Be Brave., Death of a dog, Grief, Scottish Terrier

Letting Go, 2019.

I have a new tradition, spurred on by a writing friend, of choosing a ‘word of the year’  to prompt and inspire me into January 1st. I have chosen words like “faith” and “healing,” “patience” and “intention.” On December 31st, all fired up from a good procedure result, I decided on “brave.” Thinking to myself; I will brave the world and get to that bucket list. And; I will be brave on all the projects that have idled while I endured the ups and downs of 2017 and 2018.  Little did I know that three days into 2019 I would be tested as to whether I could be brave enough to get out of bed.

January 3rd I said goodbye to my best friend on four legs pup Olive.  She stopped eating at New Years and slept through the days. On January 3rd an x-ray at 1:30 in the afternoon revealed she was full of tumor. She declined in a matter of hours, her heart rate and breathing so accelerated that I did not think she could make it through the afternoon. At 7 pm I held her, her muzzle tucked under my chin, while she was euthanized at home.

Olive was beloved by me, my family, my friends. She did her dog job with all her heart and soul; she spent endless hours learning tricks with my children, endured ferry, car and plane trips, explored new places with ears up, walked all my steps and errands, lay patiently at my feet in stores while I did whatever I had to do, reminded me daily — with a gentle paw swipe — when I had been at the computer long enough. She enchanted small children and lived for Seattle dog-friendly coffee shops with biscuit jars. She was a fixture at social knitting on both coasts. She chased everything and caught nothing. She went everywhere happy.

And then, when I was in the darkest of all places, she only left my side when forced. One part of her body was always touching mine, no matter the temperature. When anxiety from illness and body trauma, fear and mortality kept me awake for the better part of two years, in those dark night hours she pressed closer and snuffed at me while I practically stroked the fur from her body. Only in the last few months, when I began to feel better and after a good procedure result in December, did she lighten up and sleep at my feet.

She knew. She knew I was better. After a joyful family Christmas she saw me writing. She saw me moving. I know she heard it in my voice. Only then did she let go. Her job was done.

I saw her failing in little ways over the past few months, but thought we could manage with her medications, diet, exercise. This is a dog lover’s blind spot: I could not envision a life without the rhythm of her needs and mine so intertwined so we saw more vets, tried new routines. Part therapy dog, heart of a black lab, the look of a little human, that square bundle of Scottish Terrier was worth it and I believed I could extend her life.

The contradiction still strangles me as I write: We love them heart and soul until we have to end their lives to make them safe. Sitting on my living room floor, ready to help us do the unthinkable, her vet said, “this is our gift to them.”

The last four days have sucked. I did stay in bed and cry and sleep for two of them. I clutched the baby puff she slept on, smelling that earthy doggy-ness and just wept my eyes swollen. I don’t know how I found the deepest of brave to let her go last week — on purpose, by my own hand. It was my final act of love. And it crushed me.

But she was a gift to me, eleven years ago, that little beanie-baby of a puppy we chose with the green ribbon tied around her neck. Thank you, Olive Cricket, for waiting. I wish we had had a lifetime more. The silence is deafening without the tick of your nails, the thump of your body ejecting off the couch. I will think of you on the beach, the wind blowing your beard askew, a crab in your mouth, running, running, running.

img_6076

Edge dog. Marblehead, 2015.

 

 

Standard
Family, Father, gratitude, Handmade

Love Pigs.

Of all the holiday pleasures nothing — nothing — makes me happier than the pigs.

So long ago, before my father’s eyes were beset by Best’s disease, he carved animals from wood. I have a fat sheep and a patient donkey for the manger. On my desk lies a palm-sized duck with a beak tucked tenderly under a wing. On the bookcase, a life-sized Curlew, beak always in peril from the vacuum and small children. On the tree hangs wooden ornaments he cut from pictures my children drew for him. But nothing gives me more pleasure than the two tiny little piggies he carved, the size of my thumbnail, that I place in the Christmas scene come December.

