The First Time I Prayed

I remember my first prayer as if it were a dream. You should know that I have always been granted extraordinarily vivid dreams, and this was no exception. The edges of the memory are somewhat faded, but the actions remain perfectly intact in my memory. You have probably assumed that the first time I prayed was as a toddler with my mom. Or maybe in my Catholic grade school before class. You would be wrong on both counts. I bet you wouldn’t assume that the first time I prayed was in November of 2014, at sixteen years old – sixteen years a Catholic.

My best friend growing up was my golden retriever, Molly. My family got her as a puppy from my babysitter’s family when I was two and a half years old, right before my little sister was born. No, I don’t know what my parents were thinking. All I know is that, as chaotic as that time probably was for our family, two of the greatest beings came into our home to become part of our family. My sister is beautiful, tall, and fifteen years old now. Molly is not. In November of 2014, when I was sixteen years old, we put her to sleep at the vet’s office where the vet himself cried for love of her.

When I was younger, Molly was like one of my sisters. She slept in my bed every night – and not at my feet. She slept next to me and acted as my pillow. During the day she let me dress her up in my princess costumes and bows. She willingly let a lightweight little kid try to climb on her back and name her my steed. I had to attend therapy when I was younger because I would cry when she was too muddy to sleep with me. When I was older, she raced me back and forth in our large backyard. She would quickly outrun me, but circle back to run with me the rest of the way to the fenced wall. She was sweet as could be and had the most soulful brown eyes I have ever seen. To this day, I swear that Molly’s eyes are the eyes of angels. She would nose your arms when she wanted you to pet her head. And when my dad came home she would roll over on her back, gently asking for a belly rub. Molly was the type of dog that families dream of.

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She had her faults, but they were lovingly accepted by my entire family. She was terrified of storms. Before they had even been predicted by the news channel, she could tell they were on their way. She would pant and drink water as if it were going out of style. Sitting still was not an option for a panicking Molly. She would seek out shelter when the storm was rolling in. I remember one time she locked herself in the bathroom by accident when we weren’t home to watch her. Did I mention she was also claustrophobic? She ended up ripping off the trim by the door and chewing it open to escape. Her face was a bloody mess when we returned home, but she was just happy to see us. I remember another time when I came upstairs to find her cowering in the back of my closet, all my laundry and assorted storage bins emptied and scattered to make room for her shivering body to hide. At night she would jump on and off my bed attempting to wake me and find cover with her. Eventually the vet prescribed her sedatives to help her through the storms as she started to endanger herself more and more. This way she simply slept through the worst of the storm and kept calm as can be.

She also loved my Dad’s socks. I don’t know how many he went through a year, but Molly always had at least one of his sweaty grey socks hanging from her mouth as she flounced around the house. Sometimes I would take one out and discover she was actually carrying three! My poor dad always had holes in his socks, but we never cared. Poor Molly had her faults, but I remember every one through love tinged filters.

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When she was eleven years old we found out she had cancer. I remember standing in the guest bedroom of our home when my parents broke the news to my sister and I. Molly had cancer, and the vet said she probably had about six months to live. Tears slowly trickled down my cheeks as I came face to face with the real possibility of losing my loyal best friend. Over the next week she had many more appointments with the vet, and was put on medications to control the tumor growth. I could feel the tumors all down her throat and chest and they frightened me to the point that I couldn’t pet her there. We brought her in to have one of the tumors removed, but the surgery really took everything she had, and she wasn’t the same dog for weeks after. The tumor came right back, and they raised the dosage of medication she was on. Months began to pass and soon we were staring six months in the face … but Molly seemed to be fairing just fine. Besides her tumors being visible beneath her blonde fur, she was our beautiful dog through and through. Six months turned into a year and a year turned into three. The vets called her a miracle and of the three dogs our personal vet was treating with the same cancer, she was the only one to survive past the original six months. Molly was a fighter. The most gentle fighter I have ever known.

