Molly and Me

The nervous twitch in my leg grew more prevalent with every passing mile; each country road marker added to my anticipation.  We were on our way to pick out a brand new, eight week old puppy.  My ex and I had bought our first house about a month prior to this occasion in 2001.  As excited as I was about the house, I was honestly more excited that the house had a backyard which meant that I could finally get a dog.  Dogs have always played a huge role in my life and so I couldn’t help but think of my previous childhood furry companions along the way.

My first dog, Bridget, was around before I was even born.  Bridget suffered from epilepsy and I often found her having seizures in our backyard. She would stand in the same bushes every time and would shake until the seizure had passed.  I would stand next to her during the episodes, singing her a song that I had made up just for her, trying to comfort her the best way that I knew how.  Bridget allowed me to push her around in my toy shopping cart and was a wonderful playmate and keeper of my secrets.  Bridget passed away one Sunday while we were in church, dying peacefully in her bed.  I was in second grade and this was my first experience with death.  It was hard for me to understand that I could see Bridget and touch her, yet she wasn’t there and wasn’t coming back.  I had always assumed that when you died you just took your body with you.  We got Cricket, my second dog, the very next day because my dad couldn’t stand seeing all of us so sad.  Cricket was a red toy poodle and could fit in my mom’s coat pocket when she was a puppy.  This was my first experience with a puppy and I loved it.  Cricket loved all of us, but she and I had a special bond.  As I entered high school, Cricket was blind and deaf and would rely on me for most things.  As much as she relied on me, I relied on her in equal amounts.  She helped me get through my adolescent years and many gallons of my tears were shed in her soft fur.  Cricket died before I left for college.  Somehow, I think she knew it would be harder for me to leave if she was still at home.  While in college I missed having a dog, so much in fact that I volunteered at the local pound.  I would often go to the park just to pet other people’s dogs.  So, after not having a dog for 6 long years, I was finally going to be able to love another furry companion.

After driving for what seemed like forever, my ex and I turned off of a little country dirt road into someone’s farm.  I have no recollection of who these people were or how my ex found them, but they had 2 litters of English Springer Spaniel puppies that were both 8 weeks old.  We were the first to arrive and so we had the pick of the litters.  The puppies were outside, contained within a homemade fence.  They were all absolutely adorable.  Having agreed upon getting a female dog, I set to work on picking out the dog.  I had a plan for this- instead of me trying to pick out the puppy, I wanted the puppy to pick me.  So, I let myself in the pen and crouched down in the far corner.  The puppies were frightened at first and then became curious and started to sniff me and crawl all over me.  Even in the midst of all of the excitement, one particular puppy caught my attention.  She was the only one who hadn’t chewed off her red collar indicating that she was female and she stood a few feet away from me, not approaching me, but gazing at me intently.  Seriously, it was like one of those stares where you feel like someone is seeing into your soul.  After the other puppies had grown bored with me, the puppy with the red collar regally made her way over to me, crawled into my lap, and promptly kissed my nose.  She then settled herself in my arms as if to say, “Alright then.  Let’s go.”

I named the puppy with the red collar Molly.  My ex and I both agreed that a typical dog name wouldn’t do for this puppy; there was just something special about her.  Molly was not the easiest puppy.  We had several trips to the vet emergency and spent several thousand dollars in the first year of her life, yet I learned a mother’s unconditional love.  I would have done anything, spent any amount of money, to keep her healthy.  I worried about her, I agonized over her, I rushed home from work to let her out and to just be with her.  I absolutely adored her from the very beginning and the feeling was mutual.

As much as I physically took care of Molly, she took care of me emotionally.  Dogs can sense our emotions and Molly was always there when I needed her.  She was constantly by my side during the divorce, the darkest time of my life.  She would hold my hand with her paw and allow me to rest my head on hers.  She would lick away my tears.  She forced me to take her on walks and to move around and refused to let me wallow in my own sorrow.  She was there when Kirby and I reconnected.  She was there when I sold my house and moved to be with Kirby.  She was with us as we got married.  She was with us during the birth of our daughter.  She was there, whenever we needed her to be.

