Tank sprang out the door and galloped down the road. Eighty solid pounds of black Labrador retriever, he certainly lived up to his name. He loved barreling through our 160 acres. I used to enjoy it too, but not lately. Not since I heard the word Alzheimer’s. “You seem to be showing some early signs,” the neurologist had told me, after a checkup with my family doctor and a battery of tests, including a brain scan.
This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. My husband had taken early retirement from his job at John Deere. He convinced me to quit my job as a computer operator. “We’ve worked hard all our lives,” he said. “If we’re ever going to take those vacations we talked about, we should get going.”
I trudged down the gravel lane that went through some woods on our property. I felt tired all the time, and I forgot names or got confused about the date. Unless it was a regular routine, like these morning walks with Tank, I sometimes forgot things I was supposed to do on a particular day. But wasn’t that normal for a 60-year-old? I certainly didn’t feel sick. Not yet.
“Right now you’re okay,” the doctor had told me. “Your mind is still in pretty good shape, aside from some short-term memory loss. It can take a long time for the disease to progress.”
Tank bounded out of the woods. Progress. That was an odd way to look at it. I remembered the flyer I’d picked up from an Alzheimer’s support group. It said that I should get an ID bracelet with my name, address and phone number. More than likely I’d end up forgetting who I was and where I lived. The thought horrified me. I was going to lose myself, remembering nothing and nobody. Would I eventually forget who God was? Lord, I can’t bear the idea of being so utterly alone. Please stay with me.
“Tank!” I called. No sign of our big black Lab. Would I forget him too? “Here, boy!” I called. Tank careened out of the woods. The dog was so big that when he stood on his hind legs his paws rested on my shoulders. Still, he was one of the most gentle creatures I’d ever known. Tank circled me then dashed back into the trees, chasing something I couldn’t see. I’m being chased too, I thought. To a place where no one will be able to reach me.
I’d finally started telling people: family, neighbors, friends at church. One Sunday a woman from the congregation walked up to me and said, “We’ve got a prayer chain going for you, Judy. Someone prays for you each and every day.”
I took some comfort in that. But how did a person pray for someone like me? My future was beyond the power of prayers. Nothing can change what’s going to happen. Nothing. I sat down on the gravel road. Tears filled my eyes. No one could see me here. I let it all out. The trees blurred through my tears. My body shuddered with sobs. I wanted to call out to God, but all I could manage was a choking wail.
Just then Tank ran out of the woods, charging straight for me. He pressed his head up against my shoulder. I tried to push him away, but I couldn’t budge him. Instead, I buried my face in his neck and wept some more.
All of a sudden I heard a pained cry. Tank. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never heard of a dog crying. But that’s what Tank was doing. He was crying with me. It wasn’t a normal kind of howl; it was a deep plaintive wailing that echoed my own. As if he felt my sadness. I held him tight, and we cried together until my tears were spent. “It’s okay, boy. I’ll be okay.” Tank stepped back. He cocked his head and looked at me for a long moment. What is he thinking? Is he trying to tell me that I will never be alone? That the one who made us will never forget us or let us forget him?
“Oh, Tank,” I said, sighing. “What a good dog you are.” I kissed him on the snout. His tail thumped against the gravel, raising tiny clouds of dust. Then he raced down the road for home. I followed, taking my time, thinking of all the morning walks Tank and I had ahead of us. We’ll keep it up for as long as I am able. After that, I know, God will fill the void of my memory with a presence that can never be forgotten.