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Moving forward into the life you create in the wake of loss

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You Came Home Today

I was involved in animal care and rescue for close to two decades. The epitome of those years was the time spent operating a senior, special needs, end of life sanctuary called A Chance for Bliss. The sanctuary was home to as many as 100 animals at a time — 25 horses, 23 dogs, nine potbelly pigs along with ducks, geese, goats and sheep. While the sanctuary no longer operates, I’m committed to keeping the memory of its residents alive by sharing their stories in my talks on mental illness and mental health and eventually in a book. Hope, a gorgeous Boston Terrier and the only non-rescued animal at the sanctuary, went missing (and was believed to be stolen) on June 8, 2008. Harmony, a 100% deaf Boston Terrier, came to us at eight weeks, given up because of her lack of hearing. Harmony passed away in my arms on April 9, 2016 at the age of 15 1/2. While I loved all the animals that came to the sanctuary, Hope and Harmony remain in a more sacred category.

You came home today, but not in the way I wanted or remembered.

You passed from this life into the next, and I went to the doctor’s office to pick up your ashes — what’s left of what I love to hold, to smell, to lay next to and to be around.

For a time, I had thought I might bury your body at the base of a towering tree or close to a hidden stream, maybe a serene lake.

But to see you, to be in your proximity, would mean I would have to visit that place. And the truth is, I want you near me all the time, so I chose to have your remains cremated.

And now, I hold in my hands the remnants of your magnificent form, your stunning grandeur reduced so it could rest inside a small container.

I understand the gesture, even the importance, and I am grateful for it. And while the box is attractive enough, even pretty, it’s not you.

For one thing, the box is way too small to hold all that you are.

You lived life in the largest of ways, taking it by the reins, the horns and sometimes, even the throat. In the game of living, there are players, and there are spectators. You, my perfect puppy, were a first-string player, a competitor that went full out and had the dirty uniform to prove it.

It was commonplace for grass stains to mark your outline; drool, leaves, bugs, dirt and manure would often decorate the rest of you. I knew the kind of day you had had simply by looking at the amount of life that clung to your fur.

It’s unreasonable to think small pieces of wood fashioned together would ever be large enough to hold your mighty heart, your passion, your zest, your excitement, your energy or your zeal. It’s like trying to put a wave or a rainbow or a star into a sandwich bag. It just doesn’t fit.

Harmony, a black and white Boston terrier

And there’s no way this box’s miniature stature can accommodate your devotion, your loyalty or the unconditional love you gave to me every single day of your life. To put all that into one rectangle would require geometry on a much larger scale.

And, I have other issues with this box.

Its lines are too straight, and its edges are too perfectly smooth. The box has exact angles, even a polished, glossy finish. But that’s not you.

You aren’t fancy or polished or refined. Those words describe a life observed, not lived, and you were all about living.

You lived fully and completely, never taking the easy way or even the highlighted route. Instead, you explored the topography of the land, the curve of the earth, the slope of the hill, the sudden dip, the powerful turn, the steep climb and the rapid descent.

It didn’t matter if you were with me doing chores at the sanctuary, in the front seat of the truck on the way to pick up supplies, daydreaming on the couch or lounging in bed, you were always ready for an adventure or a joyous pursuit. How high, how far and how fast were all you needed to know, and it was off to the races for you and me.

But, here is the real reason this box is not you; it has a lid, a limiting factor, and you, my beautiful girl, have always been and will remain, unlimited.

You once ran under me as I was pressure washing the back patio. In an instant, I inadvertently sliced open a strip of skin on the top of your head with a piercing stream of water.

You and I both let out a loud scream. We then ran to the vet’s office where they doctored your wound and eased my mind. But, the next day, staples in place to close the swath, you were back to attacking hoses and stuffed animals like nothing had ever happened.

You had no restrictions, and in no way were you disabled. The fact that you were deaf made you even more special and quickly revealed the great teacher you are.

You taught me all the ways I could listen without relying on my ears. You showed me how I could hear you with my other senses, just like you heard me.

There is, however, one good thing about the box; it has your name on it, and I like that very much because I have always loved your name and what it means:

Harmony — a pleasing combination or arrangement of things

This is what you are to me — a dazzling mixture of special delights. So many unique and one-of-a-kind qualities there is no way one little box could hold them all.

No, the box I picked up is not you.

It’s way too small to hold all that you are.

And besides, you were already home because you never left my heart.

I love you, Harmony.

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