Most people know me as the Ambassador of Dreams for a fitness company called Dane Boyle Fitness. I have had a marvelous journey to renewed health with a fitness level I never knew before age 60. Discovering running very late in life, I have use it to feed my inner self or soul as some say, while inspiring others to be more active. This love of fitness evolved into new purpose of life and a commitment to a calling to become a motivational speaker and assist in the creation of a revolutionary fitness business model.
However, I want to discuss the long journey traveled that I have to call grief. I have not wanted ever to use that word to describe me or my life. I do not see myself as a lost, hopeless, grieving widow…another word that does not fit me. I am no one’s widow. I am the former wife of the most beautiful and loving man on the planet. Beyond any power of my control, however, my feet were set on grief’s path and so it is has become a journey I cannot avoid, a journey I never wanted to take. Oh how I have tried to overcome its curves, hills and valleys. But much like the journey to better health you have to face the hard work ahead to ever hope to feel better. Some days I am quite successful, other days are very difficult. The journey that includes that dose of grief will wear you down if you let it, much like a run or workout day kicked your butt, you have to learn with the hard you can improve.
I share my lessons learned best, with stories, my own personal stories that happen to me. This is one that has helped me to process my journey just a bit differently.
For 16 years I owned a black and tan miniature dachshund. He was mine and my husband’s empty nesters pure joy. Anyone that knows about dachshunds knows they are lively and demanding and they run the home and allow you to live with them. His name was Milo and he was a gift from my youngest daughter for Mother’s Day of 2000. We chose Milo to be short for Millennium so we could always remember how old he was.
Shortly after my husband’s death in 2014 from a prolonged struggle from Leukemia I noticed Milo just was not doing very well. Lots of things had gone unnoticed during the difficult time of illness. So it was time to take care of those things and off to the vet’s we went. It was discovered that Milo had Cushing’s disease and would need to be on some very expensive medications along with regular costly blood work. I chose to be loyal to my little friend at any cost. Most likely a poor decision made because I did not think I could bare one more thing that meant saying goodbye to something or someone I loved.
Recently Milo’s health was continuing to dwindle and he was requiring large amounts of time to be cared for. He needed to be kept in a crate for safety and to facilitate my ability to care for my house. He had to be hand fed and hand watered. His arthritis was increasingly more debilitating, his eyesight was much diminished. The Cushing’s left him little defenses against the merciless heat when he was carried outside. It had become necessary to monitor closely his few moments outdoors to keep him safe. He could trip, fall over and not get back up.
With each passing day it became evident that his days he was getting weaker, but yet he continued to wake up each day ready to eat and endure. Furthermore it seemed that he could continue despite his blindness, find me inside the house on the rare occasions he could be loose and he seemed to relish those special moments in his bed at my feet in the computer room. Likewise he enjoyed the precious moments I gave him in my lap to nap after eating. So it was hard to think about euthanizing him when he fought so very hard to live each day.
This was not lost on me and my psyche either. My husband was a fighter too. He had gone into a much unexpected remission and we set about living every moment to its fullest. It was a miracle and his story coupled with mine and my coach Dane Boyle led to the formation of Dane Boyle Fitness where we teach the importance of living your dreams. Without health and fitness nothing else really matters. Our unique approach of life coaching allows our clients to learn life skills of healthy living as a daily life style change you can control to live your dreams.
So I am a fighter of life, for life, for dreams. That is my calling and my purpose. How can I end this little guys life while he can still eat, drink, walk (even if he did stumble and fall) and pee and poop? Just give him a chance to live his life right? Then the seizures started. And with each one he struggled to get back to the basics of life.
I did not want to be the one to take his life. Please God, don’t put that on me. It hurts too much. Please!
Finally my fear of losing or forgetting him in the yard or in the house overcame me and I took baby steps to the inevitable. I gave him a few days to recover, with little change. Then I called to make an appointment to “just talk” about my options with euthanasia as defiantly one I wanted to understand.
So the talk would come 4 days later. Maybe things would change. Please just get a little stronger. Maybe just maybe. No, not really.
I was taken to an exam room and Milo was given a nice fluffy towel to sit on. The doors were closed and the talk began. I explained my dilemma to the vet. He can still eat, drink and pee and poop right? Doesn’t he deserve to live? Isn’t it my duty? I never had to do this before. All my other dogs found death in other ways. What is the right thing to do? How can I live with this awful decision? I kept thinking he would die on his own.
The vet told me that Milo was a dachshund and there is no more stubborn dog in the entire world. “No mom, you are going to have to make the decision on your own”
Then she asked me to ponder 3 things that I could remember about Milo that made me know he was a happy dog, that is before the ravages of age and disease had taken over. She stipulated that eating, drinking, peeing, pooping were not part of the picture. Those are all natural body functions that will carry on whether there is enjoyment of life or not.
