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Ally and Me: A Memorial
When we lose someone dear and precious, it is if all the others who died before are lost to us again. Safely sleeping in our memory this most recent death awakens and magnifies the loss of all who have gone before. They uncoil, strain and as they join hands, the weight of all the pain and grief bends us down until we think we can’t stand or move or breathe again.
There is a vacuum in my heart shaped like a dog. His name was Ally and he was a Doberman. And if you know about Dobes, you know they’re special- if you’ve ever had the privilege of being loved by a Doberman; you will know they are extraordinary. Ally was magnificent.
He was barely two weeks old when we met. My life was in complete and utter turmoil because I was leaving a place I didn’t want to leave and moving to a place I didn’t want to go. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, I needed a dog. But not just any dog, a Doberman.
He was born from the genealogy of Aeolus and his breeder who sold him to me said that his line won many awards for best in show, obedience and many others. They were champions and she said this was the best litter in over twenty years – she sold the puppies for $4,000 each.
Noticing my audible gulp, she said she had 2 males and 2 females that she would sell for $1000-$1500 each. She recommended that I drive to her kennel so I could meet these puppies. The breeder escorted me into a large garage type building and gathered 4 tiny bodies, placed them on the cement floor and left me alone with them. As I sat down on the floor, one of the puppies pulled itself out and waddled over to me, swinging its whole body. His other 3 litters stayed in their ball and watched me carefully. At that moment, Ally and I began the 10-year journey that ended on the morning of March 26, 2006.
Ally was fearless. Our first “outing” was to a Petco store in Houston – he was about 4 weeks old. He saw a huge Rotweiler, the dog must have weighed 120 or 130 pounds, this little puppy “attacked” the Rotweiler- pulling on his leash while barking, growling with all the accompanying ferocity of the 80 pound animal he would become within the year. The owner as well as the 5 or 6 other customers in the store were cracking up. During his life that fearlessness would remain a dominant feature of his personality.
He was about 3 months old when we left Texas for the move to Massachusetts that I was dreading so much. We arrived at Logan airport in late November of 1995; I picked Ally up from the dog pick-up and as we sat in the airport shuttle I’m not sure who was more scared, him or me. I found a house to rent with a forest for the puppy to run and grow. I could only hope that this new job and home would work out for us. But I had been in Texas for almost 20 years and moving to Massachusetts felt like moving to another planet.
I worked very long hours, too long to be fair to a fast growing, energetic and lonely puppy. But as the days turned into weeks, we settled into a routine that worked pretty well for the two of us. The breeder taught me that crates are best for raising dogs – because they were pack animals, they felt safe and the things in the house would be protected from exploring by curious puppies. But during the times he was allowed out of the box, everything was fair game. He was hardest to hold during my morning training and it must have been during one of those times that the cause of our first crisis occurred.
We had been in our new home for maybe a month. At 2 or 3 in the morning, Ally was very suddenly terribly sick with vomiting and diarrhea. I called a vet emergency number and reached a man named Dr. Rice. After explaining my situation to this man, he responded by giving me directions to the Tufts University Clinic suggesting that the dog’s symptoms sounded like emergency surgery was required and that his practice was closed because he was close to retirement. I will never know why this good man agreed to let me bring Ally to his office at 6 in the morning on my way to work. Dr. Rice told me that he had no idea what would cause such a violent illness in a dog so young and in his gentle way tried to prepare me for all eventualities. He explained what he was going to do and what his options were and that he would call me in the middle of the morning. I was meeting with my administrative staff about our budget challenges when my secretary interrupted us with a call from Dr. Rice. Taking the call, the listeners in my office heard only one exclamation from me: “what…pantyhose?” And my whole office dissolved into gales of laughter.
Ally found and swallowed a pair of my pantyhose. Dr. Rice was amazed by the fact that the purgatives resulted in the pantyhose being expelled without complication. He was unable to identify anything on an X-ray and had to rely on restoring the dog’s lost fluids and continuing to induce vomiting in the hope that something would. would be expelled. He said it took him and his staff some time to identify what the object was. I picked up my dog later that afternoon with an effusive gratitude for this man- when I asked if he could recommend a vet for me to take Ally to, he smiled and replied, you already have one.
Our best times during those first few months were spent behind the rental house exploring the woods where he could race with complete abandon throughout that winter and spring. Or those weekends when we would run through the quiet streets of the city. Many evenings, we just sat listening to music and I talked to him about whatever was on my mind.
When John met Ally and me later that year, it took a while for them to get to know each other. John was used to dogs but dogs that were mostly outside and kind of invisible. Ally loved being out – if I was there but he was never invisible. After John and I got married, he bought some books about Dobermans so he could learn about this dog, who was truly the best friend I ever had. When he finished the books, he announced that he now got it…that with a Doberman you just had to realize that it was your very good luck that they chose to live with you and love you…but that it was theirs. choice
What about the love between us and a dog? Do we envy the integrity of their being or the purity and simplicity of their nature? Where too many of our lives are often spent battling with our various selves – consumed by ambition or greed, an animal is never more or less than an animal. Where the love between people is so often conditional, the love for a dog isit it just is no matter what I think it’s no coincidence that dog is God spelled backwards.
John and I talked for hours about Ally the night he died. John did most of the talking while I did most of the crying. We talked about his spirit- that Texas-sized heart filled with an indomitable spirit. John walked a lot in the desert alone with Ally and he said that he would often think about what might happen if they encountered a lion, which was abundant in the high desert mountains. That night John said he knew exactly what was going to happen. That if necessary, Ally would have put herself between John and the lion and fought to his death.
There is a rock on top of his grave that reads:
“Aeolus” Alliance Heart and Soul
August 7, 1995 – March 26, 2006
The gift I am sending you is called a dog and is actually the most precious and valuable possession of mankind.”
When I was a very young college student, I discovered the writings of Kahl Gibran and memorized a few phrases that seemed to explain the turbulence of my life as a young adult. Now as a much older adult, they return…
“…your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the same well from which your laughter rises has often been filled with your tears. And how else can it be?
The deeper that sadness carves into your being, the more joy you can contain… When you are sad, look again into your heart, and you will see that really you are crying for what was your joy. Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “No, sorrow is greater.” But I tell you, they are inseparable.
They come together, and when one sits alone with you at your table, remember that the other sleeps on your bed. Verily you are suspended like a balance between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you still and balanced…”
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