It’s an interesting relationship that a columnist has with readers. I can’t speak for others, but I feel a deep appreciation and attachment to those of you who come back each week. I am grateful.
Because of this relationship, I find the nature of my column has changed over the last few years. I still write and focus on the positive in the world and always write from a point of optimism. That will never change, but I do find myself sharing not only my words but my heart with you at times, and it surprises me how natural it feels — as if you and I are having a private conversation, two old and dear friends, sharing our feelings.
One of the most intimate columns I’ve written was last summer when I shared my grief about the loss of our beloved golden retriever, Noah. It’s a loss that we still carry with us today and you came to console us with your outpouring of emails and letters. We are still grateful.
How much dogs feel, think or understand, we really do not know. I know a dog with a sense of humor named Riley. She lives in California with my close friend and my book publisher, Ted Savas. Every time I visit, Riley hides my shoes. When she thinks I’m not watching, she picks up a shoe and quietly tiptoes down the hallway to place it somewhere she knows I’ll have trouble finding. Then she gets great joy watching me look. She always gives the location away, the closer I come to my shoe, the more enthusiastically she wags her tail. Riley is now 15 and not in great health. I spoke with Ted last night and he shared his concern and sadness over the inevitable.
My daughter, Tara Beth, as a young youth pastor living alone in Owego, New York, bought a beautiful puppy — a black Lab and named her Maddie. Maddie was her companion and protector for almost two years in New York. When Tara Beth and her new husband, Jeff, relocated for a position in Indiana, their apartment didn’t allow dogs, so Jeff’s parents, Stu and Lynn, took Maddie in for a year. Maddie came to live with us because of our acreage. It’s truly heaven on earth for a big dog and Maddie has been with us for roughly eleven years. Every morning when I get up and greet Maddie, I always say, “Good morning, Maddie. Thank you for taking care of my daughter.”
Sadly, I’m sharing with you today, that Maddie passed peacefully yesterday with Arlene and I, and our youngest son Travis at her side. As she took her last breath, she was looking into Arlene’s eyes.
A longtime friend, Rick Dunlevy, sent a note this morning sharing that his pastor said dogs don’t go to heaven because they don’t have a soul. I don’t want to get myself in trouble with Rick’s pastor or mine, but only a pastor who’s never owned a dog would say that. I’ve always felt that both Noah and Maddie had a beautiful soul that connected with mine. They willingly shared it with anyone who took the time to stoop down, look into their eyes and connect with these different, yet living creations of God.
After Noah passed last summer, Maddie would go to his gravesite each morning, sit and look out at the green acreage and pond they used to romp in. Maddie never went to the pond again after Noah left. All you had to do was watch and you’d understand the deep sense of grief Maddie felt with the loss of her companion. No one can convince me she didn’t understand or didn’t feel.
Yes, we are grieving but the old adage that we are better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all is true. We hurt but we wouldn’t trade our time with these two beautiful four-legged souls for anything.
When Noah passed, I shared this vision with you of my first moments in heaven. With Maddie’s passing, I’d like to share it again.
I’m walking in pure beauty ... vivid colors and beautiful aromas abound. I look ahead and see a group walking towards me ... my mom and dad, grandparents, brothers ... all the people I loved and loved me in return but passed before me. All coming to greet me. Suddenly, two of my friends break from the crowd and run ahead. They jump up, knock me to the ground and begin licking my face. It’s Maddie and Noah ... I’ll know then ... at that very moment ... I’m in heaven.