Picture the Time

Heather returned from the yard, her phone held in triumph.

“I did it!” she proclaimed. “Fifty-two weeks!”

“Oh? … OH!”

A smile spread across my face to match my wife’s. At long last, the photo forest was complete.

Perhaps I should explain. My wife Heather enjoys photography, especially shots that involve patterns and repetition. She’s also felt a little disconnected from the world since COVID arrived in 2020. With her various autoimmune conditions, she has to be careful about how and where she goes out, even in virus conditions that others might shrug at.

So to grab a sense of time, she started visiting the apple tree in the back yard for a brief photo session. One shot per week, always at the same time of day, always from the same angle and range. The goal: one year’s worth of pictures.

It started slow. After all, there’s not much difference between a barren tree branch in late February and a barren tree branch in mid-March. (Especially with the “second winter” that the Front Range can often get.) But over time, across 52 weeks, the changes became subtle and then profound: first budding, then flourishing, then thinning once more.

At times, it became a panic task. (“Scott! I almost forgot! I’ve got to do the tree!”) Time had started to mean something again among the sameness of home life, even if it mostly meant a date with a silent, leafy companion.

And as the leaves grew, so did her confidence.

She had set a goal. A long-term one. And she was following through.

When you spend a lot of time with chronic illness, that’s not a small thing. Plans often have to change on a dime; schedules and expectations become necessarily fluid. Friends, family, even doctors all become familiar with the phone call that starts “I’m sorry but I can’t today …”

A lot of things get torn away. And any time you can grab something back, it’s a triumph. A moment to plant your feet and say “No. I get to do this and you can’t stop me.”

And so, over time, the photos became a battle record. A simple spectrum of determination.

Fifty-two weeks. Fifty-two moments that added up to so much more.

Everything starts with a moment. It’s easy to forget that, easier still to get overwhelmed by what life asks of us. It all seems so big and our abilities so small, like sculpting with a toothpick.

But taking just a moment, claiming it, repeating it- that’s powerful. Even scattered moments built from brief flashes of opportunity add up. Georges Seurat spent two years painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”  J.R.R. Tolkien spent 17 years on “The Lord of the Rings.” Both created masterworks – but in a way, that’s beside the point.

It’s not about whether the goal resounds through the ages. It’s about what it means to you. And even what you build in yourself as you achieve it.

Heather built something lasting. She reclaimed a piece of her life. And regardless of the pictures themselves, that’s something no one can take away.

It’s amazing what can happen when you just take a shot.

Or even 52 of them.

Logging Out

Once upon a time, the symbol of midwinter was the Yule log. Now it’s the forelog.

If you’ve never heard the term, please allow my Word Geek Brain™ to make the introductions. You know how after you come back from a vacation or holiday, the “backlog” is all the stuff you have to catch up with? Well, the “forelog” comes on the other end. It’s the piles and piles of things you have to take care of before you can relax.

And my oh my, does the forelog burn bright at the holidays.

We hustle here, there and everywhere like Santa without a sleigh. Gotta buy the gifts. Gotta WRAP the gifts. Only wait, did we remember Scotch tape? Never mind that, gotta plan for company. Gotta clean for company. Check the work schedule. Check the flight schedule. “What do you mean, they’re coming in on Christmas Eve?”

Pant. Gasp. Pant.

You know, I’m starting to understand the Grinch more and more every year.

If it were just sheer social obligation, it would be one thing. But for most of us, most of the time, it’s coming from the best of places. We want to be welcoming to friends and family and neighbors. We want to help co-workers out before the holidays hit. And of course, we want to give the season that we received, so many times from so many people through so many years.

And in a way, that makes it harder. When we get tired – and we will get tired – it’s easy to turn it inward as an accusation. “I should be doing more. They deserve better. I’m not a good person.”

Stop. Stop. And stop.

In a season of love and kindness, it’s time to show some to ourselves as well.

It sounds selfish. It really isn’t. In a way, it’s a reflection of the adage that so many of us learned long ago, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” As my old math teacher might put it, that statement’s reflexive – it suggests that we also need to show the same kindness to ourselves that we would show to a neighbor.

No, it’s not easy. It never has been.

But we need it, as surely as any gift we’ve ever found under a tree.

We need to remember that we deserve good things, too. Not the “stuff” that gets piled up in boxes and bags, but the essential gifts. Kindness. Grace. Love. Forgiveness.

