My Dog is Dying, I’m Jobless, and I’m in Awe of my Left Index Finger

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My dog is dying. We all are, but Jake’s a little bit further along than most. If I’m at my parent’s house, and we hear a “bang! bang! bang!” late in the evening, we know it’s not a burglar. It’s Jake, tumbling down the wooden stairs because his hind legs have collapsed. Jake poops in the house each afternoon because he can’t hold it in long enough to relieve himself outside. When he does make it outdoors, a five minute neighborhood sniff leaves him huffing and puffing as if he’s just maxed out on the beep test.

The other night, at 10:59pm, I calculated that I have exactly 11 days of Jake’s entire life to spend with him. I sobbed. Uncontrollably. Alone. On my apartment floor.

I calculated that I have 11 days left with Jake because at the end of my last soccer season, I was released from the Portland Thorns.  I’m leaving in 11 days to tryout for the new NWSL Utah Royals team.

It’s a funny thing when you enter the professional level starting every game, and then five years later you have to tryout to make it.  From the outside, it appears I have regressed. I don’t believe I have.

It’s humbling. But, I’m not ashamed.

I’m not ashamed because my dog is dying.  And every single time I enter my parent’s home, I ignore all other human existence and bee-line to Jake. I suffocate him with cuddles and speak to him in my prepubescent little girl voice, as if somehow the change of tone will indicate I love him more.

I love Jake more than he loves medium-rare New York steak, a spoonful of peanut butter, and every other dinner item he’s ever begged for under the table. Once, back in Jake’s prime, he snuck onto the kitchen counter and knocked down an entire platter of brownies. He licked the brownies clean, including parts of the shattered ceramics dish. I love Jake even more than that.

 

My brother thinks Jake has more than a year left to live. I’m an optimist. Miracles happen, but it doesn’t seem likely.

My entire life, the thought of Jake dying torched my soul. I avoided this idea entirely.

Until one evening, about two years ago, when I drew a bubble bath and began reading a book called Being Mortal. I distinctly remember gripping the book, and digesting a passage about how our bodies are slowly deteriorating.  By the age of thirty, our lung capacity declines and the demise continues from there; our teeth slowly decay, our hair changes color, we lose muscle mass….Each word I consumed felt like my gut was stepping into a bottomless pile of quicksand.

After reading this passage, I peered down at my left index finger. I observed the criss-cross wrinkle patterns on my skin. I stared at my hair follicles. The deeper grooves on my knuckles. Dang, I need to moisturize more.  Why is my finger hair so much shorter than the ones on my arm? Where did this shiny shield we call a “fingernail” come from? How does my my brain Simon-Says this finger to bend back and forth anytime it wants?

I’ve been the caretaker of my dying finger for 25 years, and never had I observed it in such vivid detail.

It was this bubble bath-the pondering of my finger’s fate- that gave birth to my obsession with death, and, not coincidentally, the moment some of my friend’s questioned whether or not to check me into a psychiatric ward.

I became intrigued by the fear surrounding death.  Why are we all so afraid of it? Why do we feel like a kindergartner stuck alone underneath a rainbow parachute every time we think about our loved ones passing? Why does no one talk about it?

Death is one of the few things in life that is 100% certain. It’s unavoidable. Yet we treat it like it’s not just the elephant in the room, but the largest tyrannosaurus rex of the kingdom.  It’s as if we think that acknowledging it will somehow bring us down faster.

A few months later, I consumed another book, True Refuge. The author, Tara Brach,  talks about an exercise she performed at a meditation retreat. The participants were told to find a stranger and hug them. While arms still wrapped around their partner,  they were instructed to repeat the following: “I’m going to die.  You’re going to die. And all we have are these precious moments.”

I immediately began trying this exercise on every person I encountered. My mom, friends, teammates, the mailman (jk, I didn’t take it that far).  I asked for a hug, and when they obliged, I’d hit them them with the dialogue. Again, most of them further questioned my sanity.

