We often consider pets as members of our family. We love them like any other being in our lives, and it pains us when they cross the bridge and pass on. In this special episode, Adam celebrates the life of Duncan, a golden retriever and his “Forever Puppy”, by sharing the life lessons that Duncan taught him and his family. Adam reminisces about Duncan’s life, focusing on the character traits that Duncan demonstrated that are worthy of applying in our own lives. Duncan’s passing is yet another reminder that we should be grateful for every moment spent alive and live as fully as we can. As Adam says, we just do not know when our time here will end.
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Life Lessons from a “Forever Puppy”
I am sitting in my office alone and excited about the opportunity to spend some alone time. At this point, it’s not going to be alone me, myself, and I. It will be an alone time of you and me, which is something that we don’t get to do all the time. It’s a little unusual. For a couple of reasons, I was looking forward to doing what’s sometimes called the solocast. It’s just me and you having a conversation. The moment anyway, it will feel a little bit like a one-sided conversation of me talking and all that. Knowing the way this all works, people who will be reading this is in dialogue, in conversation. A lot of you are leaving us beautiful comments, sending us emails and all that kind of thing, which is lovely. It’s the best.
I know that we will have an opportunity to connect as to the content that gets shared on this particular blog so I’m excited about that. I’m excited because I get to be here. That is a blessing as we know it is more and more important on a daily basis for me personally to be in a state of gratitude. I can’t say enough how that process and that practice because it is such a practice. It has changed my life in the most glorious ways. It is nothing short of miraculous. I don’t say it’s a miracle because it happens to be miraculous ongoingly. It is the miracle that is a miracle on steroids because it keeps giving. It’s the miracle that keeps giving and giving. All I ever need to do to activate the miracle is to dial into the feeling. That’s been revolutionary for me.
The only thing I ever need to do to activate the miracle is to dial into it. By dialing in, I mean focus on it, acknowledge it, and feel grateful in this moment for the breath. Feel grateful in this moment for the life that is flowing through me, the blood that’s coursing through my veins, the breathing in, the breathing out, the eyes open and closed. Everything that animates us at this moment is nothing short of a miracle. It’s something I take for granted. I’m sure if you’re anything at all like me, which I know that’s the case, we’re all the same. We take these things for granted, and sometimes we go long periods almost like a drought.
The drought times are tough, and sometimes it doesn’t even feel like it will ever rain again. We went through drought here in Southern California for so many years, and drought conditions are dangerous conditions to lots of different forms of life. A drought in gratitude is dangerous. It’s dangerous to your health. It’s dangerous to your wealth. It’s dangerous to your being. Any opportunity we can to make it rain, to see it rain, to encourage the rain is a blessing. We’ve got to water ourselves as if we’re plants. We’ve got to water ourselves as if we’re crops because if we don’t, we’ll dry up like those crops. They dry up. If there’s too little rain for a too long period of time, everything dies and eventually turns to dust and blows away. I know that’s dramatic imagery there and it’s true.
I want to spend a little time talking about something that I didn’t expect to be talking about and expect to be making the subject of a blog episode. I started to feel more and more like there were a lot of people who would identify with what I’m about to share and whose lives have been impacted in some way by similar things. They’re maybe even going through the same thing or experiencing something similar. That’s no coincidence. I don’t believe that there are any coincidences at all. If you are one of those people that when you’re reading this, it resonates with you and feels like something that you needed to know, that the timing of it was perfect, it was an ordained thing.
Whatever language you use for that stuff, I don’t think of coincidence. I always think everything is happening in this divine perfection that I don’t always understand. I’m not always happy about. I’m always embracing the changes or embracing the pivots of life as I’d like to. I am aware that that’s the process. When I’m at my best, that’s what I’m doing. That’s what I can do. I can choose to embrace everything in every moment as something that is there for my good, there for my highest good even. It’s something that is purposeful, intended, and only coming from one single source, one well, one deep bottomless, infinite well of love.
