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Moonlight Dancin’, Saturday Night Sing-alongs, and White Dogs with Black Spots…

I awakened early today. Not surprising since that seems to be my modus operandi. The time change has me pretty wonky, but getting up when the time says 6:00 a.m. rather than 5:00 a.m. makes me feel like I’ve won the day.

It’s spring break, and I guess I had hoped for a couple of extra hours of slumber. But that’s not in the cards today because today is different. I tried to deny that fact as I threw myself into my usual routine. Letting the dog out. Brewing my first cup of coffee. Paying a couple of bills. Doing a load of laundry.

But no matter how I tried to busy myself, my mind was somewhere else. It seems I left both it and my heart in San Antonio.

We had planned to leave on the Friday before spring break and drive to San Antone to spend the weekend with Charles, Kaitlyn, and Cooper. On Wednesday, we received a call from Charles, who told us that there was something wrong with Marlie, his eight year old dog. She was lethargic, not eating, and her breathing seemed to be labored.

We told Charles that if they could get an appointment we would come down a day early and take Marlie to the vet. We knew Kaitlyn could do this, but it’s just extra hard when you have a very active eleven-month old son. We didn’t mind because it would give us extra time with our sweet little family.

Kaitlyn called the Banfield Pet Hospital where they usually go, and they were booked for two weeks out. She tried all the area Banfield clinics, getting the same result. She was put on waiting lists, and pleaded her case that the dog needed immediate care. We figured it was a UTI, which Marlie had from time to time, and she needed antibiotics. Finally, after exhausting all options in San Antonio, Kaitlyn was able to make an appointment for 8:45 on Friday morning in New Braunfels.

With COVID protocols in place, it was a drop-off appointment. We knew they would have to run some tests, and she was also close enough to her yearly check-up that they would give her vaccines, as well as trim her nails.

When we arrived in New Braunfels, Brian and Kaitlyn took Marlie inside, while I remained in the backseat of the car with Cooper. The temperature was just right with the windows down, and I was happy to spend some alone time with our precious fella.

But, Cooper had other plans. You see, as an eleven-month old, he’s at an age where he notices when Mom and Dad walk into another room, or leave the house. I wasn’t quite ready for the fit that ensued or the glares I would receive as people walked through the parking lot wondering what was happening in our car. I was praying that no one would call CPS. Again, the window was down, and I was with the baby, but I’m sure this situation was a cause for concern.

I pulled out all the stops. I tried singing (not the best idea), but since we were in the car, there wasn’t room for dancing which had worked the weekend before, when Charles and his family visited. He and Kaitlyn went out for dinner, and Cooper stayed with Sassy and Coach. We were so ready for this coveted grandparent time. But again, Cooper had other plans.

As soon as he saw that his Mama and Daddy were leaving, he came undone. He screamed, and screeched, and cried those BIG tears that seemed to roll down his cheeks in slow motion, dramatically emphasizing his level of distress. Cooper was committed to this fit, and wasn’t giving in.

I picked him up, and did the only thing I could. I said, “Alexa, play ‘Build Me Up Buttercup,” and the dance party began. Brian and I traded out asking Alexa to play songs. We sang, and danced, and took turns holding Cooper, knowing we had to stay upright. He did not want us to sit down.

For a couple of hours, we requested songs.

“Alexa, play James Taylor’s ‘Carolina in My Mind.'”

“Alexa, play ‘Dancin’ in the Moonlight.'”

My favorite was, “Alexa, play ‘Don’t Worry, Baby,'” by Billy Joel. (At the beginning of the song he dedicates the song to his daughter and says, “This is for Alexa!”) I just thought that was funny…

While we danced and sang, and held our sweet grandson, he quietly gasped (inhaled three times) and then exhaled. Hey, at least he wasn’t crying!

When Mama and Daddy returned, the tears dried up, the giggles began, and all was right in the world. Although the night didn’t go as planned, we savored every moment, knowing we were making memories, and we were reminded of the pains of growing up, and teaching children how to separate from their parents, and embark on their journey in the world. Big lessons for such a little boy…

While dancing and singing on this Saturday night, I knew I had a topic for my next blog. I would write about babies, and separation, and life, and growing up. But I didn’t have a clear idea of the point I would try to make. Each time I tried to sit down and write, I knew I wasn’t ready.

I knew the lesson/experience I was to write about would be revealed to me, I just didn’t expect it to happen on a Friday in San Antonio at the Banfield Pet Hospital.

On that morning, as Cooper and I waited in the car for what seemed an eternity, and my phone battery was dwindling down from playing episodes of “Bob the Builder,” and I attempted to entertain my grandson with an English accent, which was enveloped in an East Texas Twang, I didn’t know the sadness that was to come. None of us was prepared for the news we would get later that day.

But that’s how life is. It’s a mix and mash of good and bad, joys and sorrow, sunshine and rain. That very morning, while we were dropping Marlie off, Charles sent us a picture of his yearly bonus. It was outstanding, and we were so thankful, grateful, and proud that in the year of the Pandemic, the company Charles worked for would do so well.

