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February 6, 2020

One of Those Days

It was one of those days. The snow swirling through the fog looked how my head felt. We’d brought Quinn home from the hospital prepared for sleepless nights with a newborn, but we hadn’t planned for Lincoln to come down with a respiratory infection at the same time. A deep cough informed me that my prize for sharing my son’s bed to comfort him would be sharing his illness. I felt like giving up.

It was one of those days. The snow swirling through the fog looked how my head felt.

We’d brought Quinn home from the hospital prepared for sleepless nights with a newborn, but we hadn’t planned for Lincoln to come down with a respiratory infection at the same time. A deep cough informed me that my prize for sharing my son’s bed to comfort him would be sharing his illness. I felt like giving up.

“Get to the beach,” Emily insisted.

The lot was empty, except for a familiar van. There are a few stalwarts who visit the dog beach year-round, and Julie and her Bernese Mountain Dog, Lilly, were two of our favorite regulars. Not least because of Zero’s unrequited love for Lilly.

Cupid’s arrow struck Zero as a puppy. He was hopelessly enamored from the moment he saw Lilly’s beautiful flowing hair. He pranced and bowed and barked and preened. Anything to get her attention. But she dismissed the upstart pup with an assertive bark of her own, then trotted after Julie.

Any other dog might have gotten the message, but it seemed to bounce harmlessly off Zero’s thick skull. For three years running, Zero would bound over to Lilly only to be rebuffed each time. Any other dog might have sulked, but Zero always happily strutted away with a tail wag which said, “I think she likes me!”

We hadn’t run into the pair in a while, so seeing Julie’s van was a bright spot on a dark morning. But my breath caught when I noticed Lilly’s lean silhouette and a clinically shaved strip of hair on her leg.

Julie saved me from fumbling through the question she saw on my face.

“Cancer,“ Julie said. “One vet said do it today, another said she won’t make it to Thanksgiving. And when we’re in the office, I believe them. But look.”

As Julie pointed, Lilly’s lethargy lifted at the sight of Zero galloping over in greeting. I made a motion to put myself between the two, to implore Zero to turn away, but Lilly neatly stepped around me to deliver her customary retort. Having cancer was one thing, but Lilly would be damned if she let her wannabe paramour think he’d finally have a shot with her.

Zero made a hasty retreat and Lilly stepped into the frigid lake with bowed head.

“It’s the only water she’ll drink now,” Julie continued with a laugh. “And she’s never better than when we’re here.”

I kneeled to offer Lilly affection and Julie empathy.

“Don’t worry,” Julie said. “We have today. And we’ll be back tomorrow if she’s not ready to go yet.”

Julie and Lilly walked into the fog and I felt as if I’d been visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The skyline was gone, the horizon absent, the lake invisible. Somehow the wind blew in my face no matter which direction I faced. If there was a time and place to be visited by a spirit, this was it.

And like Ebenezer Scrooge, I was moved. I saw that the self-pity I’d wrapped myself in that morning was not a comfort, but a burden. I met the day insisting I was owed more sleep and better health, but Lilly revealed the corrosive greed of that impulse. Because the question should never be, “What am I owed this day?” It must be, “What can I give this day?”

Two familiar apparitions broke through the fog and forced me to jump out of the way as they wrestled across the sand. So too did they break the fog in my mind. Wheeling and dancing and insisting I join their revelry. Penny and Zero would not stand for my greed, they would not stand for my guilt, and they certainly would not stand for my standing around.

I whooped into the wind and joined the chase. Sick, sleep deprived and grateful.

Lilly saved the day. Not just for me, but for my family. Back at home I felt just as exhausted as when I awoke, but I cared for Emily, Lincoln and Quinn with renewed purpose. If Lilly could still find joy while dying, what excuse did I have for not doing so while living?

Like Zero, I have a thick skull and often don’t get the message the first time around. Fortunately, over the next few weeks Lilly was kind enough to share it with me anew. Each morning I’d breathe a sigh of relief when I saw Julie’s van, and witnessing Lilly restore herself in the waters of Lake Michigan so too restored my spirit at a time I needed it most.