With that understanding, even the worst of things, the toughest of things, the most challenging of things can have their place, be seen and experienced in perspective. That’s as much as we can ever do when we lose people that we love or when things are different than we’d like them to be. That’s our choice. We can either embrace and accept those things, or we can resist them. We can fight against them. We can bury our head in the sand and pretend that they aren’t happening because these are all choices we have when it comes to that experience and it changes everything. The way that we handle it, the way I approach it, the way I need it, whatever it is, it’s all there is. The thing itself has almost no meaning other than the meaning we give it. The meaning that I give it is all it means anyway so how I meet it and the choices that I make in the moment of meeting it whatever it is, is the essence of whether I feel good or I feel bad.
Even when I choose to feel bad, it’s more by design. If it’s how I want it to be, then I’m even taking hopefully conscious responsibility for feeling crappy and allowing myself to feel that way for good reason and not just feeling that way without the awareness that I have a choice to make about that. I can choose to feel that way. I can also choose to feel some other way. It had been challenging for us. Not just for me, but for my family because we had two members of our family we’ve had with us for the better part of thirteen years. Their names are Willy and Duncan Wilson. Mr. Wilson, as we’ve called him. Since we got him as a ten-week-old puppy, a beautiful black Labrador, who was the runt of his litter. He had something called a cleft palate. It’s something unusual. People are born with cleft palates. Dogs and other animals are born with cleft palates sometimes very infrequently, rarely. When that does happen, more often than not, if the dog is born from a breeder, they don’t allow this. They don’t pay for the surgery. They put the dog down sad as that sounds because it’s expensive surgery and the dog is not as intended.
The breeder that we went to a few years ago did not feel that way at all about that beautiful being that was born with a cleft palate. Instead, she decided to pay the money which was more than $1,000 at the time for a surgery to repair the cleft palate for this little puppy. She had to give the dog a name in order to have the surgery go forward. They had to know what the name of the dog was, so she gave him a name. She called him Mr. Wilson, which is hearkening back to a TV show called Dennis the Menace. Some of us are old enough to remember that show, most of us probably are not. Either way, Mr. Wilson is a character in the show, so that became Mr. Wilson. A couple of weeks later, we ended up seeing him and our youngest daughter, Eden looked immediately and said, “That’s the puppy. That’s the one.” We’ve got to get that one, the littlest one because he wasn’t able to eat. All the other dogs were getting all the food and he’s a runt and he got moved into a different litter of younger dogs. He was still the smallest than the younger dog group at this other litter. At the end of the day, we took him home.
We fell in love with him and brought him home. He became a member of our family. He’s a very wonderful member of the family. About a year later, we had a second arrival. This was unexpected because we’ve had dogs in the past. We love dogs. We’re dog people and cats too, goldfish and all kinds of animals living in our home. About a year later, friends of ours came over. They said, “We want to bring someone over to show you.” They brought their little puppy over whose name was Duncan. He’s a little golden retriever yellow fur ball. We were living in Freehold at the time in New Jersey. They walk in and we were like, “This dog is just a gorgeous little furry thing.” Wilson who is a year old and he is no longer the runt. He caught up eating wise very quickly. He’s an English Labrador. He’s stocky and low to the ground. He’s thick, wide and all the rest that you can imagine. He’s a big dog and was at 80 or 90 pounds. He’s literally towering over this little fur ball that is maybe eight pounds or something like that.
We find out from our friends, this was an interesting move on their part, they said, “We would love to keep him, but our son is allergic to him.” We were like, “Okay.” They go, “We just wanted to know if maybe you know somebody.” You could figure out where this is going. They go, “If you know anybody in the neighborhood or people that you know that might would love a puppy. This is a great dog, but our son is allergic. We can’t keep him. It’s so sad.” You know exactly what happens. That dog never left our house after that. The dog stayed. We have these two beautiful dogs. Duncan was tiny at the time, but he grew fast and about a year later he was also about 80 pounds or 90 pounds and Wilson at this point was over 100 pounds.
