A Final Favor
Updated: Jan 31, 2021
Final moments arrive, joining us in a room without windows. Cool air squeezes through a slotted vent, shoved from behind by an unnecessary air conditioner. The scent of disinfectant lingers. Overhead lights strain to hum a hollow hymn. With minimal room to move, Sandy and I drift within overlapping circles. Black boots drag across clipped carpet. Save for the hum from above and the sound of our shuffling feet, the world is hushed. Office-grade furniture fails in an attempt to deliver comfort. The furniture – a small couch and an unused loveseat – are beige. On a mismatched end table, plastic water bottles stand at attention, guarding an open tissue box.
“Would you like to sit?” I ask my wife.
Sandy looks from the loveseat to humming lights and back to the loveseat, “No thanks.”
Barely large enough for two, the room will be hard pressed to accommodate the addition of a veterinarian and a wheeled cart carrying our dog, Sawyer. The thought floats lazily, mingling with the scent of disinfectant.
Joining the thrum of the hum, rain begins to drum. Rhythmically, nature marks time’s march across the roof above. Recognizing the tune, water bottles quiver.
Within this windowless container, a sea of sorrow swells.
Sandy takes my hand. She squeezes tight before stepping away to take advantage of the tissue box. Standing tall, she carries the weight of a looming moment.
Then, a gentle knock upon the door.
“Yes?” I respond.
The door cracks open. The Vet speaks softly, “If you’re ready, we’ll bring in Sawyer.”
Quietly, our dog of many years is wheeled into the room. He rests upon his side, docile.
Breaths are shallow, labored.
The addition of Sawyer and the Vet fill remaining space. Tides rise, pouring sorrow over container’s edge.
Falling upon our dog, we stroke his fur, hold him, kiss him.
The Vet dims the lights. I retreat as Sandy shares unconditional love with her dog. She speaks gently, kindly, whispering a final message. The moment bends and ripples past the borders of past, present, and future. Sandy stands. She rubs her face before resting a hand upon Sawyer’s flank. The dog’s chest rises and falls in time with drumming rain.
Bending forward, I face Sawyer. “Hey…” I rub the spot behind his ears. His fur is soft. As are his final breaths. His breath and the earthy scent of dog displace the smell of disinfectant.
Sawyer holds my gaze.
“Thank you, Sawyer. Thank you for being part of our family. I’m gonna miss you. I’m gonna miss greeting you every morning at the bottom of the steps and then rubbing your belly. For years that's how we started our day.” I smile, “You had me well trained, huh?”
I continue, “And thank you for protecting Sandy and Georga and Damian. Thank you for going to Vermont with Sandy on all those trips and for roaming through the woods with her and keeping her safe. I know how much you loved those woods.”
“Maybe you already know this ‘cause you’re so smart, but when Sandy and the kids were like, ‘let’s get a dog!’ I was totally against it. But their numbers carried the day. And then you showed up. You won me over. And now I can’t imagine our home without you. So, thank you, Sawyer, for filling our home and our lives with love.”
I pause to collect myself, “You’re full of it, aren’t you? Love, I mean.”
My palm drifts across his white belly one more time. Fingers seep into soft fur. “Right here, inside you, there’s a bottomless well of love, isn’t there?”
His ears tilt.
“Thank you for filling my time here in heaven with all your love.”
He twitches, as if confused.
Sandy strokes Sawyer’s boney back.
My cheek comes to rest against the dog’s nose. His snout is wet and warm.
My voice dips, “Sawyer, I have a final favor to ask. OK?”
His tongue pokes forward, touching my chin. ‘Continue,’ he seems to suggest.
“You see, Sawyer, this place we’re in – this world here – is heaven for me. And my hell as well. Here, in this place, heaven and hell coexist. And I’m thinking it’s the only heaven I’ll ever know ‘cause, I don’t believe there’s anything after this. I want to, but can’t. So, this is it. This brief life is my time in heaven.”
I push my face against his fur, wiping away tears. “That means when I die, I won’t go to heaven; I’ll leave heaven. And it means all the time we shared together was time spent together in heaven.”
Sawyer blinks slowly.
I take a long breath before asking a final favor.
“But, here’s the thing; pretty much everyone I know believes something different than me. Just about everyone believes in a heaven after death. And if we assume they’re all right, then I’m the one that’s wrong. Right? Just look at my family; Mom and Dad and my siblings; they all believe. They all have faith.”
I stroke the dog’s flank, “The truth is I’m jealous of what they have. That belief – that faith – helps them get through the tough stuff. Like, when Mom fought cancer all those years. She believed, after her fight was over, she’d be rewarded by spending eternity with those she loved in heaven. ‘I’m not scared’ she told me. ‘Soon I’ll be with my husband?’ After all she went through, she kept her faith. That’s pretty amazing, huh?”
The dog does not respond.
“But just because I believe something doesn’t mean it’s true. If we go by the numbers then I’m the one that’s wrong. And if the numbers are right and I’m wrong then you’re about to go somewhere wonderful. You’re about to live a life of eternal love.”
I look away before continuing, “Assuming you do end up in heaven, will you do me a final favor? Will you please find my mom and dad and let them know I think of them all the time and that I still love them? Will you do that?”
With great effort, Sawyer raises his chin.
“Thank you, Sawyer. I love you. I love you. I love you…”
He closes his eyes.
The humming hymn combines with rain’s drumbeat to fill the room.
Stepping forward, the Vet discharges her duty.
And drawing strength from a bottomless well, Sawyer makes his way across a final threshold.
In this new place, eyes open wide, alert to a wonderous world of beauty.
‘Words? Words? Words! Yes! Understand! Where? New place? New place! Warm. Bright. Love! Belly-rub love! Here. There. Everywhere! Outside. Inside. Love!’
‘Legs work? Legs work! Run! Leap! Bark! Other barks? Happy barks! Here. There. Everywhere!’
‘Smells! Everywhere! New smells. Familiar smells! Wait… What? Smell of… Sandy! Georga! Damian? Brother, Damian! My pack! Here. There. Everywhere! Stop... Wait. One missing… Wait. Words? Words! To do! Mom, Dad, of missing one? Find! Yes! Where…? Smell them! See them! Mates? Yes. Mates! Holding paws! Run! Fast. Faster! Give words? Yes! Give words. For missing one…’
The Vet clears her throat, “He’s at peace now. There was no pain.” She reaches for my arm, but does not touch me, “You did the right thing. I’ll leave you. Please, take as much time as you’d like.”
On the other side of a threshold, in a place far away, a new arrival runs across eternity. Crisp air rushes over warm fur. Barking, the new arrival calls over an unending horizon. A gentle breeze carries the trumpet’s call. All about, the air sparkles and crackles, coursing with the current of love.
Alert to a new arrival, Mom and Dad sense a tingle in the air. They slow the pace of their seaside stroll. As the breeze sings a song of boundless beauty, they pause. Looking to each other, they exchange smiles. As if choreographed, they release hands and turn about.
Watching a dog bound toward them, Mom and Dad return hands to each other. Their tangling fingers squeeze tight. The current of love flows from one to the other.
Bending low, they greet a breathless dog.
And stroking warm, brown fur, they listen as he grants a final favor.
Embracing the dog, they hold tight. They glow, drifting upon an ever-rising sea of love.
On the other side of the threshold, in a container without windows, Sandy and I fall into each other’s arms. Love flows from one to the other.
We hold tight, drifting upon a swelling sea of sorrow.
For here, in this place, heaven and hell coexist.