I have always been leery of stray dogs. They might have diseases like rabies or mange and, on top of that, you never know when someone might show up and claim them.
But when I saw Caleb playing with this dog I didn't have the heart to object. It was the first time in months that I had heard him really laugh. Sure, he had giggled or chuckled a bit, but Caleb has a laughter that can fill an entire house. Caleb's laugh usually captures everyone around, forcing at least a smile from even the most stoic individuals. And on this day, that laugh was back.
It was our first real attempt at a family outing in well over a year. Granted, we were only thirty minutes from the house, having a picnic at the park by the lake, but it was an intentional change from days spent at the hospital or sitting around the house. I wasn’t so sure about the idea, but Lynn had insisted that we do something. “It will be good for all of us,” she insisted.
At the moment I was sitting in a lawn chair staring at the lake. Lynn was lying on a blanket reading a book. I couldn’t make myself read any more. In fact, there were very few things I found interesting these days. The images of Jordan lying in that hospital bed, and later in that casket, had left me feeling numb.
When Jordan first began chemotherapy I was optimistic - certain that he would get better. The doctors had hinted that it was a long shot, but I had convinced myself that Jordan would survive. I didn’t give up my hope until I watched them disconnect the tubes and turn off the machines leaving his lifeless body lying there in silence.
But for some reason I couldn’t cry. Perhaps because I felt that I needed to be strong. Lynn cried nonstop for days. Caleb, at six years old, was obviously confused. Someone had to take care of the details. The next several days were filled with arrangements and visits from friends and family.
The weeks after that had been the hardest as life tried to resume some semblance of normalcy. I started back to work. Caleb went back to school. Lynn cried less after a while. But life could never be normal again. It felt like a part of our family had been ripped from us, leaving a gaping wound.
And if wounds can bind people together then perhaps that is what bound me to this dog. Watching him and Caleb chase each other around the park, I noticed the dog’s strange gait. When they stopped the reason became obvious - the dog only had three legs. Where his fourth leg had been was a noticeable wound that had long since healed.
But this didn’t slow him down. He chased Caleb from the lake shore to the rest rooms and back over and over again. I couldn’t help but smile watching them wrestle in the grass, Caleb laughing with the joy that accompanies a new friendship.
I must have closed my eyes for a bit because I was startled when Caleb climbed into my lap. “We’re tired, Daddy,” he said as he leaned his head on my shoulder. He smelled like a little boy that had been running and playing. I rubbed the back of his head to help him drift off to sleep but was interrupted by the dog climbing into my lap as well.
I’m not much of an animal person and was about to brush him away when I noticed that he laid his head on Caleb’s back. Caleb looked up at me with a big smile on his face. “This is Frankie. He’s my friend.” With that he put his head back down to rest.
By this time Lynn had put her book down and was sleeping. So here I was sitting in a lawn chair holding my son with a medium sized dog sitting in front of me with one paw on my leg and his head on Caleb’s back.
I guess I realized what I had known all along. Life would never be the same, but it would go on. Missing Jordan was now a part of my life. Our family would heal, but Jordan’s absence would be there forever.