Thursday, October 26, 2006

Create a Lasting Memory for Someone Else - Part III of III

NOTICE: We've Moved! Please click here to be taken to the new location!!

(Continued from Part II)

Several years later, I went to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York; a liberal arts establishment just over a hundred miles away, separating us for the first time. It was hard at first but we eventually got used to it.

In my senior year, I went home for the winter break and greeted my father at the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station as I normally did in between semesters. Throwing my suitcase in the back of the dark blue Ford pick-up truck, I hopped in the front with my Dad at the wheel. As we were pulling away from the station, I could tell something wasn't quite right. He was acting strange, glancing over at me but not saying anything.

Sensing the need to break the silence, I peppered him with the usual questions that I always asked after coming home from college:

"What's new?"

"How's Mom?"

"What's Dawn up to?"

"How's Champ?"

Well my golly, that last question did it.

Taking a deep breath and placing his right hand over mine, he said, "We didn't want to tell you this while you were taking your final exams, but we had to put Champ to sleep last week. There were big tumors all over her body. The vet said she couldn't be operated on. Stephen, we lost her and it hurts to tell you this. I'm very sorry."

He was biting hard on his lower lip to stop the tide of emotions from overtaking him.

While Dad struggled mightily to maintain his composure, I was too shocked to cry. I wanted to know what happened at the vet and pressed for more details.

"Dad, please tell me what happened at the vet. I want to know."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes Dad. Go on, tell me," I said, bracing myself. My father was known to be a great storyteller and could paint a very vivid image for anyone who was listening. I knew what he was about to tell me would forever burn into my memory.

With a heavy heart he said, "When we got there, I lifted Champ and laid her on top of the cold metal table that she always hated and tried to soothe her. She looked up at me with sad, knowing eyes. It was as if she knew her time was up. I bent over to hug and kiss her and then I had to leave. It was too much for me Stephen."

I fell silent the rest of the way home, trying to process this very vivid image. We somehow expect our pets to be immortal. I never expected my childhood buddy to die - not now, not ever.

When we got back to the house, I went looking for her, expecting her to bound out of the living room with her tail whipping back and forth. Then it hit me. She was not there. From that point on, I walked around like a zombie, not quite believing it. As soon as my head hit the pillows later that night, it triggered a torrent of emotions, racking my entire body for the longest time.

Despite the pain of losing her, I was given one of the greatest gifts my parents could ever have bestowed upon me as a little boy. It gave me a chance to prove that I was fully capable of caring and training for a dog. Not only that, but Champ ended up being there every step of the way and kept me company whenever parents of other children didn't want their child hanging around me (they were afraid my deafness would rub off on them - how utterly absurd was that!?). Her tongue swept over my face to lick away the tears that came from time to time. She jumped on me whenever she sensed I was triumphant over something, which happened more often than not. And finally, we were practically joined at the hips for she followed me around everywhere I went.

What more could a little boy ask for? Click here for a photo of me when I first got her. I was holding Champ with my sisters and neighborhood kids surrounding me.

Thank you Mom and Dad for the memories.

Food for thought: Think for a moment how much of a gift it would be if you helped someone else make their dreams come true. Consider the wonderful ripple effect it would have on that person's life -- imagine how many warm memories your gift would provide!
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