This dog had brought her family so much joy. There was one last thing she wanted to do for him.
Posted in , Apr 23, 2021
Charlie wasn’t my dog. I was just his caretaker by default. He belonged to my husband, Brandon. Really, his heart belonged to Brandon’s first wife, Sherise, who had died in a car accident. Still, when I realized our time with Charlie was coming to an end, it hit me hard.
At nearly 15, Charlie was old for a beagle. He had been declining for months, the cancer spreading inside him. There was no ignoring his hacking cough and the way he dragged himself across the floor. Watching him night after night, unable to ease his torment, I couldn’t help but think about all that he’d given Brandon and me. As well as the debt I owed to a woman I would never know.
I’d met Brandon online a dozen years earlier. He was a widower and had a freezer stocked with Hot Pockets.
Still, I was drawn to him. He dropped movie-worthy lines at just the right moment, charmed me with thoughtful gifts and knew how to make me belly laugh.
The first time Brandon invited me to his house, two-year-old Charlie rushed to the front door to greet me. Then he whipped around the living room like something out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
“He seems to like you,” Brandon said.
Just my luck, I thought. I wasn’t a dog person. I didn’t like the shedding. The barking. The licking.
Brandon had given the beagle to Sherise on her thirty-third birthday, before they were married. Charlie and Sherise had bonded deeply, but eight months later, she was gone. “Charlie camped out at the front door for three weeks, waiting for her to come home,” Brandon said.
He told me Charlie had carried him through the darkest time of his life. He and Sherise had just bought a house, a house they’d planned to fill with children, when she died. Brandon had drowned his sorrows in beer for the better part of a year, and Charlie had been right there, grieving with him.
I met them two years after Sherise’s death. Brandon and I fell for each other and eventually married. Every morning after Brandon left for work, Charlie cried, worried that, like Sherise, Brandon would never return. I didn’t blame him. But I also couldn’t stand the whining, so I made an effort to spend time with him. Slowly we warmed up to each other. I took him for runs and cuddled with him.
Brandon and I had three sons. Charlie always wanted to be part of the action, lapping up spilled milk, traversing rooms littered with Legos and plopping on top of board games in midplay. If the kids’ antics took a toll on him, he didn’t show it, even as he developed cancer at 10, lost his left hind leg at 12 and had surgery for a bleeding growth at 14.
This dog I’d never wanted…he’d taught me so much about perseverance, acceptance and love. He’d captured my heart. Charlie had become a dear friend. He was my dog, even though it didn’t start off that way. Despite all of that, I knew that part of him still belonged to Sherise.
Charlie couldn’t communicate his last wishes, but as he neared the end, it became clear to me what we needed to do.
One night, after settling into bed, I turned to Brandon. “We have to give Charlie back to her.”
“What?” he said, confused.
“We should scatter some of his ashes at Sherise’s grave,” I said.
Brandon nodded, smiling softly.
I looked into options and decided to hire a mobile veterinarian who would come to our house, deliver an injection and help Charlie make his journey to the big dog park in the sky. The crematory would split his ashes for us. Half would stay in an urn on our dresser; the other half would be laid to rest with Sherise. We talked to the boys, and they agreed with the plan.
Two weeks later, almost 14 years to the day of Sherise’s funeral, I packed lunch, Brandon put Charlie’s ashes in our van’s cupholder and we set out to reunite our dog with his first love.
We stopped for flowers. Roses for Sherise; sunflowers for Charlie. The boys brought drawings with them. Our six-year-old, Jack, drew Charlie next to a rainbow bridge with the word giddyap. Eight-year-old Max’s piece showcased an angel welcoming Charlie to heaven. Brian, his twin, drew Charlie as an angel beside an old-style telephone. The caption read: “This is what you can use to call us.”
I laid out a blanket next to Sherise’s plot, and we ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while sharing memories of Charlie. The time Brandon replanted all of the flower beds and Charlie sunned himself on top of the freshly turned soil, smashing the pansies. The time he couldn’t find his way out from under the duvet cover. And the time he tried swimming but sank like a stone.
Then Brandon pulled out the bag of Charlie’s ashes. I suggested we sprinkle them beneath the vase on Sherise’s headstone, closest to her. Brandon removed the vase and each of us took a turn scattering the ashes into the earth.
The boys arranged their drawings by her headstone. Brandon stood back, his eyes teary.
“If someone had told me 15 years ago that I would get married, my wife would die six months later and I would visit her grave with my second wife and our three sons to scatter her beagle’s ashes, I never would have believed it,” he said.
We stood back from the grave, our boys sitting beside the headstone, and Brandon put his arm around me. In his inimitable way, Charlie had been a gift to Sherise. Then Brandon. Then me. And our boys. Here we all were, connected by the true gift—our dog’s boundless love.
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