“Mom, my new year’s resolution is to get Chewie to like me more.”
Chewie (short for Chewbacca) the Chinchilla was our oldest son’s therapy animal. His soft fur and cuddlesome quality made him very soothing when our son was having an anxiety attack at home. We brought him home for Eli’s 8th birthday in 2016 and he loved him instantly. But Chewie was feisty — he could sense any hesitation. If you approached him confidently, you could pet him or even hold him. But if you hesitated in the slightest, as our son often did, he’d avoid you. So Eli was determined to change that this year.
But just two days after telling me of his resolve, the opportunity was taken from him.
The door to Chewie’s cage secured by overlapping the cage wires. While it was obvious if they were left open, occasionally you could think it was secure when, in fact, it was just shy of a full latch. In these times, Chewie had been known to open the door himself, but he never got out of the cage on his own.
Until a few days ago. That one time he got bold was all it took. Our dog found him. And like any dog seeing a moving chew toy…
Our youngest son found him and as Eli came around the corner and saw his beloved furry best friend lethargic on the floor, his face turned to horror and he fell to his knees. I’ll never forget that look. I immediately scooped him up. Then his brother said Chewie was moving and my motivation changed. I grabbed our little friend, told Eli to get his shoes on fast, and we ran to the car and hit the road to the emergency vet clinic.
Eli just held Chewie and sobbed while we drove (across town, unfortunately!). I told him to pray. We asked for prayer on social media. Silly as it may seem, we were desperate for a miracle.
The sun was setting as we drove and the sky was covered in clouds for as far as the eye could see. They lit up as beacons of orange and I said to Eli “Look, God is telling you that, no matter what happens, he loves you.” He nodded knowingly, finding comfort as he stared out the window at the gorgeous skyline.
We arrived at the emergency vet before it opened (our regular vet has no experience with exotic animals). Eli and I saw someone through the window and he pounded on the glass in desperation. They let us in early and carted Chewie off to see the doctor. But I expected the worst, as I could no longer feel that faint heartbeat I found at the house. And I was right. Moments later — before I could even get our address on the intake sheet — they came back to let us know he’d passed.
We trudged home with Chewie in a box. His dad buried Chewie in the backyard, under the blackberry bush. I told Eli not to put expectations on himself as he grieved — whatever he needed to do was okay because grief shows itself in many forms. It was important for me to convey that to him. If I’ve learned anything through my own losses and helping others endure loss nearly every day through On Angels’ Wings, it’s that everyone grieves in their own way and their own time. All we can do as their support system is hold them, love them, and say “I’m here, whatever you need.” I have no answers for him, and he knows that, but he also accepts that willingly.
After dinner, we took the boys to get ice cream down the road. Eli asked if a shake was okay. I told him he could get whatever he wanted. He sat there slurping on his cookies and cream shake and leaning on his dad for comfort, his mind someplace else.
Then a familiar face walked through the door — our pastor and dear family friend. Eli was the first to see him and said “God brought Pastor here so he could pray for us.” And as we talked to him, he mentioned that he had never stopped in that ice cream shop after church before – that this was the first time in the nine years he’s been our pastor. And it was confirmation that it was a divine encounter at just the right moment.
It’s been a couple of days and Eli is somber. His aunt has given him something to look forward to: a new friend in a baby guinea pig that will be ready to come home with us in just a couple of weeks. And a friend left a gift card on our porch to help us cover any new supplies we would need. Yet another friend brought treats to help cheer both of the boys up. We’re so blessed by all of the support and love.
I had an honest conversation with God that night, asking him why Eli had to go through this. We picked a chinchilla because they live up to 20 years and, while Chewie was 7 when we got him, we wanted him to be Eli’s pal for most of his time at home. But Eli only got two years with him? Why did our boy have to go through such heartache already, especially after we’ve lost our three family dogs in the past two years too? What lesson were Eli and all of us to learn from this?
And God reminded me that he is there through all of it. That he showed himself to Eli not once, but twice that evening. That this would make him stronger, not only in maturity, but in his faith — more dependent on God to carry him through the difficult times. God didn’t necessarily orchestrate this situation, but he allowed it because of the important spiritual and emotional lessons that Eli would learn right on the cusp of his tween years – those first seasons of self-realization. Sometimes, living abundantly means finding the beauty in the hard things.