Wilson didn’t end up eating him. We didn’t know for sure whether he’d be territorial, jealous and any of the other kinds of things. They became brothers from another mother and the fastest of pals. They did everything together. They slept in the same room together and were just buds in the deepest sense of the word. We would, later on, find that Willy would get these ear infections and he was more prone to them and we’d catch Duncan licking his ear. We knew Willy had an ear infection when Duncan would be licking his ear because he knew Willy was in pain, but we didn’t know it. He’s a dog. He couldn’t say, “By the way, I’ve got an ear infection. Can you handle this, please?” It wasn’t until he could tell, he was shaking his head or there were other signs to take him to the vet. They said, “He’s got an ear infection again.” The telltale was Duncan’s love, his care for his buddy and his brother, which was so beautiful.
When we were living on the East Coast at the time, we would go every summer to Martha’s Vineyard to this little island off the coast of Cape Cod. It was there that we would spend so much time walking. I love walking with these dogs. These are my buds to walk with and my companions. We’d walk down these dirt roads, walk to the beach and walk to the pond. Wilson is a black Labrador so he’s a part duck in case you don’t know. They have skin and fur and everything. He’s like a duck. The water sheets right off of him. He would love to go in the water. The water was his thing. Duncan has this much longer fur, his long hair golden retriever, he did not dig the water at all. We could tell early he was not going to be that kind of a retriever. He’d go retrieve stuff. If you throw a ball through a stick, he’d go get it. If you threw the stick into the ocean or into the pond, he just let it go. He wouldn’t go in after it because he wasn’t into it. Me, I am a Pisces. I love the water. It is my place. It’s where I find the greatest piece. I can get back to myself, regenerate my energy, regenerate my spirit, and many things from that water environment.
Not Letting Me Swim Alone
I swim to be in a place that’s as gorgeous, beautiful, breathtaking, as the Nantucket sound or the vineyard sound. The swim was everything so I would take the dogs down and get in the water. The classic Wilson would go in and he’ll do a little lap. He’d go out ten to fifteen yards, turn around and come back in. That was as much as exercise as that dog ever wanted to have. Duncan, on the other hand, because he hated the water for whatever reason, he would bark at the shore. Despite his fear or his dislike of the water itself getting wet, he would go in the water anyway. He would swim after me. It was the most amazing thing that he would swim behind me. I started to notice because I would see him there. I’d swim on my stomach doing the front crawl, the breaststroke or something. I could tell, look back and see that he was back there. I would flip over and swim on my back to be able to talk to him or look at him and I would hear him crying. The dog was crying. He was making sounds like a baby because he didn’t want to be in the water. He wasn’t going to let me swim alone. I still, to this day, look back and cannot believe that this went on.
It went on for years that I would go down to the water and have the dogs off leash at the beach. I would get in to do my swim. He would get in after me and would be crying the entire time doing the doggy paddle. He was good. He was a good swimmer. He’s very strong in the chest and had no trouble keeping up with me. In fact, I had to swim even faster because he was so anxious. His anxiety level was so high that if I stopped or slowed down to talk to him or whatever, his legs could cut me from the sheer way that he was reacting. I would have to keep my arm out and keep them at bay. Go around to the backside of him just so he wouldn’t cut me with his front paws. I’d get after it again to start swimming and there he was right behind me crying the whole way, but we were together. It was several years before that stopped. He would get in the water, swim with me, not be visibly upset, and audibly crying about it.
We moved to the West Coast, from New Jersey to San Diego. The pups came out here as well. In fact, two dear friends of ours, Laura and Chris, drove the dogs out. They drove our Suburban packed with stuff. A few weeks later, they had seen the cross-country drive with part of our belongings and our two precious puppies as well as some of the other animals that we had that were making their way across the country. They took care of them all. Out here, it’s the same thing. The beach, the sun, the good life of walking, and other things that dogs love and adore. Duncan became even more of a member of our family as Wilson as well. Duncan was special in his qualities. One of the things that were both special and also tough sometimes to deal with, was anytime I was away I’d come home and for 20 to 30 minutes, it didn’t matter if I came home late at night or early or whatever, he would bark and go crazy. He was like, “I can’t believe you are away. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were going, but I’m so happy you’re home.” He was barking, wagging, jumping and going crazy every time we were away and came home.
