One year ago today, I was sprawled on a blanket in the vet’s office. My beautiful, spiritual, best companion – a Golden Retriever named Barbara Bush Mallory – had told me that morning that it was time. She needed to give up the fight. We laid down together, just to be there for each other. And later, I left the vet’s office without my companion. As I sobbed my way to the car, I held tight to her collar. Three days later, I returned to pick up her ashes and a plaster cast of her pawprint.
Today I write about her – for myself. The past year has been an emotional one, and at times I have felt so lonely, so alone, so misunderstood. I live in a new home now. I moved away from St. Petersburg and the home where I saw Barbara in every room after she was gone. Now I am in an almost-perfect small town, with love and friends and beauty filling my life. Still, it does not feel like home. I have been unable to fully unpack – especially in the room where I’d planned to hang my dog art collection – because I do not feel complete. I miss my precious Barbara. It isn’t home. How could it be? I am, for the first time in my 57 years, going through life without a dog.
I don’t mean to say anything negative about what’s happened since I moved here. I can’t count the number of fantastic trips I’ve taken. I can’t count how much I’ve laughed. So many happy days, so many new friends and new emotions. I even rode a horse, and hope to do it again.
Still, there are no words to describe what it’s like to wake up in the morning and still look down to see if Barbara is there, sleeping by my side. I dream about her regularly. And just this week, I SWEAR she barked to wake me up. It was just one loud bark, but it was indisputably her voice. “Get up, Mama. I need to go outSIDE…BARK!”
I have waited until today to go through “her” box. When I opened the box, oh, the wonderful perfume of that sweet dog filled the air. I laid my head on her little pillow and bawled. I have touched her collar and rubbed it on my face. I have thumbed through photos and little things I scribbled down over the course of her life. We had such a life. I’m sorry to say that much of it was bad. For me. I tried to keep my emotions away from her. We walked every day, went swimming, made friends, sang, danced, and did everything we could to enjoy life. And then she got cancer, and it was time for me to be her caregiver. Through it all, right up until the last day, she faced life with a wagging tail and constant kisses for her mama.
I’d give everything I have for just one more day with her. But today marks a turning point. She is not coming back, and I must go into the future with a happy, positive “Golden Retriever Attitude.” I call it GRAttitude. Makes sense to me.
Get those lizards, my sweet Barbara, just like you did in this picture. Chase all of heaven’s squirrels. Be young and free. Wait for your mama. I’ll be there one day, and I hope you’ll be right there, wagging your tail.
Mama always loves you.
Two weeks ago, we set off to explore Big Shoals State Park near the small town of White Springs.
We’d read all about it. “Big Shoals State Park features the largest whitewater rapids in Florida. Limestone bluffs, towering 80 feet above the banks of the Suwannee River, afford outstanding vistas not found anywhere else in Florida. When the water level on the Suwannee is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III Whitewater classification, attracting thrill-seeking canoe and kayak enthusiasts. Over 28 miles of wooded trails provide opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding and wildlife viewing.”
I donned my somewhat-new hiking boots, grabbed my walking stick and camera, and we hit the trail. I’m gonna say the trail was a bit challenging. Trip-hazards (roots & cypress knees) and moderate hills. But we reached the river and saw the rapids – at Class III stage. A little past the observation area, we found a way to climb down to a wide whitish-sand beach at the base of the rapids. M headed off with the camera. I walked the beach, looking for stuff.
Now, I’ve never been known for my grace or strength. I’m clutzy and can’t pick up much more than a full coffee mug. But I hiked along that beach and found what I believed to be a fossil. I took it down to the water’s edge, the familiar tea-colored tannic water of the Suwannee. I bent over to rinse the sand from the stone — and fell face-first into the Suwannee River. There under the water, I realized I’d lost my glasses so I stayed under and found them. Left the fossil for someone else.
M saw me fall. She’s used to it. She’s known about my lack of balance for right about 30 years. But when I didn’t pop back up, she thought I was dead and came running. Just then I flopped over and said, “I’m okay. Got my glasses!” I was wet from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet (Oh, my poor boots!), and we had a long hike back to the car.
