The Fragility of Life & How to Love Dangerously

“Good morning, Grendel!”

When my hubby Matt lifts my Bichon Frisé pup Grendel up on the bed first thing in the morning, she’s so excited she can hardly contain herself. Although she’s eight years old, she thinks she’s still a puppy, and she wags and bounces and barks and creates such a frenzy that nobody who might still be sleeping can stay asleep.

This morning was no different, except that this time, when Grendel bounded onto the bed she was so excited she flipped herself right off the end of our quite tall bed. I leapt to her rescue, throwing out my arms, trying to catch her, but I was one second too late.

She landed smack dab on the back of her neck, hyper-extended her neck all the way back and started shaking. She didn’t utter even a whimper even though I know it must have hurt. Her silence terrified me.

I freaked.

“Is there a doggie 911? CALL IT!”

Jumping on the ground, I sat next to Grendel, who was silent, not making a peep, and hanging out in an awkward, twisted angle, immobile. I started sobbing as Matt came running over, looking to my doctor self, saying “Is she okay? Is she okay?”

I cried, “NO! She’s not okay!” and kept crying, while my heart pounded faster than it had ever pounded since Matt once cut two fingers off his left hand with a table saw (that’s a whole other story for another blog post).

Holding Grendel in my arms, trying not to move her neck, wishing I had a C collar and a backboard to strap her to, I rocked her, thinking, “Well, if my beloved dog is going to die right now in front of me, I want her to die feeling loved.” She looked up into my eyes, and I thought, for a second, I saw the lights come on in her eyes.

In a blink, the thought of losing her flashed through my eyes. How would I tell my daughter? Oh my God, what if this had been Siena? What if Matt was hit by a car? What if my mother got cancer? What if the Big One hits San Francisco and I lose everybody I love?

The words flashing through my mind in bright shiny lights were “LIFE IS JUST TOO DANGEROUS. YOU HAVE TOO MUCH TO LOSE. YOU SHOULDN’T LET YOURSELF LOVE SO HARD.”

And before I could control my thoughts, I was in a full tailspin, feeling those doors of my heart, the ones that pretty much live wide open, squeaking closed the tiniest bit the way I wrote about here, because this just hurts too much.

Then I pulled myself together. I know from researching my book Mind Over Medicine that when a body – I’m sure it’s the same for doggie bodies – is sick, the emotions you feel have everything to do with whether you’ll recover. When it comes to illness or injury, FEAR = EVIL.


I had to create a sense of calm for my dog. I couldn’t let her feel afraid.

In that instant, I took a breath, remembering the poem Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen had shared with our group of MDs last week – I think she said it was by Waz Thomas – and I’ll probably butcher it, but it was something like “Within every tempest there lies a hole, like a navel, through which a gull can fly in silence.”

Grendel and I were in the tempest, and I was desperately looking for the navel, that still point amidst the maelstrom, and suddenly, I found it – God, thy will be done. And then total surrender. Whatever happens is for the highest good. But please, oh please, don’t let Grendel suffer.

And then I looked down and my motionless, silent dog was wagging her tail. Wagging her tail. If you broke your neck, you can’t wag your tail!!!! My heart leapt!

Remembering my research, I realized that poor Grendel’s body, in this moment, was in full-on “fight-or-flight” stress response. Cortisol spiking. Adrenaline pumping. Heart rate up, just like mine. Blood pressure elevated. Her body thinks she’s being chased by a lion – and in some ways she is, but when the body is in a stress state, it can’t repair itself.

Healing Grendel

I had to help Grendel induce what scientists call the “relaxation response.” I closed my eyes and visualized Grendel in a bubble of healing light. I sent light energy from my heart to hers. I petted her body and started massaging her muscles. I told her I loved her. I looked into her scared eyes with my hand on her heart. My spirit saw her spirit.

And then I lifted her off the ground, placed her on the bed as gently as I could, and then the impossible happened.

Grendel got up and walked over to her favorite pillow, where she curled up in a little ball, looking pitiful and wounded, and wagged her tail some more while she rolled over on her back and gave me her belly to pet.

I wept as I held her in my arms and whispered prayers of gratitude.

Throughout the day, friends, healers, and followers on Facebook and Twitter prayed and sent Grendel Reiki and healing juju. Siena drew her pictures and wrote her a note that says, “I love you Grendel and hope you can heal yourself.” With her two best friends, Siena spent hours sitting beside Grendel, as she perched on the throne of my Tempurpedic pillow, covered with Siena’s “Old Pinky,” her favorite baby blanket.

