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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: