How do we age gracefully? Perhaps we need to look at our pets to get the answer. We own Abigail, a 14-year-old cocker spaniel pictured above. Abigail has always been a trip whose adolescence caused us consternation. As a young dog, she disdained pleasing us. Everything was for Number One – refusing to be locked up; dashing out the side door and into the wide, wide world to chase cats; and reminding us with deliberate mishaps if we failed to cater to her every need. Her playfulness was delightful, but woe to any visitor who refused to pick up a wet tennis ball and toss it for her to retrieve. She climbed to the back of the couch to drape herself around the neck of one reluctant visitor. For another, she deposited the ball and two paws directly upon the book the visitor was reading.
Now she is old. She has entered the Shakespearean late stages of life. Her brown coat is stylishly highlighted with gray. She walks slowly, and we hope her occasional groans are out of contentment rather than arthritis. She remains playful but for shorter periods. We have discovered an irresistible delicacy, Milo’s Homestyle Dog Treats, that motivates her to do whatever we wish.
Go with the Flow and Be Content
So what can we learn from Abigail and the aging process? First, go with the flow. Adapt to every situation without whining and complaining. View diverse intruders such as the pest control man and the cleaning lady as friends to be gently cajoled into play. There is much fun to be had from them. Why waste it by barking or complaining about them? Change in life is a fact even as we age, and we must embrace new friends, new technologies, and even new living spaces.
Be content with your lot. For long naps, choose the recliner rather than the sofa when arthritis makes it more accessible. Approach each day as a gift from God – a joy to be shared with your human masters (or servants, if you are a cat owner). For humans, relinquish your previous role in the workforce and enjoy a more relaxed life. Enjoy relationships and forget lofty ambitions such as catching metaphorical squirrels and cats. Realize that for most of us, our work careers must come to an end. For Boomers, give your job away to more talented Millennials who resent your dogging the best jobs and highest incomes. Re-read Philippians with such verses as 4:12, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Increase Family Time and Accept Limitations
Devote more time to family. For Abigail, this means long naps on the sofa with Mom and a set of activities in the early morning with Dad. Family cares about you – enough to give you a doggy “breakfast in bed” with a small piece of cheese every morning. Shore up flagging relationships with family members. Folks at work value you for your productivity, your job skills, and your managerial ability. With rare exception, they don’t really care about you. Your family appreciates you because you have loved them unconditionally, and hopefully they care enough to treasure you as you age.
Accept your limitations. Sometimes this can even be advantageous. For Abigail, some loss of hearing makes New Year’s and July 4’s fireworks more bearable. Rather than barking with every explosion, enjoy cuddling with Mom and skipping those sedating medications. Fear less and love more. For us, try to ignore the noisy 24-hour news cycle and focus on more meaningful things. Get the best medical care possible, but don’t try to live forever, at least here on earth. May the memories that others retain of you be as cherished as the memories of our old pets. Most old dogs are truly saints; may the same be said for us.