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Towards the end of her life, she began to deteriorate. Her fur became that matted, thin texture that older dogs often have. She lost control of her bladder and eventually her bowels as well. Her nose became dry, even though we made sure to keep her hydrated. She struggled to stand, and became somewhat disoriented – pushing her food bowl around and refusing to eat. When she went days without eating… we knew it was her time. It was hard to face, but Molly was no longer our gentle old lady, standing guard over the house. She was ready to move on. We decided as a family and the vet agreed that it was time. She had lived a long long life and, in the end, old age was what took her – not the cancer. She was a fighter.

The first time I prayed was on the night before we were meant to take her to the vet for the final time. I had known Molly my entire life. I don’t remember a time when Molly wasn’t a part of my life. She slept next to me for my entire childhood. She eventually moved to the floor when she became to weak to jump. Then to the bottom of the steps when the stairs became too much. Eventually she slept on a favorite pink blanket of hers in the school room, the center of the house. On the eve of her death, I wandered down the stairs with a blanket in hand. She was snoring away on the pink blanket, and I curled up beside her on the ceramic tile, letting the cold wake me so that I could listen to Molly snore through her labored breath. I stroked her back and felt her wavy ears in my fingers. I wondered if she knew her time was near. I curled around her and I drifted in and out of light sleep – on the cold, tile floor with a blanket and a paw for a pillow. I was not comfortable, but being next to her was enough.  All of those nights she guarded me while I slept, it was the least I could do to sleep with her on her final night – whether she knew it was her final night or not.

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As I lay there, I began to pray. It wasn’t a simple Our Father or Hail Mary in her name, it was a real prayer. I don’t mean that those prayers are fake, just that I had been praying those all my life but, until this prayer, I had never experienced anything like the feeling that came over me. This prayer – this night – is when I accepted my faith. I prayed to God that he would take Molly in her sleep. I prayed that when I woke up, she would have passed on peacefully. I pleaded that I wouldn’t have to take her on a special car trip to a special room where they would inject her and send her to sleep… forever. I prayed hard. I told Him how much she meant to me, although He already knew. I held her closer and closer as I prayed that God would see her and take her into his arms. I felt his presence then. I could feel God comforting me in that moment – and I was at ease. My prayers were all-consuming. I whispered and wept but overall, I trusted. I knew, without a doubt, that He was there with me. No matter the outcome, He was there. I slept for some time next to her, and in the early hours of the morning I picked up my blanket and returned to my own bed – determined to get some good rest to face the hard day I knew was ahead of me.

Molly was still alive in the morning. She wobbled to stand up, and I hoisted her hips up to balance her so that she could walk to the car. Ever so gently, we eased her into the car. When my family helped her into the office at the vet, there was quiet. We all held her as she left us. It was peaceful. It was difficult. I was mad at God for making me do it. I didn’t like the idea floating in my head that maybe, just maybe, Molly wouldn’t have wanted this. Maybe she wasn’t ready and we were forcing something on her. I didn’t like that God let those ideas pollute my mind in the hour when Molly needed me most. And yet, as mad as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to be outright angry. I couldn’t bring myself to think my prayer wasn’t heard. I felt it. I knew it was true as much as I knew that my own heart was beating in my chest.

This left me with the question – Why did he have her live through the night?

Wouldn’t it have been better to have her pass in her sleep with my arms around her? I was looking at it all through sad and compromised eyes then, but with distance comes clarity. And not more than a week later did I understand why she lived those extra hours. Timing. God has the most extraordinary timing and that timing is what sends me hope. It is what gives me confidence in him. My great-grandma came to live with us after a terrible fall a week later. All of our time went into her well-being then. God knew that we could not handle the care-taking of both Molly and my great-grandma at the same time. He was giving my family exactly what we could handle exactly when we could handle it. I also saw that He knew Molly needed to be with the entire family at the end of her life – and my entire family needed to be with her. It wouldn’t have been right for it to happen in any other way. The timing needed to be perfect. And it was.

I can’t imagine who I would be without that dog. Her pawprints are forever embedded on my heart. It is hard to lose a pet. I want to thank any of you that took the time to read this post. It took weeks for me to get through writing the entire story – but her story was worth telling. I have many many happy memories I could share, but for now I want you all to know that it was her and her life that brought me back to God. He amazes me every single time.

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