Life Lessons From a Dog Named Kramer

I knew the day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to arrive so soon. “Soon” is relative, because 15 years can seem like a long time or pass by in a blink. It’s the blink side6 I’m experiencing today. We said goodbye to our faithful canine friend, Kramer, two days ago. The years had taken their toll and Randy and I couldn’t bear to watch him struggle. Nights had become nearly impossible. Kramer paced incessantly through the house, getting stuck behind furniture or in corners, not seeing well enough to find his way out. Our hearts ache as we try to adjust to life without him. Anyone who has had a long-term relationship with a dog will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Kramer came into our lives on a July day in 2000, just before our 30th wedding anniversary. We drove two hours to the breeder’s home. We’d planned to only “take a look” at the Jack Russell Terrier puppy who bounded up to meet us. It was love at first lick. And then we were driving home with the unexpected 3-month old pup passenger curled up on my lap. We decided he was our anniversary gift to each other.

And what a gift he’s been! Our lives were turned upside down and our hearts inside out with love for this little guy who we christened as “Kramer.” He needed a Hollywood name since Randy and I owned a video store in our small town. Every day, Randy packed up Kramer and his puppy paraphernalia and took him to our store, much to the delight of our customers. “Is Kramer in today?” they’d ask expectantly.

When Kramer turned one year old, we celebrated with a party at the store. Kramer secretly told me he wanted a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting which was a big hit with his guests. They brought dog biscuit gifts and even called on the phone to wish him a happy day.

Kramer enjoyed stardom in our town’s annual ’49ers Days Parade. We drove the parade route in Randy’s old ’89 Lincoln Town Car festooned with Kramer banners and balloons. Children lining the one street through town squealed, “Look, there’s Kramer!” Randy and I tried not to let it get us down that no one seemed to notice us.

As we grieve our loss, I’m reminded of how much we learned from Kramer’s terrier traits.

  • Live every moment to the fullest!  Kramer lived at”turbo speed,” throwing himself wholeheartedly into  quests for chasing chipmunks, digging holes to hunt for mice, or attacking the garden hose while we attempted to water the plants or wash the car.
  • Don’t ever give up!  We marveled at Kramer’s tenacity and what one small dog could accomplish. One day, he was intent on capturing a chipmunk that was hiding in an irrigation pipe. “Great,” we thought. Kramer was occupied and we didn’t have to worry about him for a while. Only problem was that after several hours of tussling with the pipe, he literally wore off the black part of his nose! Our vet assured us it would grow back.
  • Love without stopping! What we’ll miss most is having this sweet dog with bright brown eyes filled with pure love, greet us at the end of every work day. No matter what kind of day we’d had, it was always better because Kramer was there to welcome us home.

I can’t help but think that God sent him to us at a time when we most needed him. As Randy and I stood by his grave the other day, I realized how far we had come in 15 years. We had learned volumes about what really matters, the value of persevering, and how to love each other well. In this sad moment, we had leaned into the pain together. We stood with arms draped around each other, praying a farewell prayer to our faithful friend. Even though our lives will never be the same, we are grateful for God’s special anniversary gift to us and memories to last the rest of our lives.

Remembering Dad: Navigating the First Year Without Him

My brother posted this picture of our dad on Facebook on what would have been his 87th birthday.  Dad passed away on January 1 and it still doesn’t seem quite real that he’s gone. Friends who have lost loved ones have told me the “firsts” are the hardest. The first birthday without Dad, the first Father’s Day with no dad to buy a card for, and then my recent birthday, the first one in my whole life without talking with Dad have been difficult milestones.

I remember my birthday last year. Dad was living in a dementia care facility. The day seemed empty. I felt sad because I hadn’t talked with him. My husband Randy who’s always coming up with practical solutions said, “Why don’t you call him?” What a great idea!

The person who answered the phone at Dungeness Courte was more than happy to locate my dad and put him on the phone. It took a while, but I finally heard his familiar voice which I mentally tried to  record. “Hi, honey.”

