One of the things I promised myself well into a couple years of blogging is that I would get personal, but I would try to dictate what was appropriate to share and what fell on the line of an “overshare.” When my dad fell ill with cancer, and I vocalized to both him and my mom how healing it was, in a way, for me to be open and forthcoming about my emotions and the process of having a parent battling cancer. I knew this was something that I needed to continue to write about – both for myself, and also as a hope to help others. We all know that there are millions and millions of victims who go through this horrible battle – either themselves or alongside a parent, sibling, friend, what have you. When he died, this not only remained the same, but it heightened my desire to share the raw emotions, the changes, the things no one prepares you for, and just how down right unfair and awful this whole process is.. the process of losing a parent. (and losing a parent so young)
So I wanted to share yet another story with you about the days leading to my dad’s passing in December. It’s something that I’ve thought about since the day he died, and something that has shifted my relationship with my dog in it’s own small, yet significant way. And on nine months since I said goodbye to my dad, I thought no better day to share it.
Jasper has always been a “people dog.” If you know him, you know what I’m talking about. If he likes you (which lets get real, he likes just about everyone unless he feels like I’m threatened.. true story!) he’ll melt on top of your feet and sort of half way roll over as if to say, “see how cute I am?” My dad was super supportive when I first mentioned that I wanted to get a dog which was sort of surprising. He was always the type of person who would say, “Have you researched how expensive they are, longevity wise? Do you have the time? What about traveling?” All things I was expecting to come out of his mouth on the day I made my decision to get Jasper. But I heard none of that. Just a “thats great, baby. I can’t wait to meet him. But hey… he’s not calling me Papa.” ;)
That didn’t last very long. My dad fell head over heels for Jasper and they were buddies, fast. And wouldn’t you know it, my dad referred to himself as Jasper’s Papa. Just like that, a connection was made. I didn’t grow up with dogs, nor did many of my friends have them growing up. I don’t know exactly how their minds and instincts work, I just know they’re different than humans – a bit more fascinating (and loyal) if you ask me ;) So when I took him with me down to Florida to help my mom with my dad that fateful week in December, I had no idea what I was in for.
My dad, as you can see, was on the couch for his last days before the hospice bed arrived. I didn’t think much of it, but in a way found it a little bizarre that my shadow of a puppy had become a little less so. He was more concerned about being at the foot of the couch next to my dad, or on top of his legs at all times. Mind you upon my arrival, I didn’t know how sick my dad actually was. We were all under the impression that he was having a particularly hard week but that he would spring back, just as he always had.
As the days went on and my dad fell worse, we had some visitors (nurses, a doctor, employees dropping off the hospice bed..) Jasper started doing this weird growling thing I had never heard him do before. He wouldn’t so much as move a muscle from my dad, but he would make this sound that had me disciplining him before I knew what was happening. Then he began barking and showing some of his top teeth, which really sent me over the edge in a nervous way. Something strange was going on with this puppy of mine, and I didn’t have the mental capacity or the energy to deal with it. I was already living on edge as it was.
The days continued, and things stayed the same as far as Jasper’s connection and protection of my dad. As things with my dad’s health began to get worse, quickly, so did Jasper’s demeanor. He was clearly stressed and effected by the emotions, the tears, the short fuses, the confusion of those around him..
The night my dad passed away, as we were all around his bed, Jasper jumped up and laid right on top of my dad. Head down, eyes closed. He didn’t move. He just laid there, quietly. Some time passed as we all tried to process what had just happened, how drastically our lives had just changed. When the funeral people came to take my dad (it’s still hard to even just type that – hardest moment of my life aside from the actual death) Jasper lost his demeanor entirely. Barking, full fledged. Attempted bites. It was then that the funeral director said to me, “This is so normal for dogs. They become so protective of the dying from the moment they know it’s coming. It happens to us all the time. They don’t like us taking away their loved ones. They still feel protective, even after. Quite amazing, really.”
I couldn’t agree more. My brain hadn’t even registered that Jasper’s intuition was even more in tune then our own all of those days leading up to my dad’s death. It’s as if he walked into the door, knew my dad wasn’t doing well and that he wouldn’t make it, and simply gave him the comfort of a dog. A comfort that’s different than a humans. One that doesn’t speak… a comfort that just is.
My relationship with Jasper has never been the same. As strange as it may sound, we suffered together in a way that I’ll never quite be able to explain. He saw what I saw, and felt what I felt – in his own way. He tried to protect us, and he tried to protect my dad. He knew something before any of us knew it, and he used his ability as a loyal, trusting, intelligent dog to comfort us from day one. To be there for all of us as the inevitable showed up. I slept for 48 hours straight after he passed away, and Jasper never left my side. Often times when I look at Jasper, I see him as a life support for me. Of course I had my mom, sisters, and my aunt there for support as well – that kind is undeniable and unwavering. But the relationship with your dog is different. Jasper, is different. For the first time that week, I felt like he desperately wanted to change the outcome – to be able to change our fate. He couldn’t, but he knew how to love me back to life. He continues to do it every single day.
^ When I gather photos from my dad’s last week, it’s always self induced pain that feels heart wrenching and at times, unbearable. You end up reliving it all, and sometimes I’m not prepared for that. But then I find images like these below, it makes the process of sifting through those images worth it. This is how I remember him. This is how I will *always* remember him. Smiling, healthy, life-filled.^
Rest peacefully, my daddy. I love you so.