As a child, I always wanted a dog.  In fact, I used to drag a stuffed bear around on a purse strap to show my mom I could take care of a dog.  I looked after “Honey,” filling a bowl with shredded paper in case she was hungry, snuggling with her—normal dog owner stuff.

But then, we met Lily– er: Duchess of Hershey Morning Lily, according to her official title and birth certificate.

My mom was pretty hush-hush about it.  We were just going to see a dog, she told me.  I don’t think I even knew that the dog’s owner wanted to give her away.

But as soon as I saw her tear across that yard, tongue flapping in the wind, I knew she was our dog. After minimal pleading on my part, mom agreed and Lily became ours. A week later, Matt and I sat her in the middle seat and excitedly rode home on either side of her. That was the first and last time she rode in the middle, as she soon learned she could crawl across our laps to reach the coveted window seat. She loved the fresh air. I remember my mom being worried that if we opened the window for her, she would jump right out she was so excited. My uncle- who graciously found Lily for us- assured us she wouldn’t. And he was right. Lily was content to watch the world zoom by as she drooled in anticipation of a walk at Highbanks.

But first: There were early mornings. Early, dark mornings where I would stand outside in my pajamas, begging my new buddy to go poop so I could go back to sleep. And there were the thrilling firsts: First walk, first bath, first time she ran to me when I called her. Like any dog owner, I thrived off those moments. And before long, I claimed Lily as my own. “I feed her and brush her,” I reminded my mom. “She’s practically my dog!” Without reminding me of her financial sponsorship, my mom simply smiled.

I quickly began exploring Lily’s personality. She loved swimming, but hated bath time. Like a true Hartzell, Lily loved Greek yogurt, eggs, bagels and Clif bars. Also like a Hartzell: She very much disliked the vacuum and Swiffer- albeit for different reasons entirely.

Lily was my constant companion. When the divorce was finalized, Lily was the pillow for my tears. When I wanted a short and slow run, Lily was my eager running partner. I took her to Christmas carol at the nursing home and to play with the young children I nannied in the summer. All of them adored Lily.

And during the tough years, the years when I didn’t let myself eat- let myself live- Lily showed me how important it is to eat and sleep and breathe. If it was okay for her to rest and eat treats, then it must be okay for me too.  She calmed my anxiety, distracted me. And when I dropped food from the table, in an attempt to hide it, Lily’s keen sense of smell ratted me out every time. She was my little accountabilibuddy, probably the only one I didn’t ever get angry at.

I never understood why people got so obsessed with their pets, so invested in an animal that couldn’t even talk to them.

But Lily did talk. She spoke every time I left for school and she trotted to the door, lowering her head as if to say “Please please don’t leave.” She spoke every time she sprinted up the hill at the Alum Creek Dam, yelling “Yes! I love this! Look at me go!” She spoke every time she turned her nose up to spinach that had fallen on the floor. “Mom, I don’t like this stuff!”

Lily was an incredible gift.

The first reaction when I learned Lily had died, was a tearful prayer. I didn’t expect this, but I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude, gratitude for this friend who had stayed by my side, but chiefly: Gratitude to the Lord for giving her to me. He knew that I needed Lily, and He loved my family so much that He entrusted her precious life to us. And that just wrecks me, that He cares for me so much.

I always hated leaving Lily. But college made that impossible to evade. Still, when I lived at home during middle and high school, I had a secret routine. Every time we went on vacation, I would sleep with Lily the night before we left. I’d curl up on the floor with her and I’d tell her over and over again that I was leaving but I would be back. My heart knew what it was like to feel abandoned and alone and I couldn’t bear the thought of her thinking we were leaving her.

And I think, like most things, that was more for me than it was for Lily. She had a deep and pure sense of trust, a beautiful overbite-smile that said: “It’s all okay.”  Even to the end, she kept that smile. Her tail kept wagging ever time I called her name. She was so content and at peace. Lily knew she was loved. She knew she could be herself, and I think that is the most important lesson she taught me:

Lily taught me to receive love. And I thank God that I had ten years with her precious, adventurous, selfless heart.

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