Warren Zevon was one of my favorite rock and roll singers. He had a very strange sense of humor, reflected by such titles as “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” and his signature song, “Werewolves of London.” He died in September of 2003 from mesothelioma, yet another victim of asbestos exposure.
Before he passed, he recorded his final CD, entitled “The Wind.” Assisted by friends Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and others, this dying artist crafted a very personal good bye to family, friends and fans, capped off by the hauntingly beautiful final piece - “Keep me in your heart for a while.” The lines are a sad request from the dying to the living, trying to help them deal with the grief that comes when a loved one departs.
“Shadows are falling, and I’m running out of breath...If I leave you...it doesn’t mean that I love you any less...keep me in your heart for a while.” In a voice weakened by a fatal disease, he sang with the melancholy of a man who knew his time was limited. If you get a chance, you should listen...but bring a tissue. I cried - hard - the first time I heard this song...and every time since. But never so much as now.
He came to us a little more than 14 years ago, the answer to a birthday wish for a dog from our middle son. With great reluctance, Mom gave in...subject to what she so confidently felt to be impossible prerequisites. ONE...house broken. TWO...no shedding...and from the males in the family - THREE...NO poodles! Well...two outta three ain’t bad. He was the youngest of a brood of three, kept by neighbors who had decided that two dogs were more than enough. One had to go - a decision that literally changed the Hopkins family for good. The first time he came over to our house in Granite City, he walked in with bouncing confidence - and promptly lifted his leg on the furniture...the first of many secrets at least temporarily kept from Mom. He stayed that night, whimpered a bit, but was treated to a warm bowl of milk during the night, beginning an unbreakable bond of affection between our family and a little French ball of fur named Hershey.
Hershey arrived already named, already neutered. One we could not change; one we chose to adopt. His name came from his chocolate brown color, and no doubt his sweet disposition. Over the years, he lost the color, but never the disposition. He remained kind, friendly and loyal, always glad to see you - always there to just make you happy.
On October 21st, Hershey died, truly one of our worst days. He had been slowly but surely going down hill - losing his hearing, diminished eye sight and finally, inevitably losing battle with cancer. We buried him next to one his favorite places in our back yard. Since it was the World Series, we dressed him in his little Cardinal jersey.
He was our first family dog, so the grief we feel at his death has no past pattern to guide. For those who do not have dogs, no amount of explanation can suffice; for those who do, none is needed.
In a most real and genuine sense, Hershey was a member of our family, tied to us by love, if not by blood. His presence brought magic to our lives; his death agony. But despite the wash of our tears, we have the comfort of memories - rich, warm, personal, funny, unerasable thru time. The many little ways he touched all around him - from the sweet way he knew to curl up in your lap after a bad day, the swagger of a tiny dog who thought himself big, his love of ice cream and meatloaf - these are all imprinted on our hearts. Flashes of smiles - taking away the flow of tears are his legacy, as we all think not of how he died, but how he lived, making our times together so very special.
Our daughter Bridget was particularly close to “Mr. Hershey,” growing up with him most of her life. Even though he was getting very sick, on September the 28th - the day of her wedding - dressed in his little tuxedo, he rallied like a Champ. The pictures and especially the video show not a sad creature on death’s door, but a pup - bouncing around with boundless energy. It was his gift to the Bride. I was so proud of my little guy.
The house is so quiet now, without the sounds of paws moving across the hard wood floors, the joyous barking to greet our return, no matter how long or short the journey. Hershey was a good companion, a faithful friend and true member of the family who gave love without restriction, asking only a little food, a little water (with ice cubes, please) and occasionally to rub his belly. I do miss him terribly. Whatever we gave to him, he gave back to us many times over.
Every day, on my way out of the house, I used to say good bye to my special buddy by rubbing his nose and chin. Now, I still go out to his grave in the morning and say good bye. Not quite the same, but it helps. His presence is in the fabric of the Hopkins family, our pictures, the stories, the tennis ball sitting in the corner. Time will heal the pain; but he will be in our hearts - not just for a while - but forever. All dogs are supposed to go to Heaven. If that’s the case, then our Hershey is resting comfortably for sure.
I guess the lesson here - if there is one - is that we need to truly appreciate what we have, when we have it. But with the press of daily life, it is so very hard to recognize the fleeting passage of time. David Letterman asked Warren Zevon if the knowledge of his impending death had given him some special insight. His response was classic…“Enjoy every sandwich.” Words to live by. Enjoy - appreciate - the world around you. Be not afraid.