Life is always teaching us when we least expect it, and my dog, Scout, has been the one teaching me a lot my whole life. From how to always be there for someone to taking care of others when they need help like Scout does now in his cone—life and Scout are always teaching me. But before Scout came home all drugged up in his cone, he had one more lesson for me.
My family has always been close with our neighbors. We attend every neighborhood barbeque and holiday party and end up staying until the very last second so that we can talk to everyone. But one neighbor in particular we got very close with—for the sake of this article we will call her P. P is an older lady with quite a long history of interesting stories about how she came to be the pastor of her Protestant church and raised her family, despite all odds, as a divorced woman 60 years ago. Although her life is filled with wonderful stories of her accomplishments and lessons learned, this story is not about her. This story is about her daughter, we will call her D. We came to know P’s family because as she got older, she needed help keeping her house up, and without any of her kids nearby or able to help she needed someone else. My family stepped up since we share a fence, and we all began to get to know P more. It was my job to mow her lawn every two weeks and I would always wave to her and chat when the job was over.
So, my family and P became very close and the closer we got the more we learned about her family. Only one of P’s six children had stayed in Worcester, where I live. P had three sons and three daughters with two husbands and the only one to stay local was her daughter D. We learned that D suffers from mild autism and although her learning is impaired her memory is far stronger than anyone else I have met. As our families got closer, we soon began to invite D and P to events with us. We went to a number of Worcester Bravehearts baseball games together since D’s favorite team, the Red Sox of course, are a big hassle to get out to, but we still wanted to watch some baseball. Every game was a joy to attend, since D, all excited and energetic, would contest the umpires from the stand if she thought they made a bad call. D became a larger and larger part of our lives and soon she was calling the house every two to three weeks to check in on us and see how all of us were doing.
One Thanksgiving we actually invited D and P over; since the rest of their family was busy, we thought it would be nice to have the two of them over to eat with our family. D was excited to come over because this meant she got to finally meet Scout, my dog. Before we could even say hello to them all, D went to the backyard to play with Scout and watch him run around. She had the biggest smile on her face when she came in and throughout dinner, we learned all about D and how she got her memory to be so good. Every two years, she told us, she buys a two-year planner and every time she meets someone, she writes their birthday into the planner as well as facts she found cool about them. She was so excited to tell us all about this because she then handed us each our own two-year planner. My brother and I were still so young we did not know what to really do with planners, so we traded them, but D told us we were not allowed to do that. The ones we got were special to us because D picked them out just for us, and on the inside, she pointed out—she wrote our birthdays in to show that she could never forget, and even wrote hers in too so that we wouldn’t forget to call.
Well, since going to college and the coronavirus I have not been home as much and not able to stay in contact with D as much as I used to. So, after coming home from school I was disappointed to hear that D had been admitted into the hospital and then moved to a rehabilitation facility to treat the newly discovered cancer in her abdomen. My family made a plan to then visit outside her rehab window and wave hello to cheer her up a little. We even went out and got her Red Sox paraphernalia to have brought up to her room to keep her warm and chipper. But when we called the rehab center to ask if we could visit, we had learned she had been moved to another facility but we were told they could not legally tell us where she went. We did not know where to go from there so we called P and asked if she knew and well—she did. She told us D was being prepared to be transferred to hospice care the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Apparently the newly discovered cancer was older and far more malignant than the doctors were expecting. In the short time between her entry scan and most recent scan, only a week if not less, the cancer had spread to her kidneys and in a matter of days had shut them down entirely—she only had days left. Naturally, this devastated my family—we had watched my grandmother go in a similar fashion but to a far slower process—so old emotions and new ones were popping up.
D was not and will never just be our neighbor’s child—she is our friend and more so a part of our family. That night my family did something we have never done in our house together before—we prayed together. With D getting moved into hospice care we knew we had to visit as soon as we could. Unfortunately, the center only allowed two visitors at once so my mother and I went to see D first.
D was not any different than before; she was telling us about how happy she was to hear that the Red Sox had signed Alex Cora back to the team and she was sharp as ever with her memory. This was my first time in a hospice care center so I did not know what to expect, but when I saw D I was immediately calmed. She told us about the sickness and how she wanted to be home but that despite that she chose to be where she is now. She had the choice to go on dialysis once a day to extend her life past Christmas but she did not want that for her life. She made the choice that takes real strength, to go on her own terms and despite all the hardships she had been through in her life suffering from her mental setbacks, in this moment she comforted her own mother—P. When she chose to be moved into hospice, she told her mother she would not be home for Christmas and in that moment, she took care of the woman in her life who had always been there to take care of her.
D is stronger than anyone I have met and something she said when I saw her made me think. We were talking about everything we had done together and she began to talk about that Thanksgiving when we had her at our home years ago. She brought Scout up and talked about how happy playing with him made her, and she said, and I will never forget, “What’s better in life than being able to play with a dog who loves to be outside?” That little moment had traveled with her throughout her life—Scout was that important in that little moment to her. My dog, who for reference pees on every tree when we go on walks even when nothing comes out because he is just dumb, made her that happy.
Leaving D was tough, it is hard waving goodbye to someone you know you very well may never see again, but I made sure to tell her I loved her and would see her soon. Whether or not D makes it to when this article is published does not matter—I will always love her like an aunt and I will never forget her and every little moment we shared. I hope everyone reading can come to appreciate those little moments as well—slowing down to really take them in. Scout taught me that through D, a message heard all the time in the world around us but nonetheless true. It is the little moments that matter the most in life. When we find ourselves in our final moments we will not think of when we graduated or took a big trip. We will reflect on the little moments that stayed with us forever—the moments that truly made us happy. So do not take anything for granted, especially not now during this pandemic—you never know, that little kind gesture you make today might be the fondest memory someone has before they go. Never hesitate to be someone else’s Scout.