I can only imagine that all this love is filling Grendel’s body with oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” and dopamine, the pleasure hormone, and endorphins (nature’s morphine) and nitric oxide and serotonin and all kinds of other hormones that fight the stress response hormones and let her puppy parasympathetic nervous system take back over, because only in a state of physiologic rest can her body heal itself from a puppy concussion and some very sore muscles.

Her vet assures me there’s nothing else to do other than observe her. She has been very subdued all day. Definitely not her normal wiggly self. But tonight, after a full day in bed without food or much desire to move, when she ran down the stairs and started barking at the mailman, ate a bowlful of dog food, and got up on her hind legs to do the puppy dance because her Auntie Denise came over to see her, my heart felt lighter.

Permission To Break My Heart

And in that lightness of heart, I reminded myself that I have given Grendel permission to break my heart, just like I’ve given it to so many other people I love. And that yes, life is dangerous, and love is scary, and there’s oh so much to lose.

And yet, what’s the alternative? Building iron walls nobody can get through? Defending yourself like a fortress against love? Making yourself numb so it doesn’t hurt if your puppy dies in a freak excited-morning-ritual bed accident? Missing out on the overflowing buoyancy and bubbling joy and heart-opening experience of intimacy, connection, and unconditional love?

Nope. Not for me, thank you very much.

Instead, I’m gonna snuggle up with my pup, and thank God that she seems to be okay in this moment, and trust that all will be as it should, and appreciate her right here, right now, because I never know when I might lose her – or Siena… or Matt… or anyone else I love.

What About You?

Are you willing to live dangerously and let yourself love fully, even when love – and the world – is so unsafe?

Tell me what you think.

Counting my blessings and loving every face lick,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities and, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.



Mourning a Pet’s Death & Celebrating Their Life
Are Pets More Trustworthy Than People?
Pet Loss: Matters Of Love and Death


LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Darla G.
Darla G5 years ago

I don't know how you remained so calm. I don't think I could have done it. Instead, I would have loaded up the dog into the car and driven as fast as possible to the vet.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

it's scary when something happens to something or someone you love..thanks

Nancy P.
Nancy P5 years ago

When you love hard, you will lose hard but at least you knew the joy of love.

Pamela H.
Pamela H5 years ago

Continued: The vet nodded, and I took my old friend home with me to give her a decent burial in the back yard. I planted a lovely Jasmine over her, which has now taken over the whole fence. I now feel terrible that I wasn't with her to the very end. Next time I will make myself be brave enough to stay. Better yet, I'd rather they died at home if at all possible. My current cats are now twelve, and one has diabetes. I have to give her insulin every twelve hours. I'd never given injections before but I've learned that you have to be brave when you have animals to care for, and you just have to do what needs to be done for their welfare. We're both quite used to it now, and Mystie knows she gets a little treat afterwards so she comes to me. These two cats get more love and attention than any other cat or dog I've ever had. Probably because the kids are grown up and gone so I have more time for added family members. Yes, when you love someone you do give them permission to break your heart, but it's better than the alternative of a baren, empty household.

Pamela H.
Pamela H5 years ago

I've loved all my companion animals. I now have two cats who I love so much that when they're out the front I constantly watch, like a mother hen, in case they go too far up the driveway towards the road (it's a small court), or in case my neighbour who shares my driveway, backs her car out without looking first. When I had to take my last cat for her last trip to the vet, she was seventeen and had a huge tumor inside her, and her hind legs were beginning to collapse. I asked if I could take her out the back of the vets for a while in the sunshine and let her feel the grass under her feet for the last time, and the sun on her back. They said I could take all the time I needed. I think she knew, as I sat on the grass with her sobbing while she slowly walked around sniffing the grass and trying to pee, which was very difficult for her. I carried her gently back into the vets and sat quietly weeping with her lying calmly across my lap in the waiting room. For once I didn't care about anyone seeing me cry, I was too distraught. I felt like a murderer taking my companion of so many years to her certain death. When the vet called her name I carried her in there but I couldn't stand and watch while she did the deed so I waited outside until the vet came out and handed me the box I'd given her. I looked inside and saw my cat looking as though she was just having a nap. I gently stroked her fur and she was still warm. This may sound silly but I asked the vet "Are you sure she's gone?"

Past Member
Past Member 5 years ago

I can't imagine how I would react if something happened to one of my animals. The love I have for them is the same as my children, I would be crushed. Thank goodness she had you there.

Sybil S.
Sybil S5 years ago

what a lovely heartwarming story,I am sure your little dog feels your love as much as you feel hers

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)