Live every day as if it were your last

For the most part, my beautiful white dog, Phoebe, is carefree and happy. She chases her toy when we throw it, and dances about excitedly when she hears the word “walk.”

She waits patiently until treats are offered but pushes her dog dish out into the centre of the room if we forget to refill it.

Hers is a simple life and a joyous one with all of her needs taken care of and lots of people to love her.

She is gentle and kind and self-determining, with just enough shepherd in her to make her a good care-taker of her family–and enough Arctic dog to give her a streak of independence.

But last week it was the shepherd in Phoebe that got hurt when her most-loved person packed her suitcases and went away in the car.

Phoebe knows all about suitcases and cars and people who leave, never to return. It’s happened to her before and, deep inside, she seems to fear it will happen again.

That’s why I cried last week at Phoebe’s sadness. First, she roamed through the garden and then went from room to room in the house. Checking the office and then the living room. The kitchen, the piano room, the garden shed, and the photographic darkroom.

But saddest of all was the bedroom because by then, Phoebe knew that the one she was looking for was really gone. First she put her nose on the top of the bed and rubbed it gently. Then she rubbed her body back and forth on the side of the bed, all the time wagging her tail, as if to say “this is a nice person that sleeps in this bed.”

Tears welling in my eyes, I wanted so much to explain to the sad, vulnerable little dog that she needn’t be grieving because the trip would be short and one day soon the suitcases would be unpacked.

But then even as I hugged her close, I realized I wasn’t weeping for Phoebe at all but for myself and my own humanity. And in that poignant moment, I remembered all the heart-rending grief of a lifetime.

A cousin killed too young in a horrible accident. The grandmother I loved gone in a flash when no one expected it. The kindest father in the world leaving me even as I stood by his bedside. The mother I was sure I couldn’t do without slipping gradually away.

But almost worse than the memory of such grief is the certain knowledge that one day it will happen again. Mortality is a difficult thing to face. And yet, in an ironic twist, it is only in coming to terms with the shortness of life that we can truly find purpose and meaning.

If you have a thousand days, it doesn’t matter so much how you spend this one day. But if this one day could just possibly be your last day or the last day for someone you love, it puts an entirely different slant on things.

So take this day. Embrace it. Live it as though it were the only day you could ever hope to have. Laugh and smile and talk and love. Dance and walk and swim and sing. Work with joy.

Acknowledge your grief but don’t give in to it. Experience today’s joy fully and no matter what happens in the future, you’ll always be able to treasure this one day.

Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.