Dad’s Right Knee

Dad’s Right Knee

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Dad’s Right Knee

We had gathered from our distant homes to be with my mother as she kept her heartrending watch at my father’s bedside. He had suffered a series of strokes at Thanksgiving, lingered through the holidays and was loosening his tenuous hold on life as the New Year dawned. The stages of our grief had been punctuated by moves from a hopeful bed in the ICU, to a bargained-for stay in a long-term ward, and a final spiral downward to the cold, cruel equations of a move to hospice. Dad’s strong body had become a skeletal frame, silent and unmoving, as his essence fled. His stroke-destroyed and disintegrating brain had left him flaccid and limp.

There had always been a dog in my parents’ hearts and home; the one at the time was an elderly golden retriever named Randy. We used to call him “Dad’s right knee” and marvel at the precision and military bearing of those two impressive males as they marched their deliberate path around the neighborhood. Dad always walked with one glove on; Randy proudly carried the other one for him. After the walk, Dad would hold his hand out and Randy would return the glove to him and be rewarded with a stroke on his golden forehead. His immense, feathered plume of a tail swept grandly back and forth as his eyes radiated love.

Randy’s laundry-sized basket of toys sat next to my father’s chair, and each evening Randy would lovingly place each treasure in his mouth and repeatedly offer them to my father to be admired. By bedtime, both the toys and my father’s lap were liberally bedewed with saliva. My father called it liquid diamonds, laughingly proclaiming that Randy was giving him jewelry again.

When Randy developed arthritis and could no longer climb into the van for trips around town, my father built him a ramp and carpeted it to match the van’s interior. He installed a bed in the back with a built-in water bowl and they resumed their jaunts. Randy had special water in the refrigerator waiting for those trips. “Car water” my father called it. Pity the visitor who accidentally tried to drink any of Randy’s water; he was soon set straight by vigorous complaints from both Randy and Dad.

After my father’s stroke we took turns sitting in Dad’s chair, trying to interest Randy in his toys. But he just fixed his eyes on us, mutely demanding to know where Dad was. A dog who had always taken an avid interest in all food, his rotund form was melting from round to slender as he waited for his person to return. His fire-kissed hair carpeted the floor and sunset was in his eyes. Inconsolable and stolid in his grief, he was willing himself to death before our eyes. We kept promising Randy he could go see Dad, and he’d look at us as if to say, “When?” He missed Dad with every fiber of his being.

As the hospice allowed pet visits, we were determined that Dad and his right knee would be together again. The day Dad was moved to hospice, we coaxed a reluctant Randy away from the empty chair he guarded and loaded him into my parents’ van for the trip across town. Randy insisted on carrying my father’s glove in his mouth. After checking to see if Dad was in the van, he collapsed in the back and softly moaned. Even though I kept telling him we were going to see Dad, he just lay there and never even looked at his car water.

By the time we got to the hospice, the van’s dog bed was covered with grief-shed hair. It took all my powers of persuasion to get Randy to reluctantly leave the vehicle that smelled of his beloved master’s Old Spice aftershave for the illness-imbued odor of the hospice entryway. It was obvious he knew he was in death’s waiting room. Lagging behind, he dragged himself down the hall, head drooping and plume-like tail dragging.

As I turned the corner into the main hallway, the end of the leash froze behind me. Then a whimpering golden streak with upturned nose began dragging me rapidly up the corridor. Randy was heading for his master, his massive tail no longer dragging, but sweeping frantically from side to side. He lunged around the door and into my father’s room. I lost the leash and Randy headed immediately for the right side of the bed to rest his large head next to my father’s limp hand. He dropped the glove next to Dad’s hand and stood looking at the still form on the bed. I moved forward to take the glove and spare Randy the impossible wait for a caress that could never come again.

Suddenly, Dad’s heart monitor shrieked an alarm. My knees gave out, dropping me to a sprawl on the floor and I watched in amazement as my father’s long fingers twitched and moved, coming to rest on Randy’s head. Randy sighed deeply, happy once more.

Over the next few weeks, Randy’s daily visits held together the lingering remnants of Dad’s warm spirit. Every morning Randy would prance down the corridor carrying Dad’s glove and tenderly place it on the bed. Then resting his head next to Dad’s hand, he waited for the caress that never came again. The nurses commented that Dad rested easier with Randy beside him. In the evening, Randy would hesitantly accept the glove from us and then go home to guard it until the next day.

At the end, we gathered in a circle at Dad’s bedside and read the Prayers for the Sick. My mother’s strong faith held grief at bay, allowing only love to stay. My father’s last breath was accompanied by a deep, low moan from Randy. The family huddled together in misery and then reluctantly prepared to leave the room for the last time. Through tear-filled eyes, I saw Randy pick up Dad’s glove and carefully carry it out of the room without being asked.

As we walked down the hall, Randy’s eyes looked up and followed something only he could see as it vanished into the light. His tail wagged as he gazed, his silky golden head bobbing under an unseen caress.

Carol M. Chapman

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