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I was about to lead a teleclass in two minutes, when the phone rang.

I could tell by the tone of his voice that something awful had happened.

His name was Dan. He asked if we had a puppy named Bezoar, and after confirming that we did, his voice broke when he confessed that he had just accidentally killed her with his car. He was sitting by the side of the road right behind my house, holding her, waiting for me to come get her.

I bailed on the teleclass, and, heart racing and body shaking, dashed out to Highway 1 to wrap my arms around the 6-month-old puppy who just joined the family in July, shortly after our beloved Grendel died prematurely in June.

The Loss

Petting her still warm head, I could feel the skull fracture beneath my hands as I embraced her limp body. It had been quick and painless, but that didn’t ease the suffering in my heart, especially as I imagined telling my 6-year-old daughter the news.

Crumpled on the side of the road with my puppy in my arms, I flashed back to when Grendel died, and Siena and I had talked about getting another dog. I told Siena that if we got a puppy, we would have to be willing to give the puppy permission to break our hearts as deeply as Grendel did, knowing that we would surely outlive the puppy. But this time, I reassured her, we expected the puppy to live at least 10-15 years. I told her she’d probably be in college by the time our hearts got broken again, but I warned her that we can’t ever know, that heartbreak is unpredictable, and we must be willing to keep our hearts open, even as we risk breaking them.

Through 6-year old tears, Siena agreed to give the new puppy permission to break her heart. I did too. We decided the joy was worth it. And it was.

The Joy

For six months, we relished in puppyness – the ridiculous cuteness, the snuggles, the feisty fierce doggie growls, the nipping bites, the chewed up art supplies under the dining room table, the shoes that became chew toys, the stains on the carpet, the ornaments she knocked off the tree and broke, how she had become a girl’s best hiking companion – the whole enchilada. Our iPhones are full of photos of Bezoar’s spirited young life, and Siena’s art journals are full of drawings of her.

And now she’s gone, and once again, our hearts are broken.

To Leash, Or Not To Leash?

Given that Bezoar was outside in our unfenced expanse of backyard, which lies at the end of a long, car-free private driveway that comes off a dead end cul de sac of a sleepy beach town’s road, I can’t help wondering whether this is somehow my fault and whether Bezoar’s death might have been prevented. Our property backs up to California’s famously scenic and windy 2 lane Highway 1, but it’s down a ravine. You can’t even see it from our yard. It never in a million years occurred to me that the animals or children could get down to the potentially dangerous highway. I thought the backyard was safe.

But you could argue that we should have kept Bezoar on a leash – and for a while, we did. Because she was a puppy, we worried that she would wander off and get lost, traipse around and get hurt, or otherwise put herself in danger. But she hated that purple leather leash. It was evident from the beginning that, like Grendel, she was a country dog, jonesing to explore along with the fox, the deer, and the wild turkeys that roam our backyard. She yanked on the leash and howled until we decided to take the risk and let her have adventures.

And now this…

Is Freedom Worth It?

Two minutes before the phone rang, I heard Bezoar barking in the backyard. And then, just like that, she was gone. Part of me can’t help thinking, “What if I had just insisted she stay inside today?” just like I’m sure the parents of the Sandy Hook children fantasize about what would have happened had they kept their kids home from school last week.

But that kind of thinking doesn’t serve anyone. As I said in this post, there’s no point looking back with the “retrospectoscope.” And as I look forward and think about how to prevent future heartbreak, I notice the tendency I feel to protect my child, my dog, my marriage, my mother and siblings, my heart, and pretty much everything else I hold dear.

Protection Vs. Freedom

Yet, to “protect” really means to limit freedom, to hold them on a tight leash, to restrict adventure, to cling to what matters in an attempt not to lose what I love. I could keep my dog on a leash. I could forbid my child from straying out into the backyard wilderness with her two BFFs. I could get so frightened about school shootings that I home school Siena. I could insist that my husband not get too close to other women for fear I might lose him.  I could guard my professional ideas for fear of having others steal them. I could stop traveling because it’s just too risky.

But that’s no way to live.

I can choose fear, or I can choose to set free what I love, knowing that clinging to it not only restricts joy for those I love, but ultimately fails to keep them safe – because life is risky, and as we learned with Sandy Hook, danger is unpredictable.

