I made the last turn, headed up the driveway and pulled into the garage.

“We made it buddy,” I said to my golden retriever Barkley. “Finally.”

We had set out from Seattle ten hours earlier, it felt good to be home.

I opened his door and watched as he bounded from the car and began sniffing the yard, curious to uncover who had come by in our absence. I stretched as I watched him, my muscles aching after a long time in the same position.

After my father’s brain cancer diagnosis, I’d been making the trip back and forth monthly, anxious to soak up as much time with him as I could while escaping tension at home. Things hadn’t been going well in my marriage. When my husband’s mom died the year before from cancer, his grief lead him down an unexpected and destructive path. As I started to unpack the car, I replayed the conversation I’d had with my husband earlier in the week.

“I always wished for more time with my mom,” my husband said. “You need to spend as much time as you can with your dad. His prognosis isn’t good.”

“That’s what I am doing. I am getting here as often as I can,” I replied.

“But you keep coming back to Montana for me. I need to set you free– from me and this marriage so you can stay with your dad.”

“That isn’t what I want,” I sighed.

We’d been in this moment before. Many times. He’d been home less and less, certain he didn’t deserve me after all that had happened. He had talked of divorce a few times, but we’d managed to keep pushing on. Sometimes I thought I was holding it together by sheer will, terribly afraid I was going to lose both of the men in my life; one to death, and one to divorce.

Back in Montana, I grabbed the last couple bags from the car, yelled–“Let’s go Barkley”– and headed for the door, not noticing my husband’s truck wasn’t in its usual spot.

Inside, I habitually tossed my keys to the small dresser inside the door–but they clattered to the floor, landing in a pile of dust bunnies. The dresser was gone.  

What is going on?

I walked slowly up the stairs to the main floor, my heart pounding. Barkley raced ahead. I could hear him taking a long drink from his water dish as I crested the last step into the living room. Everything appeared normal.  

I set my load down and walked cautiously from room to room. Everything seemed in its place, and yet my hairs remained on end, alert.

In our bedroom, I slowly opened the closet door. Please no. Please no. Please no.

Inside, half the closet was empty.

No. No. No. No. No.

I rushed to his dresser, yanking drawers open. Empty.

All his things are gone. There’s nothing left of him in this house. His clothes. The dresser his grandpa made him. Everything personal to him is gone.

He’s gone.

My knees buckled and I collapsed to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably, rocking back and forth as months of fear and grief crashed in. I felt Barkley lay down next to me, giving me a tentative lick. I clung to him, making his coat wet with my tears. As day turned to night outside, he remained steady, comforting.  

I can’t do this. How am I going to survive this? I was barely hanging on before.

My phone chimed, startling me. I reached for it. Its bright light cut into the dark room as I opened the message.

Oh that’s right, gratitudes.

Every night for months, I’d been sending three things I was grateful for to my accountability partners. I have nothing. My world is shattered. My husband moved out and my father might be dying. What could I possibly be grateful for today?

Barkley’s tail thumped nearby. Our eyes met and the tenderness of his expression melted me. Gentle, loving, steady Barkley. I could start there.

I typed his name.

Two more.

I read the gratitude lists my friends had sent, realizing their consistent and punctual arrival had interrupted my grief, providing me with something positive to focus on.

I typed their names.

One more.

My grief headache pounded at my temples, but the tears had dried. The calm that follows crying had descended. I didn’t know what the next day, or week or month would bring–and I didn’t know how I would survive. But in that moment, I knew, somehow, I would.

I typed out my third gratitude.

I am still here.

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