Remember her well, Sweetheart.

Me Sparky DSC_5929

As I pulled into the parking lot for Sparky’s vet appointment, the pickup parked haphazardly across three spaces near the front door meant something was not good.

As we entered a young girl, 12 or so, stood in the lobby, arms wrapped around her thin frame, she stared down the hall at an open door.

A small, dark-haired woman hurried out of the clinic, there were large blood spots on the leg of his jeans; she quickly moved down the hall and into the last room.

I asked the girl if she was okay…. “It’s my friend,” she said. “Her dog was hit.” The fingers of both hands pressed tightly against her chin; her red-rimmed eyes shed tears that stained her flushed cheeks.

The girl’s high-pitched wail came out of the room at the end of the hall and flooded the lobby.

“NO! She can’t be.”

“She can’t be.”

I turned my back for their privacy and choked on my own pain.

“She can’t be. No, she isn’t. No. There’s something they can do.”

The plea, the demand, came again and again… bashing against what she knew was true, and the dread.

All that was absent was the unspoken word… “dead.”

The girl emerged slowly, her mother’s arms wrapped tightly around her. They sat. The young friend stood frozen in the middle of the room.

The girl’s strangled tears marked the pace of her slowly dying hope and the cold reality that her best friend in God’s world was gone and that she was alone.

Still clutching Sparky to me, I debated and then moved slowly toward the sobbing child.

I pushed wet strands of hair from her face and touched her cheek. 

“I am so sorry sweetheart, so very sorry. Remember her well, won’t you?” It was all I could speak.

I hoped that if she remembered the words, she would realize I meant to remember her friend often and with a smile… and remember when she was whole and not in her last, tormented hour.

I wanted to say more, do more…. I was the only male in the building, I wanted to protect her and give her what I had learned about people and dogs… always our best friends.

I wanted to tell her about my Rusty who was with me as soon as I could walk, until the sixth grade when his health abandoned him and there was nothing we could do.

I would have told her how Rusty and I conquered vacant lots and chased squirrels, how we were together night and day and how we talked as kids and their best pals do. I wanted her to know that I shared in her grief though my loss occurred longer ago than her parents had been alive.

“But it is still as if it happened yesterday,” I’d have said.

But this mother and her poor sobbing daughter didn’t know me, a large crying man clutching a Pomeranian, making himself part of the worst day in her life… still I wanted to say or do more.

I would have told her that because of the overwhelming pain of losing Rusty I did not have another dog for more than 40 years… and that decision was a mistake.  As a result, even my best friends didn’t know I loved dogs, I never spoke about them, or had one.


Until I was in my late 40s I couldn’t talk about Rusty without crying.

“Don’t do what I did,” I’d have said.

“Dogs brings us joy and comfort, love and I missed out on 40 years of that because I feared the pain. I realized that not having a dog was unnatural for a guy who has a dog-shaped hole in his heart… so I got my beloved Tripoli and he changed my life.

“But then he too passed away and again I didn’t think I would survive the loss and grief, but I did; now I have four dogs that other people didn’t want or couldn’t keep.

“And now we all face the world together as best friends.”

So, Sweetheart, remember your best friend well… but be sure to open your heart to your next best friend when you are ready… you’ll know when you are.

Coop Sparky Jack Bed email

Ripley bday DSC_2428

About Gary Alexander

Volunteer coordinator for veterans support network in North Texas. Now retired from his private psychotherapy practice, I specialized in the diagnosis and treatment posttraumatic stress, working with victim assistance programs, veterans and the Veterans Administration for over 20 years. After being wounded in action in Vietnam, I was medically retired from the Marine Corps and know first hand many of the readjustment difficulties and psychological stresses experienced by today's OIF and OEF veterans. I am available, at minimal cost, to speak at your functions on several subjects including veterans issues, Vietnam, the Medal of Honor, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and critical incident debriefings.
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8 Responses to Remember her well, Sweetheart.

  1. Diane Santos says:

    The story was such a tear jerker. I just loved it! I’m glad you took time to comfort the little girl.

  2. Wonderful, truth be told, it is that emotion that separates us for the savages of the world. In order to recognize pain one must at some point experienced it. If we are lucky, we will surmount the event and be willing to comfort someone else who may not have experienced it.

    Been there, done that. I experienced more pain in the death of my animals than I have with family. I’m embarrassed to say that but it is the truth, maybe it’s just me, but there is an unconditional bond that even a birth certificate some times does meet muster.

    Currently under a (self imposed) 6 month moratorium after losing two within 5 month I understand what you speak. It’s not only the emptiness of within my home but an emptiness of the soul. I too fear if I could go through it one more time. You would think that after 3 dogs and 4 cats I’d be an old hand at it by now – not really! It does not get any easier, again thats not what it is about.

    The pain of loss is directly proportional to the joy and companionship received.

    You said…..
    “But it is still as if it happened yesterday,” I’d have said. ME TOO!

    Thanks, Winchan Semper Fi!

  3. Michele Mixon says:

    Thank you for sharing. She needed to know that it is OK to feel so, that other share feeling for their pets. My pets have been some dogs & mainly cats because of where I have lived. Each pet has given me comfort, love and friendship. Each have left me with there own special memories. God Bless you. Michele Mixon

  4. gpcox says:

    Hope you will continue to write. The comments here are endearing, we all care.

  5. Wanted to share this with those of you who have commented on this post:

    Dear Mr. Alexander,

    Sorry it has taken a few weeks to respond to your kind open letter. It has just been to painful up until now to re-visit, I am sure, from your letter, that you well understand this.
    Your letter arrived a week after that awful Saturday morning, and reduced us all to tears, not that they weren’t far away anyway.
    My daughter and I do remember you on that day, I could tell that you were moved by my daughters tears and that you had loved and lost yourself. It touched us that you came over to speak to her, many people would have just walked away and it takes a certain courage to speak in those situations… so thank you.

    We did lose our “Bella”- or belly welly as we affectionately called her. She was only a year old, a little corgi/beagle mix that was one of those character dogs, someone you could not be cross with for long, even if she had just chewed up another roll of toilet tissue! Sadly she had no car savvy, in fact no fear of anything at all, and we had protected her well up until that dreadful morning. To make matters worse, if in fact they could be worse, it was me, her mother, who had just run over our beloved Bella. We were just leaving the house to go to my daughters birthday party, and I was literally barely rolling forward when Bella darted under the front of the pick up and I just caught her with the front tire. I first thought she was OK but quickly realized it was my worst nightmare. She did not even make it to the vets as we live 20 min’s away- ( Although I made it in about 10 of those)

    We do have other dogs, a rescue and, at the moment, all 6 of Bella’s puppies, now 18 weeks old. We had been trying to find homes for them but so far found no one willing , or kind, enough to give them their forever homes. We are keeping two of them, but they aren’t Bella, and we cannot expect them to be.

    So, we will always go on having dogs,although it literally breaks your heart when you lose them. We gave her a good funeral and laid her in her final resting place, looking out over the fields she loved to run in and chase the cows. She will always be loved and in our hearts, and I firmly believe that one day we will be re-united with those little four legged pals who give so much to us.
    We will remember her well……..promise.
    Kind regards

  6. Irene Matthews says:

    Gary – where have you been? Are you OK?

    • Irene,

      Thanks for checking in… appreciate concerns.

      I’m fine just suffering through some long-term writers bloc.. never encountered it before… but 7 years is a long time to post almost daily on my blog.

      Am still shooting my mouth off on FaceBook… not as satisfying, but quick and doesn’t require much effort.

      Good to hear from you…

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