Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Toothless Little Wonders - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Toothless Little Wonders.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.


Adrienne VanZomeren: He was my North Star. He was my most consistent companion. He was my pride and joy. He lit up my heart.

I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”

Today’s guest, Adrienne, is talking about someone special. Someone she loved. Someone she lost. His name is Luke.

Adrienne VanZomeren: He was a bridge that connected me to other people. He was a shield of armor at times that protected me. He was a witness, and he chose me, and he was my best good friend. 

You might be listening to this and trying to figure out … was Luke … Adrienne’s son? Her husband? A nephew, an uncle?

The answer is none of the above. Because Luke was Adrienne’s German Shepherd.

I attended Luke’s memorial service this past January. Yes, a memorial service for a dog, which took place over Zoom, of course, the way most events were taking place at the time. 

I had not met Luke, but Adrienne and I had worked together for … I think years, at this point? And she’s a person I care about, so of course I was there. 

I didn’t have any expectations for the event. It was certainly my first memorial service for a dog, so I certainly did not expect to cry in my bed and text our mutual friend, Lindsay, all caps, “WHY AM I CRYING OVER A DOG I NEVER MET!” But I did. I did all of that.

Memorial Guest 1: He was a beautiful, kind soul, and he [laughs] he was something else, that Lukey. We all know that. 

Memorial Guest 2: Luke was a cool dude. He was a cool dude. So much enjoyed when he would come over and hang out in the backyard. He just had this full energy about him. There are dogs where I’m like, “Okay, that’s a pretty cool dog,” but then there’s like “Dude, that’s COOL dog right there.” And Luke definitely was that guy.

Adrienne (At Memorial): I loved him more than anything, with my whole entire heart. Thank you for 13 years of love, joy and adventure. 

Adrienne met Luke in 2007 during a stressful time in her life. She’d recently graduated from college — the first college graduate in her family — and she’d moved to a small town with her fiance, Adam. 

And in this small town, Adrienne finds herself trying to navigate her way into graduate school with no financial or professional resources.

She has Adam, but … Adrienne still feels isolated and alone, in part because of what she went through the year before. Adrienne was sexually assaulted by one of her track and field teammates during her senior year of college. By a person she knew and trusted. When the case went to trial, Adrienne was shunned by some of her teammates in the track community.

Even before this assault, human connection even before this was often complicated for Adrienne. And as a warning right now, these next parts talk about domestic violence, substance abuse and eating disorders.

Adrienne VanZomeren: I was born to a very young mom. She had me the day after her 20th birthday. And my dad was 13 years older than her. He passed away two years after I was born, and he died of a drug overdose — a heroin overdose. And really, I think that was the start of me, as a kid, having this really deep sense of not being chosen. In my child's mind, I really came to interpret my dad's drug addiction and eventual overdose that stole him from me as evidence that I wasn't important enough for him to make better decisions. 

After Adrienne’s dad dies, her mom starts dating someone new. This man abuses Adrienne’s mom, physically and emotionally, for years.

Adrienne VanZomeren: I slept with a knife under my bed. I listened to him threaten to kidnap me so that my mom would never see me again. There were so many times I was sure that my mom died in the other room after overhearing her gasping for air while being choked or having her head slammed into a wall repeatedly. And every time my mom didn't leave that, or sent the police away after they were called to the house by our neighbors, I felt like she chose him, and whatever he provided for her, over me. 

Adrienne’s mom leaves this abusive relationship when she meets someone new at work. Adrienne is 7 when they get married.

Adrienne VanZomeren: My stepdad struggled with alcoholism, and it bled all over us. And, you know, he would have nonsensical fits of rage and control, and he'd ground me for days for not running fast enough when he called me into the other room or not completing a long list of daily chores perfectly enough. And I mean, I was an overly obedient kid who was terrified to do the wrong thing, and yet I spent so much time being punished and isolated in my room for not being good enough. And not only did my mom not leave him after he drove drunk numerous times with me in the car, went to jail, and punitively and harshly punished me, but she also never stood up to him, and instead she'd secretly just let me off the hook until he'd come back home or until he'd come back from rehab or jail or wherever he was and then she would choose him all over again, and his unreasonable demands. And he wasn't hitting my mom, and he wasn't threatening our lives, but in indirect ways, there was still a threat to our life, and there was a threat to our connection and our safety. 