Those first weeks with a newborn are hard. Doubly so with a sick two-year-old. Triply so when the newborn catches that cold and you spend so much time at the pediatrician that the front desk just waves you in.

The impulse is to put your head down and get through these difficult moments in life. To hang on and survive until they pass. But survival is not enough. Time is too precious for circumstance to dictate how much of our heart we give to each day. Julie could have let Lilly fade away quietly at home, but instead they returned each morning to the place they loved best, doing what they loved most.

And if a waning dog could find the spark to send her wayward suitor fleeing each morning, then surely a weary father could find the strength to give his family the love they needed.

A day finally came when both Lilly and Julie seemed to know it would be their final morning at the beach together. I offered each a hug and watched them walk the shore one last time.

The next week, the beach was deserted. I crisscrossed the sand with Penny and Zero, lost in thought. Over the years I’ve written so much about what my dogs mean to me, but in that moment I realized how much better I am for witnessing the love other people share with their dogs.

I’m not sure why, but we lingered at the empty beach longer than usual. I think it might have been simple appreciation for the ability to linger at all.

As I loaded the dogs back into the car, Julie’s van turned into the lot and she stepped out. Alone.

There is something indescribably heartbreaking about seeing someone who has just lost their dog. They look both exactly the same and completely unrecognizable. Standing whole, yet wholly broken. Despite this fracture of her soul, or maybe because of it, Julie came back to the beach.

With a wry smile, she handed me a bag and said, “Thank you so much. For the all the photos of Lilly, and for everything. These treats are for your dogs. And I couldn’t resist a little something for your daughter!”

One of the greatest gifts our dogs give us is leading our hearts where they need to go. But the true strength of that gift is that they teach us how to find our way back to those places even when they’re gone.

Rather than turn inward with her grief, Julie found her way back to the beach to offer a final tribute. I didn’t have the words to tell her how much that meant to me.  I couldn’t articulate how her bond with Lilly helped make me better at a time my family desperately needed me to be just that.

But between those who know the wordless love of a dog, and the ultimate cost of that love, a shared hug can say more than anything spoken.

Emily got called into work the other night so I was up feeding Quinn at 2:00 am. Then Lincoln decided to get our day started at 4:30 am. Breakfast was a circus, and I the bleary-eyed ringmaster who almost fed Lincoln’s oatmeal to the dogs. With great fanfare we packed up our tent and loaded the menagerie into my car. I assure you, it was all a less than pleasant affair. But I couldn’t stop smiling.

Because it’s always foggy, someone is always sick, something always goes wrong. Why? Because it’s always one of those days.

After dropping Lincoln at school we made our way back to the dog beach. I strapped Quinn to my chest and adjusted her new socks. The ones from Julie and Lilly. The ones which keep her feet cozy and her father’s heart warm.

If you’re having one of those days, make sure you get out with your dog. In the end, not only will it mean the world to you, but the love you share might just make a world of difference for someone else too.

Comments for One of Those Days

  1. my tears are running but I learnt this lesson too… thanks for sharing a real gem of wisdom…

  2. jy195 says:

    We get alot of hiking in at Lapham peak on days like that. Sadly too many this year. But dogs and nature always renew the soul. Thanks for these words Will.

  3. Gina says:

    Tears are being shed at my desk but such beautiful words of wisdom and a testimant to the beautiful creatures we have in our lives. Cherish them always

  4. Just beautiful. Thanks for this message:

    Because the question should never be, “What am I owed this day?” It must be, “What can I give this day?”

  5. Tricia Thompson says:

    ‘Time is too precious for circumstance to dictate how much of our heart we give to each day’. This is the new quote hanging on my mirror. Thank you, Will.

  6. Kismet says:

    6 years ago, Kyla was diagnosed with melanoma and given 3 to 9 months, It was 6 months and we still miss that Scottie.

  7. OlRedHair says:

    Thank you Will. This is exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Such wise words. I can definitely relate. Thinking about what you said is giving me more and more incentive to keep going and ask myself what am I going to give this day?

