Dealing with the loss of a best friend

Photo courtesy of Karen Scolforo 
President Scolforo poses with Henry Parker, her beloved dog and best friend.

On Sept. 2, 2019—Labor Day—I said goodbye to my best friend and cherished pet, Henry Parker. As many of you know, Henry has been somewhat of an icon on campus since our arrival back in November of 2017, and, certainly, I have enjoyed the opportunity to introduce him to our Castleton community. We stood in front of Woodruff Hall for our first photo shoot back in December of that introductory year, and, later, Henry made his photographic debut in the fall 2018 Donor Report (page 14): Leading The Castleton Way.

Henry Parker’s veterinarian diagnosed him with heart disease last April. She explained that his heartbeats were unsuccessful in circulating blood to his organs. His heart would beat three times, followed by a much more substantial pulse, compelling the needed circulation—so, in essence, only every fourth beat was successful in accomplishing the task at hand.

On Sunday, Sept. 1, Henry Parker began to show signs of distress. His intense coughing (imagine a cat trying to dislodge a hairball), raspy breaths, vomiting, and cold extremities presented implications with his heart. The next morning he failed to get up from his bed, and, once he finally did, he refused food or water. He left my side—which is something he had never done before—and stretched out behind my piano. Even then, he was unable to relax, his restlessness revealing his inability to find a comfortable position. Besides all of this, each time Henry stood, he struggled to lift his head.

Henry Parker and I traveled to the emergency veterinarian clinic in Rutland, where he took his last breaths shortly after 3 p.m.

The ride home was the quietest I had ever experienced. My back seat and my heart felt empty.

The next morning I forced myself to take the usual walk, even without my companion. As I reached the parking lot, a group of students were stretching for a run. Someone said, “Hey, I think that’s the president.” Another, “But where is her dog?”

I burst into tears.

When I got home, I researched the five stages of grief (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), which would become, in my mind, the road map to recovery. What I hadn’t anticipated was Henry’s presence in my virtual vision: vivid images of affectionate cuddles, the sweet smell of his fur (still present in his dog bed), his paws in my hands as we danced in the kitchen, wrapped in his ThunderShirt as he stretched out across the love seat, tossing my throw pillows all over the floor. As I write these words, I suspect I am teetering somewhere between the first two stages, denial and isolation, anger. I know I have to do the work, to feel the excruciating pain. What I also recognize—probably the most important part—is that the grief I am experiencing directly correlates to the love I feel for my Henry Parker. His presence in my life was a blessing, and for that, I am grateful.

In fact, I am grateful for so many things. Our Castleton community has provided an outpouring of support: personalized notes, thoughtful cards, fresh cut flowers, meaningful and relevant poetry, and even a dried fruit and nut platter. On social media, I have heard about similar experiences, shared thoughtful anecdotes, and embraced our mutual love of our pets. Thank you for your kindness—thank you for caring. This is, indeed, The Castleton Way.

In closing, I know that Henry Parker would want me to send a shout out to his Castleton family members who welcomed him into their lives: Brigette Olson, Anthony Fallacaro, Meg Elrick, Lori Phillips, Jim Stuart, and Gus Austin, among others. A heartfelt thank you for welcoming Henry into your hearts.

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