I saw her a few feet away, taking my picture. Grrrrrr.
“Now, this might make you angry now, but you’ll think it’s funny later,” she said.
“I already think it’s funny.” But I was hurting.
You might not know this, but after you fall and kinda hurt yourself, it takes some time to recover. You don’t want to look UP to see the trail. But we had to climb. No other way. I was hurting. I’d fallen first onto my knees and then flat down. My head hit the river bottom. My legs were wobbly. It was hot, and I was kind of dehydrated. But we had to climb.
M sprinted up to the trail, looked down, and held out her hand. “Grab my hand. I’ve got you.”
What she didn’t know was that I didn’t have enough strength to make that dang climb. Man, I’m outta shape. So instead of taking her hand, I had to crawl up that embankment. I mean flat-on-my-stomach crawl. I got to the top and plopped down like a rain-soaked newspaper in the grass. As I struggled to my feet, my trusty walking stick (an oak branch) broke.
I knew we had to get back. I was okay. Thirsty, humiliated, weak, and dirt-speckled – but I could make it back. I wanted to make it back. On my own. No help. M blazed the trail in front as I huffed and slogged along behind her.
“What are you doing with your phone?” I managed to ask.
“Ordering you a walking stick,” she answered in a voice so perky I would’ve tackled her if I could have gotten to her. “I got you a red one. I know that’s your favorite color.”
We kept going. My mouth was dry and I was getting dizzy. “Just leave me here,” I groaned. Literally groaned. “It’s for the best.”
“Nope,” M chirped. “You’re going to get stronger! Look – we’re almost there. You’re doing great.”
At the edge of a swampy area, we stopped so I could catch a piece of breath.
“What are you doing with your cell phone now?” I wheezed.
“Watching the Gator softball game,” she answered – as if nothing had happened. “It’s important.”
And then I laughed. The hilarity of the situation hit harder than my full weight hit the bottom of the river. She was just fine, walking along smoothly, taking pictures, watching the game. I was behind her, a greyish blob, weaving, panting, and whining. That’s when I realized: I cannot quit. And whining is ridiculous.
Soon, we emerged from the woods. I looked beat-up. A young couple who’d been studying the posted map looked at me, and then at each other. I could imagine their words, “LOOK at that woman! Maybe this trail is too hard.” I smiled.
M brought me some water. I was still wet and didn’t want to ruin her nice leather car seats. “I’ll just ride on the floor in the back,” I said. “I’ll be fine there.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “Let me go get the car. DON’T MOVE.”
And then the car was there. Floor mats on my seat. I got in, and we kept going. We had more to see and, after all, it was just a little dirt and water. Ouch.
I’m ready to go again.
They were boys. One day they were studying, laughing, tossing around a ball with friends, trying to hold a girlfriend’s hand, and attending church on Sundays – sometimes Wednesday nights, too. Life was simple, smiles were plenty, and America was the greatest country on earth.
But our world changed. Germany and Japan had been fighting for world domination, but not on our soil. Not in America. Not until Sunday, December 7, 1941, the holiest day of the week. On that day, the “Imperial” Japanese Navy slaughtered soldiers, sailors, Marines, and civilians with a deadly strike on Pearl Harbor. Close to 3,000 people were killed – just a few less than the number killed during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, another morning sneak attack.
History books abound with detailed accounts of young Americans running to their draft offices, hurried basic training, and long, bloody attacks throughout Europe, the Pacific, and throughout the world.
The young men went off to fight an enemy they could see and vowed to stay in the fight until America prevailed. It was a dirty war, and much of the dirty work and horror took place on the ground in bloody battles waged by our infantrymen – Army and Marines. How many miles did they trudge along, one line on each side of the road (where available) carrying supplies, engaging in battle, stumbling, but always picking each other up? Months before, they had been boys; they’d never even imagined the hardships and horror that became their daily lives.
