by Anikó Redman
(Durham, NCTrue Story of Messages from Beyond)
It is Friday afternoon, two weeks after my birthday and five days after Mother's Day. I am heading home exhausted and with a heavy heart. Sugar, our 15 year old coonhound labrador mutt has stopped eating.
Sugar always had a huge appetite, scarfing down her food in seconds, then circling the dining table for additional opportunities. Just a month ago she ran away with my veggie burger.
Last year I called Nedda, my “dog whisperer," and pleaded with her, and with Sugar, for the final sign. The time will come, I was told, when Sugar stops eating or she cannot get up anymore.
So now it is clear, Sugar is ready to end her story. I call the vet. The earliest she can come is Tuesday.
Well then, I think, after a final weekend together, after our daughter Kati has her dance recital.
At three a.m. I wake up to some noise and find Chad sitting on the top of the stairs. Sugar is lying on her side unconscious, her four legs kicking in the air.
“She was pacing around, then had a terrible seizure and fell over,” Chad explains.
This is it. I wake Kati up and ask her to say good-bye. She is still groggy, when she comes out of her room. She looks at Sugar, then leaves and closes her door.
I get a blanket, and Chad wraps Sugar up to carry her to the car. Suddenly Kati comes out of her room fully dressed. She wants to come with me.
When it is time, Kati and I are led into a small room. I sit down on the linoleum floor. With Sugar's head in my lap, I go with her as far as I can.
When Elena wakes up, we tell her what happened, but she is too young to understand. She is happy for us that we do not have to clean the carpet anymore. Then Red, our 17 year old dog wakes up. She paces around, stares in our faces, and whines softly for hours. I then remember that one of the vets insisted that if the dogs pass away separately, the surviving dog should see the other one's body. “That's when they get certainty,” she said.
I can't watch Red pacing anymore. At noon I decide that I am going to take her to see Sugar. Elena wants to come with us, so does Kati. I ask Chad to call ahead. They tell him they do not recommend it, but it is possible. “It is possible” is all I need to hear.
After waiting for more than a hour we are led into the same room. Sugar's body is on the floor, covered with a blanket. Someone steps in and pulls the blanket off her head. Red takes a sniff and walks out the door. Elena starts crying a little about Sugar's eyes not moving. Another goodbye, and we close the door. We need to leave, to get ready for Kati's performance. When we get home, Red lies down in the living room and goes to sleep. Elena never tells us again how nice it is that we do not have to deal with Sugar anymore.
Throughout the afternoon I have a strong feeling that something will happen today to help me get through this. Something coming from the other side.
We spend the evening in the Carolina Theatre, watching three hours of dancing. When the curtains finally go down I am still searching for that something.
It is Sunday morning. Through the cloud of sadness last night's recital comes to my mind. And the unspoken promise. I then remember the program book that Chad grabbed on our way out of the theatre. Maybe there is something in there that still needs to reach my awareness.
I get the book out of the car. The title of the recital is “Once Upon a Time.” I start flipping through the pages. Then on the last page I suddenly recognize what I am looking for and the meaning of it rushes through my whole being. The dance just before Kati's is titled “Hound Dog.” The one after Kati's is “Dancing in Heaven.”
“Hound dog dancing in heaven.”
Thursday evening. Sugar has been gone for five days. I arrive home to a quiet house, it's just Red and I tonight. I turn on the answering machine. Someone from the hospital called that Sugar's ashes are ready to be picked up. My heart jolts when I hear her name. I take a deep breath, then play the rest of the messages. When I get to the very last one, it instantly paralyzes me with utter disbelief.
I am listening to a dog barking.
I play the message over and over again: nothing else, just barking.
I stagger to the stairs and sit down on the bottom step, completely baffled. How did she pull this off?
Wiping away my tears of anguish and my tears of solace, I dare to imagine Sugar, and my father giving high fives to each other.
At the emergency vet, I receive a dark blue velvet bag embroidered with orange letters: “Until we meet again at the rainbow bridge". I get into my car and decide to head to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the only place where I feel safe to face what is inside the bag.
Sitting on a bench with the bag in my lap, I start sobbing. When I calm down, I carefully loosen the cord and pull out a rolled up rainbow colored paper. I untie the blue ribbon and read the poem with tears streaming down my face.
I then take the white box out of the bag and open it to find certainty inside.
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