Boy

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a whole year since you haven’t greeted me at the door. Or followed closely nearby. Even if I were still half asleep, you and your sister would be so happy to see me in the morning. You would both run to the kitchen, but you always turned back to walk behind me—every single day.

Last year while the world tuned into politics on Election Night, I went downstairs to test my Christmas lights. There is nothing worse than setting up a tree and having lights not work. It was early, but I felt I was to do it.

When I plugged in the first string, I heard,

“We will take good care of him over here, Chris.”

I didn’t get it.

“He will be leaving soon, Chris. We will take good care of him here.”

I sat there in total silence. This could not be possible. My dog of twelve years just had developed a slight limp. He was eating fine, maybe sleeping a little more but went into his usual high energy bark mode at everything that passed by the front window.

“What?” I asked.

“He’s leaving you, Chris. He’s coming to the other side, and he will be taken really good care of.”

“No. I don’t believe it,” I whispered. “No way. He just has a limp.”

He had this same issue many times, and the vet had told me eventually he might need a knee replaced. He wasn’t a dog who gracefully jumped from couch to chair, but he flew without his feet touching the ground. If there was something for him to guard us against, he was in the air leaping.

I tried to stop this behavior by buying a set of dog stairs, and he jumped over them. It was just in his DNA to fly to his next location. This had taken a toll on his joints. I gave him a supplement to help, but his mobility would show signs of weakness every once in a while.

I sat there wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. Maybe it was a case of worry, and I imagined the worst.

“Chris, it’s true. He’s leaving soon.”

Suddenly I realized that what I heard was coming. I crawled into the bathroom and shut the door. I lay on the floor as tears streamed down. I was hoping I was wrong.

“Where’s mom?” I heard someone say from upstairs. I had to pretend all was well. I was probably just making this up in my head. I splashed cold water all over my face. I have done this so many times in my life. Just cover and don’t say a word. I had gotten very good at it.

Slap on a smile and give a good performance.

When I got upstairs, no one would have guessed what I knew. I glanced across the room to see him sleeping so peacefully. See? You’re wrong.

I decided to text my younger daughter, and I just couldn’t say the words out loud.

“Do you think he is leaving us?”

She looked at me with a frown and shook her head no. Oh, good. I was wrong.

The following day he wouldn’t eat, which helped me decide to bring him in.

“We are going to have to do surgery on his back leg. And we took blood. Once that comes back, we can go ahead, but we have to make sure the anesthesia will be safe for him to have. Other than his leg, he is really healthy, and I think he has at least another 5-8 years to live. You have taken such good care of him.”

I had known this vet the entire twelve years of our dogs’ lives, and his advice has always been trustworthy.

“I’m going to give you some pain pills for him, and that should help with his eating. Once the blood sample is back, I will call you.”

I took him home and started on the medication. Just like I was told, he began to eat again. Not as much, but I figured it was a good sign. I kept pushing away the still, small voice. Nope. It wasn’t right.

The next day, he was back to not eating again. I made another call to the doctor. It was late in the day by the time he got back to me. He has a busy practice.

“I need you to bring him into my office tomorrow immediately. The blood work shows he has no red blood cells. This is impossible. He shouldn’t even be here right now. I want to take another sample and read it under a microscope myself. We had the other sample sent to the lab, and I want to be sure it’s right. I’m leaving medication for him at the front for you to pick up tonight. But you have to promise me you will bring him back in tomorrow morning right away. I normally don’t come in on Saturday, but something isn’t right.”

I gave him the pills to get his body to produce red blood cells and the pain medication. I tried to stop the inevitable, but I had to, and I continued to ignore the other thoughts.

What didn’t help was that my daughter, who initially said I was wrong, now thought I was right.

“I don’t want to be right,” I said after his first dose. And it was a fight to get him to take it.

The next day, I took him in. This was during the shutdown, and usually, I had to wait in the car. But, they had made an exception. Sitting in the exam room all alone, I couldn’t get away from what was happening, and there was nothing to distract myself with.

“He has no red blood cells, and I saw it for myself. Please continue to give him all the medication over the weekend and see how he does. Do your daughters know that he is very sick? I’m shocked. Until I saw the bloodwork, I would have never guessed.”

“They know everything you have said.”

“I will call you Monday. The medication can really help.”

They handed him over to me, and he relaxed into my arms. He never was a big fan of going there.

