The Loss of [Wo]man’s Best Friend

I will start this post by offering only this caution: If you are not a dog lover, you will probably not be able to understand what follows. It may be best if you do not read on.

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I have never loved anything as much as I loved my dog.

A week ago, my family and I made a decision that I have been praying for over a year and a half we wouldn’t have to: to euthanize our beloved collie, Teddy.  In October 2011, Teddy experienced a collapse that was linked to a heart condition, and in February 2012, he went into heart failure. At that time, we were told he would likely only live an additional three to six months, and understandably, we were devastated. However, at subsequent check-ups with his cardiologist at the incredible Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, his heart condition continuously did not worsen.  We were overjoyed with each positive report, but sadly, Teddy seemed to have developed a neurological condition that affected his ability to walk. When this condition suddenly worsened over the weekend to such a point that he could not stand, much less walk, leaving the only option of performing an MRI for which the sedation may kill him due to his heart or to catheterize him at home, we knew it was time.

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Sleeping next to my bed

An empty darkness now hangs in the house, a kind of impenetrable silence that is almost deafening.  We promptly disposed of his bed, food, toys, etc, but his infamous tumbleweeds of fur still lurk in corners and under chairs. The backyard seems to no longer have a purpose, as it was Teddy’s domain. My tiny bedroom looks so much bigger without his bed on the floor next to my own, and gone are the days of him crying at 6 am to be fed.  But as sad as I am, I try to remind myself that we were lucky enough to experience so much more time with him than even the best doctors in the region thought we would.  And as weird as it may sound, a part of me just had a feeling that this was going to happen this summer, that time was running out, that we couldn’t be that lucky for that long. Two days before he died, I woke up to let him out and he was having a particularly hard time walking. After falling several times, I just sat down with him on the front lawn and started crying.  He seemed to not be trying any more, and there was a certain emptiness in his gaze.  As bad as some of his weak spells had been, never before did I get an overwhelming sense that the end really was near.  But as that day wore on, he seemed to get a little bit better, making it appear as though I had overreacted, but that strange sense still hung around me. Thus, when my brother texted me on Monday to tell me they were taking Teddy to the vet, I was not that surprised and feared that this would be the last of such trips.  Nevertheless, the decision to put him down was the most awful experience of my life and I really do feel that my life will never quite be the same.

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My brother and me with Teddy, Easter 2013

Some may wonder why the loss of a dog is so painful, and as odd as it may sound, Teddy was more than just a dog to me; he was truly a friend who through his every move taught me so much about how to best live life. We got Teddy when I was in sixth grade. Since Day 1, he taught me about responsibility and how to have fun in the purest senses. From those same early days, Teddy showed that his health would always prove problematic, for he developed epilepsy before he was even a year old. The seizures were seldom frequent, usually occurring once every six to eight weeks due to certain triggers.  They were difficult to watch, as his body tensed and convulsed and he held his breath, and they even made me cry, for I so loved this dog that it killed me to see him in such discomfort. While some may have euthanized him then, my family and I knew that it was a condition we could manage with a little more caution and control of his environment, and he had several stretches of six month periods or longer without any seizures. Managing that condition required such a patience and love that has never been required of me before.

Having had him for nearly half of my life, Teddy was one constant source of comfort through some truly difficult periods.  I cannot tell you how many tears of mine the fluffy white fur around his neck held, as I would usually curl up next to him and bury my face in his fur when something bad sent me into such a state. He would usually sit and let me hug him or pet him until I calmed down.  Sometimes, if I cried by myself, he would come up to me and either lick the tears off my cheeks or just lean against me.  Other times, he brought a toy to me in an attempt to distract me and get at least a small smile to spread across my face.  Teddy added so much joy to my life, as we ventured on walks in the neighborhood and played in the backyard.  He always greeted me with so much joy when the bus dropped me off around the corner in middle and high school and when I returned from being away at college.  Teddy was a master of just being a silly dog who through wanting all the attention I had always brought some amount of joy to my days.  Road trips down to Long Beach Island, NJ meant it was just him and I chilling in the back seat of my mother’s Santa Fe for five hours, when on the way there he was an excited ball of energy and on the way back he usually snuggled up against my side as we both snoozed, exhausted from the fun in the sand.  It was this constant companionship, even in the toughest of times, that taught me what true love and loyalty is.

