Dear Betsy

Dear Betsy,

Today is a tough day.  The toughest.  I miss you so much, and my mind is a non-stop reel of footage of 8 years of having you by my side.

The footage starts way back in May of 2008.  Cooper had just turned 2, and I had fostered a few dogs, trying to decide if having a dog for Coops to grow up with was a good fit for our family.  Midwest Animal Rescue called me and told me there was a transport coming from Ohio, and they didn’t have someone available to pick up a Beagle coming in on the van.  I told them I could do it, and the deal was that the Beagle would stay with me for a few days until a foster could be lined up.

It was in the evening when I drove to the spot where the van would be unloaded.  There were lots of fosters and volunteers there, and they began unloading kennel after kennel of dogs looking for homes.  Then, all of a sudden, everyone was gone.  The commotion died down, and the lady with the clipboard started to get back in her van.  “Wait!” I called as I jogged over to her.  “There’s supposed to be a Beagle in here.”  She told me that there definitely wasn’t one, as they’d stopped in Illinois and Wisconsin for potty breaks and there was no Beagle.  She grabbed her checklist and double checked.  Sure enough…there was supposed to be a Beagle on board.  We unloaded everything, and there you were, curled in a ball in the way back of the van, behind a crate.  You’d made the entire trip without getting out or making a peep.  You were skinny, shaking, and unsure of everything.  I brought you over to my Jeep and shakily, you hoisted yourself in to the passenger seat.  We headed home, with you curled in the tightest little ball on my passenger seat, big watery Beagle eyes never blinking, while you watched me cautiously.

Over the next few days, you were hesitant…and that’s putting it lightly.  Remember how you wouldn’t leave the tiny space under my nightstand?  For days, you’d only venture out for me, and you’d let Cooper give you a few pets, but you were tentative at best.  If Doug were in a doorway or close by?  Forget about it.

I spoke to Midwest Animal Rescue and we decided the best thing would be for you to stick around a little bit until you were more comfortable, so rather than move you to another foster home, you’d stay with me…still not venturing far from the safety of your nightstand hideout.  They told me that you’d been a part of the prison dog training program in a town in Ohio, but that your nervous demeanor wasn’t a good fit.  Where you’d been before that, they didn’t know, but you were scared for some reason.  After that, you went to a rescue, where your timid behavior caused the other dogs to gang up on you.  We didn’t know if the scars that covered your face, back legs and head were from the dogs or something that had happened before that, but they were there.

The days turned to a week and half, when I got a call that someone wanted to come meet you.  A possible forever home!  I coaxed you out, this time from under my bed, and thought about how to proceed.  We hadn’t interacted much,  but when I thought about you transitioning to another place, I just couldn’t bear the thought of more upheaval for you.   “What if I just keep her?” I asked a representative at MARS.  “Just pay the fee”, she advised, and I grabbed my debit card.  In late May, 2008, you officially became a Jones.  I wasn’t sure how this road was going to go, since you still wouldn’t come out of hiding, but we were in it together.

Over time, you got used to the routine of the house, and when all was quiet and everyone had gone to bed, I’d hear you click down the hall and peek out at me, always the last one up, and you’d come over and sit by me.  As time passed, you’d rest your head on my lap.  That transitioned to you coming up on to the couch by me.  It was our secret.  You’d pace the entire house making sure no one would see you on the furniture, you’d quietly walk over, scan my face for a reaction, and slowly sneak up next to me.  We’d cuddle, we’d talk, and share treats.  You were my popcorn pal.  Remember how we’d go through big bowls of it?  Together, we even figured out that if you were sure I was being nice, you’d catch it for me when I threw it.  It was the only time you’d tolerate a throwing motion without cowering and hiding.

You were my constant co-pilot for car rides.  Remember how first, you’d go back to the tightly curled ball position, but then you realized it was fun to look out the windows.  In more recent years, you would even sniff out the window.  It seemed a little scary at first, but then you loved it!  The kids and I would giggle as we’d roll down the window and we’d always says “Bets, you want some sniffs?”  Your nose would go crazy when we had the window all the way down for you.

We spent so much time together that somehow, without really “training”, you picked up “shake” and “high-five”.  The kids loved showing off that trick for friends.  Well, I did, too.  We never did anything formally, you and I, but spending so much time together, we spoke the same language, didn’t we?  I’m positive you always knew what I was saying.  Pretty much, you always knew what I was thinking.  If I were sick, or sad, you’d appear quietly by my side, or I’d feel your head lightly rest on my knee.  Over the past few years, we spent that kind of time together a lot, didn’t we?  I hope you know how comforted I felt by your presence.  There were so many times I needed you, and there you were….

The past 8 years are a blur of you and I on car rides, walks, and especially those late nights spent together on the couch.  My constant companion.  You’ve always come around when the kids are eating Goldfish crackers, which are one of your faves.  The kids would say “Mommy, can I give Betsy a cracker?  She’s looking at me with her big, wet, Beagle eyes!”  I’d laugh and say “How can you not?”  It’s those routines, those daily “things” that are ours that are flipping like old photos through my mind.  You snoring by the side of my bed, in yours.  Your morning greetings, when you’d rest your head on my side of the bed and stare at me with those eyes until I’d say “Morning, Bets”.  The popcorn, the movies, the rides in the car, the drive-thrus when you always got tons of compliments…  You’ve been by my side every day.  I miss you.  I’m so sad.

