The willingness of old age

I frequently compare our 14 year old black lab to my father in law.

Now, on the surface that sounds like a real insult, and I can understand if you turn the page. But give me one more paragraph, if you would.

My beloved father in law, Nick, passed away two years ago. Now and then I wrote about him and his remarkable refugee story. Losing his country, his language, his culture, his life’s work, his expected lifestyle, he quietly took delight in simple things… freedom, children, grandchildren, flowers, sunshine, clean water. In fact, his later life with us was a lesson in appreciation of what is truly important and what legacy really means. He was 94 when he died, having mowed the lawn and made a trip to the hardware store, adjusted some furniture and prepared his television as a gift to our son.

And so how does that compare to Princess, the aging black lab whose hip joints are frozen with arthritis?

Well, she’s 98 in people years. Her muzzle is white. Her eyes are milky. She doesn’t know which side of the door to go in and we have to lift her hind quarters up and down the stairs. She takes a long, long time to walk around the block and she sniffs, sniffs, sniffs… it’s like reading the newspaper for her.

So far, the comparisons are strong. Dad slowed down but he didn’t stop. He read the newspaper cover to cover. He still looked up words in the dictionary, wanting to truly understand the headlines. He puzzled over why someone would ‘jog.’ (it’s a difficult concept for a lifelong farmer to absorb…)

Our beloved pooch has terrible posture these days… her hind legs splay out to support her in an odd triangle so she doesn’t fall over. Her hind legs don’t tuck in any more. But, like Dad, she sits at the window and watches the comings and goings in our neighbourhood. She limps up to wee Mason, our 2 year old neighbour, who calls her name.

She sprawls on the cool hardwood floor in my office, taking up most of the available floor space in her desire to be ‘near.’ She doesn’t get up to greet people much any more. She has lost her barking voice. In fact, she doesn’t have a voice at all.

Our wonderful Jennifer Minister, Canine Comforts, comes every other week to give our pooch a massage, to loosen her joints, to increase her mobility and reduce her pain. I tuck a painkiller inside a dollop of peanut butter and drop a bit of oil on her kibble for her scalp.

See what I mean? There’s lots to compare.

But here’s the big thing… she’s still wagging her tail. She’s still nuzzling up for a scratch behind the ears. She’s still able to hear kibble dropping in her bowl. She falls sometimes while she’s trying to stand to eat but her mind is willing. Food is the driving force for a lab and if I thought it wouldn’t destroy her digestive system, I’d cook her up a big piece of beef, just to see the joy in her eyes.

It’s the willingness to embrace life at her level that I most admire in this wonderful companion of ours. Our old neighbourhood enjoyed the presence of Dad, the quietly handsome, kindly, steady gardener who maintained our ‘piece of Canada’ like a badge of honour. Our old neighbourhood missed Dad horribly when he left, as do we.

Our new neighbourhood has gotten to know Princess. They comment on her tenacity, they see how difficult it is for her to get around, they admire her ability to sniff, above all else.

And so… the wonder of it all is the determination to continue, at whatever level we can. To take joy in small things, to embrace diminishing life, to leave a legacy.

Just thought I’d share that with you!