I saw the first jonquils yesterday. Maybe six to a cluster, dressing up an otherwise barren garden in late February. I was just passing by on my way to the house when I looked up from the road and was taken back by this sudden gold. Buttery trumpets turned up to the sun, a subtle sign that spring had come. They’re the jonquils! Some call ‘em daffodils. The first to sprout forth after winter’s kill. From gnarled old bulbs planted deep in the earth, come these bright sunny jonquils to welcome in spring. But they’re more than just pleasing and pretty to me. They’re proof that life, though harsh as it seems, still gives us a flower to rekindle our dreams…
Author’s note: Jonquils make an appearance in my 2nd novel, Johnnie Come Lately. This poem holds special meaning because I wrote it in 1986, three years after losing my youngest brother and months after giving birth to my first son.
The night before Bubba died, he trotted into my office and sat at my feet. The look on his face said it all: “Take me for a walk, please.”
I closed my computer and rubbed the top of his head. “Are you sure you feel up to it? You’ve been lethargic all day.”
After he wagged his tail “yes” we were out the door. No sooner had we crossed the street when something told me to get out my phone camera and capture this moment. I sent the photo in a text message to both of our sons. Looking back, I realize I was trying to reassure them that Bubba was okay. He was out for his walk which meant everything was fine, right?
The next morning Bubba collapsed on the living room floor after going out with Tom to get the newspaper. We didn’t hesitate. We loaded him into our Suburban and rushed him to Dr. Wied’s office. On the way there, I sent the boys the following text: “Bubba is in distress. Dad and I are taking him to the vet. We are doing everything we can to help him.”
Bubba died on the table, surrounded by Dr. Wied and his staff. They loved Bubba, too, and they did everything they could to save him. He was nine years old and the heartbeat of our home.
Every Feb. 6, Tom and I remember our dear friend, USAF Capt. Roy Westerfield, killed in his F-111 as he made his final approach into Cannon Air Force Base, Feb. 6, 1980. Roy was a gifted musician, and he played the trumpet at our wedding just a few months before his final flight. His beautiful wife, Petey (Maryellen), took our wedding photos.
For us, Roy and Petey were always larger than life. Petey is gone now, too, but both of them live on in my Air Force Times’ essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” republished in the new anthology Red, White and True from Potomac Books. Thanks to editor Tracy Crow for including my essay in the collection. In some small way, my story helps keep their memories alive for future generations.
Petey’s poem “Taps” graces the opening pages of my first novel, The Final Salute. She did get to read the book before she passed in 2009. Her poem is a tribute to Roy.
Roy Westerfield’s death haunted me for years. With Petey’s permission, I gave Roy’s first and last name to two different characters in The Final Salute. Tuck Westerfield and Roy “Wheaties” Wheaton carry on the legacy of so many fighter pilots who die in the prime of their lives…while flying peacetime training missions.
On October 14, 2013, five months to the day we lost our beloved Chocolate Lab, Bubba, we rescued Denton from the Denton Animal Shelter, Denton, TX. The staff at the shelter said he’d been there almost a month, played well with the other dogs and was friendly and outgoing, so they couldn’t understand why he kept getting overlooked.
Overlooked. That’s all I needed to hear. Plus the shelter was full, and his days were numbered. So I asked to see this dog the staff called Ranger, a stray that appears to be about three years old and we think is part Chocolate Lab, part Catahoula. Even before I saw him, I knew I would call him Denton, named after the town where he was rescued.
When I looked into his eyes, I saw a lost soul that needed a loving home. I told my husband, Tom, “He’s the one that Bubba sent me.”
Before leaving the house that day to visit the shelter, I stood in front of Bubba’s photo and asked him to send me another loyal friend, a dog that needed a family.
I touched Bubba’s collar and tags, ran my fingers over the cedar box that shelters his ashes, and asked for his blessing.
Denton came to us not knowing a single command, but he is a smart dog and he is learning to sit and stay. On Wednesday he gets his first bath.
While he can never replace the huge spaces Bubba occupied in our home and hearts, Denton is already filling the void with doggie kisses, cute antics, and that rattle of tags that only comes from the sound of a happy dog.
We just got Denton’s DNA test results back from Wisdom Panel Insights. He is an American Staffordshire Terrier/Rottweiler Mix with shades of Catahoula Leopard Dog! Not one trace of Chocolate Lab in him like we originally thought. Our family vet also thinks Denton is between one and two years old, a little younger than originally thought. We will never know where Denton spent his days before a citizen brought him to the shelter. But here’s what we know: He is happy to have a home, a family who loves him, and chattering squirrels to chase.
