When last I was in the Sentinel, December was drawing to a close. Christ-mass was behind us, and the New Year celebration was on the horizon. I hoped that all had lived a blessed Christ-mass and would soon begin an exciting, hopeful and healthy new year. I “signed off” for the month of January. Through the first month of 2013 my wife and I moved into a new home. With the help of our daughter and her husband we relocated to a much more age appropriate ranch style home, all on one level. We are blessed and grateful. The “move,” however, has been all consuming. Now that the dust is finally settling, I’d like to share a few thoughts about the pains and joys of love since it “’tis the season.”
During the last days of 2012, Amy Ghert published in the Sentinel a poignant, yet powerful, story of the waning days of her beloved Golden Retriever, Sosa. He had tragically died from cancer. He had been a source of great joy and shared a deep love with Amy. He continues to be greatly grieved. As owners of two such delightful critters, my wife and I read Amy’s story with much interest and empathy. Our first pup was a “red” Golden Retriever. We discovered him worn, weary and wary leaning against the wall of his crate at the Topeka Animal Shelter. He was extremely shy, but one look into his loving and longing eyes and we were smitten. This furry guy was to be my buddy, and so he was named. Soon after we adopted Buddy, we retired from 40 years of parish ministry and departed on an extended tour of the USA in our new fifth Wheel RV. We three, Suzanne, Buddy, and me, spent the next five years roaming through and residing in various parts of our nation. We had a grand time. Buddy would ride in the truck cab between Suzanne and me, with his head resting in my lap. Everywhere we parked, “ole Bud” was a star! He loved everybody and everybody loved him. Finally, we halted for an extended time to pastor two small parishes in Cowley County. We parked the RV and moved into a beautiful farm house on Spring Hill Farm. It was an idyllic setting, and all three of us loved it. Buddy enjoyed the freedom to run through the fields and forests; we enjoyed his joy and shared it regularly. All was well. Then we again relocated to Newton to pastor the Episcopal Church there. It was then Buddy became sluggish, lethargic, and increasingly seemed to be struggling for breath. We took him to our vet, who sadly informed us Bud had a fast-growing cancer in his nasal area blocking his ability to breathe. Buddy was slowly asphyxiating; he soon would die an agonizing death. There was only one choice! We had to “put him down,” (an expression I still don’t like.) On the dreaded day, Suzanne, Buddy and I drove to the vet’s office in silence and sadness. We placed Bud on the operating table. While Suzanne silently wept, I held him to my chest. I could feel his heart beat. The vet gently injected the deadly serum. Bud didn’t move. I held him until I felt his heart stop. My heart still aches as I remember that moment. Buddy remains were cremated, with a small portion of his ashes in a special urn with his photo that we still have. The remainder we buried along a stream down on the farm where he loved to run and play. A large flat stone was placed over the grave to protect it from predators or flooding. Our grief was real and painful. A deep and true love we shared was gone from us. Yet after several months, we decided to again take the risk of loving. We located another golden (only this time very blonde) at the Winfield Animal Shelter. We named him Jake (for the Biblical Jacob: a rogue, with the eye for the ladies). He had been trained by the inmates at the Cowley County Prison; they did a marvelous job. Jake loves everyone, never barks unless our door is approached, and has never had an accident in our house. I’ve told him that he must outlive me; I never again want to feel a beloved’s heart stop. Through it all, of one thing I’m convinced, however, God is love, and if love, God will not allow love to die! St. Paul says, “love never ends.” The love that Buddy shared with Suzanne and me is still alive, as is the love Sosa shared with Amy. Somewhere in the Kingdom of God, these furry, four-legged critters who so loved us and whom we so loved await to share again that love with us when we arrive. That’s why Amy, Suzanne and I can always risk loving whenever we have the chance; for love never ends! Thanks be to God.
Page 2 of 2 - One more comment on “this thing called love.” The Sentinel invited readers to post their “proposal stories” to the paper. My beloved lady and I have been married 34 years. Our story must reach back 35 years when we first broached the subject of matrimony. We re-discovered each other in the Spring of ’78. We’d previously been acquaintances. When we accidentally again met each other in ’78, both our lives were in the pits. We each were suffering from a second divorce. We were in the “depth of icky.” We were worn, weary and very wary of others, of relationships, of love. Yet in spite of our failures, and probably driven by loneliness and longing, we began to date. Our gown kids were very skeptical; they didn’t want to witness again either of us being hurt. For me, however, there was something remarkably special about this lady, and increasingly she became my preoccupation. We dated through the summer of ’78, until in the fall, on a Sunday outing to the Bartlett Arboretum I knew I wanted to ask her to marry me. I was totally smitten (I still have the photographs from that afternoon). Later that week following diner over a desert of bread-pudding, I merely said, “We are going to get married, aren’t we?” Her response was “Well yes; I guess so.” It was totally a moment of “hope over experience,” but that simple affirmation began the most marvelous 35 years of my life. If “living happily ever after” is possible, somehow we stumbled into it. So whenever we see “bread pudding” on the menu, we share a helping and I again propose. Bread pudding is our sacrament of love. I never want to take the wonder we’ve found for granted. True love must be nurtured and cultivated daily. So whenever the moment is right, I say, “We are staying married, aren’t we.” And she says, “Well yes, we sure are.” Thankfully the love we share continues to grow stronger and deeper. I recommend regular proposals to all married folk.
Father Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest living in McPherson.