Tag Archives: grief

Afscheidswals

Excerpt from a work-in-progress on this National Mutt day for my most beautiful mutt.

April 2019

I hear, tonight, no distant thud-drone of a beach goer’s car stereo.

No shore break. No train.

Seagulls sleep silent in the spring cool.

Your breathing, ended forever, opens a gulf of aching peace.

I want my disturbed sleep back—my dreams punctuated with mumbling monsters that sounded oddly like wet, canine snores. I miss 4 a.m. earthquakes as you threw yourself against the bed to wake me for urgent backyard trips. I want to trip over the dark hulk of you lying curled on the floor next to my bed, your musk gathering on my heaped winter clothes.

It’s a fact that only you can truly fill this dearth of dog. Your grumbling groans. Your dreamy sighs. Your shifts and turns and the tick shish tick shish of claws on tired old limbs as you shuffled to your bowl in the early morning dark for a sloppy drink from crockery.

It’s a fact that though there will be another furred friend, loved, adored even—you are a piece of my soul like no other. There is no Big-Dog shaped peg left in this universe. You were the one and only. I waltz over a shadow in the dark—your pillow, so dense with you—and moments later return and spin, sink into my covers, embrace the silence—and sleep.

Art & Grief: Finding the Perfection in the Imperfect

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What is that odd-looking, white object in the picture? What does it have to do with grief or art? What have grief and art to do with each other and why am I writing (struggling to write) this at this moment?

That object is a biscornu which, if I recall correctly, is French for “quirky.” These objects at this size are mostly used as pin cushions and the one in my photo is indeed a pincushion made using traditional Norwegian Hardanger embroidery techniques (as opposed to modern techniques).

As to what it has to do with art and grief:

A few months ago, I struggled with my writing process and wrote about it here. You can see in some truly helpful comments that it was suggested that I exercise my creative mind through other art forms. I thought this an excellent idea although I am the furthest thing from creative in any other way other than writing. I can’t draw a straight line, I failed miserably at the various doodle crafts, and I have long since given away my sculpting supplies because I would have to invest in learning how to do it rather than winging it. I do, however, love to do Hardanger embroidery. I thought I could perhaps design my own.

I can’t. So, I gave up.

2018 waned and my writing continued to stutter like a lawn mower in overgrown St. Augustine. The holidays arrived along with the U.S. government furlough including much time for my husband and I to spend together. I decided to try “new to me” traditional Hardanger as a creative endeavor and to make a Christmas gift for someone, the above biscornu.

Through all of this, the Big Blind Dog was lumbering through his days and nights, taking his medications dutifully, eating heartily, begging for scraps always, peeing the Niagara (diuretics), and growing that snore-and-sniffle inducing lump on his cheek without complaint. He and I sat on our couch together, tv on and spewing the horrors of Investigation Discovery or tv off and only the Gulf waves in our heads. Occasionally my husband left his cave, poured a soda, gave the old gray snoot a pat and a biscuit, gave me a kiss, and wandered back into his hideaway.

I stitched.

I stitched and the dog snored and life was sweet and warm. I finished the biscornu and in all those stitches and waves and snoring came words for the page and these pleasant, if bittersweet, blog entries here and here. Writing was a thing again.

Then I looked at the biscornu and really saw it. I’d failed. While it was pretty, it was wrong. Something I’d planned from the beginning that could not be undone was a major flaw within it. Others couldn’t really see the flaw but I knew it was there. It ate at me.

Finally, rather than wrap it with other Christmas gifts, I decided I would keep it. Better to make a better gift for that person later—something not so obviously flawed, even if only to my eyes. I left it on my desk with a mix of sadness and disgust.

We packed up and went to see family out of town and had a perfectly nice visit.

And on the morning we were to return home, we awoke in our usual hotel room and our beautiful, sweet, old Big Dog with his one great flaw, his useless eyes, had left us.

Somewhere in his dreams, he decided he’d had enough of being lifted and guided and medicated and diapered. Somewhere in his sleep he’d decided those last pets from family, the last sniffs of our granddog, the last bites of Woody’s barbeque beef, and his favorite dog biscuits were a good note to end on.

So it goes.

Twelve and a half of his thirteen years.

