Calm

Standard

It always amazes me the difference it makes to spend time with lots and lots of dogs – and the people who love them.
Having just spent a week at a National Specialty show, I find that I am calmer, happier, and far less reactive.
Granted, the dogs I spent time with are happy-go-lucky people lovers, calm and elegant dogs with remarkable spirits.
That they are willing to share so much of their spirit with us, mere humans that we are, is what is truly amazing.
Perhaps the reason they are so short-lived is related to the parable of the boy saying goodbye to the family dog, refusing to lament that he is losing a dear friend:
The vet who was there to euthanize the dog was trying to comfort the family when the child said, “I know why animals don’t live as long as people.
“We are all put on the earth to learn to love and make others happy. Animals are born knowing how to do that, so they don’t have to stay here as long.”
They give us love and joy, asking so little of us in return.
They are treasures, blessings to our lives, if we will only just stop to see it.

Thanksgiving – a hard year, and yet…

Standard

This is going to be a very odd Thanksgiving.

A year ago my sweet Sophia was diagnosed with cancer and I lost her less than three weeks later.

In July we moved our parents into an assisted living facility near two of my sisters and both Mom and Dad promptly ended up in the emergency room. The move meant leaving the house where they had lived almost 60 years, the only home I had ever known until I left for college.

Though both parents bounced back from the stresses of moving, in October Dad died, and I’m not sure that I have really gotten through even the first few steps of grieving.

In March I welcomed Hagar into my home. He’s settling in, finally, still a goofball, still a challenge at times, but a sweet, silly Berner boy.

And I remain thankful, even in the midst of grief and stresses and a complete lack of time and organizational fortitude, for how incredibly lucky I have been.

I got to spend more than 57 years with the support and love of two of the best parents anyone could hope for. They have challenged me, helped me, guided me and given me a foundation in life that I have been privileged to pass on to my own children.

I have three of the most remarkable sisters on the planet. We often disagree about the little stuff, but we all understand the importance of family and being constructive and being there for each other. I don’t think any of us could have gotten through the difficulties of this past year without each other.

I have sons of whom I am unapologetically proud. They forgave my mistakes in childrearing and embraced the lessons passed on through me from my parents, and have become thoughtful, considerate, wonderful young men. I’m not sure exactly what I did right, but I’m so glad I did.

And then there was Sophia.

As I approach the anniversary of her death, I feel her loss more strongly than ever. She was my beautiful silk scarf, a little exotic, a little fragile, definitely exquisite in her grace and joy in life. We had a bond that was born of struggle, as we worked through her pain aggression, her food allergies, her hip and elbow dysplasia and finally her cancer.

She taught me patience, determination, forgiveness, and faith. She approached each day, even when I knew she was in pain, with such courage and strength that I was in awe. She knew how to stretch the envelope – whether helping convince my vet that a raw diet was not some sort of fringe cult behavior, or helping me learn about canine health, positive reinforcement, and not leaving eyeglasses or Pringles cans or First Editions of books out where a curious puppy could get to them. After all, exploration is the the start of knowledge!

Even with four other dogs in the house when I lost her, and then the addition of Hagar, I miss her more than I can begin to say. As a friend wrote when she lost her own Berner, as much as she appreciated how lucky she was and as much as she appreciated the outpouring of sympathy and support, she just wanted her girl back. I still wish I could give her one more, ten more, 100 more hugs, hand her a few more turkey necks, cajole her a few more times to come back inside so we could go to bed.

But she isn’t coming back. And it hurts.

I still feel so lucky to have shared almost eight years with her. I know that few people have the kind of relationship with their dog that I had with her. I still see her, hear her, sense her presence in times of both quiet and chaos. I know that she, like my parents, my sisters, my kids, will always be a part of me, a part of who I am and what I do, and for all of them, I give thanks.

Thank you for being here, for sharing so much with me, for helping me be a better person. Were it not for the love, there would be no grief.

 

Loss, love, life

Standard

Eighteen days ago my father died. It has, since then, been something of a whirlwind of activities, emotions, travel, tasks – enough so that it is hard to come to terms with the very permanent change in my family’s life.

I wrote a post to him at Father’s Day, and since then have realized more than ever how much a part of me, my sisters, my sons, and my nieces and nephews he is and will always be.

He truly provided the bedrock on which our lives are built. He gave us the tools to continue that construction, he was determined that he would make sure his children were safe and secure. He did.

I closed my part of his memorial with this comment, and it is one I believe all that more strongly after returning home and seeing the tail end of a rainbow.  I know that some of you know what that told me.

My father always made me feel that I had a guardian angel. And I did.

I do.

Age? Really?

Standard

I keep trying to figure out what ‘old’ means.

When I was a child, anyone over 20 was old.

When I was in my teens, I couldn’t trust anyone over 30.

When I went to college, my world was made up mostly of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

This week one of my nieces celebrates her 40th birthday and one of my sisters celebrates her 60th. My sons are in their 30s. My parents are in their 90s.

I try to imagine retiring. Even early retirement is at least five years away, realistically retirement is on the other side of several mountains.

But I don’t *feel* old. I may tire more easily and sleep less soundly, but there are still several lifetimes’ worth of things I want to do.

My dogs certainly keep me active, which I’m sure helps…

I am surrounded by college students and lots of other people younger than I – I sometimes wonder who they see when they look at me. Some old fart who gets in the way? Or someone with some experience and expertise who can teach them something and smooth their transition to the next phase of their lives?

