8 Lessons My Dog Taught Me About Love, Life, and Getting Older
In the beginning and in the end, it’s all about love.
Shortly after my wife, Carlin, and I moved from the “Big City” to the country, our god-daughter, Antonia bought the property next to ours and built her own yurt. To keep her company she brought her dog Raider. When she arrived, Raider was a playful pup. Over the years, she matured into a playful and fun-loving adult, got old, and finally died at age 15.
I learned a lot from Raider. Since she passed away last year, I’ve been thinking about her more often. Here are some of the lessons she has taught me about aging.
Don’t worry. Everyone gets older.
I often find myself worrying about getting older. I notice new aches and pains and watch my sex drive go up and down like a roller-coaster. Performance of all kinds is more difficult and I worry about losing everything.
Raider, on the other hand, does not seem to worry about aging. She clearly notices that she is getting on in years, but “hey,” she seems to say, “that’s just life, nothing to worry about.”
When you can, play like a youngster. When you can’t, relax in the sun.
I used to play all the time. I loved sports and got great pleasure out of a hot and heavy game of basketball, football, or baseball. I can still play, but it makes me mad that I can’t play like I used to play. I often feel slow, fat, and clumsy.
Raider spends a lot more time relaxing in the sun. I try to get her to walk and chase balls like she used to do so often. But lately, she just wants to sleep a lot. I must say, she looks very content and doesn’t seem to chastise herself for her lack of “game.”
Kisses and touches are forever.
OK, I admit it, as I’ve gotten older, I seem to need to be touched and kissed more often. Sometimes I feel like a little kid chasing my wife around, wagging my tail, hoping for a pat on the head. She thinks I want sex (OK, I usually do), but what I really want is to be touched, kissed, and appreciated. But, I feel a little foolish. Should I really be this needy at age 72?
Raider has no such problem. She snuggles up for touches anytime, anywhere. She kisses my hands and anything else she can wrap her tongue around. She understands that we never outgrow the need to be touched and kissed.
There’s no shame in asking for help.
As I’ve gotten older, there are things I can’t do by myself. I need help splitting wood and hefting equipment into my car to get fixed in town. There are a hundred things, big and small, that I could use help with. But I have trouble asking.
Raider has no problem asking for help. When her hips were giving out and she needed help getting into the car, she would look over her shoulder and give me that look. “I could use a hand here. Could you give me a boost?” No shame at all. Help is expected and appreciated.
There’s no reason to get irritable, aging is a privilege.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten grumpier, more grouchy, and irritable. Little and big things bother me more. There are days that it seems that everyone is out to make my life more stressful. “Do you really have to get on my very last nerve?” I fight aging and the infirmities it brings. I’ve even written a book called The Irritable Male Syndrome.
Raider does not fight aging. I’ve never seen her get irritable (though I’m sure she has her days). She lives every day, every minute, right here and right now. “Hey, look, I’m alive. I have another day to see the sunshine.” She doesn’t complain. She doesn’t complain. She doesn’t moan (OK she does moan now and again, but she’s either moaning out of pleasure or when something really hurts).
Aging and depression don’t have to go together.
My father fell into deep depression as he got older. It seemed that he couldn’t accept the losses that went with getting older. He couldn’t get around like he had once been able to do and he missed having a regular job that he could interact with. Raider taught me that depression is a state of being, not a “disease.” Living in love seems to inoculate us against living sadness and anger.
Whenever possible, go for a walk in nature with a friend.
I grew up in big cities. I was born in New York, raised in Los Angeles, and spent most of my adult life in and around San Francisco. A walk in nature usually meant a quick ten minute race through a park. When the kids grew up we moved to Willits, a small town in Northern California, and bought a house on 22 acres of land.
Raider taught me the joys of walking in nature. Biologist Paul Shepard says that when we interact mostly with the human world we develop a kind of intra-species incest and produce “genetic goofies.”
When Raider and I take walks around here, 95% of everything we see, hear, and touch; are nature made, not man made. Believe me, Raider will never become a “genetic goofy” and every day she teaches me to be the kind of man who is comfortable in nature.
In the beginning and in the end, it’s all about love.
In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to forget about what is truly important. I think a lot about earning enough money to pay the bills. I wonder about the state of the world and whether global warming is going to melt all the icebergs, change the climate, and make living on Earth more and more challenging for everyone.
I sense that Raider is also aware of the changes going on with the environment, but she doesn’t worry about them. She is much more attuned to nature than I will ever be and her ecological footprint is light and playful, even though she’s got four compared to my two.
She came into the world full of love, expressed it throughout her life, and kept it flowing as she got older. Raider taught me that love is really all that lasts and it will last forever. She was, is, and always will be my hero. I miss her a lot. I will do my best to age as gracefully as she did and love right up to the end and as far beyond as memories last.
This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.