In late May of 2001, our newly 12 year old daughter, Melody, showed disturbing signs of illness. She had had a low grade fever the day before and seemed a bit weak. This day her temperature spiked to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and a thin walled blister, the size of a large pea, appeared on her face. She had trouble walking up the stairs and a nose bleed was out of control. It was one of those days imprinted on my mind like a video. It plays so vividly that I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up and actually be there again.
Being blessed with seven children, five girls and two boys, then ages seventeen to four, I was familiar with dealing with mishaps and illnesses. My nurse’s training came in handy when faced with things like croup, slices, gashes, and broken bones. My husband, Greg, and I tried to blend compassion with practical treatment. Some situations would get the adrenaline going more than others, but that day was different. It felt ominous and huge.
Melody loved animals. Everyone’s pet was given her attention. Her brothers and sisters found that her involvement always brought a new level of interaction and fun with the animals. Everything from grasshoppers to goats were enjoyed. She spent hours drawing insects to the smallest detail. Her chickens were friends with distinct personalities who were used to being held and petted daily. Once, her constant supervision enabled a partially lame chick to survive and thrive into adulthood. Then there was the blind rabbit that she would take out into the lawn. It wouldn’t start at every little movement like the other rabbits, so became a favorite. Melody delighted in laying out next to it while it contentedly munched on grass, benefitting from her diligence. Our dog happily became adept at the army crawl due to extensive training sessions. Melody’s cat received even more cuddling because it was allowed in the house. She often asked us to take photographs of her with the animals. In each picture her eyes sparkle with the joy of the moment.
She inherited this innate ability to be comfortable with animals from her father, not me. Greg is the kind of man that large dogs come run along side of for companionship when he is on the back roads training for a race. He doesn’t invite them. They just come. Not so with me. I did some running with my family’s dog when I was in high school. A violent encounter with a neighborhood dog and the subsequent blood on the pavement instilled a gut-level fear of dogs in me. As a result, I frequently couldn’t even get out of the car when arriving at a friend’s home if their dog was loose. Even when we got a cute little ball of a black lab puppy for the kids, fear would try to rise up in my throat when it barked its squeaky bark. Somehow I convinced it that I was in charge, but other people’s canines still reduced me to jello.
As all of this percolated through our daily lives, it became an interest of Melody’s to discuss with me what sort of pet I would want when I was older. She could see that as motherhood blossomed in my life, I might be lonely with all of the children grown up and gone. She studied dog breed books and we both researched availability and cost. At one point, we thought I might want a bird. However, being accidentally adopted by a lost cockatiel for a few weeks brought us back to dogs.
Then, May 21st, 2001, occurred. Three days later Melody was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood. Life for our family took on an aching intensity.
(to be continued)