All of us are carrying a lot, whether at the holidays or any other time. None of us know the full extent of each other’s burdens. Sometimes we don’t even know the full extent of our own – we’re just trudging on as best we can, tottering under the load.

It’s OK to pause in the midst of the chaos. No … it’s essential. Take a moment to look at yourself as you would your best friend. Show the kindness you would show to them. Say the words you would say.

One of our family’s favorite bands, the a cappella group Face, had just the right words for it in a song called “Pick Your Head Up.” The chorus declares “The things that you say to yourself are words you’d speak to no one else.”

I try to remember that. To keep my words from being a weapon pointed inward.

If you’re in a place where you need to remember, too, I hope this helps. Know that you deserve the light. We all do.

The forelog will pass. But the strength you find and the flame you kindle can be a gift that lasts.

Better yet – it becomes a gift you can share.

Lift it up. And let it glow.

Peace and a Hula Hoop

“The Chipmunk Song” is a tool of peace. Really.

No, I haven’t had too much eggnog. Perhaps I should explain.

For my wife Heather, the Christmas season doesn’t really start until she hears the Chipmunks Christmas album, including the squeaky-voiced perennial about how much Alvin wants a hula hoop. (Are you hearing it in your head now? I’m sorry.) It’s one of two albums that gets played when we decorate our tree each year, along with my own family’s tradition of “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.”

But never mind our tree right now. The really important one in the story is G-ma’s.

“G-ma” was Heather’s Grandma Marilyn. Every year, Heather and her siblings and her mom (and often the rest of us spousal hangers-on) would make the short trek to help put up her tree. There’d be stories and ornaments and minor chaos and everything else you’d expect at such an occasion.

And, at Heather’s insistence, there would also be “The Chipmunk Song.” Because one does. And because G-ma’s laughter and smile at it never changed.

Time passed. And so did G-ma.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, we lost Marilyn in July. It left a hole. It always does when love and memories have grown strong. When the memories belong to a loving, strong-willed and lively soul, that hole gets even bigger.

Especially at the holidays.

There’s something about the season of togetherness that makes the empty chair stand out even more. And when December arrived, it felt off-balance without G-ma’s tree.

So Heather’s family put one up anyway.

A small tree. By the graveside. Decorated, of course. And there in the cold, Heather’s sister decided there was still just one thing missing.

At her suggestion, Heather pulled out her phone. And soon, the tinny strains of “The Chipmunk Song” were pealing out once more.  

All was right.

And that, at its heart, is the picture of peace.

We often misuse the word, shouting “give me some peace!” when a situation gets too loud or contentious. Peace becomes a simple end to conflict, by whatever means, a way of restoring quiet and keeping order.

But there’s an older meaning. One that’s still in the backdrop of a hundred Christmas carols. As a friend of mine likes to note, in old Greek the word means an interweaving, the connections between others that create harmony. When those connections are strong, when all is as it should be, peace reigns.

That’s a powerful gift. One we need badly.

We’re good at dividing, great at shouting, not always so good at listening. Peace demands that we listen, learn and try to understand. That we see those around us as our strength, not our burden. It calls on us to reach out, lift up, and make each other whole.

It’s not always a quiet process and rarely a simple one. But when we honor those connections, we make something beautiful. A beginning. A space. Something that binds us all, even if it’s in the tones of a novelty Christmas song.

The hula hoop is just a bonus.

May peace find you all. In all its meanings. Together, we just may be able to evoke, with a slight alteration, another, older song.

All is calm.

All is right.

“After 25 Years …”

Heather and I have finally caught up with Tevye and Golde. But we figured out Tevye’s question long ago.

If your “Fiddler on the Roof” trivia’s a little rusty, there’s a moment where the lead character Tevye suddenly realizes that after 25 years or marriage, he’s never asked his wife a simple question: “Do you love me?” With their marriage arranged and a pile of daughters to raise, it never had a chance to come up. But as they reach a moment where their lives and world are changing, he realizes that he needs the answer.

Golde resists at first: why  worry about it NOW? But after much musical back-and-forth, she finally confesses that after 25 years of struggling together, something has grown between them. “I suppose I do,” she admits, surprised at her own answer.

“Then I suppose I love you too,” Tevye answers with a smile.

“It doesn’t change a thing,” they sing together, “but even so/After 25 years … it’s nice to know.”

It is, indeed.

We hit our own 25th a few days ago. The one they call silver. That makes it sound pretty and timeless, like jewelry in a safe, doesn’t it?