The pigs lie in wait for eleven months, swaddled in cotton, kept safe from the jumble and flurry of the holiday set-ups and take-downs, in a small porcelain Christmas tree that flips open at the trunk.  They are my final tradition in the days before the holiday. I wait until all the lights are strung, the tree trimmed, the skating scene arranged and rearranged, the snow sprinkled; only then do they come out: I tip open the base of the tree and one by one carefully place them on the mantle. Though so small, they square up amongst the skaters and carved trees, the string of sparkle lights and little churches. Their shadows cast stout silhouettes. All that my father loved about this holiday — family, the hearth, the music, beauty created from our hands —  is in these little animals. All the love he could give me is in these half-inch tiny knobs of wood. I always cry when I step back and look at them.

I still remember the sharp points of their ears pricking me as he dropped them in my palm, this tiniest most beautiful gift from his hands to mine. Some years, I place them  around a reindeer. Some years, I place them next to a small hand carved Santa, or in the middle of three paunchy Santas, their ears and tails pointing North and East, peering at the tiny skaters frozen in their poses. Guests will lean on the mantle, stare at the scene and then suddenly burst out laughing. Tiny pigs in a skating scene is funny.

In 2011, a year after my father died, a small box arrived in the mail. My brother had set some of my father’s ashes in a small round globe of glass, the disc streaked with ash and a thin blue swirl. That year I strung the disc on a holiday ribbon, and as soon as the tree was upright, hung my father on a sturdy branch facing the room. Every year after that, he watches his little piggies stand guard and his family grow tall and I cannot believe — each Christmas —  how much of him is all around us. He is right where he was happiest.

I lie awake and wonder what I will leave my children that will stand, year after year, the test of time and love. Words, I think. Many, many words.

Happy New Year, Friends.

Piggies.jpg

Standard
Carcinoid tumor, on purpose, self image, space, wellness

On Purpose.

Yesterday, I went to an appointment that was actually scheduled for today.

I have misplaced my favorite glasses.

And I probably forgot your birthday last summer.

This has been my new normal over the last seventeen months. I hardly recognize myself or this tendency to lose stuff. I have been pulling the blankets around me, physically and emotionally, at the expense of the every day. Closing my eyes, overwhelmed by the after-effect of three rounds of surgery, the fluctuating test results, the pains that wake me in the night, the deadlines and word counts I can’t measure up to, the waistbands that cut over my incision areas and the bottomed-out exhaustion of lying awake all night while this movie reel spins ’round and ’round and ’round.

And then, I had enough of letting things happen to me and nothing being done on purpose.

I got up and began a purge, inside and out.

First, at the Seattle Nest; I threw away any paper I had not touched, filed or looked at twice in the last year. That freed up three baskets. Then I gave two of those baskets to Goodwill. I gave most of my clothes away. I kept only the shoes that made me smile. There is now a 1000 piece puzzle on a table in the middle of my living room space replacing books on writing. There is so much yarn. Fiction waits by my bed. I forgave myself the preferred diet of dairy, toast and fruit and went to the store for more cheese.

Then, inside: I had not been following my own cardinal rule — information is power — instead, I had been cringing away from the real time of my diagnosis, wrapping myself up in fear, lying awake to be sandy-eyed and worn out by daybreak, cowed by every pain and the bottomless fatigue. And pissed at myself, fully aware of this self-defeating cycle of fear=exhaustion=anxiety=more fears.

So last week I opened the hospital app, put in the passwords and read my medical reports online out loud for the first time. Did not wait for someone to tell me the results. I read them over and over, letting the now be all mine. Here is what I owned, here is what I said out loud,

I had a carcinoid tumor in my appendix, colon re-sectioning then a sick gall bladder over a twelve month period of time. That is a lot of surgery.

I may have more cancer.

But today? I  feel just fine. 

And remarkably, I felt better. I wrote 758 words that rocked. After a good cry, I slept my first solid sleep in a very, very long time and woke up to a magnificent morning.

Shelf space=heart space=real space.

In less than ten days I will kick the 50’s out the door and welcome in my next decade with open arms. I say bring it on, whatever I need to know and do, make me safe — whatever it takes — so I can stick around a little longer to stomp my footprint a bit deeper into the earth.

