Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon.com.
Someone To Watch Over Me
Gracie, my beautiful 14 year old shepherd/collie mix, has found her purpose.
Six years ago, when I came home from a Boston hospital after my spinal cord injury, I was wearing a huge rock-solid brace that went from my chin to the middle of my chest.
When my husband Bob helped me to our couch, Gracie hopped up to give me her usual 3 million “Yippee you’re home!” kisses. But before she landed her sloppy tongue on my face, she abruptly stopped herself upon seeing my brace and, I believe, sensing my pain.
And in that instant, I was no longer her caregiver. I was in her care.
Ever since then, Gracie’s reason-to-be has been to watch over me.
When morning comes, Gracie won’t leave the bedroom until I’m up. Even while our other pets are noisily having their breakfasts. I am her charge. Her new mission is to keep me out of harm’s way.
Although she’s nearly deaf now, she feels the vibration on the floor when I get out of bed. She rouses herself from her heated doggie bed. As I head to the bathroom, she leads the way as if saying, “I’ll protect you, Mom. Just stay behind me.” If there is anything such as a slipper in my path, she will come to a stop, turn sideways to block me, and then wait until she’s sure I’ve seen the obstacle.
Lately, I’ve been re-learning how to walk. And just recently I made my first trek to walk with her at her favorite spot – a woodland path around a pond. I used to walk there with her every day . . . before.
It was emotionally brutal seeing my old dog amble so lamely now. With her head down, she tried her best to walk a straight line, but she couldn’t.
The next day something wondrous happened. Gracie remembered her calling. Renewed as if granted a second life, she became happy and purposeful in her ever-vigilant new role as “Grand Protector of My Mom.”
If another dog jumps up to greet me, I fall. So, on that second day, a dog about 30 pounds bigger and many years younger than Gracie raced in my direction. Gracie, barking, “I’ll get him!” moved as fast as she could to shield me. She planted her old, weak body right in front of me as a barrier.
She faced the large, spirited dog. Then she barked a loud warning, “You better stay away from my mom!” The dog tried to get around her to reach me. Gracie growled, which I have not seen her do in over 10 years, “I mean it!”
And then, as well as every single time since then that this same scene has occurred, the dog backed off. Gracie has taken on 4 dogs at once, to stop them from getting to me.
You see, she has shown me something I had not known before. Gracie would give up her life for me.
I still can’t think of my very first dog without welling up with tears and heartache. She died 19 years ago.
At the end, she could barely walk and certainly could no longer run. I’d watch her as she’d sleep, her legs twitching as she dreamed of days gone by, when she’d run like a champion stallion for miles and miles along the beaches of Cape Cod. After she died, Gracie blessed my life. I never thought I’d love another dog as much as I loved my first, but I have. Yet seemingly in a heartbeat, Gracie is now my old dog, soon to be no longer by my side.
The song “Mr. Bojangles” has haunted me ever since I lost my first love.
He spoke with tears
of fifteen years
how his dog and him
just traveled about.
His dog up and died.
He up and died.
After twenty years
he still grieves.
Today, I said to my wise reverend friend Connie, “Gracie won’t be on this earth much longer.” I barely got the words out. “Do you think that having her is worth the pain of losing her?”
Connie said, “Oh yes. Your sadness is so deep only because your love is so deep. What is a life without love?”
And so, I knelt on the floor next to my Gracie. “Thank you for taking care of me – for protecting me from all of the evils you think could ever come my way.” I rubbed her bony hips and shoulders. “You have done a great job.” I kissed her golden forehead. “I will always love you.” She sighed, then fell asleep, tired from a long day of watching over me. I whispered so as not to wake her, “You are my true friend.”