A Love Story

a love story

I have spent all morning lying in the sunshine on the floor with Hannah the Lab, knowing it’s our last morning together.  She can’t get to her feet by herself anymore.  It came on fairly suddenly last week, this final diminishment.  My husband and I can see that it’s confusing and upsetting her to be lifted to her feet, stagger a couple of steps, and collapse, only to have us lift her again.  It’s not that we wouldn’t take care of her like this indefinitely.  We would.  But it would be for us, not her.
She used to retrieve anything we threw and some things we didn’t.  She never saw a tennis ball she didn’t love.  Or a child.  Or another dog.  Or an adult, a toy, anything edible or inedible.  I have to stop listing things now.
 She’s been frail for a while, but still able to get up, go outside, even walk an eighth of a mile on good days.  And  her spirit has been intact; her tail still thumped happiness, and when one of us came home, she’d get up and greet us at the door with a toy as she always has, although she could no longer knock us breathless with her joy dance.  At night, she’d bring her cloth Frisbee or rope to us and insist on her old game of tug-of-war.  She could still hold her own, even though she’d often drop onto her haunches to keep pulling.  When our friends’ Lab lived with us while they traveled, it was Hannah who dropped toys on poor Maggie’s head, trying to force the youngster to play with her.  This happened even early last week.  She had great heart for play.  She has great heart, period.   And, oh lord, her appetite.  She could eat bricks.
We got her as a ten month old puppy from Lab Rescue.  She took us through beginning, intermediate, advanced obedience training (that advanced training was of spotty efficacy), an agility class (she passed, my husband didn’t), and then therapy dog training.  She was a therapy dog, and a wonderful one.  Unprovokable, exuberant, loving.
We spent fourteen years hiking through falls and springs, summers and winters.  I remember the enormous leap she’d take off–well, off anything–into water.  The Hannah leap.  The canine cannonball.  She’d tear into the woods on unauthorized forays away from the trail, sniffing out something to eat that smelled as disgusting as possible.  She’d leave me fuming, shouting, “Hannah!  Leave it!  Don’t roll in it and don’t eat it!”  She saw us through the deaths of three parents, our daughter’s wedding, and the births of two grandchildren with her loyalty, the warmth of her body by ours, zealously licking our tears of sadness or gratitude.
So yesterday and today, Alan and I are taking turns holding her, feeding her steak, telling her thank you and how much we love her.  I stroke her rich chocolate fur and say “Strong girl, brave girl,” again and again.  She licks my face.  I am trying to get myself to “Good bye.”

17 Responses to A Love Story

  1. Ohhhhhhh. I’m groaning inside for you, Lynne. I know what this means. And most people don’t get such a lovely eulogy. Amen, dear Hannah. Amen.

    • You’ve been here, Nancy. I remember. So many people love their animals as we do. I know this. Thank you for your empathy.

  2. Dear Lynne and Alan, I am so sorry. You knew the end would come, but Hannah is still in your hearts and saying goodbye is not easy. But, she will always be in your hearts and memories, so will always be with you. Love, Gale

  3. Hannah was quite a girl, and I enjoyed the details about her life and personality you give us here. I loved the Hannah of The Trail Grows Faint! My own black lab died in July at age sixteen in a similar way, sick for only about a week, then unable to walk or rise. She lay that last night in her favorite place on the living room carpet, and I stroked her head and cooed loving words to her. I went then to bed, and when we got up in the morning, Lucy was not breathing. I lifted up her head and stroked her old black nose again, just to remember what that was like. She was not as interesting or as playful as Hannah, or at least not as a senior dog, but she was a darling companion. That night I felt somehow closer to death — the phenomenon of death — than I ever had before.

  4. DearestLynne
    I can barely type because tears are streaming down my face. I don’t have the words (unlike you) to express my feelings. You write so beautifully. But, you know how I feel. And, believe that, I know how you are feeling. We love our dogs so dearly. Hugs, Donna

  5. Obviously, Hannah had a wonderful life and you will always have such great memories of her. Thanks for sharing this with us….I’m sure it was not easy to write. Thinking of you!

  6. Dear Lynne and Alan, I, too, can barely type, as the tears keep coming. I grieve with you and for you. You write so beautifully. I don’t know how you managed it but I hope the writing helps ease the weight in your heart. The loss of our special companions is unspeakably hard. You were as wonderful to Hannah as she was with you. Perhaps she is romping with my Winnie and Mika. I hope so. My love to you both, Susan

  7. What a beautiful eulogy you’ve written, a life in words that evokes Kodachrome-worthy snapshots. We’ve lost several dogs (or should I say “best friends”), and it never gets any easier. I rely on a lovely book for consolation. “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. I often send a copy to friends on hearing of their loss. If you don’t have it, I can send you one. It is therapeutic.

  8. I’m writing this on Thanksgiving, the day Shirley and I remember you and Alan on that special thanksgiving with you. Memory can be so wonderful, yet at times very painful as we remember losses and wrap ourselves in that now spiritualized love. We lost our shetland sheepdog , “Nerie” last December, so today we wrap ourselves in your “Love-pain” and find the warmth of life in loves lost and new life found in those wonderful people who have responded to your sharing. Call it a “wrap” with love to you and Alan.

    • Thank you so much, Bill. How strong our connections to our dogs are! I remember Shirley’s “Loki,” from so long ago and far away. I’m really sorry to hear about “Nerie.”

  9. And so, came the day when Hannah’s own trail — the trail you two shared together — grew faint, and even then, as ever, you were her faithful Boswell. Thanks to you, there are many of us who never met Hannah but who know and love her as she romps through the meadow of your words.

    As I write this, I have just received a message from a dear friend whose father is suddenly, probably dying. I share her prayers and her helplessness. I think of my lifetime of long-lived cats, and how I always figured they hung around so long because they knew they were loved. I have no doubt that this was also true of Hannah. Mira the Wonder Cat has been with me now for ages, but I couldn’t tell you just how many years it’s been. For the first time in my life, for some strange reason, I have failed to note and remember the exact year we found each other, and so I can’t say how old she is. I wonder why. Can it be, perhaps, that I’m mindful of all the times I’ve had to face the painful season of parting you have so eloquently shared with us here, Lynne… And that I’ve reached a time of life when I realize that it’s well within the realm of possibility that I may never have to face this familiar trauma with Mira? Will it be Mira, or perhaps my next cat after her, who will have learn to live without me, as I have had to live without her predecessors?

    So it goes. And so I wake up today as on every morning, thankful to God for the gift of one more day, a gift many of my friends are no longer here to receive. And thankful for the gift of a friend like you who shares the same good fortune, who wakes to the same day — and records it so beautifully.

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