The Problem with Expectations

Jake Ryan Gregg lays 10 feet from me; half on the dining room rug, half off. The bare wood floor is dark and pressed against his belly it cools his body. I scan him for signs of life. Slowly, his ribs expand and contract as I count his breaths to mine. One full for me, two – nearly three – for him. We are nine days from welcoming his twelfth year, three months from our 12-year anniversary. Expand and contract. My eyes can’t look away, even as they fill with tears. I walk to him and press my face against his failing body. Expand. And contract.

I won’t bore you with the story of our lives. I’m a dog mom, and not a novel one at that. Just like most dog moms, I love mine beyond words. I’ve taken him on countless walks. I’ve held him when he hurt. I’ve snuggled him when he was tired. I’ve joyfully met him at the door every time I opened it. And then one day it all changed. I am a mom. I knew.

“Diabetes,” the vet relayed on a mid-March morning. “Manageable,” she continued. By mid-April, manageable wasn’t attainable. May came and we saw the last of his vision leave. Lethargy, bumping into walls, and whimpering became our normal. More tests. “Complicated condition - need more testing; but not a good prognosis, given his diabetes,” the vet relayed on a mid-May evening. “No, we don’t know how long. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Jake Ryan Gregg is a studious dog, always watching and studying the situation. On car rides, I swear he took notes – which would be reliable enough if Google Maps didn’t exist. Because to him, it doesn’t. Neither does death. For 11 years and nine months, I imagined this news would come. I expected it come in year 14, 15 if we were lucky. Poncho, his younger brother, would go first and Jake Ryan would go shortly after. This way Poncho would never be an only dog and Jake Ryan would help Poncho through those last days. That’s what I expected. But that’s not how it’s going to happen.

The problem with expectations is that they always let you down. Expectations are decisions we make freely. At some point we decide something about something that hasn’t happened. We decide how things will go. We decide how people will behave. We decide that since we decided this, it must be true and therefore we set our expectations.

Often things go completely the other way around. People behave in ways you never predicted. We’re left to make sense out of it. We’re left puzzled and perplexed – let down by our expectations. “This isn’t how it was supposed to happen!”, we declare. “I didn’t plan for it to go this way.” Because we set these expectations, we’re the only ones to blame for our own state of puzzled perplexity. We find ourselves blaming those things and those people for not adhering to our expectations. But. But the only person worthy of your disappointment is you. Release yourself from expectations.

No, this isn’t the way I thought our story would unfold. In the many nights we’ve spent snuggled up together, when I’d count Jake Ryan’s breathing against mine, when I’d tell him how loved he his, and when we’d fall asleep intertwined, I expected a longer story. I expected Poncho to leave us first. But reality produces more tears and now guttural sounds from my throat pour out my mouth. It’s a roar I’ve never made or heard. Purely emotional and drunk with pain. I don’t try to silence it.

My companion is leaving me. Not today, but soon. I beg God to let me hold him and count our breaths until mine are the only ones remaining. But I don’t expect it. Instead I will lay next to him tonight and walk him tomorrow and play with him as his strength allows.

What a blessed thing it is to share a dog’s journey. What a delight is has been to be Jake Ryan’s mom. I never expected to love him so much. And there it is: the absence of expectation creates fertile ground for joy. Expect nothing more – and nothing less.


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