FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2008
Today I learned a lesson that I would have liked to postpone. I have been in prison for eight months and as of this day, I expect to serve 150 more days. Yet, I struggle with a loss that is surprisingly deep, a loss that hurts to the core of my bones. I learned that my dog, Honey, has passed on.
Some may find the pain within me too much or exaggerated. I am a 33 year old man, a well educated and accomplished professional. I am at an age when others have enjoyed marriages and children, though I have had neither. For me, Honey has been my family for nearly 14 years.
I purchased Honey in 1995, on May 20. She was a puppy, an adorable cocker spaniel, and I’m incapable of describing how much joy she brought to my life. I watched her grow, and in many ways Honey helped me grow. Through her unconditional love, her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, I enjoyed a life that fulfilled me in ways that I will forever miss.
When I self-surrendered to the prison camp at Taft, I left Honey in my mother’s care. My mother has been a saint throughout my life, and especially through my imprisonment. Without question, the sanction I have burdens her more than me. She has worried about my welfare from the start. She lost sleep and has cried many tears as a consequence of my confinement. Whatever I needed, my mother has provided with enthusiasm and without question. When I began my term, I needed her to care for Honey.
During my frequent calls home, my mother always assured me that Honey was well and missing me. “Daddy’s on the phone,” I heard my mother say when I called. She sent me photographs of the dog regularly and if rules would have permitted, Honey would have accompanied my mother on each visit.
I visited with my mother yesterday. She made the long drive with our friend, Judy, who is my closest friend Brad’s mother. The three of us enjoyed a wonderful day together, a diversion from the quotidian realities of prison life. Honey, of course, was a part of our conversation.
Believing that any news about Honey’s imminent demise would have unnerved me, my mother used her good judgment not to tell me that Honey had ignored her food for the past two days. While my mother and Judy were passing good times with me in Taft’s visiting room, my step-father was taking Honey to the vet. Honey was a dog who loved to eat; her disregard for the food my mother had set out was out of character and concerned my mom.
That evening I called my mother to set my mind at ease that she had crossed the mountain and arrived home safely. Upon hearing her voice, I could sense something was wrong. “What is it? Is it Honey?” My mother held the phone in silence, unable to add to the complications of my imprisonment by telling me of the irregularities the vet had found in Honey’s heart.
“Did Honey die?”
My mother began to cry. At that moment I knew that my world had irrevocably changed. Nothing would bring Honey back, and while standing there, in the openness of a wall-mounted public phone, the emotions poured out of me. For that moment, I felt naked, helpless and inconsolable.
I retired to my cubicle and climbed onto my rack. I felt exhausted, drained, and wanted nothing but solitude. In grieving, I lacked the strength to brush my teeth.
I woke a few times during the night, thoughts of Honey weighing heavy on my heart. Despite all the losses I’ve endured as a consequence of my conviction, nothing compares to the loss of my beloved dog. I feel as if I’ve lost a limb, a part of myself.
This morning I awoke to the realities of prison. In times of loss, we have no one to comfort us. I walked to the track and I went alone. Wherever I went, eyes were upon me. The experience made me pause and consider perspective.
I have and had a love for my dog that will always live as a part of me. Yet, the passing of life represents a part of this journey I am on. Rather than grieve indefinitely, I must confront this struggle with dignity and strength. Nothing will erase my sadness, yet I am choosing to rejoice in the 14 years of enrichment that Honey brought to my life. I must measure my response to the emotional challenges that threaten to swallow me whole. I owe this temperance to the honor of my memories with Honey.
More than that, I owe a dignified response to the honor of my mother. She suffers, I know, with worries that prison has been too much for me. She knew how much I loved Honey and she is traumatized with thoughts that I may break down with this reality of yet one more significant loss. But I am determined to embrace Honey’s memory with gratitude and love rather than suffer her passing with grief and sadness.
A funny thing happened as I made this commitment to power through. I was walking around the track thinking of these past eight months Honey had of love from my mother and Ken as they pampered her during my imprisonment. Simultaneous to my decision to face this challenge with dignity, a dog that lives near the prison came running across the field in a gallop. It ran directly toward me, and then paused as if it wanted me to pet it. Tears welled in my eyes as I held Honey’s spirit in that dog.
Honey came into my life on May 20, 1995. That was the day I celebrated her birthday. As a present to her, on the day of my scheduled release from prison, May 20, 2009, I will walk out of Taft with joy of Honey’s memory rather than sadness in my heart.