I lost the best friend of my life this past week. And as a U.S. Marine, I’ve had some pretty damn good friends in my lifetime – friends who would have risked life and limb for me. But this friend was different having unprecedented honor and loyalty worthy of the bravest Marine. This loss has been utterly devastating to me. As a result, I haven’t posted anything or updated this site in 2 weeks.
As a general rule of thumb, I try to limit articles on this site to user experience and psychology related topics. But, in some ways, this subject is more important than user experience. It’s about life experience, the true cost of that experience and ultimately what it means to be human. In other ways, this article is about user experience and how we should pursue the best experiences in life – no matter the cost. This will all be a bit clearer as you read on.
It was fourteen years ago this summer, I first met Jasmine. She was born sometime in June to her mother, a full-blooded Basset hound, and her father, a full-blooded Chow named Bear. The story goes: The original owners were trying to breed a litter of Bassets. But they had been unsuccessful in keeping the Chow away from the Basset. Twice. This was their second litter of what I later would term, “Chow Hounds.” My daughter insisted we own a “girl dog” and though I’d like to say we picked Jasmine out, it was really the other way around.
Most people would say I adopted Jasmine and became her owner. But anyone who knows anything about that dog and I, knows she owned me. I became completely devoted to her care and my love for her grew stronger as each year passed. We named her Jasmine after Princess Jasmine in the Disney movie Aladdin (one of my daughter’s favorite movies as a child). We also named her this because she was full of “Jazz” and I had begun to appreciate that musical style at that point in my life.
It would be impossible to sum up 14 years of my life with this dog – more than a third of my life at this point. That is not the purpose of this article. Suffice it to say, the hound became a fixture of my life and we had many adventures – hiking, vacations, our morning coffee runs and many rabbit chases. People used to run into us driving around town and would ask: “Do you take that dog everywhere with you?” She was always ready to ride shotgun with “Papa Dawg” as I referred to myself. In the past few years as she aged, I began to realize I literally could not remember a life without her.
Earlier this year, Jasmine began to develop a number of health problems to include glaucoma and kidney disease. It was the beginning of the end, I knew. And I suppose that is where my grief also began. The glaucoma was treatable, but we couldn’t outrun kidney disease. The illness caught up with her – the pinnacle being her collapse last Monday in our Chicago condo. I caught a cab home after receiving the call from my wife. As I rushed in the door, I knew it was bad when Jasmine couldn’t lift herself to greet me. That evening, my wife and I cried as I made what I believe was and will always be the toughest decision of my life. In the space of an afternoon, my best friend was gone.
Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
~ Roger Caras
I have spent thousands in the past few months and probably much more over the years on that hound. People might shake their head at me or say, “It’s just a dog.” I don’t believe that. Though I always liked dogs, I never really planned to be a dog owner (or to be owned by a dog as it turned out). But knowing Jasmine helped me to understand how important our relationships are regardless of species. It also helped me come to a new understanding of the equality between different species and the great gift we have as humans – the gift to give. My life and who I am changed as a result of owning Jasmine.
In the end, I did everything I could to keep Jasmine comfortable and ensure she did not suffer. It was worth every penny to have a clean conscience and finish our lives together in the best way possible. In many ways, I bought an experience and was careful to curate her end-of-life experience. I knew she was dying and couldn’t be saved. But I also knew it was important to ensure she died with the same dignity I would want any human to have – not ailing in pain. I couldn’t have her needless suffering on my conscience. I couldn’t taint her memory with a terrible death.
Over the past week, I have cried, laughed, remembered and cried some more. I have worried about our other dog who has also lost a pack member. Our entire family has grieved over this loss. And I have had to resist the urge to slip into some sort of dark depression. I have had to constantly remind myself of the good times I had with Jasmine and how we both gave each other a good life. I don’t know that Jasmine would have had a better or worse life without me. But I do know she had a good life with me full of wonderful trips, delicious treats and many walks of which there were rabbits to chase and new scent trails to follow. I also know for certain my life has been better for knowing her. And, I can’t imagine what a tragedy it would have been to remember a life without her.
I am convinced that when the end of my life comes, it won’t be the cars, houses or hours spent toiling in a cubicle I will remember. It will be the experiences I had, those experiences I created for myself and the relationships I built. I know this is true because I often contemplate my life – one that seems full for my age. In my final moments, I’ll remember my becoming a U.S. Marine, a daughter being born, my marriage, hiking to the top of Mount Fuji, crossing the Ocean and more. I’ll remember those nights when the warm breeze blew over me as a fiery sun dipped under the horizon and the sound of laughter carried through the air and all seemed right with the world. I’ll remember the familiar brush of soft fur across my naked calf and sad puppy eyes coupled with a wagging tail beckoning me for just one last walk for the day. I will remember my journey and my life experience with Jasmine. She will be right there amongst memories of family, friends and loved-ones. Because that is where she belongs.
My life’s work thus far has been in creating positive user experiences. In so doing, I have learned something very important. I should carefully craft and curate my own life experiences. Jasmine taught me this through simply being her canine self. Rather than chasing after a dollar, buying the huge TV or that new gadget, I should focus on investing in life experiences. That is what I will remember – the times I laughed, cried, climbed another mountain or went to that different place. I will remember those times and those who shared those experiences with me. But one thing I will never forget, one of the greatest experiences of my life: The honor of serving one furry 50 pound hound for the past 14 years and all of the laughter, belly rubs, good food and walks. I will, indeed, remember our walks. I will always remember walking with Jasmine.
There’s a place where the rabbits run. I hope she is there now.