Well, it has been timeless. But I think Heather would agree that it hasn’t always been pretty.

Our parents like to tease us about having a whirlwind courtship: Heather and I met in November, proposed the next spring and had a three and a half month engagement.  Sometimes when you know, you don’t want to waste time.

That launched the adventure.  And since then, our mutual weirdness has carried us through a lot.

We’ve discovered what it’s like to spend “date nights” in the emergency room, somehow smiling at each other through the latest medical emergency .

We’ve entered parenthood through the back door, becoming guardians for Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt and uncovering new surprises daily.

We’ve weathered the losses that 25 years bring, from elderly grandparents to a too-young cousin.

And yes, we’ve accumulated photographs, marveled over interesting words, delved into each other’s favorite songs and stories, and shared WAY too many terrible puns. (That last one is mostly me, but she swears I’ve corrupted her.)

There’s been stress and strain to be sure. But also joy as well. And bit by bit, it’s added up.

So I guess, like Tevye, I am a little surprised. Not at the love we always knew was there. But at how small 25 years suddenly looks.

Like a mountain range, it’s built of smaller bits, brought together over time. And traveling that 25 years just means navigating the bits. You make it through the next day. And the next. And the next one after that.

That doesn’t have to just describe a marriage. It’s any worthwhile commitment, really. You decide what’s important to you and then treat it that way. Over and over and over again.

Sure, it can be tiring. Every mountain hiker knows that. But if you’ve committed to something good, the journey is worth the effort.

Ours certainly has been.

So happy anniversary, my love. We’ve climbed a lot of peaks together. And somehow, you haven’t pushed me off any of them, no matter how bad the jokes get.

We asked our Tevye question at the start and every day since. Thank you for the answer that’s always been “yes.”

Now, how about a movie night?

I think “Fiddler” is on.

We Interrupt This Column …

Today’s column was almost called on account of “Yeah!” 

The shouts of triumph – yes, plural – came from Missy. The source? A book full of Star Wars illustrations, every single one of which required her to wave me over so I could share the latest discovery. 

“Look!” 

A tough-looking Wookiee. Han Solo with a blaster. An alien with a baby face. (“Baby!”) Every few seconds brought a new image, a new cheer, a new requirement to get away from that keyboard and come SEE. 

“Yeah!!” 

If you know Missy, this won’t surprise you. Her physical and developmental disabilities can make many things challenging for her, but enthusiasm has never been one of them. When she’s in the mood, just about anything can get her supercharged: a classic car, a cool-looking pair of shoes, even an opportunity to wash the dishes.

“Yeah!!!” 

Now, this could be a column about how great that kind of joy over simple things is. It’s a good thing to remember and I’ve written that piece before. But this time, I want to flip the direction. 

You see, those moments don’t follow a schedule. Not one that fits neatly on a calendar alongside “take notes for half thought-out column” and other such things. It means interruptions. Backtracking. Maybe even frustration as you try to recover a lost bit of focus. 

But that doesn’t matter. 

When you’re a parent – or at least in the position of one – and you get summoned into the latest enthusiasm … you share it. Right then. Right there. Period.

To them, this is the most important thing in the world right now. And being invited to join that is a privilege.

OK, yes, obviously there are limits. Sometimes it’s good to learn to wait. Some dangerous enthusiasms need to be headed off. And yes, sometimes you legitimately can’t interrupt a task . (“I have to keep my eyes on the road right now, sweetie, but I’ll look when we get to this stop sign, ok?”) But by and large, the rule holds.

Don’t squash the joy. Don’t diminish the moment. Never teach the person you love that something else is more important than they are. 

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad rule of thumb in general. 

Missy’s in a quieter mode now, perusing a magazine as she watches the world through the bay window. But the next moment will come. And when it does, we’ll be there. 

After all, it’s a moment to share love. 

And that’s always something to shout about. 

“Yeah!!!!” 

Tales of Discovery

The Road goes ever on and on. Especially in this house.

Missy lay back smiling as we wandered the roads of Middle-earth once more, letting the words wrap her like a blanket. Battles with Orcs. Respites with Elves. Wry comments from Gandalf. What better way to finish the day?

In twelve years of bedtime reading, we’ve come back to Professor Tolkien four times. The only other chronicle to get the same demand for an encore performance has involved a certain boy wizard. So you could say our reading nights are magical in more ways than one.

I hadn’t expected it. But then, I hadn’t expected a lot of things with Missy. Caring for a disabled relative has many adventures, so why should it be surprising that some of them involve hobbits with magic rings?

Especially when the same magic seduced me in the same way.

Long ago (if not exactly in the Third Age), Dad introduced me to “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” We read them together out loud, trading off halfway through the chapter, storytellers relating an epic.

Entranced? Oh, yes.

Some of it was the sheer sound of the words. To this day, I maintain that Tolkien must be read out loud to get the full effect, letting the narrative surround and suffuse you like a piece of music.

Some of it was the love being shared, the connections formed as my Dad and I discovered a mutual passion and reveled in it.

And so much of it was what it opened inside me and around me. An exciting tale, well told, that spoke of discovering new places and rediscovering old lore. Where compassion could be more valuable than strength and loyalty as important as learning. Where victory didn’t have to mean triumphing over every obstacle, but simply enduring long enough to do the job you needed to do.

That spoke to me. It still does.

I know I’m not alone in my passion. But frankly, it wouldn’t matter if I was. It’s the tale that was there when I needed to hear it, that still fits me in a way no other story can.

We all have a tale like that. Or should.

For one of my friends, it was “The Outsiders,” discovered at just the right moment of adolescence.

For my wife Heather, it was a slim middle-grade novel called “The Higher Power of Lucky” that still has the power to infuse hope.

For others I’ve known, it’s been “The Secret Garden,” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” or … but that’s the point, isn’t it? There are as many possibilities as there are people, lying in wait like the world’s most wonderful ambush.

Everyone deserves a book that reaches their heart. No matter whether the world acclaims it or just you, it is forever yours and forever you.

Others can guide, suggest, encourage. (Heaven knows my folks did.) But you’re the only one who knows what fits. And when you know, nothing can keep it from you.

Some will try. But it’s a hard door to lock. Neither sneers nor bans will hold in the face of the determined and the curious. Give even the hint of a new possibility and the explorers will come.

And the best of those journeys will last a lifetime.

Tonight, our own journey continues. I don’t know what about Middle-earth hooked Missy’s heart but I’m glad for it. It’s something we can share, a world we travel together with old friends and new thoughts waiting around every bend.

The Road goes ever on and on.

And the next step is just a page away.

A Partridge in a WHAT?

I have a lot of sympathy for “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Well, not so much the song itself, unless it’s sung by John Denver and a horde of Muppets. But the guy who keeps sending all this stuff – flocks of birds, hired entertainers, maybe a bit of jewelry – gets an understanding nod of the head for me.

You see, he clearly has no idea what his true love wants for Christmas. But he’s bound and determined to keep trying until he gets it right.

I think most of us would call that “the holidays as usual.”

Even in the age of Amazon, venturing into the holiday season seems to require the strategic acumen of a general, the adaptability of Star Trek’s Borg and the courage of a quarterback facing half a ton of charging linebackers. After a while, the process begins to feel like one of those middle-school math problems: “So if part 2 of your gift is traveling 1000 miles in five days, but part 1 can cover the same distance in four to seven …”

It’s a formula for merry chaos, even when you know each other well. (Witness the year that Heather and I gave each other the same Muppet movie.) And it gets still more challenging when you add kids to the equation.

Heather and I have half-a-dozen nieces and nephews, all but one of whom are older than pre-school but younger than 13. This puts them all firmly in the Danger Zone of gift giving, where safety lies in answering three questions correctly:

  1. What are they interested in now? (As opposed to last year or maybe even last month.)
  2. What do they already have?
  3. What did Grandma and Grandpa already give them before you even saw the list? (Answer: everything.)

A Las Vegas gambler would tremble at those odds.

And yet, we usually navigate the seas pretty well. Part of it comes from a decent memory of what it’s like to be a kid. Still more of it comes from heavy leaning on the Parental Intelligence Agency, reporting out detailed analyses to would-be family Santas since 2010.

But the biggest reason it generally works out is that the best gifts have already been given. Long before Christmas, in fact.

We’ve given sleepovers. And chats. And out-of-state D&D sessions over Zoom. We’ve had the chance to see them learn and grow (sometimes at a distance of hundreds of miles) and for them to know us as more than just names on a package label.

That’s more precious than even five golden rings. After all, the presents you give may come and go (and come again if you didn’t update the Amazon list). But the presence you give lasts.

That’s the love that lights the season. And well beyond.

I hope the 12 Days guy eventually figured that out. I know a lot of my friends and family have. When you’ve given yourself, you’ve given what matters. The packages and presents are just a bonus.

And if those presents include 12 drummers drumming and 11 pipers piping, I sure hope you included some Excedrin, too.  

What Counts … And What Not To

In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams declared that the answer to life, the universe and everything was 42.

So this year, maybe Heather and I have all the answers – but we’ve got them exactly backward.

Yes, it’s official.  The charming couple of Chez Rochat has logged 24 years together.  Twenty-four years since a brief moment of sunshine on a rainy day, with my hair refusing to stay down as we said “I do” in a friend’s garden.  

Fast forward to the present. My hair stays down perfectly now – mostly due to lighter population density. We’ve lived in four different places, only to end up just down the street from two of my childhood homes.

And after all this time, we’re still grabbing for moments of sunshine anywhere we can find them.

It’s weird to look back like this. At 24 years, a marriage has started to go beyond “Aww, congratulations!” and begun to reach “Wow, really?” You’ve gotten past all the bizarre anniversaries you used to joke about – the paper anniversary, the tin anniversary, even the yes-it-exists furniture anniversary – but you’re still a year away from reaching the ones that everyone’s heard of. You know: the silver, the golden, the diamond, the bearer bonds and so on.

I suppose that’s not all bad. After all, if you haven’t quite reached your silver anniversary yet, you can still lay claim to being crazy kids, right? Right?

Well, it was worth a try.

But it does sound strange to say “24 years of marriage” when in your head, you’re still 25. In a way, time stopped on our wedding day. I guess it does for a lot of people. Oh, the days go by with plenty to fill them. But it’s like driving across the plains on I-70; there’s no obvious clue to tell you how far you’ve gone until you happen to check the mileage.

And once you do, you wonder how the car’s kept running this long.

But maybe it’s just in how you look at it.

If you’re a Broadway fan, you probably know the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent. It famously opens with the phrase “525,600 minutes ….” Which sounds pretty gargantuan until the song reminds you that it’s just one year.

More than half a million minutes. But we’re not counting the minutes. We’re living the year.

And at the other end, we’re rarely counting the years. We’re living the days. Live enough of them, well enough, and the minutes and years take care of themselves.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Even at our first anniversary, Heather and I were joking about “When does the ‘in health’ part start?” Over the years, we’ve weathered disasters, mourned family, stacked up medical bills like a game of Jenga, and watched a leaking ceiling “rain” all over our kitchen table.

But we’re still standing. A lot of times, we’re even smiling. Sure, sometimes we’ve had to fight for every bit of sunlight. Sometimes we’ve been going on a mixture of routine and caffeine just to make it through the day. But we keep reaching for the next day. And the next. And the next.

Reach for enough of them and it can be pretty amazing. Maybe even amazing enough to rival life, the universe and everything.

Maybe when we reach 42, we’ll know the answer for sure. But for now, it’s enough to be looking for it together.

For now, this answer’s pretty fantastic. Backward or not.

By the Light’s Early Dawn

Ok. I’m officially one of Those People.

No, not a Raiders fan. (I do have my standards, you know.)

No, I haven’t started changing lanes without a turn signal.

And no, I haven’t been forgetting to take my mask off when I’m alone in the car. Not for more than one or two blocks, anyway.

This is something far more serious.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Scott Rochat … and I am an Early Christmas Decorator.  

(Ow! If you’re going to throw cranberry sauce at me, take it out of the can first, OK?)

To be fair, this goes against a LOT of my early training. From childhood on, family and employers made it clear that Thanksgiving was the demarcation line that must not be crossed. Even now, my folks deck the halls beautifully, but not until well into December.

So how did we come to violate the Turkey Truce?

I’d love to blame Missy for this, but for once, she’s innocent. Relatively so, anyway. If you’ve met her in this space before, you know that our ward has no fear of blaring out some holiday tunes in the middle of June if the mood strikes her. This year was no exception – but the Veterans Day tree in the window was not her fault.

That started with my wife Heather.

Well, in all honesty, it started with 2021. And more than a bit of 2020 as well.

I think we can all agree that these last two years have been  … what’s the word? Stressful? Frustrating? Flaming dumpsters full of near-apocalyptic wretchedness? (I know, that’s more than one word. Go with me here.) Certainly there have been some amazing moments – any time period where Grumpy Bernie turns into a meme can’t be all bad – but  for the most part, it’s been a slog. Through a swamp. That’s on fire. And filled with bear traps.