It’s A Fine Balance

As a parent and dog-owner, it’s my job to keep my child and dog safe. I’ll never be reckless with such an important responsibility. When my daughter unexpectedly ventured off on her Grand Adventure, my hubby and I went trotting after her – and clearly set boundaries around how far she was allowed to venture in the future. Today, when Bezoar died, we told Siena that, like her, Bezoar had gone on a Grand Adventure – and we celebrated her bravery. But we also warned Siena about how risky Grand Adventures can be when you’re young like she and Bezoar are. We also warned her how dangerous it would be to ever wander onto Highway 1 or any other busy road.

While we long to keep Siena safe, Matt and I resist frightening her into losing her sense of adventure.

Loving With A Long Leash

As I was hiking in my beloved Muir Woods with a heavy heart today, I found myself marinating on the idea of unleashing not just my dog, but all that I love in my life.  When you’re grieving, especially in an instance like this, when you have no warning and things go from awesome to awful in 30 seconds flat, it’s so tempting to either close down your heart or grasp, panicking, to that which you love.

Yet, I don’t want to live my life that way, riddled with fear and clinging to what I can’t keep safe, even if I try. We all long to roam free and enjoy adventures.  We need to push the edges of our boundaries in order to discover how much risk we’re willing to take in our quest to feel fully, radically alive. Taking chances can be dangerous. Mistakes get made. People get hurt. Hearts get broken. Lives get lost.

But I believe it’s worth it to live an unleashed life – even today, in the wake of this loss that might have been prevented.

How Long Is Your Leash?

Do you cling tight? Do you let those you love take risks? Do you let fear or love rule your decisions? Can you trust enough to unleash what you love? Do you take risks yourself?

With a broken but still open heart,

 

P.S. My latest TEDx talk – Is There Scientific Proof We Can Heal Ourselves? went up on YouTube today. (Watch it here and please spread it!) It previews some of the data from Mind Over Medicine, and I hope you’ll find it not only shockingly eye-opening, but also a force for healing.

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26 Comments

  1. Bonnie Kissinger

    As a mother of three boys and an avid dog lover and owner, my heart hurts with you. I’ve recently had to end a relationship with my girl dog. And it broke my heart. Then waited, and found my next dog partner, open to the love and pain of the relationship.

    Today I was watching my 8 year old do a station bathroom visit by himself. It was a good setup. I was watchful as a hawk and must admit my heart rate went up. I saw his freedom. His learning. I felt my “close to panic” and strong mother bear concern. Sad, anxious , fearful and proud that I’m at the point where I have to give him more freedom. Stowing the fear of the risks.

    Great blog!
    Bonnie K, Wichita ks

    Reply
  2. Emily Smith

    I am sorry for the loss of your sweet puppy! We only very rarely let our dog off-leash in our yard and only then when we are outside to monitor her, even though we are far from the road. I would recommend you fence off part of your yard before you get another pet. Dogs are naturally curious, and they need some freedom to run around as well, but an unfenced yard without diligent supervision is an accident waiting to happen. There’s a difference between risks that you grow from — like changing careers or traveling, for instance — and a risk like a losing a beloved pet in an unfenced yard. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    Reply
  3. Tamara Gerlach

    When you choose freedom, you always win.
    Freedom is fueled by compassion and control by fear. Thank you for being such a beautiful role model of clearly living a life of freedom to love, expand, and experience this life without fear.
    I love how you are teaching Siena how to keep her heart open…even when it hurts. We live on a ranch just south of you with “unleashed” animals (I even let our boa constrictor have the run of the house), sometimes that means we lose them, but they lived happy, free lives, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
    Sending you loving, healing energy <3

    Reply
  4. Maureen L.

    I rarely comment on blogs, but I cannot resist sharing my response with you.
    Reading your stories about “permission to break your heart” has been so heart breaking and “heart-slightly-cracking-open” for me. I cannot believe the skill with which you manage and voice that raw dance we humans experience in this world, with nature and life. There can arise in some of us a tendency to micro-manage it all. If only we had mothers like you, who take on the role of explaining the unexplainable and speaking the unspeakable in a way that soothes the soul and leaves the heart open.
    I grew up on a farm and experienced many harsh realities of nature and life; that, plus subsequent life experience, has made my heart pretty defended. Yet the reaction I feel to your words gives me great hope. I just needed to hear it in
    a way that resonated with me.

