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Excerpt from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love

“Our faith itself is a potent force. When faith in love and its miraculous authority becomes a thought form that guides our thinking, it turns into an extraordinary power that transforms our lives.” ~Marianne Williamson

This is what it feels like to waREDtch someone I love fall out of the sky:  I tilt my head back, shield my eyes from sun glow, and watch tiny specks drop from a plane so high, I cannot actually see it in the cerulean blue sky.  I only hear a distant drone.  Big Red, our 120 pound Golden Retriever, begins to pace around my legs in a tight circle.  The behavior is so unusual for this markedly obedient dog that I sense something’s off, but I keep my eyes skyward, fascinated now by a long, colorful cloth spiraling up from one of the floating dots. The silk flaps around like a rag doll, whips at the sky, but does not catch the wind.  Red stops pacing and emits a long, fretful sound somewhere between a moan and a bark. The Platoon Chief beside me angles his binoculars just so and shouts “Buk!” my husband’s nickname.

My throat closes, my breath stops and the chatter around me turns heavy and distorted.  I lock my knees because standing seems impossible and blessedly, Red is solid against my left side.  I lean into him.  The spiraling cloth crumbles away and it is agonizing moments before a small chute mushrooms out, catches the wind and snaps dangling legs to attention.  Still, Steve is dropping far too fast. I do not even have time to make an entire “deal” with God before Red bolts from my side and runs flat out toward the drop zone.  This is against all rules and some small part of my brain thinks of calling him back, but I don’t.  Instead, I watch, as if in slow motion, Red skids sideways into two black boots a microsecond before they hit ground.  Legs fold like a dance movement and two bodies (large dog and man) drop into a long controlled roll, tumbling over and over before they both pop upright, tangled in line and parachute. I glimpse Steve hunched over, hands on his knees with Red beside him, panting.  The men around me cheer, curse, run.  I drop to my knees, then to all fours as the air leaves my lungs and the world turns black.

This is where they find me.  I half-wake to a mixture of dust and dog breath.  Red laps his long wet tongue up the middle of my face.  From a distance I hear, “Happy Anniversary, honey.”  Both Steve and Red are smiling (I’m sure) as though this impromptu anniversary gift, indeed, the world tilting on its edge, is hysterical.

That was my third anniversary gift and now – 31 years later and after living through his death – I’m sure Big Red saved my husband’s life that day.  Of course, the law of physics might not support my certainty, but believe me, it was just the beginning of this courageous dog’s gift.

We adopted Big Red shortly after our first son was born.  Every kid needs a dog and we fell in love with his sparkling brown eyes and deep red coat of fur.  We were told Red was bred to win top prizes in dog shows. But his head was too big according to some ridiculous rule, and at just over a year old, he was dumped with a Retriever Rescue Group.  None of us – the rescue group – or our naïve young family – realized the extent of Red’s training until years later, but looking back, it was glaringly obvious.

From the first night in our home, Red adopted our baby son.  He politely watched me place his new dog bed in a corner of the kitchen and after a quick drink, curled up and lay down.  He watched as we ate dinner, during baby bath-time and story reading, but as we tucked our little one into his crib, Red left the room and returned dragging his dog bed by his mouth.  He carefully placed it at the end of the crib and Red’s bed (or new versions of it) remained in that spot through 16 babies (two homemade, 1 adopted and 13 foster babies) and seven different homes across the country.  On his own, Red taught each of our children how to walk him before they were big enough to see over his back.  No kidding, he would retrieve his leash from a basket and heal to their little steps around the back yard.

With an uncanny sense, Red always knew to be gentle with children and outright frightening to unwelcome strangers.  Often, when Steve was deployed, I would watch Red’s reaction before opening the front door to someone unknown.  He was right one hundred percent of the time.

On one occasion, I was distracted and opened the door to our new foster daughter’s boyfriend. Before I had a chance to say hello, Red sped past me, jumped at the boy and had his jaw locked around the young man’s right arm, then twisted until the kid fell to his knees, screaming.  I froze in horror for a brief moment – until I saw the weapon – and then, with far more bravado then I felt, I lifted the gun out of his useless hand and called the police. Terrified, he admitted that our foster daughter had stolen his “black book”, thinking it was a list of girls. It was really a list of his drug deal connections. Red held the boy down the entire time, and released only when the police arrived.

But the most memorable save happened during Red’s last year of life.  Our youngest son was only an infant and barely two month’s old – attached 24 hours a day to a heart and apnea monitor, which alerted with loud beeps when his heart or breathing stopped.  Most of the time, the alerts would require only minimal stimulation for Aaron to respond and the family (including Red) was well used to the sound.  In 1991, Red suffered from arthritis and was partially blind, so he stayed on his bed a good portion of each day.  That particular morning, during nap time, I decided to vacuum and was nearly done with the upstairs when Red ran from the bedroom and grabbed my hand with his jaw. He growled and whined and pulled and the instant I turned off the vacuum I heard the alarm of Aaron’s monitor.  Aaron was nearly blue. I administered CPR and simultaneously phoned for help.  Red stayed by my side the entire time.  Aaron is now a 21 year old, 6’3” handsome young man.  Red passed away 11 months later, one week after Aaron was well enough to be without his heart and apnea monitor. I think he planned it that way.

Never underestimate the power of faith or the lessons Grace brings through experience in life. Even that which hurts the most.

I know this much is true: Steve, along with his Brothers ~~ Warrior Angels all ~~ are busy holding babies now and Big Red is keeping an eye on all.  They will live on in me and with me forever. Such Grace.

By Lynnette Bukowski
© 2012