A smile comes to my face as I hear all the laughter and music around me today. The sun shines so brightly and moms, dads and kids are swimming, dogs are barking and scattered nearby are all the water toys waiting and ready. The beach is packed and it couldn’t be a more perfect summer day. Boats are on the water gliding across the waves and houses along the street fly the Stars and Stripes with pride. The flags blow with ease in the wind, releasing a feeling of peace and calm in the community. I am somehow attracted, more than usual this year, to the patriotic shirts, hats and bathing suits worn by so many. I light up when I see my little ones running around in matching red, white, and blue dresses. I am surrounded by family gatherings and picnics and inhale the comforting smell of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. My friends revel in the celebration because today their loved ones have come together from all corners of the country to celebrate one of summers most beloved holidays – Independence Day. This day has forever and always been Dani’s favorite holiday, so I take a breath, say a prayer and face the day and all that comes with it.

Evening finally falls and as predictable as the tide moving in, we see colors dancing in the sky as the fireworks brighten the darkness. I become mesmerized by their explosions and sharp bursts of color, as the sizzle and sparkles take over the sky. I am somewhat distracted and troubled though, seeing Mickey, one of Dani’s dogs who now is “our dog,” shiver and shake in my husband’s arms. I never knew him to be frightened by the sounds of this night. In fact, it seems completely out of character for Mickey to be outwardly frightened by anything. This black and brown rascal has shown such resilience and strength in his twelve years of life that the pacing, shivering and whining is unsettling. Perhaps after celebrating four holidays without his momma, he is just simply missing her more than usual, just like me.

Please make the fireworks stop

Dani’s doctor told me shortly after we lost her that one of her biggest fears with coming home for visits was the thought of Mickey being too aggressive and biting one of the nieces or nephews in the face. He was rarely around littles at that point and Dani was so incredibly cautious with him. Those times we were together he would stay by her side and guard her, while watching every move that was made just in case she needed him. I have become convinced that Mickey was created before time began to comfort Dani and give her strength. At the time Mickey arrived in her world, she had her precious and tiny yorkie-poo Twix who needed his momma for his very existence. On the contrary, Mickey was in her life because God knew she would need him for her existence…and eventually mine.

He seems to have so much of his mother in him. He’s been brave and strong when I’m weak and broken. He’s tender and kind, kissing my tears away as I sometimes sit in the early morning hours crying over a memory or photo that unexpectedly crosses my mind. It’s in those moments that her absence becomes so painful to me all over again. This sweet boy stays with me for as long as I need him. When he is confident I am able to carry on, he grabs a toy, shakes it with all his might, barks happily and moves on to find the latest squirrel who terrorizes him out the window in our backyard.

Mickey also now watches over all the little ones in our world and rarely leaves their sides when they are sleeping. He is gentle, patient and so sweet with them all. There are so many nieces and nephews now that he has become completely engulfed in their activities, assuring us nothing will harm them while he is “on duty.” He truly has become their earthly Guardian Angel, undoubtedly getting directions from his own Heavenly Angel. From the moment Dani left us, his countenance changed with the little ones, obviously because of his momma’s spirit and strength and he shifted almost dramatically to become their protector.

We share the fabulous story of “Finding Mickey” to everyone that meets him. Twelve years ago, Dani saw Mickey running loose with no tags or collar on a six lane highway with a broken hind leg and rescued him. She knew she had no business taking another dog at that point. However, when she took him to the vet’s office where she was working at that time, she learned that his only option was to go to the pound where he would likely be destroyed. She reluctantly committed to the vet that she would take him home so he could have the surgery to mend his broken leg. Mickey waltzed (or maybe hobbled) into her life as a crazy ball of energy. Immediately, not knowing what the future would hold, he became her Guardian Angel. Early one cold February morning, 41 months ago, with Mickey by her side, after Dani’s hope was lost for a moment, he became mine.

Handsome and Charming

After Dani first got him all those years ago, I remember how he fell in love with her instantly yet she fought against it constantly. His wild, mouthy and energetic temperament made Twix, her tiny other dog, anxious making Dani question her decision to save him. Mickey can jump like a kangaroo and run like a cheetah. He can and will shred any toy he’s been given in about 10 minutes, then sit pretty and very handsome waiting patiently for a treat. He is mischievous and relentless, and that adorable little boy eventually wormed his way into her heart, as well as later into the heart of the love of her life, Greg. Greg and Mickey were inseparable for over two years. “Mickolous Ridiculous” became his pet-name and their bond grew stronger every day. Since they were always together, Dani became confident she made the right decision about taking Mickey and relished in the joy Mickey brought to them. That is, until that tragic day in 2011 when God called Greg home. The following months were undoubtedly horrific for Dani but with all the pain and trauma she went through, Mickolous Ridiculous never left her side. His loyalty, love and constant attention never failed. Dani was his reason for living and always would be. Mickey was able to have eight more amazing faithful years with Dani. His love and loyalty grew each day and now his heart is with me, knowing I will love and protect it as if I were her.

Greg and Mickolous Ridiculous

Aside from the sound of the chimes singing to me outside my window, the night has become mostly silent. The only light that illuminates the heavens are the stars that flicker in the sky. Mickey settles down and curls in a ball by my side. He takes a deep breath and sighs and immediately my heart is at peace. I think of Dani and whisper to her that Finding Mickey has made my new life better and easier to live in since she’s been gone. I am forever grateful for the memories the two of them made and for Dani choosing him and never letting him go. It’s my turn now to make the memories and I’ll mix them with the brightest days of my life, when his momma was here with me.

I gently pet this boy and tenderly give him a kiss on the side of soft snout, praying that, after such a stressful night, he dreams of the days gone by when he was playing tug of war with Twix. And after the pestering, barking and chaos subsides, I know, in his dream, he will hear the room burst with laughter, the sound that makes the whole world light up, and he will look up at his beloved momma’s beautiful face and lavishly kiss the one who made his entire world complete after Finding Mickey.

Finding Mickey