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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Companions on Earth and Heaven

Well, it's been awhile since I wrote anything. I'm super excited that now THREE (3), yes THREE people have asked me "when are you going to update your blog?" Now, that makes me feel special!

All kidding aside, it's been an extraordinary couple of months. In many ways, it has been difficult, but also amazing. Some of the difficulty has come through learning a new job (I changed positions at Rainbow) and through losing my Grandaddy six months after losing my other Grandaddy. That was very hard for us. It's also been challenging because we are still in this slower-than-molasses-moving uphill-during-freezing temperatures journey toward adoption. And it has also been difficult because we had to put our sweet dog Jack down. This time last year, we had just lost John's dad, and then we lost our big great Dane, Hercules. Later in the year, we had the breakdown of the adoption of Canaan, and then we lost my Grandaddy D. in July. So far, this year, we have had more loss in JUST TWO MONTHS than we did in twelve months last year. We said goodbye to some old friends and neighbors of my grandparents, and have been touched by the deaths of many others who were gone far too soon.

I've been reflecting on all of these things, also during this season of change in my own life- related mainly to my work at Rainbow and my infertility journey. When we lost my Granddaddy Guillebeau in January, I had the honor of speaking at his funeral service/ worship celebration. The emphasis of my speech was on the concept of Gratitude because I am truly grateful to have been his granddaughter and to have known him and be touched by his legacy and his faith in the Lord. I think the hardest part of the funeral process is putting the body of a person in the ground. It has always been really difficult for me, because although I know that the person is not there anymore, and the body is empty - it's still hard for me to see the body of that person I loved so deeply being lowered into the ground. And that night as it rained, it was hard to think of his body being there in the cemetery and rain falling onto his grave. I really still don't like to think of that. I guess it's one of those things you have to put out of your mind. I like to think of him when he was alive- so big to me when I was little- such a strong, capable, larger-than-life person. A man who fought cancer for twenty years, who served in the military, and who worked in a homeless shelter until about a year ago when he started getting too sick and weak to do it anymore. And the other thing about him is that he was hopelessly devoted to my grandmother, Jean. Rarely in a person's lifetime will they encounter two people more committed and more deeply in love. They were, in every sense of the word, true companions. They did everything together. So it was not only hard to see him go, although he is way better for it- but it was also hard to see my grandmother without him. He was her partner, her confidant, her chaffeur, her ministry partner, her one true love and companion on earth.

When John and I were dating, I heard that cheesy eighties love song, "True Companion" and I fell into a puddle of tears and snot. Although it is corny to the extreme, and evokes images of thirteen year-olds "couple skating" while sporting stirrup pants and too-high hairdos, it is true. There is nothing in the world- this wacky, crooked, sometimes beautiful world- quite like having your one true companion.

When we put Jack (our beagle terrier) down about three weeks ago, it was really rough. Jack was fifteen years old. The kids did not know life without him. He was another constant companion. He was always there for the kids, always happy to go on a hike in the woods, always good for putting your cold toes in his fluffy fur. He was always so loyal. He never minded if Mitchell pulled out clumps of his white chest fur while watching cartoons in the living room floor (guess that's an autistic thing?) And when it was time to let him go, it was nearly unbearable for all of us. He had collapsed that morning, and while John was getting dressed, I gathered him into my arms and wrapped him in a fleece blanket. For the next two hours, I rocked him in the rocking chair and told him what a good dog he was, what a good and loyal companion he was to us all. John brought the kids into our bedroom to say goodbye while I rocked their beloved pet. They kissed him, petted him, cried, and told him they loved him. John and I watched with broken hearts, unable to change to course of nature, unable to change the forces of life and death here on earth. Two hours later when the vet's office opened, we all marched in with our heads hung low, the kids following me as I carried our furry little bundle. Two ladies sat on benches waiting with their dogs and each turned and wept into their pet's fur when they saw our funeral parade coming through. The vets led us into a small room where we said our final goodbyes and Jack breathed his last breath.

John had to go open his store, so it was up to Mitchell and I to dig the grave. We picked a nice spot for Jack next to his best friend, Hercules, and we started to dig. We dug for an hour, with Mitchell stopping every ten minutes to ask, "Is that deep enough?" Images of Chewy the guinea pig's return from the dead kept coming to mind, and each time I answered, "Keep digging . . ." We dug for what seemed like another full hour, and I noticed something interesting about grief. As Jack's lifeless body lay there in a cardboard box, we first cried while we dug, then we sniffed while we dug, then we talked about Jack and how special he was, and we dug, and we dug, and we dug. Our arms were tired, our hearts were tired, but we kept digging. And I noticed that as we dug this grave, we worked through some of our grief that morning. As I mentioned before, I think the burial is one of the hardest parts of a funeral but in light of what transpired in us, I think the digging into the ground is actually therapeutic, in a strange way. Maybe just the physical act of digging puts your body to work in a way that you can let out your pain and sadness.

