by Jennifer Dyer
Watching my elderly Labrador’s health decline was painful. Each morning, I would kneel beside her. After checking to make sure she was still breathing, I would wrap my arms around her strong neck for a hug. She was my safe spot and my constant companion. On the days Rachel’s autism spun the household out of control, I held Missy’s neck and some of the tension subsided.
Even though she could be a mess maker herself, Missy tolerated the constant activity around her like a champion. She never growled at the children and never complained that Rachel didn’t always like her. Even the few times Rachel kicked her, Missy never retaliated. She was a special friend. Plus, she was a safe place for me–since Rachel didn’t like her, I could snuggle up with the dog and have a moment of peace.
The last few weeks were tough. Missy couldn’t stand up any longer and had no appetite. She finally became so ill that I had to do the only merciful thing I knew to do, but it was so hard.
My throat tightens as a write this. Letting a loved one go is so painful, so difficult, so overwhelming. Tears choked my voice as I said goodbye, and afterward I was numb. I felt as aimless as a leaf tumbling in the wind.
When my dad and I returned home from the vet’s office, my sister and dad, both dog people, whipped into action. My dad steam cleaned the carpet from the tough night before, and my sister cleaned the kitchen. I washed all the towels, eliminating many of the reminders from the nightmare of Missy’s last night. I made a play date for eldest and gave her lots of hugs, all the while keeping my tears in check. Even though I was active with my body, my mind was disjointed. All I wanted to do was go to bed. I even put on pajamas after my dad went home. I just wanted to disappear.
Circumstances, however, did not allow my “going to bed” plan to work. My nephew needed entertaining, Rachel was wild, and the house smelled like cleaning supplies. So, I took the younger kids out while hubby stayed home with eldest. We spent the day at other houses and outside, enjoying the sunshine. When I put eldest to bed that night, she held onto Missy’s collar and we both wept. Tears poured from our hearts. Death is such a terrible part of life here in earth, yet it also reminds us to cherish what time we have. After a few minutes, though, I became overwhelmed. I had too much grieving to do by myself.
The next day was Easter, which meant I could not stay in bed again. Instead, I thought about the timing of Missy’s death. Easter is the time we celebrate Jesus rising from dead and conquering death. There is hope for eternity. My heart sang praises my mouth couldn’t–I kept thanking Jesus for offering us Heaven for eternity.
That night, eldest and I again cried together, and this time I was able to talk to her in more detail. Eldest and I spent an hour talking about Heaven and Missy.* We wondered if Missy were playing fetch with Jesus and Rachel’s twin (we’ve decided whoever in our family gets to Heaven first can name that child Madeline or Joshua). We decided Jesus can throw a ball really far.
We laughed about Missy getting to eat whatever she wanted. When eldest suggested Missy could have all the trash she wanted, we decided there probably isn’t trash in Heaven. We talked about how Jesus will wipe away everyone’s tears when they enter Heaven, there is no more pain, and most importantly, there is NO death. The lights are always on and there is never any hunger. We pictured huge fields where Missy could run and amazing beaches where she could run with Madeline or Joshua. We let our imaginations run wild then decided our imaginations weren’t big enough to picture the true majesty of Heaven. Through Missy’s death, we made Heaven a very real place in our minds.
The day before Missy died, I heard a FamilyTalk program about a new children’s book called Heaven: God’s Promises for Me by Anne Graham Lotz. As Missy died right before Easter, I wasn’t able to get the book, but I hope to get it this week. It’s a beautiful story book about Heaven and what to expect there. It, like my conversation with eldest, helps youngsters (and adults) form a better mental picture of the joy that awaits us in Heaven. Eternity used to scare me, and sometimes it still does, because I just can’t picture it. Until the last few years, my only picture of Heaven was angels strumming hearts on clouds and a big escalator leading to the gates–mostly from Tom and Jerry cartoons. Not the best source for good theology…
Though I still want to hide in bed and am still going through the stages of grief, the joy of Heaven and the reality of what Jesus did for us on the cross has given me more hope than anything else. So, when people ask me how I am, I am trying to remember to tell them: I am blessed.
Be blessed, my friends.
*There are some theological debates about animals and whether or not they have souls. I am no theologian. I am a mom who needed to offer comfort to my child. Here is an article I found regarding that question on the Focus on the Family website.