Over the years I’ve often read analogies describing the aging process. For example, a tree that loses its limbs, and its interior hollows out, is an apt comparison. If the tree matters to us because we remember its being planted, its decline is obvious to us.
Another analogy might be a beloved car in which the engine dies as if it were a human heart no longer able to operate properly and pump blood to parts of a human body. The repairs may be impractical.
Many other analogies serve as reference points as we consider the physical and mental decline of loved ones.
Another comparison is more painful, as I’ve learned in recent months. Our 11-year-old Yellow Labrador Retriever is slowing down and experiencing medical problems. I cannot avoid grieving about an animal so integral to our happiness.
Sandy has swallowing problems that often lead to gagging and sometimes spitting up. She now walks more slowly, sauntering ploddingly on neighborhood walks. We’ve observed more frequent incontinence. She has undergone exams and bloodwork analysis.
This lovable dog is showing her age. So are her owners. We must face our own physical challenges, our own frailties, our own diminution, as we have witnessed hers.
Maybe when we grieve Sandy’s decline, we see our own images. The mirror of animal life reflects an intimate analogy.
Many readers have experienced their own canine losses. Several times in some cases. The pain of losing a beloved member of the family never gets better, regardless of repetition. Memories remain vivid.
My wife and I will continue to love and nurture Sandy, helping her endure her pain and discomfort through medication and care. I’ve begun to store my memories.
The inevitable question posed by friends and family during discussion of Sandy’s increasing frailty: will you get another dog when Sandy dies? I doubt it. Others have told me they had similar reactions; the emotional pain is too great. Then, they often relent. Life without a dog becomes unbearable.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
In past columns, I’ve written that my childhood included no pets. Realizing that her two sons were insufficiently responsible to care for a dog, and knowing she was no lover of these ingratiating creatures, she allowed no pets. Any argument would have been senseless.
I don’t begrudge my mother’s decision. It was wise, I guess, and typically honest. My adult life, however, has been enhanced by the presence of an animal that improves the lives of its owners.
A dog elicits calm, kindness and love. You may pay less attention to your own woes, if only momentarily. You cater to the needs of one of God’s endearing creatures.
This column likely will not be my last about Sandy. I can’t help myself.
Analogies abound about the passage of time. They provide an often painful reminder of our own mortality. They make joys and upsets more understandable.
I’ll always feel thankful to Sandy and her attention to her human parents as they too exemplify the sad but true effects of aging.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.