Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sammy in the Sky

"My sunshine doesn't come from the skies, it comes from the love in my dog's eyes."

This is Connick (named after Harry Connick, Jr.).  He was part of our family for 15 years.  He passed away in October 2007 when Emmy was 20 months old.  She doesn't remember him, but I do because he filled my heart with joy every single day.  It is this joy as well as the happy memories that my husband and I share with Emmy that allows her to talk about Connick like she remembers him.  She loves to tell others how Connick liked to chase tennis balls, how he let her climb into his doggy bed and snuggle with his blanket, how he stood by her from the day she was born and watched over her with a protective eye.

The loss of a pet is an extremely difficult experience and only those that have had this experience can truly understand the emotional pain.  I am thankful that Emmy was so young when Connick left us because she was spared this pain.  However, I know that loss is inevitable and I know that a dog will join our family again soon.  When it's time to say goodbye, I will be very thankful that we came across the book Sammy in the Sky and that we shared this book with Emmy many, many times.

Sammy in the Sky is beautifully written by Barbara Walsh with exquisite watercolor paintings by Jamie Wyeth. The story was inspired by Walsh's family's first dog, Sam - a loyal and loving hound dog.

We were very fortunate to meet Barbara Walsh at our local bookstore in the summer of 2011. We had her autograph our copy of the book. She wrote,
"To Emerson, With dog licks 
from Connick." 
and signed her name. Emmy was delighted and so was I!

Walsh wrote Sammy in the Sky in a way that allows the reader to imagine herself as the main character since the character remains unnamed.  The little girl can be any child who has ever lost a dog. The story takes us through all the joy and love that Sammy brings to the family, to the announcement that he is sick, on to his death, and to a celebration of his life.

"Then we blew bubbles into the wind.  They floated higher and higher toward 
a cloud that looked like a dog running in the sky.  I could see its paws, 
floppy ears, and tail.  It's Sammy!" I yelled.  "He's chasing the bubbles!  
Sammy's with us!"  

Jamie Wyeth's paintings are the perfect match to Walsh's story.  Absolutely extraordinary!   Wyeth's love for dogs is evident in his thoughtful illustrations and his understanding of the beauty of the Maine landscape, where the story takes place, is captured dreamily in the pale colors of the paintings.  The illustrations evoke every emotion (love, joy, grief) of the unconditional love between a dog and his human.  Emmy and I fell in love with Sammy on the very first page. Just take a look at his eyes!

"My dad said Sammy was the best hound 
dog in the whole world.  All I knew was 
that I loved Sammy and Sammy loved me."

Emmy's favorite part of the story is when the little girl finds the cloud shaped like Sammy in the sky. To this very day, Emmy will look up into the sky and squeal with delight when she finds a special cloud shaped like Connick.  Sammy in the Sky shows us that our love and our memories is what keeps our loved one with us forever tucked inside our hearts.  This message is an important one to pass along to a child and a great reminder to adults.  Anyone, young or old, would treasure this book, and its message, forever.  

Most recently, Emmy and I came across a fantastic book of poems that celebrates the uniqueness of the human/canine relationship.  Dog Songs, by well known poet Mary Oliver, contains 35 simple poems and prose that capture the wholehearted devotion of dogs and is enhanced by the simple pen and ink drawings found throughout the book.  One of our favorite poems is Little Dog's Rhapsody in the Night.

Little Dog's Rhapsody in the Night
He puts his cheek against mine
And makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I'm awake, or awake enough
He turns upside down, his four paws in the air
And his eyes dark and fervent
"Tell me you love me," he says
"Tell me again."
Could there be a sweeter arrangement?
Over and over he gets to ask.
I get to tell

Please listen to Mary Oliver read Little Dog's Rhapsody in the Night:

Emmy would love to have a dog as her buddy again and my husband and I would love to have a dog as a part of our family again. Unfortunately, we live in an apartment building where the policy is "No Dogs Allowed" which always makes me think of the Charlie Brown episode when Snoopy gets kicked out of the library and a very deep voice says, "No Dogs Allowed!"  How can they kick a dog who LOVES to read out of the library?  CRAZY!

We did want Emmy to experience the joy, as well as the responsibility, of a pet so we decided recently to add two guinea pigs to our family - Fluffy and Lightning.  They are the sweetest little things!  We love to hear them squeak and whistle whenever we come home.  Emmy is such a wonderful caretaker of her little "piggies."  Her favorite thing that her guinea pigs do is hop about in their cage.  When she found out that this is called "popcorning" she loved it even more.

Emmy and I hope that you have the opportunity in your life to experience the love of a dog (or a guinea pig).  The affection and wholehearted devotion of a pet, who loves us unconditionally, is amazing. While in the process of caring for a pet, he teaches us such an important lesson...TO LOVE.  By letting us see ourselves through his eyes, we allow ourselves to believe what he sees, to believe that we are worthy of love - that we ARE love.

Thank you for being our teacher Connick!  We keep you tucked inside our hearts every day.  

"What we have once enjoyed
we can never lose;
All that we love deeply,
becomes a part of us."

~ Helen Keller ~ 

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