And then it wasn’t okay…

I like to think that I am pretty much an open book with you. I have shared (and at times, overshared) with a ferocious vulnerability that has helped me cope with some of the most intense and beautiful moments that life has put in my path. I went into the holidays with a proverbial candle burning at both ends, but looking forward to actual rest. We were going to Toronto for almost two weeks and I was packing the car and Canela’s things with a promise to myself to actually take off a few days amid the two weeks because I had barely done it all 2023 long.

Everything was okay, and then very suddenly, it wasn’t okay.

With just a few days before Christmas, I was home packing while Julio was at work. Canela snoring on her bed, I had a suitcase on ours trying to decide which five pairs of denim I was bringing to Toronto, knowing full well I’d probably wear my favourite pairs over and over five times anyways. I wonder why I do that. Hold on to and wear the same thing over and over. That red plaid jacket is going to disappear from my closet Julio jokingly warns me if I don’t switch it out of rotation.

I guess when it comes down to it, I like how the way those few things I like make me feel. These jeans fit when some of my old ones don’t anymore. The jacket is warm on cold winter days, and it’s slimming to the eye. My black tees don’t get stained as easily as the white ones do because I am notoriously spilling things on myself when I eat. But I digress.

I got a message via FB messenger from my mom’s neighbour asking what was happening with my mom. I didn’t think much of it because she’d been seeing some new specialists recently and her health was changing slightly.

No they said.

There’s an ambulance out front of your moms house.

For the longest minute ever, everything stopped.

I’m back in 2016 with my husband sitting me down to tell me my Dad had died.

And no Mama Sue didn’t, please don’t worry – she’s trying ready for another adventure with me soon, but that was essentially the same dread that started in my heels, crawling up my spine and sitting in my lungs.

The next few hours are a bit of a blur, but I managed to have enough sense to find out what hospital the ambulance was taking her to, tell my husband we probably wouldn’t be leaving for Toronto later that day, speak with my brother, and get in the car to drive to the hospital.

The challenging part that day was that until the ambulance arrived, and my mother was triaged, we weren’t allow into the emergency room due to COVID restrictions.

I stood outside the hospital in the cold (wearing my red plaid jacket, now that I think about it) beside my baby brother. Neither of us saying it, but knowing exactly what the other must be feeling and worrying about.

When we finally got in to see Mama Sue, it turns out we only had a very long day ahead of us in the hospital that day for a treatment that has since helped her a lot. A precautionary tale as one may say, but the reliving of those fears and anxieties around a parent’s health not doing much to help my already fragile and weary mind.

The holidays in Toronto were lovely and exactly what I wanted. I got to bare witness to and participate in my mother in law’s famous tamales making (taking notes for when I am going to try them on my own in 2024). We slept in. We allowed ourselves the luxury to be lazy and let whole days of Canela snuggles and movies woven together with day wine and naps wash over us.

New Year’s came and I was blessed to see and celebrate a dear friend again for her birthday. Giving her a hug during a NYE gathering, I realized that as easy as it can be for me to remember who has left my life and friendship, that I am so lucky for new ones and genuine connections like the one I have with her. I hope one day I can thank her for coming into my life at a time when I believed that I had never been more leave-able and unworthy of friendship.

Several hours later and back ck in Toronto before midnight, it was time for bubbly and twelve grapes with family. For those of you unaware of the LatinX tradition, you make a wish on each grape for each month of the year at midnight and as you eat them you put into the Universe that each wish and month will make it true.

With twelve comes some choice, so I made space for a fabulous trip with Julio, financial prosperity, and actual progress in starting our family after years of thinking and just talking about it. Of course the regular stuff was in there too – more balance, more self-love, and so forth. But the day felt perfect and with a good hug from that friend that I held her maybe a few seconds longer, without her realizing that I had healed a wound I didn’t realize I was still carrying, I let go of 2023 and embraced what 2024 had in store for me.

With January underway a few days later, we noticed something seemed a bit off with Canela upon our return to Ottawa. She had a cough that was persistent, and she seemed to be a little less energetic. We knew that her turning 12 this year would mean a new way of life with our elderly dog, and we were adjusting.

But “this” seemed persistent and by January 4 we knew we had to take her to an emergency animal hospital.

I’ll never forget that day. We took some x-rays and the vet was concerned with some cloudiness in her lungs. I of course naively just thought it was pneumonia or something therein that we would just put her back on medication for.

The vet was very kind, and asked if she could take some blood. We had previously had her on antibiotics and steroids in late 2023 because our vet in Toronto was concerned about her platelets levels being dangerously low and having possible kidney issues. The problem is that alongside these new medications, she was consistently thirsty and hungry, and would drink so much water she started to have accidents.

Canela never had accidents and we did our best to manage, while trying to not make her feel embarrassed for something that was so out of control. We loved her even more and just made do with a tough situation.

That night the blood work came back very similar but confirmed the worst possible news. The cloudiness was in fact a very large tumor that had not only caused one lung to completely fail, but was now pushing on her trachea making it hard to breathe.

My heart shattered.

She was dying, and worst of all, it was making her suffer.

You have to understand that I had never had a dog. When we adopted her in 2015 from Dogtales in King City (an excellent rescue centre that I highly recommend. Adopt, don’t shop) I saw this beautiful red face of a Shar Pei mixed with a Boxer and I fell in love.

Over the course of her life with us she helped us when we couldn’t help one another, and since going full time as a content creator again, became very close to me. She was always Daddy’s girl and she unknowingly completed our little family for almost a decade.

We took a few days to be with her, but not too many as not to be selfish and keep her suffering, and on Saturday January 6th 2024 we said goodbye. Being in the room when she left us was the hardest thing I’ve done in a very long time. I laid on the ground beside Julio at her side, wishing she didn’t leave, but knowing this was best for her.

And everything changed when she did.

I don’t know how to describe the loss we are still feeling. I’m doing my best to go through the grief and not avoid it like I did when I lost my Dad. In all fairness my beautiful friend, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job.

I lost my will to write. I have isolated myself from friends. I find it hard not to break down and cry when I think about her.

I used to think people who lost their dogs and were devastated by it were being over dramatic. But now I completely understand.

Since losing Canela I’ve had a few more bumps in the road which I have been secretly trying to manage. I am still not great at reaching out and I am doing my best to work on that. I’m grateful to be writing this post and hope a small spark can relight the fire I once had.

Julio and I are learning what life without her is like. It hasn’t been easy, and adding into the mix worrying about my mom, my finances, and all the while trying to keep face has been a lot. Now that I’m on television I think a part of me is worried if I’m too honest or too vulnerable I’ll lose the opportunity to continue to do it and that causes me a lot of stress. I love being on TV. I love the challenge and the excitement. I genuinely dream about doing more of it and hopes this is just the beginning.

So I guess this is a bit of a confession and a check in with you. To let you know that I’m surviving. I may not be okay just yet but I’m going to try and get there again slowly. I have spoken with my family doctor and have started a new anti-depressant. I’m making time to speak with my psychotherapist more regularly. I’m going to hire an accountant to help me with my finances. And I’m going to remind myself that the world can be a hard place to be in sometimes.

Sending love to anyone out there who is also having a hard time right now.

I love you.

I see you.

You are not alone.

Don’t forget to be kind & laugh a little more this year 

Daniel Reyes Cocka xo 

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