The Oliver Project

Monday, January 21st, 2013 by

Back in October of 2012, our family dog, Oliver, was diagnosed with lymphoma.  The vet gave him one month to live.  Of course, we were hit hard- we had gotten Oliver through NorCal Golden Retriever Rescue… his previous owner had been a victim of foreclosure, and, for reasons I don’t understand, had left town… and left Oliver chained up in the yard.

OllieWhen he came into our lives, Oliver was about 8 or 9 years old (nobody is really sure- it was an estimate from the vet), and he stole our hearts straightaway.  Good-natured and loyal, he loved the attention lavished upon him, and with stoic grace, he bore the slings and arrows of a newborn, and then a toddler, running amok in the house as well.

So… back to the lymphoma.  At 14 or 15 (whichever estimate is correct), Oliver had had a long and happy life.  As the one month stretched into two… then three, and four, we felt blessed to have him around for whatever time we got.  The steroid medication seemed to be keeping the cancer at bay, and then, two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened.  He got out of the front door which was carelessly left open (we live on a busy street), and wandered between two parked cars and was hit by a pickup that didn’t have time to react after he darted in front if it.

A trip to the emergency pet hospital proved futile… somehow Oliver had escaped all injury (“He’ll be a little sore, sure, but no broken bones or internal bleeding” the kind vet added).  The next day, at our regular vet, she commented, “Oh I heard he decided to commit suicide” (dark humor- not what you usually expect from your kindly country veterinarian).

Up through Saturday, Oliver was play fighting with our cat (Chairman Meow), and chasing squirrels in the backyard.

Then on Sunday, suddenly, his demeanor had changed.  He wouldn’t eat.  Didn’t want to move much.  It was an effort to get him to swallow his pain pills (from the accident).   His legs grew wobbly, and he started drooling.

At about 9:30 p.m., as we were watching highlights from the day’s football games on the couch (just me and Oliver), he began to breathe harder.  And, then, just as suddenly, his body tensed… and then he slumped over.  Oliver was gone.

Now, I’ve never been with anyone, or any living thing (save a bug or two or one hundred when I was younger), who has died in my presence – until Oliver.

And here is the upshot of this post… until you have had this experience, it probably never hits you – how precious life is.  Or, as the musician Sting puts it… how fragile we are.

And, as cliche as it may seem, you realize that we are all in this tenuous game called life- and it could all end at any moment, without any warning.

So, like my mentor Dale Calvert often said, the question is- will you die with your music still inside you?

Each day is a gift – that is why we call it the present (thank you, Mary Kay Ash).  Like I always tell my kids each morning… this is the first day of the rest of your life… make it count.

I’m starting my own “Oliver Project”.  I’m consciously living each day from here forward as an expression of the joy and gifts I have to give.

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