He began as a promise.
When we left Michigan in 2004 to move to St. Louis so that my husband could begin his seminary studies, we left our golden retriever Mikey with my brother. She couldn’t live in the on-campus housing we were moving to; she couldn’t come with, so we said goodbye.
We comforted our sobbing children with a promise, “We’ll still get to see her.”
However, not long into our time in St. Louis, Mikey was hit by a car, and we lost her.
So, another promise: “When we finish seminary, we will adopt another golden.”
My husband finished seminary in 2008. We bought a house and moved in, traveled to Michigan for his ordination, took a family vacation, then returned to Missouri, and started looking for a dog. We contacted a golden retriever rescue in the greater St. Louis area and said we were looking for a puppy, preferably a female. They had a female, one of a litter of three, did we want to see them all?
When we arrived at the house where the puppies were being fostered, we found wall to wall goldens — in my memory there were about nine! The little blond girl we had come to see was rather rambunctious. She ran around the yard and bossed her brothers, one of whom was blond, the other red. We weren’t sure we were looking for her kind of energy. Instead, we were drawn to two others — an older golden named Bruno who plunked all 80+ pounds of himself on our son’s lap, licked his face and made him laugh and the little red brother who sat at our feet, looking up as though to say, “do you see what I’m dealing with here?’ We visited with the pack of goldens for about half an hour, and when we left, though we hated saying goodbye to Bruno, we knew the red boy would be ours.
A few days later, we picked up our little guy, who was just 4 months old at the time. They had been calling him Irish because he’d been born in March and had a red coat. He was crate trained and house trained, yet he allowed us to cradle him like a baby. We adored him from day one — he was instantly part of the family. It took us a few days, some poster board, and a ranked-choice voting system to settle on the same Chester Murphy.
Ches has been with us ever since. For close to 14 years, he cuddled with us on the couch, barked at the neighbors, ran with us, bore witness to our reality, and embodied unconditional love.
He saw our love for one another and for him, but he also witnessed a struggling family that not too many saw — one that had a lot to learn. In his early years, when he saw miscommunications, hurtful comments, silence, isolation, anger, yelling, sadness, tears, he stood right in the middle of it — watching, unafraid, moving in close.
He seemed to know who needed the most attention at any given moment. When one was assaulted and couldn’t tell the others, he climbed in her bed each night and kept her safe. When another got sick, he moved to her bed and kept watch. When one felt unlovable, he pressed his body in close. When one needed companionship, he willingly joined as they walked or ran for miles and miles. If one had been gone for a season, he met them upon return, tail wagging, ready to run and play. He was consistently loyal, loving, and accepting.
For almost 14 long years.
If you have followed this blog, you know that Chester has been a star from the start, mainly because, I have continued learning from him. When, we packed up and left St. Louis, Chester was teaching me how to feel about it. Since we’ve been back here in Michigan, he’s been by my side, showing me how to rest, reminding me of the importance of routine, and just recently, showing me his resilience when he was injured in a fall.
These last several weeks, he’s been showing us how to care for him. We’ve had to slow down, cancel some plans, adjust our routines, and even rearrange our space so that we could provide what he’s needed in his final days. And when it became obvious that these were indeed the most final of the final days, we gathered his people and watched as he showed us how to say goodbye, lying among us, letting us hold him, encouraging us to cry together, to sit together, to acknowledge, even out loud, all that he’s been through with us.
And now, the house is empty, although I swear, I just heard his toenails clicking on the hardwood floor. I keep looking for him, thinking it’s time to go outside, time to get a treat, time to cuddle up. When I realize, again, that he’s gone, my eyes fill, my throat aches, and I reach for the tissues.
I’m going to be sad for a while — really, really sad. We’ve lost a member of the family who loved us all so well, and we’ll never be the same. He taught us a lot, up to the very end.
Chester, you were a good, good boy.
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 1:25