As Charles worked, we all went to HEB and picked up items for supper. I scooped up all the cans of Coke (zero sugar) with Coffee that I could find. We added ground beef, and lettuce, and cheese, and diapers, and wipes, and other random items.

We arrived home, unloaded groceries, played, and waited for the vet to update us with news on Marlie.

When she finally called, our hearts were shattered.

The vet compassionately explained that Marlie had terminal, very aggressive cancer (in almost every organ of her body). There was nothing that could be done and there was no way to wrap this news up neatly and tie it up with a bow. It was hard, and devastating, and unexpected. She was only eight.

And we thought we had more time…

Brian called Charles at work, and gave him the news. We decided to meet him in New Braunfels at the vet, and make decisions about how we would proceed. Before seeing Marlie, Charles had decided that he would probably opt to have her put to sleep that day, knowing that in a matter of time she would hemorrhage and go into shock.

We called ahead to let them know we were coming, and they reserved a room for us. When Marlie was brought into the room it was as if she was a puppy again. Her tail was wagging, and she was jumping and greeting each of us. The vet came in and explained all the details, and then gave us time to make some decisions.

We thought it would sort of be cut and dry, but then we witnessed the joy and happiness Marlie exhibited when she saw us gathered in the room. It clearly wasn’t her time to go.

I slipped out and went to the desk to find out some information about cremation and other services. The vet had mentioned mobile vets who come to your home to do the euthanization. I asked the girl at the desk and she said that she wished she had done that with her dog. She didn’t have names or information to give us, but she was reassuring and comforting in her response.

We took Marlie home, and shared a wonderful night. While we were eating our burgers, Kaitlyn received a call from the girl at the desk of the Pet Hospital. She gave us the name of a vet who would come to the house, and also handle everything afterwards. I can’t say enough how compassionate, caring, honest, and supportive the staff at Banfield was. They went above and beyond in every way.

Saturday morning, I got up earlier than the others and started picking up Cooper’s toys in the living room. As always, Marlie heard me, and came out of the bedroom to greet me. She then went to the guest room and jumped on the bed to wake up Brian. This was her routine. She seemed a little weak, but all in all, she was herself—-the sweet, happy, loving dog who had captured our hearts eight years earlier.

Saturday was a wonderful day. Although Marlie’s energy level decreased throughout the day, she was alert, and responsive. Looking back, I know that God gave us the gift of time with our sweet girl.

Sunday morning, I got up early, as always, and ventured into the kitchen and living room. I put some dishes into the dishwasher, and picked up a few toys. I began a load of laundry, and then decided to make a quick trip to the McDonalds around the corner to pick up some iced coffees. It was misty outside, and still a little dark since the time had changed. It didn’t feel right.

And Marlie didn’t come out of the bedroom to greet me, or to jump on the bed and wake up Brian.

I made the quick trip to the Golden Arches, and returned within 15 minutes. As I entered the room, I knew I would see Marlie waiting for me in the living room. But she wasn’t there.

Kaitlyn brought Cooper out and let us know that Marlie wasn’t doing well. She hadn’t digested any of the food she had eaten the day before, and she was extremely weak. We all knew that it was close to the time of having to let go.

Charles carried Marlie out of the bedroom and gently put her on her big, stuffed pillowlike bed. He brought his own pillow and covers in and made himself a pallet beside her. And that’s how he would spend the day.

Kaitlyn contacted Compass Vet, and it was decided that they would come to the house at 10:00 Monday morning. We gathered our things, and began our long journey back home. Our hearts were heavy but we knew that our sweet little family needed time alone.

It’s now 1:00 p.m. on Monday. And Marlie is gone. As my husband said, “Her job is done.”

You see, Marlie came into Charles’ life on purpose. The story we were told eight years ago was that one of Charles’ friends found her abandoned under a car on the UT Tyler campus. We believed that story until this weekend. Charles told us that not too long ago, his friend Robert shared with him that he had gotten the dog from another friend, but when he took it home his mom wouldn’t let him keep it.

Charles happened to be home from A&M that weekend, and Robert asked if Charles would give her a home, so Charles brought this tiny white puppy with black spots into our living room and asked if he could keep it. We immediately began thinking about all the logistics: pet deposit, all the items necessary for raising a puppy, and doing all this at college, and we decided it wasn’t the best idea.

But Charles didn’t give up. We said that if he could take it to a vet and find out more about the breed (she was obviously mixed), and if the vet thought she was healthy, we would think about it. It was a Saturday, and we didn’t believe all of this would be possible, but it was. And on that day Marlie became a part of our family.

Marlie lived a pretty amazing life. On her first day with Charles, he put her photo on Twitter, and Johnny Manziel commented, “That’s a badass dog!” And she was.

Everyone loved Marlie. She met many of the A&M football and basketball players, and more importantly, she introduced Kaitlyn and Charles. One day when Charles was walking her through his apartment complex, Marlie took off after a girl, and that’s how Charles and Kaitlyn were introduced.

