Murphy and Jerry by Dr. Dale Atkins

Murphy and Jerry by Dr. Dale Atkins

The last day I saw my father alive was the day before he died.

On a chilly, late autumn day, my father’s dog and I drove to my parents’ home for our “normal” visit. As always, when we exited the highway, Murphy paced in the back seat and barked with his usual anticipatory excitement.

My father Jerry loved dogs…as a young boy…as a teenager…as a man. He had Rollo and Dardy, Leo, and Prince, and he always took good care of them. As Jerry got older, so did his dogs, and each one died of old age.

For a while, my dad went without a dog. We all noticed that, for him, something was missing. That’s when Jerry met Murphy. As soon as my father walked into the animal shelter, a giant mountain of fur ran over to greet him, sat down, and gave him his paw. Jerry knew they’d become good friends. So, he took Murphy home.

Every day my dad took Murphy to work with him at his car dealership. Murphy loved sitting in the back of a truck or the front seat of a sports car. They were happy together. Then, something strange happened. My father began to forget things. He couldn’t find his keys…or his shoes. Occasionally, he even forgot to turn off the kettle after he made a cup of tea. He became very confused.

There were times when my father forgot to feed Murphy. We noticed that Murphy would stand by his bowl and bark until Jerry came into the kitchen. When Murphy started gaining weight, we realized that sometimes my dad fed the dog twice!

My parents went to different doctors to find out why my father was forgetting so much. After many visits and a lot of tests, we discovered that he had Alzheimer’s disease. It would cause him to change in a lot of different ways.

We were all saddened, shocked, and surprised. My father didn’t understand how this could happen to him.

Soon after, Murphy sensed that his new job was to take care of my father. And that’s what he did. At home, Murphy was always beside my dad with his paws on Jerry’s feet. We noticed when they went for walks, Murphy stood between the curb and my dad, so Jerry wouldn’t trip or fall. And when Jerry walked in the wrong direction, Murphy always guided him home.

On that last day, Murphy and I walked through my parents' house. When Murphy saw my father out back, he pulled on the leash. My dad, in his cozy jacket, hat, and gloves, was sitting in his favorite chair on the deck surrounded by beautiful trees, some still with a few leaves.

I kissed my dad and sat down next to him. Murphy lay at my father’s side and put his paw on Jerry’s foot to say hi, but my dad didn’t notice. I was telling my father about the events of the week, when suddenly, he looked down toward the dog, pet Murphy’s head, and said in a clear voice, “Well, hello, good boy. You’re a good boy. What a good boy!”

It was amazing! My father was back. Besides our singing “Red, Red Robin” together, I hadn’t felt my dad’s sense of presence in a very long time.

Murphy noticed too. He leaped up and licked my father’s face. Then, with all his 110 pounds, he tried to get onto my dad’s lap! When he couldn’t, Murphy twirled and raced in circles, each time coming back to Jerry, licking his face and hands.

Then, my father looked directly at me, and I knew he was “there.” With tears in his eyes, he said, “I love you. I’m so sorry. So very sorry.”

I took his hand and we hugged. Murphy kept licking him. We sat together until our beautiful moment was gone.

The next day my father died.

Hundreds of people came to visit our family to pay respects in the week following my father’s funeral. It was too much for me, and at one point, I needed a respite. I walked with Murphy to a cove at a nearby lake, where Jerry and Murphy often went together. As we approached the cove, I heard Murphy howl. He wouldn’t stop.

At the edge of the cove, there was a canoe nestled on the shore. Murphy ran full speed ahead and barked at it. The boat was NOT tied up, and it started floating into the center of the lake. The dog sprinted back and forth along the shore, yipping, and howling. I am certain my dad’s spirit was in that canoe and Murphy was saying goodbye.


(Photo is of Jerry and Murphy)

A Note From the Author-----------------------------

The inspiration for "Murphy and Jerry" stems from my observations of my father and his dog and the profound connections that can develop between humans and animals. Through this story, I seek to shed light on the universal emotions and experiences we face when confronted with decline, reminding readers of the power of empathy, compassion, and love.

I am an educator, writer, and licensed psychologist with more than forty years of experience as a relationship expert focusing on families, wellness, managing stress, and living a balanced, meaningful life. Author of seven books and many chapters, articles, and journals for popular and professional audiences, I am a featured speaker who lectures and leads seminars worldwide. For more than two decades I was a guest expert and appeared regularly on NBC’s TODAY and CNN. I have a private psychology practice in New York City and have been a member of, and advisor to several nonprofit boards, including Jumpstart for Young Children and I am a founding member of WHAM! (Women’s Health Access Matters).

I have been recognized for my community service and leadership with several awards including Teachers College Columbia University Spirituality Mind Body Institute Distinguished Alumni Award, YWCA Greenwich BRAVA Award, Jewish Women’s Foundation Leadership Award (Twice) - Women Who Inspire, Anti Defamation League Appreciation Award, Jumpstart for Young Children Leadership Award, Spirit of Leadership Award —Harmony With No Limits, and the Leadership Award - Voice for Hearing-impaired Children. I have two children and six grandchildren and live in Connecticut.

Feb 5th 2024 Dr. Dale Atkins

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