And there’s no one in Adrienne’s life who can help.

Adrienne VanZomeren: My mom had asked me to keep what we experienced a secret from people like teachers and other adults who might be able to help, because she was terrified that I would be taken away from her, like he had threatened to do himself. And so denying this reality and feeling unseen in that way and not even being able to talk about the experiences that I was having with anybody was a really lonely place to be. 

Nora McInerny: There's also this sort of sense, you know, throughout your childhood, your adolescence, as you get older and you survive an assault, that’s like, “Well, Adrienne's OK. She's so brave. She's so strong. She's OK. She's OK.” 

Adrienne VanZomeren: And that's the problem, that kids that are struggling with an internal battle that doesn't get expressed as visibly on the outside, is that some adults and people in their lives start to believe that if it was bad enough, you would see blatant signs. And sometimes the signs are subtle because they exist deep, deep within the person. And I think over time my signs got bigger. I had really severe OCD as a kid, and it got to the point where I was washing my hands so much that my skin was falling off. And that could be seen. And I had stopped eating, and that could be seen. But it still wasn't enough. It wasn't recognized as being this root and this manifestation of all of that pain and all of that loss and all of that real Capital T trauma that we had experienced in our life and that I had experienced in my life. 

This is a major theme throughout Adrienne’s childhood and young adulthood … everyone says, “She seems okay enough. She’s managing. Look at how good she does in school!” And after the sexual assault, Adrienne feels like she has to keep her pain to herself. So she “seems” okay, and her family applauds her bravery when she takes the case to trial.

Adrienne VanZomeren: I really crumbled at the time, understandably. But even then, I kind of had this rise from the ashes. The person got removed from our college and could never go back. I had this, quote unquote, “accomplishment” with that. And so I think that it wasn't then that my family saw me really suffer in the true depth of my pain and without me having a comeback.

Now, Adrienne and Adam are living near the Michigan-Indiana border. And it’s here where she meets the real, big love of her life.

Adrienne VanZomeren: I went to the Humane Society after work one day. And I didn't have any specific intention to get a dog that day, but it was something that was on my mind and something that I definitely was interested in, just because I had always had dogs growing up. And I thought it would be a nice first step in creating a family with my fiance at the time.

We open the door to the area where all the dogs were kept. And it was just, all the dogs erupted in barking and just pacing and hopping up on the fences and going wild. And it was just a chaotic room of all these dogs going bonkers at the sight of a person. And I saw Luke. He was not barking. He wasn't jumping. He was just sitting there. And I walked over to him. And he slowly walked toward me. And he hopped his paws up onto the fence. And he was about the same height as me because he was so big, even as a younger dog. And he looked straight into my eyes, and he was calm and silent. And I said, "Well. This is my Luke.” 

We’ll be right back.


Adrienne has just met her soulmate: Luke, a German Shepherd. When the other dogs at the shelter go bananas, he just … stares at her, calmly. As if he knows something that Adrienne doesn’t yet. 

Adrienne didn’t plan to bring a dog home, but … you know when something feels SO right that all of your plans go out the window? When your decision is made for you without you realizing it? That’s what it’s like when Adrienne meets Luke.

Adrienne VanZomeren: It felt like magic. It truly was indescribable, just this immediate connection I felt with this magical being who is just so beautiful and captivating. 

During the adoption process, Adrienne learns that Luke has been living on the streets. That his early years have been difficult ones. And Adrienne can relate.

