Prior to the age of 11, my best friend was Ginger. Our family was never very outgoing and social, so we kept to ourselves. I had some friends from school and some from church. However, there were very few people I saw outside of school or church. In late 1987, my brother was diagnosed with cancer so my family spent much time at the hospital.
During those months, everyone would be at Riley Hospital from early in the morning until late in the evening. I don’t know how many evenings I spent alone that year, but I feel like it was a lot. Not wanting me to miss the school that Mike was missing, mom and dad always made arrangements for me. (Lisa was 3 so school wasn’t a concern–she went with them.) Someone would be at the house when I left, and they hid a key so I could get back in if I was the first home. I typically arrived home from school around 4pm and the family returned between 6 and 8. This left me at home alone for 2-4 hours a day.
Since I spent so much time alone, I learned (I was 11 at the time.) to occupy myself. The rule were clear. “Stay in the house. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t open the door.” So, I was left with only a few of my hobbies: video games, hot wheels, Legos and of course Ginger. I think it was at this time that I learned to cook, laundry, etc. The details are fuzzy for me, because my most vivid memories all include Ginger. Many nights I would crawl behind our recliner and curl up with Ginger. (This was her favorite spot in the house to sleep.) By this time, Ginger’s health had started to fail, so she wasn’t as active.
On many of these lonely nights, I would spent a lot of time resting with her. I’d hold her head and pet her, telling her that everything would be OK. I also spent a lot of time telling her about my day, etc. If you’ve ever been around dogs, you know that they can in fact speak to us. Ginger might not have used words, but I know that this time spent together was good for her too. You see, we learned in December that congenital hip dysplasia had crept in and that the time was near.
On January 11, 1988, dad sat down with me and Ginger and told me that Ginger was going to be put to sleep the next day. I was crushed! The next morning, as I left for school, I said my goodbyes to one of my very best friends. Dad didn’t think it would be in my best interest for me to go with her. So, at around lunchtime that next day, my grandparents picked her up and took her to the vet. I never saw her again.
My time with her, especially that last several months, have stayed with me forever. Dogs have a way of helping us through those stressful times. There are even studies that pets can help with chronic migraine. I don’t know about that, but I do know that they are a amazing at stress relief. They can’t “talk”, but they always want to be with us and comfort us. I can always tell when my dogs are smiling. Each of them has a unique personality. Ginger was the protector. Lady Dee was crazy. Clyde was slothy. Duke was a silent protector and comforter. Baby was…well, a baby. Buddy is a buddy to all. Holly is the child–always playing!
In the end, that year was very difficult for me–not just because of the cancer–but Ginger made it much more bearable. Later, read about my 4th grade experiences–another in a string of life-changing events.