It’s the summer of 2000, and I’m standing in the galley kitchen of my one bedroom apartment in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, explaining to my parents on the phone that I was about to be a mother.
To a puppy. A Rhodesian Ridgeback. Her name would be Loretta.
“You can barely take care of yourself!” my dad groused. “That’s just stupid!”
My dad’s reaction hurt. I’d craved canine companionship for years, even sometimes imagining a dog by my side as I walked along Connecticut Avenue, or ran by the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial. Finally now, in my mid-thirties, and living in a dog- friendly building I could both afford and manage a new family member.
Loretta arrived and acted like a puppy and then a dog and we were besties. She was beautiful and ill-behaved and had a great sense of humor.
Dad didn’t say too much.
Then he got sick – the kind of sick that goes slowly.
He eventually got so sick I moved to Phoenix to help take care of him. Loretta stayed in Washington with a friend.
All was well until she ate my friend’s chair. A big over-stuffed chair. The separation had gotten to her and she’d over stayed her welcome. I flew to Washington, wrote a large check to cover the damage, then flew back to Phoenix, dog- in- crate. Loretta and I settled in, me teleworking at sunrise from the living room, with Loretta curled up at my feet. Dad would get up every morning and slowly shuffle on his walker, oxygen tank attached, into the kitchen. And every morning Loretta would bark at him. She would run around the living room woofing like he was Charles Manson. I was mortified. I wondered if somehow she knew about the remark he’d made years ago, suggesting she was a bad idea. More likely the walker and tank just freaked her out.
He tried to be nice to her. He gave her treats. We made him the designated feeder. Ridgebacks can hold a grudge.
Dad passed away in January of 2001.
I’ve wondered what his reaction was, up there in heaven, when I got two Ridgebacks. Because yes, that is crazy.
If you read this blog you know one of them, Lillian, is a therapy dog. On our last visit to Hospice we met a nice family who was very close to losing their dad. We went to his room and he laid there – his mouth forming a perfect “O” as he slept. His daughter laid her phone near his ear – it was playing Frank Sinatra. Lilly nosed around at his hand. Mostly she visited with the family. She was a good distraction. They have been on my mind.
Dad had died in Hospice.
Last week some friends and I gathered with a medium. Her name is Allyson and she connects with people in your life who’ve “crossed over”. It was no shock when she announced my father had turned up.
“Hi Dad…miss you!” I called. Allyson said he was asking me to slow down, to not “burn both ends of the candle” and to “stop and smell the roses.”
Ok I thought, thinking it was funny because I inherited his lousy olfactory skills.
Allyson told me a few other things. My aunt was there. And Dad says Happy Christmas.
“And,” Allyson said, “He thinks your dogs are nice.”
He’s been watching.