Adrienne VanZomeren: He was fearful. He was pretty raggedy. It looked like he hadn't been taken care of. And he was adopted by a couple, and then they returned him. And so I understood that there were people in Luke's life who hadn't given him what he needed and hadn't taken care of him in the way that he needed, and I understood that. And I also understood that I would never do that to him, and I promised him the day I picked him up, I said, "I will never, ever give up on you." And I think similarly, Luke was just as dedicated to me. I have always grinded my teeth, I grind my teeth so hard that I cracked a tooth straight down to its core. It got infected and I lost it. And Luke had a lot of issues with anxiety, not grinding his teeth, but he had chewed through doors, through drywall, through metal crates. And in the process, he broke a lot of teeth. So we were both toothless little wonders because of our anxieties. 

What Adrienne and Luke lack in teeth, they make up for in friendship. Adrienne is there for Luke as he struggles with his separation anxiety. Luke is there for Adrienne as she deals with the aftermath of her sexual assault and the traumatic childhood memories it resurfaces.

Luke is there as Adrienne works multiple unpaid research jobs to qualify for grad school — and as she’s rejected by every school she initially applies to.

Luke is there to celebrate when Adrienne is finally accepted into a top psychology program — and later, when she matches for a residency at HARVARD.

He’s also there as Adrienne’s relationship with Adam unravels ... and then ends.

And this moment -- the end of that relationship with Adam -- is a turning point in Adrienne’s life. 

It’s when she realizes that the humans in her world may never be able to fully support her. They couldn’t be there when she was a kid dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder and anorexia, or when she was living under a roof of domestic violence. And they can’t fully be there now, as her world crumbles after her divorce. 

Adrienne VanZomeren: There was a period of time where I was just ... I was down, and I was out, and there was nothing to accomplish. There was no comeback. There was no silver lining. There was just what it was, which was terrible and horrible and deep and dark. And in those moments, I felt ... it made a lot of sense why my cries for help or my indirect expressions of pain that looked like my skin falling off as a kid and my, you know, my muscles atrophying as a teenager, it made sense why those weren't recognized, because they still require emotional support and availability that wasn't part of their toolbox. It wasn't part of their lived experience, getting or giving that kind of support that I felt like I needed. And I felt like, in that moment, if I can't be OK, and if people don't know how to support me when I'm not OK, who do I have? And who I had was Luke, because Luke accepted every version of me that existed. And, you know, there were so many nights that I buried my face in his fur and just wept for hours. And there were moments when he would just come and lay his head in my lap or lay his head on my chest or on my back, and it was just a witnessing, you know? Like, letting me be not OK and showing knew that he was still there and that he accepted all versions of me and that he saw all of the parts of me that there were to see. And that was so powerful for me, and that was so important for me, because I hadn't had that before either. 

Adrienne and Luke spend one post-divorce year in Boston while Adrienne finishes her Harvard residency. (She’s now doctor Adrienne, at this point.) Then, they make their move back to St. Paul, Minnesota. 

It doesn’t happen overnight, but as time passes, there’s less crying into Luke’s fur. Adrienne and Luke are able to get back to more LIVING. And they do everything together.

Adrienne VanZomeren: Luke would routinely run like six or seven miles a day. And he was just unstoppable. We we would go and spectate running when we were not ourselves running. He loved marathons. He has seen the Akron Marathon. He's seen the Duluth Marathon. He's seen the Twin Cities Marathon. He's been all over spectating marathons, getting a little gallop and trot when he would see all the runners. And famously, he's run a 10:05 two-mile race on a stomach full of three Cinnabon cinnamon rolls — which I mean, without three Cinnabon cinnamon rolls in your stomach, it's hard enough to run a 10:05 two-mile. That is a five-minute pace per mile. But he was just an athletic phenomenon. We went everywhere, we explored everywhere. We would walk 10 miles a day just going to parks and sitting in coffee shops writing our dissertation. And it was very much Luke's dissertation as much as it was mine. And, oh, he just went so many places. We would go to bed and breakfasts that were dog-friendly. We would go to the Minnehaha Dog Park and he would wade in the water. He didn't love to swim, but he would definitely wade, and he would definitely drink the water, and he would greet all the dogs that came into the park. We romped in the woods and gone sledding and canoeing, which Luke was not a huge fan of, but he did tolerate, and I was very proud of him. We just did so much. Like, he just literally went everywhere with me. And he loved Halloween. He loved passing out candy, the trick or treaters... 

