How Do You Say Goodbye?

Janet kissing Gus on the deck July 2016

You weep.

You hold on for one last deep embrace; breathing in and memorizing the way he smells.

You run your hands gently through his fur; feeling the silky softness one last time.

You whisper everything you want to say, though you have said it to him a thousand times already, in anticipation of this moment.

You let go, knowing that the time is right and that you have done everything possible to make his passing gentle and peaceful; secure in loving arms.

You hold on tight and lean on those you love; shouldering the weight of grief together.

Finally, you breathe.

You begin to move past sadness, to other feelings. First, anger and frustration with cancer, and a loss that came too soon.

And then, gratitude.

For ten and a half wonderful years.

For a life that touched so many.

For unconditional love.

For a sweet face waiting patiently in the front window.

For sloppy kisses and boundless joy. For bouncing body wags.

For long walks on beautiful days.

For a head resting in your lap. For silence and calm, quiet loyalty.

For knowing when you needed a hug.

For hilarious moments of crazy behaviour.  For happy dances, stolen mittens and chewed up socks.

For the thrill of launching balls and frisbees into the air over and over, and the triumph of the perfect catch.

For finding friends in unlikely places.

For showing you how to stop and breathe deeply in the morning air.

For teaching you to live in the moment.

For all of the important lessons, and those still to come.

Gus in the field of grass

Smells like home

Sarah and Gus smells like home

I’ve mentioned before how all the members of our family use Gus like a sort of living stuffed animal.  He is so sweet and gentle, and he loves to be cuddled.  He’s so big that he’s like a full-body pillow.  He’s the perfect size to snuggle up to and wrap your arms around, if you’re feeling sad or happy, or simply just in need of a hug.  Of course, we all love to bury our faces deep in his fur while we do this.

The other day, Sarah was snuggling up to Gus, when she suddenly looked up at me and exclaimed, “He smells like home!”    She’s right.

We started talking, trying to find a way to express what we knew to be true, but were struggling with putting into words.  What we agreed on was the feeling that we get when we bury our faces in Gus’s fur.  It is a comforting, settled, familiar feeling that just seems to say “home.”  You might think I’m crazy, but I spent a while trying to analyze it, and the truth is that he really doesn’t smell much at all. (Apparently we are doing something right!).  However, I took a deep sniff and tried to concentrate really hard.   When I did, I was able to detect the fresh scent of the outside air, a hint of the garden, the grass and fall leaves lingering on his fur.  I guess that’s what evokes those calm and settled feelings for us.

What scent says “home” to you?    Is it a pot of aromatic soup simmering on a crisp fall day?  Is it the familiar fragrance of a loved one’s cologne or perfume?  Is it fresh cut flowers?  Perhaps, it is the unforgettable soft sweet smell of a tiny new baby.    I’ve written before about the power of scent to evoke strong memories.  I also believe that we form powerful associations with certain smells, and that these tell a lot about who we are, and what has meaning for us.

Don’t be afraid to harness the power of scent to perk yourself up or to calm yourself down when you need it.  This is what the field of aromatherapy is all about.  We always said that we wanted Gus to be trained as a therapy dog.  I guess we didn’t realize that he already is!

Bring home the big stick

Bringing home the big stick

You might have seen us one day.  Very often on our walk, Gus will discover a stick lying by the path, and he’ll decide to carry it home.  Now, this probably doesn’t seem unusual.   Most dogs will pick up sticks.  But most dogs don’t go after the kind of sticks that Gus does.  As you can see from the photo above, the sticks that Gus brings home are often bigger than he is.  Sometimes we even have trouble on the sidewalk because his stick takes up so much space!

It’s not uncommon for people walking or driving by us to honk, laugh, and give Gus the thumbs up sign as he proudly marches home with his trophy.  It’s quite a sight to see.

I’ve always said that I would do well to have the kind of confidence that Gus does.  When he comes upon a giant stick lying there, you can just see him considering it, and sizing it up.  Then, without hesitation, he will pick it up and position it in his mouth for the long walk home.  He never seems to even entertain the notion that he won’t be able to manage it.  Occasionally I have even tried to discourage him, saying “no Gus, that one’s too big!”  But he will always forge ahead; often wrestling with the largest sticks until he can get a good grip on them.  His behaviour shows that he doesn’t even consider the possibility that he won’t be successful.

