Timber was our large, male, eleven-year-old Golden Retriever and he was loved by every member of the family. Playful, gentle, and eager to be friends with everyone he met, he had a loud, deep bark, but not a mean bone in his furry body. Equally content to chase after tennis balls on a hot summer day or sit near me in the grass while I pulled weeds, he was a jolly and loyal companion. More than just a pet, he was a true friend.
And I hold myself responsible for not being there when he needed me the most.
For in truth, I knew he was terribly afraid of thunder. I had seen his wide chest and broad shoulders tremble with fear when the storms rolled in and changed him from a majestic beast into a pitiful creature wincing with every boom in the darkened sky.
Regrettably, I even teased him a little – “A big boy like you afraid of a little thunder?” I totally fault myself for not taking his distress more seriously and sincerely wish I had imagined the possible consequences for not doing so.
A wild summer storm sprang up that fateful afternoon while I was occupied with children and dinner. I knew Timber was sitting protected on our porch, but busy with household tasks, I left him there — assuring myself and fully trusting that he would be alright.
But he wasn’t.
When I thought to check on him a few hours later, he was nowhere to be found. Returning to my kitchen chores, I assumed he was in the yard making his post-rain sniffing rounds, visiting a neighbor farm, or completing his nighttime patrol around the house.
But Timber never came back that evening. We finally got in the car, put the windows down, and loudly hollered his name as we drove up and down the country roads near our home. We went to bed sad but not overly concerned. After all, this big independent dog was used to roaming a little. He liked to visit the neighbors. He always came home.
The next morning a neighbor knocked on our door to tell us the sad news that our beloved dog had been hit by a car two miles away where our country road meets a busy central road leading into town.
Although at first we couldn’t believe Timber would have run over two miles away – in the opposite direction the thunder was coming from — we had to accept the fact that we had lost him. Confused enough to forsake the safety of his home, his fear had driven him to run wildly and irrationally for protection and relief.
In the days that followed, Timber’s death was nothing but a stark and haunting reminder of another member of our family who also bizarrely ran away at a time when he most needed the help and comfort of his family. A metaphor for the suicide of my own sixteen-year-old son, Zachary, I am anguished to think that when both dog and boy heard the chaotic rumbles of stormy thunder and most needed the safety and security of their family, they both stepped off the porch, turned instead to their own resources, and ran frantically from their desperate anxiety.
Both, I wished I could have saved.
While I miss my huge dog with his brown soulful eyes, his velvety floppy ears, and a huge tongue that often didn’t quite seem to fit in his mouth, I miss my son even more. I miss Zachary’s hearty laugh, his handsome face, and the help he daily provided to ease my load. I miss his funny comments, his beautiful hands, and the generous way he cared for and loved his brothers and sisters.
Dog and boy are gone and some days I have learned… are just for sadness and for missing. And for wishing we could have done more.