For me, it felt like a similar experience to the night of my finger analyzation. When I acknowledged death, everything seemed to matter more.

From this point on, I started consciously accepting that Jake was going to die. I was greeted with deep sadness, but it wasn’t as scary as before. I found I cherished our time together even more.

On an off day, I whimsically drove with Jake up to the Oregon coast (his favorite place) and we hopped around from beach to beach, ending at Oceanside, the location of my childhood beach house. I pulled up to a side street, rolled down the windows to breath in the roaring ocean air, and climbed to the backseat to cuddle with Jake. I slept less than three winks the night, but I didn’t care. I knew this may be our last time here together.

This last season with the Portland Thorns. I feel like I took the same approach. The previous year and half, I was recovering from a concussion, and my absence from the pitch made me deeply aware of the rarity of playing professional soccer, even more-so in my own hometown.  On practice days, I warmed up with a deeper appreciation for my body’s ability to move however it could on that day. On game days, I fully soaked in the thunderous energy of the crowd.  On off days, I cherished Pacific Northwest adventures with my teammates to Crater Lake and the Gorge.

In my mind, I wanted to play in Portland forever. The Rose City is such a special place to me. I grew up a seven minute drive from the stadium. The fans are out of this world. My family comes to every game. Jake lives here.

After our championship, I was released from the team. And this idea of me staying forever was gone.

Yet, the strangest thing happened: I felt at peace.

I was heavyhearted and frustrated, naturally, but I believe this inner calmness arose because of my acceptance that everything in life is temporary.  I was going to have to leave the Portland Thorns eventually. I’m going to have to stop playing soccer eventually. Jake is going to die eventually. We all are.

I find we often wait to fully celebrate beings and things until they pass. I think we ought to have more living funerals.

Once we are gone, there’s no going back. At the end of it all, It doesn’t matter how much money is in our bank accounts, what awards we have won, or our number of Instagram followers. Everyone’s grave is the same size.

Why wait to fearlessly live, love, and be our truest selves?

When Jake’s time on this earth comes to an end, I know my face will be drenched in more tears than the person who gets splashed the most at Disneyland’s Splash Mountain. I plan on mourning by whatever means necessary (hello, Ben and Jerry).

Acknowledging death has been the ultimate wake up call. It has made me think about what it means to be alive and want to experience the simplest thing with as much gratitude as when I slept beachside in the back of the car with Jake and warmed up with my friends on the field at Providence Park.

My dog is dying. I am currently jobless, and I am in awe of my left index finger.

 

 

 

 

 

Because Jake’s the cutest and deserves to be seen by the world, here’s a few more photos of him:

Jake’s a deep thinker
Nature walks are his favorite
Jake has slept in my bed since day one. He’s a very respectful sleeper, minus the occasional snoring
Facetiming Jake from Australia on his 12th birthday. We both licked the camera
2013 Family Christmas Card, Jake (10) Teddy (3)

 

Halloween 2011, The hottest dog of all the dogs
Halloween 2013, theres a new chef in town
My biggest fan, wherever I go
I tried to tell him we were too old for these things, but Jake would NOT let us leave without a pic
Jake’s last hike ever, he had to be carried up to the top, but he was a trooper
At the peak of Jake’s modeling career
What I imagine doggie heaven is like.

 

16 Comment

  1. Caroline Slade says: Reply

    I’m in tears reading this. My pup Duffy is 14 and declining. Pooping in the house and on meds for seizures. She was our first baby, born 3 years before our first human child. She never left my side during my 26 hour labor, leaning into me during endless contractions. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Good luck with the Royals!

    1. Kendall Johnson says: Reply

      Hi Caroline, sounds like you can relate to this story on many accounts. In my opinion, there really is nothing like a dog’s love. Duffy sounds like she is an amazing companion. Hope you soak up all the time you can with her. Thanks for the well wishes!

