I felt something inside me give, something that had been clenched since the moment Millie died.
Posted in , Oct 30, 2015
God’s love finds us in many inspiring and surprising ways, a lesson I’ve learned again and again, usually when I am at my lowest, when I am grieving but trying to move forward. Because forward is the only option.
This time it was a lesson in trust. In letting go. I stood on a long narrow path through the woods, the tall grasses of a marsh rising up on both sides, fanned by the autumn breeze. The trees were nearing their peak, kaleidoscopic against a cloudless sky.
At my side was our new puppy, five months old. She sat, as asked, her nose aquiver, her ears up. I held onto the leash tightly. But not for long. We’d been walking this flat stretch of trail a lot but always on leash. Today I would see what she would do when the leash came off.
It had been more than a month since we lost our beloved Millie, our eight-year-old Golden, to cancer. Many of you followed her story and thousands of you prayed for her, prayers I’m convinced helped her have a wonderful and healthy last summer on Earth and certainly comforted Julee and me.
She died painlessly and peacefully in our arms. I felt her cross over, and it felt like a privilege, almost sacred. I only cried later when I ran out to catch the departing vets so I could take some clippings of Millie’s hair. They raised the trunk. She was all curled up in a blanket. Dogs don’t close their eyes when they are euthanized. Millie’s were half-open. What a brutal shock to see no life from a place where so much life had been. I sobbed.
With her last breath, an aching void began to form in my in my life, in my soul. There was never any doubt we would get another dog. Julee and I had always had a dog to love, sometimes multiple dogs. But grief can be confusing. We skipped from web site to web site, looking at breeders and rescue organizations. We filled out applications that were never responded to.
Finally a friend suggested we check with our local Golden Retriever club. Maybe they could help. I looked them up and sent an email.
I rarely remember dreams, but that night I had one so vivid I woke up wondering if it would follow into the bedroom. I was standing in an endless field of tall grass. In the distance I saw a golden tail, fading in and out of the swaying green, zigzagging closer. I caught a glimpse. Was it Millie? At once it was her and then it wasn’t. It was smaller, but not quite a puppy, not like she had been when we got her at eight weeks. Then it was Millie again, then the puppy, ever closer, so close I heard panting. Then I woke up.
That morning I got an email from the Golden Retriever Club. There was a breeder across the Hudson who had a female Golden, an older puppy, the last of the litter. She was four months. The breeder thought she would keep her for breeding but changed her mind. She didn’t say why. She sent us a picture. Julee stared at the screen for a long time then said, “Let’s go.”
Two hours later we were at the breeder’s, having stopped only to buy a bright red collar and matching leash and to cash a check, since the breeder wouldn’t accept any other form of payment except the old-fashioned kind.
She brought us inside. The house was a mess, a jungle of boxes and bags the contents of which I was afraid to know. There was unfinished artwork. Julee pushed right past the baby gate blocking off half the kitchen where a skinny puppy with eyes like melted chocolate and a coat the color of the inside of a banana peel sat. An instant later Julee was on the floor laughing, and the puppy had her hat in her mouth.
“She’s the one,” Julee said. “Absolutely she’s the one. I know it. Let’s go.”
At which the suddenly liberated puppy launched herself, flying into the living room, tearing open a baggie of dog food, kibble everywhere, then landing in my arms, panting, in the space of a few seconds. I held her to my chest, stroked her head and looked into those eyes and felt something deep and powerful.
Was she really familiar? Was my mind playing tricks on me? My heart wasn’t, that was certain. This dog took my breath away, as if Millie had given her to us, as if we’d been blessed. I imagined Millie sashaying into heaven and having a talk with God, telling him we couldn’t live without another a dog, a perfect dog.
I didn’t want to let the puppy go so I struggled with one hand to extract the cash from my pocket while Julee put the collar and leash on her. I finally put her down to collect her official papers and vet records. She’d been very well-cared for but lonely, I suspected. The puppy followed us out the door without so much a glance back at her birthplace. She hopped right up in the car as if she had been waiting for us.
Which brought me to this moment of trust and truth on the trail, clutching that same red leash. At 10 weeks, I’d had Millie climb Monument Mountain off-leash, up the steep side trail. I’d taken summit shots of her and emailed them to everyone. I was incredibly proud, even though Julee yelled at me for a week, overprotective mother that she is. But I didn’t care. That dog and I would go a lot of places in the Berkshires.
And now this one. We named her Grace aka Gracie aka Goo-Goo because sometimes she drooled through the gaps where her adult teeth had not yet fully grown in. I gave her a soft pat on the neck. She was staring straight ahead, the way a soldier stands at attention, but vibrating a little. Okay, Lord, I’m letting go. This one is in your hands now and don’t forget that Julee will kill me if I lose her.
I unclenched my fingers and laid the leash down on the trail beside her so she could see it. She got up, took a few steps, a look back then took off like a rocket, her coltish hind legs kicking up dust and leaves as she streaked up the trail at a speed I could not have imagined, like she had been dreaming of this all her young life, like she would run too far to ever find her way back.
In a matter of seconds she disappeared, the trees closing in on her. I waited a bit. Waited some more. Tried to stay calm. Then I said, “Grace!”
“Grace! Grace, come!”
In the distance I saw a blur of white fur and in an instant she blew by me at a full gallop and disappeared in the other direction. I was about to call her again when she reappeared on the trail coming towards me even faster, if that was possible.
Up and down that trail she went, like a dervish, her movements matching her name. I felt something inside me give, something that had been clenched since the moment Millie died. I didn’t know how tightly I’d been holding on to it until then. I felt a flood of relief and joy in the wake of Grace’s ecstasy.
Finally Grace flopped down at my feet, all rubbery and disconnected the way puppies are. I filled her portable bowl with bottled water. I think more water landed on the trail than in her mouth the way she lapped at it. Slowly her breathing eased and she rolled over on her back to have her belly scratched.
I’d have to put the leash on her again when we got close to where I’d parked the car. I thought she would understand. After all, the hard part had been letting go.