Duncan’s Character Traits
His love was unconditional. If we forgot to feed him, if we left him in a dark house by mistake forgot to turn the light on and got home late or any of those kinds of things, you’ll never walk in the house and found either of those dogs to be angry, resentful or giving you the cold shoulder, the way people do, the way I do or some other people do. You get upset with somebody and you give them the business. Some of that passive-aggressive behavior that we’ve come to see so often with people. They weren’t coming from that place ever. It was nothing but love and completely without condition ever. When I think about Duncan, I always think about these three things that were his character traits. One of them was this capacity to reflect unconditional love all the time. There was never a moment, where I got a look from him that didn’t show how much he truly loved me. I would say that’s true for every single person that is part of our family that spent any time with Duncan including our son-in-law, Matthew who had a close relationship with Duncan, as well as our kids, Randi who took care of Duncan and Wilson all the time. They’re always giving them such love, such care, took them to the vet, took them to get groomed, clean, shaved and took care of all kinds of things when I was away traveling and all the rest of it.
He was the embodiment of unconditional love, first and foremost. Secondly, he was this constant beacon of hope. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around people who are super hopeful and super optimistic, but our dog was like that. He always expected in the next moment that something great was going to happen. He knew in the next second how he’s going to get a treat, I’m going to go to the beach, I’m going to get walked, I’m going to get petted, I’m going to get hug, kiss, loved, etc. He knew every time that something great was about to happen. That was his anticipation. It didn’t matter how whether that happened or didn’t happen, whether there was this expectation that was unfulfilled. He never grew cynical about it. He was never tired of it. He never became less than hopeful because the things that would have been fulfilling to him happened infrequently. We didn’t take them to the beach every day. He didn’t get a treat every time he wagged his tail.
There were moments in between, where he was ignored and where we were busy with other things and he had to take a second seat as Wilson did. As we all get to from time to time, he was constantly hopeful. That energy of enthusiasm and hope led a dear friend of ours, Jeremy, to nickname him “Forever Puppy.” That nickname stuck with him for a long time. The third thing about Duncan, which I admired and love about him, was that he wouldn’t leave us behind. He was loyal. When I went out for long walks with him here in the hills behind our home, go out for miles and miles of walk on these dirt hills, he would run ahead and be ten to twenty yards ahead, but he would always stop and look behind and see where I was. He would come back and then go, and he’d do these laps. He’d go ahead, come back, go ahead and come back. He was constantly checking in with us and he left nobody behind. He never left me behind. That level of loyalty, that level of checking in is important to us in our business.
We talk in our business about more love and contributing more love in the world, more love in our marketing, more love in our every aspect of our business development, every aspect of the business products and services that we’ve got. A lot of that love translates into looking at people as relationships and not leaving them behind. Even if they don’t feel like they want to buy a service or a product from us or they don’t want to engage or whatever. Without the judgment that’s associated often with somebody who becomes a client, somebody who chooses not to or isn’t ready or whatever the case is, we just simply want to leave nobody behind. I had learned that lesson earlier on in my life as a lifeguard at Jones Beach. It’s a wonderful place that I got to work for seven summers starting at age nineteen. I learned there that there’s a cost associated with leaving people behind. People go down, drown and they’re gone if you don’t take care of them. When people are in front of you in your water, it’s our job to care for them and to make sure that they don’t go down on our watch and that we don’t leave them behind.
Duncan was like a lifeguard for me. That’s what he was doing when we were in the ocean. He was swimming behind me and crying. He was my lifeguard. He was looking out for me. He was watching to make sure that I didn’t go down on his watch. Duncan passed away. We had to put him down. He had an advanced stage of cancer in his brain. His body was not well anymore and was declining rapidly. We had to do the most awful thing when you are somebody who has a dog, a cat or another animal that is part of your care, you’re in the care of, and in love with. I know any of the people who are out there who have animals that you’re caring for, you end up loving them. You love them like any other being in your life. You love them for their qualities, for their weaknesses, their faults and for their personalities that are so different. Willy and Duncan couldn’t be any more different.
