I couldn’t sleep. Insomnia was pretty typical in the immediate aftermath of losing Dad. He had been gone for only a few days, and although I desperately wanted to sleep, rest of any form completely eluded me. I would lay in the bed for hours on end, physically and mentally exhausted, and I would close my eyes as tightly as I could, hoping, praying that the pain of Dad’s death would fade. It rarely did. I didn’t know how life would ever feel normal again.
I tried to lay down on the mattress in my spare bedroom. Mom was staying at my house, and likely would be for the next few weeks. I was glad that I lived next door and could provide a place for Mom to stay. I knew she would eventually have to go back to the house, but I didn’t know how. Dad had died in the house, and I didn’t know how Mom would ever be able to go back in with the circumstances of his death. I knew that she eventually would; I just didn’t know how. Nonetheless, I was happy that Mom could stay here with me. Even if it just provided a temporary relief from the heartache of losing her husband, it was worth it.
While she stayed, I relocated myself to the twin mattress in my spare bedroom to let Mom stay in my room. At night, I would lay flat on my back in the dark and stare upwards towards the ceiling. On most nights, I would lay there helplessly for hours, wondering how my Dad—a happy, jovial, loving man—could have possibly become a victim of suicide. There wasn’t much I could do to stop my racing thoughts. They would swirl around and consume me, and on many nights I’d find myself drenched in a flood of tears.
There was always one thing I could count on to help, however. Always one thing that I knew could make the pain slightly recede.
And that help came from Lucy, who would poke her snout through the partially-opened door at just the right moment.
Most nights, Lucy would make her way into my room, usually at just the right moment. She would push the door open with her snout, tail wagging feverishly, and climb up onto the bed. After arriving, Lucy would place a paw on either side of my shoulders and lick my face until I begged her to stop. A twin mattress doesn’t provide much room for a grown man and a 70-pound dog, but Lucy made a way. She would curl up alongside me and lay her head across my chest. And in those moments, even though she was a dog and might not have understood human emotions, Lucy soothed my heart in ways I’ll never be able to describe.
Having Lucy there alongside me was like I had a living, breathing piece of my Dad still with me. When you tragically lose a loved one, you hold onto anything—big or small—that reminds you of that person. I held onto many of my Dad’s things, especially thanks to my Mom’s thoughtfulness. Scratchpads with his handwriting, t-shirts, tools, baseball equipment, his cologne—they all became precious treasures.
But having Lucy was different. Lucy was like an extension of my Dad because her personality was so similar to his. Lucy was fun-loving and playful and hilarious—just like Dad. She reminded me of him in so many ways, and every time I looked at her, my mind forgot about the pain of losing Dad and instead recalled images of the two of them playing together in the backyard. Her presence alone helped distract my mind from the disaster that had been the last few days. My focus shifted from the terror and heartache to the 26 wonderful years I had enjoyed with my Father in my life.
Lucy also helped soothe my pain because of the fact that Dad had wanted her so badly in the first place, despite my stubborn protests. Dad had insisted we get another dog after losing our family pet, Willow, and even though I felt it was too soon, Dad knew that the time was right to bring another puppy into our house. Looking back, it was easy to see how wrong I was to claim we shouldn’t get another dog. Having Lucy was a reminder that life does move on—if you let it. In a sense, her presence alone was reassurance that I would get through this difficult, disastrous storm, even if I couldn’t see the entire journey.
On that night, and on many other nights, Lucy would stay with me until I fell asleep. Other nights, she stayed with Mom. It’s uncanny, but it was like she knew which one of us needed her most. I never knew what people meant when they talked about dogs having an unusual knack for picking up on human emotions until I saw Lucy helping our family heal after losing Dad. Seeing how much that puppy loved us was a reminder that, even in the darkest moments, love still prevails—especially from our four-legged companions.
It was that puppy companionship, along with many other wonderful people and things, that helped me heal and grieve my Dad properly. I had so many wonderful people who knew exactly how to minister to me after losing Dad—my Mom, my grandparents, my church family, my friends, my coworkers, my neighbors, and even complete strangers. I also found little things I could do to help me grieve for Dad properly—things to help me forget about the pain of losing him. I read my Bible frequently in my study. I wrote feverishly—some of those scrawlings eventually turning into the foundations of this project. I exercised frequently, although the Ryan Gosling physique (or anything remotely close) still eluded me.
