no good thing is lost forever

The last thing I needed  was a puppy. I already had four children under four. We certainly didn’t need another mouth to feed. Our house was full of cute and needy things. I was busy. But I was feeling hilarious and my husband was feeling generous, so when I found a picture of an all white Great Dane puppy online, he agreed that we could go—just to take a look.

You don’t drive for an hour with cash in an envelope thinking you are just going to “look” at a puppy. You are getting a puppy. And our puppy rolled out of her litter the tiniest, pinkest little lamb—the shyest of the bunch. While the other puppies were chasing our children around in the yard, I was holding the little white bundle, nuzzling her to my face and squeezing her like a treasure. We were definitely getting a puppy.

I remember seeing her regal mom as we left—a massive and terrifying black and white Dane. I wanted to thank her or acknowledge the passing of responsibility from her to me, but I was too scared of her to whisper my promises into her sharp white ears. I had never seen a Great Dane up close before. Tucking her puppy into a blanket and climbing into our car, I felt like we were getting away with something—how could anyone part with such a sweet little animal?

She outgrew every collar and cage as quick as we could buy them. She chased my babies and nipped at their little fingers. A full grown Great Dane by six months, it felt like we had a monster in the house. Before she was even a year old, I broke my toe because I swung wide to boot her and missed, kicking the wall instead. As a last resort, we took her to puppy training classes. I remember gathering in a circle of dog owners, all of them sitting in chairs with their dogs beside, while I sat instead on the floor with an enormous dog in my lap. The trainer did not approve. He predicted a life of crime for Bess and advised me to consider letting her go to a family better equipped to stand up to a dog of her stature, and maybe a mistress less likely to coddle her.

But she and I practised. She sat. I praised. She obeyed. I cheered. And she started to look at me the way I looked at her. We were in love. Suddenly I didn’t need to tell her to sit. She saw me coming and sat. And I didn’t need to put her on a leash. She simply wanted to stay with me. She was tame. Caleb reminded me what Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “The tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy—in so far as the tame animal has a real self or personality, it owes this almost entirely to its master.” She fulfilled her purpose in life by loving us, and the loving of us elevated her as an animal.

For seven years she lived as a tame animal and a part of our family’s story. She spent seven summers with us. When she was little she rode with the kids in the back of my bucket bike. She gave kids rides in the water while retrieving foam noodles in a lake in South Carolina. She went to the beach and laid by me in the sand until her pink nose burnt. We kayaked down the Harpeth—swimming when it got deep and riding in my boat when it got really deep.

In the fall she once visited Bea’s kindergarten class, she impressed at dog parks, and we spent many afternoons laying together on quilts in the yard. Last year, we dressed her as a racehorse for Halloween. And she spent a long season of coming to work with me—following me to meetings and resting her sleepy head on my knee.

We bought her a festive sweater for her first Christmas when the children were all still very small. Although it only fit her for the first year, we continued to haul it out every Christmas only to make delicate jokes about how her sweater must have grown too tight. When we adopted Huckleberry, our huge black dane, Beatrice was six and she swore she saw Huck and Bess exchange vows of love one Christmas Eve, sealing the whole matter with a kiss. But I think Bess remained unmarried, devoting herself instead to marching on trails and attacking tennis balls.

As she and I aged together, I took to calling her “Old Building and Loan”. My husband could locate me in the house by finding her—I often didn’t even notice her arrive, but in any given space I needed only to look to my feet to find her. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a bath without her sleeping on the rug beside me. She was my constant quiet friend.

This spring she got sick. We only had 23 days after we found out about the cancer. Grief is surprisingly physical. My whole body hurt knowing what was coming. Watching Bess quickly go downhill this month was hard. I felt tired and short-tempered because at the back of my mind I couldn’t forget: my friend is dying. 

In her last days, she felt like a ghost to me. Or like a memory. She was here, picking her way carefully around the yard, each step a careful choice. But when I looked at her face, it felt like I was straining to see down the wrong end of a telescope. She felt distant and I couldn’t see her properly. Standing beside her feels like I'm standing beside a memory of her—like she's already not here. Death came and laid a hand on her before she was even gone.

This morning we woke up and she was worse. From her bed, her blue eyes were reached out and her chin extended, but she didn’t get up. She could hardly eat a treat. We knew it was time. She and I have spoken without words for years. And I heard what she was saying. 

It was time for a hard series of lasts, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The first hard step was getting her out of the house for the last time. We had to get her up and call her down the stairs to the car. I jingled a leash and Caleb offered a hot dog and hoisted her with with a towel. She struggled down the stairs. 

Caleb helped her into the passenger seat. She had presided there many times before. She’s gorgeous in the passenger seat. We began her final ride— rolled down all the windows and opened the sun roof. We drove nice and slow. All I could hear was the wind and she raised her chin to the breeze. It was a good final ride.

When we arrived at the vet, she wouldn’t go inside. She howled and sat, but refused to go in. Smart girl. They offered to let her lay in a shady spot under some trees. A blessing. She didn’t want to lay down, but eventually settled and laid her sweet, soft head on the ground one final time.

Suddenly they were upon us and our time was up. I wanted to protest. But I couldn’t have saved her, all I could do was set her free. There was nothing to do but lay in the grass next to her. Nose to nose. I looked at her blue eyes and started to tell her the story of our lives together. I reminded her about the trails and the rivers, all the things to growl and bark at, and how much I loved her. I rubbed her pink nose and said goodbye.

And then she was gone. And now my heart is full of a great big love. I’m truly an ordinary girl. But I have been loved by so many extraordinary loves. And one of those was Bess. I am grateful God gave such a dear creature to my care. 

The space that was filled with her bustling is empty, and I find myself looking at the places she loved and remembering that she isn’t coming back to fill them. I take a deep breath. I’m grateful for the happiness that was, even if it means I have to live through the sadness that is (Every Moment Holy). I long for the world to be set right—for the death of death. This loss is a reminder of the groaning of all creation for eternal comfort and redemption.

I am even more grateful for all our delicate, fragile, and sweet blessings, knowing full well that they might be lost. All the while hoping and praying that no good thing is lost forever.