And a five-hour drive of tears and emptiness and silence.

And furtive momentary pats to the still form in the back seat as if he would miraculously come back to us.

When we arrived home that evening and I walked into our office, there was the biscornu, that silly, imperfect thing, and I realized why the Universe had me keep it. Nothing at all to do with its imperfection—an imperfection I no longer see—and everything to do with the fact that it is a symbol of those long luxurious days next to him, his paws pressed against me. Of those last few days when he’d taken to lying with his head on my leg as he had when he was younger, as if he was trying to tell me goodbye. I wondered then, but had chosen not to be certain.

I am grateful for that time.

I am grateful for that quirky object I kept that had a major flaw, like the flaw of the Big Dog’s blindness. Flaws that are visible but meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Now, the biscornu is perfect in that it reminds me of him. He was perfect in his love.

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Our Beautiful Yao Ming. Big Dog. Boo Boo. Young and happy.

The Joy Between Naps: facing mortality.

When you walk beside someone daily, you don’t always see the subtle changes in their bodies and faces as they age. Perhaps, now and then, you take a step back and look critically and realize they’ve put on ten pounds or they’ve developed lines around their eyes or their hands are age-spotted. But you don’t typically pay attention to these details day to day when you love someone. It’s a human trait, this blissful blindness to the truth about aging. We are all young in the Garden forever—until we aren’t.

It’s no different with our pets; we might see them slowing down, sleeping a little more, playing a little less if we really stopped and thought about it. But most of the time we still see the young dog we’ve seen since we got it past the “destroy everything in the house” stage or the playful cat we have cuddled since we convinced the rescue kitten that humans weren’t all bad.

I have watched our Big Dog (BD) age and been aware of the little things: the scars from this scrape or that, the increasing number of skin tags, the thinning fur. His muzzle has been graying since he was five. He has lost muscle mass both due to age and due to decreased mobility caused by his heart condition, but I hadn’t given it a great deal of thought. Then some months ago as we drove down the interstate and the old boy slept soundly in the back seat, my husband said, “He’s looking old.”

I hadn’t noticed up to that point. More accurately, I had chosen not to notice.

I take pictures of Big Dog several times a week, desperately trying to capture him in these waning months, and I had not registered any significant difference in appearance in the BD of that day versus the BD of pre-heart disease. Slower, yes. More confused, definitely. But “looking old”? No. He was still my puppy. He would always be my puppy—the boy we brought home at nine months, healthy, happy, playful.

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Almost two and “helping” Daddy plant a new flower bed. (Spring 2007)

A few days later, I screwed up the courage to look at him with the eyes not of a person in love but a person who admits that pet dogs don’t usually outlive fifty-four-year-old owners.

I saw the sunken temporal area above his eyes, the crown of his skull turned pointed and prominent, the spreading gray, (endearingly, even on his hindquarters). There is less and less muscle on tired old bones. His coat has become rough and wool-like in spots rather than the smooth, soft fur that it once was. I also found a lump on his left cheek (we later learned this is a tumor that can’t be removed and continues to grow into his neck and ear).

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Big Dog at just under thirteen years old. (Summer 2018)

What I didn’t see that is common in large old dogs were callouses on elbows or knees. The boy has had a pretty cushy life. Or should I say, “cushiony”?  He’s always had at least one good bed wherever we lived, yet usually sleeps on the couch. We have loved and spoiled and medically cared for our dog with as much compassion (and dollars) as we would any child. Some might argue, more so.

About thirteen months ago we almost lost Big Dog to congestive heart failure. The kinds of heart medicines that have been developed by researchers (like those I used to work with developing medicine for humans) saved him and have kept him not only alive but happy. Then as now, we don’t know how much time we have with him.

This time with loved ones is always an unknown and this year that has been made excrutiatingly clear to me with the death of a beloved human sister. Now, perhaps because that loss remains so raw in my heart, I’ve begun to see, every day, these incremental changes in Big Dog as he walks into furniture, stares at walls for long moments as if they contain answers, and follows our voices in the wrong direction.

He is not ready to leave yet. He bounces and woofs when he wants a treat and gets excited about his nightly apple bites from Daddy. He still enjoys exploring the edges of the dunes and the street in front of our house and he delights in sunbathing on the deck on a warm day. There is still joy between long naps.