I am not sorry about the birthdays, the glasses or the appointments. People that care about me will not care about my failings and stick around. Appointments can be rebooked. I have ordered a stretchy skirt. And I have been longing for a pair of cherry red glasses, anyways.

This morning the September sun beats down on me, the crow with a white feather chortles to me from the railing, begging shamelessly for more dog treats. The sky is brilliant. I feel on purpose today.

I am still here.

 

IMG_3508

Standard
#trending, Coping, flowers, Friendship, Healing, writing

#Trending: It’s personal.

[tren-ding]: emerging as a popular trend.

What is #trending for you personally this July, 2018? Because that is all that really matters. I was thinking about this as the birds sprayed all the fresh water out of my birdbath this morning, exuberantly enjoying their morning spa. Note that nothing about my list is trendy #trending — you would have to  jump over to twitter for that — instead, a short list of what I realize has unfolded as my compass this last month.

  1. #goodfriendsareshastadaisies:  Leucanthemum superbum are the most trustworthy summer perennial I know — standing tall despite heat or thunderstorms or neglect,  They stretch to the sky and tip their faces up to the sun and grow in the poorest patches of earth. I have friends that stand up to life this way, the same friends who continuously cultivate our friendship despite our differences or geography or challenges.  They are my #trending anchors, my soul soothers, I channel you daily. You know who you are. I am grateful.
  2. #WritingReadingThinking: If I can’t write, I read. If I can’t read, I think. Do not underestimate the power of sitting with morning tea and listening to what is happening around you and just thinking. Some of my best lines float into my brain this way. Some of the best answers come to me watching birds hop in and out of the birdbath. It has taken six decades to allow sitting into my life and to reap the benefits. One silver lining of health challenges I try to pay forward daily.
  3. #Family: As we grow up and old we change. I am all for this. For all of us. What is  #trending for me is the filament that holds us together, though my family grows and expands —  a tie so gossamer it seems invisible but so strong, like the single thread of a spider web. I am thankful.
  4. #Sadsacksofflesh: So I lost a couple of sad sacks of flesh last year and I am about to lose another. #trending for me is understanding what I can live without and remembering how I have healed, over and over. I am writing a to-do list for 2019 and checking it twice. Watch me go after this next surgery. Catch me if you can.
  5. #LettingStuffGo: The Nest, in Seattle, is three rooms and a bath. Enough said. We don’t need anything, really, but the essentials. And chocolate. What are yours?

So what is #trending for me personally? I am picking daisies and talking to friends far and near and staying in touch with my grown-up offspring and getting through another hospital gig and booking tickets and writing workshops and retreats and outlining my new manuscript and stripping the basement of stuff. I can’t wait for the year to come. And in the near future, I will be sitting down, watching the birds and thinking while my body catches up.

How about you? Whatever it is, make it yours, make it good.

IMG_2982

 

 

 

Standard
At The Fault Line, Bravery, Memoir, Read, Support, writing

At The Fault Line

Today, Friday June 8, I am reading one of my recent essays at a ticketed event in Seattle. Eleven writers in my memoir group have crafted, honed and polished their words with grace and guts for the last few months. Writing a personal trauma story is a naked enough feeling. To read it in public takes exposure to a whole new level.

Last year, after my diagnosis and series of surgeries, three years of writing a manuscript went up in smoke. The questions came fast and hard, especially at night: do I bury my mother’s story, interweave mine, move on from past to present or take the story present to past? Do I even have the skills to do any or all of this? Do I want to?

When I finally wrote down the words which became my essay, “We Don’t Know Everything,” I felt there had been a nuclear explosion in my head; the collision of my story, my mother’s story, cancer information and understanding illness, all locking together in believable — and unbelievable — ways. All the pieces will be sharing, for lack of a better word, the radioactive fissure — the cracking of the fault lines —  that comes from speaking out on trauma. Eleven times over.

This is the second year of this event At The Fault Line. I hope we do this forever. The experience of professional coaching — by our mentor Tara Hardy —  speaking our words aloud into a microphone, into the atmosphere, into the ears of friends and strangers, validates our writing. And our existence. And our purpose.

