Goodbye, Old Friend

Gabriel the angel dog, who comforted so many, gets his turn.

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Posted in Jan 16, 2015

Peggy and Mike with Gabriel.

Saturday my husband and I went to say goodbye to a friend.

We were greeted at the door by a Bernese Mountain Dog, blocky, more than 100 pounds, thick black coat with distinctive white chest, white blaze down his face, rusty-brown eyebrows, brown legs, massive white paws. I told you about this dog earlier in this space, and in Guideposts and Angels on Earth. (And you can find more photos of Gabriel here.)

Peggy and Mike with Gabriel.Gabriel. The angel dog.

I first met Gabriel when Mike was in the hospital with blood clots in his lungs. Usually the therapy dog is there for the patient, but in this instance Gabriel came right up to me and sat on my feet. How did Gabriel know how scared I was, and how much I needed him?

“Gabriel always knows,” his mom and handler, Sally, had said.

Since then, Sally and I became friends. Gabriel visited us numerous times–when Mike was in the hospital again, when we lost our golden retriever, Brooks. Gabriel even let me tag along to see how he ministered to stressed college students during exam week.

A few weeks ago Sally told me that 10-year-old Gabriel was ill. Thyroid problems. A large tumor on his lung, next to his heart. Pain. Exhaustion.  Nothing more could be done. His life on earth would soon come to an end.

Never before have I felt the intense urge to say goodbye to a dog–not for myself, and not so much for Sally, although that certainly was a part of it. But for the dog himself.

I wanted to tell Gabriel how much he meant to us. I needed to tell him. And I firmly believed he’d understand. There was something about Gabriel. When he was doing therapy work at hospitals, nursing homes, libraries and universities, he seemed to sense the fear or grief or worry and send back Angel Dog compassion.

I took a seat on the couch, struggling with the sadness. The big dog slowly came over and sat on my feet, just like he’d done in the hospital.

I gently ran my hand down his neck. I wanted to tell him how he’d helped me when I was scared my husband would die. I wanted to tell him how seeing him in the ICU was the only thing that had felt normal in the frightening surroundings.

How his patience and stillness had helped keep my nerves from running amok. I wanted to tell him how comforting it had felt to cry into his thick, soft fur. I wanted to tell him how important he’d been in our lives.

But all those words didn’t come.

“Well done,” is what I said.

I think he knew what I meant. Gabriel always knows.

Gabriel.

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