After graduation, Charles and Marlie moved to Arlington, and then to Austin. Charles was working long hours in a job he hated. He was miserable, but Marlie was his bright spot. She loved and cared for him when we couldn’t be there. Charles and Marles were best friends.

And when Charles decided to change career paths, they moved back home, and we had the joy of making Marlie a real part of our family. For over two years, she lived with us. She loved to look out the window, watching for Charles to come home, and keeping an eye out for squirrels that would invade our yard.

In June of 2019, Charles and Kaitlyn married and moved to San Antonio, and in the fall, they had the great and surprising news that Kaitlyn was pregnant. In 2020, the Pandemic hit, Cooper was born three weeks early, and Marlie was there for it all. She provided consistency, comfort, support, happiness, love and joy.

At the end of last summer, this sweet little family bought a home with a fenced in backyard. By the end of 2020, Cooper was crawling, and Marlie was there.

The calendar flipped several pages, and 2021 was flying by. Through Aggie wins, and snowstorms, and Cooper’s first steps, Marlie was there.

And then the springtime came, and the flowers were trying to bloom, and Marlie got tired. The vet was absolutely amazed that she hadn’t succumbed to the cancer sooner. A cancer which showed up quickly and was equally relentless.

And on Sunday, as we were saying our tearful goodbyes before leaving our sweet little family, as he held Cooper in his arms, and Kaitlyn stood by his side, Charles said, “It will be okay. Look at all Marlie gave me.”

Today, as I see the rays of sunshine through the front door, I notice the scratches and scars from Marlie’s squirrel sightings. I run my fingers over the rough edges, and paint-stripped wood. Instead of seeing an eye-sore, something that needs to be repaired, or replaced, I see love. I see memories. I see a dog who loved a boy and gave him the world.

My heart has a hole in it. This loss has hit me in a way that has surprised me. I was devastated when I had to let go of my almost-sixteen-year-old dog Duke two years ago, but this feels different.

Marlie was vivacious, and energetic, and lovable. She was a big dog, with an even bigger heart. She rode shotgun with Charles through the many phases of his life—-from a teenage boy, to a grown man with a wife and son, she never left his side.

She loved my boy through the times when his parents weren’t around. When he felt lost, she saved him. She was always there. She never left his side.

I have been blessed beyond measure in my life. I have a wonderful husband who is steady, kind, and strong. Together, we have raised two outstanding young men who love the Lord, and are the best friends anyone could have. We have a beautiful daughter-in-law, and a grandson who is beyond precious.

And all of this wasn’t easy.

Life is filled with struggles, and disappointment, sadness, and uncertainty. But it’s also full of joy, happiness, peace and grace. To truly know and understand the good, you must experience the bad.

But to truly live life to the fullest, you have to take chances and risk your heart. You have to live fearlessly and love fiercely. You have to live like Marlie.

Whenever a dog comes into your life, you know that more than likely you will outlive it. You go into this relationship knowing that one day, you will lose your friend. But you love her anyway. All the memories, happiness, and love are worth the eventual pain.

The lessons on life, and friendship, and hard times, and happily ever after, are all a part of the chance you take when you open yourself up to loving a dog. In giving your heart you receive the most beautiful, unconditional love. The kind of love that Jesus gives us. It’s honest and real, and everlasting.

Since I began writing this post, the rain has vanished and the sun has appeared. As I stepped outside to let Lorelai in, I spotted a cardinal chirping in a tree, and a squirrel racing across the yard. While my heart is filled with sadness, time marches on.

Years from now, when I see these things, I will still think of a white dog with black spots who loved my boy. I will be reminded that she was in all the places where we couldn’t be. She was an extension of our love. She gave Charles his family, and filled their lives with grace, kindness, loyalty and love.

She oversaw the big things, and made the small things better. She was always, always there. She was always by his side.

So as we all move on, and grow up, and learn lessons, and miss this sweet and beautiful soul, we will thank her for the gifts she gave and the lives she loved.

And on the nights when Charles is holding Cooper, trying to get him to sleep, he will share the stories and tales of the many adventures of Marles and Charles. Stories that will live on forever. And while Charles keeps the monsters away, and teaches Cooper about being a man, Marlie, like always, will still be by his side.

My oldest son Chris shared this with me yesterday. He always has the perfect thought or quote for any situation. And this one is spot on….just like the white dog with black spots who gave us so much joy.

We will feel this hole and void for a long time. The grief will come and go like waves, but with it, will also come the warmth and softness of so many happy times.

Memories of boys who have grown into young men, and a dog who was always by their side.

Thank you, Marlie, for loving Charles. You gave him all the things he needed to find and build a happy life.

You did your job and we are all better for having known you.

And while we are missing our sweet friend, we will always thank God for giving us moonlight dances, Saturday night sing-alongs, and a white dog with black spots…

 

 

 

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