Bob’s beloved 96-year-old Aunt Arlene slipped the bonds of earth early on Christmas Eve morning.
At only “4-foot nothing,” she was the epitome of spunkiness and toughness. She was courageous, independent, determined and had extreme care for others.
She was a friend to every neighbor, wandering pup or stray cat that ever crossed her path. Her kind and caring soul touched countless lives, including mine and Hilda, her faithful and loyal companion for the past four years.
In 2014 she lost her little dog “Shadow” who had been by her side for 12 years. Wherever Arlene was, Shadow was right by her side. I wrote a story about Arlene adopting Hilda on Sept. 12, 2014, when she was a young 92-year-old, entitled “It’s never too late to adopt.”
Arlene lived in her own home, in Kansas, but she could no longer drive. Her neighbors helped out with errands, mowing and snow removal. But she kept an immaculate house and went up and down the basement stairs to do her laundry. Her daughters and their families were a constant in her life even though she insisted on living in her little house that she and her husband, Ron, had lived in for well over 50 years.
On the day that Shadow passed, I encouraged her to honor Shadow by adopting another homeless little dog. She first thought it would be disloyal to Shadow but with encouragement from her daughters and grandchildren, she and her granddaughter, Suzanne, went to Wichita’s Humane Society and came home with little Hilda.
They bonded immediately. Hilda, who was four years old, had been found running on a busy street. She had been spayed and brought up to date with her vaccinations and had been anxiously awaiting for a secure and loving home.
In our monthly visits on the phone, I would hear how her two daughters were doing, the activities of all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren but it always quickly turned to how Hilda was. This was the main content of our conversations.
She doted on Hilda, but no more so than Hilda doted on her. If Arlene watched TV, Hilda watched TV. If Arlene took a nap, Hilda took a nap. Arlene often voiced her worry of what would happen to Hilda if she was no longer there to care for her. I always assured her that Hilda would be cared for by family members. Hilda would never go back to a shelter. I knew in my heart that one of her granddaughters would take Hilda but I always told Arlene if something came up, I always would have room for one more little Hilda at my house.
Hilda is now living with Arlene’s granddaughter, Suzanne, her husband, Brian, their son, Miles, and two other small dogs, Sparky and Minnow. It is the perfect home and I know that Arlene would greatly approve.
When Arlene was transported to the hospital, she never spoke again. The family gathered around her bed and kept a loving vigil. Her granddaughters asked the hospital personnel if they could bring Hilda to say her good-bye. They immediately agreed and Hilda came several times to visit Arlene.
During one of her last visits, Suzanne gently laid Hilda by Arlene, one of the grandchildren started their phone video. Suzanne gently put Arlene’s hand on Hilda’s back and immediately, with no words spoken, her hand began to pet Hilda from the top of her little head across her back. She took her fingers and went around Hilda’s collar as she had done countless times in the hours that she and Hilda had sat side by side. Arlene’s petting was soft, and tender. Little Hilda, who is normally bouncing around and barking at any little thing, laid quietly and serenely as Arlene hand continued to caress her little companion.
In my heart I know that Arlene instinctively knew this was Hilda and although she couldn’t communicate she knew the age old loving gesture of petting her dog. And I also know that Hilda was aware that she was saying good-bye to her loyal caretaker.
Arlene was buried next to her husband Ron in the McCool Cemetery along with the ashes of Shadow. Arlene had gently reminded her daughters often to not forget to bury Shadow with her.
The world was a better place with Arlene in it. She spread love and happiness not only to her family, but to every stray dog or cat. Arlene, you showed loyalty and love to the end.