Remember when the kids were babies and Tom and Doug left one night for the casino?  That night was the first time I really heard your voice.  They tried to come in the side door in the middle of the night when it was just me at home with the babies.  You weren’t having it!   My timid friend turned in to a fierce protector.  I didn’t know you had it in you, but it also didn’t surprise me.  You had a steady, quiet demeanor, but you were our family, and you’d protect us.

Over the past month or two, I felt like something might be off with you, Bets.  You didn’t seem as strong on walks.  There was an infrequent unsteadiness.  Though we never knew how old you really were, I didn’t think that age could be the cause.  It was so slight, though…not noticeable to anyone but me, but I knew something was off.  Then there was the accident in the house.  That had never happened.  Ever.  The vet said it was probably an infection, and we started the antibiotics, but it was more than that, wasn’t it?  And I feel like you might have felt it, too.

Yesterday was a day I’ll never forget, Betsy.  I saw my buddy suffering, and I saw the scared look.  I was sad/terrified/heartbroken/panicked, all at once.  I knew something was really, really wrong.  I pet you.  I tried to comfort you as you’ve comforted me.  I told you it would be okay.  You stared at me, listening.  Did we both know?

I talked to your doctor in the middle of the night last night.  He told me you couldn’t walk.  They had you on medication to make you comfortable.  They had you on anti-seizure meds, and sedatives, but you’d still go in to “the roll”.  The seizures caused by a brain tumor are different.  He recognized it right away.  He told me you’d try to stand anyway, and get agitated.  I knew what he was telling me.  This morning Doug and I talked.  Well, he talked, and I cried.  We knew it was time to say goodbye.  I’ve only ever wanted to protect you and take care of you, my steady companion, my friend, my timid buddy.  I wouldn’t want you to suffer.  I wouldn’t want you to be scared.

I told the kids.  We sat on the sunroom in your spot on the couch.  Sophie held the blankie she told me she’d covered you up with just yesterday.  Cooper leaned in to me and cried.  He told me he’ll miss your hugs.  He said he can’t imagine you not being here because you’ve been here for his whole life.

We looked through pictures of you that we love, and found comfort remembering the happy times.  Do you know we’re thinking about you?  Do you know how much we love you?  I’m heartbroken, my friend.  If you were here, you’d have your head on my lap, but that can’t happen this time.

Doug is going to bring your ashes to me.  I tried to think about where you’d want them to be.  Was there a place you loved?  The cabin?  The park?  The backyard?   I couldn’t come up with one.  I feel like your favorite place was the place that I miss most…..with me.  So for now, I’ll keep you close.

I hope you are able to stand again, Bets, and run free.  I hope you have as many treats as you want.  I hope you aren’t scared.  I hope you know how much we love and miss you.

We do.  We will.  Always.




A Letter to Sophie

Dear Sophie,

Today you are a beautiful, bright, smart and joyful two year old.   If you could read this today, you’d surely correct me and make sure that I mention that you’re “almost” three.  For the past two Saturdays I’ve been at school taking a class about eating disorders.  I thought about you a lot as I sat in my classroom and I want to share with you some of the things that occurred to me as I learned more about this topic that affects so many girls’ (and boys’) lives.

First, I want you to know that daddy and I loved you, even before we ever saw your sweet face.  That love had nothing to do with how you’d look, it was the very idea of you; the joy you might bring to our family, the person you might grow to be, and the endless possibilities.  The first promise that I make to you today as I type you this letter is that this will never change.  We promise to you that we will never measure your worth in sizes or numbers or physical appearance.  You are, and always will be of immeasurable worth to us and none of that has anything to do with your body.  True and unconditional love is the love of your essence; your being, your soul.  That is what we have for you, Sophie.

One of my favorite moments these days is when I hear your feet on the hardwood floors as you gallop in to my bedroom in the morning.  You are sure that you grow stronger overnight so each morning you hurry to my side of the bed, flex your arm and excitedly beg me to check your muscles.  Strength is something you are so proud of, and you are strong, Sophie, in so many ways.  Our hope for you is that, over the years, you find some way to continue being proud of your strength.  Strong legs can carry you wherever you dream to go, and strong arms will allow you to hug your friends and family tight to you when you are so moved.  There are other ways to be strong, Sophie, and though you don’t know about them yet, you will begin to understand them more as you grow and learn and have more experiences.  In Buddhism, some of the most important ones are called the Five Strengths.  They are faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Our second promise to you today is that we’ll be here to support you in all of the above; to help teach you, guide you, and most importantly, remind you of your strengths that are not as easily seen to the eye because those may be the most important, Sophie, and the ones we sometimes find most easy to question or forget about in ourselves.

Last and not least, Sophie, I want to promise to you today and for a lifetime that if and when the day comes when you question any of the above, your dad and I are here to love you and cherish you and remind you of your worth in the world.  That worth will never be measured by how tall you are, what number you see on your scale, what size you buy when you shop for new clothes or anything else so basic.  You are so much more important than that, so much more valuable.  You are here for a purpose Soph and it is up to you to find out what that purpose may be.  No matter what paths you take, what decisions you make, no matter what parts of yourself that you reveal to us over time, it cannot and will not change our love for you.