Elizabeth Nantz

Journey Back to Joy

ElizabethNantz-webby Linda S. Hopkins
Photography by Amy Marcy, Coastline Imagery

Five years ago, Elisabeth Nantz sat by the living room window, sipping coffee, staring out at her son Regan’s memorial garden. Cuddling his beloved beagle, Petey, she made a decision: through the rubble of immobilizing grief, she would blaze a path back to joy.

“The big thing is, you can move on from a terrible tragedy, and you have to really be scanning for what will help you do that. You have to find what you love and go out there and give it to yourself,” Elisabeth said.
Elisabeth’s journey began when nine-year-old Petey earned his certification as a therapy dog. She took him to local nursing homes, schools, boys and girls clubs and any place else he could meet people, including the beach, where he was a magnet for young and old, the lonely and the curious—a natural conduit of happiness and healing.

As Elisabeth began spending more time at the schools, Petey became an icon of unconditional acceptance. Children of all ages, sizes, shapes, colors and abilities hugged him, rubbed him and read to him. His highly anticipated visits were a source of entertainment and comfort, exciting and calming all at once.
“I have wonderful memories of the kids at school—especially the children that read to him,” Elisabeth said. “I called it ‘Rub and Read.’ They would show the book to Petey, and they really thought he was understanding.”

But as Petey began showing signs of age, fear tapped Elisabeth on the shoulder. The thought of the inevitable (along with a timely ad in the newspaper) led her to a rambunctious 10-week-old Bassett hound named Chasey Mae—a lively little sister for Petey and just the jolt he needed to perk right up.

Over the next three years, however, Petey continued a slow but steady physical decline. When he could no longer see or hear, when trips to school and the beach became too daunting, he retired from the job he loved. Yet he stood by Elisabeth at home, recognizing her scent, finding her, following her—ever near.

“Petey was an old soul. He just seemed to know what you needed, Elisabeth said. “He was so obedient and loving—just wanted to please.”

On September 14, 2013, at age 16, Petey joined Regan in the garden.

“He had been failing for some time, but he still seemed to be enjoying life. He wasn’t in any pain that I could tell,” Elisabeth said, thankful that he died naturally at home. He had surpassed the average lifespan of his breed by at least a year and touched over 1,000 lives through his career as a therapy dog.
“I handled it better than I thought I would,” Elisabeth said. “I was afraid I would just be reliving Regan’s death, and I did. But I accepted that it was time for Petey to go. He served his purpose. He was a tremendous point of healing for both Ron (husband) and me, and he is the only one who knew what happened to Regan.”

As the sun streams through the window, Elisabeth relaxes in the living room where a lifetime of memories peek out from every shelf. Pointing out some of her favorite photographs, she reminisces: “Regan would have been so proud of what I did with Petey.”

While Elisabeth continues taking Chasey Mae to school for reading, rubbing and more, she says she’s at a crossroads. “It’s time for me to move on and do some other things—I’m scanning for what I love to do.”

Up Close:

Ways I have grown:
I have become emotionally stronger; after losing a child, I feel like I can handle anything. I live in the moment and appreciate what’s around me. I laugh more.

What I wouldn’t change: My volunteer and service work that I have done as a result of Regan’s death; training Petey as a therapy dog; participating in grief therapy; marrying Ron.

How I learned to cope with loss: I learned to turn outward instead of inward. I didn’t allow the loss of Regan to ruin or to define the rest of my life by continuing to grieve.

Words I live by: Abigail Van Buren said, “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’ – and those who say, ‘Here I am!’” I want to be the one who says, 'There you are.'"