Animals have a way of communicating with us if we pay attention and listen, and Molly was a master communicator.   Sometimes the form of communication would bother us (barking at the pantry door if we forgot to feed her, being so excited to see us when we got home that she would bark at the fence until we could get out of the car and touch her) but often it was just with an expression or a tilt of her head.  Molly let me know about a month before it was her time to go.  Some of you will understand that, and some of you won’t.  It is hard for me to explain but somehow I just knew.  I cried, I pleaded with her, I begged her for more time.  Molly, being Molly, did her best to meet my wishes.  Yet as the weeks went on, I knew she was staying around just for me.  On our last night together, I was sitting with her on the bathroom floor.  I put my right arm around her and was holding her paw with my left hand.  I told Molly that I was so thankful for her life, that she had been a great teacher and guide, and that I wanted her to be at peace. I also assured her that I would be okay.  Molly woke me up the next morning.  She was swollen and breathing hard.  I immediately woke up Kirby and told him it was time to take her, assuming the vet would put her to sleep.  I gave Molly one more hug and kiss and told her one last final goodbye.  She died in my husband’s arms as he was carrying her into the vet, completely at peace and on her own terms.  She died surrounded in love.

photo-8

My last night with Molly.

I would be lying if I said that I am completely okay with her death.  It’s only been 5 days now and all of them have been rough.  It’s strange how the things that I got most annoyed with are the things that I am missing the most.  I still cry every time I pull into the driveway and don’t see her waiting and barking for me at the gate.  I cry when I feed my other dog, Vegas, and remember that I only have one dog to feed.  I cry when my sweet daughter wants to talk about Molly in heaven playing with the clouds.  I cry because there is a huge hole in my heart and in my family.  Yet, I rejoice in the memory of Molly and for all of the gifts and knowledge she left for us.

Molly helped me realize that true happiness is found in simple things like going for a walk or chasing a squirrel.   She helped take me out of the thoughts in my mind and taught me the gift of living in the present moment.  She would watch me get completely stressed, running around like crazy, and would sit in the middle of the room and just watch, knowing that I would come to her, stop what I was doing, and sit with her. Through this, she taught me that being still can bring peace in a chaotic moment.  She helped keep me sane on many occasions.  She loved me unconditionally and I absolutely let her.  She saw me at my best, she saw me at my worst and she loved me no matter what.  She helped keep my heart open to others when I wanted to slam it shut for self protection.

I had a dream about Molly a few nights ago.  In the dream, I was holding her paw, resting my head on hers and rubbing her face as we often did.  All of a sudden, I could feel what she must have felt- I could feel the gentle caress of a hand on my face.  I could feel the scratch behind an ear.  I could feel someone playing with my hair.  I felt love.  Complete, unconditional love.  I realized that Molly loved me as much as I loved her.  Through this dream I finally understood Molly’s final lesson to me: God loves me in this same unconditional way.  God wants me to be still and to hold my hand and stroke my face.  God has seen me at my best and at my worst and He still loves me.  He does not see me as unworthy.  He does not see me as lacking.  He sees me as His own, His family, and nothing can separate me from that love.

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. – Pema Chodron

I believe that our animals can absolutely be some of our best spiritual teachers.  It’s much easier to love and to be loved by an animal that can never betray you with words.  God loves me this much.  Incredible.  Although I’m not in any hurry, I look forward to the day when my spirit moves on.  I know there will be a black and white Springer Spaniel, wearing a red collar, barking my welcome.  Bridget and Cricket won’t be too far behind.

I love you, Molly.