    I so feel for Julie. I went through something similar in 2018 with my golden retriever. And I do believe getting through by living each day to the fullest. Living until the day you die. Your pup does not know he or she is sick. So continuing to do the things you all love so much is the way to live life.

  8. Debbie Whiting says:

    Beautiful, thank you.

  9. “always one of those days…” So so true. Good reminder to bring our best to each and every one of them.

  10. Our dogs teach us so much about ourselves and others. I appreciate your translations of their wisdom that help me with those lessons that otherwise may have gone unappreciated.

  11. chris says:

    I keep trying to leave comments because your posts are so beautifully put. but it never seems to post them not sure why.

  12. lak says:

    Thank you for these words to live by

  13. John says:

    Well, you did it again; put into words what is deep in our hearts. Lilly and Julie’s resolve speaks volumes about the love we share with our four legged family. Tell Julie that she has many friends that she doesn’t know who wish her well and know her heartbreak. You stood there to accept her gift; great job, Will, that would be tough for any of us. With love, from John, Sue & Nellie (Ridgeback mayhem!)

  14. Jodi Wood says:

    Always love everything you write. Thank you so much for putting it all into perspective. Oh Lilly, we will miss her on your posts. My RR has a Bernie buddy also, Leo, and he is nearing his end of days on earth also. I will forward this to his “mom” eventually. Nothing like our dogs to help us along in this life! I have 4 kids and 10 grandchildren now. I have more time to devote to my pup now who is just turning 4, than I did with other pups who have now past on. But I have amazing memories of raising my kids and the busy life in the house, along with our beloved furry friends.

  15. Nancy says:

    Your words are beautiful and powerful expressions of vulnerability and gratitude for our dogs.

  16. Deb Cooper says:

    Darn you, Will, for opening up a 1 1/2 year old wound that never really heals from losing my big Ivy. It took me a year to quit crying over her. My deepest gratitude for inspiring equally deep love of our new furry blessings, of people we meet, and every bit of the world around us. You posses a heart that the entire world desperately needs.

  17. Eve Walraven says:

    Oh yes another post to get the speck of dust in my eyes out! HUGS to Julie! RIP Lilly and run with Echo for all eternity. Will, you have an amazing ability to write words that touch the heartstrings! I so dread this day when my Juley will not be around anymore! But she has had an amazing 13 (come July it’ll be 14 years of life!) so I can’t complain.

  18. This world is cruel and beautiful and we get to decide how we perceive it. Please give Julie a hug from this stranger in Colorado who was deeply touched by hers and Lilly’s story.

  19. Kim Reischl says:

    I lost my Milo a year ago and your message was so touching. I now have a ridgeback ,Hank and as much as he drives me crazy its the moments on how his love for life is so infectious. I see other dogs and how they react to him and I just watch and wish on my days where I’m struggling with my depression, how I wish I could be so outgoing and loving towards others and my precious gift of life. Then I step back, laugh and realize how he just made me laugh and does for me what no Dr can do, pull me out of my depression for a moment.
    Thank you for your touching story, I will look differently now at my Hank, and his relationships and know how much they mean to him as well.

  20. Can’t stop crying. This was beautiful. I am so sorry about Lilly………please give her mama (((hugs))) from us as well. Julie is one special person, just like you.

  21. Maureen Bondor says:

    Thank you, Will. I have saved many of your posts that speak to this hole left in our hearts, but I don’t know if I have them all. What do you think of a book that compiles all these separate posts on losing a beloved pet?

    Also, please check out the research on fenbendazole which is a de-wormer for dogs. Unbelievably, it has a positive effect on stopping cancers in animals and humans as well.

    Thank you!
    Maureen

  22. Nicole says:

    Will thanks for making me cry! Truly again beautiful words that actually really hit home for me today, as I have felt so burdened the last few months with life. I too am truly at peace when I get to share with my dog outside in nature, as you said. You really put things in prospective for me and to not take things for granted. We all need to snap out of the drudgery we find ourselves in sometimes. I Bet you were such a relief for your friend at the dog park. Just a wonderful story!

