Present Tense

Cracking open…

eggWhat am I learning? That is my new mantra that is barely beating out “what am I feeling?”. I guess as I approach a sort of milestone birthday, it’s about time to begin asking myself some probing questions. I do have a journalism degree, after all.

What I’m learning is that it’s never too late for new reactions and behaviors to blossom; it often just requires a catalyst. The losses and challenges of the past 12 months have cracked me open and stuff like love, patience, empathy and generosity are oozing out and the more it oozes, the bigger the crack becomes.

My dog Chili died almost a year ago and that was a searing pain that brought me right to my knees. Then, my dad died in April and that knocked me completely off my axis. I had no idea that losing a parent could be so disorienting and shocking. I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. You probably weren’t either.

Those deaths numbed me, but my mother cracked me open. Seeing her lose her husband and lover and companion of nearly 75 years drove an arrow deep into my heart. She relied on him so completely for her physical and emotional support and then in an afternoon, she was without him. Forever.

My husband and I are childless by choice. I have not regularly had to put someone else’s well being and needs above my own. That’s just an honest assessment. Yes, we’ve taken care of each other over the years. He had cancer. I’ve battle alcoholism, but it’s not the same as caring for a child. Or an elderly parent.

My mother will be 94 in a couple of weeks and the past month has been very difficult for her, with a couple of hospitalizations and now a rehab facility to get her strong enough to return to her assisted living facility. She has needed us in a way that I’ve never felt needed before.

I’ve cut up her food, cajoled her to eat, changed her diaper, helped her dress, undress, brush her teeth, advocated for her care, nagged health care providers, often on weekends. She has at times been so foggy about her circumstances that it scared the crap out of me. She asks the same questions over and over and I’ve patiently answered over and over. I’ve tried to reassure her that she’ll get better and ‘go home’. The hardest was when she woke up and groggily asked me why my dad wasn’t there.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never been patient, I’ve never been all that nurturing (to people…different story with my pets) and I’ve always run away from hard stuff like this. This time, I’m running toward it. Toward her. And I am getting so much out of being with her right now. The love and protection that I feel is nearly overwhelming and I have more clarity on so many things in my life, but the one thing that I am sure of is that we moved back to Michigan for a reason and this is it.

I bought our farm over the course of a weekend, with very little research or thought. I went back to Colorado and told my husband that I wanted to move back ‘home’. We put our house on the market, I informed my co-workers and bosses of my plans and we packed up and moved, even though I loved Colorado and I loved our place in the mountains.  There was no questioning this feeling that we had to go.

Something was compelling me home and I didn’t resist it, even though I didn’t quite understand it.  Now I get it. We spent more time with both of my parents over a six month period than we had in years. We spent Christmas and Thanksgiving with them and my dad got to see our little farm. He was so proud and then, he died and I’ve been here to help my mom transition to life without my dad and eventually to transition to join him.

It’s been so hard and it would have been so much easier to be in Colorado for all of this; far removed from all of the drama and dirty work.  Love shoved me home; love cracked me open like an egg and for that, I’m so grateful.

September 28, 2014 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

What is ‘thankful’?

Thankful.  What does that mean exactly?

I think that thankfulness comes in various degrees and layers;  thankful for really great things, like new babies or new jobs or a clean bill of health.  And then there is the secondary thankfulness where we’re glad that things aren’t worse or that we’re making progress in a difficult situation.

I think that maybe that’s what separates people who are happy from those who can’t quite settle into their lives.  Most of the people I know who have as their mantra “it could be worse”, mean it.  But, some of us  get stuck; we dwell on the inevitable and universal imperfections, allowing it to corrode our lives and rust away the girders of the bridge to peace and happiness.

We all want things to work out perfectly; for our lives to be well-oiled machines featuring lots of rainbows and unicorns.  Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t recognize the rainbows and unicorns when we have them.  We think “it could always be better; this isn’t my perfect vision”.

Which is where thankfulness comes in.  Every day.  Find something, even in the midst of irritation, tragedy and yes, even unbearable pain, that you can say your gratefuls for.  I think it will make us happier.  I know it will make us happier and at the very least, it will make us less prickly.

My husband and I have both been mourning the loss of our dog, Chili.  This past weekend, we saw my brother’s dog, who is 14 and starting to lose her quality of life.  Bladder issues, she doesn’t see well, no appetite.  I told my husband  “I’m grateful that Chili won’t have to go through this kind of long-term deterioration”.

It doesn’t make it hurt less, but it’s truth.  She will be spared that kind of suffering.  Do I wish she were still alive?  Every single minute of every day. But, if we dig, we can always find some little nugget and say a thank you to the universe.  Baby steps.  Silver linings.

Some people are born with this ability; the clear-eyed view that life is never perfect, but it will toss us little crumbs of light if we’re open and clear.  Some have to remind themselves to look under or beyond the dark cloud that can obscure the light.  Some just choose to live in the dark.

Life is hard and disappointing and challenging and painful, so have another piece of apple pie ala mode and remember that it could be worse.

The last piece of pie could be mincemeat.  That would truly be a tragedy.

December 1, 2013 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Goodbye, Miss Chili…..


Our dog died yesterday.  The pain of losing her is acute; like a cleaver in the middle of my chest.  I can barely breath, let alone talk about losing her.  I can only write.

Chili was 11. Too young for a 10 pound Jack Russell Terrier to leave us, but it seems that she had cancer that shut down her liver.  Very quickly.  She was dead in 3 weeks after extensive medical intervention.

This was not what I had planned.  I figured we’d get at least 15 years out of this wee one.  I was diligent about her health and her diet.  Those who know me, would probably describe it more as fanatical.  I was determined to keep her with me as long as possible and to stretch her lifespan to the limits.

But, here I am.  Learning the lesson again that in this life, we eventually lose everything that we love.  Nothing lasts forever.  We are finite on planet earth.  All of us.  All of our dogs.  All of our loved ones. God, that hurts.

For the past 3 weeks, I reverted back to my control freak persona.  I just KNEW that despite the doctors being completely baffled as to how to treat her and their warnings that her prognosis was grim, I could fix her.  Diet, supplements, love, acupuncture, fluids, love, exercise, love, fresh air, hope.  I didn’t eat, I barely slept, I Googled every medicine and supplement and every possibility of what could possibly be wrong with her.

She got weaker and yellower from the jaundice.  Her life force was ebbing, but I powered on.  “This will be the day she turns around”.

She had one last good day on Thursday.  We loaded her and our other dog Junior in the car and took a drive around Lake Leelanau to see the colors and the lake.  We stopped at every park and boat ramp and she trotted out and stood in the lake.  She stood and savored the water lapping at her belly.  We chuckled at how much coaxing it took to get her to come back to the car.

That was it.  She knew.  She gave us a good day to remember and said goodbye to the water that she loved.  Dogs are smart and intuitive. Their connection to the universe may be a little more well-tuned than ours.

We are human, hear us roar.  We can FIX THINGS!  Can’t we?

This was the first time that I had the courage to be present for a pet’s final breath.  I held her all night on Friday and said my goodbyes and so I was ready to help her pass.  It was peaceful and a relief to know that she wasn’t suffering any longer.

Chili was a dog that always looked me in the eye and told me exactly what she needed from me.  She was ‘my’ dog.  I knew that that bond required that I be there for her at the end.

She is buried in a lovely spot, under an oak tree, near our barn.  I’m having a very hard time letting her go and I know the pain will dull into pleasant memories in time.  It always does.  It’s a lesson we learn every time we love.

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , | 71 Comments


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