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.

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.”

Fur therapy

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I’ve gotten back to being more hands-on with the dogs the past couple of weeks.

I hadn’t been ignoring them, but I hadn’t been as relaxed and close with them, either.

I could blame it on the cold and wearing gloves and being all bundled up while they played in the snow, but that wasn’t it. I could claim fatigue or being too busy and a half a dozen other things – none of which would be accurate.

I realized as I was brushing dogs the other day that the last time I had done that calmly and peacefully was while I was trying to convince my Pyr that it was okay for her to quit struggling to take care of me. I spent what seemed like several lifetimes gently massaging her shoulders, running my hands through her thinning fur, drinking in the smell and the feel of her coat, absorbing every moment’s memory knowing that there would be no more moments to treasure with her.

I hadn’t realized how much that tactile exercise was intertwined with my grief.

My other dogs still got hugs and scratches and belly rubs – but it was different. I was holding back, afraid of diluting the memories, or maybe of moving on.

It’s almost spring, and bits of green are starting to struggle through the dirt and dead vegetation. I guess I am ready for renewal. too. Brushing the dogs out in the yard, sending fur flying all directions, getting back in the habit of those quiet massages.

Life happens.

Little memories

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Faith no longer rests at the front door when I leave in the morning. The sense of the house being protected, of my world being safe, is gone. She no longer comes to the entry of the kitchen when I come home, her tail wagging and her whole body wiggling with anticipation.

Sophia no longer curls up in the chair next to my bed, close enough to touch, watch and be whispered to, apart enough to keep her dreams separate from mine. Never far from me, often seeming to be inside my head. I had so many conversations with her, and she seemed to understand what I told her.

Mascot no longer waits on the end of my bed, knowing that her insulin is routine and inevitable. Knowing, too, that she could rub that certain point right behind her ear against my thumb for as long as she wants. Her purr is both a statement and a beacon – I could locate her almost anywhere in the house when she purred, and half the dogs never could figure out whether they should enjoy her purring or fear it.

Bandit no longer beats me to the door, any door, in or out, to be sure she isn’t left behind. I have never before nor since had a dog so comfortable – and determined – about riding in the car. Nor one who did such a good job of letting me know exactly what she wanted or needed.

There have been other dogs and cats before these, their loss just as painful, their lives just as enriching, but most of them came before I was fully formed. There was so much I just didn’t get when I was younger.

There are so many little things I appreciate now – Domino trying to burrow the top of his head into my thigh, Hagar always prepared for take-off, Duffy always checking in to make sure I’m still okay. And Minco, sweet, goofy Minco, standing for a hug that he wants but won’t ask for, always being sure to do a breath check first thing in the morning, making sure, especially since Faith is gone, to keep me in his sight so that I will be safe. I can tell that he’s not convinced he should let me leave in the morning, though at lunchtime he’s ready to shoo me out so he can nap.

I have now, and I have had, some truly amazing dogs and cats in my life. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I know that I am and there are days when my heart is full of wonder at the love and joy embodied in these animals. If I get really lucky, perhaps someday I will learn to be like them.

Quiet days, lessons to learn

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Yes, I have been quiet for quite a while. Work keeps me very busy and the dogs keep me sane. Unless they’re driving me crazy.

As I watch them age, I marvel at how they live their lives. They are so much in the moment that it is hard for most people to fathom.

They remember the past but don’t obsess about it, they anticipate what’s next but don’t worry about it. They simply “are,” right here, right now.

They take joy in the little things, a scratch behind an ear, tracking the flight of a butterfly across the year (and always out of reach), fence running with the neighbor’s dogs – there is no malice in their barking and running, just making their opinions known.

Each day is a wonderful, treasured gift, a new adventure, an opportunity for joy.

Some days I worry that my days with them are numbered, I cannot imagine my life without them. Then I realize that they aren’t worried about any of that, they only know that we are here now, together, with a chance to play and rest and enjoy these moments. Worrying and grieving too soon get in the way of that.

I may be a slow study, but I am learning. They are good teachers.

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.