Life lessons come in all sizes, and often life’s teachers are from unlikely places. In particular, our animal friends, both domestic and wild, have a lot to teach us.
The lessons of aging are no exception. It sometimes feels like there’s a falling away and a new change around every corner. No one’s taught me more about how to cope with this than my dogs.
I’ve been lucky. My pals have been with me for many years before they died. And as they’ve aged, they’ve left behind lessons very relevant to this season of my life.
So, what can dogs really teach us about positive aging? More than you might think!
When her faculties began to falter, my Tasha did the best she could for as long as she could. When she lost her hearing, she tried to keep me in sight. I swear she also learned sign language. When she had trouble walking, she just sat down and waited for me to pick her up.
I think her silent wish for me was “Don’t beat yourself up; just find another way.” Things are what they are. As author and spiritual teacher Byron Katie reminds us: argue with what “is,” and you end up with stress.
As her life was ending, Chloe wasn’t sorry about her illness. She never had any regrets. She was, quite simply, the epitome of self-acceptance. By age 13, she’d had a lot of practice.
She struggled to breathe in the end, but she loved herself regardless. She never apologized for what she was dealing with. Her illness was, after all, just a part of who she was.
Everything we’ve experienced is part of who we’ve become. All of it sacred, all of it necessary, very little of it worthy of regret.
You may have seen that old cartoon of a dog pulling off calendar pages, each one reading NOW.
“Later” is a concept dogs can’t understand. So even though my pets slowed down as they aged, they weren’t saving their energy for later. They were just responding to “now.”
We have this moment until we don’t. Older dogs seem to know this in their bones. My bones are finally realizing this, too.
In an earlier piece, I wrote about our move to a larger house. Clancy was not on board.
He didn’t like visiting the house as it was being built. It made him nervous and confused. He’d lived almost 14 years in the house he had, thank you very much, and he didn’t understand the need to relocate.
But he also knew we’d always done right by him. He’s had a lot of evidence that forces are always working in his favor, even when he is uncomfortable. He trusted that things always work out in the end.
We’re all surrounded by proof that it’s safe to just let go then see what happens next.
As Clancy relaxed into his new environment, he opened to a new level of trust. He’s helped me realize that trust can grow and can be as unconditional as love.
In the end, it’s hard to say goodbye. It’s especially difficult when you’re losing a friend who’s been so loyal and loving for so many years.
But as those aging, four-footed angels fill your heart and lift you up, you file their friendships under Lessons Learned in gratitude for the privilege of having been their student.
What have you learned from your beloved dogs and other pets? What does positive aging mean to you? What lessons have they taught you about aging gracefully? Join the conversation!