Nora McInerny: This is not a dog. I'm so sorry. I have never had a dog not roll off a costume. OK? Like immediately one of my dogs will, like, run up against a couch to rub it off of her and then another dog will just go completely dead. And Halloween universally, like, makes every dog crazy. 

Adrienne VanZomeren: He really loved to go outside when all the little trick or treaters were there. And he had this very long snoot and he would just shove it in their candy buckets and rifle around and be like, what do you got in there? He wouldn't eat it. He was just curious and very nosy. 

By now, Adrienne has begun seeing someone new — his name’s Craig, and he’s a guy she used to go to school with. And Craig knows that Luke is Adrienne’s number one, and that he has to win Luke over if he wants to date Luke’s gal.  

And that first meeting between Craig and Luke? It’s a little shaky.

Adrienne VanZomeren: He came over the house, and he was wearing a hat, and he had this beard. And Luke was like, "Um, no, you don't." So he barked, and then Craig immediately took off his hat and he was like, "OK, you're cool. You can come on in." 

Nora McInerny: "Oh cool, that comes off? That's great. You can come in." 

Adrienne VanZomeren: "All right. Now that I can look into your eyes and see that you are safe and you are not a murderer, you're cleared." 

This is a real thing with a lot of rescue dogs. If someone reminds a dog of a not-so-nice person from their past, it’s a no go. Stacy, my dog, has that with my husband, unfortunately. And so does Luke! Luke doesn’t trust men who wear hats. Thankfully, Craig’s fine going hatless. 

Adrienne VanZomeren: Craig recognized how bonded and how attached that me and Luke were, and he knew how special I was in Luke's eyes. And as Luke slowly absorbed Craig into our family, he knew how much that meant. He knew that it was not, ya know, Luke was not indiscriminately accepting of everybody, and especially for people that were going to be close to his mom. And so I think that meant so much to Craig, as he recognized just how special and how selective Luke was in his closest relationships. 

Craig and Adrienne take their relationship very slowly -- no plans to move in together right away. But in 2019, they notice some weird physical stuff happening with Luke. Not all the time, but often enough for Adrienne to worry.

Adrienne VanZomeren: Every so often I would notice he would just take one step on his knuckles and then his foot would go back to its normal position. And I was worried about that. And, you know, Craig was like, “Well, you know, maybe he was tripping or maybe, you know, maybe the cement was hot or something.” And I was like, “I just don't think that's normal. Like, I think that's neurological.” And there were times when it would get really warm outside that he seemed to lose stability in his hind, like his legs would start sinking, like his knees would buckle a little bit and his hind end would sink down toward the floor, just like he was getting weak. 

By July 2019, Luke’s health has gotten worse. He’s having accidents … more than you can imagine, all the time, everywhere. (If you have pets or small children, or even sick people in your life, you know what I mean.) This is not normal behavior for Luke.

Adrienne VanZomeren: So I took Luke to this veterinary clinic that specialized in physical therapy, and it specialized in basically all sorts of conditions that could affect pets, especially those who are aging. And because Luke is a German Shepherd, they had thought that it could be the initial signs of something called degenerative myelopathy. And what that is, is basically a canine version of ALS. 

ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.You probably know it as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” or honestly just ALS. And I don’t like to compare diseases, but this is a bad one. Would hate to have it. Nightmare material to me. And it looks like Luke might have the dog equivalent of ALS.

Adrienne VanZomeren: From the tip of the spine, the tailbone up, start losing function and their nerves stop working, and it's a neurodegenerative condition that is more common in breeds like German Shepherds and larger dogs. And that could explain some of what was going on. And so it was a matter of decision making of what can we do to keep his quality of life? What can we do to get supports in place that he doesn't have right now that could enhance his quality of life and potentially slow decline?

As Luke’s health continues to decline, as he suffers from strokes, Craig offers to stay over at Adrienne’s more often so he can help her care for her best friend.

