A Journey with a Friend

The story below was recently written and shared by Ruth Nielsen.  It is about her Bernese Mountain dog friend Winter.  When she e-mailed this out, I asked for her permission to reprint as it is such a wonderful reminder of being present with our animals and aware at that last juncture. 

The other irony and twist with this story is that about 10 years ago, Winter – the dog subject of the story is how Ruth and I met.  

We met because Winter refused to pull a cart and Ruth had been showing her other dog to great acclaim. We discovered Winter had an ‘incident’ prior to all of this that was triggered by all of the cart apparatus.  As a result, Winter would just shut down.  She called me into their lives to find out why! 

While he didn’t have to ever show again with the cart, we helped him get over it just for him – part by communication, part by her continued de-sensitizing, part by continued training and mostly because he’s a rockstar!! 

It took them a long time but he ultimately earned the top draft/carting title.  He went on to also enjoy other disciplines and hikes and companionship.  He was a lot tougher than Ruth ever thought!

As fate would have it – it was well worth every effort to help him oh so many years ago get past his hesitance with the cart.  It turns out with his degenerative disease that he would indeed need wheels.  He so proudly raced up mountain tops and city streets as if this was what he was born to do – to continue to thrive.  Now the great story of Winter is winding down – and Ruth has a lot to say about this:

 A Journey with a Friend

My friend and I are coming to the end of a long journey.  We have traveled together for years, but this part of our journey is something new.  We haven’t been down this path before and even though I can’t see the end of the path, I know that for my friend the journey will soon be over.   He is old and tired, and can no longer walk without my help.    We have been together for such a long time and shared so many adventures along the way that my heart aches knowing that we are nearing the end of our time together.  Still, I don’t want to make my friend unhappy, so I try to think only about the present – my friend is still with me and I am grateful for his company.  

As we travel on in companionable silence, I wonder what my friend is thinking.   Does he want to stop? Is the path too hard?   Should we quit now and say our goodbyes without going any further?   I know that I can choose to say goodbye at any point along the path, but I find that I can’t ask him to quit and say goodbye just yet – not after everything we’ve been through together – so we continue on our way.   My friend accepts my help with grace as I resort to carrying him over some rough parts of the path.   His silent dignity makes it easier for me to help him, even though I can’t stop thinking about the many times on our travels when he would run ahead of me, full of energy, and then stop to wait for me to catch up.   Now he leans all his weight against me and I know his once strong legs will not support him anymore.

We stop to rest and sit by the side of a beautiful flowing river.   My friend falls asleep with his head in my lap, and I stroke his head softly, thinking of our years together and all that we have shared.  Occasionally other travelers walk by.  Some stop to talk, and ask about my friend.   They tell me I must be a very special friend to help him along this difficult path.  I can only smile in return.  How could I not help my friend after everything we have done together, and everything he has done for me?  Some people shake their heads and I know they think I am foolish for carrying my friend along the path.  Perhaps I should have said goodbye to him long ago, before the path got so very difficult. 

My friend wakes, and I see in his old eyes nothing but the love we have shared in our companionship over the years.  He doesn’t speak, but sings softly, a tune that reminds me of other days, when we climbed mountains together and explored wild places, and slept side by side under the stars.   I listen to his song and I know it comes from the heart.  It is a song of a journey shared between friends who are traveling their last road together.  

I help my friend to rise, and now all his weight is on me.  I will carry him, I will stop to rest when I need to, and I will listen to his song as we slowly follow the river.  When the song is over, then perhaps it will be time to say goodbye.  But not yet, my friend.  I will wait for you to tell me you have traveled far enough.  I can carry you until then ~  

Written with much love for my 12 ½ year old Winter-boy who is still singing to me  –

Ruth Nielsen, Seattle, WA with Winter, Tonka and baby-boy Frost

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