My mom, my dog, and the waiting room: appreciating the gift of what changes when love matters most
July 25, 2017
There we were, Sir Donovan and I.
The relentless return of a malignant lump on my old dog's back had landed us in the waiting room at the veterinary oncology clinic. We were hoping for a miracle. Everybody was.
This was not my first time going face to face with death. As a kid, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I first learned then how these rooms generally felt. And even though so many years had passed, and now the fate of my dog (instead of mother) was at stake, the energy of the place was still pretty much the same.
I knew, of course, that the experiences were not identical. I knew I should have been able to separate the two, and reminded myself as much. But on this day, as he looked up at me, as I stroked the brown curls on his big old head and tried to reassure us both, the memory of her loss hung achingly close. And this room felt familiar in a really sickening way. Even for those lucky enough to seem on the up side of the journey, it was clearly not where any of us wanted to be.
But, a surprise was in that room as well.
The longer we sat there, as my eyes gingerly met the others waiting too, I was, without exception, greeted with warmth and support. With optimism and encouragement. Didn’t matter if we were cat or dog people, we took a moment to smile. We knew. Didn’t matter if we sat alongside partners, husbands, wives, lovers, or friends. Didn’t matter if we were weeping, or trying to stay strong. Didn’t matter if we looked like we’d won the lottery, or if, without regret, we’d be spending cash we didn’t truly have.
None of that, not an ounce of it, mattered.
All that mattered there was love. And that, of course, changed everything.
Because love mattered most, we took the time to really see, and feel for, one another. Effortlessly. We took the time to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We looked at the dog at their feet or the cat snuggled on their lap, and saw our own there too. We knew that we were more alike than different. We moved seats to help make other folks more comfortable. We spoke softly and offered small talk, even when it was hard to know exactly what to say. We gave each other the benefit of the doubt. We told our stories, and asked to hear the ones from others too. We offered tissues, and compassion. And even laughs, when we could. We held each other’s hand. We saw the sameness in each other, first. The magic happened that day, and every day we found ourselves back waiting there again.
My mom is gone. My dog is too. There has never been, will never be, a day I do not not hold them close. I can not bring them back. But I am dying to believe there is a silver lining we can all share from living through this kind of loss.
I am dying to believe that the same grace, compassion, and respect that we all chose to give one another in the waiting room that day, indeed in places like it all over the world - every day - when the lives of those we treasure most are literally on the line, can still shine on. That a choice to be kind can help lead us towards light, and out of the bleak and desperate times (at least I feel like) we are grappling with now. That we can find a way to listen, and be good to one another. To celebrate the arts, the environment, and what makes us all unique. To (in spite of our differences), work together in pursuit of a merciful, just and peaceful world where we value nature, and beauty, and each other.