by KAREN VAN ASCH
“Come on Jazz.” I tugged at my overweight retriever’s leash. She sat, immovable, fixed to the cement driveway as if she were a statue. She turned to me, staring intently with her gorgeous black-lined chestnut eyes.
I turned away in order to steel my heart and gave another tug at her leash. I could not move her. I sat down with a sigh and looked into my dog’s sad, knowing eyes.
How did she know? This time she was not going to the beach or the park as we had done so often before. This time she would not be coming back.
The Phone Call
One phone call had derailed our comfortable life in Pacifica, Calif. “Your dad is dying of cancer, you need to get up here now,” the doctor advised my husband Nic. I heard Nic hang up, and, as I walked into the kitchen, I saw him standing still by the phone, his head down.
“My dad is dying” spoken softly was all he said. He turned from me, shoulders heaving, vainly attempting to contain his tears. Minutes later, he picked up the phone, dialed some numbers, and firmly asked “When’s the next flight out from San Francisco to Spokane?”
In two hours, he was on the next plane to his father’s home in Sagle, Idaho.
“Karen, I need you up here, can you be all moved up here in a week?” My husband’s voice was full of a desperation I had never heard in 15 years of marriage. I replied with a cheer I didn’t feel, “of course honey.”
I tried to find a home for Jazz, but it seemed nobody wanted a dog that couldn’t hold her water while she slept. I gave Jazz a pat. “Euthanize, murder her, that’s what you’re really going to do,” I sighed.
I wrapped my arms around Jazz Dog’s neck and burst into tears, sobbing in anger at Opa for putting me in this situation, and at Nic for making us move to Idaho. I hated the cancer that had taken control of my life by making Opa ill.
Jazz sat there silently, as she had done many times past, giving me comfort by her presence. She licked my hand. I took her muzzle in my hands, “No old girl, you’re coming with me, let’s go back in the yard.” Now I just had to call my mom to tell her there would be one more riding to North Idaho with us.
Preparing for the Drive
“Sorry mom, I couldn’t bring myself to have Jazz put to sleep. You don’t have to drive up to Idaho with me and the kids. You’re the best, and I love you so.” I was hoping she’d come anyway. There was a silence on the phone as I braced for her reply.
“Honey,” there was a slight pause here. “So we’re going to take an incontinent dog with a bad hip through four states?” She added with a gentle laugh, “Can you even lift her up into the car?”
The next morning my brilliant mother arrived at my doorstep as I was locking up the house and putting my 3-year-old son, Aaron, and 5-year-old daughter, Emma, into their car seats.
“Mom, what in the world did you bring that kiddy pool for?” I asked, thinking our leaving her and the stress of my garage sale had put my mother on the edge of madness.
“Sweetie, humor me, put the kiddy pool into the back of the car, and toss the dog’s bed in it. We will be a lot happier with Jazz in a plastic pool until we get to Sandpoint.”
Being a naturally obedient daughter, I opened the back hatch and took everything out of the cargo area, including my prized crates of antique teacups and flower vases.
In went the kiddy pool, provisions for the dog, and snacks and drinks for the rest of us. I had great friends I could pass my treasures to.
With a few quick calls, my friends each had a nice keepsake from me. I lifted Jazz into the kiddy pool and closed the hatch. Funny how she seemed lighter when she wanted to get in.
When we opened the hatch and lifted Jazz out for the last stop, she was home. She loved Lake Pend Oreille. She greeted her old friends Tuan, the golden retriever, and Rafiki, the jet black Scotty, with a wag of her tale and a bounding run, reminiscent of her puppy days.
Emma and Aaron couldn’t always articulate their own grief in words. I see now that it is a rare parent who can help their children when they, themselves, are incapacitated by grief.
“Mom, please read me a story” was answered with a “Later, Emma,” which never came. What can a little girl do to find solace?
Jazz the Wonder Dog
I’ll tell you what Emma did; she went out the front door, leaving a world of sickness and medicine and tensions she didn’t understand. She played in the sunshine and skipped through pine trees under chirping birds.
Her constant companion was a golden dog with soft brown eyes, who listened intently to every word she said.
When dad was counting out pain medication and couldn’t play a game of ball, Aaron softly walked to the door and went outside. He spied a lizard sunning itself on a rock and forgot about feeling lonely. Aaron picked up a ball and tossed it to his old pal Jazzaroo.
Next, his two friends balanced on an old log amidst wildflowers and butterflies. Aaron anointed his steed Jazz with moss and went off to hunt lions and rhinoceroses.
Where did I go for comfort? Those around me were too overwhelmed by their own troubles to help me. Jazz was the one who heard my cries and answered by nudging her head under my hand. Jazz is a gift who teaches me to find joy in scattered moments of my day.
I chose to keep the best when I tossed out the teacups and kept “Jazz the Wonder Dog.”