Our family said goodbye to our 15-1/2 year old Yellow Lab last week. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a very long time. I used to say, jokingly, that Ben was the rock of our family. But it was true. I never, ever, not one day, saw that dog in a “bad mood,” or anything but unconditionally loving. I don’t think I ever heard him even growl. He was, unfailingly, good natured. Not many humans, including myself, can have that said for them. Over the last year or two, knowing that he was slowing down, I remember feeling that every day with him was a bonus. And it was.
I realize now that I wanted so much to postpone the day I might have to say goodbye to him. Maybe I was in a bit of denial. He had been such an important part of our family fabric for so long, our son had grown up with him. Matthew used to say, “Ben is the best person I know.” I got such a kick out of him, too – he always seemed to be smiling, and he snored louder than any dog I ever knew. He had a champion pedigree but was just an easygoing, lovable hulk of a guy. I wanted him to always be there. But the day came when that was just too much to ask. He was always there for us, and so we gathered around him one last time.
Ben was beautiful inside and out. I often said if we could all be more like Ben, the world would be a good place. I’ve been thinking of what I learned from him and this is what I came up with.
Lessons from Ben
- Show up for the ones you love and don’t be shy -Let them know how happy you are to see them!
- Sometimes you just need to sit in the sunshine for a while and be.
- Go big or go home. If you’re having a good meal, enjoy it as though it’s your last. When it’s time for a walk, give it all you’ve got. Nap time? Stretch out and snore like you mean it.
- You can remain calm and patient no matter who is annoying the crap out of you. (This would mainly refer to his adopted younger sibling, Charles the Cockapoo.)
- Choose peace. Even with the cat. Especially with the cat.
- Steady as you go – there’s a lot to be said for consistency, just doing the next thing in front of you. Saves you lots of wear and tear all the way around.
- Patience pays. Hang around looking hungry/cute/eager to please long enough, and someone’s bound to give in.
- If you have a great heart, you don’t need much else.
- Just the quiet presence of someone you love can be such a comfort.
- And, finally, have fun and don’t forget to bring snacks.
There have been all sorts of studies in recent years about the psychological and physical benefits of having a pet – less stress, lower risk of depression and isolation, improved blood pressure, increased longevity, and more. I’ve never tried to quantify those benefits in my own life, but I know this for sure: Having this special guy be part of our lives is something I’ll forever be grateful for.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh