— Life —

Remembering Who You Are

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Our dog has recently started working as a therapy dog. Her primary clients are a group of seniors, many of whom struggle with Alzheimers. One woman we visit has a girlishness to her that belies her age. She has a certain elegance and sits with perfect posture in spite of the fact she is sitting on a somewhat saggy sofa, watching an aged French bulldog be passed from lap to lap. You can tell she was once considered very beautiful and might have led a somewhat charmed life before her memories disappeared.

On one visit, she asked me about our dog’s background, and I explained she was a former show dog who has retired to the suburbs after having all of her pups. I explained that I thought our dog missed being fussed over in the ring and might enjoy getting out and meeting new people. The woman looked at me quite seriously and then laughed and patted my hand. “I know that,” she said, with her twinkle in her eye, as though we were both in on the same secret. I laughed. I know too well what it’s like to be a proverbial former show dog, retired to the suburbs, looking for a little bit of attention. I could tell she did too.

I think, like many of us, she’s lost a lot through the years, but she’s maintained her sense of style, her composure, and that twinkle in her eye. She reminds me a little of my grandmother who, in her final days, did not always know what year it was but knew that she came from strong stock; that our purpose on this planet was to be kind to others, and that people ought to dress up for dinner.

When I visited with this woman, I thought about those things we are able to carry throughout our lives in spite of the setbacks. In my forty-some years, I’ve lost a marriage, two homes, a career, my sense of trust, and – for a long time – the ability to move forward. These losses have led to major changes in friendships, political views, and my spiritual outlook. Through it all, however, I’ve maintained my gallows humor, my need for justice, a love of fashion, an insatiable appetite for good books and Miss Vicky’s chips, and a hatred of flip flops, white chocolate, and cilantro. I wonder if these preferences will stick with me for life.

I hope that one day, I can sit in a community center, waiting for some lady to pass around a French Bulldog.

I hope I will remember that once upon a time, I was strong, and resilient, and could find the humor in just about anything.

I hope I will have a twinkle in my eye, and if they pass out a tin of white chocolate biscuits, I hope I will turn them down.


  • Esther Zimmer May 18, 2016 at 4:14 am

    Beautiful. And I believe you and I would get on very well, Jen. I hope we get to meet one day! I host regular afternoon teas for the older generation in our local area, they are wonderful women (always women, I’ve never had a man in the group in the several years I’ve hosted, only women who are now widows) and we always hold one another tight as they arrive and when they leave. I read once that the longer you hug someone, the more beneficial it is, so we have a giggle about that and hold on tight for as long as we can! It chokes me up every single time. Your dog (and you) are doing amazing work! Esther xx.

  • Susan Tolles May 18, 2016 at 10:07 am

    What a beautiful way to serve, Jen. We all want to reach the end of our days feeling like we have made a difference in the world, still appreciated and loved, not forgotten. I know you and your dog are making a huge difference in the lives of those you touch. Cheers to humor and strength, whether we know who we are or not.

  • Donna Lee May 22, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    As a fellow French Bulldog owner, I really enjoyed this post Jen, and it motivated me to look into participating in dog therapy.
    My little Bedlington Terrier, Downboy is the sweetest dog,with the softest fur, and loves everyone to bits. Dogs bring so much joy and comfort, and I’m sure many seniors miss their past companions.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

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