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.

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.”

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.

New Normal

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Its always informative to watch the dogs who remain, following the death of an old dog. The dogs I have now have shared all of their lives with Minco, and I guess I expected more confusion or sense of loss.

It hasn’t happened.

My dogs haven’t missed a beat.

They walk by Minco’s crate without a second glance. They zoom around the yard just like always. Domino, now deaf, used to express alarm when Minco left the room, now his alarm/anxiety is less predictable.

While I am still coming to terms with the lack of a huge physical presence, the dogs know their roles and keep on keeping on – it may be that the bond was much stronger between me and Minco than it was between him and the other dogs, or maybe they know something I don’t quite get yet.

I do feel his presence with me each day, and I know he would be here physically if he could. If ever there was a dog who would find his way back home, it is Minco. I don’t know when or how, but I suspect that another dog will come into my life who will elicit the same kind of trust, the same sense of strength, the same watchfulness. I know it won’t *be* Minco, but I know my heart will heal.

Someday.

Humility

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We could all use a little more of it.

And my dogs make sure I have opportunities to drown in it.

I usually think I know my dogs pretty well, and I do. But making assumptions about a dog’s behavior when that behavior has not been proofed for a while, well, there in lies the rub. And the bruises. To both skin and ego.

I have fostered a few dogs in my time, I’ve taken in some of the most petrified, broken dogs I have ever met and brought them back to finding joy in life and trust in people. My dogs have helped in the process.

What I haven’t done is bring in an adult, self-assured, happy dog. Till this past weekend.

The older dogs were fine with her. Curious, a little pushy, but fine.

Hagar wanted blood. Hagar and this lovely girl took an instant and intense dislike towards one another, the kind that only escalates with time.

Did I screw up the introductions? Probably. I hadn’t been expecting to bring her home with me right away and I really hadn’t prepared. But I don’t think it would have made much difference to Hagar. If she hadn’t been so darned happy and self-assured, he might have been just fine. If I hadn’t brought her home in the crate that he probably considers his property… lots of ifs.

The bottom line is that I cannot currently trust Hagar with any ‘new’ dog in the house. That’s okay, at least for now. I’ll work with him to try to find out whether this was a one-off or an ingrained attitude. And I know who to ask about how to work through the problem.

But in the meantime, I am reminded that they are independent minds who will occasionally surprise me. And keep me from making too many assumptions.

I hope all of my mistakes will be bloodless.

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.

Beginnings 2014

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It’s hard to grasp the concept of new beginnings with three dogs older than ten years and the “baby” turning five years in two weeks.
I’m still caught in that oh-so-human trap of remembering too much and planning and anticipating even more.
My dogs keep trying to teach me to live in the now. The past is over, it had some useful lessons to teach but it is gone and cannot be changed. The future hasn’t happened and may never happen and wouldn’t it be silly to ignore the joy right in front of my nose!
I’m working on it, really I am.
And I enter the new year with the hope that I will get better at living each day with as much joy as I can muster.
The dogs will help me, I know they will.

They’re much smarter than I am about these things.

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.

States of Being

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Sometimes it seems that my dogs are not five separate organisms, but parts of one whole. When something is off balance with one part, the whole organism shifts.

I have been surprised the past couple of days, while my sweet Pyr is being treated at the vet’s office, by the behavior of my other dogs. Usually, if I get home later than normal, I am greeted with great enthusiasm and vocalization. I can feel the whole house bouncing and vibrating. But not this week.

This week, the dogs have made perfucntory barks and little else. They have made their way to the door and outside with fair haste, but not with the same drive. They know Faith is ill, they know their world is out of balance.

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I don’t know whether this time balance can be restored.

I know that with or without Faith, we will go on. We will find a new balance.

I wonder how long it will take for us to find enthusiasm and joy in that new balance.

If she comes through this illness, she will be a far more elderly, frail dog than she would ever have expected to be. Her dignity will be important to all of us. She will have to supervise someone else keeping the yard safe from buses, birds and planes.

Life changes. Organisms have an ebb and flow.

I feel so lucky to live within the aura of this organism.

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.