I don’t want to make this a “poor Collins” column because one thing I know is life can throw curveballs in a heartbeat. With that said, the past two weeks have been one of the toughest stretches I have had to endure in quite some time.
It started when one of my two beagles got to that point every dog owner dreads. Probably the best dog I have ever owned, Joy was just that, a true joy. She never did anything wrong, never wandered and, unlike most hounds, she rarely barked. But when she did, her bay was absolutely beautiful, unlike my other beagle Girlie, whose bay could easily strip the paint off a wall.
Joylost her hearing about a year ago but even then she took to hand signals like she had been doing it her entire life. My wife Karen and I knew Joy’s days were numbered but when that day came I wasn’t sure if I could go through with what needed to be done to the rescued pet.
Thankfully, my good friend Dr. Ben Parker knew me well enough that taking her to his veterinary office wasn’t in the cards, so he graciously came to my house. It was quick, yet passionate, and when all was done I buried her next to the house.
As soon as I finished, my neighbor Neil Lax brought over a weathered looking cross he had made along with a plaque with her name on it. Joy and Neil had a special relationship.
Everyday, Joy would pay Neil a visit, usually with Girlie in tow, looking for a treat. With two dogs of his own, Neil always gave Joy a special treat while the other three got regular treats.
Just when I had about stopped going to the front door after thinking I had heard Joy scratching to be let in, I got a call from my sister Grace, who lives in Melbourne, Fla., asking me to hurry down. The love of her life, Kevin, had been admitted to the ICU unit at their local hospital.
About a year and a half ago, Kevin developed a neurological disease called Ataxia.
Never heard of it? I hadn’t either until Kevin’s diagnosis.
What are the symptoms? Loss of balance, slurred speech and, as it progresses, more and more symptoms arise.
An avid fisherman, Kevin and I never had any problem finding things to talk about. Though Grace had not found Kevin until later in her life, he was the peas to go with her carrots. Quite frankly, I had never felt closer to my sister than after Kevin’s arrival on the scene. They were perfect for each other.
Doctor’s struggled to diagnose exactly what form of ataxia he had developed and, as the symptoms grew worse, Kevin was robbed of all the things he loved best. Fishing, woodworking, walking their two dogs and driving — and it frustrated him to no end. But even with all that, he and Grace put on a brave face.
I made it a point to call him every week to describe in detail things I had seen or done while fishing. I avoided stupid questions like, “How are you feeling?” Since I pretty much live by the hands of a pain management specialist, I know that when I walk into his office and one of the girl’s asks, “How ya feeling, Collins?,” I laugh because that is one location where that question is oddly out of place.
Even though I left for Florida immediately, Kevin passed away before I made it there. All last week, I did whatever I could to comfort my sister while knowing in my heart that little would heal a wound so deep.
Both of her daughters also came, so I tried to be a shadow on the wall ready to step away from that wall only when needed.
Being the male Betty Crocker of the family, I did all the cooking, plus dismantling handicapped ramps, etc. that had been Kevin’s way around the house.
Arriving back home, I felt pretty lost for the first couple of days. Up early on the third day, I walked outside with my coffee and saw a pair of nesting Mississippi kites that have been
around all summer. They were up in this huge pine next to my house.
They are hawk-like bug eaters with graceful sweeping wings and a melodious whistling call. I imitated their whistle and both responded immediately.
Then there was a third whistle. It was a chick that had learned how to fly during my absence.
I have always thought that in life there is a grand plan. When death comes knocking, so also does new life appear to take death’s place. Once again nature had come to my rescue, something it has done for me more times than I can even count.