Wholehearted Listening. Wholehearted Loving.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known. Brene Brown

In October 1978, I was at my oldest sister’s house. My father had just passed, and my mother and I were sharing a bedroom. She was in one bed; I was in the other. I lay in the dark room, trying my best to sleep, but the recent events kept my mind active. I kept remembering getting a call, then the funeral and lots and lots of people shaking my hand, telling me how sorry they were. Everything had happened so fast, and my world felt like it was spinning out of control. As I lay there thinking of so many things, my mother started mumbling in her sleep. It started with her breathing long, slow breaths. In between breaths, she would shout out words, phrases.

“No, Ted!”

“Please stop.”

“Where are you?”

I was scared to death and very afraid my father would appear right in front of me. I pulled the covers over my head and buried my face in the pillow to muffle my crying. I wanted to not only muffle my sounds but also drown out hers. It was all too much for me at 19.

Her noises went on and on, so I slipped out of bed and headed to the only place I felt safe — the bathroom, where my dog, Damien, was sleeping. He was a shepherd mix and had a strong, calm personality. I belly-crawled, combat style, across the floor and hallway. Everything was eerie in that darkened house.

When I finally reached the bathroom, he looked up, not acting surprised at all. I scooted in, closed the door, and crawled as close to him as I could get. I nestled my head into his neck and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I sobbed so much I got the hiccups, like I was 5 years old again. He patiently listened and remained as still as could be. Eventually, his steady breathing lulled me to sleep.

I have always had a deep connection to animals. Growing up, they were my very best friends. Some girls had tea parties. I had dog parties with all different kinds of dogs coming to visit. They taught me so many things about life, myself, about who they really were — beautiful beings with souls just like ours. And, most importantly, they taught me how to listen, really listen, with my heart.

All I needed that day was someone to share the space with me and witness my sorrow. And that being came in the form of a rescued dog, one who was quiet, present and willing to communicate heart to heart. It is something I have tried to practice daily. It is something I have taught my children. When we take the time to listen with our hearts and deeply witness what someone is speaking about, or feeling, or if we simply share a moment (no words needed), it is a precious gift — one that allows us to feel truly seen and heard. It’s a gift that tells us we matter, at least to someone, and that we are not alone.

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