This Sept 16th would have been Revan’s 8th birthday. Our family dog, Revan, and I shared a birthday for years, so it’s bittersweet to be preparing for a birthday without him just over a month since he lost his 5-month fight with terminal cancer (T-cell Mediastinal Lymphoma). What started just 24-hours prior to our COVID-19 quarantine shaped how our family experienced this pandemic and gave us valuable life lessons we’ll keep long after his departure as well as this pandemic itself.
Lesson 1: Approach Every Day Like It Could Be Your Last
Within a week of learning our dog’s odd cough was actually an aggressive and terminal cancer, we took time as a family to come to terms with the fact that our timeline was days at worst and 4-6 months at best. Despite a pandemic which put multiple aspects of our life on hold, we didn’t feel we could put things Revan enjoyed on hold, so we stopped saying “No” and got creative instead. Want to linger outside for a few more minutes to lay in the sun? Sure. My work laptop is portable or that videogame can wait. Want to play tug-o-war right before bedtime? Sure. There’s no reason to wait until the morning and the workout is probably good for both of us. Want to get up on the couch after I just cleaned it? Well, that is what couches are for. Want to hang out in the forbidden kitchen? Why not? We can make the kitchen safe even while we’re cooking and maybe a slice or two of bacon will help that reduced appetite.
Lesson 2: Enjoy the Little Things
Whether it was a rough chemo week or the transition to hospice when his cancer stopped responding to treatment, we were in awe of everything he did enjoy regardless of how much he struggled. For the first few months, those long weekend walks just weren’t possible, but sitting on the porch was a great way to enjoy being outside and seeing everyone as they walked along our street. When he was too tired to play tug-o-war, he broke so many squeakers on toys while laying down that my 12-year-old son ran and got his donation stuffed animals just to give Revan something new to chew (squeakers not included). Even when he was too tired to walk but still excited when someone accidentally said (versus spelled) the word, he found joy in just walking from the back porch around the house to the front porch, especially if our neighborhood cat, Gigi, was in sight. We all found ourselves enjoying each moment he did instead of grieving what he couldn’t do any longer.
Lesson 3: Live in the Present
Everything in our life slowed down amidst the collectively worldwide Groundhog Day, and yet, we learned to love these long days at home. What’s more, we learned that taking breaks helped us break away when we found ourselves hyperfocusing on one thing or another. My son who has been glued to multi-player games as a way to connect with his friends still peeled away several times a day for an hour to just “hang out” with Revan on the porch, on the couch, any where. I started to finally take lunch breaks to hang out on the porch so we could just sit and relax. And finally, my husband would take breaks from writing at night when Revan nudged his elbow to ask for a Nutter Butter break.
Lesson 4: Explore
One of the first things we did after coming to terms with the news was to make a Bucket List of things Revan loved or hadn’t tried. We included the usual chasing squirrels at the park, picking out treats at Pet Supplies Plus, getting Puppuccinos from Starbucks, and even a new first – going to the beach. During a pandemic, most were easy if not ideal for getting out of the house every weekend, but the beach required some creativity and planning.
We’re fortunate to be just a few hours from Galveston, so we planned a quick weekday getaway to a rental house near the beach to let Revan (and his little sister, Dany) experience sand and salt water for the first time. This dog that could hardly walk around the house suddenly wanted to walk along the beach and smell everything. Although the water tasted horrible and this moving water beneath his feet made him nervous, he figured out that standing in the shallow end wasn’t bad. Most of all he relished in the breeze and loved watching the people (and dogs). He enjoyed it so much that we took to driving around slowly (with blinkers) across the island with the windows down and explored the entire island those few days.
When we returned to Dallas, we explored the lake near our house and anywhere in those final days that might trigger his new adventurous sense of smell.
Lesson 5: Connect
Revan had been abused by the time we adopted him at just 10 weeks old and had spent most of his puppy years terrified of everything when a woman wasn’t around until we adopted his baby sister (aka his therapy dog). Despite this traumatic start, Revan spent most of his life known for being friendly to everyone: people, dogs, cats, you name it. He had this howl that was so distinct that the “ladies” from his oncology team called him “woo-woo” because he howled and wagged his tail during each week’s outside pick-up before going inside for his treatment. During a pandemic driving us to physically distancing ourselves, he became known on our street for woo-wooing at people and dogs from the porch as they walked along either side of our corner lot. He had a way of connecting with everyone regardless of their previous experience with dogs and becoming their friend.
Today, Revan sits in his favorite spot of the house where he once spent hours resting his head on the window sill to woo-woo from inside. As Buddhists, we hope Revan moves on to become the friendliest person whose next live will touch and inspire others. For now, we hope the memory of his past life continues to make us better people for years to come.
September 16, 2012 – August 6, 2020