11: Bryan’s Last Gift

11: Bryan’s Last Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Bryan’s Last Gift

We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment.

~George Eliot

It was a dreary March day, and the black clouds that emitted torrents of sideways blowing rain were nature’s commentary on the way I felt. As I sat in my big chair until late in the afternoon, the thunder boomed and brilliant displays of lightning occasionally lit up the living room. I fell into a deep sleep but was awakened by a huge thunderclap and the ringing of my doorbell.

Who could this be? I was annoyed at having to stir from such a peaceful sleep. I hoped it wasn’t one of the neighbors, inviting themselves over for small talk. Having always kept to myself, I didn’t know any of them very well. And now, after my stroke, was not the time to make new friends. I hated having to act polite as they yammered on about the weather, or their kids, or my health.

I made out a familiar silhouette at the doorway, and was pleasantly surprised to see it was my son, Bryan. I couldn’t get the door open fast enough. After my stroke I moved a bit slower, but he was uncharacteristically patient while standing at the doorway in the driving rain. Oddly, he hardly looked wet at all. He stood there smiling like a six-year-old with something to tell.

I opened the door to receive the biggest hug that I’d had in years, with all of the exuberance that had been absent since he reached his teens. No hug had ever felt so good!

I pulled him in and had him sit down. He said he would, but he had to go out and get something. In a flash he was back. Accompanying him was a small dog — not a puppy, but not an adult. It was a cute dog, kind of. As I’m not a dog person, dogs can only be so cute — they are, after all, only dogs!

“You know I don’t like dogs,” I said, protesting.

The dog looked at me, sniffed at my feet, and proceeded to sniff his way through the rest of my living room. I did not like the idea of a dog walking around my house, but if that’s what it took to have Bryan here for a while it was worth it.

Bryan and I talked and talked while the weather outside raged and the dog lay at our feet.

“What’s his name?” I asked as I ventured to pet the dog’s silky fur.

“It’s a she, and she doesn’t have a name yet — I was hoping you’d come up with a name.”

“Me? You know I don’t much care for dogs, let alone name one.”

“Let’s give her a good name,” Bryan said. He gave me the same look he did as a little boy whenever he really wanted something special. I sensed this was important to him.

It seemed like “we” began the naming process, but it ended up being just “me.” I settled on “Happy” because she looked like she was smiling.

“And besides,” Bryan said, “that’s the way she makes me feel.” It was clear that Bryan loved the dog, and the dog clearly loved Bryan. They made quite a pair.

So it was settled.

The storm raged on as we talked of times past and looked at old pictures, many of which I had not seen in years. Bryan served as my guide, pulling out dusty old photo albums that were older than he. I relived memories, and fought to remember names, faces and episodes of my life. The journey was amazing. I caught myself petting this little dog that had managed to sit so close beside me that I couldn’t help but touch her. Happy was warm and silky with deep brown eyes, almost identical to Bryan’s, and she obviously appreciated my touch. I saw a gentleness in her eyes and a desire for companionship that I did not know in my present condition. I allowed her to continue to lie on my feet. It somehow felt natural.

I went to the kitchen to prepare dinner for us. Bryan continued to thumb through the photo album. In the middle of cooking, Happy came in the kitchen. She lay under the table, out of the way, and watched me. I found myself talking to her as I cooked and moved about. She simply watched, and occasionally cocked her head in curiosity.

When dinner was almost ready, I went into the living room and heard Bryan talking… to Happy.

“She’s really going to need a friend….”

I didn’t know who he was referring to, but I thought it slightly strange that he sounded so serious. I announced dinner and Bryan bounded into the kitchen with the ferocity of a hungry kid, and right on his heels was Happy. We ate what I do believe was one of my finest meals. We sat afterward looking out the living room window and quietly enjoyed the remnants of the storm. Right before the last rays of the sun faded, a muted rainbow appeared, barely clear enough to see.

Happy lay at Bryan’s feet, relaxed, but attentive.

I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, Bryan was on his feet and announcing he had to leave. He told me not to get up and said he’d lock the door on his way out. I must have been sleepier than I thought, because I didn’t get up from my chair. In my half-sleep state, I continued petting Happy’s silky fur with her licking my hand in return until I heard the door close. Then I jolted awake, worrying I’d missed giving Bryan one more hug. And, even more importantly, that he had forgotten the dog. How could he have been so absentminded as to leave Happy behind?

I quickly got up and attempted to catch Bryan before he left. But when I opened the door, I saw no sign of him or any vehicle he could have come in.

There was nothing.

Happy stood on her hind legs and looked out the picture window for a while, letting out a long, low whine. Then she came to my side and rubbed her head on my hand to get me to pet her. The look in her eyes told me what I had just realized — my Bryan was gone.

Two days later, two men came to my house to inform me that Bryan had died in an accident four days prior. I found it unnecessary to tell them that their chain of events was not accurate. It was impossible, because Bryan had visited me and left Happy just two days before. I didn’t bother to tell them that, because you had to know Bryan to understand. Bryan had always been a most thoughtful boy who would do the least expected thing, and when it counted most! He visited me, bringing sunshine on one of my darkest days, and left me the gift that I needed the most. Happy has been at my side from that moment on.

I cannot say how Happy has changed my life, but the change is obvious and lasting. I get up earlier, and go outside daily, whether I want to or not, to walk my friend. I walk farther and faster than ever. I get more exercise and sleep deeper. Happy and I play together, chasing squirrels and balls. We go to the dog park, where we occasionally take treats to share with other dogs. Happy is the ringleader of doggy-play while I sit and chat with other proud parents of happy dogs.

I now gladly interact with my neighbors, and talk to strangers and children alike. I feel the morning sun on my face, and hear the birds singing in distant fields. I see beautiful flowers, and imagine patterns in clouds. I smile! Happy and I have made friends and acquaintances that I would have never made by myself.

I have once again begun to see the world as a living mosaic of colorful wonder — all thanks to a friend called Happy, made all the more special because she was Bryan’s last gift!

~Roberta Marie Easley

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