Editorial February 2003 Issue

Gone, But Not Forgotten

My beloved dog is the greatest gift I have to offer.

Rupert is away on special assignment this month, and I sure could use him. But he’s needed elsewhere, and he’s doing one of the things that he likes best: serving as therapy dog to someone he loves.

My mother passed away in December after a long illness. She was a very special person and is already terribly missed, but those of us who loved her are comforted by the fact that she was not in pain at the end, and that she passed away at home, where she wanted to be.

We’re still worried about my father, however. He, too, wants to stay in the Northern California home where he and my mom retired a dozen years ago. But, gosh, that home is way out in the sticks, half an hour away from a rural small town and hours of driving from all of us.

My brother, two sisters, and I stayed at my parents’ house for several days after my mom passed. Storms raged outside, and the power shut off momentarily a few times, but it was cozy in the wood-heated home, and it felt good to be together, talk, laugh, and cry. We cooked, ate, cleaned house, and helped my dad remove from the house the many accoutrements of caring for a disabled person. Rupert gravely paced from one person to the next, nudging our hands and elbows with his nose, his tail waving slowly. “Pet me, you’ll feel better,” he seemed to say.

He also followed my dad outside to the wood pile several times a day. Rupert enjoys everything about going to get firewood with my dad, who cuts oaks and pines on his 13 acres, and neatly stacks each kind of wood separately. When Dad jokingly says he’s “going to the gym,” he means he’s going to either cut down a tree, split logs, stack firewood, or haul brush. It’s been exercise and therapy for him during the last three hard years that he’s been caring for my mom. And, of course, all of these activities are fun for Rupe, a lifelong chewer and fetcher of sticks. He’s stayed with my parents for extended vacations before, and he loves to gnaw thick branches while my dad works.

My siblings and I left in stages over a couple of days, all of us fretting over the idea of leaving my dad alone after 47 years of living with my mom. Despite my best efforts (and my older sister’s stern warning not to), I broke down in tears as I hugged my dad good-bye. I’m the youngest in the family – the baby – so I guess that’s my role. I couldn’t help it.

I miss Rupert, but I felt so much better driving down the hill on that muddy dirt road away from my parents’ house, seeing him in the rearview mirror, his tail waving gently as he stood close to my dad. And it comforts me to hear Dad use the word “we” in our telephone calls, as in, “It stopped raining today, so we walked to the top of the hill . . .”

Thanks, Rupie.

-Nancy Kerns

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