  23. Nila says:

    Just read this to baby Hank and Red & Lucy (our golden doodle and ridgeback). While I’m the only one visibly all choked up, the dogs are licking the baby and surely hoping I’ll take them to the beach real, real soon to visit their buddies they haven’t see in almost a year. Thank you for your encouragement and showing us the beauty and the life lessons that come from our four legged pups.

  24. Gayleen Marmarelis says:

    Once again, you have managed to make my eyes leak! You have the most wonderful way of approaching life and loss. I will hug my dog a little more today, and appreciate the time I have been blessed with to spend with her!

  25. Lynda says:

    Beautiful …. not sure why my eyes are always a little misty reading your posts. ❤️❤️

  26. Eve Uhlmann says:

    Love your posts, so honest, so raw.. my RR girl was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at 2yrs of age, November last year, she was hind leg amputated just prior to Xmas last year.. now going through chemo.. each day is a blessing, and each day is lived to its fullest potential; there is nothing easy about this rocky journey with my Lucy, but I’m here with her everyday, I can only hope, beg, pray, that she stays with me for years to come

  27. Leah says:

    Thank you for your writing and sharing so eloquently, reminding us to allow ourselves to look around and be open to, and for, others. And thank you to our dogs who live in the present one moment at a time, bringing us with them!

  28. Shannon says:

    Beautiful.

  29. Sarah Chastain says:

    Your writing is so beautiful. I have read your posts and watched your videos over the last 6 months after losing my precious Dara. Your stories and videos have helped me. Your story telling captures the RR perfectly. Thank you so much.

  30. ramonasdog says:

    We lost our precious RR, Crosby, in October. She would have been 4 years 3 weeks later. We went to the dog park every day. I had also begun taking someone else’s dog with us. So I got up, went and got the other dog and went to the dog park. Of course I was crying my eyes out, but being in Crosby’s happy place was exactly where I wanted and needed to be.

  31. Victoria says:

    Will your writing just stirs my soul. You are so good at expressing emotions. I know i told you we lost Muffin just a little over a year ago and Rigby just got diagnosed with liver cancer -well a prelim diagnosis and test results are pending but its been a rough year for us to say the least. Rigby knows the hurt from losing his sister i am sure of that but he still wags his tail all of the time, wants to play, is my constant little shadow wherever i go and still pops his paw on my arm to pet him. He helps me stay in the here and now and enjoy what we do have. There is no question i will be heartbroken when his day comes but like your brave friend Julie i try to stay in the moment and enjoy what we have. I am sure she is much better at that then i am. You are so right you learn from other dog lovers and friends and you find strength through them. Thanks for this post. You may not realize how much these posts help others but you have sure helped me.

  32. Ron Schachter says:

    Beautiful, heartfelt, thank you.

  33. Debbie says:

    Thank you for all your beautifully written posts. This is another one of your standouts. I’m finally comprehending in my “grandma years” what you understand as a young parent. You have a lot to share and I’m lucky to have found your blog.

  34. I’ve been away with family without access to wifi and just now read this beautiful post. And yes, I’m ugly crying at the loss of your friend’s dog. I hope all the tender memories provide some measure of comfort for you and Julie. We can never take for granted the hugs, coos and yes, even hacking coughs and sleepless nights. They all beat the alternative.

  35. Angela says:

    Congratulations on your new baby girl! My son is 27 1/2 and just had his first baby, a boy, and they have a RR, Ridley, who turned 2 in November! They are all doing great! You remind me of my son and we share the same love for our ridgies!

  36. Kristen Windle says:

    Always enjoy feeling the pieces you write, thank you.

  37. LOUISE WALLACE says:

    …that just hit me where it hurts…but as you say our dogs teach us to feel deeper each day…yes sharing that love with others is ALWAYS a beautiful feeling both ways…just a smile that is invoked from a person in the vehicle beside you in a frustrating traffic jam as they see your dog acting like a goof…makes my day & theirs!

  38. Betty Boudwin says:

    My friend lost her Bernese a week ago and this was such a wonderful article to send to her Facebook timeline. Your post had me in tears along with 70 shares and comments from people who have also loved and lost a dog. Thanks
    Have been reading your posts since I got my RR 4 years ago. So nice to learn that she is just another crazy RR.

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