“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing… was peace.” Milan Kundera
Today is a day of grieving for me. Yesterday, almost five months after her diagnosis of leukemia, our exquisite Raen left us. I don’t think you need to be a dog person, like me, to understand this post. Loss is loss, and mourning is universal.
To understand the depth of this for me, though, you probably have to understand the meaning of Raen’s name and her history.
When our children left home (and our daughter took her dogs with her) we truly had an empty nest. Our house echoed with the quiet. And that gave us freedom and a second honeymoon of sorts, which Doug especially appreciated. And while I did as well, at heart I am a caregiver.
Then my friend, Carolyn, told me of a dog who needed ‘rescue.’ Her husband, Bob, had loved Raen as a floppy eared, puff ball, an unusual, exotic, long-haired shepherd. But they already had two dogs. Before he could convince Carolyn to add a third, a family took ‘Layda,’ her puppy name, one of an “L” litter of dogs born in Germany, and imported to the US by their breeder. The family paid top dollar for the privilege of owning a pup with a passport, daughter of the number two German Shepherd in a country that takes breeding dogs with their country’s name seriously.
Nine months later, probably because Steinquelle has a policy of giving a full refund to anyone who returns a dog at any time, they brought back an almost full-sized but only 40 pound ripple-ribbed dog, who didn’t bark, or know what a toy was or how to play, and who wasn’t sure she cared to live. But, at the same time, she still had a spark of the naturally joyful, loving dog she was at heart, when Carolyn took me to see her.
When I entered her large kennel she came when I called, sat down on my feet, her huge paws sprawling, big tongue lolling, and looked up at me with knowing eyes. Love and pain, joy and uncertainty, captured in that moment like a photograph indelibly etched in my memory, perhaps because she needed me….or maybe due to my recognition of a kindred soul.
After I convinced my husband to at least see her, that she could be my Christmas present, we drove down on a glorious, golden, sun-filled end of fall day and Doug met her and fell instantly in love. His love for her was as uncomplicated as hers would be for him. Just love, pure love, an instant bond.
Since she was to be “my” present I got to name her. For those of you who have been following this blog you won’t be surprised to know I picked a name from my favorite book, plucked from the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings. I called her for Aragorn‘s mother, Gilraen, who said of him, “I gave hope to Mankind.” I saw ‘Raen’ as our hope, our new lease on life now that our children had grown up.
For his part, Doug would just laugh and tell people, “Jo named her ‘rain,’ because she wouldn’t let me call her ‘snow.’ ” This was a funnier joke and always produced a laugh when we were living in Syracuse, upstate New York‘s snowiest big city.
So she came home with us. At first she would run into the living room and give us licks and then retreat to the hall, backed into a corner where she could see us but no one could sneak up on her. While I hand-fed her to get her to eat and watched her magnificent tail drag in the dirt of our yard, I tried to nurture that spark of joy that remained. Gradually, sadly, while we grew together as I trained her and took her everywhere with me, I also grew convinced that it was the woman of the family who had mistreated her.
So Raen finished growing up walking the Erie Canal with me, playing with Carolyn and Bob’s dogs, and later running her yard with our grandchildren, her pack, whom she adored, caring for her stuffed ‘babies’ with a tenderness I loved watching.
Learning both commands and hand signals, she probably was one of the brightest dogs I have raised, sweetness personified. Her long hair spiked and puffy as a puppy that I “Infusiumed” into submission, grew into a full display of silky sleek fur, ruffled legs and ears, that was so stunning strangers would pull over cars and stop us on walks to talk about her beauty.
And she grew not only in size (over 80 lbs) but in confidence. Her full magnificent tail was my barometer of her return to wholeness. Before we left Syracuse it no longer dragged, she raised it parallel to her back. Here in North Carolina it rose straight up, a happy flag, as she became Queen of her yard, Empress of Raen’s Hill, her kingdom at her feet.
That is not to say that, as a rescue, odd memories never plagued her. The crinkle of a water bottle, too quick a movement of my briefcase, no longer terrified but remained. They would return to her eyes in a brief flash, a startle response. But her joy overrode them. And like some of the abused women I worked with, like me, Raen triumphed. And loved.
So this is my ode to her spirit and to the spirits of all of us who overcome the wounds that life imparts. And this is my recognition that in helping her overcome hers, I have myself been healed by her love. In tribute to her I hope that same healing love for you, and I keep the smallest wish that in reading her story, or another of my ‘inklings,’ you find comfort and joy.
Farewell, my sweet girl, I will carry you in my heart forever. I promise to remember: Love heals and love never ends…but more of that later.
Note for those of you subscribed by email to these posts, I have several pictures of Raen on the blogsite itself: www.joanneeddy.com