Broken Hearts, Bird Nests, and Beagle Fur: A Legacy of Love

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by Katie Napiwocki |

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SMA caregivers | SMA News Today | Main graphic for column titled "A Wildflower in the Wheelderness," by Katie Napiwocki

I sat on my outdoor patio, coffee cup in hand, breakfast before me, and eyes alive with wonder of where my beagle, Eva, might be.

I scanned the feathered tips of rich green pines reaching into the morning skyline above me. I listened to barbershop quartets of dapper songbirds clustered in the maple trees beyond the fence. To my left, I watched a pair of lovestruck chickadees hurriedly building a nest within the swinging real estate of a quaint birdhouse that occupied an ash tree. 

Beside me, I was missing a companion who had brought the sun to my world for over a decade. 

About two weeks prior, my partner, Andy, and I said farewell to Eva as she laid her tired body down, flashed one final glance of love from her sweet brown eyes, and departed on her journey for the Rainbow Bridge. 

I looked around my atmosphere. I pondered all of the memories that played on a reel within my mind, and all of the lessons I’d learned from Eva over the years. Only in her absence had I come to the realization that I was the pupil and she the teacher. 

Typically, she would be sitting beside me, waiting for any morsel of food that might fall from a wobbly fork gripped by my SMA hands. Learning never to leave unchaperoned food within a whiff’s distance of a hungry-eyed beagle was only the second greatest piece of knowledge I’d gathered from Eva.

The first greatest lesson: Choose love every day without question. Don’t overthink it. Don’t complicate it. Keep your pockets stocked, your heart generous, and give it away.

Eva made this abundantly clear from my first interaction with her at the shelter we adopted her from. After encountering a few dogs who were timid around my wheelchair, Eva’s giant flapping ears and whirlwind tail shattered any preconceived notions about my SMA as she mounted my footrest and leaned into the amity of my legs. 

Eva was a peaceful dog. She ran from bumblebees, sniffed flowers, and sat down intently to watch passing brigades of deer or turkey making their way through the wilderness. From a rare inherent docility, she saw the beauty in everything around her — including the beauty of me and my wheelchair. In a world where I’ve often struggled to feel worthy of anyone’s love, I felt a sound comfort in accepting the purest love of my beagle. I never felt the need to prove my worth to her, nor did she request it of me.

Whether I was enduring my darkest days with SMA or basking in triumph over it, Eva offered a level of support that was both unconditional and unmatched by any human. 

As I’m writing through a broken heart, I feel like I can breathe a little more each day. The pain of losing my companion has been a visceral sensation, as if my heart were birthing enormous feelings of despair. Once expelled, they’ve filled the crevices of my body with no outlet from which to escape. With each day my breath flows through me more freely, the grief is guided toward an exit. I usher the feelings out of my body by loving others around me more intensely.

To be heartbroken means we’ve loved something so fiercely, we cannot bear the thought of parting ways with it — it’s one of the many gifts bestowed upon us by the human experience. To live in bliss forever with a companion like Eva would be a heaven-on-earth of sorts. But here on plain old ordinary earth, that’s not the natural order of things. My heaven with Eva was subject to the sands of an hourglass.

In the midst of my sunrise reflection on the patio, I watched the chickadees leave their house and I made my way over to it. As I peeked into the back of the birdhouse to steal a glimpse of their nesting masterpiece, I noticed several clumps of beagle fur that had been gathered by the birds since a recent outdoor cleaning of Eva’s bed and blankets.

I smiled as the sunshine warmed my cheeks. It was the perfect fit for Eva’s legacy of love — providing perpetual comfort and warmth for a group of hatchlings to grow up in this great circle of life. 

I’ve written about the privilege of experiencing new beginnings, but I tend to avoid thinking about final endings. Perhaps I avoid thinking about the end not for fear of pain, but rather because endings are a myth. In this life, our hands, words, wheels, and paws leave imprints for others to follow. From grief, our tears flow like the rivers of spring, with water that will nourish the seeds of our tomorrows. 


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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