As many of you know, we recently had to make the tough choice to end the life of our longtime goofy Rottweiler, Enzo. He had been in pain for a long time and at the end of his life he gave us some final cues that it was time to make the most humane decision we could for him.
But damn. It was hard.
The death of beloved people and pets not only leads to a deep longing to see, touch, or talk to them again, but it also reminds us of our own mortality.
All living creatures die.
As Enzo lived out his last weeks in what we called “hospice,” (under our palliative care once we learned there was nothing else we could do for him), we started to plan for his death. We considered when would be the best time for our family to have the emotional space to give energy to grieving. The plan included a recommended euthanizing service coming to our home, making sure that our college aged daughter could be present, a ginormous plate of bacon, and even some time with his favorite dog “girlfriend,” Skye.
Long story short, it didn’t happen that way. Instead he took a sudden turn for the worse, creating a chaotic and highly emotional situation. I struggled with letting go of the plan and thankfully the emergency vet and my more realistic husband gently talked me into what was truly best for Enzo in that moment. We were able to give him one last gift— we facilitated him dying with some integrity, while loving him in the moment with our whole hearts.
Death, and life, are unpredictable.
This is not a “live like you are dying” message. I don’t want to douse you with fearful sense of urgency. This is a “understand that you can’t control your death, or the death of others” message.
A “don’t wait to live” message.
In his book, The Comfort Crisis, Michael Easter visits the country of Bhutan, one of the coined “happiest places on earth.” In fact, when polled the 91.2 percent of the Bhutanese people report being “narrowly,” “extensively,” or “deeply” happy. This country found on the eastern ridges of the Himalayas has made it a part of their national curriculum to think about death anywhere from one to three times daily. Death is part of their every day life. When Easter visits one of the countries leading Buddhist thinkers, the Khenpo claims that Americans are usually “ignorant,” meaning lacking awareness. It is the willingness to ignore death that leads to our constant striving for happiness through checklists, material things, and constant responsibilities.
After reading this, I decided to start practicing thinking about my own death daily. I think about how, when, and where I want to die. I think about afterlife. I think about others who have died. I have to admit, at first it felt very unnatural. And while it still isn’t comfortable, I am willing to sit with it and experience how it feels in my body. My response isn’t linear, but I can feel a deeper sense of peace and understanding as the weeks go by.
Ironically, it gives me more peace and intentionality in living in moments, rather than urging me to run out and go sky diving and rocky mountain climbing. This practice reminds me that I don’t know when my own time, or the time of loved ones will be up on this earth. It makes me want more than anything to experience even the most mundane parts of life.
It reminds me to live.
I used this message to conquer a long indoor ride recently. I really didn’t feel like doing it. The length of time was daunting and I was tired. I didn’t want to sweat that much, I didn’t want to eat my training food, and I didn’t want to be exhausted later.
So, I told myself I didn’t have to do it. But I forced myself to consider whether or not I would walk away from it and be present in my life as the hours ticked by. I realized that I would either find a different distraction or try to do other things with a constant nagging of “you should be on your bike.” So I decided to start. And then I finished. And I was present the entire time.
I was “where my feet were.” And to me that is not waiting to live.
I want you to set big goals. Take amazing trips. Plan big parties. Celebrate your kids’ milestones. Make big changes. But don’t be afraid to open your eyes and hearts to the daily process of life and also the absolute reality of death. Don’t rush through the good or run from the bad.
Don’t wait to live.