Jaro died a few weeks ago. I’d meant to write about him at the time; today it’s time to actually do it. So let me tell you about Jaro, and also about his younger brother, Jet.
A few years ago, my wife and I were at home, and our daughter, then ten years old, came to us and mentioned that her back was hurting a little. She’d told us this before and we’d said the usual things; ‘gosh, that’s too bad, honey, let’s get you an aspirin.’ She seemed like her normal, healthy, active self; we weren’t all that concerned. But she’d been mentioning a sore back for long enough that I thought we should take her to see our doctor. And he thought, just as a precaution, that an X-ray might be in order. And we’re sitting there in the examining room, and he looks at the X-ray and does the frowny-face thing docs do when they don’t want you to worry too much, but do want you to worry some. And his nurse arranged for us to see a specialist. More frowny-faces, more furrowed brows, an appointment to see another specialist. Next thing you know, we’re up at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake, and yet another specialist is introducing us to a medical term with which we’d previously been unacquainted. Spondelolisthesis. A displacement of the vertebrae. She needed surgery, and how’s next week look for you folks. One of those.
Scared us to death. I’ve had back problems–I fell off our porch and broke it a few years ago–and I liked my back doctor. We got a second opinion, which was identical to the first opinion. So a few days later, we’re in the waiting room at Primary Children’s, freaked out our minds, worried and scared. But we trusted our doctor–Dr. John Smith, wonderful guy, kind and caring, I’d recommend him to anyone–and sure enough, he came out several hours later and reassured us that it could not have gone better. (Guess what movie they showed in the PCH waiting room, BTW? The Princess Bride. Perfect choice, I think.)
But recovery was awful for her. She was completely miserable, in pain, cranky. I mean, she was ten, and her back went from a little hurty to complete miserable agony. And hospitals are not fun. Nor are they restful. Two days in, she was a weepy mess. Not that I blame her, poor thing.
Jaro, and his brother Jet, are friends of ours. We actually know Jaro better. Jaro and Jet are Newfoundlands, trained as therapy dogs. Newfoundlands are huge dogs, immense. They look like small bears. And they’re the most loving, patient animals on earth.
We have a wonderful home teacher. I don’t want to embarrass him, but he’s fantastic. For those of you who aren’t Mormons, a home teacher is a guy from our local congregation (or ward) who is assigned to stop by your home occasionally and see how you’re doing. We have a lay clergy in Mormonism, and since we don’t have a paid pastor who takes care of his flock, home teachers serve that purpose instead. I am a home teacher to three families, and we have a home teacher too. And he’s great. Well, Jaro was a member of his family. (And that really is how they look at it.)
Newfoundlands are perfect for children’s therapy dogs. They’re endlessly patient and gentle and kind. I asked my home teacher one time what would happen if a burglar broke into their home, with these two huge dogs there. He said that burglar would be in very serious risk of being licked to death. They’re just not aggressive at all. Plus, they’re huge. Kids see this massive dog come into their hospital room, and their faces just light up.
So Jaro showed up at Primary Children’s Hospital, and our daughter was transformed, transfixed, thrilled beyond words to describe it. He pulled her wheelchair (which she hadn’t wanted to use) all around the hospital, down to the lobby, back up to her room. She petted him, and hugged him–he licked her face. Her recovery from surgery, her return to her usual cheerful self, began with Jaro’s visit.
And then Jaro went to the other rooms in her hospital ward, and visited the other kids too. One kid had been crying for days. We’d hear him, just sobbing without let-up. I can’t imagine what kind of pain he must have been in, poor kid, but Jaro cured him in about ten seconds flat.
A few years later, our older daughter got married. We invited Jaro to her wedding, and with permission from our bishop (it was in our church building), Jaro was allowed to come. You know Mormon wedding receptions–they can get pretty frantic, what with all the little kids underfoot. Ha. Problem solved. Jaro entertained all the young’uns and looked to be in seventh heaven all the time.
A few years ago, Jaro’s younger brother, Jet arrived. My home teacher’s wife is not a large woman, and it’s fun to watch her walking them when my home teachers gone on business. They look big enough to eat a Volkswagon. But she keeps ’em on leash, and they placidly plod along. Jet’s also a therapy dog. Personally, I think Jet’s a little prettier than Jaro, but not quite as sweet-tempered.
Unfortunately, Jaro passed away a few months ago. His life was celebrated by us all, with tears of gratitude for a good life well-spent. And I had a dream, after our home teacher told us of Jaro’s peaceful passing, and in my dream, Jaro went to visit his King, and the King said to him “you saw me in the hospital, and you comforted me, you visited me when I was frightened and in pain, and you cheered me up, you came to me when I was sobbing, and you wiped away my tears with your tongue.” And Jaro said, in his gentle Newfoundland voice, “when did I comfort you, when did I cheer you up?” And the King said to him, “Inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these, my children, you did it unto me.”
So, to Jaro, our gentle friend, and to Jet, his brother: Thank you. Thank you for your love, given unconditionally. We’ll never forget how you helped us.