Our beloved black lab, Ryder, died late last week after twelve years of incredible companionship he gave to our family. It’s been a heart-wrenching experience, but we give thanks to God for the blessing he’s been in our lives. I’m grateful that he wasn’t sick for long, and that he enjoyed a high quality of life up to the very end.
It’s hard to go home and not have him there at the door to greet me. The house is eerily quieter, and there’s a void that won’t be easily filled. My memories of Ryder have been flooding back over the past week, and the most meaningful one for me was when he cared for my mother when no one else could.
Jennifer and I had driven from Virginia to our native Texas in May 2001 for our wedding. We brought Ryder with us and planned to board him while we were on our honeymoon. For the week before the wedding, Ryder was with my parents and me in Fort Worth. Ryder was a big and burly and rambunctious puppy, full of playful mischief, ceaselessly curious, and always eager to be a part of what was happening around him.
At the time, my mother was struggling through the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, and she was unprepared for Ryder’s visit. Mom was emotionally fragile. She was determined to be a part of our wedding, but she knew how sick she was and had no fondness for the way Alzheimer’s made her feel when she wanted to be at her best.
Ryder, to put it mildly, was a very disruptive force in Mom’s life, and I knew right away that bringing him to their house was a significant risk. He upset her routine, and she didn’t even try to disguise her displeasure with him and everything he did. Mom’s fragility made for a challenging week, and the only one who didn’t seem to be bothered was Ryder!
The Thursday before our wedding was particularly hard for Mom. She struggled through the day, and nothing was going right. I know that she was happy for Jennifer and me, but our marriage was a rite of passage in our lives that must have signaled to Mom that her own life was slipping away. She was lying on her bed and crying inconsolably, and whatever Dad and I tried to offer wasn’t helping her at all.
Our hearts were breaking for Mom when Ryder came out of nowhere and jumped up on her bed. He lay down right next to Mom and put his head on her stomach and looked up into her tear-streaked brown eyes with his brown eyes. He didn’t care or seem to remember that she’d been unwelcoming to him for most of the week. What he seemed to sense is that she needed him, and he delivered. Mom and Ryder for those tender minutes were absolutely inseparable, and as Mom recovered I knew we had a very special dog, a constant companion who would always do his part to nurture those in need.
So saying goodbye to Ryder has been incredibly hard and very sad for all of the Hulseys. But at the same time, we’re truly thankful that he was in our lives and that he made such a positive difference. I’ve learned a lot from Ryder, and I miss him greatly. I know he’s made us better, and those who love their dogs (past and present) know what I mean!
I’ve also learned a lot about what makes Randolph special this week. One of Ben’s classmates who lost his dog not long ago came by the house last week with a hand-written letter that helped Ben feel less alone and a little more like himself. His kindergarten teacher from three years ago wrote a note to Ben and our family. And Jennifer and I have friends in the Randolph community who have reached out in wonderful ways.
Most of all, this has been an extraordinary learning opportunity for our family. We know a little more about life and what matters most. We know a little more about the powerful blend of heavy grief mingled with a kind of heart-felt gratitude that honors a life well-lived. And we’re a little more aware of how we might reach out to others going through life’s travails so that we routinely remind ourselves and each other that we’re part of something much bigger and more meaningful than we are on our own.