You probably think that I’m crazy for letting him carry all this wood home.  Take a look below, and you’ll see what he accumulated during a couple of weeks last fall.  I guess I just feel that, since he’s so confident and determined, he’s entitled to have the reward of carrying his treasures home.

Gus's collection of sticks

When you are setting goals for yourself, do you reach high and go after the biggest stick?  If you’re like me, you often hesitate and feel limited by all the reasons why the goal will be challenging to achieve.  Can I really do it?  Am I qualified enough?  Will people listen to me?  This would be like Gus looking at a stick, and hesitating while thinking, “Is it too big?  Will it hurt my mouth?  Will I bump into things on the way home  with it?”  When we focus on the obstacles in our path, then we have a tendency to trip over those obstacles, and allow them to get in the way of achieving our goals.  Or perhaps they make us worry too much, and cause us to drop our standards and set our sights on some easier goal.  It’s like settling for a smaller stick because you feel that it will just be easier to manage.

If, like Gus, we refuse to think that way, and we just know that we can carry home that big stick, then we don’t even see any obstacles, and our actions will surely lead us to be successful.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look on my front porch!

The biggest stick

After I finished posting this, I came upon this quote that I think is quite relevant – I think you’ll agree.

“The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” — Michaelangelo

What you focus on is what will come to you

Gus tractor beam

We call it the tractor beam.  If you’ve ever seen the old Star Trek series, you’ll know exactly what I mean.  Whenever we are eating, Gus will join us in the kitchen.  He’s very quiet about it, but his strategy is clear and consistent  As you can see from the photos above and below, he will fix his gaze intently on whatever food he is interested in.  His eyes never waver.  They will follow that food from plate to hand or fork, to mouth; without so much as blinking or looking away for a second.  His focus is absolute, and his mission is crystal clear.

Tractor beam 2 with Mom

Okay, I know all you dog people who listened to your trainers are aghast by now, as you’re anticipating what’s coming next.  One of the cardinal rules of dog ownership and good manners is “no table feeding.”  Well, I’m sorry to confess this, but we’re not so good about that one!  Gus’s persistence is usually rewarded with a small bite of whatever he has been staring at.  Hey, as a family, we believe that sharing is a good thing! And don’t worry, we are pretty healthy eaters, so what he gets is mostly fruit and vegetables, or the odd bit of toast with peanut butter or smoked salmon.

Gus has totally figured out that if he concentrates hard enough, whatever he fixes his gaze on will eventually end up right where he wants it – in his mouth.  What a smart guy!

Now, neither Gus nor I can take credit for figuring out the “secret” here.  In fact, some other people have written about this “law of attraction,” and they even made a video that has made millions of dollars.  It all comes down to a very simple rule:  whatever you focus on is what will come to you.

This rule has been given many different names over the years, and it can be applied to everything from table scraps to relationships to finances.  Despite a lot of hype and marketing, it’s really not rocket science.  If there is something you want, focus all of your time and energy on that thing, and eventually you will have it.

I did watch that famous video a few years ago, and, while it has a good message, I feel that it over-dramatized the concept.  It’s not as though things will just magically appear at your door because you conjure them up in your wishes.  What happens is that, by focusing on what you want and making it your priority, you start to act and think differently.

At minimum, by focusing like this, you begin to devote a significant amount of your time and energy towards that goal.  This effort alone tends to go a long way towards helping you reach it.  Just the other day I was saying to Josh that if what he really wants is a high mark in math, then I should see him working on math most of the time, instead of playing the guitar. At the college where I teach, I tell my students all the time that they are actively choosing the mark they want in my course by how much time and effort they are putting into working on it outside of class.

In addition, what I have found is that, when you are really focusing on something, you start to recognize opportunities that are right in front of you; things that you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.  If you are in this goal-oriented mindset, you begin to take advantage of these opportunities, and that’s where things really get rolling!  A while back, when I was chatting in the park about my blog and all the inspiration I get when I am out with Gus, one of my friends commented, “you must have more interesting walks than I do!”  I don’t think that’s the case at all.  I just think that, because I am in this mode where I am focusing on what’s going on around me all the time, these ideas jump out at me from my everyday interactions.

So, what do you make of all this?  Whatever you choose to.  But the next time you are moaning about something you want, stop and remember Gus with his eyes on that bagel.  Ask yourself, “how much of my energy am I really focusing on this goal, and what am I actually doing to make it happen?”  You might be surprised at how much power you have to bring it within reach.