But being around Lucy was a more powerful salve than I ever thought it would be. Among other things, being around Lucy saved my life and helped me see that life was always worth living.
Lucy and I would take long walks together quite often, just as she had done with Dad on so many occasions. We would escape to Rentschler Park near our home and, surrounded by the beautiful natural setting that my Dad had loved so much, we were able to find peace and joy, even if only for a few moments. I would let Lucy off the leash in the soccer fields and toss a Frisbee over and over and over again until she grew too weary to continue. Then, I would sit next to her in the summer-scorched grass, petting her gently as she would pant and slurp water.
On other days, I would let Lucy hop up into the passenger seat of my car and we would take a drive together. Lucy really enjoyed driving around town, and her excitement created smiles and laughter in neighboring vehicles as she sat calmly next to me in the car with her seatbelt on. I would make a conscious effort to go through drive-thrus with Lucy to show her off to anyone who would remark about what a cute pup she was. She was cute—she deserved the adoration!
And during most evenings, a long game of fetch or a bottle-rope-tugging battle in the backyard were enough to distract me from the pain of losing Dad. Lucy loved playing, and Mom and I loved watching her. It reminded us of the simplicity and joy that life provided. It reminded us of easier times when Dad was still alive and full of happiness. It reminded us how much he enjoyed life. It reminded us how much we loved him.
When you lose a loved one—to suicide or any other mechanism of death—there are lots of unpredictable emotional storms. In the months after losing Dad, I found myself suffering through a lot of those unpredictable and uncontrollable moments. Randomly, I would find myself suffering from flashbacks of Dad’s death that would hijack my mind. I would immediately retreat to the terror of finding out what had happened, and the feelings of loss—the feelings of having Dad’s life stolen away—would overcome me. As I would ruminate on these thoughts, I would begin to cry. That crying would well into sobbing, and before I would know it, I was deeply enmeshed within the throes of a full-blown fit. Sometimes, the storm would pass quickly. Other times, it might continue for hours into the night.
But no matter how long or short the attack, Lucy was always there when I needed her.
It’s hard to describe, but in those moments, Lucy would nervously saunter up to my side when she knew I was hurting. It was like she understood that she needed to be by my side. And that’s what she would do. She would hop on the couch and lay her head in my lap. She would leave all her toys (and boy did she love toys) to just lay near me. I would gently pat her head or her back, and slowly, her presence would help me escape from that immediate terror. She did more for me in those moments than I could ever tell her. Lucy showed me what it meant to be “man’s best friend.”
Whether she was playing, barking, frolicking, doing silly things, or simply sitting next to us, Lucy provided a steady companionship that helped all of us grieve. For me, Lucy provided stability. Her never-ceasing presence was a constant reminder of God’s love in the midst of difficult, turbulent times. It was an ever-present reminder that even dark days, the light finds a way to shine through.
I had no idea how quickly that light could be snuffed out.
Shortly after beginning my job at the Oxford Campus, about a year removed from Dad’s death, I felt my phone vibrating. I saw my Grandpa’s name flash across the screen, and I nonchalantly answered his call. Grandpa and I talked regularly, so his call didn’t seem out of the ordinary.
Everything I thought I knew about ordinary vanished in that moment.
“Ty,” Grandpa said. “I need to tell you something.”
I immediately knew this was bad. Grandpa was speaking in the same voice I had heard him use about a year earlier when he told me that Dad was gone. My chest tightened. My palms and forehead began to sweat. I started having flashbacks to that awful July morning, and I worried that something just as bad had happened again.
“I don’t really know how to tell you this,” he said with a boding despair, “but Lucy died.”
“What?” I said with controlled shock. “What do you mean she’s dead? What happened?”
Grandpa then began to tell me the horrible story of what had happened. Dad had always groomed our family dogs, but when he passed away, Mom had to begin taking Lucy to the groomers. Neither one of us were prepared to groom a dog, and Mom had no choice. She tried a few groomers in the area, and one day, I spotted a groomer on my way home from work called Ruff 2 Fluff. They were located in Liberty Township, and they had a number of signs advertising their services. I told Mom about the groomer and mentioned that she should try taking Lucy there.