  2. I’m sorry to hear that Jake is doing so poorly. I’ve had lots of dogs in my life. I know how you feel. I’m glad to hear that you’re trying out for the Royals. I look forward to spotting your family in blue and gold at Providence Park whenever the Royals come to play.

    1. Kendall Johnson says: Reply

      Hi Erin, Jake has had a wonderful like and passing away is unfortunately part of life. I am very excited to be trying out for the Royals and you know my family too well haha If I make it, they definitely will be supporting the squad at Providence Park.Thanks for the message!

  3. Jake is so freaking cute. I’m in tears reading your story and just thinking of my baby we had to put down a couple of weeks ago. Her sickness was very sudden and came very rapidly, we had less than a day to say our goodbyes. Reading this breaks my heart for you, but somewhat lets us see how much love you have for Jake. Its adorable. The only thing you can do is give him the best life that you possibly can and enjoy it all with him. Give him endless hugs and kisses. I’m sure he’ll be rooting for for you during your time away and always after. Wishing you the absolute best in Utah and in life. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

    1. Kendall Johnson says: Reply

      Hi Elsa, I’m sorry to hear you had to unexpectedly put your pup down to sleep 🙁 I cannot imagine how that must have felt. I appreciate you saying that you can see how much I love Jake. I agree (very biasedly) he is so freaking cute :). I do feel like I gave him all my love while I was him and will continue to do so even from afar. Thanks for the well wishes!

  4. Oh, this was a beautiful post!

    1. Kendall Johnson says: Reply

      Thanks so much for reading Kirstin, I appreciate you.

  5. M & K Serricchio says: Reply

    Thank you for this! Your writing is inspiring and exquisitely raw. And I will never forget the day I met Jake… what a charmer, he made Kona so happy he jumped off a cliff! Kona and I send Jake and you so many licks.

    1. Kendall Johnson says: Reply

      Oh my goodness hahaha Kona sky-rocketing off the ledge will forever be engrained in my memory. I really appreciate your kind words about my writing. Jake and I send you five hundred thousand licks back 🙂

  6. Marina Hueffner says: Reply

    I am crying because I will be saying good bye to my dog soon enough. It’s an unbearable thought for me that one day soon I will be holding her lifeless body and sobbing over it asking her to breath just one more time, smelling her and kissing her ears. I can’t think about it but I think about it all the time and it is breaking my heart over and over again. Dogs should live as long as we live. They are companions, true love of our lives. Your letter is beautifully written. You should write books.

    1. Kendall Johnson says: Reply

      Hi Marina, I’m glad you resonated with this story. Dog’s are the best companions and I agree it’s too bad they don’t live as long as us! I appreciate your kind words and I do plan on writing books in the future! Hope you can continue to give your dog lots of snuggles.

  7. I lost a family dog I had grown up with about 10 years ago. After he passed it was so hard, but I kept remembering how great his life was. About 4 years ago I finally got my own dog. I know one day he too will pass before me and those same feelings will come back, but in the meantime, I am showing him the best life possible. It sounds like Jake has been given the best life possible and because of that you will grieve him, but you should also be proud of the fun you had with him and hopefully one day pass that ability to love onto another dog that needs you.

    1. Kendall Johnson says: Reply

      Hi JP, I love that you are consciously giving your dog the best life possible. Unfortunately, they have a shorter life-span than humans, and that leads to some very sad goodbyes. I completely agree though, when you give all your love to your pet, it’s doesn’t necessarily make the grieving easier, but it gives you this underlying sense of peace. Cheers to enjoying our dogs!

  8. Beautiful writing! I love, “I think we ought to have more living funerals”! I’m sorry about Jake, what a wonderful life he’s had with you by his side! Good luck with the Royals!

    1. Kendall Johnson says: Reply

      Thanks Darla! Jake has most definitely had the most wonderful life and my life has been substantially more wonderful because of him. I appreciate the good luck!

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