Originally published by Evergreen Newspapers
Robin’s hair was white, and short, and terribly thin. Her drawn face was gray, and deeply seamed by suffering. Robin was surely dying, but at least she wasn’t dying alone.
She had a Mount Evans hospice nurse who visited often, and then more often, and then nearly every day, helping to manage Robin’s pain and give her what ease might be possible for a 61-year-old woman enduring the final stages of ovarian cancer.
And Robin had Jamocha.
“Jamocha was a 13-year-old golden retriever,” recalls Julie Nelson, a registered nurse and Mount Evans intake coordinator. “Robin was a single gal and lived way up on Squaw Pass. She’d been on her own for a long time, except for Jamocha, and they apparently had a really special bond. I don’t know exactly what her connection with that dog was, but Jamocha was like her soul mate.”
However strong that bond, it seemed certain that the cancer must prove stronger. One morning Robin’s nurse called Nelson, hoping for a favor.
“Robin had reached the point where she couldn’t really keep Jamocha at home anymore,” Nelson explains. “Her nurse wanted to know if I’d be willing to take him on as a hospice dog.”
Truth is, Robin’s nurse didn’t exactly phone Nelson at random. The Nelson family’s single-minded affection for golden retrievers was no secret around the Mount Evans office, and their Conifer home seemed as good a fit for Jamocha as could likely be found. Even so, Nelson hesitated.
“We’d recently lost a 13-year-old golden we raised from a puppy,” she says. “It was pretty hard on everybody, and I wasn’t sure we wanted to take on another one right away, especially one that old.”
If Nelson had to think it over, she didn’t have to think too long. The chances of somebody adopting Jamocha were slim to none, and the alternative was simply unacceptable. The nurse delivered Robin’s cherished companion to Nelson at her Mount Evans desk that very afternoon, and by nightfall Jamocha was already an indispensable part of the Nelson household.
“We’ve only owned goldens, so it took about 10 seconds to fall in love. He fit right into our family.”
It didn’t hurt that Jamocha chose that moment to become particularly loveable.
“The weird thing is, he was 13, but right away he started acting like a puppy. For that whole week he was very energetic, and very playful. Jamocha played with all of our toys – all of them – and ate an amazing amount of food.”
It was too good to last, of course, and it didn’t.
“One day he just seemed to lose his appetite, and he lost his energy. I talked to Robin’s nurse on the phone that night. When I told her Jamocha wasn’t doing well, she said she wasn’t surprised because his mom was dying. That was the day Robin entered the final stages before death. She was actively dying.”
So much had Jamocha aged in those few hours that by evening he could no longer manage the short trip upstairs to his bed without help. Rather than make him try, Nelson lugged his dog-bed downstairs to the living room. And rather than see her beloved new friend sleep by himself in a strange place, Nelson’s youngest child, 11-year-old Carrie, asked permission for a sleepover.
“Carrie had known that dog for a grand total of 10 days, but she wanted to sleep downstairs with him so he wouldn’t be lonely.”
That night, Nelson tucked Carrie into a sleeping bag laid on the floor next to Jamocha and went upstairs to bed. By morning, the dog’s condition had plainly become grave.
“He wouldn’t eat at all. He just laid there like he was sick.”
It was Carrie who first suggested a possible reason for Jamocha’s abrupt decline.
“This is the crazy part,” Nelson says. “When I came down in the morning she said ‘I think Robin died.’ I asked her why she would think that. She said ‘I think I saw her last night.’”
A thoughtful girl, and not one normally given to flights of fancy, Carrie explained that she’d been awakened by the soft sound of a woman’s voice. Lifting her head, she’d clearly observed a stranger with thick, shoulder-length brown hair seated in a chair next to Jamocha. The woman spoke in hushed tones, and the dog responded with absolute attention.
“Carrie said she couldn’t hear what the lady was saying, but Jamocha obviously knew her.”
Then, in that uncomplicated and perplexing way peculiar to children, Carrie had merely rolled over and gone back to sleep. And that morning, with her daughter’s curious account still fresh in her mind, Nelson called Robin’s nurse.
“For whatever reason, Carrie was right. Robin had died during the night.”
Jamocha never again rose from his dog-bed, or took another bite of food. He simply closed his eyes, and before the sun reached full height slipped quietly away.
“We were all crying,” Nelson says. “My husband said ‘Promise me we’ll never do this again.’ In that short time Jamocha had become a true part of our family. But as painful as it was when he died, it was an amazing experience for all of us.”
Carrie may get her practical nature from her mom. While Nelson has seen her share of remarkable things in her years as a nurse, she certainly wasn’t ready to accept her daughter’s strange account as concrete fact. Then again, she wasn’t quite ready to dismiss it, either.
“Within 48 hours Jamocha went from really good health for a dog his age, to dead,” she says. “That’s got to make you think.”
With a little digging, Nelson was able to locate a photograph of two women, one of them Robin in younger, better days. She’d been an attractive woman with thick, brown tresses cut to the shoulder. A few days later, and without revealing anything about its subjects, Nelson nonchalantly ran the photo past Carrie.
“Right away she said ‘That’s her, mom. That’s the lady who was talking to Jamocha.’”
Sometimes little girls see things that aren’t true. Sometimes old dogs die just because they’re old. And sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where the truth lies, or why things happen the way they sometimes do. Thinking back on her one-time best friend, Carrie is plagued by no such doubts.