My quest to honor my son’s memory by having a kennel in my local humane society named after him has almost reached its goal, thanks to the kindness of friends, family and a lot of people I’ve never known.
Sure it’s only a plaque, just like a condolence card is only a card, and words are only words, and, from the giver’s point of view, none of them really seem sufficient to honor a loved one who has passed — especially one who dies such an early death.
But people do what they can at times like these. And the $10,000 (maybe more) donation Joe will be making posthumously to the Forsyth Humane Society will go a long way in terms of caring and finding homes for the dogs who end up there.
Forsyth Humane Society, in North Carolina, offers commemorative bricks, engraved with the loved one’s name, from $100 to $250, based on their size; bench plaques, for $750; annual sponsorships of individual kennels for $300 a year; and the big one — sponsoring a kennel for a lifetime — for $10,000. As part of the kennel sponsorships, the Humane Society sends you the stories of three of the dogs that occupy the kennel each year.
(You can check the website of your local humane society or SPCA to see the commemorative opportunities it might offer.)
For my son Joe, 26, who died two weeks after an accident on an Interstate highway in Mississippi, I had to shoot for the perpetual sponsorship.
When Joe visited me in the summer, he volunteered at the Forsyth Humane Society a few days a week, and at special events, where he most enjoyed donning the dog costume of its mascot.
So the choice for a memorial to him seemed a good fit — and a much-needed something to keep me busy.
I started a Facebook fundraising campaign, which is now more than 90 percent of the way to its goal and has left me marveling at the kindness and generosity of my friends, most of whom I’ve done a poor job of staying in touch with over the years.
Former colleagues at the Philadelphia Inquirer responded, as well as many from the Baltimore Sun. College friends kicked in. Dog park buddies came through, as did lots of you ohmidog! readers, some I know and some I don’t.
And I can’t remember ever being so touched. Thanks to you, Joe, who was adopted from Korea as an infant, will soon have his name on a kennel that, over the course of each year, will probably house one or two dozen homeless dogs (one at a time) awaiting that happy outcome.
Each and every donation, large or small, has lifted my spirits.
One of the gestures that moved me most came from a friend in Baltimore who was mourning the death of her dog.
Carey Hughes once fell really hard for me, but let me explain.
We’d met when we were both out with our dogs at some sort of function in the Inner Harbor. We got together a few times after that, since our dogs hit it off so well — usually at a dog park, or a bar that allowed dogs.
Once at an outdoor restaurant near the harbor, I asked her to hold Ace’s leash for me while I went inside for more beer. Her dog, Bimini was tied to the table, but given Ace, at 140 pounds, could drag a table pretty far, I asked Carey to hold on to him.
When I came back outside, Ace bolted toward me, toppling Carey’s chair and dragging her a foot or two across the pavement (something he’d done with me a few times, so I knew it hurt, despite her assurances).
The fact that she didn’t let go of the leash says something about her. So does what she did this week. Bimini died last week, and friends were asking Carey how they might contribute to some sort of memorial for him.
Instead, she asked those friends to donate to Joe’s fundraiser, in a Facebook post, and many of them did.
She’s planning gathering in Bimini’s honor in the days ahead during which she will bury Bimini’s ashes in a whiskey barrel behind her house, then plant flowers on top.
Having some of Ace’s ashes still remaining from my two spreadings of his ashes — one in the Atlantic Ocean, the other in a creek along a trail we used to hike regularly — I asked her if I could send some of those to be in the whiskey barrel with Bimini.
Given Bimini never liked to be alone (neither did Ace, who died two years ago), she thought it was a great idea.
Unless postal authorities became suspicious of the powdery substance inside and tore the package open, the ashes should have arrived yesterday.
Little things like that, all piled on top of each other — the reuniting with friends, the generosity people have shown, the support I’ve received — have, along with keeping myself as busy as possible, have made this week tolerable.
I posted a remembrance of Joe on ohmidog! Monday. On Tuesday, my local paper, the Winston-Salem Journal, ran a beautiful front page story by columnist Scott Sexton about Joe and the fundraising campaign. Those, combined with the Facebook fundraising campaign, have led to it nearing it’s $10,000 goal.
As Sexton noted, say what you will about all the cons of Facebook — and I frequently bash it — it leads to some pretty marvelous things.
“Facebook has earned every last bit of criticism leveled at it for helping to sow discord and divide people through dissemination of fake news and paid manipulations by bad actors overseas. It, and other outlets, are easily manipulated and should be viewed in many cases with healthy skepticism and an eye toward fact (and source) checking.
“The flip side is that social media can be extremely useful. It can help connect lives, share news and has the power to bring people (and communities) together. It also has the ability to pass word of tragedy, and spare people from having to repeat over and over and over the unfathomable.”
My friends are mostly fellow writers, many of whom pointed out that words just aren’t sufficient at times like this.
But they tried anyway and, for the record, they do help. A lot. Words, gestures, hugs — they mean everything right now.
So will Joe’s plaque. It will probably take a while before it goes up on one of the kennels at the humane society, which opened its new facility two years ago. It takes time for the donations to be funneled through and for the actual making of the plaque.
I can’t wait to see it.
And if that last name isn’t spelled right, as often happens, believe me I will let them know.
(Photos: Joe Woestendiek and Ace, by John Woestendiek; Bimini and Ace, courtesy of Carey Hughes)