Radar Found Me
“It was a desperate time of depression. Mom was dying and I wanted to disappear. But the little blond dog was set on finding me.”
I was 27, but felt like an adolescent, needy and unsure. My world was crashing in as my mom lay dying in a hospital bed. The doctor had just said to me, “We don’t usually provide nutrition tubes for terminal patients.” My jaw dropped. We were in a REHAB room. I thought she was supposed to get BETTER.
I thought there was no way this powerful force of a woman, at 52, was going to lose the battle to lung cancer – which wasn’t even the kind you get from smoking. Others had beat it, and right up until that precise moment, I believed victory was going to be her story. But the doctor’s abrupt words snapped me into reality and my emotions and stability spiraled out of control.
I remember standing on the edge of a second-story overlook in the hospital, staring down at the pleasant garden area below with its plush ferns, trickling water feature and meditative paths. And I wondered, gauging the distance, if the impact would be enough to end my life. I didn’t think I could possibly breathe without my mom. I was miles from home, recently divorced and believed my life to be pretty worthless at that point. I contemplated the possible outcomes of the impact – what if I was only paralyzed, not dead? That would suck. I really didn’t think the impact would get the job done, plus I was afraid of heights so it would be a terrible way to die even if I did have the guts. I was interrupted from these thoughts by my dad coming in to check on me. To bring me back to the room where mom was gasping for air and in and out of consciousness, doped up on morphine.
She wasn’t going to live.
The days were already a blur. My dad and I had been trading 24-hour shifts at the hospital for weeks, one of us always with her, ensuring continuity of care. We couldn’t leave her on her own. That’s not how we roll.
After the doctor’s “terminal” comment, staff rolled my mom’s bed, with her oblivious to the change, into a hospice area where the family would have more room. My brother and his wife arrived. And we waited.
The day I ran, it had all just gotten to be too much. Mom was in a tremendous amount of pain from the cancer riddling her body. It had metastized everywhere and the pressure from the blockages had her twisting in agony. Her blood pressure was low and her veins had been overused. The nurses were struggling to get a port so that the morphine could flow again, keeping her comfortable until the rest of her body could get with the program and let life leave. Mom, ever the fighter, was a bit absent of logic, unwilling to cooperate and struggling against the procedure. They held her down and she screamed my name, over and over again, begging me to help her. She needed the port. I couldn’t help her. I ran.
Out of the room, down the back stairs, through the parking garage, out into the streets and sidewalks of San Mateo, CA. And I just kept going. On down the street, around a few corners and several blocks away, I spotted a school playground with an unlocked gate, tucked behind a church. There was a tall playhouse structure, the floor about 6 feet in the air, with a little ladder attached. The perfect hiding spot for me to lose my composure, to scream and cry and be angry with God. I did just that, weeping until I had nothing left.
I sat there a long time afterward. The sky was getting dusk and the air was cold. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t have anywhere else to go and I didn’t care what happened to me. I curled into a ball on the wooden floor and wished for death.
Suddenly, I heard a loud, “WROooo, wroooo, wrooooo!” and looked down through the cracks between the floor boards to see mom’s trained search dog, Radar, smiling broadly and waving his thick golden plume of a tail. “Good boy, Ray!” said my brother Dan, a search dog handler who knew how to employ Radar’s vast skills in the concrete jungle as well as in any other context –be it wilderness, avalanche or disaster. “You found her!” he said, and commenced the happy praise and retrieving games Radar worked to earn. “Wrroooo!” Radar exclaimed, stick in his mouth and happiness exploding from his wriggling frame.
“Well, crap.” I said. I knew I had no other choice but to walk back with my brother. To face reality. To keep walking forward. Mom would want no less, anyway. She was never a quitter. How could I be? I climbed down from the play structure and gave Radar a hug as he washed my face with his sloppy tongue. “If you can go on without her, I guess I can, too, right, Ray?” “Wroo! Wroo!” said Radar and ran again for his stick.
Cancer took Mom not long after that. It’s been decades now, since losing her. I still miss her. I hear her voice and see her smile and think often of her catch phrases and grit. I hope I can be half the badass she was, and help people as much as she did. She was proud, passionate, determined, resourceful, funny and amazing. She was the first one who taught me to see the dogs, to really understand them.
Looking back at it all, I realize that this story is one of many where the dogs have saved me, and the people have shown up with them to bring love and hope and a bright future. Those are the stories I want to share in this blog. If you enjoy them, please subscribe and we’ll see where this takes us together, okay?
Wroo! Wroo! Wroo!