As we welcome 2023, Seek First Ranch is in the midst of saying some goodbyes.
Goodbyes are not easy to navigate. They don't fit in a box. Some allow for closure, while others are so abrupt or unexpected that finding peace and understanding might seem miles or mountains away.
If you know me well, you know that I'd never considered myself an "animal person."
I didn't grow up with pets. I'd never experienced that particular type of bond.
That is, until Joshua and I added Finley to our family in June of 2010. Finley is a 20 pound mini-Australian Shepherd. He is smart, calm, quiet, playful, and oh-so-loyal. He came to us as a puppy, shortly after we experienced our first miscarriage. We were deep in grief.
The house we bought shortly after marriage was the place we thought would soon be filled with children. Month after month, year after year, the house felt more and more lonely. I refer to this chapter in our lives as the one filled with an ocean of tears.
Finley wasn't a child. We knew that. But he filled a void that we didn't know existed.
Finley has been a part of our family now for almost 13 years. In that time, he accompanied us on every walk, appointed himself backyard-farm manager of our Clover Place chickens and sheep, and soon became Ring Master of our growing family circus. He welcomed our daughter when we brought her home in 2011. He was at home with us while our son was born in 2013. He stood alert at every meal, diligently cleaning up the floor on behalf of his toddlers. He'd play ball by rolling it back with his nose or tossing it down the stairs so you could throw it back for him to catch. All. Day. Long. At naptime, you'd find him equidistant between the kids' bedroom doors, keeping firm watch and guard. Once in a while, he'd put in a request to visit his friend Amy. Amy treated him like a king. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing she let him sleep in her bed.
When we moved to the ranch in 2016, Finley would insist on trailing along on every horse ride, wading through rocky creeks and leaping in the grass twice his height. He cannot stand to be left behind when the family jumps in the side by side to check cows or fix fence. He is friends with the other ranch dogs, the sheep, the cows, the horses. He could, however, do without the cats.
He has accommodated most of our shenanigans. His only protest comes from a subtle shift of his caramel colored eyebrows. I anticipate it's the dog version of an eye roll, which to be honest, is quite fair. When our youngest son joined our crew in 2018, Finley acquired a new facial expression. One that says," I will tolerate being a personal play gym, only because I love you so much."
He has watched our family grow from two humans to five. He has seen our feelings of sadness and our feelings of joy. He's been privy to our gains. He's been witness to our losses.
Finley is slipping away from us now, and we know we are facing a difficult decision. Vets and friends keep telling us, "you'll know when it's time."
But how do I make myself pick up the phone to schedule that appointment?
We know this is a decision that our youngest child will not understand and will struggle to forgive. At least at first. He tells us daily that he "doesn't want Finley to ever die."
Good dogs should get to live forever, shouldn't they?
So we take this opportunity to talk about life. We talk about death.
We talk about our own mortality. We talk about our eternal life only through Jesus.
We know we are preparing for a difficult goodbye, even though it's a pet.
Even though it's a life well lived.
We are thankful to be able to grieve alongside our kids, to feel all the things, and to know that feelings are temporary, but precious memories can last.
As we walk into 2023, we are grateful for our memories.
Not just with our pets, but with our family, our friends, and our community.
We are thankful for the challenges that led to growth.
For the conversations that granted us insight. For the experiences that shifted our perspectives.
We are thankful for the people that God has placed in our lives, for such a time as this.
When I began this blog, I said some posts would be for me, some for you, and some for both of us.
This one's for me.
I need to grieve this loss, and the other losses I have experienced over the past twelve-and-a-half years with Finley at my side.
Here's what I most want to learn from you today:
What are some of your favorite memories from 2022? Big or small, what from this year do you hope you'll never forget?
This one is heavy, but it would mean a lot if you've been there and would share. What words might console a young child who does not understand or accept the "why" behind the decision to end a pet's suffering?
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Before you go, we want you to know that we sincerely thank you for helping us navigate this difficult upcoming goodbye.
Copyright © 2023 Tara Dukart of Seek First Ranch. All Rights Reserved
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