Adrienne VanZomeren: Craig finally was like, "OK, we're doing this." And Luke accepted him, and I think that started to feel really special for Craig, and that was special for me to witness because Craig loved Luke so good. He was so good at loving Luke and taking care of him and doing all of the things that I never asked him to do, that he just did because he loved Luke and he loved me. And Luke knew it. Luke knew that he could count on Craig and, and I think he really appreciated that. 

Luke’s decline is hard for Adrienne. One, because Luke is her heart. And caring for elderly pets with disabilities is VERY expensive, even if you have pet health insurance, which is a real thing. Doggie day care is not an option for most special needs dogs. There’s no respite care. And it’s physically demanding. After Luke had a stoke, he loses his ability to walk. His vet thinks Luke might walk again with physical therapy, and Adrienne wants to give him that chance. Because Luke is a very good boy who deserves that chance.

So for months, Adrienne and Craig carry Luke’s 80-pound body up and down the stairs in their apartment building multiple times a day. And Luke can’t be left alone, so Craig starts working from home long before COVID. And Adrienne takes on more work so she can afford Luke's physical therapy — at one time, she’s working four jobs at once.

They’re more than willing to do all of this, and that also doesn’t mean it’s easy. Because there are days when it looks like Luke might be able to walk again … he might recover! And days when everything goes in the opposite direction. Days when Luke seems happy, content … and days when he seems uncomfortable.

And all of this is torture for Adrienne. There’s no crystal ball to tell her whether or not he will heal, and not even Google Translate can help Luke tell his people what he needs. And there are no advanced care directives for dogs. 

Adrienne VanZomeren: It was agonizing to try to make decisions when Luke couldn't tell me what he wanted and what he needed, and I had to set aside my selfish desire to have him forever and my fear of losing him and think about what was best for him and only him. And it was something that kept me awake at night, because I had in the back of my mind this desire to unequivocally fulfill my promise to never give up on him with the responsibility to do what was best for him. And it was just so hard. And I just wished so often that he could just tell me, you know, like, “I'm ready,” or, “I'm in pain, and I don't want to do this anymore.” And I tried to listen as best as I could. But it was a daily struggle for me to know if I was doing the right thing by keeping him alive and by keeping working on his mobility. I tried my best to discern what Luke wanted and what he was trying to tell me without words, but I couldn't fully be objective, and I couldn't fully be sure that I was doing the thing that he truly wanted and not the selfish thing. Because I think, if he could have, Luke would have lived forever just to keep me happy. 

Adrienne has always known she’d do some kind of memorial service for Luke, once the time comes. But one night, when she’s out on a run, she realizes she wants to do the celebration while Luke is still here to enjoy it.

Adrienne VanZomeren: I chose a route that me and Luke used to run back in our glory days when we were both much faster and capable of running. And I went on this route, and it was such a memorable experience, because there were so many relics from our past life. It went through our old neighborhood, and it went through our new neighborhood where I live with Craig and where we became a family, and it just brought up so many beautiful memories of me and Luke going on runs. And then at the very end of the run, the last mile went through next to this restaurant that just a few nights before Luke had had a big accident. We had taken him on this stroller ride in this extra, extra large dog stroller. And he started having a bowel movement, which at that point he couldn't control anymore. We had to, like, yank him out of the stroller and, and he couldn't walk. So he was laying on the side of the road, on the sidewalk, just helpless and ... I saw that. And I knew that it was time. And so on, that run, I said, “OK. What we're going to do is we're going to have a big party so that Luke can feel all the love.”

Time for a break. 


Adrienne has made the decision to have Luke’s memorial service before he dies. She wants him to be able to enjoy his last hurrah.

Adrienne VanZomeren: It was covid, so it would have to be outside, but it was warm still, and that was a possibility. And so in my mind, that's what I decided, that we would just have a big seaya, see ya later party, and everyone could come in and tell Luke, goodbye. And he could feel all that love.

