”Would you like a visit?”
You appear doubtful, hesitant and wounded on a level much deeper than physical as you, with quivering hands which flit like nervous birds, gather your blankets tighter around you and momentarily over your hair, tucking a few lose strands back.
Your naked vulnerability is nothing new to me–I have seen a similar state in countless others. With but a moment I can sense your hurt. With but one snuffling huff I know all there is about the wound on your side, the medications dripping through your IV, the age of your NG tube and the state of your External Fixator. Your body language telegraphs a steady message of anxiety, despair, and pain pain pain.
But I am not here to judge.
My partner helps me settle on the bed next to you and offers you my business card. As you glance over the laminated cardstock, I nudge a little closer and you obligingly bring your arm up and around me, pulling me just that much tighter to you. For one moment we both sigh, content, before you thread one hand, no longer trembling, through my hair to fondle at one ear.
We sit in quiet. It is not my place to talk anyway. It is my job to be still, be present, and to listen.
You do not disappoint. After a few moments lost in a companionable hush, you pat my cheek to reassure me of your attention and doting before you begin to speak.
“I had one just like you. She was a bit smaller, though,” you chuckle at the memory, your eyes going sad for a moment, ignoring my small look of exasperation at the comparison. It’s not my fault I look this way. My body is much smaller than my covering gives me credit. “She was smart like you too. Beautiful.” A fond sigh. I cock my head and regard you with pleased silence. Compliments always have a special place in my heart. “Are you always this calm and quiet?” I shake my head and nuzzle a little closer in answer, hoping my response coaxes you on. I’m relieved when you resume carding your fingers through my hair.
“You know, I’m all alone now. My children don’t come to see me now that I’m out of the ICU. They have their own lives. And Ronnie….” A sob takes your voice as you curl closer. Your hand no longer caresses but clings. I don’t mind it. “Ronnie’s gone. My Ronnie is gone.” Breathed into the crown of my head as a terrible, whispering secret. “I never got to say goodbye or I love you…” The nightmare of your heartbreak steeps into my hair with your tears. I close my eyes and lean, struggling to shoulder the weight of this burden, to ease it from you for just one moment so you may rest, so you may smile, so you may hope. In spite of my small size and compact body, I am much stronger than I appear.
It is a strange moment, the moment of spiritual transference when one’s pain becomes shared and it can be overwhelming, stifling. But then your hand moves once more, patting, soothing, brought back to life and action as the tears begin to wane as you realize you are not quite so alone. I raise my face, offering up one of the few consolations I have as I dab your tears from your cheeks with my nose and am rewarded with a hesitant, watery smile and a weak laugh. We lock eyes and, keeping with my code of silence, I will you to see the truth.
Ronnie knows. He misses you. He loved you too. Smile. Heal. Resume.
You nod and bend to kiss my nose but I am determined you understand that this is not your moment to give love, but to receive it, without judgment, without desire for reciprocation, so it is I that kiss your nose.
I’m not a great kisser– they tend to be a little slobbery, but you don’t seem to mind.
You smile and resume your petting with greater enthusiasm, heartache temporarily forgotten. For the first time, I sense something different in your touch–perhaps it is the real you finally peeking through. You tickle my feet and quietly laugh as I tumble onto my back to offer my belly which you immediately scratch and pat. From nearby, my partner signals amusement as well as the warning that our time is drawing to a close.
Offering one last nuzzle and a lopsided smile, I allow my partner to guide me off the bed just as the nurse comes in to offer you more pain medication and something for anxiety. Your confident, calm decline of both makes my tail wag and as my partner taps a coded line of pleased praise with her fingertips along my leash, we respectfully take our leave.
From in the hall, we hear you call out to thank us not realizing that your smile and your time were thanks enough. — Author Unknown
(Thanks to Ruby, Mary and Zoey for the photo.)
(The Return of Joy includes appearances by therapy dogs Zoey and Atlas. You can download your copy from