A Fare-Thee-Well

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Yesterday evening I had to say good-bye to my 11 1/2 year-old Pyr, Faith.

faithfulShe helped more than a few dogs in her day, whether in transport or foster. Though she was the least likely to play of any of my dogs, it was to her that one special Berner boy made his first play bow, when we didn’t know at first whether we would ever be able to draw him out of his shell of fear.

Faith came to me from the local shelter, intended as a companion for my BARC Beauty Sophia. They quickly became fast friends, and they made sure that all other dogs coming to their house knew the rules. She was true to her breed, keeping me and our property safe from all manner of trucks, buses, birds and planes. We NEVER had a plane land in our driveway!

Age and years of property management caught up with her, she spent the past few years on monthly Adaquon shots and Salmon oil seemed to ease some of her cognitive issues, but a recent infection recurred and may have had an impact on her liver and gall bladder. X-rays indicated that her hips and knees were failing, making the option for gall bladder surgery more problematic.

She refused to tell me that it was time for her to go. To the end, she was trying to protect me at her own expense. But I told her that I would do what was right for her, and I know that was what I did.

Three of my dogs are fine, but my ASD/Pyr mix, who was her closest companion after we lost Sophia, is taking it hard. But I know he will help me keep my promise to Faith tonight that I would be fine. He’s sneakiy that way, making sure that I don’t have time to wallow. He will keep me grounded, Berner Hagar will keep me laughing and Duffy and Domino will make sure that I PAY ATTENTION!!!

Run and spin with abandon, dear Faith. You were greatly loved all eleven years I got to share with you, and I will carry you in my heart until we meet again.

Kids and dogs

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Sometimes I think my sons have the notion that I love my dogs more than I love them.

I assure you, there is nothing in this world more important to me than my children.

Part of the confusion may come from the fact that if I did my job well as a parent, my sons are not dependent. If I do my job well as a pet owner, my dogs are dependent.

I hope that what I taught my sons will allow them to continue making informed and independent decisions, choosing to do what is right – for them, for their communities, for the greater good.

I hope that what I have taught my dogs will bring them running back to me whether it’s mealtime or not! I hope they will look to me for guidance, for permission, for praise.

I love my dogs dearly. Their illnesses, their deaths, tear me into tiny pieces that scatter in the wind. I am conscious, from the moment they arrive in my home, that I will have them but a little while, to teach and be taught, to share joy and pain.

My sons are an act of faith, that this world can be a better place, that one child, one man (or woman) can make a difference. They are an act of love, of patience, of devotion and perseverance. They are hope, they are connectedness, they are an extension of me to which I have cut the cord.

I am incredibly fortunate that I have a family that loves being together, exploring, experimenting, supporting each other and laughing together. The loss of any piece of that wonderful collage diminishes the whole. But does not put out the light. We have each taught each other to be strong, in love and in loss. So have I taught my children, I hope, to be strong enough to lean on each other when need be.

My dogs are smart dogs. They have yet to learn to open the containers that hold the bags that hold their food. They need someone around to help them get food and shelter and veterinary care and a little recreation now and then.  And some comfy furniture to flop on. That someone is me. In return for providing all of the above, I get to laugh and play and hold them. They challenge me and we work it out. They are dependent on my presence, my involvement with them, for their survival. And because I have brought them into my home, I owe them that and so much more.

My kids are smart, too. They know that I love them and support them in the decisions they make, because I know they are kind and just men. I suspect they prefer that I not hover at the edges of their lives, offering opinions and judgments that are not mine to offer. I hope they know that if they need me, I’m there for them, whenever, where ever. I cannot take their pain away, nor should I. No matter how much I want them to be free from pain, I know that isn’t realistic and I hope I have given them enough strength to deal with whatever life brings.

Perhaps the most important difference can be summed up this way – I have promised my dogs that I will do everything I can to ensure that I outlive them (or make arrangements, just in case).

My sons had damned well better outlive me.

Superstars

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I remember, when my kids were born, imagining what they might be when they grew up. The frivolous side of me imagined them as superstar athletes, captains of industry, politicians who saved the world, superheroes of one kind or another. The parental side of me just wanted them to be happy, well-adjusted human beings.

They have exceeded my expectations!

They aren’t frivolous or famous stars, known the world over. They don’t need to be and I suspect they don’t want to be.

They are fine young men, each finding ways to make this a better world for others, while not expecting perfection out of their own lives. They are realists with healthy doses of compassion and hope. They know how to give of themselves to give others a hand up.

And I couldn’t be more proud of them.