A few days after Adrienne takes that run and decides to give Luke a farewell party, Luke’s health takes a turn. He catches pneumonia. He struggles for every breath. And Adrienne doesn’t need help translating what’s happening. Luke is miserable ... he’s scared … he’s in pain. It’s the opposite of what Adrienne wants for him, so she does what she’s been dreading for months.

Adrienne VanZomeren: We had a veterinary team come into the home. I had called that morning and said, you know, “It's time, and we need somebody here.” From the morning until 3:15, it was just a process of holding him and saying goodbye and thanking him for all that he gave me. And I just did that over and over, and I just held him the entire time. I had to keep my distance when the veterinarian gave the shot just for social distance reasoning. And I just watched the life leave his eyes. I immediately felt untethered and anchorless. Like, I just felt like this small, raw thing, and my physical shield was gone, and I didn't know where he went. All I knew was that I could no longer feel him. I helped the veterinarian carry his body out of the apartment and down the stairs and loaded him into her vehicle. I kissed him goodbye and buried my face in his fur one last time and watched his body leave forever.

Adrienne struggles sometimes to explain to people how significant the loss of Luke has been. And I mean, personally, this is something that I have definitely messed up on in the past. In a very old TTFA episode, I talked about how angry I used to get when I told people that my husband had died and they followed up with, “Oh, I know exactly how that feels. My dog died last month.”

I would get SO MAD. So mad. And I still believe that no one can ever know exactly how someone else is feeling. And I also wrote in another book, I said, “I don’t love when people compare my dead husband to their dead bird but then again, I’ve never lost a bird. I just don’t believe in comparison. It wasn’t that it was a dog. Or that it was a bird. Or your grandma. Or your uncle. It’s the comparison of loss in general.

And I will admit. I will admit … that I also could not comprehend how anyone’s bond with an animal could be as close -- or even closer than -- the bonds they have with humans.

Which is not terribly generous of me, is it? Because a lot of you know what it’s like. And I think even now I know what it’s like. But Adreinne has always gotten it.

Adrienne VanZomeren: The easiest way to feel and understand something is to have gone through it yourself. And I think a lot of people have not had to look to animal companions to be that closest bond. And I think because of that, it doesn't always make sense of how a dog can fill these roles in the absence of having to experience that, of having had some of these human connections not give those things to you. And that, combined with the fact that society often tries to create a hierarchy and define relationships for you, makes it really hard for people to be accepting that this role and this being could serve that intimate connection for somebody. And it's not our business to dictate the hierarchy of other people's intimate lives, no matter if it's a dog or a parent, or a child, or a lost child or, or a cat, or a guinea pig, or whatever. Like, we don't get to define other people's relationships. It isn't our place to say that a dog can't be as important as a parent, or that a sibling can't take the role of a parent or whatever. Just because you may not have experienced that person or that being in that role yourself doesn't mean that it's not possible, and that doesn't mean that it isn't the reality and the truth for another human. And I think that goes back to that — letting loss be loss and letting pain be pain and letting people define what that means for themselves and just accepting that this is their reality and that you just may never understand that, but you could connect to that, you know? I had a friend who said, “It's hard for me to understand, because I haven't had a dog be so important to me,” and I said, “I totally get that. I want you to imagine the most important thing in your life right now. And that's what you can connect to, like going through this with the most important thing in your life is maybe how you can try to understand it.” But I don't expect you to understand it and nobody has to understand it. But it certainly feels good when they do and when they can just honor and let you define your relationship in the way that you see it and the way that you experienced and felt it. As heartbreaking as it was and as awful as it was and and as many years of my life that it took off of off of me to care for him in that way, I felt like it was simultaneously such an honor, because I could do things with his best interests at heart, and I could care for him in the way that he needed someone to care for him in his early life, and he didn't get the opportunity to have that done. And so it felt like such an honor to me to be able to do that.

The memorial doesn’t happen right away. Luke died during the pandemic, just after Adrienne started her first full year of teaching college students while working two other jobs. And she doesn’t want to treat Luke’s service like an item on a to-do list. 

