How Do You Say Goodbye To A Friend?
Her head, warm to my touch, rested heavy in my hands. Her eyes struggled to focus on mine as she slowly slipped away. I leaned forward so that my forehead could touch hers and whispered, “I’m sorry” through my tears. Her shallow breaths became silent and in that moment, I knew she was gone.
My trusty Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Cheyenne, left our family on a cool Monday October morning under the cold and sterile lights at the veterinarians office. She left us not by her choice, but by the harsh reality of life that demands that we all must leave our loved ones here on earth eventually. She was nineteen days from her fourteenth birthday. She tried to live, but her body would not allow it. Her mind was sharp and her desire to please me stirred within her even to the end. She struggled to squirm towards my lap as she lay helplessly on the cold and sterile floor, paralyzed by old age as the doctor kneeled down to inject her with fluid that would ultimately claim her life and release her soul to the heavens.
Alia and I brought Cheyenne home on a cold December day, fourteen years ago, before we were even married. Cheyenne was the first to greet us home after our wedding. She eagerly smelled Ashley when we brought her home from the hospital when she was born. She curiously inspected my twin sons when they joined our family.
She ran many miles with me on endless trails. She sat quietly on the floor as we opened gifts at Christmas. She was always close by during joyous family times and was quick to lick my hand during the low points in my life. She accepted my hugs of joy and her fur captured my tears during times of sadness. Through it all, she was an unwavering and loyal friend that would be the first to greet me when I came home late at night, tired and frustrated.
We live life in seasons and with each passing season, there is a sadness that tugs at our hearts as we realize that something important has come to an end. Fourteen years Cheyenne stood by me, never wavering in her love, but now she is gone and I must let her go, just like I must continue to do with many things in my life as time ruthlessly passes uncaring and cold. Friends come and go and life goes on, in spite of the pain that comes with saying goodbye.
So how do we say goodbye to a friend, especially to one that has become so much a part of our life? I don’t think we do. Relationships change us. They alter our path permanently and is something we should celebrate. God brings relationships in our lives that bolster and improve us. Instead of mourning the loss, we should celebrate how a relationship made us better.
Cheyenne trained Alia and I to care for something important to us. She kept our hearts close to home and helped us to form a bond as a family in the beginning and continued to strengthen that bond with each new challenge. She taught our family that love hurts, but is a price that we can easily pay for the memories and the lifelong impact that we gain from the love of a friend, especially a furry one that embodies the true meaning of “unconditional love”. She will be missed and never forgotten.
I carefully wrapped her lifeless body with a blanket so that only her head was exposed. The florescent lights flooded her image revealing the gray and brown fur around her chocolate nose. She looked peaceful and pain free, like she was in a deep and dream laden slumber. I knelt down and held her head in my hands one more time. I kissed her warm head and then gently placed it back on the hard floor. I turned back towards her so I could soak in her image one last time before I turned away and let go of that season of my life for good. The tears flowed freely and the pain was sharp all day as I mourned the loss of my friend.
The next morning I slowly pulled myself out from the warm and protective covers of my bed, not sure if I was truly ready to face my life without my friend. As my feet hit the floor, I was flooded with images of Cheyenne running free in the golden fields of Heaven and with that image I felt a tug of joy, because I became comforted knowing that Cheyenne will probably be the first to greet me when I cross that threshold someday myself. So how do you say goodbye to a friend? You don’t, you simply say, “I will see you soon.” And with that, I’m at peace.