~ala

Gratitude in the Valley

My dress had a sweetheart neck, a fitted, beaded bodice, and a big Cinderella-type tulle skirt; my veil, Cathedral length.  Only 23 years old, I took a big breath and walked down the red carpeted center aisle (just like Diana’s!) towards my Prince Charming.   As we finished our vows, we turned to face the guests and made our way underneath the saber arch.  A true, fairy-tale type wedding.  That’s why I was so surprised when my marriage ended 5 years later.  What happened to my “happily ever after”?

There are a thousand reasons why marriages collapse and mine was no different.  Out of a deep sense of respect for my ex and for his family, those reasons will remain between us.  I believe that everything that happens to us, even the really painful things, happens to us for a reason.  We can choose to learn and grow from these experiences, or we can allow the hurt, anger, and disappointment to fester inside of our bodies, making us miserable and old before our time.  I went through so many different emotions during this period in my life and I did have to go through a grieving process, but the emotion that stuck with me the most was the sense of failure that seemed to hang around me like a fog.  I had been taught my whole life that marriage is forever.  God doesn’t believe in divorces.  Divorce is never an option.  Yet, here I was with this Scarlet D hanging around my neck.  I carried a huge guilt that I had disappointed my family, myself, my God, and my church.  My church even asked me to step down from my role as 7th grade Bible Study teacher and so, even at church, I felt alone and judged.  My friends were wonderful, but most of them were part of our “couple friends”.  Being the newly single girl with my old married group of friends was pretty difficult.  At work, there were the awkward first few weeks when I started signing notes to my students with Ms. instead of Mrs.   My whole world had shifted.  My whole identity had changed. All of this because of one legal document.

I found myself, for the first time in my life, alone.  I had gone straight from living at home with my parents to living with roommates in college to living with a husband.  At no point in my 28 years of life had I ever been alone.  So alone that I really grew to know myself for the first time.  So alone that instead of talking to God, I sat in silence and listened to God.  So alone that I preferred to skip church for the first time ever and to just be with God.  It was in these moments of silence and aloneness that I started to truly know God instead of just knowing a lot of information about God.  I realized that I didn’t need my church or my pastor to bring me closer to God.  God was and had always been right there with me.  Of course, my church had told me this from the beginning.  But, for the first time, I could feel myself actually walking with God.  I could see and feel God all around me.  He became much more than a story to me.  By getting to know God, I was finally beginning to know myself.

Many of you have asked me how this transformation first began for me, and so here you are.  It took a really hard time in my life to literally knock me down, so hard that I couldn’t pick myself up.  So hard that I couldn’t breathe.  So hard that I began to question the meaning of life, the importance of what I once held so dear.  So hard that I had no choice but to be still in a fetal position.

Be still, and know that I am God.  -Psalms 46:10

I thought I knew God.  I had gone to church my entire life.  I accepted Jesus into my heart in the 4th grade and was baptized in front of the church.  I read my daily devotion, I attended extra Bible studies each week, I prayed every night and kept a prayer journal.  I did all of these things and knew A LOT about God.  I knew the Holy Spirit lived inside me.  I knew that I was saved.  Yet, I still didn’t KNOW God.  I didn’t know that God is bigger than any church or type of religion.  He is bigger than the name “God”.  He is the Creator of All, the Great Architect of the Universe, the great I AM.  He is, He was, and He will always be.  Mind blowing. And, even more mind blowing of all, He didn’t see me as a failure because I was divorced.  He saw me as His child and loved me completely.

So, perhaps that wedding actually did have a happily ever after.  I would not be who I am today without walking through that valley.  I would still be playing the role of “perfect wife” instead of just being me.  I wouldn’t be with my true soulmate who has known and loved me since I was twelve. I wouldn’t have my precious daughter.  I’d probably still be sitting on the same church bench, Sunday after Sunday, learning about God but never taking the time to know Him.

Memories, even painful ones, are unique in that we get to shape them.  We get to decide how we want to remember something.  Instead of seeing this particular memory as a failed marriage, I choose to remember it as the time that shook me awake and changed my life in a beautiful way.  For that, I will always be grateful.

~ala