Gero-Punk Practice: A Happy Story

happy stay happy

A bright red envelope arrived in yesterday’s mail. While the envelope was hand-addressed to me, the contents of the envelope weren’t intended for me. Inside the envelope was a get-well-soon card for Happy-the-dog. The card was handmade by Julia, my best friend’s daughter. Julia is 10 years-of-age and we are friends, too. On the outside of the card, Julia wrote: “Happy Stay Happy!” (I wonder if the double play on words was intentional? Knowing Julia – she’s such a smarty! — it likely was.) As for what she wrote inside the card, that is private – from Julia, to Happy. But given that I was the one to read the card to Happy, I can assure you the sentiments inscribed inside were thoughtful and cheery.

Happy had major surgery last Thursday, thus the card from Julia entreating him to get well soon.

Happy is almost 12 years-of-age. He’s considered an “older dog,” a dog with some special aging-related needs, though he still gets mistaken for a puppy almost on a daily basis because of the style with which he moves through the world. I, of course, do not believe that curiosity and vim are the exclusive purview of the young, but Happy’s energy seems almost universally read as youthful, even now.

According to a special mathematical formula which takes into account the size and weight as well as chronological age of a dog, Happy is approximately 69 in human years. My mom is 69 (for a few more days). This past December, Simeon turned 59 and I turned 49. Isobel is 19 (until February 14th). I don’t know why, but I think it is so totally cool that each of us at the same time has a “9” as the second digit of our chronological age! This is particularly cool given that Happy, being that he is a dog and not a human, is traveling at a different rate of speed than we are. When Happy and I first met, he was younger than I was; he and Isobel were actually around the same age. Then for a chunk of time, Happy and I were experiencing the same life-course stage as full-on adults. And then – it felt sudden – Happy picked up speed and passed me on the imaginary number line, leaving me in mid-life as he entered into his later years.

I imagine that despite the fact that we are moving at different speeds, for now we are all riding together on a bright red arrow that’s flying through space and time.

Happy’s surgery was to remove a kind of tumor that older dogs of certain breeds tend to get. The tumor showed up some time ago and his doctor had advised us to just keep an eye on it since the results of all of Happy’s lab tests and physical exams had consistently demonstrated that he is a remarkably healthy mister dog. But a couple of months ago, the tumor starting growing more rapidly and changing in shape, signs that it was time for us to intervene.

I’ve been mostly housebound since Thursday taking care of Happy as he recuperates (with a lot of help from Simeon, from whom Happy willingly, almost cheerfully, takes his medications, and for whom Happy actually sits without being asked when it is time for his treat!). My shoulders and arms have been sore the past couple of days and it occurs to me only now as I write this that perhaps it is in part because until yesterday I had been picking up Happy to carry him down the back stoop steps so he could go potty in the yard. I’d put my right arm under his belly and my left arm under his chest, so as to avoid his very large and deep incision, which is on the upper part of his right back leg. It isn’t that he’s a terribly big dog – I think the most he has ever weighed it 46 pounds – but he is a four-legged, sovereign creature who isn’t accustomed to being picked up and moved around, nor am I accustomed to doing so. I think my shoulders may hurt also because even though Happy is doing remarkably well post-operation, I’m holding some concern, some mild anxiety, in my body. And I don’t sleep well unless he sleeps well.

I am Happy’s human and Happy is my dog. We are kin. When Happy is puny, I can’t help but feel a bit puny myself. And it happens the other way, too – Happy grows quite concerned when he detects any turbulence in me. We are strangely connected. We really love each other, and this is how it is with true love.


About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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