It was a Monday afternoon that I received the phone call. “Jim, a lady in our congregation died. Pastor is out of state, would you step in for him.?” Ours is a large congregation and as I am usually busy with our deaf ministry, I did not personally know Karen. I made the proper contacts and learned Karen had two children, a son and daughter from another state. I knew this had to be hard for them as their relationships in Muncie were few. They certainly did not know me, and they were being asked to trust their mother’s funeral service to a stranger. I knew that was a lot for them to deal with in the process of their mother’s sudden, unexpected death. I had to find a way to alleviate them of that unneeded stress. It was my responsibility to get with the children to familiarize myself with them and their mother. I made contact and we planned to meet at a local restaurant.

I knew full well the difficulty for all involved. I had to walk into a deeply sensitive life’s situation and talk about some very personal issues with no personal relationship with any involved. This would be awkward. In our meeting together how they saw me in the first few minutes would determine if they would or would not confide in me and talk about their mother. If I would bring hope and healing to them I had to earn that right with our first handshake. How would I do that?

Thinking about the importance of that lunchtime, I glanced at Nekayah lying in front of the fireplace. What if I would take Nekayah to the restaurant with me? As a service dog, I could, but it was her therapy training and relatability that I needed. Nekayah has an uncanny ability to do two things. First, break the ice; second, put others at ease. When Nekayah knows she is working she exudes calmness and affirmation. As odd as it would seem, I took Nekayah to the lunch meeting to discuss a funeral.

I arrived early and waited inside the doors. Nekayah sat at her heal position. A young man and woman entered, and it was obvious they were looking for someone. I stepped forward, and Nekayah followed, again sitting at my side. “Brian and Angie?” “Yes, are you Mr. Turner?” “Yes, I am.” “And who is this?”  With that they knelt in front of Nekayah. I released her and it was as though she knew their hearts were heavy. In a polite, calm and affectionate manner she licked their hands, and as they knelt with her she laid her head in one lap, then the other. As they talked to her she would slowly raise her head to give them gentle licks on their cheeks.

I watched it happen just as I had hoped. In those couple of moments the ice was broken, Brian and Angie felt loved and accepted, and that was transferred to me. Our lunch lasted for 1 1/2 hours and we talked about their mother’s family, life and faith. We laughed and cried together. During our lunch Nekayah laid quietly and politely as usual. The last ten minutes of our lunchtime was a time of interaction with Nekayah. A therapy dog at heart, she is a wonderful ambassador of affection and comfort.

From our conversation and with my information I went home to prepare for the funeral the following morning. This would be a difficult funeral as their mother, only 54, died unexpectedly. That morning the people gathered, the message of hope delivered, the prayers prayed, and I believe healing was begun. For me all was complete. But I discovered something was missing for Brian and Angie. It was at the closing of the service that I then realized how important Nekayah was to the grieving process in the loss of this young mother. Both Brian and Angie came to me and said, “Where is Nekayah? We had hoped you would bring her with you for the service for our mother.” WOW! What an incredible compliment to Nekayah. I thought it best not to take a dog to a funeral. But that was my thinking. It was in error. Brian and Angie would have found further comfort in seeing Nekayah lay beside me during the service. They saw Nekayah and me as one. I then wished I had taken her with me. Her lying beside me would have aided me in delivering a message of hope. Nekayah had briefly touched their lives, entered their sorrow and joined them in their journey toward healing.

Nekayah knows how to lick our tears, lay her head in our lap and somehow we know we are loved, and life will be okay.

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