Time and again

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Time is the commodity that is most stretched to the limit, the most easily thrown away yet the most precious we have.
One of the things I love about my dogs is their ability to live in the moment. They’re not worried about tomorrow and they are not nostalgic for yesterday. They’re right here, right now, and they want to make the most of it.
Too often it takes tragedy to make us remember the value in each moment. Who among us hasn’t thought “If only I had…?” when it is certainly too late.
And I hate having regrets!
So I shall continue to strive to be the person my dogs believe me to be. I won’t be perfect, but then who expects that? I will try to be more conscious of seizing the moment, relishing the scents in the air, the sunlight on the budding leaves, the feel of soft fur against my cheek, the enticement of wubbas and tennis balls and sticks thrown about the yard.
Every day is a good day as long as we remember to smile with our hearts.

Choosing joy

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It has been just a little more than a year since we lost my Dad. There are still the occasional waves of sadness and loss, but mostly there are smiles and gratitude.
Smiles because of the love and care he lavished on his family. He was not particularly demonstrative, but we always knew he was there for us and that he would help us learn and grow. And we always knew that he loved us.
And he loved dogs, especially our dogs – first the dogs we got when I was three, and then the dogs his daughters acquired over the years. Even on those days he was confused or in pain, his face would light up when one of us was there with a dog or two.
I miss him terribly, and I always will, but he also taught me the importance of joy, in the big things, certainly, but especially in the little things.
The sound or a tennis ball hitting square in the middle of the strings,
The sight of a moose calmly walking through the woods (as long as we were out of range),
The lovely patterns of the petals of a rose opening to the morning sun,
The grace of a dog running with abandon just for the sake of running. With joy.
My father rarely spoke of any hardships or troubles or sadness. He chose to focus on the good things in this world and making as much as he could possible for as many people as he could – especially for his family.
He chose joy.
There is still sometimes a tear or two as I indulge in these memories, but more important is that I remember the love and the joy, not the sadness.
He taught us well.
I choose joy.

Dear Dad, redux

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A year ago, I wrote a message about, and to, my father. What I did not know then was that within four months he would be gone.

This will be my first Fathers’ Day without him.

It is an odd feeling, not quite like being adrift, because he made sure his daughters could always keep our bearings, could always find solid ground. Not quite loss, because he will always be part of us, I see him every time I look at my sons, my nieces and nephew, my sisters. I feel his strength, his humor, his commitment throughout my daily life, in every decision that I make.

And I miss him.

I envy those who can give their fathers a hug, a kiss, a card on Fathers’ Day. I know that in many ways I am more fortunate than many in that my father was someone who gave all of himself to his family and keeping his family safe and secure and strong. His lessons will always be with me, as will be his smile, his laugh, his devotion.

I mentioned at his funeral service that he always made me feel that I had a guardian angel. I did. I do.

Though he is not here physically, I will still celebrate him this Fathers’ Day. With joy, and not a few tears. And marvel at my great good fortune of having him for my father.

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Like most everyone else, I will be reflecting this weekend (as I do often) on the impact my father has had on my life.

From him I got my stubborness, determination, obsession with detail and the need to plan. Though at times those traits drive even me nuts, they have also stood me in good stead for a very long time.

My father never tried to be anything he wasn’t. What you saw was who he was. The only time he has ever struggled with himself was during that period when he realized he could no longer manage complex finances, though he couldn’t understand why.

All of his life he has taken care of those around him, until the past few years when we have finally been able to return the favor. He took pride in being able to provide, and provide well, for his family, even in those years when thankless teenagers tried his patience no end. Even when he was disappointed or upset or even mildly disgusted by our choices or behavior, there was never any doubt, nor is there today, of his love for his family.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from him was to let my own children know that no matter what, I would support them and love them. I may not have liked all of their choices but they have my unconditional love and loyalty — and, just as my father has, I take great pride and joy in the wonderful people my children have become.

There is no way I can repay everything my father has given me, the foundation he has provided for my life. Except to pay it both forward and behind, to live my life with honor and compassion and loyalty and strength, a strength borne of knowing the difference between right and wrong, of hating evil done but forgiving those who make mistakes, offering a hand up and an open mind. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model.

Dad, thank you.

Dad, I love you.

With Thanks to My Family

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I spent a lovely weekend with family recently. I didn’t realize how much I needed it.
Families aren’t perfect and I know how very lucky I am to have the family that I do!
But when I look from my parents’ generation to mine and then to our children, I’m not sure that luck has that much to do with it.
Love does.
Support does.
So does encouragement, curiosity, engagement, belief and so much more.
I genuinely like the people my own children, as well as my nieces and nephews, have grown up to be. Every one of them.
And when we all get together, there is such a wonderful, amazing sense of joy.
Its downright infectious!
To parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews: Thank you.