There is an old saying “to everything there is a reason, a season or a lifetime”.
We were so excited to purchase our lake place. The day we moved in was the first day I met him. He stood in my kitchen and stuck out a gloved hand, “I’m Paul. I live right down there” as he pointed towards the north and to the lake with one hand as he waited for me to reach out and take his outstretched hand. Oddly, he stretched out his left hand instead of the usual right. Outside of the Boy Scouts, I’ve never seen anyone do this. I reached out and took his hand…kind of. As I grabbed his hand I floundered. I expected to feel the firm grip of a strong man, and instead I was clasping into nothing. Like a doofus, I kept shifting my grip, over and over, changing my hand placement to take a hold of his full hand. As I was groping at the empty space where half his fingers should be, I looked him more intently in the eyes and found the secret…this little shit eating grin and glint in his eye. He laughed at the shock on my face as he pulled off his glove. “I lost these two in a saw” and then the story. Enter into my life, Paul Stehr.
This was the first time I met him. Over the next five years he was our greatest asset. He was always there for us and with us. Telling us what was what in our cabin as he had been great friends with the previous owner and knew everything about the place. “I spent many a morning having coffee at that table” as he pointed to our kitchen table which was gratefully left behind by the previous owner. He and Phil would have morning coffee a few times a week together, both widowers.
His best friend in the world was his black lab named Borus. They were together through thick and thin. Borus was there when his wife died, a year later his daughter died, and a year after that when he developed cancer and kicked it. Borus was at his side through it all – his constant companion. If Paul was outside, Borus was with him. If Paul was inside, Borus was inside. They had a love and a trust between them that transcended words. I called him “Borus the Animal” after the Men in Black movies. He’d wag his tail until his tail wagged him. He was a big burly boy who was loved by everyone who knew him. Just like his owner.
That Spring we met his fiancée. They got married three weeks before my husband and I did. Two sweet newlywed couples acting like kids. We all became fast friends. Every weekend we’d check-in. We didn’t always visit together as they have family, we have family, there’s always friends and family and projects and just stuff, but almost always a check-in. A quick text message or phone call, and we were up-to-date on the goings on in the neighborhood.
Dinners, drinks, “can you give me a hand”, “hey, what are you guys up to”, we’d meet in the yard, halfway and just talk. We catch up and keep moving. So many “hey, come over here for a minute” in that low growly voice calling across the yards. It took almost zero time for Nancy, Paul’s wife and I, to put together that our husbands were cut from the same cloth. They literally finish each other’s sentences, they think alike, talk alike, plan alike, work alike. They are one mind in two bodies. She and l laugh often about how what one of them doesn’t know how to do the other one does. Between the two of them, they could fix and repair anything, and do.
We’ve watched Borus deteriorate over the last couple years. More than once they knew it was time to put him down, and Paul just couldn’t do it. Early this spring Borus took care of himself and went to sleep. Paul’s heart broke, as did his wife’s, his grandson and everyone else in the neighborhood. Borus was loved by all. Paul had a sense of loss inside of him that was palpable. A piece of him died with that dog. Borus was cremated and took his place on a shelf in the living room.
This fall, as usual, Paul was there helping us pull the boat lift out of the water. I climbed on the back of his ATV and couldn’t help but notice the sliver hairs on the flat bed of the ATV. Years before, Paul built a flatbed platform on the back of his ATV for Borus to ride on. Anytime that ATV moved, Borus was on back. In the mist and cold of that day Borus’ hair glistened against the black felt. My heart melted thinking of him and missing him.
Mid-November I get a text with a picture of a brand-new side by side. Later that day I hear a horn blasting outside…and blasting…and blasting. I walk outside and there he is, in his new toy. “Get in!”. I run back inside and grab a sweatshirt and climb in. This bad boy has EVERYTHING! Not just heat, windshield wipers, automatic transmission, and four multi drive settings, but GPS, A/C, Bluetooth and a snow blade. It’s awesome! He was so proud of this thing. When Clarence got there the following weekend, first thing in the morning, a horn blasting outside. There’s nothing cooler than two boys on a joyride in a new set of wheels!
A week later they made a trip to the doctor, as Paul hadn’t been feeling well in weeks. Three trips to the ER and on the last one Nancy refused to take him home until they figured out what was wrong. So, they did. Cancer. After further testing it was determined the cancer had spread extensively, they gave him six months to a year to live. We were devastated. The thought of losing him left us paralyzed and in tears. Two weeks later he was hospitalized, they decreased his time frame to less than two months. There were drives north to visit in the hospital, there were conversations and jokes and teasing like usual, but with a sense of attachment to each and every second like it was our very last. Because we knew it could be. The obvious place of where this was all going was like a deafening silence that surrounded us all. There was no way to get away from it. We talked about who would take care of what, and how. While Nancy and I talked in hushed tones on the sofa, Clarence and Paul had conversations about how to take care of things, what help Nancy might need, and asked my husband to do what he could to help her out. I kissed him on the forehead before we walked out. I said good-bye, feeling like it may very well be the last time.
A week later Clarence went over to hang a beautiful 10-point rack on the wall where Paul could see it from his hospital bed in the living room. Before Clarence left Paul called him over to sit next to him. “I didn’t know you had so many eyes”, the drugs were fierce. It was the last thing my husband ever got to hear him say. He passed away early the next morning. We sobbed together, every time we passed each other in the hallway, every time we crawled into bed, or stood in the kitchen together.
The funeral was appropriate. In Paul’s home parish, surrounded by his kids and his wife and friends and family who loved him. In his casket, his hands folded and tucked underneath them, a wooden box inscribed with Borus’ name, date and two paw prints. He had always said he wanted Borus buried with him, and there they were, together again. There is nothing more precious than a boy and his dog.
We missed him the second he was gone. It was almost unfair how fast it went. How quickly he was gone. We feel robbed, totally and completely. A friend we thought we’d laugh with and tell stories with and help each other back and forth, for years to come, is gone. Forever.
I stood at the living room window this past weekend, looking over his house, soft lights glowing from the TV. Tears fell down my cheeks one more time. For his wife, his kids, his grandson, for myself and our loss. I felt selfish and still. If only we could’ve kept him a while longer.
Our time together was so short. Our friendship could’ve lasted forever, or at minimum years and years to come. I know for everything there is a reason, a season or a lifetime, but may I say, while we loved him in the time we had him, while I will think about him every time I climb onto the back of his ATV (we bought it when he bought his new toy) that I still refer to as Paul’s four wheeler, and every time I see one of those silver hairs glistening against the black felt, this season was way, way too short.
Paul J Stehr, you were the best. You are already so missed.
Blessings Galore, Anne