    My heart goes out to you and your family for your loss of your precious puppy.

    Take care,
    Maureen

    Reply
  5. Jane Lee Logan

    Tears streamed readily as I read your post. I was just meditating, feeling a well of sadness begging for release but it remained tightly corked. I took a very big risk in the name of love by letting someone back into my life some months ago that turned out very badly, leaving me feeling deeply confounded and betrayed in a way I have never experienced before. While reading your post today I felt the sense of deep regret for having trusted in this person lifting, bringing me back to where I feel much more at home. I feel the first glimmers returning of what I know deeply–that loving is always the best choice even when the end result does not seem to be what we hoped. I could feel my heart, my wounded little heart, starting to open again. I am deeply grateful to you for sharing this with us, and am grateful to little Bezoar for continuing to be a beautiful lesson in love for us all. His love clearly has extended beyond the boundaries of his earthly yard and touched and opened my heart today, as well as many others I’m sure.

    I too am a great lover of dogs; they touch me deeply in ways that astound me at times and I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Thank you though for making this loss a blessing in my life today…truly.

    Jane

    Reply
  6. lizilynx

    My heart is breaking, too, knowing the loss you are feeling…this is such familiar territory…including all of the tags you added. I recently heard Tony Robbins say, “The amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with..” is where your risk is for you. But life is always changing, so I think perhaps the amount of uncertainty we can comfortably live with changes as well. It was a point of inquiry for me that I thought I’d pass along. I Loved your blog…you covered all of the bases! How else can we live in unfettered Love with our Hearts open fully to what life offers us – the good with the bad. They’re all lessons from our “inner pilot light.” I ask, “Where is the lesson I’m supposed to be learning from this circumstance. And I’m conscious of the meaning I’m making of the circumstance. What else do we really have control over? Saying a prayer for you, your daughter, Siena’s and your husband’s Hearts to mend – stronger in the broken places and at the time that is right for each of you. Sending Much Love & Gratitude, too! :o) Elizabeth Kipp

    Reply
  7. Katherine Torrini

    One of my mottos is:
    I REFUSE TO LIVE IN FEAR.
    thank you for always speaking about the hard stuff with compassion and courage Love you Lissa!

    Reply
    • Katherine Torrini

      I also want to acknowledge and thank Dan–who had the courage to take responsibility and call you. A reminder to us all to STAY and do the right thing when it would be so easy to sneak away.

      Reply
  8. Melanie

    Just wanted to say how sorry I was to read about the loss of your puppy. But I loved your perspective on it – Bezoar had the short time she was here to be free and roam – what a gift you gave her! Big hugs to you and your family.

    Reply
  9. disqus_e5DGTHh5pC

    Awww I am so sorry for you and your family Lissa. We may accept our hearts be broken, but still it hurts. What a year for you and your heart. Sending you lots of love and light and may the next year bring lots of new wonderful beginnings XOXOX

    Reply
  10. Cindy

    My heart hurts as I feel your loss through your writing. I can only imagine your daughter’s hurt. I have been a cat and dog animal rescuer for decades now and I’ve seen the worst of the worst in abuse. I’m so thankful your puppy experienced such love and joy during its life but personally I believe all involved wish it had not been so short. I’m for freedom but I’m also for risk prevention like the talks you share with your daughter about safety. It doesn’t guarantee success but it certainly helps. Age helps even more. I think the puppy was too young to self discipline enough to stay out of harms way and too small to be seen well by drivers. Personally, as it robs you all of years of joy, including that beautiful puppy’s joy with all of you, I’d compromise with an Invisible Fence. There are little shocks from a collar when boundaries are crossed but it’s an excellent training tool and helps manage risk, as I mentioned earlier. Also, next go round, I’d suggest the joy in helping your puppy learn to love their collar and leash with daily walks. Most dogs love nothing more. Long walks (great exercise for us humans too) also weaken the desire to wander once it becomes a daily habit for the pup. The time spent with us humans and the “traveling” involved brings them a big, safe, exciting world every day, and helps to tire them out and strengthens your lovely bond with them. . My prayers are with you and your family. I am so sorry for your tragic loss. It’s such a painful experience especially this time of year. God bless you and Merry Christmas!

