Quiet, sort of

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This has been an odd six months. My mother’s death has left me more adrift than I had realized. And it is odd to have only two dogs.

There was so much joy at our family Christmas celebrations, it was almost like being in bubbles of love. Watching my granddaughter and her cousins (second cousins, third, whatever) playing and reveling in their big happy family kept all of us laughing. Home is definitely where the heart is, and my family is my heart.

My soul is the dogs. For several years I have been mulling over the best way to tell their stories. I may have found the hook to draw readers in, I need to let it percolate a bit yet. This summer will see hours at the keyboard, recollecting the joy each of them has given me. Even if no one ever reads it, I have to commit these memories to paper for my own well being, as I would not forgive myself if I failed to write each of them a proper memorial. As well as a memorial to all those dogs we could not save, they deserve more than a little recognition.

But for now, the sun is shining, there are chores and errands and two remarkable dogs to feed and brush and play with and laugh with. Just as I cherish time with my human family, so do I refuse to take for granted my time with these dogs. One is 13, the other 8. I’m a very lucky woman.

Seismic shifts

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On June 20, I held the door for my mother one last time as the funeral home personnel wheeled her body out of her assisted living facility.

She was 98 years old. My sisters and I had celebrated with her just two months before. She barely acknowledged our presence, but it mattered to us that we were there to honor her. She had been on Hospice Care and off a couple of times, but we knew that there would not be an amazing rebound this time.

She was born in Chicago, before the Great Depression. Her father held a number of jobs, including with Selig Studios when they were based in Chicago. When the studio was getting ready to move, he was invited to go with them, but his ties to Chicago were too strong. My mother’s best friend was her older sister, who still lives on the North Shore. Mom and Dad married in 1944, and my oldest sister was born while Dad was in the Navy in Hawaii. For about a year, Mom lived with her mother-in-law, which is testament to Mom’s strength and patience. My grandmother was a force of nature.

Eventually, there were four daughters. My parents made sure we had every opportunity: dance lessons, art lessons, voice lessons, tennis lessons. And we couldn’t get our drivers’ licenses until we proved we could change a tire. Mom helped us learn to bake, although cooking for the family was a privilege she held for herself. She survived our teen years, and saw us all off to college and our new adventures. She did it all with a grace and beauty that was incomparable. She served on several charitable Boards, but family always came first.

They moved into a lovely house when I was just a few weeks old, and lived there 57 years. We tried to make sure they could stay there as long as possible, but finally it was time to move them into assisted living. Dad died within a few months, Mom did well for a few years but gradually disappeared farther and farther into herself. She continued to love music and birds and flowers, and pictures of her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The evening of the day Mom died, I closed my eyes to try to shut out the world and process the day. And I saw them, clear as day, dancing, laughing, Mom in a long gown, Dad in his dress uniform, eyes only for each other.

Together again.

Overcome, good night

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imageAnd then there were two.
This afternoon I said goodbye to my Border Collie/Lab mix, Domino.

At 14, he was in late-stage dementia and was having serious spinal issues. We tried medication for the dementia, and had been using Adaquon to try to help with his orthopedic issues. Neither was able to overcome the effects of old age.
Domino came to me just over twelve years ago. He had wandered away from his previous two homes, and from the animal shelter in a neighboring county twice. The woman who pulled him from the shelter was told that if he showed up again, he was done. That woman talked me into fostering him and getting him vetted. I kept him for a few months while we looked for a good home for him. When we thought we had found that home, and I drove him to the halfway point, I promised him that if he ever needed me, I would be there.
A few months later, my vet’s office called to see whether I had a working number for his new owners. That was when I found out that there had been almost a dozen times my vet had gotten calls – and I couldn’t reach the new owners by phone or email. With the help of the wonderful people who had driven Domino the second half of his trip, we got him to a 24-hour vet, and as soon as I had gotten my dogs settled in for the night, I drove the four hours to get him.
He came home.
He never asked for much beyond food and a yard to play in and his buddies to play with. He got along with all of my dogs and all of the fosters over the years. He suddenly went deaf a couple of years ago, but his joy in the sunshine and green grass never wavered. Until this spring.
He started looking feeble and showing more and more signs of confusion. We tried to fix it, to help him, to let him enjoy his days, his moments. They say dogs live in the moment, the here and now. He just wasn’t enjoying his here and now at all any more.
Even knowing that it is the right thing to do doesn’t make it easier. I miss that sweet boy. He packed a lot into his 14 years, and the twelve we had together. It just wasn’t long enough.
Run free, sweet Domino. Sophia and Faith and Minco are waiting for you.