Within Chez Rochat itself, this is the year we lost our oldest pet. And our youngest pet. We racked up way too many medical emergencies, even by Heather’s standards. Not to mention … but no, I won’t mention. You’ve got your own tales of family exhaustion and you probably don’t need to be burdened down by mine.

Suffice it to say, there’s been a lot of darkness. And darkness needs light.

So we kindled some.

Two weeks early for the calendar. But just in time for us.

And I know we’ve got company.

It’s a human reflex. Almost every winter holiday I can think of involves kindling lights.  It’s an act that pushes back against the growing night, creating beauty out of shadow. When reflected by snow, the light grows still stronger, reaching out to embrace all who see it.

In a cold time, it’s a promise that we’re still here. That we can still hope.  

That’s no small thing.

Joy, love, peace, hope – those aren’t qualities for just one time of year, to be packed up in a cardboard box when reality returns. They’re survival traits. We pick a time to make them more visible so they’re not forgotten, but they always belong. And in times like this, they’re more essential than ever.

So if this year, giving thanks is mixed with your holiday cheer of choice, I won’t blame you. Quite the opposite.

Let there be lights. And trees. And hearts with the strength and desire to raise spirits. Whatever you do, however you do it … if you’re helping hold back the dark this year, you’re family.

Yes, even the Raiders fans.

A Blake-Shaped Hole

There’d been a wonderful run in the mountains. As fast as a 15-year-old dog can run, anyway. He’d taken off on an impulse, just like the old days, keeping ahead of my wife Heather until she finally caught up with him near the road.

“Blake, you goof.”

Big Blake panted and grinned as only an English Lab can. All was right.

And then, back home, over the next few days, all began to go wrong.

For a long time, Blake had been slowing down. He’d always rally, sometimes from a change in medicine, sometimes from a laser therapy, sometimes from his own strong heart and a blessing from the Angel of Dogs. But each rally got a little shorter, each miracle a little less enduring than the one before.

Now what rallies there were seemed to come and go like summer lightning. A brief moment of courage to handle the stairs. Twenty minutes of ease while listening to someone read. Some excitement as Missy entered the room, stiffly heaving himself up to greet his developmentally disabled friend. And then, more pain and confusion.

The conversation that had ebbed and flowed for weeks began to accelerate in earnest as Heather and I tried to figure out how much time there really was.  Maybe two weeks? Next weekend? This weekend? Tomorrow?

Each time we looked at his hurting body and worried mind, each time we asked ourselves the question, the true answer got a little clearer.

Today.

And on July 29, after a hamburger of his own and half of Missy’s (this is still Blake we’re talking about), way too many french fries, and all the hugs and tears that a family’s hearts could hold – we let Blake go.

It hurts to write those words.

If it didn’t, something would be terribly wrong.

Because even when you’re ready, you’re never ready.

We touch so many lives, collecting heartprints from each one that embraces ours. We build a well of memories that refreshes our soul, we weave their story into our own for a richer, fuller tapestry.

And then the fabric tears away. And it leaves a hole behind.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. This is the bargain we make, every time we hold someone close in love – that loss will come, but that the having will somehow be worth the losing. We know it. But we let ourselves forget the day will come. We have to, in order to live.

Sometimes, it really seems like it won’t ever end. Big dogs don’t always last long, but Big Blake had an amazing gift of life. At 12, he had all the energy and athleticism he’d possessed at 6. Even into his truly old and slow years, he still had to be watched for acts of food burglary, still stuck to Heather like a second shadow, still often greeted Missy’s arrival with a loud THUMP, THUMP, THUMP on the floor from his muscular tail.

It fools you. Lets you think that maybe you won the lottery, maybe you finally discovered the one that’s truly immortal.

In a way, maybe we did.

Maybe we all have.

Every memory, every story, every past moment of love and exasperation, brings a bit of them back for a moment. It’s never enough. It never can be. And it hurts with the sting of salt water on an open wound.

But that’s part of the bargain, too. That if you give enough to each other, a piece of them stays on in you.

And so a little of me will be forever Blake. A bit of all our family is forever tied to that wonderful blockheaded klutz, with the voracious stomach and the mighty heart.

Once more, Blake is running ahead of us. Someday, we’ll catch up. Near the road, ready to smile as only an English Lab can.

We love you, Blake, you goof.

Wait for us, big buddy.