Most of us have been told angels have wings. Some of us have learned they have paws.
When we lost Tucker, our lab/rottweiler mix, years back, it left a large hole. For months, I searched to fill it with another creature. It was a search that often broke my heart as I looked among the faces of so many creatures needing homes.
Along came Humphrey, a black lab/great Dane mix, an incredibly well-trained hunk of a dog who was also a slobbering, galloping giant of gentleness. He had been found wandering the streets of Riverside and through the work of a lab rescue organization he made his way into our lives.
He was eight when we got him four years ago. Sometimes I didn’t believe it. He was so healthy and energetic that he seemed much younger. Still, he was the ultimate mellow boy. I would take him to the groomers and he happily surrendered himself to their care, laying down and rolling back as they trimmed his nails or cleaned his ears. He often visited me in the kitchen, waiting for a pan to find its way onto the floor or a piece of food to fall from the counter. He took up a lot of room, but who was I to argue with his amber colored eyes that followed me so closely?
Today we had to put Humphrey down. When we woke up, he could not get up out his bed and was having trouble breathing. Still, he wagged his tail as if to say he loved us. The compassion of our vet made the process a little easier, especially as she explained Humphrey’s condition, but I was a wreck. I knew what had to be done, but my heart felt like it was breaking into a thousand pieces.
No matter how many times any of us go down this path, we are never immune from the pain. Humphrey was able to leave peacefully; still, I was reminded of what Kurt Vonnegut said about goodbye—it’s the emptiest and fullest of all human messages.
We will miss Humphrey. The cycles of life remind us regularly that we are here but a brief time. We can run from the inevitable losses of life, but then we would also be running from the love it gives us as well.
When I started this painting, I did not know we would lose Humphrey in the weeks to follow. Today, I finished it as music played in the background casting a vision in my heart that Humphrey was flying now. The amber eyes spoke once more. I could sense his presence around me. Through my tears, I promised Humphrey I would happily open my heart again and again. And again.