It was a beautiful day at the lake. The sun was out and there was a mild breeze. I started out the morning with my Mom and my brother having coffee on the deck. We shared stories about our kids and talked about the upcoming family reunion. There was a nagging feeling I couldn’t shake. I was anxious, tense and couldn’t get my mind off some things that had been said to me at work on Friday. They chewed away at me – waking me up in the middle of the night both nights of the weekend. I mulled over the comments, re-thinking, repeating and just feeling darn crappy.
The day grew warmer and we packed our things and headed out on the pontoon. We putted out to a quiet spot, dropped the anchor and cooled off in the lake water, floating leisurely and chatting. Nagging, troubling thoughts kept gnawing at my brain distracting me from the beauty of the blue sky, the puffy clouds and the quiet time with family.
We headed over to my sister’s place and joined her and her family for a light lunch. After lunch, the rest of her family was heading back to the cities but she was going hang around a while longer because it was such a spectacular day. She invited me to join her so we could spend some more time on the water while everyone else packed up and headed back to the hustle and bustle of the city. But I, being preoccupied with what had occurred days earlier, declined. I just couldn’t get these thoughts out of my head and I was feeling anxious to get back. So I turned my back on the beauty of the day, loaded up my vehicle and headed back to the city.
After 2 hours on the road, I needed to stop for a nature break. I didn’t need gas so there was no need to stop in town so I planned to stop at the next rest stop. As I coasted onto the off ramp and rounded the corner to the rest stop, I recalled the last time I’d stopped there. I’d been with Ella. Dear sweet Ella. She was weak and needed help out of the back of my car. She was so beautiful and so skinny.
Ella had been adopted years before from the humane society. She was a gorgeous shepherd mix and had been an integral part of our lives for almost 12 years. She was there for our daughter when she was home alone after school, and she was there at the kitchen table trying to make things all better when my husband and I talked about our strained relationship and our move toward divorce.
After I helped her to the ground, I filled up her water dish so she could take a drink and quench her thirst. An older gentleman came over to scratch her ears and tell me how beautiful she was. He shared his own story about his love for dogs and about one in particular, who was extremely bright and whom he loved deeply. Unfortunately this dog was no longer with him and he missed him dearly.
It was then that I told him Ella was dying. She had been living with kidney disease and for the last year I’d been doing everything I could to get her to eat. Home cooked meals, raw food in the blender, liver brownies, bacon, cubed beef steak, tripe (gross alert – it’s the stomach of grass feed animals that’s already partially digested making it easier for animals like Ella to digest) – I mean tried everything! As a vegetarian, I have never purchased and prepared so much meat in my life, but I was desperate for her to live. I wasn’t ready to let her go.
It wasn’t uncommon to find me sitting on the floor of my kitchen coaxing her to eat out of my hand. I’d talk all sweet to her and then offer her piece after piece of food out of my hand as I was so desperate for her to eat. Many times, I think she ate just to please me. Food didn’t appeal to her as her disease progressed, but she didn’t want to disappoint me so she would humor me with a nibble here and a nibble there.
To help her kidneys flush out her system, I learned how to give her sub Q fluids, sticking a needle into the scruff of her neck while fluids enter her body and created a big bubble on her back. She didn’t like it but she was patient with me and allowed me to do it. I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted her to stay a part of my life forever, but she slowly declined.
On this particular day at the rest stop, this kind stranger listened to my story as I sat on the grass with my faithful companion, and after I was done he said to me “you just have to remember to cherish every day you have with them.”
You just have to remember to cherish every day you have with them. I knew my time with Ella was coming to an end, but instead of stressing and focusing on what was to come, I took his advice and savored that moment with her. We lingered together at that rest stop with the warmth of the sun on our backs while I scratched her ears, told her what a good dog she was and how much I loved her.
It wasn’t long after that rest stop that I made the decision to end her suffering and to let her go. It had been almost a year that she’d been gone when I rounded the corner into that same rest stop. I gazed at where Ella and I had sat and I remembered fondly the words of that kind gentleman “you just have to remember to cherish every day you have with them.”
That’s when it struck me. Instead of savoring and cherishing the time with my family and marveling at the beauty and serenity that Minnesota lake country has to offer, I had spent the entire weekend in my head, stressing and perseverating about something that had happened days before.
What a waste. What a terrible, terrible waste. I had forgotten the wisdom of the rest stop.
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“If we are not totally ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” Thich Nhat Hanh