By David Haug
Despite her petite size she bowled me right over. She showered me with kiss after kiss. It was a relentless onslaught of licks, kisses, and whimpers. Where did this come from? Why was she so insatiable? Was my face made of chocolate or salt? Had I become some sort of salty sweetness overnight?
As time would prove out, this wasn’t a simple one day anomaly, a passing fad, or a momentary interest in me. In fact, as much as I would like to say as much, this wasn’t just my experience, it was my wife’s too. Actually, everyone that ever met her was treated the exact same way. Pure, passionate, over the top excitement, each and every time she greeted you.
We added a Golden Retriever named Tova to our family 9 and a half years ago. I find myself reflecting on her because there are so many life lessons she has taught me. Lessons I do my very best to take to heart and live by.
#1 Show Enthusiasm
The first lesson to Live Your Life Golden is to show great enthusiasm for the things you care about in life. First and foremost, believe in yourself and know that you have “one of a kind” special gifts that only you can provide this world. You are not in competition with anyone else in life, you are simply in a race to release as much of YOU into this world as you can. The more you learn about yourself, the more you will realize just how much you have to offer. So get going, get started. Really start getting to know yourself so you can unleash your self to the world. Release this great enthusiasm the way a Golden greets her owner and you will forever have doors opened to you and your dreams. Embrace your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend. Shower them with your love for life and help them feel their potential. Show great enthusiasm in your kid’s present moments. You never know when a child just needs someone to show interest in them now more than ever. Little tiny moments can be great inflection points in the minds of our kids. Forks in the road appear every day. Choices are made. BE there.
#2 Devote Yourself
To Live Your Life Golden you need to devote yourself everyday. A Golden doesn’t just love you the first time they see you or the first day they know you. I do not know any person or any other animal that literally flips a switch towards excitement every single time they see you the way a Golden Retriever does. One can practically go to the mailbox and back and be treated as if they had been gone for weeks. A Golden’s devotion of Love for her owners is timeless. It really is a work of art and an example for all to understand what pure devotion looks like. Far too often we do something important once or twice with great enthusiasm, but our energy and excitement tends to wane over time. We lose steam. To Live Your Life Golden you must devote yourself at all times to the things you care most about. Be there for your family. Be there for your friends. Be their for your colleagues. Listen and understand the moment. Does someone you know want you to be excited with them and play with them? Does someone you love just need to be listened to? There are times when you can be angry or sad or distraught and a Golden knows just what to do. Somehow a Golden knows just when to rest her chin on your knee and look you in the eye. Without saying a word, a Golden will tell you, “I’m here for you. I feel your pain, but I love you and I will never leave you. Just pat my head and I promise you we will get through this.” We too can be devoted to those we love and comfort them unconditionally when we know they need it. As Golden’s prove, sometimes it is best to say nothing at all. Show someone your love instead of saying it. BE there.
#3 Love Unconditionally
As people, we often hold back. We put conditions on our love and expectations for others. I think it probably comes from our fear of loss or rejection. As people, we love to be in control too. Somehow, we think that if we hold back we can win something later in life. If we hold something back and all else falls apart we seem to think we will have at least retained something for our losses. Why else wouldn’t we just pour everything we have into everything we do? To Live Your Life Golden you shouldn’t hold back. Ever. Life is short. The number one regret people have before they die is not DOING things they know they could have done when they had the chance. What things do you know you can do and should do right now? Who should you call? What should you plan? Who needs your love right now? Are you willing to LOVE those you need to love without holding back? Is there someone who needs you right now that you can show unconditional love like a Golden? BE there.
My Greatest Weakness
I have to confess something… As much as I believe all of the things I just said about how to Live Your Life Golden. When it comes to living My Life Golden, I feel like a complete and utter failure. I really do. The more I try to be the man I want to be and the higher I set my sights the more I seem to stumble and fall. The muddier I get. The weaker I feel. The more desperate I become.
The greatest gift a Golden Retriever provides her owner is that she is ALWAYS THERE for you. At my times of greatest struggles and during all of my weakest moments, when I have literally been on my knees, I found myself alone with God and my dog. I think there is a reason both words use the same three letters. Salvation is found in both. Both will always be there for you. Until one is not.