    Reply
  11. Jesje

    As I left comments on your posts about Bezoar on Fb, I’m grateful that you shared the longer -and painful, but also healing?- story here, too, because my heart was aching for how that young life could have ended so soon… thank you.
    I have two dogs and a fenced yard (if only because I live in a tiny village where everybody has, and it’s way easier for the chickens) and they are off leash every day because I take them to walks safe enough for them to run around. One, my new former stray hunting dog, goes further *nosenosenose in training :)!* and way faster then the other one, and even where we are she could run into trouble, literally. The pure joy on her face and in her whole body as she roars past me is enough to run that risk. If anything happens, I’ll be heart broken, but for now, my heart races with her in the biggest joy.
    (As a note of caution for e-fences, fast dogs can run past and then feel shocked as they want to come back….brrrr)
    I wonder where your journeys will take you (and my one for me :)), xxx

    Reply
  12. Brandi Harrigan

    Ouch, Lissa, I am sorry for your loss and send hugs to you and your family. I also want to thank you for writing so deeply and honestly about your experience here, sharing it with the world. I’ve been cutting way back on emails, but yours tend to get through and today’s sealed the deal, lol, you’re a keeper. This one is sinking deeply, being warmly received by my heart and soul, especially during this first week of a break-up (undertaken as an act of self-love 🙂 ). Thank you.

    Last summer I found myself inundated with kittens. The two females had kittens within three days of each other, thereby doubling the number of cats in a one bedroom apartment. When I found a no-kill shelter that could take the two females and all the kittens, I decided to keep one of the kittens. The female that had blue/purple eyes and Seal Siamese points. I called her Juniper Berry. She was gorgeous. Anyway, late October I found her outside, dead, hit by a car. Someone had at least taken her out of the road and put her up on the side, in the grass. I couldn’t help but think about how she was the ONLY one I kept from the shelter and the only one that died. We buried her along a friend’s backyard that borders a cemetery. I had very similar inner conversations when I went through that experience to the ones you’ve mentioned here today.
    Thanks again, Lissa.
    Love + Light
    Brandi

    Reply
  13. simonsez3424

    We live in a society that is fast. Everywhere we go we go fast. And, there is only one way I know of for a puppy to learn about cars, trucks and motorcycles. That is to get hit. If they live after getting hit then they might remember what caused the pain and try to avoid it in the future. Most don’t live. And, most are not as lucky as your pup to die instantly. That is why the average life span of a dog or cat running free is about a year. I think of my own puppy who will be 6 months at the end of the month. He lives on a lead when off our property, and he has a very secure backyard for playing. That’s the only way I can be pretty sure that he is safe. He goes on walks every day, and he chases down the balls in the yard and returns them to me all the time for exercise. I can say that he doesn’t like his lead, but he’s learning to like the adventures we take when that lead is attached to him.

    I feel sad for you, your daughter, Bezour and especially Dan. He cared enough to call you about your dead puppy. He must be devastated to have been the one to hit her. People can choose to use a lead or not. If we want our animals to live in our society today, we must choose to use a lead and secure areas for protection.

    Reply
  14. Nicole Talbot

    This was very painful to read. I had a dog that we used to let out in the yard, no fences since it was a lake house on a cul de sac, with loopy lou streets. He was hit the neighbor one day, and it broke my heart.
    I find your blog very thought provoking. I am most amazed by how you disentangled yourself from traditional medicine. I am a FP doc, solo owner. There are days when I wonder how I do this and if it is sucking me dry, but other days I love it.

    Reply
  15. LindaLouise Haines

    Beautifully & painfully expressed. It is such a difficult balance–freedom vs. restriction; unconditional love vs. setting conditions; trusting vs. caution; openness vs. closing off the painful areas. Thank you for your ongoing visions and sharings. It is such a gift to us. Blessed be.

