Back on the Blog.

I’ve been afraid to start this, unsure that the words would come, unsure that if the words came that they would adequately touch the depth of this experience. But as with all forms and subjects for writing, the important part is to begin.
My mother died on a snowy Monday morning two weeks ago. We missed her by minutes. I slept fitfully in a recliner in her hospice room all night prior, counting seconds between breaths, trying to remember to keep breathing myself. My father slept on an air mattress next to her bed, doing the same. The nurse came in at seven to check on her and administer more medication and left to get a stethoscope. Our eyes drooped closed, and when the nurse came back, she had gone. The air slowly exhaled in one long quiet breath from her lungs, and she crossed over into the next world. It was as simple and as peaceful as that, just as we had prayed for.
I cursed myself for missing it, for not being awake to hold her hand and say goodbye. But now I understand that I was doing exactly that for the months, weeks, days, and hours beforehand. Things had become so apparent; as much as we wished it were different, we knew what we were facing. Therefore, important words did not go unspoken. Time was not wasted. There was no limit to love in those days; how grateful I am for that. And in the moment she left, it was appropriate that she make that transition independently; she didn’t need anyone to cling to her and beg her to stay as she made her way into a new life that she rightfully deserved.
I can’t say much without saying it all, and a single blog post won’t hold the whole of it. If you’re at all like me and you haven’t experienced death first hand, you probably have all sorts of questions running through your mind :
Is it scary? Can you sense death’s presence mentally, spiritually, emotionally? How do you know when they are getting close to the end (days, hours, minutes)? How do you carry on conversations with each other when things become that serious? Is it better to talk about it, or avoid it? How do you spend time with your loved one in the days before their death if they are conscious? How do you comfort and encourage them as they reach death? Losing a loved one is hard – where and how do you find solace and strength to keep living? When your loved one suffers from a terminal illness, can you really find relief in knowing that they are no longer suffering, or is that just something ignorant people tell you when they don’t know what to say?
There is a lot that people don’t talk about when it comes to death. Why bring it up now, when things are fine? But death is a part of life. Whether it is from a terminal illness, natural causes, or a sudden accident, it happens to each of us; it’s only a matter of time, and we never know for sure how much of it we have left. And there are so many ways that it changes us as we witness it, and as we draw closer to it ourselves. A sense of our own mortality is part of what makes us human.
So in the weeks and months ahead, as I process this loss, I will write about it here. If you have specific questions, or if you have your own story to share, please email me. I’d love to dialogue about it.

A Blogging Break.

I am standing this side of something. A tunnel. A current. A dark place. An ocean of grief. It feels so strangely appropriate to stand on the precipice of a new year, and to stand at the ledge of this experience. I know that light awaits me. And I know that the light will not meet me all at once, but in slow, gradual gradients as I make my way across. And then I will stand, feet in the tides, on the opposite shore and welcome the sunrise. But first I must take the plunge.
I’m taking a break from blogging to turn my focus to my mother as she lives out her final days with us. She has battled breast cancer for 14 long years. We are deeply grateful for her life, for her love, for her unwavering faith and strength to the very end.
I wish each of you a happy new year. See you on the other side.

Rest Well, Old Friend.

duncan

On Friday, our family (my husband, his sister, his parents and I) said goodbye to the family patriarch, our dear old dog, Duncan. A real downer, I know, but he lived a long, good life.

A long, good life, I should mention, in spite of nine long years of neglect and abuse. When his rescuers found him, his fur was so matted he couldn’t walk. His fear of humans was so fierce, they had to sedate him. His body was so malnourished, he nearly starved to death.

You would think that a dog who has dealt with that measure of brutality would be irreversibly messed up, rightfully unwilling to trust another human being ever again. Not Duncan.

His is a story of hope. As Good as Gold [a rescue organization dedicated to golden retrievers] rescued him, rehabilitated him and found him a loving home with my in-laws. Aside from his desperate begging habit and distrust of children, his past was far removed from his present peace and happiness. Duncan turned out to be a friendly, quiet, cuddly companion that our family absolutely adored.

And then, after what seemed like 6 very short years, he became very ill and we had to put his tough old body to rest.

It happened so fast. Thursday, my husband spent the morning cuddling with him and playing tug-of-war. Friday, Duncan couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk, could barely lift his head to look Mom in the eye. A tumor had developed and grown to the size of a grapefruit in the 5 short months since his last visit to the vet until his body couldn’t handle it anymore. The arthritis in his back and hips would have made healing from an extensive surgery impossible. We decided to let him rest in peace instead.

It sucks.

The brevity and finality of it, the ache of the unexpected goodbye, the shock of suddenly being alone really really sucks.

And he was a dog. He was a member of our family, a dear old friend, but he was a dog. Having never lost a pet before, only people, this has been a strange grief for me to comprehend.

It hurts. In a separate, but all too familiar kind of pain, it hurts. We miss him. The soft tendrils of his fur between our fingers; the enthusiastic dash to the door with his big droopy eyes and swishing tail there to greet us, to tell us he’s happy we’re here; his cool, wet nose brushing our elbows as we sat at the dinner table; the warmth of his body next to ours on the couch; even the simple sense that we have someone outside of ourselves to care for, leaves an acute sense of loss.

Yet in the wake of his death, I’m not just struck by the void of his presence, but by the palpable reminder he gave us with his life: that hope, trust and redemption are real.

Maybe innocent animals are not as emotionally, mentally and spiritually complex as us humans… But then again, humans have a spectacular capability to complicate the most simple and fundamental truths in our lives.

Now, whenever I begin to lose my faith in change, in restoration, in redemption, I’ll remember the feather-soft fur beneath my fingers as a tangible truth:

It’s possible.

Even after we’ve experienced the most degrading, abusive, dark moments of our lives, it is possible to uncover truth, restore trust, feel joy. It is possible to find love.

Rest well, old friend.