Fall has never been my favorite time of year. Knowing that ice and snow are in our very near future has never been a cheery thought. But this fall has certainly exceeded my negative expectations.

It was a warm evening three weeks ago, and Sarah was a blessing on what was a rough night.

I took the boys out for an evening walk. When I say “boys,” I mean Butters, our Shih tzu who charges forward knowing the comfort and protection of our gentle giant Newfoundland Bentley trailing close behind.

The duo had been together for seven and a half years since we brought Bentley home as a puppy. Butters wasn’t welcoming at first trying to adapt to the bear-like presence. But when they have played over the years, Butters has become relentless in his attacks against the giant while they play. He knew Bentley would never give him more than a gentle and playful bite. They have enjoyed their play times and “wrestling matches” over the years. And on one event, Bentley proved to be a true protector and plucked Butters out of the water after he slid off the end of the dock. I couldn’t believe what I was watching.

When we got back from our walk that evening, Bentley seemed out of sorts and rested in my mother-in-law’s driveway. I got him in the house, but there was something wrong.

We would learn within the next hour after contacting a veterinarian that his stomach was likely twisted. We didn’t know this was common in large breed dogs. The veterinarian said they didn’t do house calls, and they couldn’t guarantee he would make it long enough to get to surgery in the Twin Cities or that he would survive it.

We made Bentley as comfortable as possible with Nyquil and Benadryl, the only things we had in our cupboard that I knew would make him sleep. He made his way to our room where he had spent every night since he was a puppy, falling asleep comfortably on a pillow of blankets.

I went for a walk and a painful cry, hoping to run into one of my female neighbors. It was late, but Sarah was out tending to her beagles, which was a welcomed sight.

I called out a greeting, and she responded by asking how I was. I was too broken up at that point to mask my feelings. Sarah ran out and gave me a big hug, something we have all lacked during the pandemic and was just the thing I needed at that moment. It seemed she needed it too. We talked about Bentley’s imminent passing, the state of the country, her husband’s tumultuous job in law enforcement, her boys, my kids, college football, COVID, and her faith for over two hours that night.

I left Sarah’s house learning more about her than I had learned from our conversations in passing. Our encounters were always among the group of neighborhood friends which weren’t conducive to the private and soulful conversation we had that night. I left looking forward to a closer relationship with her and having a “neighborhood friend.”

At home, Bentley hadn’t awoken since I left and seemed to be on his last breath and no longer responsive. My daughter, who picked him out as a puppy and lovingly referred to him as “helmet head” because of the amount of fur that sticks up on the top of his head, had come home from college to be with him a last time. She had gone to bed. I sat alone in the living room where I would be awake when Bentley passed. He passed away within a half hour, and I woke Mark to let him know.

We cried as we carried his 170 pound body out of the house and placed him in the truck. Mark would bring him to the vet in the morning for cremation. I cried as I fell asleep.

I woke the next morning to puffy eyes and a text from Sarah asking how I was and how Bentley was. It was a pleasant and thoughtful gesture in which I responded that he passed away.

Later in the afternoon would prove to be much more ominous.

Mark called saying there were paramedics dispatched to our neighbor’s home and then later, a helicopter. We soon learned it was Sarah’s home. I texted her asking if she was okay. It wouldn’t be good for something bad to happen to anyone, but I was hoping it wasn’t her or her family that paramedics were tending to.

With no text back, this was alarming. I soon received a call from a mutual friend that Sarah had passed away at her home after bringing home groceries and there was nothing paramedics could do to save her.

As friends and family mourned the loss of Sarah at her funeral several days later, I realized what a blessing she was to so many people. Something I got just a glimpse of the evening before. It was apparent through the eulogies and hugs and crying that turned into laughter at the thought of an unexpected memory of her. It was apparent by the number of people in attendance in the open aired building that would accommodate such a group during a pandemic.

Our neighborhood will not be the same. Her boys’ and husband’s lives will certainly not be the same. But the comfort in the assurance she is with her Lord and Savior, something I learned much more about the prior evening, coupled with the delightful memories her family holds, will get them through the rest of their years – until they meet again.

Our road is quieter now. The gatherings in the neighborhood are sparse like the branches now absent of their leaves. Things are different.

At home, Butters is full of trepidation and less enthusiasm. He’s lost his playmate and protector.

But life will go on for those still here. We will reluctantly plow into winter with all of us finding our new normal – on so many different levels.

*Editor’s note: Sarah is not the real name of my friend in the interest of privacy.

Traci LeBrun is the editor of the Messenger.

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