I had just settled down on the couch following a nice dinner this hot Sunday evening. It had been a late dinner but somehow the blazing summer heat has a way of dousing one’s appetite. Yes indeed, it’s a heat wave for us here and it’s forced us to alter some routines at home. Some of the main things that we’ve altered are not only eating later in the evening but, waiting till the sun goes down before my husband does the evening walk with our two labs. Days and nights of this oppressive heat has proved to be too much for my husband, and certainly for two fur covered dogs, when it comes to long walks.
If I may, allow me to go back five years in time to when the first of the two labs arrived as a very young pup. My husband started two walks a day with Belle from day one. One year later when her litter-sister, Winnie, came to live with us, the daily walks continued, albeit a bit more comical with two dogs, two leashes and unruly behavior. Nevertheless, it was something my husband enjoyed immensely. Part of the enjoyment of his walk was the trek up the hill before turning the corner and Joyce’s house.
Joyce was an older woman who lived with her husband of 51 years. Jerry, an even older man, occasionally stopped to chat about recent fishing or hunting trips. Joyce, however, was different. She would see Don and the labs coming up the hill from her kitchen window and you could see her grab something and quickly head to the door in time to meet them at the bottom of the steps outside. It wasn’t just Joyce on the look-out for Don and dogs but Belle and Winnie knew the routine quite well. Right around 50 yards from the house, they would start pulling to rush ahead while Don tried to keep them under control. After all, they knew who was there and what would be in hand. Smart dogs, who were trained whether intended or not.
Joyce was the friendliest person you’d ever want to meet. Always the dog treatment came first. “Sit girls!” she would stand and insist. And, as she commanded, thus they did obediently. Then, a treat for each was given. Another, “Now, sit girls!” would be commanded and obediently they would plop their butts down. Treat given, then came the loving. “Oh, good girls, what good doggies!” she would say as she gave them the best of rub downs. Then came time for her and Don to visit. They would stand and chat about family, the neighborhood, the aches and pains of growing old, usual chit chat that neighbors do. On my good days when I could handle the hill, I would accompany Don on the walk and I, too, would get to visit with Joyce. She knew of my illness and she was always concerned with how I was doing. If I had not accompanied Don on any given day, he would come home and say, “Oh, Joyce asked how my lovely wife was doing today.” This was how life was with walking our dogs every day, regardless of the weather, for the last five years.
Last night, Don got home from the late walk and took the walking collars and leashes off the dogs and put their regular collars on. He sat down on his recliner and looked over at me. He had the most peculiar look on his face. His eyes were as big as saucers and he was holding in his lower lip. I thought perhaps he was in pain for certainly that’s what it looked like. Yes, he was in pain but not the kind I had expected to hear. I said, “Babe? What’s wrong?” He replied softly, “Joyce is dead.” My heart sank and I went quickly to his side where he held me tight and began to cry like a little, lost boy. I don’t know how many moments went by. It’s almost like time stands still when this happens.
Finally, he was able to tell me that she had died several days ago but he hadn’t heard since he had changed up the time he walked the dogs due to the heat. Her husband had been waiting by the kitchen window each day trying to catch a glimpse of the familiar figures approaching so that he could tell him what had happened. Finally, Sunday night he happened to see Don and was able to come out, with treats I might add, to tell my husband the news. A massive heart attack that came quickly and she was gone before they even got her to the hospital. She was a woman in her early seventies who worked out at the gym six days a week, was so jovial and active, and always bounding down the steps to greet Don and the dogs. Don wept for that familiar scene that would never again be played out.
A ‘celebration of life’ memorial service will be held in three days and we will attend. Indeed, we do want to join with others to celebrate her life and what she has meant to us, but most of all to my husband who fondly thought of her like a second mother. I will remember her as a person who never feared to meet people or get to know them and really care about what was going on in their lives. She loved her family tremendously. She always talked of her faith but, more than anything, she loved and lived life to the fullest. Joyce taught me the meaning of being a kind and caring neighbor. We take joy in the fact that she now dwells with the Lord she loved and we will see her again one day. She leaves behind a void. But that’s what life and death is about. There should be an emptiness left behind when someone who has made a difference in the lives of others has passed from this life. We were created as individuals, as different from one another as snowflakes. Joyce was someone who left her mark in this world that will not be forgotten for many years to come.