I have some sad news, friends. My family’s beloved golden retriever, Jozi, has passed away. Though there seems to be some discrepancy over whether Jozi was 14 or 15 years old, what we are certain of is that Jozi lived a long and very happy life. Camp dogs really are the luckiest creatures on earth, and my family has often joked that if reincarnation turns out to be an option, we’d all sure love to come back as a camp dog; with a lake to swim in, nearly 500 acres to roam and patrol, and around 300 people each summer who give lots of attention to animals, what could possibly be better?
Jozi was sick for a long time, and we had all been preparing ourselves for this event for the last year or so. And when I visited camp in early June, I made sure to spend lots of time with Jozi, lying with her on the floor and telling her that I loved her. Somehow, Jozi found the strength to rally these last few months and had a fantastic final summer. She went outside all day for most days, got in the lake a few times, and enjoyed eating all the bacon scraps she could handle by hanging out behind the kitchen where our caretaker, Russ, would sit with her during meals. The campers were all so tender and careful with Jozi, recognizing that by this time she could neither hear nor see well. Losing a pet–especially one as sweet as Jozi–is always hard, but of course the pain is softened by the knowledge that Jozi lived a really cushy life up until her last days, and that it very clearly was her time to go.
I was on my way out the door to work when my mom called. She had already prepared me with the news of Jozi’s rapid decline the day before, and we’d agreed that since Jozi had suddenly gotten to a point where she could no longer stand on her legs or enjoy food, it was time to do the kind and humane thing by putting her to sleep. So when my phone rang and “mom” popped up on the screen’s caller ID, my heart sank. I knew Jozi was gone. Jozi died peacefully in the vet’s office with my mom and Dylan by her side, petting her and telling her how much we all loved her.
Dylan’s own beloved dog, Jimmy, passed away a little over a year ago, and the loss of both family dogs has been extra sad because Jimmy and Jozi were so well-loved by my father. In fact, only one family dog who knew my father remains–our sweet but not very bright collie, Sophie. Saying goodbye to the animals my father loved and cared for inevitably brings up emotions and memories of losing my father himself.
I cried the entire 25-minute commute to work, wondering why I was so upset when I’d been so well-prepared for Jozi’s death. Still, I knew why this loss was so difficult; really, loss of any kind seems to always stir up the grief pot for me. I found a great parking spot–much closer to my building than what I usually find–and I straightened out the tires of my car behind a weathered pick-up truck. I looked at the bumper, about to turn the engine off, and froze. There was a bumper sticker on the truck in front of me that read, “I’m not sleeping…I’m just Sonoran.” I couldn’t believe it. Perhaps I was looking for a sign and in doing so made myself an easy target, but this was a pretty solid sign of my father’s presence if ever there were one. “I’m not sleeping…I’m just Sonoran.” is a classic and oft-seen bumper sticker put out by an outdoor gear store called the Summit Hut, located in Tucson. My dad loved the Summit Hut, and had this very sticker on the bumper of his beloved CJ-5 Jeep throughout the years my family lived in Tucson. He thought it was absolutely hilarious.
It was too much to be a coincidence. Surely my father had some hand in this—it just seems like something he would do. I dried my tears on the sleeve of my t-shirt, stood up, and locked my car. Walking through the streets of downtown Seattle to get to work that morning, I could feel my father’s presence, reminding me to laugh through my tears and celebrate as I mourn, to remember all the good things about having Jozi in my family’s life.
It’s my birthday tomorrow and while I’m very eager to say goodbye to what has not been the best or happiest year of my life, I am excited to get on with the next one. Things are good in my life these days; I have a great job, lots of friends, and a satisfying and fulfilling creative writing career. Perhaps most importantly, I’m enjoying a renewed and strengthened sense of self-sufficiency and independence. In fact, I’d likely prefer to let this birthday day pass in the usual heap of phone calls and text messages, enjoying some quality alone time—especially in light of several recent melancholic events. However, I’ve got friends in town and plans to carry out, and hopefully some cake to stuff my face with.
This is how Dad would have done it and, like him, I know I’ve got it in me to acknowledge my sadness before moving past it in order to enjoy the pleasure of another birthday and another chance to laugh with the people who love me. Tomorrow when I head out for drinks with my friends, I plan to raise a glass up to the heavens in salute to Dad and Jozi, together again now. I imagine dad laughing to the silly “Sonoran” pun, slapping his knee and nodding back down at me in approval.