We loved Willy to death. Willy is with us and sad. He’s confused at the moment and devastated by the loss because he doesn’t understand at the level in the same way that we understand it. We can’t know how he gets it. They were brothers, buddies and deeply connected. I know he is mourning the loss of his buddy, his brother, his friend, his partner in crime and everything else as we are. I felt pain in a different way from the passing of our little puppy, Duncan, our Forever Puppy who didn’t last and go on forever. I imagine he is in the ether space. He is in eternity. He has great karma. Being the being that he was, I imagine that he may have a wonderful next iteration of existence in some way, whatever that might look like. Maybe he’ll come back as a toucan, an eagle, some other puppy or a person may be, who knows? I don’t know. I have no way to prove any of that. I feel that it’s possible. I want to believe that his energy will be with us. I know he’ll be with us in our family and the people that got to experience his love, his enthusiasm, his loyalty, his hopefulness, and that people will not forget him.
We’ve got an Instagram page called @WillyDunc and people see pictures for years. We’ve had pictures of the two of those knuckleheads up and people have gotten to know them a bit. Friends and others have sent us notes and condolences. It’s tough because you’re not necessarily prepared for the grieving and mourning with a pet that you would think you’d have. Although I have friends that have lost dogs, cats and have gone through a grieving process very similar to losing a person. I know those two things are not the same. Our love for other beings, the unconditional love that we receive and feel from other beings can’t be quantified in a way that makes it somehow tied to irrelevant to whether this is a person or it’s a pet. I don’t even consider our puppies pets. I don’t even love that word. They’re members of the family, they were and always will be. We had a beautiful ceremony as our family. We went out to the beach, set some intentions and threw some rocks for Duncan. The things we want to remember about him, celebrated him and toasted him. We’ll remember him always. I thought I’m going to do a show to share a little bit about what I’ve been going through. It’s been a tougher week than I expected it would be. We’re remembering him, loving him and wanting to meet wherever you are.
Maybe that’s something you can relate to that you are presently mourning or remembering someone or some other being that you miss, that you love, and that you can identify with this. Maybe that’s something from the past and maybe it’s something you’re going through. Wherever that is, I will say that I get it and there are a lot of people who get it as well. We are celebrating our sweet delicious puppy dog, Forever Puppy, Duncan Markel. He didn’t have a middle name, just Duncan like the donuts and coffee. He’s a joyous, good, sweet and beautiful dog. Duncan had three of the most amazing qualities, traits that I will always remember is his unconditional love, his hopefulness, ever-present hope for the great things that are about to happen and his loyalty, his looking back to make sure that no one is left behind.
For me, he made sure that I wasn’t going to go down in his water on his watch. I love you, Duncan and I miss you. For everybody out there who remind us as often as I can that we are given the time we were given. We don’t know what that will be. It’s the great mystery of life. It’s the great wondering and even maybe part of the great anxiety that we sometimes have about life is not knowing when it will end for us. Gratitude for this moment is precious. It’s powerful. It is a miracle and it’s a miracle that we can engage anytime that we want including right this moment. Regardless of whether this is the most special moment for you, whether you’re feeling like you’re riding on top of the world or whether you’re feeling like the world is riding on top of you at this moment, we still get to choose in this moment to be fully present in our bodies, in our minds, in our hearts and be grateful for that.
It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that to experience something that I can describe from my hand on my heart, on the shirt that says these words, “I love my life.” That feeling is a feeling of peace. That feeling is joy, serenity, and I wish that for everyone, for me, for you, for all of us as often as we choose to create it. I hope that what you choose to do is create it often. When you wake up, you can create and start to create or continue the habit that you’ve created of starting your day with those words. You can take ten seconds. That’s all it takes. It’s such a simple practice, to put your feet on the floor and feel gratitude, feel appreciation for yourself, your life, others, the universe, your breath, and say out loud, “I love my life. I love my life. I love my life.” What a blessing, everybody. We’ll see you soon.
- @WillyDunc – Wilson and Duncan’s Instagram