This half-face picture on the left is Nico. I met Nico and his owner, Gerri, one day in early 2011. I had taken Oliver to the park and none of his friends were there…and then came Gerri and Nico. We introduced ourselves and began talking about our dogs, who really didn’t even acknowledge each other. (Oliver was in a bit of an anti-social phase at the time) Nico had survived Hurricane Katrina and, along with many dogs that were rescued, was brought to NJ for adoption.
We connected and for some reason, our conversation flowed as if we had known each other for years. Gerri told me that she had recently battled breast cancer and after several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, she was trying to move forward again. Her openness and easy nature made the time fly by and before we knew it, it was time to go home.
Gerri began coming to the park more frequently with Nico and we became friends while Oliver and Nico continued to ignore each other. Gerri was still dealing with a lot physically and some days were better than others. We had many conversations, sometimes about nothing and other times, about more in-depth things. As Gerri navigated her medical issues, she still continued to bring Nico to the park, whether it was the heat of summer or when there was snow on the ground.
There came a point when one of Gerri’s PET scans came back with not such great news. Her cancer had returned and this time, it was in several areas and more aggressive. There were days when Gerri couldn’t lift her arms to throw Nico’s ball, so our little group at the park took turns occupying Nico, being Gerri’s arms for her when she couldn’t do it. Gerri and I had exchanged phone numbers and on days when she didn’t come to the park, I would call her to check in with her. There were days when she showed up at the park when she probably should have been home in bed. I really believe Gerri needed that park time just as much as Nico did.
In February 2012, Gerri stood up and collapsed, paralyzed from the chest down due to a tumor pressing on her spine. She was admitted into the hospital while more tests were run. She was transported more than once to other hospitals while her family tried to begin setting up 24-hour-a-day care for her once she returned home. Gerri and I spoke several times while she was in the hospital and she couldn’t wait to come back home. Even though her life was drastically changed, “home” represented some normalcy for her. She wanted to be in her own house with Nico, who she referred to as “the man” in her life.
Gerri became extremely ill in May of 2012 and was hospitalized. I called her cellphone while she was in the hospital and I could hear the difficulty she was having breathing. I didn’t have any words to say to her but I did my best to simply say what I could say. The next day, I received the news that Gerri had passed away. While we weren’t the closest of friends, I valued our time as friends and the talks we had. So much so that I wished I had known her for years and years before we had met. Our time as friends was so short and I felt there was so much more I wanted to know about her.
After Gerri passed away, Nico was sent to live with Gerri’s best friend. I saw Nico one time after Gerri died and it made me want to cry. As time went by, I would often think about Nico and wonder how Gerri’s death affected him. Did he understand why she was gone? Do our pets know more than we give them credit for? Did he miss her? Was he adjusting to his new home?
I often visit Gerri’s Facebook page and look at her pictures or leave a little comment. Silly to some, but I need to do it. I think about her and wish she didn’t have to endure all she did. It’s a comfort to open up Facebook and see her smiling face.
Yesterday (Thursday, January 12, 2017) I went for my daily walk and walked my usual route that takes me right by the park. As I approached, I looked to see what dogs might be there as I do every day, sometimes stopping to say hello to our friends but usually, no one is there any more. When I looked yesterday, there was Nico, standing in the park with Gerri’s best friend, his owner since Gerri’s passing. I couldn’t contain myself and as I made my way into the park, Nico ran to me like he wanted to knock me down and kiss me all over.
I had such a rush of emotion. Nico rarely showed affection in that way. He was single-minded at the park and only wanted his ball. He RAN to me, halfway across the field. He recognized me and he remembered me. He stood next to me while I spoke to his owner and literally leaned his entire body weight against me while I kept telling him I missed him so much. He kept looking up at me, meeting my eyes with his and just staring at me.
There isn’t any doubt in my mind seeing Nico after almost 5 years was a sign from Gerri. And to see him run across the field and look me in my eyes with his beautiful eyes, I knew it was a small hug from the other side. When people leave us, when our pets leave us– we are still connected in more ways than what we believe. It was in that moment that I truly believed while I was hugging Nico in the middle of a field, Gerri was in Heaven doing the same with my Oliver.