Living in Paradise – Remembering Pancho

The blackboard in my favorite coffee shop the last couple of days has asked the same question, “What do you think Paradise is like?"

This question was asked of Johnny Cash, to which he replied, “This morning with her, having coffee.”

Johnny's response reminded me so often we let the simple, even seemingly mundane moments slip by our awareness, lost in the hustle of the day, drowned out by the noise of yesterday and our desires for tomorrow. When in fact they are the most important, because they are actually the ones that make up our own personal paradisiacal existence.

Over the last couple of days, as I catch myself between tears and laughter, pain and happiness, despair and hope, I have realized it was exactly these everyday moments that made life with Pancho truly my heaven on earth. 

Every single moment of his 10 years was amazing, cancer and all. He made it Paradise because that puppy knew how to love everything about each of those days. Boy did he love…

He loved to eat. 

He loved going to school to see his friends. He loved a good long walk, and even a longer run. And finding a big huge stick to proudly tote all the way home. 

He loved to play, and play, and play. He loved to open Christmas presents. He loved jumping into the ocean waves, and riding them back to shore. He loved dropping into a powder filled backcountry bowl on a bluebird Colorado day. He loved playing ball, and would always look at me and ask, “Just one more, Mama”. 

He loved going to his favorite pet store. He loved making the morning shake – his half of the banana and the splash he’d get in his bowl. Did I say he loved to eat? He loved strawberries and radishes. He loved the sound of chopping, and the pieces that would fall to the floor. And forget about getting his attention while noshing on a juicy bison bone – game over. Oh how he loved to chew. 

He loved riding in the car, head out the window with his lips flapping in the wind, every smell sniffed in its full glory. He loved to sleep in our bed, and wake us up with his dreams (John lost sleep, I secretly adored it). He loved the words, “Do you want to go?” It didn’t matter where we went as long as he was along for the ride. 

He loved being wrapped up like a “Pancho burrito” in his favorite blanket. He loved to bask in the heat of the California sun, Chicago sun, Mile High sun, or any sun. He loved “the ear rubbins,” a good butt rub. With every rub you could just hear him saying, “Just rub me!”

There wasn’t much he didn’t love, but he honestly didn’t love cats, except for Max. He didn’t love the eyes on this stuffed animals, so they were promptly removed. He really didn’t love the dirty birds who teased him outside our house. And I think I can safely say the thing he did not like the most was when people touched his feet, “Don’t touch my feet!” The only person who was allowed was Celeste, his amazing homeopathic doctor and acupuncturist who helped us kick his cancer, and even then he would curl them under, tuck them away, out of sight, out of touch.

He especially loved it when we came home (“Let's bust out the Puppy!” we would say). I think most of all he just loved being with us, a good wrestle with John and a soft, sweet cuddle with his Mama (he was THE best cuddler).

And then there are the things I will never ever forget.

I will always remember the day we picked him out, the car ride home curled up on my lap, his big soft puppy belly, and putting him on a puppy diet (I think I mentioned he loved to eat).

And running him down the hallway teaching this little retriever how to be a retriever (he quickly became a pro). His first swim, and his wet, yet always welcome, slobbery kisses.

I’ll remember how he put his paw over his nose when he was cold or didn’t feel so good; how his ears would turn into big elephant ears when he was curious or content; and the way he spoke with his eye brows – oh those eye brows, I will never forget those eye brows. 

I will always remember and admire his bark and how he wasn’t afraid to express himself, so much so he’d tell John when the music was too loud. And how he talked the mailman into giving him a treat - every day.  

Oh! And the day he pretended he was a hippopotamus, rolled around in THE most disgusting mud with so much joy and pride you wanted to jump in with him. (We didn't. We should have.)

I will always remember how he delivered the note that said, “I think it’s time for you to be my official Mama” when John asked me to marry him (the surest way to get me to drop to my knees), and his launch down the aisle at our wedding. 

And I will never ever forget the day he ate my favorite shoes, and how he sat on the couch, looked at me with those big loving eyes, and dropped his favorite ball into my lap – his peace offering. From that point on, we were forever “Mama + Pancho.” 

I will remember his noble, regal sensibility coupled with his playful puppy-ness. His strength and his courage. His loyalty and his friendship. The truth is, he was my “baby dog” and I love that he would always let me kiss him, over and over and over again. 

There are millions of memories. He beat cancer like a super hero. Three months turned into eighteen. Fifteen extra months of memories, ten years in all, and I will forever be grateful. 

But most of all I will remember how he taught me how to love. Not just any kind of love but that all-in kind of love. He sniffed out an open crevice in my heart, wiggled his nose right in and pried it open little by little until there was no way it could, or would, ever close again. 

He taught me how love was more precious and worth more than anything in the whole world. He taught me how every moment was a moment to be love, to give love, to receive love. That there was no way to waste love, because there is always plenty, always more to give, even when you might not believe you’ve got anything left. He taught me how just a little bit of love – a friendly sniff, a sweet smile – could literally change everything. Forever.

He loved me unconditionally. I loved him the same. And then I loved him some more. And I never let one day, one moment, go by without letting him know. (He was a very good teacher.)

Which is why now, there is an incredible void. Why it hurts so much. Why I can’t go home, and don’t want to be alone. 

And still, I feel him. He is forever in me, of me, around me, with me. He changed me. He made me a better human. I think he made each person, each dog, each moment better than the way he found it. 

Each day I spent with Pancho was a day lived in Paradise. And come to think of it, each day for the rest of my life will be as well. Because he wiggled his way in, he gave me a ball, he gave me his heart, he trusted me with his life, and he taught me how to love.

I love you bud! Thank you for choosing us, for loving me, and turning life into Paradise.

Pancho Wilhelm (August 18, 2005 – October 3, 2015)