By Monday morning, I knew for sure we were about to say goodbye. I had left my bedroom door open on Sunday night, and he had gone into the kitchen, which he never did. He slept with one eye open by me every night. For him to not stay with me was his way of trying to spare me.

I was undecided about what to do. He was weak but sleeping. His breathing was somewhat off, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. At 9 am, the vet called.

“How is he?”

“I think he is leaving.”

“You can bring him in. And I will be here to help. You don’t want him to suffer.”

“This is happening fast. I need to think. I will call you back.”

“Okay. You let me know. If I weren’t so busy, I would come to your house.”

I started looking up in-home pet agencies that would come and assist us with end of life services.

“Wait until noon, Chris.” That still, small voice. I put my arm around his neck as I lay on the floor by him, and he rested his chin in the crook of my elbow.

“If you need to leave. You can, and I don’t need you to stay. We will be okay without you.”

I felt I needed to give him permission to go, and so did my daughters. We each told him it would be okay.

I continued to look up emergency services as the clock ticked.

He got up and moved into the kitchen, and I followed, putting him on my lap. He had been avoiding me most of the morning. My daughter sat next to me.

“You can go. We will be ok,” I said again.

“I think he is going to leave,” she said.

“Me too.”

“He’s giving us a gift, so we don’t have to make the decision.”

“I know.”

He took a deep breath, and we knew. I looked at the clock, and it was exactly twelve.

For a brief moment, I felt peace, just like it should be. I saw him leap into heaven, from my lap into the arms of God.

The next part was one I didn’t see coming. His body shut down, and blood poured over my legs, ankles, and feet. I found out later this is common, but I panicked. I moved him off of me, and I knew it was over. I couldn’t breathe as I lay on the floor. I felt myself begin to blackout.

I suddenly was leaving my body. I wanted to go with him, and he just couldn’t leave me. It hadn’t even been a week since I had heard what was about to happen.

My daughter put her hand on me to call me back, and I could barely hear her voice. I just wanted to go with him. How was I going to go so long without him? He was my watchdog and guardian.

When I was sick once with a high fever, I hung on to his paw, and he let me while I had drifted into and out of sleep. He was the one to make me laugh when I didn’t want to and scratch my hand when he wanted attention. I couldn’t imagine being without him. He had arrived after my divorce and brought stability to a chaotic house. God had sent him to us, and I didn’t realize the depth of it until he left.

As I came back into my body and could breathe again, I had to deal with the next step. I went into the bathroom to wash his blood off of me. I didn’t want to, and it meant he was gone. I just kept telling myself I had to do the next thing. Step by step, as if in slow motion, I moved. I had to hand him over at the place I had taken him so many times to be made well.

He was cremated, and I took his ashes to the home where he was born. His dad and sister are buried there, so we thought he should be too. That drive is short, but it was the longest of my life. Each small thing felt like a new goodbye.

They say the first year is challenging following a death, and it is. I felt guilty sometimes because I missed him more than some people I knew that had died, and I felt like I had lost a child.

It’s an adjustment, but he lets me know he’s not far away. One night, I had a dream. I saw him sitting next to a little girl who was maybe about two years old. She looked bewildered, like she didn’t know where she was. He was on his best behavior, sitting up straight in guard dog stance. I saw dog tags on his neck, which I never had him wear.

I heard:

“His job is to welcome in those little ones who get to heaven young. He makes it seem more familiar so that they can get used to it. He earned those tags at your house.”

I wanted so selfishly to say..no! He is mine! But I couldn’t because he never really was. He was on loan to me for a purpose, which he fulfilled.

On a summer evening, I was walking back towards home, and I saw his doppelgänger. All black with the same little bounce and plume-like tail. He turned to bark at me just like mine would have.

“Shadow! No!” The lady said.

I sat down in the grass. He quit barking.

“They get scared when people walk by them,” I said. He came right up to me and sniffed my knee.

Then, he stood with both front paws on my leg and sniffed my face.

“Shadow! He never does this to anyone!”

“It’s ok.”

He started licking my face.

“He usually barks at everyone. He has never done anything like this!”

“Well, he must know I like his kind.”

He had all the same issues mine had…teeth issues, back leg problems, and quickly put on weight if they gave him too many snacks. He is only four, so I was able to tell her what I did to help with some of the problems.

“Does be fly off the couch to get to the chair? Without touching the ground?”

“Yes. You can’t stop him.”

“No, you can’t.”

When I stood up, he licked my hand one last time. Then he barked at me as if he had never met me. Just like mine would have.

