I didn’t like it at first. Every morning as the sun came up over the pond out front, I could feel him. It was a strange, eerie feeling. You might know the sensation that someone is looking at you. Then he would nudge me — he wanted to start the day and I was part of his early morning plan.
I learned to put things to the side when I was young. I had to, it was a survival tool. If something was emotionally hard, scary, lonely, I just stashed it in the back of my mind. I have spent the last 30 years trying to recover from that self-help training. But, like most of the tools in my garage, there are occasions I have to reach in and use one I haven’t needed in a long while. This last two weeks had me digging in my mind’s garage for all kinds of old tools.
When my youngest son Jon-Michael turned 14, we decided it was time for him to have a dog of his own. He was responsible and loved dogs, so it made sense to us. An emotional support dog in some ways, I guess. I never knew how important Rudy would be for his heart until this week.
Rudy was a Border Collie. A brilliant black and white with one eye blue and one eye brown. I found him on Craigslist the morning of Jon-Michael’s birthday. When I was looking over the puppies, I noticed his eyes. Wow, amazing, that is him. On the way home he fit on a small towel on the floorboard.
When Jon-Michael moved out to begin learning how to live an adult life, Rudy stayed at home. Apparently, this is common, and honestly, it was okay with us. I had started running at the park and thought, “Hey I should take him.” So we began running every morning.
Rudy came down with cancer last year, and two weeks ago it came back. This time with a vengeance. He was barely eight years old. How could this be? Jon-Michael had to make the call that there was no way to get Rudy back to healthy, and so I met him at the vet clinic. They put us in a room with Rudy on a blanket on the floor. We sat there for a while before the doctor came in. The air left the room.
It was only a few days later I got the message, my step-father Bob had passed. We had been on notice, so it wasn’t unexpected, but my gosh, now, the same week we lost Rudy. Ugh. When I was making the plane reservations, I asked Jon-Michael if he could go with me. He said yes. Mom didn’t know we were coming so when we pulled up at her house, she began to cry.
Family had been with Bob when he passed. It was peaceful. The funeral was beautiful and their priest from the Catholic church spoke soothing words over Mom and the family. That morning Jon-Michael, Mom, and I were alone at the house. We were up early and picked fresh blueberries from their bushes. Mom made Bob’s famous pancake recipe with us. Bob was well known for his fresh blueberry pancakes. One of his many signature creatives. He built furniture, loved golf, and took care of Mom. He was a quiet man who stood tall in character and faith. True story, the first time I met my Bob, he was bailing me out of jail. It wasn’t all downhill for us from there either. But he never, ever, turned me away. Ever.
I joke that if my wife ran off with the mailman while I was gone, I would be living the perfect country song. “My dog died, dad passed away, and my pretty little wife done run off with the mailman.” If I get hit by a train today, blame it on Merle Haggard.
Rudy’s nose was cold in the morning. He knew exactly how find to my face or arm. I would walk into the kitchen and start the coffee. After I got my running shoes on, I would tell him, “Go get your leash” and he would run, pull it off the hook by the door, and bring it to me.
The days after he was gone, I just couldn’t shake the tears on the back trails at the park. Right when I thought I had it, I would remember him leading the way around a corner or over the creek. It was hard. Mom was sad when we left. She didn’t want to be alone. She packed us a big container full of fresh blueberries and the recipe for Bob’s pancakes. A final hug and now, here we are.
Thanks Jon-Michael for living this out with me. I am so sorry about Rudy and your grandpa. My heart is so tender for you. I had no idea all those times you laid with Rudy trying to make sense of the heart break and hurts as a young boy. I am tearing up now just being proud of you, thankful you came with me and we walked this life trail together the last two weeks.
I am going to need to take some time here to process all this. In our world today, we get pushed so hard to slide back into life right away. Move forward. I don’t want to resort to the old tools I once relied on so heavily. I want to walk with Jesus through this. I know He is in it. In just over a week my daughter will marry a man she truly loves. Life will begin anew for her, for our family, and it will be good. We have a granddaughter who brings us endless joy from our son and daughter-in-law.
Tomorrow morning the sun will come up and I will wander into the kitchen, make a cup of coffee, and head out for my run. God will continue to speak and teach and love on me. Thanks Rudy, thanks Bob. You changed me for the better and I am humbled for the gifts yesterday and today. See you guys after a while for a run and a pancake.