I cry as I vacuum my favorite teal chair, the one you claimed as your own. I cry as I work out the dog hairs from between the threads one last time. The vacuum is loud and I allow myself to wail, telling myself the sound of the machine is loud enough to muffle my audible pain. It hurts. I hurt.
I hurt because I said goodbye to you today.
I stroked your still-soft ears and gently pet your swollen belly, distended from the fluid.
I whispered goodness into your ears, telling you how much you are loved, how much you had been loved by all of us, even Jack with his rough hugs and aggressive kisses.
I told you that you were safe, safe in the hands of your Creator, now and forever.
You came to us so new, barely old enough to leave your mom. So young you still wrestled through the pile of other beagles to find your mama’s milk one more time before we took you home.
I had been so lonely. Newly married, finishing up college. I was used to being surrounded by friends and peers 24/7, hall-mom to 35+ girls. And now, with my new husband working a weird job to pay our new adult bills, I was so alone.
And then you came. You with your oversized ears and sweet sad eyes, with your sharp puppy teeth and quiet whimper. So shy and timid for all of two days and then it was playful pounces, tug-of-war, and mischief.
On long afternoons, waiting for my new husband to come home, feeling adrift and sad, you came with your brown eyes and curled up in my lap, like a warm cinnamon roll. As I came to terms with my mental health and the medication I would need, feeling broken and unmoored, I found solace in the scruff of your neck, your warm breath in my ear. You were such a means of grace to me, so it only made sense to give you a middle name, Penelope Grace.
A means of grace, yes, but oh the mischief. You were, without a doubt, the naughtiest dog in the history of dogs. You were the worst dog that ever dogged. I gave up keeping track of how many times you ran away. I was always so angry, so frustrated that you had found yet another escape hatch to explore the world, but anger turned to fear and grief when your absences lingered for hours, even a day on occasion.
But you always came back, once smelling like cigarettes and old beef stew from some kindly neighbor that let you in their house on a cold night.
Another neighbor didn’t take so kindly to your midnight wanderings and door pawing, and instead called the police, afraid a burglar was at her door. But no, just a rogue beagle. So back to the animal shelter we went to pick you up, once again. I didn’t dare walk you to the car from the shelter without a leash, so prone you were to wandering and bolting.
But in between the shenanigans, the escapes, the stolen food off our dinner plates in front of God and everybody, were moments of sweetness, the snuggles in the pit behind my knees in the winter, keeping us both warm, the naps on the couch next to me as I struggled through a sermon, the long runs along the highway, even in the heat of summer.
When the kids came, things changed. I know they did. And I feel guilty, like I neglected you, failed you in some way.
And it’s true. There were less walks, less car rides, less attention overall as we juggled two kids.
But, you were still loved, Penelope. You were loved, loved for your gentleness even with a wild toddler, loved for your sweet snuggles with Josephine when she fought pneumonia, loved for your faithful presence to me when it felt my heart was breaking a thousand times over from mental illness. The warmth of your furry body next to mine was solid, unmoving.
Today, I grieve, but not just for today. I grieve for the 12 years of life lived with you at your feet. I grieve for the end of an era, Tommy and my first dog, our first family of three. I grieve for the pain you experienced at the end and give thanks for an attentive, quick veterinarian.
That was this morning. All day long I have carried the weight of your death on my heart. Sunday is still coming, like it always is for a preacher, regardless of what happens during the week, so I fought, fought, fought to focus on the text, to set aside the hurt and receive a good word from Scripture to give to my people. Type a little, cry a little, type a little, spend 15 minutes looking at pictures. Type a little more this time.
By midafternoon, my eyes burn from tears, my body feels weak with grief. And then without warning, my daughter bursts into the room, beaming.
“Mommy, mommy, I lost my tooth! I lost my tooth!”
And as she stood before me, bursting with pride and excitement, holding a tiny baby tooth in her hand, I feel gentle waters draw me forward, back into the stream of life. I grieve and yet I celebrate. My heart breaks and is stitched back together with the semi-toothless grin of a 5-year-old. I ache and yet I rejoice at all the gifts of the past 12 years, of who my family has become in that time. I am no longer the lonely newlywed, juggling college, a job, and mental illness. I am no longer the seminary students, eyes burning as I write yet another paper. I am no longer the new mom, wide-eyed with terror at what I had gotten myself into.
And my husband is different too. He is not the man I married 12 years ago. He is wiser, kinder, gentler if that is possible. He is strong and patient, much slower to anger and quicker to forgive. And rolling around at our feet now are two children, two wild, loving, precocious, spunky, funny, kind children. It’s a new day, a new season in our family.
Thank you, Penelope, for journeying with us so far, for moving from apartment to parsonage to house. Thank you for sitting with us in our grief, for barking along in our joys. Thank you for being a furry means of grace to us. You are safe with God, dear one, until the world is made new.
Stephanie Lobdell is a Nazarene pastor and emerging author. She and her husband Tommy have two kids, Josephine and Jack. Stephanie and Tommy have served as co-pastors of several churches. Currently, Stephanie serves as co-lead pastor with Tommy, as well as the worship pastor at Mountain Home Church of the Nazarene, an extraordinary community of believers in Mountain Home, Idaho, and blogs at www.stephanielobdell.com. She is currently writing her first book with Herald Press, to be released Oct. 2019.
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