They went to protect our way of life. They returned, minus more than 400,000 U.S. civilians and military members. Some returned to ticker-tape parades; others simply went home to family. Not many knew the demons they battled when the closed their eyes, images they’d never forget, smiles of friends who’d died in battle.
They found jobs, tried to forget what they’d seen, and lived quietly in the country they’d saved. Some were maimed and “shell-shocked,” but it was only spoken about within the circle of family and friends. They received help and respect. They were not silenced, even denied, by the leaders and citizens of this country.
As time progressed, these Great Americans got older. And so did their stories. For those who remain, memories grow dim. While we’ve seen biographies and autobiographies of military leaders and heroes, we see few stories from the men who trained, went to war, fought, and came home.
Many times, God’s blessings come in ways we do not recognize at first. I received such a blessing, a privilege granted to few. After getting settled in here in High Springs, I met (through my High Springs “family”) one of those men who trained, traveled on a troop ship, came ashore and fought, then finally came home. During R’s time in the army, he managed to write a letter to his girlfriend (who later became his wife) every day. She kept these letters – oh, how she must have treasured them – and he has entrusted these precious letters to me to transcribe. I have the letters she wrote to him while he was in basic training, but he was not able to save her letters once he shipped out.
The letters capture the giddiness of a young couple in love, and the “summer camp”-like atmosphere of his basic training. They move into the intricacies and tragedies of war as seen through the eyes of a young infantryman from Virginia. It’s both love and war, with him choosing his words carefully (and then dodging the censors) so as to not worry his sweetheart back home. It is a love story of man and country. As I read the letters, I hear R’s strong Virginia accent, and it makes me think of my family members who fought in that same war.
They went away as boys. They returned forever changed. R’s story will be the greatest project I have helped into existence. We must never forget their sacrifice. They did not question.They did not protest. They did their jobs. And because of them, we are here today.
Thank you, R. The world will know your story.
Living in High Springs has brought me joy and happiness I never knew I could experience. There are people here who love me and care about me. I have a beautiful home, a job others would give anything to have, a new hobby (photography), and no more of the traffic and rudeness of Tampa Bay. Sounds idyllic, I know. And it is – most of the time. But something is missing. I am not all here, not able to get organized or even function some days.
It’s because I am still in pain – physical and emotional – and lost without Barbara, who left this earth 7/14. I should be better now. I shouldn’t think about her every day, right? I should be able to talk about her without feeling my eyes fill with tears.
Someone suggest that I write about it, and maybe doing so will help.
Some people tell me to get therapy; this has gone on too long.Other people tell me that what I feel is normal. I’ve learned that the amount/length of grief can be tied to the number of years you had with your dog and the type of relationship the two of you had. Well, I had Barbara for 12 glorious years. Ours was a deep and unique relationship. I cried when I saw her for the first time. I fell in love immediately. I cried when I saw her for the last time. I didn’t know if I could live without her.
We were together nearly all the time because I work from home. We had routines. We said our prayers before meals. I sang a special song when it was walk time. If I was going to leave the room for a few minutes, I just said, “Mama be right back,” and she’d plop down and wait for me. She knew the difference between going for a ride with me and those times she had to stay at home and wait. When that happened, I always said, “Keep the house.” She knew she’d get a few treats before I left, and she waited patiently for my return – usually with something special for her. I’d say, “Do you wanna go fwimmin’?” (our special word), and she’d run to the cabinet where I stored her beach towels. My, how she loved the water. She’d pouce in, swim and show pure joy, and even put her head underwater. Probably looking for squirrels or lizards.
Ptsd, depression, anxiety took me places no one should go. Barbara could sense that. She KNEW when I was getting ready to zone out or take to bed. She’d press herself against me to reassure me that she was there. She’s put her big ol’ paw right in the center of my forehead, for dog-style reiki, when tension headaches took over. She’d disappear for a few minutes and come back with a toy or something from the laundry hamper – trying to make me smile, and it worked.
