On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Larry, Ace, and I went for a thirty minute walk in the woods near our home. Ace was so happy as he trotted along. He’d fall behind as he stopped every thirty seconds to smell every rock and blade of grass and then hurry to catch up. We all loved our time together.
Five days later, Ace was lucky to walk to the end of the road. Ten days later, he was gone. A tumor the size of a golf ball had taken up residence in my dog’s liver. Hemangiosarcoma was the vet’s opinion. They couldn’t be sure without a biopsy, but that would involve digging into Ace’s thirteen-and-a-half-year-old body. We chose to believe her expert opinion and put him on comfort care.
Still, he wasn’t supposed to go that fast. She gave us six months tops, but cautioned us, it could be any time. We hoped “any time” would be six months. Ten days from the diagnosis, he developed pancreatitis, and at three-thirty on a dark, cold, and drizzly morning, we drove him to the emergency vet (thank goodness there is one), where we released him into his next life. If you would’ve told me ten days prior, on that lovely Sunday afternoon, that I would be holding my dog’s head in my lap in the middle of the night while an unfamiliar vet eased him out of the world, I would’ve scoffed.
It was our last walk in the woods, and we didn’t even know it.
Our last walks come in many different varieties, and they can sneak up on us. Baby’s last tooth. One minute, the wee one is crying because their teeth are poking through tender gums. Turn around and before you know it, you’re explaining the tooth fairy. There are other last walks. There’s the last day of school. Last child out of the house. Last day with your high school best friend. Last walk in the woods.
I can’t tell if I would’ve preferred to know that Sunday afternoon was our last walk in the woods. I just don’t know. But here’s the thing. We never really know when it’s going to be our last walk in the woods. So, the trick is to try to enjoy every walk in the woods—even the muddy, cold, wet, long walks—or maybe especially the muddy, cold, wet, long walks, because it just might be your last, or your friend’s last, or your dog’s last.
I love those last few precious moments with Ace. I loved them the minute they were happening. I cherish their memory now. Because one of the most profound lessons Ace offered me was the reality that whether I’m slogging through mud, sitting in autumn leaves, or strolling through dappled sunshine, living in that moment is the best walk of all.