Faithful Companion

Weeks before I was aware of the magnitude of Dale’s most recent changes, our dog Lucky Day seemed to sense it.

I began finding him not in his usual sleeping spots, but instead, curled up on the bed at Dale’s feet.

I didn’t expect him there. The bed is high. Lucky Day is a little dog—a chihuahua mix with an arthritic back. I wasn’t sure he could still jump that far. I also knew that Dale would not have encouraged him to come up because the disease has disrupted Dale’s awareness of who Lucky Day is. But increasingly, Lucky Day would choose, again and again, to be at Dale’s feet. It was a surprise to me.

Adoption day: October 1, 2016

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Lucky Day and Dale have had a special bond from the beginning. In 2016, when we said good-bye to our 17-year-old dog Jim-Bo, Dale told me that he hoped for another dog. So, we began working with a local rescue organization to find one. When the organization suggested a few to consider, I showed Dale their pictures. Dale said, “Well, they are all nice. But I like him.” (pointing to a picture of Lucky Day)

At the adoption event, Lucky Day and another recommended dog were side by side and looked very much alike—same coloring, about the same size. I showed both to Dale and again he pointed to Lucky Day. This time he said, “I want him.” As soon as Dale squatted down to pet him, Lucky Day jumped in his lap. Home with us he came.

Lucky Day has since spent many happy hours taking walks with us, sitting in Dale’s lap, or snuggled up between us. Over the years, he has adapted to Dale’s changes. He no longer hears Dale call his name or lovingly say (as Dale once did frequently) “You’re wonderful! You’re the best! I love you!” It is rare now that Lucky Day feels caresses or any other expressions of affection from Dale.

And yet, Lucky Day has not given up on his buddy. Even when Dale ignores or resists him, Lucky Day responds with unwavering loyalty. He jumps up to sit beside Dale on the couch and spends hours curled up beside Dale while Dale sleeps.  

April 2021

Lucky Day is teaching me about faithful presence, true devotion, and unconditional love. Dale may have forgotten who Lucky Day is, but Lucky Day has not forgotten Dale.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth,

and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not
know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.”
Job 12: 8 – 12

Still

The disease keeps moving, whether I am aware or not. Whether I accept it or not. That is its nature.

Its gradual movement creates an illusion of stillness: like the subtle changes in daylight that go unnoticed until suddenly (it seems) it is dusk…or like fog rolling across a lake until the water is covered and the shoreline invisible.

So it is with Dale’s latest changes.

Suddenly (it seems) he is sleeping more hours than he is awake; content to sit because standing and walking are challenges; leaving food items on his plate that he once ate with pleasure.

This transition feels shocking to me, despite the length of our journey and all the signs along the way. As I look back, I can see dusk approaching…the fog rolling in. I can see the gradual movement to where we are now.

But still, my whole being responds: How can this be? How can it be that our daily walks together have ended? How can it be that Dale is no longer my dinner-and-a-movie partner each evening? How can this be?

As I inch towards acceptance, I look up to see that there are guides along our way: hospice CNAs who bathe Dale with skill and compassion; chaplains who sit with us, pray with us; caregivers who bring smiles, experience, and helping hands; fellow travelers who know this place well and listen with deep understanding; friends and family who express love in myriad ways, lifting our hearts and assuring us that we are not alone.

And still, Dale is here…in his smiles and laughter, in moments of recognition and connection, even amid periods of intense confusion and long hours of needed rest. Still. Here.

“Still is still moving to me
And it’s hard to explain how I feel
It won’t go in words but I know that it’s real
I can be moving or I can be still
But still is still moving me
Still is still moving to me.”

From Dale’s favorite Willie Nelson song: “Still Is Still Moving To Me”