It’s What I Have

I have stories since Philip died, stories about the way he’s still in my life, what I hear him say and how I hear him say it. I’m blessed because really, he’s always around. It’s not weird or spooky, either. I just talk to him in my head, and he talks back. I also keep journals where I’ll listen to what he’s saying and write it down. Call it Philip, call it my love for him allowing me to tap into a deeper wisdom that’s “inside” me, a wisdom that’s available to anyone who’s willing to seek it – no matter. To me it’s Philip, to me it’s part of the bond I have with him.

I’m mentioning this because I just read a post on behindthemaskofabuse about a lost dog, which reminded me of something and I’m in the mood to write about something that makes me smile. I have a wanting to be chronological about things, but if you follow along at all, I’m not, not really. Theres’s a narrative thread but it comes out as it does. I’m not in control. The writing sort of leads me, and I get it out best I can.

This happened a couple months ago, when it was still getting dark by 7:30 here on the east coast. I’d been working on a post and felt stuck, when something told me to take a break and go for a walk. Now, we all have intuition that we’d do well to pay attention to, and the more we do, the stronger it gets. Me? Meh. I don’t listen as much as I’d like. And in spite of the fact that when I walk, the writing comes rolling through my brain, I didn’t want to go. I’m a homebody. Stick me on my couch with my books and my computer and a basket of knitting nearby, and I’m good to go. Er, to stay. So I’m ambivalent; if I need a break from writing I can just stop, what’s with the going out business? But since I’m trying to pay attention to that “little voice” inside of me, I said to the doggies, guys – let’s go.

(Have I said anything about my dogs other than that they’re my dogs? I have two shih-tzus, Zoe and Pippin, and one day I’ll get my act together and post some pictures of them.)

It was probably around 7:00, probably just before the gloaming , and I decided since we’re going for a walk, it would be a long one. We could all use the exercise. Before going downstairs, I went looking for my wallet. I didn’t need it to go out, I just realized I didn’t know where it was which makes me crazy so I started running around looking for it. And I asked Philip where it was because I cannot begin to count the times I’ve asked him where things were and then promptly found them.

Not this time.

Downstairs I went with the dogs, and I started running around there, too, frustrated because I couldn’t find it and really frustrated because Philip wasn’t helping. Then I ran back upstairs and looked again, and again back downstairs. Then I remembered I had laundry in the washer in the basement that needed to go into the dryer so I went to do that, hoping that when I came back up I’d find my wallet.


By then it was almost 8:00. I decided to just cut it out, forget about it, ask Natalie to help me look when she got home from gymnastics. I leashed up the dogs and went out, thinking I’d still go for a long walk because even though it was now dark, it was warm outside. I took my time heading toward the corner where I wanted to turn, letting the dogs sniff and pee because once I started walking, I wasn’t stopping. So they’re rooting around the grass and I’m stargazing and that’s when I felt a tug. Looking down, there was a little doggy, sort of like a Boston Terrier but mostly all black, sniffing around with my two. She wore a pink harness, without a tag. There was no one around but me. And while it occurred to me to just go on ahead with my walk, the saner part of me realized you don’t leave a dog out in the dark that looks like she doesn’t belong there. This one definitely did not belong there. So I took Zoe’s leash off and put it on Stray Dog, because Zoe – being a girl and all – would not leave my side, while Pippin – being a somewhat blind, somewhat deaf boy and all – wouldn’t have noticed I was gone until he found himself staring up at the bottom of my neighbor’s Lexus.

First thing I did was ring the bell of the house we were standing in front of, thinking maybe she escaped from there. The woman that answered never saw her. Next I asked some guy who happened to be walking his own dog on the other side of the street – he couldn’t even see her in the dark, much less know who she belonged to. So I decided to bring her home for the night, call the police to let them know in case someone was looking for her, and deal with what to do with her the next day.

The four of us turned to walk back home, moving real slow in case someone happened by looking for her. Sure enough, I saw a van come onto my block, driving slowly, window opened. Hey, I yelled as he got near, are you looking for a dog?

Turned out he’d been driving around for half an hour looking for his dog, thank you very much. We briefly chatted about how she got away, where all he’d been looking for her. I was just glad I had her because he lived on this side of Bloomfield-major-thruway-Avenue and he was looking on the other side of Bloomfield-major-thruway-Avenue and had he found her on that side, it might have been in various, scattered body parts. Off they went and I was happy to have done my good deed for the day.

