One evening I saw a lady walking her poodle around campus. I ran up to the owner and eagerly asked to pet her dog. The beautiful poodle resembled my dog at home, Atlas. I pet her dog and told the owner how I have a Goldendoodle at home that kind of looks like her dog and how great he is, saying how much I miss him. I thought nothing of it at the moment, but I do remember feeling at peace petting that poodle, feeling as if I was petting my own dog after being away at college and not seeing him for months.
The next day after was a typical Friday afternoon; I had just finished a quiz in the library and was about to head back to my dorm when my dad FaceTimed me. There was an unsettling tone of concern in his voice as he asked where I was. Then he proceeded to tell me to head back to my dorm and that I was going to need to be in a private place to hear the news he had to break. My anxiety immediately spiked; I sprinted all the way back to my room, heart racing and unable to breathe. Did something happen to my mom? My sisters? What happened? Is someone in the hospital? My thoughts swarmed my mind causing my stomach to turn as I approached my door. I sat on my bed, took a deep breath and called my dad back, sitting with anticipation as the phone rang.
When he picked up my FaceTime call, I immediately asked what was wrong. I could see the tears forming in my dad’s eyes as he said, “last night at 3 a.m. Atlas had a stroke and passed away.” The first thought that went through my head was no, “no, no, no; this can’t be happening, this isn’t real, Atlas is only seven, he’s a healthy dog, this can’t be right.” After the initial shock, I started hysterically crying. I could hear my little sister in the background, which made my heart hurt ten times worse. I desperately wanted to hug her, knowing how much pain she was experiencing, having to wake up to the loss of her best friend. I felt destroyed by this news because I knew I didn’t just lose a dog; I lost a brother.
It was really hard not being able to physically say goodbye to Atlas, but I knew that seeing that poodle the night before was more than just a coincidence, and it happened for a reason. I truly think in a way that was Atlas’ way of saying goodbye to me. A couple of days later, I saw the same poodle from before and thanked the owner, telling her what happened and how I felt as if I had a way to say goodbye to my dog by petting her poodle. She was shocked, with sorrow in her voice, she said, “oh my god, my dog is seven too.” I hugged her poodle and said my final goodbye, my heart aching.
Atlas was more than a pet; he was family and always will be. Atlas was another one of my parent’s kids in the form of a Goldendoodle. He had his own stocking at Christmas, was a part of every family photo and our family car license plate is “5 & Doodle.” He was the best-behaved boy, he could go on walks without a leash and his behavior was unexplainable. He wasn’t a typical pet; he acted like a human and was spoiled like one too. Everyone knew Atlas, and I mean everyone. He was the joy and light of the neighborhood. My sisters and I would walk him daily, and people would always run to greet him because they knew how much love Atlas showed to anyone he approached. I would take Atlas on walks at the same time the children from the elementary school across the street got let out. The kids, including my little neighbors, would always look forward to seeing Atlas, greeting him with the biggest smiles and excitement.
Atlas made everyone smile, especially my sisters and me. He could always tell when one of us was sad, and he would come to give us kisses to show that it was going to be okay. He also knew what time we got from school and would wait patiently at the window upon our arrival. And when we got home, he would do his little excited shake dance, happy to see his sisters after a long day without them. So when I tell you this news crushed me, that is an understatement. I couldn’t sleep for a couple of days and was full of shock and grief over the loss of something so special to my family.
After I hung up the phone with my parents, I kept saying, “why, why, why.” Not only did this just happen, but the week before, there was sudden news of my birth mother I haven’t heard about in 10+ years, which has been overwhelming. On top of that, I also had a cold and other personal situations that have really taken a toll on my physical and mental health. I fell to my knees in tears and prayed to God, asking him why this is happening, why all of this bad news and difficult situations have happened to me in the past month. I cried hysterically again, screaming, “why God, why.” Then something told me to open my bible, so I did. The very first page I flipped to was too aligned to be just a coincidence. I flipped to 1 Chronicles 22:5, and the first thing I read was “My son Solomon is still young and inexperienced and since the temple to be built for the Lord must be a magnificent structure, famous and glorious throughout the world, I will begin making preparations for it now.”
I was in disbelief, I asked God “why” and immediately got an answer when I turned to him. I took his word of telling me that I am young and still have so much to go through, including the good and the bad, and the joy and the grief. And I am still learning and will have to go through many more tough challenges that will ultimately build my strength and character to prepare me for life as a whole. The next page says, “The Lord God is with you,” “Now seek the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” In the worst moments, God is always with us. Sometimes it takes the darkest times for him to get our attention, and we have to seek him out in order to find peace in the storm.
I see signs of Atlas everywhere now; I have seen about seven Goldendoodles around Richmond since he passed away. My friend Skylar, who I recently connected with, told me that her Goldendoodle, Bodie, was only seven too when he passed. We like to joke around and say that they’re probably best friends in heaven now, looking down at us while having the time of their lives with endless beaches to run around on and bottomless treats to share. Atlas will always be a part of me and my family and will never be lost in spirit. Sometimes God sends us signs and messages that are right in front of us, and we just have to open our eyes and seek for it with our heart and soul. I know Atlas is patiently waiting at the gate to greet his family in the far future, and until then, I hope he is given the same amount of radiant love in heaven that he showed to everyone who knew him on Earth.