What are you thankful for?

A photo of a chocolate lab puppy

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on November 28th, 2019.

Me? Family, good friends, dogs, meaningful work, good food (especially cinnamon buns!), AND a belief in a higher power. This year my gratitude runs extra deep. Let me tell you a Thanksgiving story.

Almost exactly 14 years ago we decided to get our first dog. Our kids were nine and six at the time, and my husband and I thought that that would be a great age. We surprised them by taking them for a drive, saying we were going to a friend’s house, when really we were going to visit a breeder. I will never forget showing up at this house in New Jersey, going downstairs to a room full of puppies, and seeing the expression on my kids’ faces when they figured out what was happening. It was the look of pure joy. We named our new dog Sunnie, and we picked her up for good a few weeks later. For thirteen and a half years she was the love of our lives. Truly, Sunnie was the best part of every day.

Earlier this year we found out that she had cancer. It was so bad that there was nothing we could do, and in hearing that our hearts were broken. We got the news just before our son’s graduation, and we prayed that she would be okay until he could return home. She was. Amongst all the sadness we remembered that Sunnie was almost fourteen, which is a wonderfully long life for a dog, especially for a lab. We also remembered that she not only lived through our daughter’s graduation from high school, but her gap year before college as well. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if Sunnie had lived a little longer and Allie would have had to say goodbye to a sick dog, her sick dog, and head off for university where it was supposed to be exciting and joyful.

At the end we were all by her side. The cancer had taken over her body and her stomach had become distended with fluid. Although we had drained it once, the process was so hard. We had to take her to the vet, and throughout the whole process she looked at us as if to say, enough. Let me go. But we couldn’t. She was ready, but we were not. A few days later her stomach had refilled, and so we made a plan. On her last day we spent every second at her side. Allie made her a peanut butter cake, which despite her sickness she ate. She was, after all, a lab. When the vet showed up we picked a spot in our front yard and we surrounded her, petting her, blanketing her with our tears, and softly whispered we love you as she drifted off. Brutal cannot describe it. No words can describe it. No words can describe the heartache of loss or grief. But there is gratitude.

If you have read a prior post, you will know that I have a thing for the numbers 1111. I already wrote that story, but for me, when I see them show up, which is often, they are a reminder to give thanks and have faith that things will work out. To know that the love we have for others who have passed, and the love they had for us, is a force that transcends space and time. There were a lot of 1111s that showed up around Sunnie’s death, and they reminded me that despite the grief, one day we would be together again. Pain and peace, for me, were holding hands.

It was a few months later that talk of a new puppy started to occur. My husband wanted one, and the idea was to get a chocolate lab and name her Sadie after my grandmother who died a few years ago at the age of 97. It was my grandma, the original Sadie, who was particularly connected to my feelings around 1111. The validation came one day a couple of months ago in New York City when we were dropping my daughter off for school. Greg and I decided to go for a run, separately, and meet up at a Hungarian pastry shop for coffee post workout. It was 10:00 am, and we were going to meet at 11:00 am. It turned out that the pastry shop was located at 111th street and Broadway. As we were standing there, I noticed that we were standing at 111th street at 11am, and Greg said that it would be funny if a chocolate lab named Sadie showed up. Not more than a minute later a man walked by with a chocolate lab. Stunned, I stopped him and asked if her name was Sadie. It was not. It was almost a sign. And then, and I swear to you on a stack of Bibles that this is true, not a minute later another man walked by with two dogs on a leash and said, “Come on Sadie.” The time was 11:11am. Needless to say, we were destined to get a chocolate lab puppy named Sadie.

We left the idea hanging for the next couple of months, but then Greg started looking. “What if we could find a puppy in time for Thanksgiving? The kids would both be home, they would have time to bond with her through the holiday season. What if?” I was not really ready, but he was, and a heartbeat later he had found a litter that would be ready at the perfect time. We drove south for about an hour, and sure enough, there was a beautiful lab who had given birth to 11 puppies, all chocolate. Greg was insistent on a girl, of which there were two. Both were beautiful, and so we picked one. We immediately called her Sadie, and to our surprise, the breeder said, “That’s interesting. Two of her ancestors are named Sadie, Sadie the Duck Hunter, and Sadie the Shady Lady.” We put down a deposit on the spot.

Wait, there is more. We were due to pick her up last Wednesday, because I had a quick trip to see a friend and was returning on Tuesday night. However, Greg called on Monday to say that he was going early, as there was going to be a big snowstorm. I was sad to not be there, but I understood. That night I was out with my friend in New Orleans on Frenchman Street, and sitting there, in front of a shuttered up store front, was a man named Joe, with his typewriter, doing live poetry. The sign said “Live Poetry. Tell me a story. I’ll write a poem. If you like the poem pay what you want.” I told him my story. About Sunnie being the light of our life and dying. About getting a new puppy and naming her Sadie after my grandmother who was my angel. About I felt mixed about it as I was still grieving Sunnie so much. And I told him the 1111 thing at the nudging of my friend. Really that was about it. We left him for about 20 minutes and this is what he typed.

my sunny day sinks winked below horizon. turned glowed in its last gift to sets its farewell to the daffodils it cast before my mornings. i had lost my star again.

dark where flashing clocks alliterate the night’s fall – 11:11 like four straight branches of a family grand. and the tree’s so great it stretches past all notion of who passes on and who still lasts for now.

sure as roux turns blonde to chocolate, the shade has re-birthed light again pawing up to greet us, still brown from the ground, and wagging

the love baton’d on down and laps up past and future gone and here, only names and numbers what’s under them and beats in us lives on.

for jacki 11-17-19 (note for 1111s in that) frenchman st jh

So what I am thankful for this year in particular? For having almost 14 years with the most perfect dog a family could ever ask for. For our new chocolate lab puppy, Sadie, to pour our homeless love in to. For my family, together, today. All four of us of a family grand. For a home to nest in and good food to eat. For my two stars in the night sky, grandma Sadie and Sunnie, who will continue to remind me with every 1111 I see that there is a mystical force in the universe, and to trust that indeed everything will be okay. For Joe, a poet on Frenchman Street, for writing a poem that will be framed with the paw prints of Sunnie and Sadie, and will forever capture this special time as a family.

Wishing you all a very blessed Thanksgiving and a joyous holiday season.

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** As a footnote that connects my prior post on my grandmother to this one. The night before we said goodbye to Sunnie I went to sleep with her at my bedside, praying for my grandmother to watch over her as she leaves this world. It gave me peace as I feel asleep. I woke at 1:11am.

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