In 2009-10, I had horrible problems, then surgery, due to frozen shoulder. My precious dog stayed right beside me for at least six months when I was in too much pain to move. She was by my side when I had to sleep in a recliner. Then when I could move back to my bed she very gently got up beside me. One night when I was really hurting, that sensitive dog moved up the bed slowly until she could nestle her nose in my neck and make little “I’m here, Mama. Sorry you hurt” snuffling sounds into my neck. Tears ran down my face – not from pain, but from the love of my constant companion. Finally, she decided it might be okay to leave me alone so she went to the living room and stretched out on the sofa. If she thought I’d turned a corner, then it must have been true. The next day, we took a slow, short walk. She was so patient with me because I’d lost all the strength in my legs and my balance was off. She didn’t pull on her leash, but rather walked at my side (I know she wanted to go faster and further). We kept at it, and soon were up to our regular walks and adventures.
My wonderful dog stopped people in their tracks when we took walks. Everyone wanted to be close to Barbara. She had a beautiful, shiny coat from twice-daily brushings. Her teeth stayed white because of the special product I sprinkled in her food every day. She ate well, and while I hate to cook for myself, I loved to cook for Barbara. And she sure did enjoy her coconut water. She was always happy, wagging her tail, and smiling that special Golden Retriever smile.
I used to take her in the car when I went to the neighborhood convenience store. I’d get some sort of snack, and always a cheese stick for Barbara.Left the a/c on. I didn’t pay attention to it until after she’d passed. I went to the conv. store, and the clerk asked about Barbara. Said she hadn’t seen her in a few weeks. It broke my heart to tell her what had happened. She started crying and had to leave to go to the back room to cry it out. Everybody loved Barbara.
Everyone loved her, except for those who don’t like dogs, don’t understand how they become part of souls, and don’t understand how much we love them – no matter how goofy they are. Barbara’s goofiness saved me from some scary times of depression more than I can count.
One day, someone tried to break into my house. Barbara barked and growled in such a scary way (never heard it before; never heard it again) when the man pounded on my door and window. He ran away, but my neighbors got robbed. Later, when the Sheriff came to take statements, he looked me in the eye and said, “You need to know that your dog saved your life. That man would have, without a doubt, killed me.” How did she know on that one day that the pounding on the door was foe, not friend? Don’t believe it when people say Goldens are not good watchdogs.
She had what I termed GRAttitude – Golden Retriever Attitude. Always smiling, always happy and ready for fun, and always glad to be by my side. God. Please God. I miss that. Even when she was near death, she fought to keep that special attitude.
Then came the day. She and I knew it was the end of the road. I feel the agony today as if it happened yesterday. She tried so hard to be happy, even on that day. I snuggled with her on a blanket in the vet’s office. Our wonderful vet who, along with B’s specialists, tried everything possible to save her. As she passed from this world to the next, I spoke to her and reminded her of all the fun we’d had – and told her that there are probably slow squirrels in heaven for her to catch.
And then it was over. I walked out of the office with her green collar in my hand, and cried millions of tears. That night, I begged God to give me a sign to let me know she was happy there in heaven. And then a miracle happened. I opened my eyes and saw a hazy images of my pupper there, right beside me, smiling. I could touch her, though not physically. I could sense her happiness. Spiritually, I held her close and whispered in her ears. I petted her, cried, and thanked God for letting me know she was okay. It was only about five minutes, but it was what I needed.
Today, I still miss her. She was more than a “Dog” to me. She was a friend to joke with, travel with, take naps with, and go on lizard hunts with. She loved it when I sang to her. She loved everything about me. She was always with me, always by my side. She is now, and forever, in my heart.
I am lost without her. I would like to honor her by getting another dog but two things in my life prevent it. Most important is that the person I love doesn’t like dogs and especially doesn’t like the way MY dogs behave. So the saddest thing is that I’ve had to choose between a dog (which would help w/my PTSD, and my psychiatrist agrees) and the person most loved in my life.
I pet every dog I see when I’m out in public. I miss that special connection, the trust. I miss Barbara. I will feel this way for a long time, I think.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1″
Beautiful views from my porch this Easter Week remind me of a song by the artist known in my time as Cat Stevens.
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the One Light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day.