His real name given to him at birth before I got him was Stinky. His perfect white stripe down his tummy reminded the breeder of a skunk. To my house, he was Mr. Hairy, Stinky La Rue, Harold, Frenney, my buddy, and whatever else we all thought he should be. He came no matter what we called him, especially if we had food in our hands. But most importantly, he was my boy.

(He always was a good listener when we needed a therapist)
One last look. This is my last picture of him. 12 o’clock came right after I took this.
My gift from heaven…

To the Letter

Two things seem to be antiquated: handwritten letters and printed books with pages meant to be turned. Both of these I genuinely enjoy, so they continue to take up space in my life.

There is a particular author who I have become fond of that has long since passed onto eternity, but I value his insight, and his voice of knowledge rings true for my spiritual growth. His books are still in print, and instead of downloading them, I have made it a personal goal to buy and create a library. I find myself scouring eBay quite frequently, looking for the price I want and the format I would prefer. Usually, this happens as I am engrossed in one of his books, and a reference is made about another title. This puts me on the hunt.

The last time this happened, I was doing my usual mental back and forth regarding paperback versus hardcover. Loud and clear in my mind, I heard: Go with the hardcover!

That narrowed my choices as there was only one. In an instant, it was in the shopping cart, payment was rendered, and I forgot all about it until it arrived a week later.

After retrieving it from the mailbox, I carefully unwrapped the package, then flipped through it to check for highlighted passages or see if any secret notes were scribbled in the margins. I never view these as flaws in used books, and I feel a little disappointed when there aren’t any. It’s fun to read what impacted another and to see if it would resonate with me.

The pages were crisp and clean, so feeling a slight letdown, I went to close it and put it aside until I had finished my current one. That’s when I noticed the letter neatly folded, tucked inside the cover. I smiled, thinking how I will use anything available as a bookmark. Gas receipts, car recall notices, and old bills have not been spared when I need a placeholder.

I unfolded it, saw that it was from 1998, and gave it a quick read. It’s funny how a person can look at a date and make an assumption. I figured the author of the note was either deceased or unreachable. I also had difficulty determining who had been the recipient and why the writer had sent it. It was apparent that there had been a passing, but who needed to be consoled? A widow, perhaps? Because I didn’t have time to delve deeper, I put the whole matter aside.

The following week, I thought that maybe my daughter would benefit from reading that particular book. As I gave it to her, I said,

“There’s a bizarre letter in the front of it. I don’t get it. It’s 23 years old, and probably everyone is long gone who was involved with that.”

Not listening to me as usual, she went online and quickly found information about the man who wrote it.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean, there’s got to be a million men in the world with the last name Brown.”

I had tried to search for him and came up with half a million and quit looking. Talk about your needle in a haystack!

“No, this is him. I know it is.” She had this tone that left no room for arguing.

Still, I was unfazed. I had let my head take over, and I thought this would be an embarrassing situation if I contacted the wrong person. Because of her insistence that I can never refuse, I sent off a message. As soon as I hit send, I started to feel sadness in my chest, like when you lose something valuable, and you can’t get it back, no matter how hard you try.

I looked at her and said,

“I think you found the right Jerry. I don’t know how I am even saying this, but it’s him.”

Randomly, she opened the book to a page where the author discussed his recent North Carolina and Minnesota trips. A coincidence? No, because that is where Jerry was from and I live in a suburb of Minneapolis.

Within a few hours, I heard the familiar sound of my phone receiving a response to my message. I wanted to look, and yet I didn’t.

I found this stranger to be kind and appreciative regarding my efforts to get in contact with him. I had asked if he wanted me to mail his special note back to him, but he told me to keep it. In the course of our conversation, I learned that he and one of the men mentioned in the letter, Bryant, had been best friends. He had penned and given it to Bryant when his dad had passed in 1998.

The book had been on Bryant’s bookshelf with Jerry’s letter kept safely inside. He told me that in May, Bryant had died of cancer just before his 70th birthday. The magnitude of that hit me, and both my newfound acquaintance and I could not help but tell each other that we were sobbing. He admitted that he missed his best friend terribly, and it was startling for him to see the letter from so long ago. Both of us came to understand the profound meaning of what was occurring.

Jerry’s words of comfort were now being sent back to him from heaven. I was so glad that I had listened and chose the copy of the book I now owned. One minute I was laughing, the next, I had tears flowing down my neck like a river. Out of all the people in the world, I had been allowed to help lift another soul. Can anything compare to that? I don’t think so.

