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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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March 6, 2009

Our family's first loss

My husband and I picked out a puppy the same week we moved to our first home. Harpo, a 50-pound black poodle, greeted each of our three kids as they arrived in our life.

Yesterday, Janine, Ben and Jillian said good-bye to Harpo on his last day with our family.

Brain tumors rarely get better for 13-year-old dogs. After a cluster of five seizures struck Harpo in less than a day, we knew the time had come.

We took the kids to the clinic after school. Our dog was groggy and barely awake, but he knew we were there. We gathered around the blanket where he rested, and each of us cried, shared a memory, hugged him and told him we loved him. Janine, our 11-year-old, even led us in a prayer.

Until Harpo passed away, my children had only heard and talked about death in the abstract. It was little more than two weeks ago that we each had the soot of Ash Wednesday smudged across our foreheads and heard, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Those ancient words, as uncomfortable as they are, remind us that life is finite and each day is a gift beyond measure.

The Big Question came on the trip home. What are things like for Harpo now?

I was honest. I told them I didn't know all the details – and neither did anyone else.

But I also told them of a Truth I believe. Right here and right now, God is with us. God has always been with us and God always will be with us. God's connection to us never changes -- whether we live or die, or whether we're people or poodles. "Harpo isn’t alone," I told them. "You can count on it."

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