“Dad, I had to call you. It’s my birthday.”

“Oh yes,” he chuckled. “I think I had something to do with that!”

Dad was always joking. I smiled as I realized that not even dementia could rob him of his sense of humor.

On his birthday in June, I decided to walk the mile or so to our small town to enjoy the flags waving from each business. Dad was born on Flag Day. Growing up, he thought the flags flew in his honor. I snapped a few pictures. Then I walked to the bakery and bought blueberry muffins for Randy and me. Dad would have approved. He loved anything baked with blueberries. My heart felt glad that I’d taken this time to remember him.

Now it’s November. Glorious fall colors fade to brown. Trees are bereft of leaves. A raw chill penetrates the air. As I turned the calendar page today, a pang shot through me. It’s almost a year since I was with Dad.

I know that grieving involves feeling the sadness of losing someone who was such an important part of my life. I also know that celebrating the blessing of having a wonderful father is comforting and even healing.  

I believe Dad and I will have a beautiful reunion someday. I will hear his familiar voice again. “Hi, honey. Welcome home.”

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

How are you coping with the loss of a loved one?

 

 

A Holy Comfort for Our Grief

There are times when you know you’ve encountered a holy experience. Two weeks ago, on a Friday evening, friends gathered to remember our friend Melissa. She lost her agonizing battle with depression and took her life on a Saturday morning in early December.

We who knew her have reeled with shock and grief over her tragic loss at only 38-years old. A service was held in the new community where she and her family had relocated in October. Several close friends felt it was important to honor Melissa here, where she had made her home for at least a decade.

About two dozen of us sat in a large circle in the church fellowship hall. A slide show flashed pictures of Melissa and her family. We each told how we had come to know and love her. We cried and even laughed together, remembering the happy times. 

What could we have done differently? How could we have helped her through those dark times? Questions hung in the stillness. But each person spoke comfort where answers are hard to find. God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances, one close friend reminded. She talked about how Melissa’s new church, a group of people who barely knew them, had rallied to support the grieving family. Another friend mentioned that Melissa’s oldest son’s teacher had also lost her mother to suicide when she was a child. God is certainly with those who are brokenhearted–even when we are at a loss to understand.

We held hands, sang a song together, and prayed for God to do what none of us can–to bring healing, peace, and comfort to all who grieve. Melissa’s close friends had packed up all of her clothing and brought it to the church. Please take something, they urged. Her husband wanted it that way. When I walked into the hall and saw the tables of neatly folded and sorted clothing, I broke into tears. How could I take anything? I saw Melissa in so many of those garments. Then I sensed that it would be wrong not to take something. I picked up a raspberry colored top and instinctively held it close. Her friends had given me a precious gift.

A favorite place

Maybe you’re walking through a season of grief, wondering how you’ll make it through the next moment, not to mention a lifetime. I pray you’ll know God’s faithfulness and be comforted, just as we were on a cold, January night. 

 

   

Blessed are Those who Mourn

I’ve heard it said there’s a point in time when we become a parent to our parents. I know this in my head. My heart doesn’t want to accept this role reversal. I’m only too aware that we’re all aging. Years have passed by in a blink. I’m resisting. I want to be the child, not the responsible grown-up.

My parents are in their mid-80’s and both are facing health issues. My father was diagnosed with Pick’s Syndrome(a form of dementia) about six years ago. The disease has progressed slowly, but steadily, without compromise. My self-assured Dad whom I’ve loved and always counted on is slipping away. I came across a letter he wrote me before dementia took its toll. Dad, I miss you!

My mom has been his primary caregiver and she’s understandably exhausted. Taking care of dad has been grueling. Once there was a season to focus on marriage, children, careers, social events, being part of a church family. Then one day you wake up to a parade of doctors appointments, pill-taking, cleaning up incontinence messes and washing soiled linens and clothing. It’s painful to watch your parents struggling. We’ve asked the typical questions: What should we do? How can we help? Is it time for Dad to be in a nursing facility? Lord, please give us wisdom, strength, courage.