It is stated in Matthew 6:8: …for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him…

I didn’t realize that I needed to have this experience just as much as Jerry because it reminded me of how much we are loved beyond what we can hold in our hands or see with our eyes. God knows precisely what will touch us and bring us peace, right down to the letter.

Adapt

Last year right after Christmas, my local hardware store had a clearance on all of their seasonal products. I had been admiring all the candy canes glowing in backyards as I drove around, so I went in and purchased some for the following year. I put them in the closet thinking it would be a long time before I would ever even get to use them until suddenly it was November and unseasonably warm. Because I have struggled to put up lights in frigid bone chilling weather before, I decided to string them up while the weather was still decent.

After examining the instructions which basically showed a small stake being inserted into the bottom of the cane, I got to the task of unwrapping them, pulling off sticky adhesive and plugging them in to one another on the kitchen floor. For good measure I tested them to make sure they lit up, and I was pretty proud of myself when I lined them up in the yard across the front of the house like soldiers in perfect formation.

Amazed at the ease of all of this, I grabbed an extension cord from the garage with much enthusiasm to see my handiwork. When I tried to connect the two, they didn’t fit. I proceeded to dig up every single cord I could find to no avail. Nothing I had was working. Suddenly, my excitement was dying.

“I have to go the hardware store,” I told my daughter.

She knows full well my dislike for not having things work right, and on top of it, I had to go into a store that I consider more for those who like to get their hands dirty.

I brought a cane with me, and upon entering, a young teenage boy asked if he could help me. I explained my story, and with a frown he said,

“We have extension cords over in this aisle.”

He tried the black one, the green one, the brown one and the orange with no luck.

A woman who worked in the store joined him in his pursuit. Another young male crammed into the aisle as we all tried to find the right connection.  The store was empty so this was the height of excitement for them.  We all were coming up empty handed.

“This plug needs an older model,” the woman said.

“I just bought this in the store last year.”

“I know, but they change things all the time. I don’t know if we are going to have anything for this to work.”

My hopes were plummeting as she and the boys were getting nowhere.

“Jerry, can you come to aisle 4 please?” she said into her device. “I am having the store manager come over. He usually knows what to do.”

A tall dark haired man joined us in our quest to figure out an answer. I was reminded of an old joke:

How many people does it take…..to find an extension cord?

He frowned, he looked up and down the shelves and said, ‘no, nope, no’ as he went along.

I was starting to feel hot in my jacket not just from the warmth of the store but from the stupidity of what was happening. Not aimed at the help I was receiving but in regard to the situation of having something brand new, never used, and with the prospect of it already being out of date.

I peered around a corner and saw that the store was selling the exact plastic product that I had purchased on clearance.

“You are selling these right now, so how are people going to set these up?” I asked him.

“You are the first person to come in here with this problem,” the lady said to me as if this was something to be proud of.

Wonderful news, I thought.

As I followed behind Jerry to another aisle, I whispered to my daughter,

“There has to be a solution to this!”

That is when I said inwardly,

God, I need this fixed right now! I expect an answer to this problem.  There must be something that can make this to work.

Suddenly, the man stopped in front of me, went back to the aisle we had just left, and stood there for a second.  I saw his head jerk as if someone had slapped him.

“OH! Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”

He reached up and plucked down a large orange object that had many different outlets around it.

“This should help,” he said.  With ease the two fit like they were made for one another.

I was able to go home, use this device and stand back and admire the beautiful lights that would not have been possible without getting something new to make them work.

With the fast paced world we live in, we often want to make the ‘old’ fit when times are calling to let in the ‘new.’

Change is inevitable even though some of us want to ignore it or fight it.

There are times when we don’t have a choice.  Divorce papers are handed over or a death comes unexpectedly.  How do we cope when a large gaping hole suddenly comes and brings despair?

The only thing I have found to work in all situations is prayer whether the change is a good one by my choosing or it is seemingly out of my control.

In Psalm 91:14-15 we are given this great assurance:

14 For the Lord says, “Because he loves me, I will rescue him; I will make him great because he trusts in my name. 15 When he calls on me, I will answer; I will be with him in trouble and rescue him and honor him. (TLB)

The only requirement mentioned is that you love God, and like a good Father, He will help out his children.

As we go along into the next year with unknown situations ahead of us, the most uplifting thing we can cling to is that we can call on our Creator who will not abandon us but will comfort us in our times of sorrow, will guide us in the right direction and will hold our hand when we need to adapt.

cane