Last year we sold tickets at the door. This year we have been sold out for almost two weeks. I am watching the seedling of a mighty tree of storytelling grow and grow and grow.

The stories will crack open hearts, from the mundane to the profound, from folding laundry to holding an Alzheimer patient. I am so proud of all of us.

Buddha

Standard
flowers, gratitude, Spring, Women

Hi, Lovely.

This weekend, if you are of a certain age, you have permission to wear white. This edict has been debunked by fashionistas recently; white has become the new black. Hurrah — it is fresh and clean. Only white is not-so-flattering on my butt. So I strategically wear this bright, happy color with layers and smile at my shocked grandmother in the mirror.

I am also of the age where May brings up a flood of memories and gratitude.

Every scent and sound throws me back to the women who cultivated my love of the dirt. I remember you all — both grandmothers with their carefully chosen long-stemmed rose bushes, my mother with the wild willful planters of fiery red geraniums and mint. I wish they could see that I plant herbs close together and crush lavender as I walk by.

This spring in Seattle I have the privilege to see the season of roses, peonies and Mock Orange bushes. My morning walks with Olive, in my white linen and wool sweater (Seattle sports a “marine layer” until noon) are sumptuous and breathtaking. I snap masses of photos and inhale Abraham Darby up my nose, all while leaning dangerously into the gardens of strangers.

I have to talk on the phone away from the window, the birdsong is so loud.

I put up the Silver Palate Minted Spinach and Snap Pea soup recipe, fragrant and bright green, to drink cold out of a jar. I simmer down pot-fulls of strawberries. I plant another round of sorrel, tarragon and basil in foraged containers.

And like the women who showed me how to cultivate, I, too, go down to the beds in the morning and greet my garden. For these women not only taught me to plant deep and water well, they showed me that our gardens, as all things that bring me joy, need to be thanked.

So I am the pajama-clad, bed-haired and graying lady speaking to my little garden at six in the morning. “Hello, Lovely,” I usually begin, then bury my nose in a blossom. I swear they nod at me.

Standard
care giving, May

May Day.

This morning I looped through town on my bike to pick up coffee and some air. The pup has an ulcerated paw and we have been cooped up together for weeks. Today, May 1 brings warmth and magnolia blossoms and a hint of green in the twiggy privet hedges. I stashed my helmet in my basket for a few blocks and let the sea air and bird song ruffle my ears. Everything is on hold until she heals — travel, reading events and the nest. But this is an old, familiar feeling, that kick of adrenaline, the unraveling of time and claustrophobia. Caregiving at it’s finest.

I have a lifetime resume of taking care of others: family, parents, grandparents, friends, strangers. As I write my manuscript about the years my mother was ill, when I was just out of college, the pages started to reveal something I had never been able to put into words before —  that my mother’s illness was my first internship and I tackled it head on. While my peers were buried in offices, medical school or graduate school, my four year immersion was in cancer, hospital rooms, treatment facilities. My mother’s death and dying was an experience that essentially drove the blueprint for the rest of my life. I discovered at twenty-one that I was really, really good at forgoing myself for the needs of others.

Mayday, Mayday. Person at risk.

Last year, at fifty-eight, I needed others to do this for me. I was under the sheets not sitting on the edge of the bed for the first time, ever. Enter the learning curve, the invaluable — if late —  lesson of letting others help me. It was uncomfortable and it was amazing.

How do we balance taking care of ourselves and taking care of others in need? We have to do both on a daily basis. The balance is essential for your health, and in turn, let’s us take better care of others. This is tricky, take it from me. Turns out taking care of myself is not selfish. Then I am in better shape to help you.

I didn’t put the bike away. Later I will go ’round the point one more time before sunset, her injured paw bandaged and the collar on snugly so she doesn’t chew the dressing. When Olive heals, I will go back to my work, time in Seattle, my essentials. A little for me, a little for her.

Go smell the grass and listen to the cardinals. Spring, and renewal, is in the air.

Version 2

Marblehead Harbor, early morning mist.

Standard