Maybe I should spend more time in front of the mirror, but there isn’t time for that and, aside from making sure I won’t scare children and horses, I’m ready to face the world in whatever shape today has given me.

What scares me is seeing some people in their 30s and 40s who seem old to me – not by virtue of wisdom but because they seem exhausted and disengaged from life. They seem to have lost sight of how much fun, how rewarding and challenging and lovely life can be. I worry about them.

Maybe they should get a dog.

Family changes

Standard

My sisters and I have had to overtly acknowledge some things recently that – while we have known them intellectually – we have always kept the emotional reality at arm’s length.

Our parents are mortal.

We will never again live, as a family, in our old house.

We may visit a few times over the next few months, but mostly to remove the few remaining possessions we have kept there.

Our parents are in their 90s. They are strong, proud, stubborn individuals who find a great deal of their strength in each other and in the family they have created together. They worked hard to raise their children properly, during some times when raising a watermelon would have been difficult.

Based on what I see of the next generation, they managed to pass a fair amount of wisdom along (maybe it skips a generation).

But things change and in our efforts to keep them safe and healthy and comfortable, it seemed wisest to move them from that house into an assisted-living apartment near where two siblings live and where my parents can get the care and assistance they need.

And they both ended up in the emergency room.

They have recovered from the rigors of the move and are settling into a routine. They have some of their own things there (furniture, pictures, dishes and the like) and they are adapting.

But the crises of the past week, even though over, brought us face to face with mortality and loss. So, naturally, each of us bottled it up as long as we could.

It is so easy to focus on the next task – in part because there are so many that demand our attention. But each of us needs to set aside some time to say goodbye to our old home and to the youthful faith that our parents would always be there for us.

They won’t. They would if they could, but they can’t.

They raised us to be strong, self-reliant, fair, and stoic. If you were going to cry, you’d better have damned good reason.

I think we do.

I suspect that my siblings and I will each weep alone once or twice over the next few weeks.

And when we all walk into the house that no longer is home to our parents, I suspect that we will all weep together.

As a family.

The little things

Standard

Watching a puppy so happy and excited he can barely stay in his own skin

Feeling warm sun and a breeze on your face after a storm

The scent of honeysuckle wafting through the yard, mixed with new-mown hay and clover

The feeling of hitting a tennis ball exactly on the sweet spot of the racket

Hearing the birds greet the morning before the sun is visible

Feeling the presence of those animals I have lost over the years – seeing their shadows settle on my feet, only making way for one of the living dogs

The soft silky fur or a Berner – so unlike any other tactile experience, exuding peace and joy and unconditional love.

We call them the little things in life, but these are some of the things that make the difference between an ordinary existence and a life of joy.

My parents taught me to appreciate the little things. My sons gave me a chance to pass that wisdom to another generation. My dogs make sure I never let go of that wisdom.

This moment, right now, is all we have. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may happen as we expect it to but then again maybe not. Though we can plan for it, it will be gone again before we know it, and if we forget to pay attention, if we are so focused on other times, other places, other plans, we lose this moment and we can never reclaim it.

I would rather live with joy than exist with lots of plans.

A plan can’t turn the evening landscape into a performance of lightening bugs. A plan can’t appreciate the sweet crunch of a fresh-picked apple. We can do things now that might make those things possible later, as long as we don’t forget to enjoy the digging and planting and watering and watching the blossoms and the buds and the ever-ripening fruit.

Just as there is joy in watching a dog learn to play, learn to work, learn to trust, so there is joy in sometimes just letting those moments happen, without forcing or coaxing or pushing them, just laying some groundwork and trusting yourself and your dog.

The colors of the sunset today will be different from the colors yesterday or tomorrow. Absolutely lovely.

Family fortune

Standard

There really are times I can’t believe how lucky I am.

I had a reasonably normal childhood, raised by parents who loved me and my sisters, we all seem to have developed into kind and thoughtful and generous adults and even our kids have turned into wonderful adults!

And we all love dogs!

I don’t know what it is that allows some individuals to have ‘normal’ lives and others have lives filled with tragedy or high drama or despair or pain. I don’t think anyone’s life is actually easy, you just don’t live very long without *some* challenges. But perhaps it is similar to the reactions of dogs (you knew that was coming, didn’t you!) – a self-confident dog will remain calm though alert and will not escalate a situation unless necessary. A shy or fearful dog will over-react or under-react, often with dire consequences that will just reinforce that dog’s sense that the situation required a stronger response.

Perhaps it is also because we have always known that no matter what else might happen, our family would always be there for us, that has allowed us to approach our lives with a confidence and calm (okay, *after* our teen-age years) that we have been able to pass along to our children. I know that when I was raising my sons I always knew that it was important for them to know I was there and would always be there for them, no matter what. I think they know they have my unqualified support and love, just as I have always known (at least as a child and then as an adult, let’s just forget my teens) my parents would be there to stand behind me and beside me and to help me get back up if I stumbled.

Yeah, I’ve been known to make some pretty stupid decisions, but I also always knew that even when I did make a mistake, I could find a way to fix it – or at least make some repairs and continue on life’s adventures.

I wish everyone could know the kind of support and love I have known and that I have tried to pass along as best I could.

It was the best gift our parents could give us, and we have been wrapped in that gift as long as I can remember.