Gunner, Gunner’s Mom, Abby and Me
My tiny dog and I have just finished qualifying to become a therapy dog partnership, for our local heart hospital.
My little ambassador is a tiny white Chihuahua mix of some sort, with rabbit soft fur, and inky black eyes, whom I have named Abby.
Yesterday, we went into the room of a man nearing the end of his life. He was crystal breakingly frail, thin, old, and could no longer speak in a clear and illuminating manner…something the nurse warned us of before we went in. I approached his bed, my small Abby in my arms, and asked quietly if he would like a visit.
His milky blue eyes, made small slits in his face, as he e v e r-s o-s l o w l y, made his eyelids do his bidding and open his eyes, to see who was leaning over him. His withered skeletal hand came from beneath his snowy white hospital linens, j u s t-a s-s l o w l y, to touch my small dog, with her black eyes and soft fur.
As he made this, slow-like-molasses-gesture, I felt my heart open and deepen, in a most definitive way. My father’s last conscious act had been this exact same gesture…a skeletal hand pulled from beneath a mountain of white, to touch the cheek of his beloved youngest daughter.
Today’s experience was just as rich in heartsong, as yesterdays.
We were joined in our “certification” process, by another team. A young woman and her dog Gunner, he is a majestic German Sheppard with very unusual and non-traditional coloring. His bearing and demeanor reminded one of nobility, and were equally matched by his gentleness and stillness of spirit.
The day before, just Abby and me, we occasionally went unnoticed-not so today, with the grand presence of Gunner by our side. EVERYONE took notice, some were shocked or surprised, but soon saw the quiet gentleness of his eyes, and began to interact with both animals.
The most notable reaction Gunner inspired was not from a patient, but from a nurse.
She was dressed in purple scrubs, tall, thin, blond, covered in the paraphernalia of nurses, stethoscope-gauges of one sort or another-pens-etc., and was moving in that energetic and purposeful way, that I always think of as being inherent in the medical profession.
When striding down the hall, she spied Gunner.
She stopped dead in her tracks. And I suppose, out of surprise, all of us did too. So there we were, Herman the trainer, Gunner’s Mom, Gunner, Me, Abby, and the nurse…all standing stock still in the humming central hall of a big city hospital and then…, another gesture.
This one just as affecting as the hand so slowly drawn from a mountain of white, in room 4012.
Her hand went up to her brow, not to her heart, or her cheek, or over her mouth, or eyes. But to her brow, she held her hand in a still and silent salute, to the pain that Gunner’s presence was causing her to so unexpectedly feel, in the midst of her busy, to and fro, day.
I was so taken by the location of her hand, the silent stillness of its salute, and the slow filling of tears in her very beautiful eyes…that I missed the first part of her explanation.
But it had something to do with the unexpected loss of her much beloved German Sheppard, her family living elsewhere, her husband in Iraq, her dog had died in the night, just days previously, and left her to mourn his passing alone and without benefit of other loved ones.
As my ears, finally took over from my eyes, I heard her say to Gunner’s Mom…”I can’t even touch him, (Gunner), it would hurt too much.”
I marvel at the opportunities we are presented with to serve one another in small and meaningful ways. It was enough for the nurse to see this living memory, as he stood quietly waiting to be called upon or not… just to see him…not to touch, that would have made the pain too much to bear, given the demands of her day. But to see him, and be seen by him…this small moment of shared grief and loneliness, made her pause in her busy day, in the middle of her busy hospital, and made me aware of the gesture of salute to her loss that had so captured me.
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