Life songs

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I used to sing. A lot. I performed as a folk singer during high school, as well as in musicals, and I continued singing in college and after my kids were born. I sang my joy, my anger, my frustration, my hopes.

I sang to my cats and to my dogs.

Until I didn’t.

i didn’t really realize that it had happened until my niece mentioned that she heard my sisters humming or singing a lot, but not me. Which seemed backwards to all of us. Heck, I had sung at one sister’s wedding.

I tried blaming it on it on all the screaming I do at basketball games, but that wasn’t it.

When Sophia died in 2009 I lost my voice. Never before or since has a loss affected me so deeply. While I learned to function well enough, even found joy, the songs had been stilled. Every now and then I might sing along with the radio for a minute or two, and it is a given that family members get their annual renditions of ‘Happy Birthday.’ But something in me remained broken, but so deep in me that I didn’t know how to fix it.

Something has happened the past week or so and I have felt the music bubbling back through my soul. Maybe the impending birth of my granddaughter, maybe the approach of another Spring, perhaps even surviving my first six months of retirement.

Whatever it is, I am thankful. There are lots of songs I want to sing, even if it does alarm the dogs. And the songs are there, just waiting their turns, everything from Fire and Rain to Big Yellow Taxi to Will You Still Love Me to Laura Nyro and Dylan and Donovan and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Show tunes, rock and roll, folk music and lullabies. With joy.

Today I sang. Tomorrow I will sing. With Sophia forever cradled in my heart, shining through in every note.

More lessons my dogs taught me

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A Berner owner expressed her sadness today that her dogs will likely have less than a decade with her. Yes, it is depressing to realize that a companion who creates so much joy will be with you only briefly. But I asked her – just as I occasionally have to remind myself – not to grieve too soon.

“There are no guarantees in this world. Not for tomorrow and not for next week. Let your dogs teach you to live in this moment, to revel in the rain and the sunshine, in each meal and every loving touch, to dance when you want to and sigh as you relax. They have no fear of the future, they are here now, and they want you with them. Our dogs can teach us well. If grief is to come, and eventually it will, don’t compound it by grieving too soon, for then you will have missed the exquisite joy that is today.”

Changes

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Over the past couple of years, the one constant has been change. That’s actually normal, but it hasn’t felt like it has been possible to achieve any ‘new normal’ in that time.

Two beloved dogs have died. I retired. I have watched my mother retreat into a body and mind that have both failed her.

Now that I am spending more time at home, I’m beginning the process to quit deferring all of that deferred maintenance on the house. And trying to clear the stacks of debris that accumulated all those years that too much work and all of those dogs allowed me to ignore the paper and miscellany that kept propagating mysteriously all over the house. And working my way through the books that have waited so patiently for attention.

But uncontrolled change keeps popping up, too. One of my dogs is not aging well. The other two, while healthy and active, are also reaching ages where concerns and expectations are different. Each day is precious.

Sometime in the next week or so, I will become a grandmother. I am thrilled beyond measure, which makes it hard not to harass my son for constant updates. Or hover. They will need to find their new normal with as few external pressures as possible. I just hope that this new family knows how much each of them is loved. Beyond measure.

May all new normals be filled with joy and hope and love and laughter.

 

Cleaning up old drafts

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As I get ready to retire, I am finding a few nuggets stored here and there so I wouldn’t lose them – which often means I don’t see them for years.

After losing Minco this Spring, these few paragraphs are words that I live with a lot. I am finding our new normal, our new balance – one which I will be tossing like 52-card pick-up when suddenly the dogs have me home way more than they’re used to. I think we’ll manage.

The draft that I found, just a few years ago:

 

A friend reminded me a few years ago, that no matter how philosophical or positive or anything else we are, we just want them BACK!

I don’t think they do really leave us. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt Sophia with me, and more recently Faith, too. And though my eyes may fill, that sense of their presence cannot help but bring a smile, too. I remember a catch phrase I used for years with them both, “How did I get so lucky?” And I feel them with me and I hear that phrase again, in my voice, talking to them, hugging them tight to my heart.

We want them back.

They’re still here.

I know she is with you, a paw resting on your shoulder.

Woven into your heart, part of your very soul, one with the air you breath.