Every Ray of Sunshine

Dear Friends,

My vet says that big dogs are stoic, and my 75-lb dog Leo is evidence of that. On a recent short hike, he bounded over hills and rocks, giving us no indication whatsoever that he was exerting himself past his limits. Only a day later, when he whimpered slightly going up the back porch steps – a rare indication of pain for him – did we realize that our big guy pushed himself too far on the trail.

So, now it’s Prednisone and rest for him . . . and a lot of mommy guilt for me.

“Don’t beat yourself up about this,” Leo’s doctor assured me. “It sounds like he was having a ball.” It’s true – he was. He seemed to be actually smiling as he navigated the path on that sunny fall afternoon, looking over his shoulder periodically to make sure Gail and I were right behind him. It seemed as though he wanted to drink in every ray of happiness.

My vet’s comment got me thinking: what is the better life for my dog . . . for any of us? Leo will be 14 years old this spring and has survived cancer – a long life, to be sure, and one that he still wants to enjoy whenever he can. Don’t most of us want that? And, yet, when suffering starts to creep in . . . the decline of body or mind . . . what happens then? What are the right decisions to make?

This past weekend, a young woman made a huge and difficult decision that seemed to me to be about wanting to live fully to the end. At age 29, Brittany Maynard ended her life after a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. Young, beautiful and happily married, she elected to die with dignity rather than endure her own and her family’s suffering. To make sure she could do it her way, she and her husband moved from California to Oregon where she could legally take the action she desired.

The right-to-die discussion is, of course, hugely controversial. Maynard’s decision has sparked debates on both sides of the matter, and advocates predict more legislative action on this issue next year. I know my own stand on this issue is one that respects the right of the individual to decide what’s best. How can I know how much suffering another should bear? With thoughtful consideration using the data my brain has collected and the wisdom my spirit has obtained, shouldn’t I be trusted to make a loving decision for myself and those I care about?

As I look this morning at a photo of Brittany and her husband Dan taken a few weeks ago . . . standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon on a sunny fall afternoon . . . smiling with warm sunlight on their faces . . . I can’t help but think that she was eager to drink in every ray of happiness.

I, for one, am amazed and deeply moved that she did.