Like she had done a few times before, Mom took Lucy to Ruff 2 Fluff for her somewhat-monthly haircut. Lucy had been to that groomer a few times, and although we had minor concerns about the attitude of her groomer, we still trusted them with our precious family pet. We shouldn’t have. On that day, Lucy’s grooming appointment had turned into an unnecessary disaster. The groomer—a negligent, inattentive individual named JJ—had tied Lucy to the grooming table. Like most dogs, Lucy was nervous and full of anxiety when she had to go to the groomer’s, just like humans often grow anxious when they have to go to a doctor’s appointment. At some point during the appointment, JJ neglected his responsibility to care for our dog, our family pet. He walked away from the table that Lucy was leashed to and she jumped, fatally injuring her neck. According to the groomer and the business owner, neither of whom deserve my trust, both tried to resuscitate her but were unsuccessful. They rushed Lucy to a nearby animal hospital, but there was nothing they could do to save her life. She was gone. The pet that my deceased Father had brought home to brighten our family, the four-legged friend that had been by our side since losing Dad, had passed. Lucy was only three years old—full of life, and full of love that my family desperately needed.
Grandpa grew more and more emotional as he told me what had happened. Even in the midst of my own loss, my heart broke for him. This was the second time in under a year that my Grandpa had needed to deliver devastating news to Mom and me. At the same time, I knew how much he was hurting in that moment as well. Grandpa had loved Lucy just as much as any of us. Oftentimes, he would come out to our house in the middle of the day when Mom was away at work just to spend a few hours playing with Lucy. My Grandpa is a strong man, but even the strongest of men have deep and important feelings of love and loss. I wished he didn’t have to be the bearer of awful news again, but he did it with a compassion and directness that I’ll always appreciate.
I shut my office door as Grandpa continued to try and explain the inexplicable. I ran my hand across my clammy forehead, trying to get my brain to process this awful news. After hanging up with Grandpa, I sat in my office and began to cry. Tears slowly streamed down my face as I tried to make sense of this heartache. Immediately, I began to reflect on the bigness of the situation. I called out to God pretty quickly. “Isn’t it enough that I’ve lost my Dad?” I questioned. “Now our dog? Is it ever going to stop?”
Weakly, I gathered my things and told my colleague at our front desk that I would need to leave for the day. I explained what happened, hopped in my car, and drove towards the animal hospital in Trenton. The drive was a silent, horrible experience where I kept trying to convince myself that my world was not real. I told myself that I would get to the hospital, and there’d be a miracle. Lucy would be there, tail wagging, ready to greet me. It was hard for me to believe the spunky dog I had just seen was now lifeless. I would escape the thought for a few seconds, and then the pain would immediately re-invade.
It felt like it took a few hours to make a twenty minute drive. When I arrived at the animal hospital, I could feel the sense of dread from the folks who worked there. They led me back to a private room, and I saw my Mom and Grandpa gathered in the corner, teary-eyed and full of dread. Mom walked to me, sobbing, and threw her arms around my neck. We both cried and tried to console one another, but there was just nothing we could say or do to make the other feel any better. This situation was bad, and as we had learned from Dad’s death that there were no shortcuts through grief.
Then, Mom turned, and I saw her. Lucy was lying on a nearby medical table, void of the spirited life that had made her so special.
I broke down. I walked over to her slowly, as if I could somehow avoid the inevitable sorrow that lay ahead. My hands were shaking, but I slowly stroked Lucy’s side. Lucy had always loved petting, but there was no response this time. My pain began to overwhelm me. I was fully of misery and sorrow that I can’t even articulate. The longer I saw her laying there lifeless, the more uncontrollable my sadness became. I spent a few minutes there next to Lucy, until I knew it was time to say goodbye forever.
I spoke to Lucy in that moment, and I told her how much I loved her. I told her how thankful I was that she had come into our lives. I thanked her for helping me during all of those difficult days after losing Dad. I told her how she had helped me get through so much, and that I couldn’t have done it without her. I apologized for my initial stubbornness when she came home as a pup. I told her how much I had enjoyed playing fetch with her, taking her on walks, and carrying her around the house. I told her that I wasn’t mad about her ripping my dress pants any longer. I told her how much I would miss her, and that life wouldn’t have the same brightness without her. I told her how much I loved her, and how I was sorry that I hadn’t protected her.