This past summer Tova started to lose her eyesight. We noticed it slowly, but as the weeks and months passed it became more and more serious. A few weeks ago she walked directly into a boulder. She wasn’t hurt, thankfully she had not been running, but she was definitely startled and so were we. It seemed a life time of fun and playfulness would have to change for her as she lost such an important sense.
Tova had developed glaucoma and the eye pressure had done a number on her optic nerves. We gave her a daily regimen of eye drops and pain killers to make sure she wasn’t in any pain. The doctors assured us that dogs can do just fine without eyesight due to their great hearing and sense of smell. We knew others who had raised blind puppies and we adjusted to our new life with a blind dog. She still had her great enthusiasm for her family and guests, and we were more than prepared to do whatever it took to take great care of her.
Sometimes, no matter what you want in life, you just don’t get it. We wanted more years and so many more memories. We would have done whatever it took. Anything. But something was happening.
It seemed like depression at first, but something was holding our Golden down. Simply getting up had become a struggle and the enthusiasm she always exuded definitely started to wane, to the point of disappearing altogether. She stopped eating and drinking water. In our desperate attempt to help Tova we worked with her vet on one final regimen of medicine and making food slurry concoctions to restore her health.
We agreed to give it the weekend last Thursday.
On Friday morning Tova couldn’t get up. I slid my arms under her belly and neck and carried her 80 lb frame outside for a bathroom break. She was able to do her business but as she stepped to walk away she crumpled upon her front legs and face planted into the grass. It was a gut wrenching sight to see, but also the switch to be flipped that I needed.
I promptly cancelled my appointments for the day. We called the vet and said it was time. There would be no weekend wait. Our vet said he would come to our house at 1 pm, and I was glad my oldest didn’t have school that day. As a family, we gathered around our precious Tova and hugged and pet her. We told stories of our favorite memories. We told stories of how she would “superman” off the dock for her favorite Frisbee in the summer. She’d do it over and over again and we’d roar with laughter.
It is such a dull feeling to know the day and actual time that you will say goodbye to someone you love. Never in my life have I desperately wanted to stop time in its tracks. I wanted to pause life with every power I had. If only we could have such powers. As we pet Tova I asked my daughter to spend some time petting her head, her ears, her nose, her tummy, all of the different spots. Each one has its own feel and texture I told her. You may want to remember these different feels someday and now is the time to really let it sink in. Of course, I was telling her as much to tell myself. I was doing everything possible to help my daughter, my wife, and myself to experience the moment. To BE there.
Looking at the clock I knew I needed some time to go outside and prepare for later in the day. I pet Tova and kissed her face with all my might. I told her I would be back and to hang in there.
As I made my way outside into the misty gloomy day I found myself enveloped in emotional pain. I had to think of my footsteps to avoid falling. My mind was shattered to be in that moment.
I looked at the sky to beg God for strength and mercy and found myself thinking of the sun, the trees, the shadows, and the views that would be from Tova’s final sepulchre. Deeming a wooded knoll looking across the field back towards our home the best location, I cleared the brush and started digging. Memories and love filled my heart as I dug deeper and deeper. The mist of the morning was upon my brow. As the lenses of my glasses filled with drops of water, I briefly wondered if it was the dew or the sweat from my efforts. As I sat on the edge of the hole, my head convulsing on the handle of my shovel I knew it was mostly the tears of pain I felt for my trusted friend.
Finishing up, I made sure the hole was actually rectangular, deep enough, and free from jagged rocks on the bottom. I patted it all down with my feet to make it as soft as possible. As I stood looking down at my efforts I envisioned Tova in my head, seeing her lying on her side in my mind’s eye. As I looked at the hole and thought of her I realized her legs were just a little bit longer than I originally thought. So back to work I went. Enlarging her final resting spot just a little bit more to make sure she had the room she needed.
As I walked back to the house covered in mud and sweat I knew I had dug the best grave possible for Tova. It was the best place for her to be and I felt that I had done it right by her. My greatest need was getting back to her and my family to hold her one last time. The clock was still ticking.
We spent that final hour holding Tova and loving on her like she had never been loved before. Perhaps we even took her to heaven before she actually got there.
I’m going to do my very best to live my life like you Tova. You Lived Your Life Golden.