My friend Sarah lost both her parents during the past two years. She has been a source of comfort and strength. Last weekend, we enjoyed an oasis of rest and refreshment. A new friend I met in May at the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal invited me to come visit and bring a friend. So I did. Little did I know how Divinely appointed our weekend would be.

Sarah asked if I minded visiting her parents’ grave with her. The cemetery was located in a nearby town. First we stopped at Joanne Fabrics to pick out silk flowers. We found the perfect bouquet of pink azaleas–60% off. Sarah

commented on how her parents always liked a good bargain. It felt good to laugh.

We stood together looking at the simple headstone with two names carved in granite. A photo of a young obviously-in-love couple made me smile and cry at the same time. I cried for myself, pre-grieving the loss of my parents. But feeling more strength to step into the caring role God has for me in this season of life.

I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:13

God’s Presence in the Dark Night

It’s Saturday morning and I’m still wrapped in my bathrobe. Really, my favorite time of the week because I can sit quietly, no place to rush off to. Oh, there’s plenty to do…get ready for winter projects, housework, all those chores that beg attention. But for this moment, I’ll enjoy looking out at the dazzling blue skies, feeling a warm breeze through the open window. I’ll soak in every moment of this final “summer” weekend. October is imminent and the weather here usually changes like clockwork. 

In this morning’s quiet, I’ve been reading Deb Watson’s incredibly touching book, Kiss Goodbye: The Story of God’s Presence in the Dark Night.  I’ve read her story over several weeks, and each time I pick up her book, I feel as if I’ve been invited into a sacred and holy place.

I first “met” Deb on Twitter. I was scrolling through the daily tweets and saw one from Deb Watson who reported her excitement about her first book being published. I think because she and I share the same name and I know the feeling of a first book coming off the press, I twittered back to her.

Congratulations, Deb, I wrote. I pray your book will be successful! 

Then the conversation began. Deb answered that her book was about the death of her 19-year-old daughter. I felt the pang that only another mother can understand, even though I have never journeyed to the depths of grief as Deb and her family have. After I watched the book trailer for Kiss Goodbye, I emailed Deb again. She graciously offered to send me a copy of her book which I gratefully accepted.

I knew this would be a difficult read, but I had no idea how Deb’s telling of her family’s loss of their beautiful daughter and sister, Cathy, would completely draw me in as if I were there with her as a friend. Sitting in the livingroom with them in shock and disbelief the night of the tragic accident, anticipating all the “firsts” of those weeks and months after Cathy’s death, or the longing for one friend to call or stop by on that first Christmas Eve without Cathy. And no one did.

Deb pulls aside the curtain of private family suffering and with her real and honest writing style, allows us to glimpse the intensity of raw pain in coming to terms with the loss of someone we dearly love. That she invites us complete strangers into this sacred, intensely personal place, is truly courageous.

In reading Kiss Goodbye, there is no doubt where this courage comes from. Woven through the anguish, is the inspiring message that God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances. We may each know that on different levels, based on our life experiences, but the Watson family’s story underscores the truth of God’s presence in any dark night, especially in the midst of unimaginable suffering–and that offers much hope and comfort to us other pilgrims on life’s journey. For it isn’t a matter of if we will ever experience the pain of losing someone we love, but when.  Deb’s example gives me courage to believe that with God’s grace and the support of loving family and friends, I too, will be able to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side.

Since I received Deb’s book, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of talking with her on the phone. Hearing her voice resonate with compassion for others who are suffering, yet with unmistakable joy in living life as a devoted follower of Christ, is more solid evidence that the Lord does indeed use all things for good, even the most heartbreaking and hard to understand circumstances, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Thank you, Deb, for your sharing your story and your friendship!