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Teddy and Kassy

I suspect that my family and I will grieve for a long, long time. But I consider myself to be one of the luckiest individuals in the world to have been blessed with a dog that served as a best friend for nearly twelve years of my life.  So much of my life and the life of my family centered around being dog owners, and to suddenly have that stripped away is causing a bit of an identity crisis.  In the days since, people keep telling me that they know how much I loved him and how much he meant to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a more meaningful compliment.  To have it be widely known how much love I had for one creature speaks volumes, and if that is a trait that people easily equate with me, then I could not be more honored, and it makes me rest a little easier knowing that Teddy must have known how much I loved him, too.  Sitting here, sadness overwhelms me, but while the end was not peaceful like they say it’s supposed to be, the deepest parts of my soul tell me it was time to let him go.

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Rest in Peace, Teddy. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend.
August 24, 2001 – June 24, 2013

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Strangers in the Struggle

The stained-glass window at my home parish of St. Rose of Lima in Northborough

It’s not every day that a stranger comes up to you and tells you that she loves you.

I’ve been struggling. I’ve reverted to the quiet and reserved little thing that hasn’t really shown her face for a few years. Loneliness seeps in between the phone calls and Facebook messages that dull in comparison to what it was to be in close contact to those who are so dear in my heart. And faith? That’s been weakening, too, peaking in small moments but then receding as if some kind of drought has struck it.

Last Sunday, my parish priest appealed to the congregation to take part in the four-night Lenten parish mission that was to start that same day. I had every intention of attending on Sunday but the day got away from me and I wasn’t able to make it. Monday and Tuesday brought other conflicts, but Wednesday I was finally able to make it for the closing Mass. I slid into one of the back pews and took note of all the familiar and mostly older faces that surrounded me. There is something that I really like about going to Mass on my own, especially at home – it allows me to reflect more and take in the words of the Gospel and of the priest. I should have known it would be an interesting Mass when it opened with “Here I am, Lord,” the perfect service song that always reminds me of my days at Assumption. I closed my eyes and sang the words, loud and clear, trying to recall what discipleship now means to me in this post-grad life.

The presiding priest, a visitor from a parish in Uxbridge, MA, gave a stirring homily about always seeking God and letting Him be there to hold us and take care of us. My eyes welled with tears at several moments, as so much of what he preached was exactly what I had needed to be reminded of.

But the real God moment came at the end of Mass. As the majority of people filed out of the church, I knelt back down and prayed for much of what I have recently neglected to. I could feel tears well in my eyes as I reflected on the themes of the homily and the desire to be more present in my faith.  As I absentmindedly gazed at a spot in front of me and mulled over all my feelings in a jumbled prayer to God, I felt a hand on my shoulder and a sweet voice say with so much sincerity, “We love you, Dear.”

I turned to see a very elderly woman and her husband, both fixtures of the parish who I have probably interacted with only a few times despite having spent my entire life as a member of St. Rose. I just felt a sense of shock. I smiled and chuckled a bit and thanked her, and she grabbed my hand and gave it a little squeeze and hobbled away with the support of her husband. The two had sat behind me for Mass and in the recent months, I have witnessed this towering man patiently help her in and out of the church as well as to the front of the church to receive the Eucharist as it has very clearly become increasingly different for her to move around on her own.  It’s really a touching yet sad sight to watch, and made it all the more meaningful that she turned her attention from herself, presumably away from the pain, and reached out to me, who evidently looked like I needed a reminder of love.

As her and her husband progressed past me, I turned back and finished my prayer, despite the renewed sense of tears in my eyes. It had to be a moment from God, a way for Him to remind me that no matter how discouraged and frustrated and hard I have been on myself lately, there is so much love around me, even from strangers.

Someone Else

You saw him today. 

