Tag Archives: death

Speak: 2003-2016

Yesterday we said goodbye to our dog, Speak.

I’m not really a dog person. My wife is, which is why we had three dogs at one point. Working at home, I’m the one who usually feeds and cleans up after the dogs. Yet my wife is the one they adore. I tend to resent them.

I sat down this morning to blog my thoughts on Speak’s passing, because I’m a writer and that’s how I process. It’s what I do. I thought I’d do a quick post, maybe do some work and come back to it, but that should be good.

Then I wrote 1,500 words and realized I was just getting started. I’m still not a dog person, but that dog had a hold on this person. He was part of our life for 13 years. He was there when I came home unemployed. He welcomed our kids into the family and grudgingly approved of the other two dogs. He had his own mini-career as a Target model. He’s there in so many family pictures, he’s sitting on the laps of our parents and friends. In the beginning he was always in the center of the frame, and as life has gone on he may not have been the center of our lives, but he was always on the edge of the frame. He’d look on with disdain that his nap had been interrupted, but there he was.

Speak died in my wife’s lap last night. I spent the day with him, taking him to the vet in the morning when his labored breathing wouldn’t settle down and laying with him in the afternoon when he worked to breathe, then struggled to stand and flopped around like a rag doll.

It was hard to watch.

Congestive heart failure was the vet’s diagnosis. He had a shot if he responded to the medicine. Yet he sat there on the floor of my office, fighting to live. I couldn’t sit there at my computer doing work, seeing him struggle.

So I laid down next to him. I pulled him into my lap and sat with him. For a few moments he’d rest against me, but then he’d move his head around. He’d try to stand up again and I’d catch him when he wavered. I’d ease him back down and lay next to him, trying to keep him calm and help him breathe easy.

I remembered one of the things Speak loved was attention from any guests who came to our house. One of our friends in particular, Nicole, was the best. Speak would plant himself in her lap and she would pet him all evening. She gave him the equivalent of a doggie massage, and he leaned into it.

So as he lay struggling—dying, really—I stroked Speak like Nicole did. And he leaned into it.

When Abby came home after work, Speak’s tail wagged. He lay there on the floor, unable to get up, working for each breath, his tongue grey and lolling out of his mouth. But my wife came home and his little stubby tail moved. I don’t think I’d seen him wag his tail all day. But there it was, his brave spirit in that small, happy gesture.

I ran to get dinner and the kids started eating in the kitchen while I went upstairs to check on Speak. Abby was sitting in the chair with Speak sprawled in her lap, sitting on a heating pad and covered with a towel.

Speak’s labored breathing had stopped. He wasn’t struggling anymore. Was the medicine finally working? It looked like he had a little more color. All afternoon he refused to lie that still. We didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

We watched him for a moment, and then that was it.

“I think his heart stopped,” Abby said.

I don’t think she wanted it that way, but Speak died in Abby’s lap. He waited until I got home, the not-a-dog-person, and then he went peacefully, quietly.

We told the kids and there were tears. Milo asked if we could name our next dog Speak. This morning they asked me if we could get another dog.

“Now I just have two dogs,” Milo lamented.

“That’s two more than a lot of people,” I said, always with the consolation.

I looked at pictures of Speak last night—literally hundreds—and tried to write a few words today. I’m cutting this short at 800, but I’ve got so many more words to say about that dog. It will likely become some too-long, self-indulgent essay, but that’s the way it is. As much as I want to say it’s just a dog, he was so much more.

Our Speak-a-ma-dog had a good run. We’ll miss him.

My Summer Has Evaporated

I didn’t know it, but my summer evaporated as soon as I went on that impromptu trip to Dallas for the Echo conference. The next week we had to travel out of town for a funeral. Then Abby had an all-week conference while making final preparations for our church’s VBS. This week is that VBS, which goes all morning (it’s 4 in the afternoon and I’m the only one awake). And next week Abby goes back to work.

Summer over.

Life has been slipping by lately and it’s all I can do to hold on. In a span of a few days I attended a funeral and a baptism (oddly enough in that order, which I’m choosing to see as hopeful).

Great Grandma and the neighbor’s dog both died within a week and a half of each other, which prompted all kinds of odd conversations: “Why did Domino die?” “Because he was old and sick.” “And why did Great Grandma die?” “Um, because she was old and sick.”

And for once the frustration and right answer actually matched up: “But how does Grandma get to heaven? She can’t just fly, she’s dead!” “I don’t know, Lexi.”

The other day I was half lamenting, half apologizing to my neighbor for not keeping up with the yard work. “You’re not raising grass, you’re raising kids,” she told me.

It’s a small comfort, but I’ll take it.

Remembering My Grandpa

Last night Yeshumnesh asked if I cried when my grandpa died. Actually, she asked if I would cry if Milo kept eating and eating until his stomach exploded and then he died. I tend to ignore those bizarre ‘what if’ scenarios and then she asked more seriously if I cried whey my grandpa died.

I didn’t cry.

