Maybe forty is middle-age, for me it’s certainly been in the-middle-of-something. I turn 41 later this week and I must admit, my year being 40 felt slightly more rigorous than the ones that came before it. Perhaps just circumstance, but my year was peppered with rare opportunity, great loss, brilliant connection, and perspective-building change. The change and loss has been arduous in ways, each lesson feeling like just another onion layer of innocence peeled away. Hard work to love and to lose. Hard work to try and to fail.
Yet nothing about me wants to be younger.
I’m thankful for the perspectives I’m gaining and the experiences I’m acquiring — even the brutal ones. I also know my experiences aren’t nearly as “brutal” as many. But somehow I feel even more ready to parent my little boys after losing beloved people, saying goodbye to a pet, and enduring challenges unexpected. Finding patience for change and learning more about living, where we have very little control, certainly is quite a gift.
This past weekend we lost Luna, our 13 year-old puppy doggy, which has me thinking again about Mary Oliver’s reminder of this “one wild and precious life” we’re given. Our puppy had a long life but there’s no question saying goodbye and living into the absence of her abundant enthusiasm aches. Her early and steady devotion to me and to our boys was mind-blowing. The lessons she facilitated were somewhat profound, even as I said good-bye to her. I wished I’d done things a little differently; wished I’d rejoiced and sent her off in her very final moment soaring. All I could do was bury my face in her ears. Thankfully pets are tirelessly generous, letting us fail with very little consequence. Messing up with the dog at times certainly improved the strategies I have in juggling all the responsibilities with children and work and loss now moving forward. I’m so grateful.
Thankfully, like so many experiences, our children’s distilled and simple ways of asking questions illuminates what matters and what’s most challenging. The boys asked about her life, memories of their infancy with her and asked about where she would go after she died courageously. The time just before bed these past few nights has been a rich space to listen and learn. How they understand and celebrate her life right alongside her death instructs. Luna is gone for good but all the joy she gave us my son reminded me, “will be around forever.” This has me thinking about how we rejoice in the connection with our children.
This past weekend I heard the terrible news that Vice President Joe Biden ‘s son Beau Biden passed away secondary to brain cancer. There’s been a flood of media attention about the horrors Vice President Biden has endured throughout his life and his steady wisdom about purpose, life, and work. In reviewing a recent speech Vice President Biden gave to college graduates I heard one of the best quotes about the march of parenthood I could remember. Sure “it goes fast.” Sure it can feel wildly out of control. Sure middle-age can bring the precious aspects of live into focus. But how we connect and when we do and the frequency with which we soak up our children, it’s hard to say it right. Read this immense quote from Biden about connection and the bond he formed with his children and decisions he made:
I began to commute thinking I was only going to stay a little while — four hours a day, every day — from Washington to Wilmington, which I’ve done for over 37 years. I did it because I wanted to be able to kiss them goodnight and kiss them in the morning the next day. No, “Ozzie and Harriet” breakfast or great familial thing, just climb in bed with them. Because I came to realize that a child can hold an important thought, something they want to say to their mom and dad, maybe for 12 or 24 hours, and then it’s gone. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. And it all adds up. ~ Vice President Joe Biden in recent speech at Yale University
Meredith Piscitelli says
This quote by Mr. Biden is so incredibly important. Thank you for posting.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
This quote is sooooo good. Just re-read it today (now over a year after I wrote this) as something called me to come back and look at it.
Gretchen Semler says
Wendy – So sorry to hear about your loss of Luna. We usually outlive our pets and there is a lesson, which your kids seem to understand that love eventually brings loss, but it’s better to have loved and have our lives enriched. And the memories remain.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Thank you, Gretchen. Agreed about the lesson…and thankful about the memories!
Mark Holtzen says
Looks like you came up with a nice post late that night. Nice thoughts. Thanks for sharing.
Nancey Goforth BS RN says
My very wise young nephew once told me that we have dogs so we can learn about death. From the mouth of babes!
Now I think dogs don’t live as long as we do because, they don’t have to. They learn how to love and love with compassion and passion in a very short time. They don’t need fourscore and ten to figure this out.
Enjoy your blog, thank you.
Marie Kavadias says
I wrote this a few weeks ago thinking of reflections, bigger picture, and loss and moving forward. I am always glad to feel that I am not the only one in the world whom feels a connectedness with talking on letting the thoughts process out loud on some of the issues. I thought you might appreciate it….thanks for sharing!
We are all complex human beings with different layers woven throughout. To know a person we must explore those layers together, gently peeling them back one by one. In trusting a person we give them a piece of our soul and little by little you plant together a new seed that will grow into a spectacular, grand tree of strength. Sometimes the tree may battle the winds and harsh heat or ice daggers. Within those branches though you will have the roots that made the foundations for your inner strength and beauty. Hold on to that, remember the branches that have lost their battle, pay respect to have had them in your life. For all those branches and roots, who’ve peeled back those layers are the humans you’ve met along the way. Helping you be more human. Don’t underestimate the power of human connectedness.
Artist Marie Kavadias
Tracey Taylor says
Thank you for a great post…and very timely for me as we also lost our 11-year old black lab to cancer recently. I have had other dogs as a child, but this was my first as a “grown up”. My 5-year old also asks many questions and bed-time seems to be the best time for discussions about where Ripley is now. Unfortunately my 6-month old will not remember Ripley, but I hope that my 5-year old will tell her stories. The days become more precious and our lives are so so much better for having had those 11 years together. I appreciate your posts!!
Laura Springer says
Thank you for your beautiful post and constant reminders about the important things in life.