So my girlfriend’s dog just had a seizure.
I thought she was going to die.
She’s a beautiful 17-year-old dachshund (about 84 in human years) who I’ve completely fallen in love with over the last few years. She loves to eat cabbage and satsuma. She makes funny sounds when she sleeps or is hungry or needs a walk. She’s the most huggable creature on Earth. She used to comfort my girlfriend and look after her when she was crying as a kid.
I just heard her collapse in the next room. I rush in and see her on her back, flipped over with her legs spinning like a cockroach, and foaming at the mouth. There was drool everywhere. All over her fur, the floor, and then me as I tried to cradle her in my arms.
The seizure lasted 2-3 minutes and was terrifying.
I was convinced that was it for her until the seizure stopped.
After that, she spent the next couple of hours without her vision, bumping into furniture and walking in circles. Why is there no such thing as an animal ambulance? And why do vets have such irregular opening hours? We just had to watch and try our best to comfort her until she finally fell asleep from exhaustion.
I’m lucky. I’ve had a lot of close friends and family die but I’ve never held them in my arms as they went out. Just now I got a glimpse of what a devastating experience that would be. I can’t imagine the trauma caused by a solider dying in his comrade’s arms or a terminally ill person dying in their partner’s arms or a child taking their last breath in their parents’ arms.
Every single day is a chance to live and a chance to die.
We never know when someone we love will die. There’s rarely a warning.
There was no warning when I found out my childhood friend died. I opened up Facebook one normal morning while at university and found the ‘RIP’ messages all over the place.
I thought it was a joke at first. But then it slowly dawned on me. I pieced it together. I called a few people. He’d died the previous night due to unknown circumstances. He was 21.
I went into my bathroom, unsure how to go about my daily routine, sat on the toilet and cried. I pushed my face into the toilet roll and wept for ten minutes straight.
There was no warning when my nan (Nanny) died of breast cancer. Obviously we knew she had it and it was bad. But the announcement came on a normal day. I remember I was smiling. I was in a good mood. Then my mum came in, gave me the news, and left.
I went from smiling to weeping. The woman who had been the impetus for my love of reading and writing, the woman who had nurtured my vegetarianism and cooked for me, the woman who had regaled me with tales of Ireland growing up and visits to the theatre, she’d died. Just like that.
There was no warning when my aunt and godmother died of breast cancer. One of the kindest women I had ever known (and I was exposed to a lot of wonderful women growing up), the woman who told me I could do anything, the woman who read to me and knitted me a Postman Pat teddybear when I was a baby, the woman everyone went to for comfort and advice. One day she was there. The next she was gone.
I remember feeling like a piece of me had died too that day. And on the funeral day. And on the many months that followed. I felt numb for a very long time after that. It felt like life was just a meaningless collection of ever decreasing circles.
Life is fragile. So why do we treat it like it’s made from steel?
It took me a long time to get to this stage….
But nowadays, if I’m short with someone I love, if I snap at someone close to me, my mind races to make it up to them. I apologise (and mean it) and I’ll explain what my problem was.
The idea of taking someone I love for granted, then never having the opportunity to apologise or show them how much I appreciate them, haunts me deeply.
Imagine you’re talking to your mother or father or husband or wife or sister or brother on the phone. Imagine you get into an argument. You say something mean. Maybe you raise your voice. You might swear. You slam the phone down. You don’t want to talk to them for a while.
Well what if you don’t have a while?
What if you don’t have a couple of days or hours or even minutes to hold that grudge?
What if they drop dead from a heart attack two seconds later? What if they get into a car accident? What if they are caught in a terrorist attack?
I’m no expert on grief. But I’m 100% sure that living in the aftermath of a loved one dying is a lot easier if you parted from each other on good terms.
Live your life as though the people you love could disappear any moment.
Because they could.
Write that letter of appreciation.
Give that warm embrace.
Say, “I love you”.