“They truly leave footprints on our soul when they leave their earthly bodies…we are forever changed by them…” Diane Lippard Tullia
Molly, a beautiful Golden Retriever, was just shy of thirteen when she was diagnosed with cancer. The Marrs family made the tough decision to have her right front leg amputated in the hopes of saving her. She made it through surgery, but then her kidneys shut down and she stopped eating. Before the family said their final farewell, they gave Molly a glorious send-off. They rolled her through the neighborhood on a special cart for her last walk, even stopping by a local church to pray.
One of the best ways to remember a beloved pet is to seek out a creative outlet. After losing her black cat, Max, three years ago, my friend Barbara Castiglia, who writes a pet column for Family Magazine, found that using a kit to make a garden stepping-stone helped her mourn her best friend of nearly 20 years. She appreciates having a spot she can visit or view from a window when missing him. Also helpful was planting bulbs that return each year and provide a sense of the “circle of life.” Her husband, Paul, channeled his grief by composing a loving blog post tribute. Click here to read:
“I think dogs/cats/pets are all extensions of the Holy Spirit, another way to let our Higher Power love us.” Geri Krotow, novelist and animal lover
“We carry both Wyatt and Sherwood’s collars in the RV. I keep all of the tags from all the dogs’ collars in a jar on the bookcase…this Christmas I am going to put all of the tags on one tree. I also put up the stockings from every dog that we have had every Christmas.”
Diane Lippard Tullia
Patti Sweetin-Wolff remembers her special boy, Marcus. He passed away March 29, 2012.
He was eight.
“We have not painted over any of the toenail art that he had done on the wall while sleeping nor have we cleaned the artwork off of the windows either. People may think that it looks dirty, but to us it is a loving reminder of our family’s companion that left us too soon in life. We walk past his artwork everyday, and when we see it then we see him running throughout the house playing and enjoying his life to the fullest until he took his very last breath. That artwork will remain in my house forever!”
Canadian Author Murray Pura dedicated one of his latest books to his first two dogs who were brother and sister.
From “Magestic and Wild,” Baker Books 4/15/13:
“For Yukon 1986-2001 & Nahanni 1986-2002
We never grew tired of the thousands of trails
We never grew tired of each other.
We never grew tired of God and what he had made.
We were always glad of a life together
and a wilderness shared.”
“Daisy was my live-in friend through Vic’s illness and death, walking with me, staying close, easing my grief with her companionship. Until today, Daisy enjoyed her crunchies, got excited
about visitors, and enjoyed sniffing around the front yard on warm days. Until yesterday, she got out the door with my help, but we’ve crossed the divide.” To read the rest of writer Elaine Mansfield’s essay about her Yellow Lab, Daisy, click here:
…and sometimes our pets go missing and we never see them again.
Betka, missing from Denton, TX since June 24, 2013
Thomas Rodgers’ black cat, Betka, went missing weeks after our family dog passed away in May. Here’s Thomas’ plea for help on Facebook: “Hi Animal lovers! My cat Betka has been missing for two
days. She’s very friendly and will usually go up to any stranger. She has a clipped left ear, a cloudy left eye, and was wearing a red collar with a big gold bell on it. She’s microchipped and registered in Denton. Please keep an eye out for her! She’s one of our beloved kids! We will reward the person that finds her or has any information. She was last seen on Elm and Prairie.”
Mom’s early morning text three years ago jolted me awake. I pictured all five of us kids getting her message at the same time. Her words caused us to stop and remember and to never forget. We lost our little brother, Larry Lynn Doran, thirty-three years ago today. He was driving home from fishing at Navajo Lake up in northern New Mexico when his ’67 powder blue Mustang left the road and went over the side of a mountain. We will never know why.
Larry was eleven days away from turning twenty-one. Our hope is that he didn’t suffer. He had a caring soul and a quiet sense of humor. Shy as a boy, he was just coming out of his shell and finding his way in the world. Seems like yesterday all six of us kids were together – cheaper by the half dozen – opening Christmas presents or fidgeting and teasing each other unmercifully in church.
At Dad’s funeral in May 2013, I heard lots of sniffles during the slideshow whenever Larry’s photo appeared. Although his physical presence has been gone from this earth for thirty-three years, I feel him sometimes late at night when the wind blows through the trees. Dad and Larry are together now, and our family takes comfort in that.