“Good morning, Grendel!”
When my hubby Matt lifts my Bichon Frisé pup Grendel up on the bed first thing in the morning, she’s so excited she can hardly contain herself. Although she’s eight years old, she thinks she’s still a puppy, and she wags and bounces and barks and creates such a frenzy that nobody who might still be sleeping can stay asleep.
This morning was no different, except that this time, when Grendel bounded onto the bed she was so excited she flipped herself right off the end of our quite tall bed. I leapt to her rescue, throwing out my arms, trying to catch her, but I was one second too late.
She landed smack dab on the back of her neck, hyper-extended her neck all the way back and started shaking. She didn’t utter even a whimper, even though I know it must have hurt. Her silence terrified me.
“Is there a doggie 911? CALL IT!”
Jumping on the ground, I sat next to Grendel, who was silent, not making a peep, and hanging out in an awkward, twisted angle, immobile. I started sobbing as Matt came running over, looking to my doctor self, saying “Is she okay? Is she okay?”
I cried, “NO! She’s not okay!” and kept crying, while my heart pounded faster than it had ever pounded since Matt once cut two fingers off his left hand with a table saw (that’s a whole other story for another blog post.)
Holding Grendel in my arms, trying not to move her neck, wishing I had a C collar and a backboard to strap her to, I rocked her, thinking, “Well, if my beloved dog is going to die right now in front of me, I want her to die feeling loved.” She looked up into my eyes, and I thought, for a second, I saw the lights come on in her eyes.
In a blink, the thought of losing her flashed through my eyes. How would I tell my daughter? Oh my God, what if this had been Siena? What if Matt was hit by a car? What if my mother got cancer? What if the Big One hits San Francisco and I lose everybody I love?
The words flashing through my mind in bright shiny lights were, “LIFE IS JUST TOO DANGEROUS. YOU HAVE TOO MUCH TO LOSE. YOU SHOULDN’T LET YOURSELF LOVE SO HARD.”
And before I could control my thoughts, I was in a full tailspin, feeling those doors of my heart, the ones that pretty much live wide open, squeaking closed the tiniest bit the way I wrote about here, because this just hurts too much.
Then I pulled myself together. I know from researching my book Mind Over Medicine that when a body—I’m sure it’s the same for doggie bodies—is sick, the emotions you feel have everything to do with whether you’ll recover. When it comes to illness or injury, FEAR = EVIL.
FAITH + LOVE + COMFORT = HEALING.
I had to create a sense of calm for my dog. I couldn’t let her feel afraid.
In that instant, I took a breath, remembering the poem Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen had shared with our group of MDs last week—I think she said it was by Waz Thomas—and I’ll probably butcher it, but it was something like, “Within every tempest there lies a hole, like a navel, through which a gull can fly in silence.”
Grendel and I were in the tempest, and I was desperately looking for the navel, that still point amidst the maelstrom, and suddenly, I found it—God, thy will be done. And then total surrender. Whatever happens is for the highest good. But please, oh please, don’t let Grendel suffer.
And then I looked down and my motionless, silent dog was wagging her tail. Wagging her tail. If you broke your neck, you can’t wag your tail! My heart leaped!
Remembering my research, I realized that poor Grendel’s body, in this moment, was in full on fight-or-flight stress response. Cortisol spiking. Adrenaline pumping. Heart rate up, just like mine. Blood pressure elevated. Her body thinks she’s being chased by a lion—and in some ways she is, but when the body is in a stress state, it can’t repair itself.
I had to help Grendel induce what scientists call the “relaxation response.” I closed my eyes and visualized Grendel in a bubble of healing light. I sent light energy from my heart to hers. I petted her body and started massaging her muscles. I told her I loved her. I looked into her scared eyes with my hand on her heart. My spirit saw her spirit.
And then I lifted her off the ground, placed her on the bed as gently as I could, and then the impossible happened.
Grendel got up and walked over to her favorite pillow, where she curled up in a little ball, looking pitiful and wounded, and wagged her tail some more while she rolled over on her back and gave me her belly to pet.
I wept as I held her in my arms and whispered prayers of gratitude.
Throughout the day, friends, healers, and followers on Facebook and Twitter prayed and sent Grendel Reiki and healing juju. Siena drew her pictures and wrote her a note saying, “I love you, Grendel, and hope you can heal yourself.” With her two best friends, Siena spent hours sitting beside Grendel, as she perched on the throne of my Tempurpedic pillow, covered with Siena’s “Old Pinky,” her favorite baby blanket.
I can only imagine that all this love is filling Grendel’s body with oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone”) dopamine (the pleasure hormone), endorphins (nature’s morphine), nitric oxide, serotonin, and all kinds of other hormones that fight stress-response hormones and let her puppy parasympathetic nervous system take back over, because only in a state of physiologic rest can her body heal itself from a puppy concussion and some very sore muscles.
Her vet assures me there’s nothing else to do other than observe her. She has been very subdued all day. Definitely not her normal wiggly self. But tonight, after a full day in bed without food or much desire to move, when she ran down the stairs and started barking at the mailman, ate a bowlful of dog food, and got up on her hind legs to do the puppy dance because her Auntie Denise came over to see her, my heart felt lighter.
Permission To Break My Heart
And in that lightness of heart, I reminded myself that I have given Grendel permission to break my heart, just like I’ve given it to so many other people I love. And that yes, life is dangerous, love is scary, and there’s oh so much to lose.
And yet, what’s the alternative? Building iron walls nobody can get through? Defending yourself like a fortress against love? Making yourself numb so it doesn’t hurt if your puppy dies in a freak excited-morning-ritual bed accident? Missing out on the overflowing buoyancy of bubbling joy and heart-opening experience of intimacy, connection, and unconditional love?
Nope. Not for me, thank you very much.
Instead, I’m gonna snuggle up with my pup, thank God that she seems to be okay in this moment, trust that all will be as it should, and appreciate her right here, right now, because I never know when I might lose her (or Siena, or Matt, or anyone else I love).
What About You?
Are willing to live dangerously and let yourself love fully, even when love—and the world—is so unsafe?
Tell me what you think.
Counting my blessings and loving every face lick,