I turned back again to head toward the corner, unsure of what to do. I’d been out a while and maybe it was enough. Or maybe not. Maybe I should go for a short walk. Or maybe not. Maybe I should stay on my block. Or maybe not. And while I’m dithering over this most important decision, I heard Philip say, “Mom, you know what to do.”

I’m going home, aren’t I? I felt him smile.

And I’m going to find my wallet when I get there, aren’t I?

You get why you didn’t find it sooner, he asked?

Of course I went home and of course it was there, right there on the first floor, right on the table where I’d left it.

The story I’m telling about Philip and me doesn’t have a simple narrative. It could start and end with the story of his death, but it doesn’t. It’s a living story that keeps evolving even as I’m writing. There are happy things along the way, there are clear ways I know Philip is around and many ways he makes me smile. Not least of all do I rely on his confidence, encouragement and wisdom. I am blessed with this easy access. If Philip had to die, this was the best way it could be turning out.

But that’s just it. Philip has died. The other day I wrote to Ed, “When Philip died…” and if I wasn’t already sitting I would’ve been knocked on my ass. Did I really just write that? Will it ever stop shocking me? Because in all the ways life’s swirling around me and in all the ways I imagine it turning out, the one mad true thing in all of it is that Philip is dead. Please, I want to say; please. Please what, please to whom? I’d made sure to remind my kids that “please” was not the magic word they might’ve heard it was. Using it didn’t mean you got what you wanted, it was just the civilized way to ask for it.

And if the answers to my please are the living connections I make along the way, then there’s where I need to place my faith. For sure that’s what my son is asking of me, for sure it just doesn’t feel like enough. Please, then, may it be, because it’s what I have.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anna see
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 12:26:04

    I love this post. It took a lot, lot longer for me to start to talk to Jack in my mind b/c I had a lot of hangups. I think I missed a lot of opportunities to just rest in the assurance that he is near. xo


    • Denise
      Jul 09, 2013 @ 12:33:37

      I heard Philip from the beginning; and I went to a bereavement group where they suggested writing a letter to our child, and then writing one back from them. I was shocked at the one I wrote back, because “I” didn’t write it except as I moved the pen. I heard Philip, and that’s what gave me the idea to just keep doing that, keep a journal and listen to what he had to say. I think that’s a powerful tool, one anyone can use.


  2. tersiaburger
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 13:34:51

    What an amazing idea!!! Writing to and on behalf of Vic…Fantastic!! Thank you!


  3. Denise
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 13:36:23

    Just listen. She’s there. And you gave me an idea – maybe I’ll post that first letter.


  4. behindthemaskofabuse
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 21:25:07

    Wow everything happens for a reason! I’m glad you and that little dog found each other if only for a moment in time!
    There is so much that “Biggie” brought to us while we had him. He reached deep in our hearts and touched emotions we never knew we had. I couldn’t say this on my blog but he brought out tears in my Hubby, a man who was taught that it is not okay to cry, and man who has barely been able to in the 10 years we have been married. When this dog was with us, Hubby cried in waves all day, and while it was painful for him, he brought with it relief and joy the next day. That dog was meant to find us…there’s so much more.. sending hugs xo


  5. Denise
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 09:33:26

    Hugs back, and don’t worry – hubby will be our little secret ;o)


  6. Lucia Maya
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 01:49:15

    I love this post! Your writing is so beautiful, and I connect with your story in so many ways… (I keep finding more we have in common, including my younger daughter being 20, and I also have a shih tzu) I feel and hear Elizabeth so often, and I am so grateful. I can’t imagine how much more difficult this would be if I didn’t have deep faith that she is still with me, more now than ever, and that she is doing more on the other side than she could have done here.

    She often communicates to me through the playlist on Pandora (supposedly “random”) and as I was writing this, the song “My Girl” was playing!

    I am so grateful to have found your blog, you inspire me!


  7. Denise
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 09:07:43

    And you, me, Lucia. I know I told you, your story – Elizabeth’s story – just struck me. I think about the two of you, about what it what is was like for your other daughter. Living through that, yet being there for all of it; I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say…it’s something that I keep grappling with, this thing about grief being the other side of joy, yet still feeling horrified because my son is gone.


  8. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 00:07:56

    I love this post.


  9. Denise
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 08:39:21

    Thanks – I love this story ;o)


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