I began to remember him out in the yard running, and sniffing after the varmints that had made visit when he was not looking. I thought of him eating the figs one by one as they fell to the ground and I remembered him sharing his love with my neighbor through the fence. I did not speak these out loud but I remember grunting “hum, hum” and after a moment the vet asked, “Can he do any of those things now?” I answered “no”
Then she asked me if I could remember 3 things that Milo did that I enjoyed him for. And again pondering it came to me how he could sit up on his little butt and beg for a cookie and make us laugh. I could remember him poking us with his nose under the table like a drill bit when he wanted table scrapes and handouts. There is nothing more joyous than a dachshund when you come home and he loved riding shotgun on the console of the Yukon between my husband and I on long trips. And again the vet asked “Can he do any of those now?” and again I answered no.
Then she gave me her professional opinion. That it was time to let him go. None of his ills could be fixed; none would ever get any better. He was only going to become more and more fragile. The summer heat was going to be brutal and that I could wind up losing him in a very painful way.
I took a deep breath and asked her to explain the procedure of putting him to sleep. When I understood the steps of that procedure then I agreed we would give him some rest. Up to this point we had taken a very slow approach, the baby steps of understand and graciously the vet and her assistant allowed me time to process each part of the discussion.
They took him to the back and put in the catheter. The receptionist came in with the permission forms and a bottle of water…saying sometimes this helps. She also took my payment then so that it would be over when it was over.
Then they brought Milo back and put him in my arms and let me have a few minutes alone for one last visit. The vet came back in and had the two shots and asked me if I was ready, and I said yes. So first they gave him a light sedation medicine that allowed him to completely relax. It was quick acting and he became soft and supple and he lay down gently on the towel. He was still conscious, but totally relaxed. I was amazed at how it made me feel. It was like I had given him a wonderful treat and he was going to lay like an old hound dog after getting his belly full and take a nap. He was not rigid or stiff for the first time in a very long time. It was healing for me and my heart to see and feel him so at ease. I stroked him as did the vet and we said sweet things to him for a few moments. It was good, it was therapeutic.
After a few moments of sweet caress and reassurance she asked if I was ready for the second shot. I knew that one would stop his heart. But I was so relieved to see him at peace and not bent and struggling to walk, eat and drink and no horrible seizure, that along with the baby steps I was comfortable to proceed. I had no right to back out now, Milo needed me to see what could be and I understood I could not bring him back to the misery he had been living thru. Quietly now, only slightly above a whisper I said… yes. And she pushed in the plunger of meds that would bring him full and complete rest. In only seconds she put the stethoscope to his chest and said simply, he’s gone.
I was relieved and calm. I breathed deep and full. I found confidence and solace that I had given my little buddy peace. They had offered me to wait in the lobby and then just bring him out to me. I had refused saying I had been there for him every step of the way for 16 years and I could see him through this life event too. Oh how glad I was there for him. It was hard but unexpectedly comforting.
So how does this relate to my journey of grief? I am not sure I am finished relating it yet. But for sure Larry and I had fought so hard for every breath of life, love and dreams through an evil disease to live every moment and you are just never ready to give up on the one you love. And there is goodness in letting the life process play out. Even that is instructive and worth the moments of heartache, for it will in time put perspective on the path you travel.
You see it felt like me giving up on Milo was like being forced to give up on Larry all over to me again. I know now that is why that decision was so hard. I had prayed for months that somehow Larry would come get Milo in the middle of the night and take him across to be with him. But my having to approach the decision in baby steps allowed me to process again the steps to the human life and death process. Hard, yes. But it has shed new light on the darker corners of the journey no one wants to travel and given me a gentler thought process to better acceptance.
My life is still a journey. I will face other tough decisions. I will get better at handling them as I continue to be lonely in the process. But I have travelled a few more hills and curves on my very long path. Someday I will earn my rest and I know what that looks like now and I shall fear it less and accept better the peace our loved ones have found before us.
I chose to share this with others knowing that the journey of grief is a very difficult one and we all have to face it someday. I cannot allow it to consume me now or keep me from my purpose or my delayed dreams. I have a calling and just one part of that is processing and helping others with this journey.
As a girl I dreamed of being a Recreation Specialist. Life got in the way. But now I have a chance to live that dream by bringing fitness and play together. There is joy along my path as well and I shall help others see that you survive the rough times to find joy in movement and fun in the activities that feed your dreams. We used to call that recreation and I have a passion to deliver that into people’s lives.
If your lost in the strangle hold of grief I pray this little story moves you a step closer to finding understanding, a little peace, and some joy again. It’s out there waiting for you. Things will not ever be the same but there is a time for life and a time for death. If you are reading this let’s see if you can find life with meaning for now. Learn to play again and find those dreams that made you engage life.
Mary Shahan, Ambassador of Dreams, Dane Boyle Fitness