He died in 2002 and I tried to explain that it was his time. I was sad to see him go, but he was barely hanging on. He’d grown so frail and skinny at the end. Medical complications were getting ridiculous and while I don’t remember it all, I think amputation had been discussed. That’s not something an 80-year-old man needs to go through. His death wasn’t unexpected, it was a mercy.

Then I showed Yeshumnesh some pictures.

This is how I remember my grandpa. That and the fact that he called me ‘turd.’ If I had more time I would have explained to Yeshumnesh what I wrote for my grandpa’s funeral. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything else that so perfectly captures a person. That was Grandpa, making people laugh.

While talking about him I realized none of my kids ever met him and even Abby barely got to know him. By the time she was in the picture my grandpa was already frail in body and mind. They all would have loved laughing in his kitchen. And that’s actually one of my greatest treasures—standing around in my grandpa’s kitchen with my brother and cousins and Abby, telling stories and laughing so hard.

A line I wrote nine years ago sums it up: He grew too old before I grew up, and I miss him.

This picture captures him so perfectly, I can almost smell the Old Spice.

Classic Les

Hotel Pools, McDonald’s and a Funeral

Last weekend we went to the funeral of Abby’s uncle, Lee Erlandson. It was a whirlwind 32-hour trip:

  • We intentionally picked a hotel with a good pool to give the kids something to do. Turns out Milo is suicidal around pools. He’d just walk right off the edge into the water, not even attempting to jump or push off at all. I thought he was going to crack the back of his head on the side of the pool, never mind the whole toddler drowning thing.
  • We had to explain a funeral to Lexi, who was still trying to process Jesus dying and rising again from Easter. Not a good combo.
  • Lexi had also been watching Beauty and the Beast in the car and wanted to know who killed Uncle Lee and whether or not he was a princess. Thankfully we had that conversation in the hotel and not at the funeral home.
  • Lexi managed to sit through a 75-minute service with a minimum of interruptions and outbursts. Milo, on the other hand, spent most of the service outside with Abby. Yes, we were those weird people who brought kids to a funeral. We actually had no babysitting options and thought it would be a much shorter service. In retrospect, I think sitting through the service with a 4-year-old brought some levity to the whole thing (though I’m not sure if anyone else felt that way).
  • And when did McDonald’s get so swanky? We stopped for a quick break and enjoyed a little Nickelodeon on the personal TVs in our cushy booth. I was tempted to bring in the laptop and check out the wifi with a little frappuccino. OK, not really. But it was an option.
  • I know I’m not good at smalltalk, but I’m really bad at funeral smalltalk. I think “So how’s it going?” was the first question out of my mouth to just about everyone. Including a brother and son of the deceased.

What I found especially thought-provoking was the funeral itself. The service stretched on so long because they opened it up for anyone to share memories about Lee (open mic at a funeral?). I didn’t know Lee very well at all—I’ve only seen him a handful of times—so it was interesting to hear coworkers, friends and teammates share their memories and impressions.

Continue reading Hotel Pools, McDonald’s and a Funeral

Eulogy for my Grandpa: 1922-2002

My GrandparentsMy grandpa died last week. I pulled these thoughts together for the funeral, and read them to a packed house. I had the whole place laughing, and I think that’s the way Grandpa would have wanted it. The words may not mean a lot to you, but for me they capture my grandpa.

***

I remember spending summers in Kansas with Grandpa. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, and now I live in St. Paul and take the city bus to work everyday. Spending summers in Kansas was a bit of culture shock.

I remember waking up early and sitting around the kitchen table and listening while Grandpa and my mom sipped coffee and talked. The Hutch paper was always spread across the table, and inevitably, the conversation would turn to me.

“He probably fails all his classes, don’t he?” Grandpa would ask. A slow smile would spread across his aging face as his gaze shifted from my mom to me.
Continue reading Eulogy for my Grandpa: 1922-2002

Dealing with Death

How does a man remain so resilient in the face of death? I met him at the church I’ve been attending recently, and since I met him his mother has been battling cancer. She died a week ago Wednesday, on Ash Wednesday. He was back in church this week, and seemed to be doing surprisingly well, all things considered. He somehow looked fragile. He looked visibly shaken, and you could hear his voice wavering, but he was there. He looked like he could break down crying at any moment. This from a smiling Native American man in his thirties or forties who’s usually leading the church in songs with his guitar.

Him and a friend sang a song of thanksgiving today. It was a Native American song, and the lyrics were something along the lines of, “thank you God.” Hard to believe that a man could thank God after something like this. After the message he lead the circle (or “congregation,” for you conventional types) in a few songs about life and God breathing life into us. He talked about watching his mother breath her last breath, and knowing that she was now with her Maker.

The last time I saw Jim he handed me two cocoa seeds. This was a few weeks before his mother passed away. I can’t remember all of what he said, he always puts it so poetically, but he was marveling at how life is wrapped up in a such a tiny seed. The seeds still sit on my desk.

How can a man deal with such heartache? Jesus Christ. That’s the only answer I can possibly come up with, and I’m sure that Jim would agree with me.