Days before my mother left this spiritual plane, she began seeing people surrounding us. She started talking to people in the room the rest of us couldn’t see. One day, as I approached her and heard her talking, I asked who she was talking to. This is what she said.
Reprinted from The Pet Press
When Angie received her therapy dog certification in early 2011, I never imagined that, a few short months later, I would be the recipient of her training.
It was a Facebook post that led me to the giant-eared Maltese mix in December 2010. With four dogs at the time, the last thing we needed were four more paws in the house. But as those who rescue know, sometimes the heart rules the brain and you find yourself on auto pilot, heading to the shelter to check out a baby in need.
The little dog with the satellite ears came to us from the Lancaster Shelter. From the minute she placed her paws with the pink painted nails on the shelter bars and grabbed my finger, we knew we’d be taking her home.
We named the little girl Angie. When she curled up on my lap and fell asleep on her way home from the shelter, we knew her role in life was defined: to warm the laps, hearts and souls of people in need. A neighbor of ours is a dog trainer, who also certifies for Therapy Dogs International (T.D.I.). Angie began with basic A.K.C. “Canine Good Citizen” training and graduated to therapy dog training. She took to her classes like a pro. She passed every test with flying colors. Wheelchairs, walkers, loud noises – nothing fazed her. She is such an attentive dog, her eyes rarely leaving mine. And as long as she is in someone’s arms, she is perfectly content and safe. In other words, the perfect qualities for a therapy dog.
When it came to picking our specialty for therapy work, I, without hesitation, decided on hospice. I couldn’t think of anything better than bringing the love of a canine into someone’s world as they transitioned from this life to the next. A therapy dog in hospice provides comfort and love to not only the hospice patients, but their families as well. The physical contact is calming and the unconditional love a salve. The patients and families look forward to the visits and they bring happiness to an otherwise solemn situation.
Over time, the dogs learn to be able to sense the process an individual goes through with death. From restlessness, to a change in orientation and breathing, the dogs seem to adapt to the needs of the patient. A hospice dog puts hand in paw and guides a soul through the gates of the Rainbow Bridge, reuniting them with their precious pets passed.
It was early December 2011. Angie and I were just about to begin our therapy dog visits when I received a call from my mom. She wanted me to come to Michigan for a long weekend to help her with some things that needed to be taken care of around the house. She had just started dialysis and wasn’t responding to the treatments very well. My mom requested that I bring Angie with me to help brighten her spirits and keep me company on my flight. I’ve never been a good flyer and having a dog with me takes my mind off of the stress of travel.
When I arrived in Michigan my mom informed me that she no longer wanted to continue her dialysis treatments. That would mean that in a matter of days, she would be gone. Hospice was set up in my parents’ living room. A bed was placed in the middle of the room, and family gathered around for two weeks, sharing love, stories and laughter as my mom took her final bows. And there, through it all, was Angie. She laid at the foot of my mom’s bed keeping watch over her. She brightened my mom’s moods. She sat on the laps of visitors who needed her calming spirit. She licked my tears and nudged my hand encouraging me to pet her which relieved my fears. This three day visit turned into Angie’s two week doctoral dissertation. On Day 14, Christmas Eve – a year to the day she was found wandering the streets of the desert – Angie laid sleeping on my dad’s chest on the couch. My mom, just feet away, was in the process of taking her last breaths.
We woke my dad, placed Angie between us and – my dad, along with my brother, sister and me – held my mom as she went off to her final sleep. Three days later, with Angie in her carrier slung over my shoulder, we walked together past my mom’s casket for a final goodbye. Angie earned her stripes that week as my mom earned her wings.
The lines are often blurred when it comes to who does the rescuing in a pet adoption situation. I can say, without a doubt, that the little dog from the Lancaster shelter with the giant ears, and heart to match, definitely rescued me.
Lisa Goich is an author, talk radio host and blogger. Her memoir, 14 Days – A Mother, A Daughter, A Two-Week Goodbye (Savio Republic), is now available in bookstores everywhere. To read more about 14 Days visit www.14daysamemoir.com. For more information on Therapy Dogs International, visit http://www.tdi-dog.org/.
For those of you who ordered books online, or live in cities that I haven’t held events in, I’m offering free, personally signed bookplates/library pockets with a photo of my mom inserted in each. They are self-adhesive and can be attached to the inside front page of your book. If you’d like one, please email me your name and/or the name of the person you purchased the book for, and your address, and I’ll mail you a pocket. Send requests to: email@example.com
Book by Lisa Goich – Foreword by Mitch Albom
In stores 11.10.15
A familiar comfort came over me when we pulled into the Target parking lot. I was suddenly calm and happy. The bullseye was calling my name. I love Target. When I’m bored or down, I head to Target just to walk around, people watch, and buy more Mossimo t-shirts I really don’t need. It’s my happy place. Perhaps my mom was right. Maybe I did need to get something new to wear to perk me up and lift my spirits. At the very least, something new wouldn’t smell. And though I couldn’t smell myself, I’m assuming I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around that week.