    Reply
  16. Jamala

    Owning Pink Posse member,Dr. Lissa Rankin ,I paused to read your recent blog Hold tight? or Unleash?, I was sadden to hear of the loss of your new family pet at such a young age. Our family dog has left the safety of our backyard a few times and my mom had a melt down. During the day,Im the main care giver of our family dog,and I prefer he stays inside;however,I do let him outside for a set amount of time becausr he is really my moms dog out fear,I dont give him fear reign because the lost would cause complete chaos in our home. Since, our family dog has been with us from a puppy to a baby dog I have to proceed with caution,as you guessed he’s my mom’s dog and Ive been designated as the care giver during the day and even on some weekends. And truthfully,the other day I stated to my mom he might not be the dog you wanted but hasnt Drake been good to you,he is a good dog who listens well and he doesnt act up too much when friends of the family visit. As a care giver my moms dog and my sister bestfriend’s cat,I do empathize with your lost.
    Sincerely,
    Owning Pink Posse member

    Reply
  17. Cheryl Grandy

    A heartbreaking loss of your new puppy for sure. the loss of my pets even in old age was hard to deal with..but both pets and people are not guaranteed to live as long as we expect…and if we shut down to shield us from the pain, I suspect we don’t get to experience the joy of what life still has to offer us…

    It’s a conundrum.. how to balance, how to choose, probably best left to those more advanced than I…

    Reply
  18. Laura Badger

    So sorry for your loss! I remember our precious “Grizzly,”when he was killed by a car right in front of our house! My children and I were devastated by his loss! I was single mom, with 3 kids in elementary school at the time. We love our pets; they help us to stay joyful and happy in stressful times. They can make the struggle of life a little easier to bear. When I read your blog about Bezoar, it opened a flood of memories about Grizz, and how we miss him, even though happened almost ten years ago!

    Now, we are facing other challenging issues in life, a change of career for me, and trying to find jobs. There seems to be a huge shift in our lives and we have to ride out the storm. I have to realize that there is risk involved when you have change; Even so, I remember our Grizzly bear and though he was not destined to be with us very long; we still remember him. Thanks for your post on Bezoar, The risk is worth the love, however short the time may be!

    Reply
  19. Mary Montanye

    Lissa, this was a beautiful, beautiful post. I am so very sorry abut your sweet puppy and the grief that your entire family must be feeling. But, I also must tell you that you wrote exactly what I needed to read. My 38 year old son is choosing to live a different kind of life than I would have chosen for him. And by doing so, I know he is setting himself up for possible serious pain and potential loss (even of life). But your wise words pulled me back to my senses. He is not hurting anyone, only choosing to march to his own drummer, and therefore all I can do is love him, support him, and let him be free. Actually, he is free anyway, but by giving him my blessing, I am also giving both of us a valuable gift. Thank you.

    Reply
  20. wyldoak

    I am so sorry your precious puppy got killed. No, we cannot protect our hearts from loving, and we cannot protect our loved ones from every bad thing. But cars on roads are guaranteed, not really unpredictable. I do not see the dichotomy as “freedom vs. fear” as much as “be willing to open our hearts” vs. “fear of opening our hearts.” A puppy (or a child) does not understand how to stay safe. As guardians, I strongly believe we must first take every measure we can to protect our defenseless and vulnerable ones from harm–to do what we can to care for them and keep them safe in all the basic ways–and only THEN let go. For me, those parameters would include fencing my yard and supervising, so that my pet could be both free within that space yet also protected–and to take her to the off-leash dog park for the free running her doggie heart yearns for. Very sorry for your loss.

    Reply
  21. Lisa Marie Selow

    So sorry to hear about the loss of your new puppy. That must be so hard. I can’t imagine how that would feel. I’m amazed at how you were able to look at this from your higher perspective. That inspires me so much. Thanks for sharing this, even though my heart goes out to you and your family right now. xoxo

    Reply
  22. Bob Voelker

    You CAN have it both ways! When your puppy is little play in the yard and when it reaches a pre-determined boundary tell it to stay. Take daily walks with the leash outside of the solitary zone and remind the puppy that “You stay in the yard without a leash”. I taught my Rotties this when they were little and they never leave the yard.

    Reply
  23. Jenny Digesti

    My God this breaks my heart … I wish i had a little more of you in me Lissa. I am SO very afraid of loss …of getting hurt. I’m extremely sensitive and feel as if the heaviness of all this could break me. I pretend to be strong. Secure. Confident. But on the inside I know it’s a lie. I am soooooo scared. Fragile. Vulnerable. And I HATE it. I want to be braver but it feels way too much for me to handle….all of the pretending mixed in with the fear causes chronic anxiety. Any suggestions??? With love and gratitude – xoxo

    Reply
  24. Rachael

    So unfortunate to hear about your tragic loss. My heart goes out to you this day of winding down an old year, and reaching out to start a new. with much love and heart,
    Thinking of you much. Rachael xx

    Reply
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