The past few days have very hard for me….’impossible’ might be a better word. It is not because of the election or Hurricane Sandy or any of the thousands of other issues being reported in the news. I just had to say goodbye to a dear friend on Monday, November the 5th….actually I said goodbye to a best friend. His name is, or was, Jessie Bess. At least that is what I called him in my moments of affection. He was an Australian Shepherd mix who graced the lives of me and my family for 13 years. He was a silly, funny, gentle giant of a dog that we rescued when he was 6 months old or so. He was only supposed to be 40 pounds; at least that is what the vet said. He was saved from the side of the road with 6 other siblings when he was 3 months old, and we were assured he was going to stay the size he was. When Jessie Bess hit 85 pounds, we knew something big had gotten into the proverbial woodshed, but we didn’t care. By that time, Jessie Bess had already won his way into our hearts.
Jessie Bess was my dad’s dog, but like with any angel that is sent into your life, the magic he wielded ensorceled us all. He was so silly and fun. He bit his nails like a nervous teenager, spitting the tips out on the floor once he had managed to coax them free. He spit like a farmer, and you could hear it from across the room. Sometimes, he would toss a back leg over his back and chew his back nails that way. It was sure to bring a bubble of laughter from anyone who saw his silly ways. I think sometimes he did it just to make us laugh. He was just that kind of dog.
Jessie Bess had a hard beginning, and we had many issues which had to be worked through. The first part of his puppy hood was traumatic, and my dad worked tirelessly with Jessie to help the ‘good dog’ in him come out. Jessie was scared of everything at first. I can only imagine what he went through before we met him. I tried not to go there because the thought of his suffering was more than I could bear at the time. I simply found myself thanking God that we had Jessie, especially with every triumph in his training and every obstacle he overcame.
Jessie Bess was very gentle, we found out and would play with his ‘big brother’ Happydog (a miniature dachshund) in such a way where Happydog would always be safe. Happydog took playing very seriously, and so often, Jessie Bess would let Happydog win at whatever game they played. It didn’t matter to Jessie. He just loved the play and loved his ‘big brother’. Jessie was just that kind of dog. When I got my little girl Peanut Pumpkin Pie, a tiny Pomeranian puppy that had captured my heart, Jessie was just as gentle and loving with her. They shared the dog beds and play time, and Jessie endured patiently any puppy tendencies that Peanut had related to him. Frantic lick attacks. Barks in the face. Feverish game of puppy tug of war. It didn’t matter to Jessie. He took it all in good strides. Peanut loved him so much and he her!
Peanut grew up with Jessie and over the 8 years they spent together, Jessie became her protector and ours. He saved my mom and Happydog from being attacked by a neighbor’s dog. He kept diligent watch when our area was overrun by coyotes looking for a meal. He was our strong boy when we were outside, and he was always on guard when we laid down at night, sleeping wherever he thought was the best vantage point. He was as faithful as it gets. For all his fierce protectiveness, though, Jessie’s sweet heart saw himself as a little dog who wanted nothing more than to crawl up in our laps and cuddle when all was well.
Jessie Bess loved to play, he loved his ‘pack’, and he loved his family. He was the best dog in the world. It felt like he would be with us forever. Where my books were concerned, I had it all planned out. Jessie Bess was going to make his debut in book 4 of The Chronicles of Mister Marmee. He was a perfect choice for the storyline. I never thought I would be writing his story after he was gone. I never really saw his age until the very end, when his body began to fail him, and my family and I found ourselves facing what no one ever wants to face…the loss of a best friend.
How do you say goodbye to a best friend? How do you come to terms with the reality that you will never, on this earth, see them again? We tried everything as poor Jessie Bess fought the ravages of age. We bought expensive medicines and tried supplements, bargaining for more time. We steadied his hips as he walked up and down the stairs to go outside. We cleaned up his accidents in the house when he started losing the ability to ‘hold it’, and we justified those times as being related to the medicine we were giving him. There came a point however when we realized that life had lost its joy for Jessie Bess. He could barely make it up the stairs, and there were times when he would simply collapse. He didn’t understand what was happening to him, and we couldn’t make things better no matter how hard we tried. Jessie Bess became lost and confused, and we knew he was reaching a point where he wouldn’t remember who we were anymore.
It was so hard to see that in his eyes and to know we had ran out of time and things to bargain with. It was the second worst day of my father’s life, the day he realized it was time to free Jessie from the darkness while Jessie still knew who my dad was. The worst day of my dad’s life was the day he said his final goodbye to his best friend Jessie. I would have given anything to spare my father that pain. My dad was doing the best he could for his faithful little boy, ensuring in his last hour that Jessie Bess was not alone. And now being on the other side of that final act of kindness, mercy and love, we all are suffering from shattered hearts trying to fill the hole where Jessie Bess used to be. It feels like the most unbearable grief, and I wonder to myself whether it will ever ease. I have wondered why it has to hurt so much to say goodbye.
Then I realized it hurts because it is supposed to hurt. I lost a part of myself when I said goodbye to Jessie Bess for the last time. Jessie had become integrated into the very fiber of being, and to lose him was like having a part of me ripped out. Jessie loved me for me, with no strings attached and no demands. He didn’t know any other way to be. Jessie’s love for me – in spite of all of my faults and imperfections – was a reflection of the kind of love God has for me. Selfless. Unconditional. Pure. Perfect. The pain of Jessie Bess’ loss reminds me I am still close to God’s heart. The pain I feel means I loved Jessie to the best of my human ability with the right kind of love. I responded to the God-spark in Jessie and embraced it with both hands. Without my passionate love for Jessie, there would be no pain in losing him. So maybe, just maybe, I have a spark of God within me, too…..some remnant of the time in the Garden when things were as God intended….before we got in there and messed it up.
Was it not God who took time to enjoy the beauty of all that He created? Was it not God who saved 8 people and THOUSANDS of animals during the flood? Was it not God who made a covenant with man AND beast after the flood waters receded? Is it not God who knows the name of every sparrow that falls to earth? That kind of love….God’s love….is immense, and it was God’s love of his animals….His creation….that was first instilled within Adam in the Garden of Eden. Did God not bring each animal to Adam for him to name them? Why would God have asked for such a personal touch on Adam’s part if He had not intended there to be a more intimate relationship between Adam and the animals under his care?
Perhaps I am over-simplifying things or perhaps I am giving myself way too much credit for the love I had for one faithful, loving dog, but I believe my sweet Jessie Bess has his reward now for living and loving so selflessly. And perhaps, just perhaps, God will deem me worthy enough one day to see my sweet love again in heaven. I think the key lies in living by Jessie Bess’ example – loving those around me without condition. After all, I spent 13 years observing a master of the art, and I am better for that time with Jessie Bess in the end, pain and all. I love you Jessie Bess. Run free and far in God’s Garden. Just please don’t forget me while you are there. I will never forget you!