Join us this week as Sarah shares her thoughts about what it means to have a purpose in life, the impact it can have on others, and how this was all shown to her through her family dog, Duke.
Smiling face, shimmering soft hair, and the most manicured nails of any one I’ve ever met. No, I’m not talking about the Kardashians; I’m referring to my family’s amazing chocolate lab, Duke.
Sadly, a few weeks ago, we experienced an unexpected loss. Our loving, friendly, well-mannered, and even-keel thirteen year-old chocolate lab, experienced a life-altering stroke, resulting in his passing. As expected, this loss hit our family hard. The fleeting nature of his illness and the quick decision that put him out of pain and hurt, caused all six of us to pause and think of how impactful he was in our lives. The following is an ode to Duke, my thoughts and feelings about his purpose in my life, and how it made me think of my own impact on others:
My mom remarried when I was an angsty fifteen year old. A few months after they made their union official, they surprised us on Christmas day with the present–we would be getting a puppy. Now, this puppy wasn’t born yet, but I was so excited to finally have a puppy to relate to, instead of three younger siblings, who frankly cramped my style. I had begged for a dog for months, and even pressured my siblings into picking the type of dog I wanted–an American Chocolate Lab, a male so he was big enough to put his head on our kitchen table and stare at us while we ate, and his name would be Duke. And that’s exactly what we got, the only male and chocolate lab in the litter that was born December 27, 2005.
This puppy, this small dopey dog with paws bigger than his head, was the glue that held our family together for the first few years. At first, he was the one thing that everyone loved in our blended family. The children were responsible for taking him for walks, feeding him, cleaning up his messes, and making sure he didn’t tear the house apart. My step father was responsible for his training; he was unemployed at the time and really dedicated his days to ensuring that this puppy knew who was boss and how to behave. I remember him sitting us down every other week and telling us what training method we had to enforce from squeezing his nose when he tried to play bite us to petting him while he ate to socialize him around food and even to the strict no people food policy (my Mom was the person that broke this the most when no one was looking, though we all tried to break this rule every once and awhile).
After a few years, and lots of family meetings later, our family truly started to feel like one, and Duke was there every step of the way for me. My sisters and I started doing each other’s makeup and fighting about mutual friends that we both shared and my brother, the youngest of us four, became that annoying stinky kid that we all secretly loved the most. Duke was always present from his bed in the family room, watching observing and occasionally leaving the room when it got too loud.
When I left for college, Duke was three, but he still knew I was his walking buddy, crying and running to where we kept his leash in the garage every time I came home for a visit. He was my best bud, my cuddle buddy, and my shadow for at least the first two hours upon my arrival. And four years later, when I moved home from college he was my personal trainer, my door man, and even my makeup artist, watching me get ready each morning from my bed. He would greet me every night once I got home from my long commute from Boston to New Hampshire, waiting in the front yard until I parked my car and walked inside.
Over these five years, Duke began to grey and settle down, his energy becoming less and less, but he still had his moments. He was there on one of my first dates with Phil, a lovely walk around Massabesic Lake in fall. In fact, Duke was the first dog that Phil, the non-pet person at the time, learned to love and appreciate. My doggie was a great judge of character, barking and allowing his scruff on his back to rise if he was even the slightest wary of a person’s intentions–Duke never did that with Phil.
Presently, our family did learn to become one, each of us forming different relationships with each other. Loving supportive, relationships outside of our standard family vacations and forced celebrations: my oldest sister lives in Medford, about 20 minutes away from me now, and she has (finally) become my best friend; my youngest sister is close to home, but always comes over when I am home and we laugh and watch movies together, because yes we both love a good Disney movie; my brother and I have a special bond that the youngest and oldest siblings share, though we have the biggest gap in age, our mindsets about careers and relationships are similar; and, my parents have become my biggest and best support system, both of whom were so excited to finally start traveling the world with each other as they near closer and closer to the age of retirement.
Ironically enough, last month each of the six of us started a new chapter in our lives–my three younger siblings moved into places of their own while my parents prepared for their first trip as a couple in almost a decade; and that was the month Duke left us.
You see, he fulfilled his purpose in life, to make sure my siblings grew up and knew how to care for themselves and others; to bring not only my parents together, but create a truly blended family of love and happiness; and to teach this independent twenty-something year old how to love and open your heart to another being other than myself. The day my parents left for their celebratory trip to Europe was the day that Duke crossed the rainbow bridge to join our other loved pets, hours before my parents went to the airport. In my heart I know that he had a purpose in his dog years, to bring happiness to each of the six of us and every one he met, but also to show us how to love each other. And once he realized we each had that love in our lives and that we were ready to live our lives the way he wanted–brave and strong, but humble and kind–he left our lives. I know deep down that everything happens for a reason, and Duke’s presence in our lives no mistake–it was a blessing in each and every way.
He will always live in our hearts and minds, and he made us the family we are today. I hope that my life touches others the way he did ours. And I hope I get to experience owning a pet with at least half the impact Duke had on my life.