God in the Details, Saying Goodbye to Sergeant Yeager
For the past two weeks, to the day, I have had free range of motion on my couch during my early morning coffee and quiet time with God. There has been no wake up call from my aging canine whose bark was delivered with a polite remorse for having interrupted my slumber, but confident insistence that I now be near to him. I would sometimes grumble at about 0430 but find myself quickly pacified in a world of wisdom and peace, with my sweet Yeager content to simply know that I was there. A contentedness that I find knowing that my Heavenly Father has access to all dimensions of space and time, in order to walk through this life with me. Sometimes, like Yeager needed to see, feel, and hear me, I also need to see, hear, and feel God. And it was in the passing of my beloved friend on July 7, 2021, that I saw God’s craftsmanship in the details of an inevitable heartache.
Nearly a year ago, a vet had suggested that the time to put Yeager down was near. The thought of life without him wasn’t unbearable, it was simply non-existent; a mental void. How does one envision life without a part of their heart? Somewhere in my soul, I knew that his death, whenever it would come, would signify the ending of a chapter that I had become fond of. A chapter where a house run on honesty and persistent pursuit of what is good and true, would have one less sweet innocent family member. I began to pray nearly a year ago, that God in his mercy would allow Yeager to go peacefully and that I would not have to make the difficult decision to have him euthanized. I had worked as a veterinary assistant through college, aiding with euthanasia. I knew it was not always a peaceful experience. A diet change and some turmeric supplement gave him new health and months more of laughter, sloppy kisses, and camaraderie. I prayed that somehow, I would have the help needed when the time came, to care for the hearts of my children who love him dearly. For nearly a year, God has heard my prayers for the details of this inevitable passing and in his generosity, he orchestrated a benevolent response.
On July 1, I was unexpectedly terminated from a position that I had thought would be my final position for as long as my working life would allow. I had thought I had found my professional home and was assured that I had. Were it not for the pandemic, perhaps that would have been the case; fear can cause the most rational of humans to behave in disappointing ways. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted; no heartache, no mistake, no willful harm to another. None of it is meaningless. I was heartbroken, and my big brother heard the ache in me when I shared the news with him. He, not knowing this was on the horizon had taken time off for the Independence Day holiday, and told me that he would come see the children and I that following Tuesday, July 6th. Yeager was showing signs of aging, but I was confident he would make it to his 15th birthday this Fall. Even so, after my brother Paul told me that he would come, an odd thought crossed my mind; that if Yeager were to die, it would sure be helpful if it were when Paul was with us. Days later, Paul would tell me he oddly had a similar thought. I believe the Holy Spirit whispers to us in inaudible ways that prepare us for what is coming next.
Paul enlisted in the United States Army shortly after the Twin Towers were attacked. We were New Yorkers and the attack placed a somber reality into many of us, that evil was real. He and I had been in the same high school as he frantically ran to Spanish class to tell Mrs. Delgado what had happened. Paul is a jokester. This was a known fact, and Mrs. Delgado did not believe him until she turned the tv on. She would remind me of this in subsequent years as she taught me. I recall driving to work at CVS Pharmacy in downtown Endicott, and seeing my brother drive by while I was at a red light. He was on his way to boot camp, and my heart sank wondering if I would see him ever again. For over a decade, we would see each other very little. I would send care packages and store his letters, to memorialize that I had a big brother. He came home rarely and in some moments would share the devastation of what he had witnessed as a combat medic. He came home a last time so that we could bury our sister.
Paul and I stayed up late that Tuesday, talking through some pain, laughing, and praying for healing and mercy. I was so consumed with the activity of company and the children’s excitement over a visit from their uncle that I don’t recall the last time I rubbed Yeager’s sweet head. I woke up later than normal not comprehending that Yeager hadn’t barked for me nearly four hours past his normal waking. I walked downstairs to see my brother lying on the floor next to Yeager, Yeager looking straight at my sleeping brother. Paul had become cold during the night and when looking for blankets, thought Yeager was having a nightmare, as he often did. So Paul lay down with him, comforting him, receiving intermittent kisses. I took a picture quickly when I came down, thinking it was sweet. How fitting for two combat veterans to spend these last moments together, how beautiful. Yeager didn’t look at me, simply breathing heavy, eyes open. I woke Paul up and told him something was wrong and asked him to put Yeager in the car for me. Were it not for Paul, I am not sure how I would have gracefully carried my near 80 pound friend to the car without accidentally hurting him. God is in the details.
I arrived at our veterinarian, and they rushed him in, promptly returning to me. The doctor told me that Yeager was actively dying and that they would have to euthanize him to avoid unnecessary suffering. I became frantic and they left to tend to him, only to return a moment later. Yeager had taken his last breath before they could begin the process of euthanasia. God hears our prayers.
The staff brought him into the room where I could see my friend one last time. Paul, thank God, was able to wake my children and bring them to see our dear sweet friend. God is in the details. How else would my children have been able to say goodbye were it not for this divine orchestration?
Paul saw their tears and in uncle fashion, promised the children baby ducks, a promise that my eight-year-old son has woefully not yet forgotten. He brought the children back home while I finalized arrangements and plunged my fingers into the fur that had been by my side through so much pain, struggle, and triumph. I kissed the softest ears, misshapen from the explosion in his last deployment. I touched the balding spot on his snout, the only true aesthetic evidence of aging this regal canine ever showed. The technician came in and I asked, how do you pet them one last time, knowing that you will never touch them again? How do you know when to walk away? His fur captured my tears one last time, as they had done so many times in the years past. Whose shoulder would I now cry on when life is not so kind? Oh Yeager, how dear you were to me.
More could be said, but the emotional exhaustion of these past weeks has been intense. My thoughts are muted by a blanket of shock and depression. Finding words has been difficult, but I am not without hope by any stretch. Loss is a normal part of life. I can only grieve because I have loved, and in that, grief is a gift. The enemy wants to steal our joy by telling us lies. Lies that say we will not know love again, that hope is lost, that we are not worthy; we all know the lies. The lies are not unique, the devil is not creative. He is dull and predictable. So we must choose to see the beauty and creativity that God wields to write our stories, to make painful situations into a work of art. It was inevitable that Yeager would pass away, as pet owners we know this is not a risk but a reality. While I am pressed down currently, deep within there is a glint of joy that tells me this passing could not have been more poetic, more meaningful. I am humbled to see the God of the universe answer my prayers said in the quiet hours of my days. That my most beloved Marine would have been loved on by my most beloved Soldier, in his final moments; who could have done that but God? He is in the details.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Yeager to my family. We were truly blessed.