. I wish I would have been less preoccupied with work, and success, and money, when what really mattered was right in front of me.

But there you go again, making me a better person, because now I see that there are still plenty of souls left here on Earth that I can love better. I can be a better husband, a better friend, a better son and grandson, a better brother, and a better master for Molly or any other dogs we have in the future.

I think that’s why God gave us dogs. They teach us to love unconditionally. You loved us regardless of our imperfections. You always forgave, you never held grudges, you loved us when we messed up at work, or were in a bad mood, or couldn’t afford the best dog food.

Some theologians believe that there will be no pets in heaven. Since there isn’t any concrete evidence in the Bible stating that animals have souls, they believe that animals simply cease to exist once they die here on Earth. These theologians obviously aren’t dog people, otherwise they would know the truth. 

Personally, I like to picture you snuggled up next to Jesus on the couch in heaven, and even though you’re perfectly content, every time a new soul walks through the pearly gates, you perk up your ears, hoping one of us has come home, knowing that once we do, you won’t ever have to watch us leave again. 

I look forward to the ruckus you’ll make when that day comes. 

I love you buddy boy.