In the first year of our marriage, Ryland & I lived in a little apartment in Virginia. We knew we were only there for a year of training, so our time was spent dreaming and planning our future. Purchasing a home with a yard and getting a dog were top priorities.
We obsessed over the adoption of our chocolate lab, Haley, as eager new parents. When she arrived 8 weeks after we settled into our home, we received her with great joy. As our first 'baby,' we doted on her to no end. It makes me giggle to think of the videos we made and photos we took of her antics.
Within six weeks of receiving her into our family, we discovered I was pregnant. Contemplating all the ways life was about to change for us, my ever-practical, realist husband observed, "The average lab lives 12 years, that means our kids will be around 11 when she dies. It's going to absolutely break their hearts."
At the time I had 1,000 other fears and concerns about having triplets, many of which seemed more pressing. In the years since, as I have watched the pure, unadulterated love between our family and this dog I have heard Ryland's words echo in my heart. "When she dies, it is absolutely going to break their hearts."
The words poke at the temptation in all parents to protect our children from hurtful things. (And, honestly, my own heart as I spend the most time with her each day.) But what if inevitably painful things are also gifts in the meantime?
As Haley ages, her personality becomes even sweeter and more endearing. We understand each other in the rhythm of daily life. She's an ever faithful friend--Sorry to see you go and delighted to see you return.
Her face is a distinguished grey. Her kind deep brown eyes are beginning to cloud. Her run is a bit more of a bounce. But her wagging tail and happy grunts show that there is still a great deal of spirit in those bones!
Although she is healthy and happy now, at 11 1/2 years old she is not going to be around more than a couple additional years. Our whole family knows were are on the backstretch of life with her. I am mindful every time one of my people pauses to rub her or we sit and talk adoringly about what a good dog she is we are deepening our bond with her.
Our love for her is bittersweet. We know we aren't promised forever with her, but we continue to love her more every day right here in the present. Despite the loss and heartbreak her passing will certainly bring to us eventually, we are grateful for the gift of her now. The knowledge that the future is ticking has actually made us love her more rather than less.
Inevitable heartbreak: This is the risk of love, of friendship , of investment in anything in this temporal world. It is all passing.
It would be absurd to try to stop my family's bonding with Haley in order to protect their hearts from her future loss. I suppose we could have re-homed her years ago when the reality of our potential heartbreak was first contemplated---but, oh, what we would have missed. We are all richer for the love of this dog.
This is a scary world, fraught with pitfalls and obstacles--arrows that take aim at our hearts. It can be tempting to try and isolate ourselves from loss, hurt, difficulty, risk...but attempts to do so are in vain. Efforts to keep the pain out, keep deep love at bay too.
This is real life, not a fairy tale. Hearts can't be locked away in impenetrable towers. Hurt, loss, disappointment are an unavoidable part of the deal...but so is love, laughter, compassion, warm memories and countless other positive emotions when we open ourselves up to give and receive. I think it is a worthy trade that teaches us much about life, not just dogs.
Let us love courageously.