I pulled myself up from the table and walked out of the room, nauseous and completely overtaken by the emotion of the moment. I drove home to a darkened bedroom, and found myself reliving the nightmare of the past few hours.
I couldn’t believe she was gone.
Over the next few days, my grief took many different forms. Ultimately, I found myself in a deep depression—over losing Dad, and over losing Lucy. Every day was different and full of completely different emotions, but sadness was always at the root of it.
That sadness would often give way to anger. Lucy’s death was completely avoidable and unnecessary. A groomer that we had trusted—a groomer who knew the despair of our family situation—had cared so little about our family and our pet that he let her die as a result of his negligence. As you might imagine, the story of Lucy’s death attracted the attention of a local news station. Mom and I had agreed to talk with the reporter, mainly because we wanted to spread the word about this business’ carelessness to prevent a similar situation for other families. The callous, irresponsible, half-hearted apology from the business owner, Karen Eikens, complicated our grief even more. To this day, I don’t think she truly understands the pain she caused our family. To our dismay, we found out that Lucy wasn’t the first animal to die or be injured after visiting Ruff 2 Fluff. It’s clear that this business was soulless and callous when it came to understanding the trust their customers gave them.
Over the next few weeks, my anger would amplify as I drove by the groomer’s business and saw them still operating as if a precious family pet had not died in their care. Believe it or not, this business is still open and operating despite my attempts to spread the word about their carelessness. I’ll never quit trying to tell people about what happened to our dear, sweet Lucy. I feel like I owe that much to Lucy and her memory. It angers me that the business is still open. Deep down, I hope the owner of Ruff 2 Fluff reads my words and understands the severity of the pain she caused to my family. I’m not a vengeful person, but the lack of sympathy she showed to my family after losing Lucy scarred me and my entire family in ways I can’t describe. It complicated our grief and made the grieving process even more difficult than it already was. I hope Mrs. Eikens realizes the heartache she is directly responsible for, and although I’ve long since forgiven her for Lucy’s death and her cold insincerity after the incident, I’ll never stop doing everything I can to try and redeem Lucy’s death by spreading the word about her business’ negligence.
That anger consumed me early on, but it’s been easier to control as time has passed. Over time, that anger has been replaced with a love and appreciation for Lucy and the role she played in helping our family heal after losing Dad.
Sometimes, the sadness of losing her hits in unexpected ways.
Like when I’m eating licorice.
Those of you who know me well know that I’m quite the candy fanatic. I can down a box of Sour Patch Kids in 47 seconds flat. I’m constantly popping peppermints, and those little tiny boxes of Nerds are definitely my kryptonite. But I’ve always loved a good Twizzler.
Twizzlers are one of my favorites, and my Mom always knew this. Being a gracious and loving mother, Mom would always keep a bag of Twizzlers in a bowl on our family room coffee table. When I came home or when I was laying on the couch, I would reach into that bowl and grab a few sticks of licorice. It was always a delicious treat, and a bad habit I keep up with to this day.
Lucy always had the tendency to beg for human food, and one day I made the mistake of giving her a Twizzler of her own. Apparently, licorice addictions are contagious because Lucy went nuts. After downing that first Twizzler, she jumped onto the couch and tried to grab the remaining pieces of licorice that I had in my hand! I didn’t know dogs liked licorice—but Lucy loved it. Every time I had a Twizzler, I had to make sure that Lucy got one too.
Lucy’s addiction was so bad that her ears were even attuned to the candy. If Lucy was in another room of our house, all I had to do was give the Twizzler bag a slight touch. The crinkly plastic would crunch a bit, and before I knew it, Lucy was barreling down the stairs and jumping onto my lap. Lucy could even be asleep in my parents’ bedroom, and her ears would perk up at the slightest touch of the licorice bag. It was hilarious, and as a result, she often got to eat way more licorice than any dog ever should.
Just a few months ago, Paige and I visited a new retro candy store in Hamilton. I was in heaven for the fifteen minutes we spent perusing all of the amazing candy selections. Chocolate covered peanuts. Single-flavored gummy bears in a multitude of options. Sour belts. And my all-time favorite: Red Licorice Scottie Dogs.