Yes, no matter how much time passes by, he is the one who makes a smile spread across your face the second you are reunited.  The one who still makes your heart skip a beat when his name flashes on your phone. The one who gives you butterflies when he compliments you. The one that, no matter how many years pass or how much you grow, will always have a little piece of your heart.

Yes, you thought you were better, thought you had finally put this all behind you.  You’ve grown and changed, but those feelings rushed in the second you thought it was safe to open the door to peek at them.  So that feeling returned and brought you back to when anything was possible. 

But for one reason or another, it is not meant to be, at least not now, but maybe not ever.  As perfect as it may seem in the moment, it isn’t.  Maybe you aren’t laughing as hard as you could, maybe there is a false sense of trust, or maybe, just maybe, you were meant for someone else.

Yes, someone, maybe far away or maybe close by, but not him.  No, not him. You must let go and move on and give him to someone else.  Someone who needs him more than you. 

And you need someone else more, too. You may not see it now, but honey, it is God’s honest truth.  The two of you will fit perfectly, one piece to join the other, and you’ll forget what happened in the days before you fit together.  

But for now, you’ll let the beats skip and the butterflies fly. Smiles brighten and fade, but somehow, as you drive away, it all makes you feel empty. Cold, and empty, and wanting more while wanting less.

Yet one day you will feel full. Yes, I promise, one day you will be full.

Lessons from an Old Man to a Young Friend

The romantic inside of me grew about 10 sizes today. She’s been looking a little lean lately, since there hasn’t been much to feed her. Stories of bruised and broken hearts tend to wear away at her, diminishing her smile and sucking the rosiness from her cheeks. But today, she grew.

This is my second summer as an intern at a private museum, its contents owned by an elderly but still prominent local businessman with a true passion for American history that rivals my own. He seems to have done everything and met everyone, including starting his own nation-wide business, speaking to the United States Senate, building a hospital in Vietnam, opening a branch of his business in China, and orchestrating a million dollar fundraiser for a local food pantry. He is a bit demanding and it can be a challenge to fully follow his ideas, but over time he has come to call me his “lovely young friend,” even telling me once last summer that he regards me like a granddaughter. I thoroughly enjoy the one-on-one conversations that take place as he combs through the museum with me in tow, in search of a new project.  These encounters are rare, but I have come to crave the entertaining anecdotes and the irreplaceable wisdom that accompany them.  Today, as we came across an over-sized porfolio documenting his accomplishments with the hospital in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he asked me, “Would you say that I’ve had an interesting life?”

“Absolutely!!” I exclaimed. By my age, this man had served in the Korean War and was on the path to starting his own business. “I feel like I learn something new and interesting about you every day!”

We began to walk back toward his office. “Well,” he said pensively, putting his hand on my shoulder. At this point, I expected to hear the secrets to great success and prepared myself to take copious mental notes. “I couldn’t have done it without a wonderful wife.”

“From everything I’ve heard, she sounds like a wonderful woman,” I said with a smile as my heart began to melt.

“It’s all her…without her, none of this would have been possible.”

We walked in silence and then he addressed his secretary, customarily signaling the end to our conversation. I returned to my desk, tears forming in my eyes over such a beautiful testimony of true, everlasting adoration for one’s spouse. From all accounts that I’ve heard, she has never failed to stand by him, through genuine trials and his grand successes, and he clearly gushes over her when she comes up in conversation.

Throughout this internship, I’ve learned so much about American history. It’s a history major’s dream after all, to be paid to conduct historical research and write about it on a daily basis. Watching my boss’s business, I’ve learned the importance of networking and utilizing one’s connections. But today I came to realize that I’ve learned a lot more from watching the man behind it all, removed from the business and the museum. For you are never too successful, too old, too powerful, or too well-connected to not owe your success to those who support you. You are never above showing your gratitude for them. You must pursue your passions in every way possible, no matter how lofty such a goal may be. And you must always, always give back to the community who produced you and molded you into the person you are today. While the little romantic within me grew today, so did the woman she hides behind in really appreciating these lessons.