This weekend my family is grieving. We had to bid a tearful goodbye to a beloved family pet, our older Yorkie, Johnny. Friday night Lisa and I had to make the painful decision to put him to sleep, after a lengthy battle with kidney failure. His health had been declining over this past year, more rapidly across this summer. He came to the point that nothing we nor our vet were attempting could slow the destruction of kidney failure, and after a massive seizure Friday night, we decided it was time to alleviate his suffering. He slipped away in Lisa’s arms, to her kisses, her soothing voice, and warm embrace. It was a good passing.
Johnny came to us from a family that didn’t want him any longer, and he’d spent most of his first 4 years living in a cage, 20 out of 24 hours each day. When we obtained him, he was pretty wild, fearful, and defensive. Yet before long, as he grew to trust us and became acquainted with our other pets, he soon calmed, “joined the pack,” and came to love his new family. With his unbounded energy, his “always up for an adventure” attitude, and our home with woods and no fences, he was finally in his element.
Johnny loved long walks, running and rolling through grass, chasing squirrels, sitting on the front porch, and boat rides on Lake Oconee. More than anything else, he loved Lisa, his “mommy-goddess” we would joke. Whatever she was doing, Johnny was at her feet, by her side. And she adored her little buddy. Johnny was an unusual dog, in that he had a genuine compassion for others, particularly our other pets. Our big dog, Dexter, is prone to seizures himself, and Johnny would often stand vigil with him during one, licking his nose. He welcomed two cats into the family in recent years, loving on them from the beginning. It was always amazing to see.
After we brought his body home for burial the next morning, we spent a painful night of tears, getting little restful sleep. We’d lost a family member, and Lisa had lost a best friend. She wept at his loss, I wept at the memory of those painful tremors wracking his little body, and the sound of his soft whimpering while Lisa cradled him as I drove to the nearby animal hospital. For hours, I couldn’t get those out of my head.
Then about 3am, as I prayed for peace and comfort for my family, I recalled a chapter in John Eldredge’s book, Walking With God, about the passing of their dog, Scout. In his grief, John had asked God, “What do dogs do in the Kingdom?” He felt a clear sense God spoke, “They run.” Beautiful. So I asked God, “If Johnny were in Heaven, what would he be doing?” I suddenly had the image of Johnny running through the grass down our long driveway, sliding nose first, rolling around in it, total joy. It brought a smile to my face. Then I felt God spoke into my heart as well, whispering, “I’ll give him back to you.” Once again, I was brought to sobs, but this time in joy and gratitude. I awoke Lisa, told her, and we both wept, thanked our Father, and basked in the peace the experience had brought to us.
I’ll not engage in a debate as to whether or not “all dogs go to heaven”, but many trusted biblical scholars assert that Scripture supports the idea that God will restore His creation, return the beauty and harmony of Eden, and populate the new heavens and new earth with the amazing creatures He made (Romans 8:20-22).
Saturday we buried our little beloved family member, and spent a day alternating between recalling fond memories with Johnny, and feeling deep sadness at the loss his absence leaves in our family. Kelsey sent a beautiful Bible verse to us, found in Job 12:10- “In His hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” One of those lives has returned to Him, and we rest in hope that in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1-4), our losses in this life will be restored, and those things that brought us deep joy will be returned to us. I Believe this, with all my heart.
We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13b)