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I am happy to see him enjoying such seemingly small things without the anticipation of his own mortality.

I am sad for us and our keen awareness of it.

The fruit of the tree of knowledge, were I a believer in such a thing, surely held that we are all finite creatures and our “downfall” was that we would forever struggle against that limitation, unlike our pets that simply love and live.

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Still beautiful to us, Old Man. We love you.

[I present this, not in a bid for sympathy or mere cri de coeur, (okay, maybe a little of those) but an honest solicitation for advice. You don’t have to be a writer or artist of any kind, I think, to perhaps have valuable input here.]

I have forgotten how to create fiction. Not the mechanics, though surely those are rusty and weak, but the soul and flow of my creativity are lost. I’ve watched them wash away like sand castles.

There are myriad reasons why this is the case and most don’t really matter (in terms of fixing the problem, that is). It only matters that it has happened.

I have forgotten how to open myself to the world, to pain, to the darkest, dankest crevices of my mind and spirit. I’d even stopped reading fiction because it made those things more accessible and frightening. Reading fiction made me feel and think, so I shrank from it. I am, at least, reading again, if only in snippets, and taking care not to feel and think.

Even if I could allow that stuff in, I wouldn’t know how to let it coalesce into something creative. I’ve lost the ability to sit in a quiet room or in nature and allow life to bounce around me until a story finds its way through my pores or percolates up from my gut. Instead, those moments of potential reflection and processing are met with trepidation followed by a mad grasp for an electronic device or the television remote. Barring “screen time,” I allow my thoughts to wander only to the most basic concepts: survival, future concerns, chores, loss, loss, loss.

These things cloud my head (with my permission) like a perpetual flu. If I were an addict, I could blame drugs or booze, but my addictions are the 3 x 5 screen in my hand and the constant reexamination of pain and rage. Better to binge on pixels and past hurts than to leave the chasm in my brain agape because I simply can’t properly fill it. The ability to simply be and think: lost.

Standing in the bubble of another human’s existence, attempting to feed off and gauge their being and psyche, then pull it like wool into fine thread I can weave into a fabric of character: lost.

Voices are just noises. Faces, mere images. Fragrances and textures are just smells and surfaces. My senses that once served me as a creator: lost.

I could chalk much of this up to age, disease, grief. Be done with it. Move on. I’ve lost other things. Much harder losses. Things I will never get back. Suck it up, Buttercup. But it is exactly because my creativity has always sustained me in my life that I need it now in the face of those other losses. I have good things in my life, but I still need this. I need to be a whole me for my family and the whole me is the one that writes. If I can’t find my way back to KC the writer: lost.

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Health, Hope, and Mud-Dung Candy: Living in the Present

I came away from Facebook for a few weeks. I logged back in a few times not because I wanted to, but because I had to log in to some other damn this or that I had linked to (Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) at one time or another. And because every time I tried to do this one thing on my iPhone it splattered a warning on my phone that said I had to log into my Facebook account without explaining why, even though what I was doing hadn’t a damn thing to do with Facebook (or Instagram, or Pinterest, or etc.) .

I just wanted a rest. I didn’t like disconnecting from my friends and family, so I kept Messenger connected. Funny thing: It was hard for me to escape Messenger conversations prior to deactivating my Facebook account. After deactivating, I’d go two or three days without Messenger contact.  I didn’t mind the sudden “radio silence,” of course. It was just interesting. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. I seem to be living in that phrase lately. If I stay away from television, Facebook, news sites, and even other people, I’m much happier. So, maybe it should be, “out of site, out of mind.”

I’m not suggesting being uninformed or disengaging entirely from the world. If anything, people like me need to engage and speak up in these times. However, I do think there is wisdom in first taking stock of what is healthy and unhealthy for each of us. What I found in my last few days before I first deactivated my main account, was that click bait, blaring headlines, and well-meant but unwanted hand-patting were unhealthy.