All of this gets me thinking- sometimes about deep things.

But on a lighter note, I want to share about a new companion in our home. Just a few days after we lost our sweet little Jack, we noticed an immediate and alarming change in Porky's personality. She wouldn't get out of bed in the morning, and she slept on the couch all day. I took her for a ride in the car (usually her favorite thing) and she laid down in the backseat with her head down. It was so depressing, and yet not surprising. From the time John and I married, over three years ago, Porky had her doggy companions. She had Hercules and Jack for the first two years, and then for the last year, she had just Jack. And in the end of his life, I became Jack's nurse. I gave him his medicine every night, and he followed me and John and Porky into the bedroom at night where he slept right beside me. Porky was suddenly and naturally lonely, being here all day in the house by herself. So we looked at some dogs online, and thought we had decided to get a German Shepherd. John found one at the animal shelter here in town and on a Tuesday when we were both home, we took off to meet some dogs. We took the German Shepherd puppy out and also a boxer puppy, but both were extremely hyper- nipping at us and unable to walk on a leash. Putting them back in their pens, we saw a sweet, sad-looking black and white bird dog. He watched with big sad eyes as we put the wild puppies back into their cages. When we walked through again, I pointed him out to John. "I like that one," I told him. John agreed we should take him out and see what his personality was like.

Behind the animal cages was a fenced-in yard, where we walked this gentle dog with the black ears. He was as skinny as Skeletor, and he had small cuts and scabs all over his face, neck, ears and back. The vet tech told us he had likely never been indoors, was found beat up from a raccoon attack and eating out of the garbage. The animal control staff had cleaned his wounds, and had caught him up on vaccinations. They recorded that his demeanor was "friendly" in every appointment. We asked if we could return with Porky and let her meet him before we just charged home with him. The staff agreed and so we loaded Porky up at home and returned to the animal shelter. An inmate wearing a striped jumpsuit brought the dog outside on a leash. John walked him while I walked Porky, and they sniffed each other to make friends. After awhile, we traded leashes and I walked the new fellow. Then we tried the ultimate test- to see if Porky would allow this new friend into "her" car. Everything was peaceful, and we decided to take our new buddy "Otis" home to be part of our family.

Today John and I took the dogs hiking at DeSoto Falls, which is not far from our home. I love it here in the mountains, and one perk is all these beautiful places we get to visit on our days together. The kids all decided to stay home (they did a 3 mile hike with us last Sunday) so it was just me and John, and Porky and Otis - companions. We walked up the long trail toward the waterfalls, and enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine. Every few yards, Porky stopped to check out a fallen log, a mysterious plant, or a group of rocks. Otis made sure to sniff everything right after she did. He enjoyed the adventure, just happily bounding around with his long black ears. I thought a lot about life and loss while we were walking. There are dead, fallen trees around, crunchy dried leaves that didn't make it through the last hard freeze, and there is, underneath all the winter and decay, new life that is just beginning to edge its way to the surface. It's true- nothing is wasted in the woods. If something dies, it nurtures something else, makes way for something else, or becomes food for something else. I won't get too deep on this subject, just wanted to say I thought about all these things today. And then, while I was lost in my thoughts on life, death, resurrection, rebirth, and the like, we reached the top of the trail. Big yellow signs warned us not to go any farther because "People have DIED going beyond this point!" We obediently followed the signs and stayed on the safe observation platform to watch the waterfalls. I stared up to the top, to the glorious edge of the fall that juts out from the mountain and perfect, crystal clear water races downward. I tried to watch the water falling to the next level, then to the next level, and the third level, but the water was moving so fast my eyes couldn't keep up. The waterfalls here in Dahlonega are beautiful and awesome. But I can't help thinking that my Granddaddy (and my other Granddaddy, and my father in law, and our dogs for that matter) are enjoying scenery that I cannot comprehend. In a perfect, holy place with the most exquisite natural beauty, they live forever. They live forever in a place where no death or darkness or winter ever takes place. And they wait for their earthly companions to join them.

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