It was a quiet, lazy Saturday morning almost three years ago. Our daughters were upstairs asleep, and Neil and I were still in bed, sipping coffee and chatting. Or more accurately, I was drinking coffee while Neil swirled his in the mug. He hadn’t had any chemo in weeks, but his stomach discomfort was still there and his nausea hadn’t resolved. I was trying to distract him with my predictions for the Super Bowl when I heard a strange thumping, followed by a loud crash on the stairs. I found our dog, Rufus, staggering toward me from the bottom of the steps. He was panting and drooling, his lips grayish white, and he collapsed into my arms as soon as I reached him.
“Oh no, Neil, something is wrong with Rufus,” I screamed, panicky and emotional. Neil came out of our room and saw us on the floor. I knew he registered the dread on my face and read my thoughts: Neil, I cannot lose the dog, too.
And just as easily, I read his: I know, Colleen, I am so sorry you have to go through all this.
He grabbed my keys from the hook and without a word opened the front door. “Come on,” he said. “Are you sure, Neil?” I asked, hoping he was, but knowing he had not driven since his brain tumor was diagnosed five months earlier. “We do what we have to, Col,” he said.
I carried the sixty-pound dog with Herculean strength born of terror into the backseat of the car and gently soothed him on my lap. My fat tears plopped silently onto his face as his half-open eyes stared far off. With equally Herculean strength, Neil cautiously and perfectly drove the five miles to the vet’s office. We were taken straight to the emergency area, but as I laid my poor Rufus down on the stretcher, I knew we couldn’t save him. The vet took one look and knew it, too.
“All I can do is make him comfortable in these last few minutes,” she said. Rufus looked up then as if to say goodbye, and I clutched his sweet face to my heart, sobbing as they injected the medicine that would give him peace. In those last few seconds I thought of his slobbery greeting every time I came home, even if I’d only been gone for five minutes. I thought of our long walks every day, and the way neighbors laughed saying it looked like he was flying a kite as he dragged me behind him. I thought of his complete and utter devotion to me,and the way he watched over my family. As his breathing stopped, I looked at Neil.
He stood perfectly still, his pale face wet with tears, and slowly pulled off his ball cap. The bright exam lights reflected on his bald head and highlighted his sallow skin. He looked at the vet and said simply, “She is going to have to do this again in a few weeks for me.” My sobs came louder as I hugged him and Rufus into a tight circle and knew he was right.
Really God? My husband and my dog?
The staff left us alone then and I saw tears in their eyes, too, as they left the room.
Neil and I rocked the dog and each other until the tears gradually dried up. Something changed in both of us as we stopped crying, though. Once again, no words were spoken, but a sense of calm came. We knew what was going to happen. We knew what it was going to be like. We knew I would eventually be ok.
“Rufus really loved you,” Neil said that afternoon. “And he knew how much you loved me. I bet he went ahead to check things out so you’d know I was okay when I got there.”
That was a beautiful idea, and one that has comforted me ever since. Neil died ten days later, and the thought of him and Rufus – without any pain or cancer or shortness of breath – walking together with Jesus in heaven, has made me smile more times than I can count. Who’d have thought there could be a silver lining in losing my dog? Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t think God killed my dog or wanted him to suffer. But I do believe He broadened my perspective so that I could find consolation. I know God can bring good out of even the worst situations. It’s not always easy to recognize, but with patience and trust and an open heart we can find it.
Thank you, Rufus.
Thank you, God.