“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” — Doris Day
On the path of life God has given some incredible aids to enhance the thrill of success, to curb the sting of loneliness, to ease the pain of loss, and to make even the most seemingly insignificant moments exciting. These aids walk beside us, guard us at night, forgive our faults and love us unconditionally.
No other creature on earth can provide the comfort of a dog. This month, my grandmother passed away, and the loss was heavy on the family, especially her devoted husband. It was her time, and she passed peacefully, but her absence was felt immediately and will be felt in so many future moments, because we all love her so much. Among all those she left behind, were two furchildren.
In the days after her death, my grandfather would go outside and hold his dogs close to him. The eldest walked slowly around, looking at all the friends and family that had gathered, and never barked, but with a sincere and understanding look in her eyes, seemed to thank us for coming. She made sure she slowly approached each table, and she even stood in line for food instead of approaching first. The younger dog never left her dog house. The look on her face was one of deep despair. Without understanding our conversations, she knew. She just knew. And she felt pain and loss.
I left my dog Sydney with my parents when I moved to my teeny one bedroom apartment in 2010. She now has a “pack” that includes my parents’ furkids, PJ and Osa. My visit was welcomed with the usual jumping, tail wagging and licks. At one time, I was talking to Mom and petting PJ. Dad was walking in and out of the room, and PJ would look at him and look at me with a worried expression in her eyes. She laid down and let out a sigh. I would pet her and kiss her head. She was worried about Dad, and she could sense the weight of grief he carried.
Writing my grandmother’s eulogy came to me at 4:30am, so I had to start writing when I could think of words. When I write, I need quite and concentration. As the words poured out, I started to weep at the computer, and then I couldn’t see the screen so I had to stop. Sydney put her head on my knee and looked at me with big brown eyes. I petted her head. When she tried to crawl onto my lap, I told her to get down, and she sat at my feet. A very hyper dog, she never is still for very long without a good hour of play beforehand. She didn’t play with the other dogs, but remained perfectly still, watching me. Every time I got up to get something to drink, she would follow me. She followed me all over the house as I got ready. When I would look into her brown eyes she would howl and whine and tap her feet.
After we laid my grandmother’s body to rest, the next day I knew we needed to get out and get air. I demanded we take Sydney to the mountains. She was so excited, and for a day, she allowed us to forget the world we left behind and to just relax and enjoy the beautiful mountain air and desert scenery. She made us laugh, because in just a year, she has become more out of shape. She stopped us three times during our hike to find shade and sit down. I was astonished, because she used to run with me twice that distance every morning. As we neared the end, a lizard crossed our path, and she looked at it as if to say, “eh, go ahead, not worth the attempt.” Even though she was wanting breaks, she made sure that she was the first one on the trail, and that she knew where we all were. She had to make sure it was safe, and we were together.
Sometimes we take for granted the characteristics dogs always have, that we do not. And lessons they have learned, that we sometimes forget. They are always ravenous learners. Every new object and creature has a history, and a story, and it should not be ignored. Every day has the promise of unfathomable joy and discovery. Hearts can be broken, and must be treated with care. We do need one another, to lean on, to walk with, to hold.
Our path will only be richer with a dog to walk with, to remind us to love the journey.