Travels with Sandy

Sandy for blog rotated
In July we laid to rest Sandy, our sweet old dog. She was 15 and 8 months old. Last November we had a birthday party for her. We invited other dog owners who would understand that special bond between we humans and our dogs. We didn’t invite any other dogs because truth be told, Sandy got along better with people. We hosted this party (her first) because we sensed that it would be her last. Our dog had been diagnosed with cancer the previous year. Our veterinarian was surprised that she was still with us.

Sandy was a loyal and affectionate companion. She was also a marker for our family. Our daughters were age 7 and 4 when as a puppy Sandy arrived at our home. Sandy has travelled with our daughters from elementary school to college. She offered unconditional love and a listening ear during the sometimes stormy times of adolescence. When home from college Sandy would welcome each daughter by doing her ‘happy dance’ which consisted of running in a circle.

Late this Spring my wife and I moved from Oregon our home of twenty years to Massachusetts. Moves are never easy. I asked our veterinarian if he thought Sandy was up to the trip. He responded, ‘she isn’t in pain and as long as she is with you, she is happy.’

An objective observer might say that taking an old dog cross-country wasn’t a sensible thing to do. (I should note that Sandy and I and my friend Bob, would be driving cross-country in a small Honda Fit).But as I said, Sandy was a marker for our family. She was a constant source of affection and loyalty and at a time when we were saying good-bye to so much, our family needed the comfort that Sandy always provided.

So it was that Sandy went for her last long ride, 3000 miles. She calmly watched the countryside pass and her often rhythmic snoring matched the rolling of the tires. Being an old dog she needed to be walked several times a day. This slowed our progress but the emotional comfort she provided was worth it.

My wife Tricia arrived a few weeks later at our rental apartment in Massachusetts and Sandy was there to greet her. Our daughter visited and Sandy wagged her tail.

Two months later we took Sandy to a vet. The veterinarian with great empathy told us that the cancer had spread and that she thought it was time to ‘let Sandy go’. She said that ‘dogs have a way of hiding their pain because they want to stay with their pack’.

A few days later I took Sandy out for her last walk. She and I walked into the woods and I buried my face in her mane and wept. I thanked her for being such a wonderful friend to me and our family. Sandy stood by my side and slowly wagged her tail.

We drove Sandy to the pet clinic and she was laid to rest. Her ashes will go into the garden of the house we moved into this past week.

It’s been said that we attribute human emotions to our pets such as loyalty and love. What I do know is that Sandy graced our family with great comfort over the course of her long life. She helped us raise our daughters and gave us one last gift in helping us get settled in a new place. Thank you, sweet old dog.

A Life Well Lived

Today I learned that a childhood friend had died.  Larry Mills was a big man in size and in character.  My most vivid memories with Larry took place while skiing in New Hampshire or Colorado.   Larry was a large man who moved down the mountain with athleticism and grace.

Larry had a playful personality and made me laugh.  In the beautiful movie ‘Waking Ned Devine’, an elderly man reflects upon the passing of a dear friend, he says:  “We grew old together.  But when we laughed, we grew younger.  If he were here today I would say, thank you for being a great man, and thank you for being a friend.” 

This summer I was at a reunion of friends from High School.   We gathered at our friend Clyde’s yard on a sultry summer evening.  We had a few beers and laughed as we did in school.   It was a poignant night for we had all lived long enough to know that such moments are fleeting and that life itself is a gift to be savored.

Larry was at the reunion and had been dealing with cancer for several months.  That night he was feeling good.   As always with Larry he made us laugh.  In his playful company we all grew younger.

In his 57 years Larry became a great man.  Great in his love for Sue his wife, children and extended family.  Great in the professionalism and integrity he brought to his work.  Great in his commitment to the well-being of his local community.  Great in his faith in God.  Great in being a friend.

Thank you Larry for a life well lived.  We will be forever in your debt.

Giving and Taking

is given that is not
taken, and nothing taken
that was not first gift.
                ~ Wendell Berry

Source: Sabbaths 1998 VI

‘Nothing is given that is not taken’…… This line from Wendell Berry’s poem came to mind this past week as I prepared for two funerals.  One was for an infant who lived for only one hour.  The other was for a 93-year-old woman who died peacefully surrounded by the love of her six children and their spouses.

One life barely begun, the other lived fully.  Such a contrast reminds us of how out of balance life can be.  One family holding their child for an hour…another family savoring their mother’s long life and their shared journey.

is given that is not
taken, and nothing taken
that was not first gift.

The invitation in both situations is full of challenge and opportunity.  For one family it is easier to see ‘the gift’ in their mother’s long life.  For the family in the wrenching loss of their baby, it is far more difficult.

In the Christian tradition we speak of Grace.  Grace is a presence that offers to walk with us during moments of joy and pain, of welcoming and of leave-taking.  Grace is a presence  that seeks to meet and bless us.  Grace is what comes to us when words cannot be found. 

May Grace rest with each family.  May Grace rest with you.