Adrienne VanZomeren: I tried not to put too much pressure on myself to make it happen, you know, on a certain timeline. And so I just did a little bit at a time. Like, the first few days that Luke was gone, I mostly laid on his bed where he died and just cried. And then, you know. I would write a little here and there. And then after the semester ended in December, I felt like I had a little bit more space to give to organizing something.

Luke’s memorial service takes place on January 9th, 2021.

Adrienne VanZomeren: It was one of the most powerful days of my life, having that memorial and seeing so many people show up and really seeing a visual, real-time representation of all of the people Luke left me in his wake, that even when there were so many times in so many ways that I felt like people couldn't show up for me, or that I couldn't ask for what I needed, I could see without a doubt that there were people who wanted to show up, and there were people who wanted to celebrate and there were people that got it, that understood that this was my going away to Luke and that this was his funeral and that this was a celebration and a goodbye and everything in between and being able to see that and to have people bear witness to that really felt powerful. 

The memorial helps Adrienne realize she now has a supportive network of humans, of people, a safety net she didn’t have before Luke. 

Adrienne VanZomeren: I've drawn upon that going forward just to remind myself, like, hey, when you feel like there aren't people who have your back or that you can lean on, remember all of those Zoom tiles that were there, and all you have to do is reach out just like Luke did. Like, just stick your nose in there and like, extend your hand out and say, “I need you.”

There were people from my family that showed up, and they did so many things to be there. I mean, my poor mom, who doesn't even know how to turn on a computer, managed to get there. And I think that also was the beginning of this recognition and this acceptance of people showing up as their messy selves in all capacities that they can. And a part of that just required me to ask them. 

It’s been almost a year since Luke’s memorial service. Adrienne misses Luke every day, and she talks about him to anyone who will listen. 

This time has helped her reflect on what Luke taught her. Lessons about companionship. About illness. About love and about acceptance.

Luke was like the serenity prayer. The one that says, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Luke accepted the things he couldn’t change, and he changed the things that he could. He was literally an old dog who learned new tricks.

Adrienne VanZomeren: Probably one of the most important lessons that Luke taught me is that we are adaptable beings, and we are capable of shifting and learning new things. And the harmful things that we may have learned can be unlearned, and change is possible.

Luke taught Adrienne to trust humans again. To ask for help. To be vulnerable. To give and accept friendship. 

Adrienne now has the agency that she didn’t have as a child. And even though she wasn’t able to get the kind of love and support she needed when she was a kid and her homelife was scary and abusive ... or when she was healing from her sexual assault … or when she was reeling after her divorce … it wasn’t permanent. Love and support are out there. 

Adrienne knows that now, because with Luke’s help, she’s found it. She’s found it with Craig and with her friends. With everyone in all of those Zoom tiles.

She’s even rebuilding some of her family relationships. Because some of the same family members whose own trauma kept them from showing up for Adrienne before? They show up for Luke’s memorial.

Adrienne VanZomeren: Many people, not, it's not a malicious intention to not give that emotional support. It's a lack of knowledge. It's a lack of access and a lack of resources. And I think trying not to punish them for that while still validating myself and recognizing that it was something that I did need, even though they didn't learn that, and even though they couldn't give that, or they were absorbed in so much of their own trauma, that that wasn't something that they could provide, it was still something that I needed.

Adrienne is learning to accept whatever love people can give. And she’s learning how to give that love and support to herself … and to others. 

Adrienne VanZomeren: We can learn new things when the old ways aren't working. You know, letting the people who matter know that you love them without a doubt and going slowly when you need to. Relationships transform over time. And persistence is powerful. And accept help when you need it. Oh, and we are capable of big, big love. Big, big love in all forms counts, and it's valid and it's beautiful. 

If Luke’s story sounds like your story or the story of another person that you know, Adrienne has created a fund to help people who are caring for pets with disabilities. It’s called Luke’s Legacy Fund. We’ve linked it in our show notes.

This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our team here is … Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Jordan Turgeon. And our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson. And we are a production of APM studios at American Public Media. Executive producer and editor Beth Pearlman. Executives in charge Lily Kim, Alex Shaffert, Joanne Griffith.