Saturday, September 4, 2010

My dog; my friend; my brother

I did some growing up this week.  Those of you keeping up with the news on Facebook might have already heard about my dog.  Those of you who haven't... well, let's talk about it--not for the sake of whining about the bitter things in life, but to point out the Lord's hand working even in difficult times.

I had just turned five years old when we picked our new puppy out of the litter.  He was the only brown one in the bunch, so we named him Browny (and us kids didn't know how to spell back then, but it stuck anyway).  I remember bringing him home that day; we were all so excited.

Browny became part of the family.  He was as much our brother as he was our friend, and he grew up with us.  There are so many memories I could share from the years we spent together.  Browny was just always there, no matter what happened.  I could always go to him for comfort or for friendship... and sometimes he would come to me first, because he knew.  There were many rough times in my life through which he helped me. 

Browny was already a very old dog when I left for my mission two years ago.  I knew he might not be around when I returned, and that was a really hard thing for me to face.  I wanted him to know how much I loved him, and that I wasn't abandoning him.  I wanted to be with him for his final days on the earth, whenever they came.  But I knew what I had to do, and I pressed on.

I wouldn't trade my mission for anything in this world, nor could I adequately describe what it did for me; I'm glad I went, and I would be even if I had never gotten to see my dog again.  But for two years I prayed and prayed that I would get to see him again, and as his health deteriorated I prayed harder.  I remember telling God, "Thy will be done, but Thou knowest mine, and if Thou wilt allow it I will be grateful; nevertheless, I will submit to whatever Thy will may be."

Well, I got what I wanted, but it was a heartbreaking sight when I returned to find a half-dead version of my dog sitting on the deck, unaware of everything but the very surface on which he rested.  On top of arthritis and kidney disease, Browny could no longer see, hear, smell, or vocalize anything.  It was difficult to keep him clean from all the times he would fall into his food dish, and the flies were attracted in great numbers.  I had pleaded for a reunion, and now that it was here my dog didn't even have any idea that I was holding him in my arms.  As far as he knew, probably, I left and never came back.

Every time I saw him after that a piece of me died... but that old dog had held on!  My prayers, if perhaps a bit selfish, had been heard, and I could not forget the goodness of that God who made it possible.  I had asked for nothing more than to see my dog again, to hold him and to tell him I loved him.  And those things could be done even in his abject state.  Be careful what you pray for, my friends.

Well, we couldn't let Browny continue forever in misery... and the time soon came to release him from this frail existence.  We set an appointment with the vet for September 2nd, and in the final days leading up to it my brother and I were enlisted to dig a grave.  I can't even tell you how difficult this was.  Browny sat just ten or fifteen feet away while we dug the hole that would swallow his body once it was finished.  I don't know if he knew what it was for, but I did.  And every so often I would climb out of that grave, chase the flies away, and just hold the dog for a few minutes and whisper love and comfort in his ear.  If I could bottle those moments....

The day of the appointment came too quickly, and it was among the hardest I have ever lived.  Dad, Matthew, and I loaded Browny into the back of the truck, and I think by now he might have had a vague idea of what was going on.  I remember as Dad passed the front gate with Browny in his arms, the dog's paw caught on the post for a second.  It was likely just a coincidental collision, but it hurt to watch because of the appearance it had of a weak attempt to stay. 

This vet was the only doctor Browny ever knew; he had taken good care of him from the time he was a puppy.  The doctor's office was a familiar place to all of us, and he allowed us a few minutes alone with Browny before he began the procedure.  As far as I remember, it was the first time my dad, brother, and I had ever all wept together.  These were our final moments with our beloved dog.  He had been so good to us over the years.  He had a personality of his own, and had given more love than he ever received.  He truly was a Cunningham; and what could we possibly do or say to express our endless appreciation for him? 

Browny seemed a little startled at first when we backed away from the table on which he lay and the vet and the nurse moved up.  But the doctor quickly had him calmed, and rested him in a comfortable position before finally inserting the needle.  We were warned of what we might see or hear when the dog felt the injection.  But the nerve damage was already so extreme that he didn't even feel it!  Browny just laid down his head... and went to sleep.  We watched.  It happened so quickly; in less than a minute, he was gone. 

They wrapped our dog's body gently in an old blanket we had brought.  I had prayed for so long to be able to hold Browny in my arms; and now here I was, carrying his remains so carefully back to the truck, then to the backyard where he always played.  It was such an odd feeling--an empty, sad feeling.  I half expected to see the real Browny leap out from behind a corner and say, "Tada!  I'm right here!  Drop that bag of sand and let's go for a walk!"  Even still I have to look twice sometimes to make sure I'm not actually seeing him.

Before Browny joined our family we had planted seven apple trees in our backyard.  As a puppy he chewed the bark off of all of them, and all died except for one.  That tree grew up strong, and is very big and beautiful now.

We buried Browny underneath the last apple tree.  It was the spot he would have picked.  The hardest thing--after watching him fall asleep--was lowering my dog into the hole he watched us dig, then begin to pour the dirt back over him.  With every shovel-full I wanted so badly to jump in there and snatch the body back up and embrace it one more time.  But there it remained, and there it shall until a better day. 

By my dad's request I gave the graveside prayer.  As a family we prayed together to be comforted, that we might have the strength to move on with our lives.  And as difficult as it was for me to write all of this, I bear witness that the answer to that prayer is already in effect.  The pain is still very real, and I would by lying if I told you I wasn't heartbroken.  But there is peace in our home--even laughter and joy.  I haven't cried since the burial, which is definitely a good thing (even though sometimes I really, really want to).  And we've got some fun plans for this weekend.  We're moving on.  It's not the easiest thing to do, but we're doing it.  I'm not depressed or miserable; the future is as bright as I make it.  God's definitely giving me a ton of help right now to be able to do that, and I know He will yet shower me with many more great and wonderful blessings.

After all this, is there any doubt in my mind that God hears and answers prayers?  Not one bit.  Do I believe in a merciful, just, true God?  With every fiber of my soul.  Browny could have easily passed on a year ago, and I would have missed him.  That didn't happen.  Ours could be the saddest home on the block right now.  It's not.  We are children of a loving Heavenly Father who is interested in us!  What's important to us is important to Him--especially as we strive to bring our will into harmony with His.  He cares about the little things in our lives, because He loves us.  How much more does He care about the major things!  And I am confident that if there is any way we can acheive a true fulness of joy, our Father in Heaven will provide it.  That is His mission, and He is true to it. 


Laughter-Loving Stacy said...

:( Ooooh I'm sorry about Browny :( May he bound, leap and be joyous in doggy heaven :)

olde.fashioned said...

Aww, Nathan, I'm so very sorry about your dog!!! :'( How difficult it must've been to come back and see your prayers answered, but knowing it was only for a short while and him in such a state, too.

I've never had an animal I felt any emotional attachment or connection with, but I can understand how heart-rending it must surely be. And while I don't believe in "happy hunting grounds" (as comforting a thought as it is), I can't forget how He cares for the sparrow who falls...

In spite of your pain (actually, maybe more like because of it...) this was a very moving and poignant post. And again, I'm truly sorry for your loss! :-(

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