Coping, Grief, Healing, Squirrels

Finding Sanity.

 

“Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.” Haruki Murakami

Yesterday, a few hours before Game of Thrones was scheduled to air, my Comcast service quit. I was not all that upset: #GOT last-season-how-much-blood-can-you-stand fatigue had set in for me. Mystery solved this morning, when after three hours of ladders, dusty gross cellar crawling, rewiring, more ladders, more dust, a technician informed me that squirrels had chewed through the wires to the house. And I laughed.

When I returned from Seattle last week I didn’t find much funny, or edible, or worthy. I spent days in deep self care, so saddened, wrapped in a blanket staring out the window, recovering from both the privilege of holding my Aunt’s hand through the end of her life and the trauma of this loss. Curled up in a soft chair, I stared out the kitchen window at my bird feeder for hours until it became evident that even the good-sized, cherry-red Cardinal could not compete with the new generation of juvenile squirrels who had perfected the art of holding the bird feeder open with one toe, while spooning out the birdseed with another. By the second day this blatant pirating made me cross: rustling up shoes, I stomped outside with a can of Pam spray and blanket flying, greased the pole.

The little pissed off spitting grey fur-balls dashed up, then slid down faster, to the ground. Some, after wiping off their paws, their tails spinning in an angry, indignant twitch, then decapitated a nearby heirloom quince bush of all the coral blossoms. Payback seems to have also included snacking on my utility line. Maybe not so funny anymore — but this small, focused preoccupation with squirrel sabatage over the rest of the week helped me regain my footing into the weekend.

I treasured our relationship: my Aunt, also my Godmother, my mother’s first cousin and best friend, knew five generations of the women in my family. She unabashedly drank Nescafè all day long with hazelnut creamer and never minced on words. Our connection was part daughter-sister-sage-advocate-protector. The loss of this 87 year-old woman who had grounded me since my mother died, thirty-five years ago, was for some reason unexpected. Are we ever ready? I mourn her completely. Life has experienced a seismic shift. But just when I get buried in this grief I also remember her scolding me —  get on with it what are you waiting for — when, after all my surgeries, I was consumed with lethargy. She would have loved that I took on squirrels to ease my pain about her, to get me out of the chair.

So I grilled this technician: Why? What do you all do for that? Is this common? All the while knowing full well that ‘my’ squirrels — and there are too many to count —  are here for a reason. Much better than Game of Thrones.

Thanks, Auntie.

 

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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.

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Edge dog. Marblehead, 2015.

 

 

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#CRUS11TOUR, Friendship, Grief, Tears

Spill With Me.

 

I can be made of steel and counted on in any crisis. But I do not feel badly when and if I cry, too. Why is it that the moment we begin to cry — especially men — we apologize? When did we learn that crying makes us lesser in some way?  In the past few months I have heard too many times, “I have to stop crying, this is the last time, I promise.”  Why?

There is a whole lot of emotion out there these days for me. Riding on my sleeve, face, heavy heart and yes, tracking down my face in the form of tears. Did this wave start on November 11, 2016? Crying on election night was a first for me. Hard tears. Maybe.

But I also cried when I saw the first spring heron on Green Lake and the first hyacinth bloom, when I heard a friend’s diagnosis and watched Davey’s #CRUS11TOUR team cross the Boston Marathon finish line yesterday.  I have been crying for happy, for sad, for pride. The tears felt necessary and the aftermath felt, well, good. I honored the moment that way. I honored the feelings that way. I honored these people with my tears.

Wait. Aren’t we supposed to buck up, stop crying, pull ourselves together, don’t be a baby, time to stop crying and get on with it, be a grownup, go it alone?

No.

By crying, letting those tears fall, swiping them with your sleeve or my proffered handkerchief, maybe even adding a hug, we demonstrate several things to the people around us: trust, intimacy, vulnerability, friendship, to name a few. Consider the baby crying. Consider happy tears at a wedding. And consider, for a moment, how painfully difficult it is to hold back tears because someone said you should.

Since November I have had many unexpected reasons to laugh and to cry, more than any other time in my life. I don’t know about you but those tears — that welling, salty water filling my eyes, floating behind my eyelashes, spilling down arbitrarily, often in front of other people — just seems to be what my body needs to release and express and shed with others. Maybe I am spilling my emotions out all over the place but I share them unconditionally with you, friends, because I trust you.

And know that if you cry in front of me, I consider that a great honor.

There is always an extra hankie in my pocket, just in case.

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Grief, Support

Not About Me. All About You.

Ten days ago I pulled my only black suit from the back of my closet, brushed the dust off the shoulders, and prepared myself for the first of two funerals in forty-eight hours. Two young men, too early. Two young men so loved. Inconceivably, the universe fell further off it’s axis that week, with news of medical challenges for a person so dear to my heart. The beginning of February has been layers of sadness and bad news, sadness and grief, sadness and fatigue laid on so thick and fast I lie awake with my heart pounding.

I purchased this suit in 2005 for $30.00 at a post-holiday dump sale at Macy’s. A black suit of mixed fiber heritage, I stalled at the checkout —  there was a slightly ruffled hemline. Was this flirty? WAY too dated? Frighteningly inappropriate despite the color and square understated jacket? Really, really cheap of me?  I stood and sweated in the aisle, spinning the racks, rapidly depleting time and confidence. Ultimately, I decided my mother-in-law would be proud of my thriftiness and daring at her memorial service in the lofty New Haven, Connecticut, Episcapalian church, surrounded by sensible tweeds and twinsets.

The suit is the easy part. More challenging is how to gift ease to others at these times: the 101 of giving support and care is often counterintuitive. My first instinct is to barrel in, fix everything, spew wisdom, share stories, buy too much for a lot of money. In a love-driven, panic fueled sadness. But what I have learned over the years, in actual fact, is that waiting and listening can be the greatest gift, the most needed ingredient to help others survive loss or life-changing news.

My absolute is to remember nothing is about me. I try to pay attention to the little things —  a texted emojis heart, a small vase of daffodils left on the doorstep to allow privacy, sending a card. What helps and how will I know? Sometimes I don’t. But I always ask first, then take action if needed or wanted. I let my action be determined by the people that need it. Sometimes, it is all I can do to practice this, I want to fix everything so badly. But then I remember — this is not at all about me.

Nothing is good about five dinners delivered on the doorstep on the same day when everyone is sick to their stomach. But soon, in time, needs present themselves. The dogs will need to be walked, the groceries delivered, the laundry folded. And nothing is nicer than a card of encouragement that makes someone smile. Showing my love is sometimes about not showing up uninvited and sometimes takes every bit of willpower I can muster.

I never regretted the purchase, or the flirty hemline. It has held up to everything I needed, has been borrowed, dry-cleaned, tide-sticked, re-sewn, worn with-and-without a slip, always paired with dress boots over and over for the last twelve years. Always ready for whatever I need it to do. The little ruffle makes me smile when I am sad. It waits patiently and makes tough times easier.

Last week, I fully expected the skirt to halt at my hips, the jacket buttons to refuse to meet. It had not been worn for a long while. But each piece slid on, forgiving the last two years of injuries, accommodating the control top pantyhose, gifting me, once again, with ease at the time of extordinary sadness.

This is a silly analogy that means well. When the buttons buttoned I was so grateful the suit was just hanging there, waiting.

Find out what fits the needs of others. Sometimes, it is just waiting, listening or letting a family know you are available for the call.  Then you will be the perfect person, at the perfect time. And don’t forget to breathe.

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Marblehead, MA, February harbor

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