Lucy, a Love Story

This is an excerpt from my book, Not Over Yet—Simple Strategies to Struggle Less and Savor More. In this chapter, Lucy—A Love Story, I talk about my relationship with Lucy Doodle, my glorious and aging dog and the many lessons she has taught me, about living, about leaving, about dying, and about committing to the moment. (That's her in the photo at left, with Zac Doodle on the right.) Yogi that she was, Lucy taught me how to live in the face of life’s inevitable transitions. 

But it is not about the past that I wish to speak. It is about the Now, the current lesson that Lucy, my friend/teacher is currently bringing me.

I look at her as she sleeps by my feet. She is eleven years old, slower now, with more white hair, more demanding in her demeanor, yet more relational, cuddlier than in her younger years. Her back hips bother her, limiting the speed and velocity of her running. She sleeps more than she plays these days. My heart catches, tightening into fear, as I consider her aging.

I don’t want her to ever die. I don’t want her to ever leave us. I adore her and need her. And yet I know that she is a being who is living an accelerated life cycle, growing into her final time on this planet. Because my dad was always going to die, from my early childhood on (cosmic joke: he lived to be eighty-four), terror of illness and dying continues to hold a strong emotional charge for me.

I think, with a smile, of Tillie, my mother, and of her final years. For some blessed reason, as she found herself after my father’s death, I was able to find her in different and deeper ways. I had outlived whatever issues blocked me from loving her fully. Through the work I had done both emotionally, therapeutically, and spiritually, I was able to be with her and because of that being, I was given one of the most profound gifts of my life.

As I sit with Lucy, I’m swept with the simple memories of being with my mom that last year or so of her life:

  • Playing Scrabble—she always beat the heck out of me, laying down simple, foundational words with silent and sometimes infuriating practicality.
  • Sitting on her couch—laughing with Dancing with the Stars. She initiated me into and was fully responsible for my addiction to that show.
  • Eating a simple meal—she ate so much less and cooked so much more simply. A hard-boiled egg, a piece of Melba toast, a slice of tomato—who knew food that simple could be so satisfying when shared with a quieter, slower love.

And I stayed with her, as she prepared to leave. I was able, in an imperfect way, to be of use to her, to be helpful, I do believe. My support was of an emotional nature, checking in regularly, asking about the books she was currently reading, talking about her day. Although in the moment, it didn’t seem as valuable as the more practical and logistical support my sister offered her, I know today that each of our contributions made the perfect container to support my mother’s journey.

When we moved her to Hospice that last month or so of her life, I watched her tears of anguish, so fully cognizant was she, so concerned about my niece’s upcoming wedding. “Shiva before the wedding, oye,” she said, breaking my heart.

But I was there for it. I received her angst. I witnessed her transition. 

And I was there for her final breath. Taking my next breath without her, the first time in my fifty-seven years that I breathed without her on the planet, I was broken open. My shattered heart opened me up to the adult that I am today, the adult I really couldn’t be with her still living.

And so I choose to be there for my Lucy Doodle, as she goes through her final time. I choose to:

  • Pick up the damn ball whenever she drops it at my feet, no matter how important the human task at hand seems to be. What could be more important than throwing that ball down the hallway? As best as I can, I choose to fully and whole-heartedly play with her.
  • Cuddle fully when the Blondie leans into me when I’m meditating or couch-sitting.
  • Be more lenient with her demands for treats. She clearly adores eating. I choose to honor her needs more, with less rigidity.
  • Make the best decisions about her care that are possible.
  • Love her and not leave her, until she needs to leave me. 

The Buddhists say it well in their Four Daily Reflections:

I am subject to aging. Aging is unavoidable.
I am subject to illness. Illness is unavoidable.
I am subject to death. Death is unavoidable.
I will grow different and separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.

I choose to accept her aging process as best I can. I choose to love the heck out of her, to play with her, to cuddle with her, to snuggle with her, to steward her life on the planet as best as possible. I choose to notice my fear and ignore it, continuing to know Lucy more deeply, more intimately, and more fully. I choose to keep my entire being open to my friend/teacher, the wacky, the wonderful, the Lucy Doodle of my heart. I choose to allow her to continue to love me and to teach me, until her final breath. And well past that, too. Of this I am certain.

Find out about programs with Aruni Nan Futuronsky at Kripalu.

Excerpted with permission from Not Over Yet—Simple Strategies to Struggle Less and Savor More, by Aruni Nan Futuronsky.