I bought a pound of the licorice dogs (and a few other goodies, of course), and the second Paige and I got into the truck, I opened the bags and started chowing down. I tasted the licorice, and it brought back all the memories of Lucy and how funny it was to watch her eat licorice. I began recounting the story to Paige, and before I knew it, I was flashing back to the moment I lost her. All of the sadness and despair of her death was as real then as it was on the day I lost her—all because of a piece of licorice that reminded me of her.
A great dog has an unbelievable impact on your life—and when they’re gone, the pain lingers for a long, long time.
I grieve that dog every single day. She’s been gone for four years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over losing her. I don’t know that I ever will.
When I lost Lucy that day, I also lost one of the last, living, tangible pieces of my Father. That’s what made her death so tragic and heart-wrenching. That’s what made the callousness and thoughtlessness of the Ruff 2 Fluff owner even more painful. My Dad had been the one to bring Lucy into our lives. My Dad had trained her and loved her and instilled many of his own unique quirks and personality traits into her. Dad had taught her how to play and how to catch a Frisbee, and after he died, a piece of him lived on through her. I think that was why it was so wonderful to be consoled by her. Because she reminded me of Dad, it was almost like he was there with me, telling me that it was okay. Telling me that I would get through his death. Telling me that he still loved me.
Over time, I began to think more about the happy moments than the day I lost her. Although I never forgot—and likely never will forget—the awful pain of losing her, I began to think of that less and started to think of her love more. Even though she wasn’t there to help us in the same way she did in the year after Dad’s death, she was always there. And every time I see a Frisbee or find a tennis ball, I think of her.
Mom eventually got a new dog—another Airedale Terrier named Sadie—who has been a wonderful addition to our family. She’ll never be able to replace Lucy, but she has her own unique spunk and character (and tendency to want to nip at you) that brings a great dose of happiness to our lives.
But even still, I think of Lucy. Even still, I think of how lucky we were to have her in our life.
On occasion, I’ll put on that navy blue, pinstriped suit that Lucy bit a hole in…although I’ve got to squeeze into those pants with a lot more difficulty than ever before (maybe it’s the licorice?!). When I eventually stuff myself into that suit, I’ll look down at the left thigh and see a bit of a disruption in one of the light pinstripes. There’s a gap in that stripe with a bunch of navy-blue threading that one of our family friends sewed in as an attempt to repair the hole. It’s not a perfect fix, but enough to not be noticeable. It reminds me that life isn’t perfect, but sometimes the imperfections and disasters can blossom into beautiful memories. When I wear that suit, I often run my hands over that patch of thread and think happily of Lucy. I think about how much I loved her—I think about how much I still do.
I’ll always love Lucy—because she loved us all when we needed it most.
Dad, I need to tell you that I’m sorry and that I’m thankful. I’m sorry that I acted so stubborn when you chose to bring Lucy into our family. I’m sorry that I acted like a “little jerk” (your words…and mine) when you were just doing what was best for us. Ultimately, I’m so grateful that you chose Lucy. I’m grateful that you raised her and trained her and taught her to be a fun, family dog. We had no idea how much we were going to need her fun-loving, thoughtful companionship after losing her. In a way, I feel like Lucy carried on so many of your personality traits after you were gone. She was a constant reminder of the zest and excitement you had for life. She was there to help us grieve in so many ways after you left us. I think Lucy was your angel here on Earth for us. I think that she was your way of telling us that life, even when it’s painful, can still have a lot of joy and happiness. Losing her was like losing you all over again. It was as if another piece of you—a very important piece—was gone forever. But Dad, I know that we will never lose you entirely. Your memory will always live on in our hearts and in our minds because you made such an indelible mark on all of us. Dad, thank you for Lucy. Thank you for teaching her to love us when we needed it most. Although I miss you both dearly, I hope that you are together again in heaven—and I hope there are plenty of Frisbees to toss. You deserve paradise, Dad. You deserve the greatest things that God can offer, and I can’t wait to experience that joy alongside you. Until that day where you and I are together again in a life that knows no end, seeya Bub.
“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:24-25 (NIV)