Our friend Hazel, a special person and a consummate dog lover, died of cancer Monday. Those of us who knew and loved Hazel are feeling an emptiness that cannot be filled.
It was barely two months ago when she called to say that her prognosis wasn't great, but I never imagined she would be gone so quickly.
I am hardly qualified to talk about all of Hazel's wonderful qualities, because I only got to know her a few years ago when I started walking her dogs and sometimes dog sitting. But she was such an interesting and warm person that we eventually became friends. My wife and older daughter became friendly with her, too.
Hazel had a circle of longtime friends who know much more about what made her remarkable, so what I'll share is fairly recent.
Hazel told me that she had come from London many years ago with a friend to travel around the United States, and she decided to stay. Her career encompassed public relations and mortgage lending among other things.
When I admired the collection of photographs that filled her home, Hazel explained that as her friends began to have children, they invited her to be a godparent. She loved her godchildren as if they were her own offspring, and she filled her home with pictures of them.
Her very last trip, in fact, was to Virginia in the spring for the college graduation of a godchild. She returned home and never left again. She would need round-the-clock support.
Thankfully, we had several lively visits over the summer and learned more about her family and godchildren. We often sat in her living room or peaceful backyard, talking about the preciousness of life and how much she still had wanted to do. I suggested she get a tape recorder so her stories could be preserved and shared, but time simply wasn't on her side.
When I first started dog sitting for Hazel, she had three dogs, and I fell in love with each. Flicka was a mixed-breed rescue, Truffie a cocker spaniel that Hazel had taken in, and Timmie was a feisty, mixed-breed terrier. Timmie was the closest to Hazel, and she often said that he had an old soul.
When Timmie died in Hazel's arms last summer, just as they were about to take their regular morning ride to Lake Mohegan, she was devastated. So was I. Timmie was only 9, and we agreed he was much too young to be gone.
How ironic that -- if good dogs go to heaven -- Hazel would be reunited with her beloved Timmie.
As the summer passed, I kept trying to speak in future terms, encouraging her regularly about visiting our new house and getting out for a walk. But something inside of me knew that none of this would ever happen.
In one of our last conversations, we talked about what would happen to Flicka and Truffie when the time finally came. Then one of her god-daughters agreed to take Flicka, and Hazel kept reassuring me that Truffie would be all right.
My wife and I have three neurotic dogs of our own, and I grappled with my desire to take Truffie and give him the kind of home Hazel would have wanted. I guess I never imagined that things would happen so fast.
About two weeks ago, Hazel's home-hospice caregiver, Jill, asked two of Hazel's closest friends to approach me about taking Truffie. They said Hazel had only weeks -- perhaps only days -- remaining, and they asked if I would give serious consideration to taking the dog.
I agreed quickly, saying I already had spoken to my wife, and she was all right with it. I immediately called Jill with my answer, and she sounded grateful and relieved. She said Hazel would be happy.
On Monday afternoon, Hazel passed away peacefully. That evening, I stood in her kitchen clutching Truffie's leash. This valuable person was gone, but her vibrant spirit remains.
As I walked Truffie to the car, I looked up to the heavens and blinked back a tear. I knew that Hazel was up there and that taking Truffie was the right thing to do.
And as this lovable little spaniel becomes part of our crazy household, I believe Truffie's going to be just fine. After all, he's got Hazel's fighting spirit.
Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.