When my 160-pound English Mastiff was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, I was crushed. Together Gizelle and I had been through college, boyfriends, our early 20s, and a move from simple Tennessee to big and scary New York City.
This dog wasn’t just my best friend — she was my roommate and confidant. What does the vet mean she only has a few months left?
My sobbing seemed unstoppable, but Gizelle was sensitive and didn’t like to see me cry. I had to be strong. So I decided we would bury our worries in the dog park and create a bucket-list adventure of everything we wanted to do before she died. It was my mission for us to indulge and explore life’s joys. We’d escape the city and search for waterfalls, cook lobster, and nap in the grass. We’d jump in the ocean without towels, just to enjoy the sun drying us, and never stress about details like sand in the car.
Doing a bucket list for Gizelle not only helped me cope with losing her, it was also one wild ride. It helped me live in the present and see life for what it truly is: a sweet, simple, precious adventure. So paw in hand, we packed our bags and set off. Here are some of our favorite adventures.
Ride in a canoe
Gizelle and I always used to watch The Little Mermaid together, and a favorite scene was the one where Ariel is chauffeured in a row boat by Prince Eric. So I was determined to get all 160 pounds of my easily spooked pup into a canoe. I tried to keep from wobbling as she hesitantly tip toed in one paw at a time. We weren’t quite as graceful as Ariel and Prince Eric. Gizelle was confused by the paddle splashing water in her face, and when a spider jumped onboard, we nearly capsized as I swatted at it with a life jacket. But when a light breeze picked up, Gizelle plunked her heavy head on the side of the canoe as we floated across the water, and I could almost see the wind tickling her jowls. I know she was embracing the quiet and nature that we didn’t have in New York City, because I was, too.
See Times Square
Like most New Yorkers, Gizelle and I were a little repulsed by Times Square. That said, it’s still a famous New York City landmark, so I decided we would go at 6:45 a.m. before the life-size cartoon characters and tourists could clog the sidewalks. The streets were clean – no tossed Broadway-show brochures or trash, the sun was rising, and it was pretty empty except for some smiling families huddled outside of the Good Morning America offices clutching coffees. We stood at the Crossroads of the World and realized it did sparkle like it’s supposed to. It was magical.
Cook lobster in Maine
We travelled all the way to Well’s Beach in Maine to find two perfect lobsters. Unsure of where to get them, a local licensed clammer we met on the beach suggested that super market lobsters were as good as any in Maine. I walked to the back of the store and asked the grocer to let me dunk my arm in the tank so I could sift through each one for the biggest claws. Before cooking them at a friend’s beach house, I freed the lobsters to tap across the kitchen floor with Gizelle. She sniffed at them like they were her dog pals, and I almost felt bad for how short-lived this friendship would be. But we kissed them each farewell before plopping them in the pot. I fed Gizelle hot buttered lobster chunks with a fork, so I’m sure she didn’t mind too much.
Eat ice cream on a dock
In complicated and busy Manhattan, it’s easy to forget about the simple things. I made it my mission to find a quiet dock where Gizelle and I could have an ice cream, watch the boats float by, and enjoy. No trendy truffle-oil gelato or fancy flavors, just basic vanilla. We both loved it.
Go on a road trip
Gizelle loved the car, so I rented one and Gizelle, my best friend Rebecca, and I took off for a four-day girls-only road trip through New England, with no particular destination in mind. We’d take turns sticking our heads out the window, and didn’t worry about work, deadlines, or boys. In fact, our only real problem was navigating with a paper atlas (we’d sworn off Google Maps for a smartphone detox) and trying to figure out if Gizelle preferred Taylor Swift or the Beach Boys.
Cuddle as much as possible
Sure Gizelle was bigger than me, but she never knew it. After I discovered she was dying, dog hair on my once-forbidden bed and slobber on my face didn’t seem to matter as much as spending time cuddling with Gizelle. She helped teach me that love is the most wonderful gift I can receive, and it is the best thing I have to give. My lap became her desired seat, and it was awesome.
Spend a whole day at Washington Square Park
For an entire day, Gizelle and I sat in Washington Square Park in downtown N.Y.C. and people watched. We were serenaded by a man strumming an out of tune guitar with broken strings, talked to a guy with a fish tattooed on his face, and helped a lady in the red kimono feed the pigeons and bird call at the hawks. (Gizelle always introduced me to more people than my sometimes reserved personality allowed me on my own.) It was then I realized how proud I was to live in such an odd place — and looking over at my 160-pound slobbery roommate, I realized we fit right in.
Go to a party and meet a cute boy dog
Gizelle had always been my wing girl for picking up guys in the East Village; now it was her turn. When I found out a friend was having a party with 19 adorable single dogs on the invite list, I knew this was Gizelle’s chance to meet someone special. Here Gizelle and the cute blonde, Auggie, are clearly flirting over a little beer pong (or in this case, paw-ng).
Find the best doughnut in the world
As she got sicker, Gizelle’s appetite began to disappear and mine did, too. So when a friend told us about a family-owned doughnut-store gem, Congdon’s Donuts, we went on a quest to find it up the coast of Maine. These donuts were so fresh they took unusual shapes and had mini air-filled dough bubbles. We sat in the grass and ate the whole box. And you know what? I still don’t feel bad about it!
I knew 2014 would be Gizelle’s last Christmas, and I really wanted her to meet Santa. The only problem was, my pup might be afraid of a tall man with a big beard and a sack full of unpredictable toys. So when we stumbled across these three trusted pug Santa’s helpers, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Although the dogs didn’t seem to notice each other much and the pugs weren’t as jolly as a human Santa, I still made sure to pass them Gizelle’s Christmas list of rib eyes, hotdogs, and vanilla ice cream.
Sit on the beach in the winter
I was told Gizelle wouldn’t make it until Christmas, but in January we sat by the ocean in Maine as it snowed the day before she died. Part of me wondered if this was her plan all along, to take me on an adventure, knowing we’d end up on a deserted beach alone. The sky was white, the trees were bare, and even the birds were hiding. The whole world felt lifeless, and it was hard to believe this beach was once filled with rainbow-colored umbrellas and cute boys lathered in SPF.
It was then I realized that I was okay with letting Gizelle go. Just like I had faith that the trees would sprout lime green leaves again and kids with yellow buckets would splash in the water once more, I had faith I’d carry Gizelle with me. Even in the emptiness of that beach that day, I could see Gizelle running free long the shore, rolling in the sand, awkwardly spooked by approaching waves. I knew she would live on through my experiences, and that I gave her the best life I could. And that to me was infinitely healing.