On losing Jaxson: a dog story

We lost our beloved dog Jaxson the same day the pink and white peonies in the garden burst wide open. Funny, that’s how our hearts felt–and still feel. For losing a dog is more than losing a best friend and family member. It is losing an era. And such was the case with our Jaxson. 

Jaxson was an unexpected addition to the family. We had gone to pick up one golden retriever puppy, and there was Jaxson, as yet unclaimed, jumping on his hind legs and begging to be picked up so he could press his warm pink tongue to our necks and faces. As we focused on the one intended puppy, our oldest son focused on the snow white puppy with the bright red collar across the room. The bond was so undeniable that he didn’t even have to ask my husband, who was already arranging to bring home two puppies instead of just one. 

Twelve-and-a-half years of hugs at the end of hard school days, sniffing around the sidelines of lacrosse and cross country events, eating an entire red velvet cake still warm from the oven and trying to look innocent with red crumbs on his whiskers, leisurely days curled next to our son’s side as he watched his movies and read his books, seeing him off to college and then his own apartment, and welcoming his fiance into his life …saying goodbye to Jaxson was saying goodbye to all that growing up together. 

The morning we knew it was time, I think Jaxson did too. He lingered in the back yard after breakfast and lifted his muzzle high towards the sky and sniffed long and deliberate into the cool spring air. He lay peacefully on his side as we brushed him and trimmed his paws and loved on him. We looked deep into his big, brown soul-eyes, and he looked back into ours just as hard. 

On the patio that morning lay a dead sparrow, and I knew: not one creature falls without the Lord knowing it’s time. 

Once a preacher argued with me, saying dogs don’t go to heaven. 

We don’t go to that church anymore. 

The broken heart of one who has lost a dog is profound and often underestimated. I tried scribbling some words of how I felt in that moment and here’s the mess that came out:

the peonies were blooming 
but i didn’t even care
because we had to say
to you
my dear dear friend
some say you didn’t have a soul but
we know
for what sort of creator makes a wonder
that is a dog
and doesn’t collect it up in His arms in the end?
well done, good and faithful
furry servant
kind and unmoved by the darkness
of a world trying to pull us all down. 
you are proof of light
on this abysmal planet.

It hardly feels right to lament Jaxson’s passing in the wake of Uvalde, Texas. And yet, in the midst of all that heinousness, there on the sidelines are Comfort Dogs. They were at Sandy Hook, too. They are in the halls of hospitals and nursing homes, and in the bedrooms of boys and girls everywhere, listening to cries, absorbing tears, pressing their warm bodies up against the shaking shoulders of the desperate, the lonely, and the mourning.

Jaxson’s story was a great one, as are all dog stories.

And like all great dog stories, the hero dies at the end. 

But the story is always worth it.

Isn’t it?

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