Whenever I was in town, my mom and I would go to Target together. I would drive and she would push the cart, which served a double purpose: a receptacle for our day’s haul and giant walker on wheels, steadying my mom as she strolled the aisles. My mom was fun to shop with. She was of the “if you like it, buy it,” mentality. Not much for teaching me fiscal responsibility, but we sure did have a great time building our wardrobes.
Going to Target without my mom this day was another one of those light bulb moments that I’d have during this fourteen-day period. Not only was she not with me now, but she wouldn’t be with me here again. Ever. And as the Christmas carols filled the store and I passed horizontal striped sweaters, I was tempted to pick one up and toss it in the basket for her. At the same time, I realized that she would never be out of her pajamas again. Clothing—other than her funeral dress—would no longer be an option.
“Funeral dress! I have nothing to wear to the funeral!” I said to my sister, as we passed racks of skirts and blouses. I never thought about what I was going to wear to my mom’s funeral. It seemed so far off, if it was going to happen at all. My mom’s health—though not perfect— didn’t seem to be declining to the point of a possible funeral. However, the nurses knew otherwise and continued to tell us that in about seven days she would be gone. How could that be? She wanted an Icee. People just don’t die when they’re still well enough to request an Icee.
Just then, a coat caught my eye. I didn’t bring a warm coat with me from L.A. I always wore my mom’s coats when I came to Detroit in the winter, rather than lug anything heavy with me on the plane. But the celadon green coat with the faux fur collar was dressy enough to be appropriate for a funeral, yet not too heavy to wear back in L.A. on a brisk California winter night. Plus buying it would make me feel good. And I really needed to feel good at that moment. There was one coat left on the rack—a medium—my size. Without even trying it on, I tossed it in my basket and could hear my mom saying, “If you like it, buy it.” So I did.
As I continued on my quest, nothing in the store seemed funeral-worthy. I had a navy blue dress at home that would be perfect. I’d have my husband bring it with him when he came. I bought a pair of tights to go with the dress. I found a pair of black pants and a blouse to wear to the funeral home the night before. I was set for the end. But I still needed something to hold me over for the next week. Something comfortable to live in, yet appropriate enough to receive guests. I settled on a pair of red and white flannel pants, dotted with snowflakes, with a long-sleeved red thermal shirt. And I couldn’t pass up the red knee- high cable-knit slippers with the giant red ball ties on the sides. I knew my mom would like these, too, and thought about buying a pair for her. But I stopped myself. This was as close as I’d get to donning all our gay apparel this holiday season.
As we passed the jewelry section I thought that, perhaps, I should buy her a ring or a bracelet or something that she could wear with her funeral dress. But is that really how you want to send someone off? With a ring from Target? I think anything you wear for all of eternity should be meaningful in some way. Old, new, borrowed, blue. Or at the very least, expensive. Or handmade. So, instead, I decided to pick up a card that I would tuck into my mom’s casket, written but not read, for her to open when she arrived at her final destination. We would put it in her pouch.
My mom’s pouch was a purse I had made for her a year earlier to attach to the front of her walker. After her scoliosis had gotten to a critical point, she had a very hard time walking without assistance. Her walker had a seat attached to it that enabled her to sit when she was tired. She loved her walker. And she was hell on wheels when she strolled through the aisles of the grocery store, with a “Get out of my way, I’m coming through!” look on her face. I purchased the canvas for the pouch from a craft’s store, along with the letters M-I-L-L-I-E in bright blue, to iron on the front pockets. I flanked her name with two red stars, which made the pouch Liberace fabulous. She used it when she went shopping, placing her credit card, her money and her coupons neatly in the pockets. When she would go to the casino with my dad, she’d put her player’s card in the pouch, which entitled her to special casino perks. She loved the pouch.
We decided that the pouch was too nice to leave behind. So she re- quested to have it put into her casket. We had an idea to fill the pouch with goodbye offerings for my mom to take with her on her final trip. We encouraged people who visited to bring something for my mom to put inside—a picture, a note, a trinket—whatever it was they wanted my mom to remember them by. I added pictures of us together, some casino tokens, a few knick-knacks and would now add this card. I placed the card in the basket and headed to the check-out.
As my sister and I wrapped up our shopping, we were surrounded at the cash registers by parents with baskets overloaded with toys that would soon be wrapped and lovingly placed under Christmas trees. We didn’t put a tree up this year. We didn’t have any gifts to wrap. We had a basket full of funeral clothes. Santa would not be visiting Newport Drive this Christmas and we were fine with that. Our gift was these last few days with our mother. A gift I had taken for granted for forty-nine Christmases past.
“I talked. And played music. And told her I held more love in my heart for her than I did for any other person who ever lived. I thanked her for being the best mother a child could ever ask for. I told her I would see her again one day and that I would call upon her often after she was gone. I found three of her favorite songs online: Bette Midler’s, The Wind Beneath My Wings; Lawrence Welk’s, The Anniversary Song (a song played at my parents’ wedding); and The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. It had always been one of her favorites. She used to sing it to me as a lullaby when I was a baby. It was only fitting that I played it for her lullaby as she drifted off to her final sleep.”