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Arizona Storytellers: Melissa Dunmore

KJZZ partners with the Arizona Republic to bring you the Arizona Storytellers series. We record the live events and share them with you on the radio. Storytellers share stories about our community or the life events that have shaped them.

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Melissa Dunmore met her would-be husband through a mutual friend. She says it was like living in a romantic comedy. They each had a dog and knew that their relationship could only work if the dogs got along. Melissa had a pep talk with her dog, Toby, before they all met together at a park. The dogs got along, and Melissa and her partner soon moved in together.

Every year on the day after Thanksgiving they would journey to one of our state parks. After four years of dating on a trip to Flagstaff, her boyfriend got down on one knee.

Melissa Dunmore told her story live at a recent Arizona Storytellers Project event:

“Before the dogs and the forest,” he said. “Will you marry me?”

We were married in a beautiful botanical celebration surrounded by our nearest and dearest. Instead of items to fill our already blended home, we asked for contributions to make our shared dream of homeownership a reality. Three months later we moved into a house of our own ready to lay down firmer roots. And boy oh boy did we get the chance to live our vows to the fullest when the world shut down and our lives profoundly changed.

For starters, my mom ended up moving in with us unexpectedly when her house caught fire right as quarantine went into effect. Then we both lost our jobs within days of each other. Somehow after being together all day, every day, and butting heads occasionally, we still liked each other. And we got creative about ways to get by. After a spell, we managed the mortgage, found employment again and gardened through seasons of growth and grief.

We figured if we made it through the most traumatic event in a century why not give parenting a try. So in spring almost a year to the day after lockdown, the eight-letter word that appeared spelled a new future for us — pregnant. We told the dogs they were going to have a new sibling. From there we slowly spread the news.

Physically my pregnancy was fairly easy, but emotionally it was challenging. The general grief of this prolonged pandemic combined with frayed friendships and defeating diagnoses for both dogs made it really hard. Ollie passed away when I was two months along after a gallant battle with a tumor. It was a fate our sweet boy did not deserve.

With no end in sight as the virus continued to ravage our community with some of the highest rates in the country, we decided to work with a midwife and doula and embark upon a homebirth. You could say we really wanted our money's worth on this house we worked so hard for. He got on board with the unconventional, read the books and articles, attended every meeting. He went above and beyond and carried me through.

Finally on an overcast day in late November, my labor began. Two of my anchors during that tense time were my partner and my pup. I ended up giving birth in the bathroom — the same place I learned I would become a mother by guiding our baby out with my own hands into those of my midwife. It was supernatural.

We wept and wrapped her in a beautiful embrace. We named her Flora. Flora Lake. The next few days afforded us the chance to catch our breath and enjoy a quiet Thanksgiving. We were so grateful to have made it to the other side. But our reprieve was brief when after that sleepless night Toby collapsed and did not recover.

I realized that he hung on for me to see me through from adolescence to matrescence and clung to life long enough to meet his sister. In his final weeks, I often found him gazing into the nursery and resting in there. He waited for her and once he knew we were alright, he let go.

They say all dogs go to heaven. I trust the love of our pups will never leave us. Over the past seven years we grew our family. And through a pandemic, the deaths of our beloved pets in one dramatic year and loved ones lost along the way we were tested, really tested, beyond our wildest dreams.

I saw the man I chose go from skater boy to spouse to serenader of our darling. Ours is a tale of triumph, of Genesis, and goodbyes. Thank you.

→  Hear more from the Arizona Storytellers Project