Below is a capture I found that illustrates one aspect of why I stepped away.img_0506 It isn’t really that the news is “fake” so much as that it is distorted. News bloggers (I don’t like calling them writers; half of them can barely compose a proper sentence.) take a grain of truth, layer mud and dung on it, coat it in sugar syrup, then wrap it in some pretty paper and call it “news.” We gobble that shit up. Empty calories with a dose of disease.

That disease was taking too much out of me each time I confronted it. Each time my friends and family confronted it, I worried how much it took and continues to take out of them.

I also began to look back on last year with immense sadness. I lost two of the loves of my life, my Momma and Daddy. With each new loss (oh, so many) of my generational icons, it felt like the world was just slipping away and I too would be slipping away with it sooner rather than later. This is what some people don’t understand about getting older and watching your heroes die. If they are so lucky as to get older, they will perhaps understand that looking at such loss is also looking at one’s own mortality. It’s selfish, perhaps, but as natural a part of grief as the sadness.

My grief brought on the old familiar frustration of not having accomplished the things I’d wanted to accomplish in life and fear of not having time to accomplish them. I looked ahead into an ugly future that would possibly be even further truncated. I lost hope. People attempted to give me hope with platitudes and religion, neither of which are any comfort to a skeptic in grief.

It isn’t that I don’t believe in a Something. Most days. I simply don’t believe it will hold us up above the flames. I have been in the flames plenty of times. I have also had great joy. I have been exceptionally fortunate. I am thankful, for sure. I recognize all the good things I have in life. But the good does not preclude the pain, sadness, grief, anger, disappointment, outrage. I am allowed those. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that repressing my emotions is at the top of the “unhealthy” list for me. I will continue to wail and cry when I am in pain. I will smile and laugh when I am genuinely happy.

I have found what is healthy for me.  In no particular order: 1) Dealing with my emotions on my schedule, with tools I choose, not what others set out for me. 2) Cutting out ugly television. No more Criminal Minds, SVU, war movies, or any such shows/movies. I’m tired of real people hurting each other. Why should I watch fictional people hurt each other? 3)Time with my family. 4) Time with my dog. 5) Time at the page. 6) Time with nature. 7) Time in the rhythm of my breath. 8) Each Present Moment. It’s a concept that’s hard to fully appreciate after fifty-two years of looking behind me and feeling regret and looking ahead and anticipating failure. But, I appreciate it a little more each day. With that appreciation comes the realization that I don’t need hope, I simply need to be and do. I think number 8 wraps up numbers 1 through 7.

To continue to appreciate the present moment, I must continue to live in it. To live in it, I must also forego the diseased mud-dung candy on Facebook. I do hope that those of you who aren’t already following my “author’s” page  will do so. Someone (thank you, Carol) has kindly accepted the task of keeping a casual eye on that page for me. As before, my Messenger will remain available. Until I’ve reached a point that peace comes readily when I encounter the mud-dung candy, my personal page is going to go dormant in a couple of days. It’s simply to easy to react to links. This dormancy could be two weeks or two years. Who’s to say? Also, grandchildren override EVERYTHING and must occasionally be afforded a log-in.

This is not a plea for attention, nor am I isolating. I’ll be on Instagram, still. I’m just bowing out of this particular spiritual poison.

I’m closing with a video I posted some weeks ago. I play this song often which means I cry often. There is method in that madness. Each time, this song reminds me not so much of what I’ve lost (though there is that) but what is important to me. Some things “got lost along the way” in the last thirty-five years, give or take, as they do for a lot of us. I’ve determined, at fifty-two years old, the only way to get them back is to live in the present moment. From my heart to yours.

Porpoises and Purposes

You might have noticed (you probably didn’t, so I’m telling you) that I haven’t written an entry in quite some time. That isn’t strictly true. I’ve written multiple entries. I simply haven’t posted them.  Most were typical writerly whining: grief, new house, more grief, lots more new house, topics too topical to discuss (Politics! Yuck! Outrage! Yuck!) None of what I wrote seemed to belong here. Either it contributed to the bile that everyone else was spewing or it was self-serving schlock. (Well, it’s a blog; all of it is self-serving shlock.)

We have a new home. It’s small and sweet and near the beach and I’ve never prayed through hurricane season so much in my entire life. It’s a joy and I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of money.

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A pod of porpoises often comes close to shore near our new home. It seems, if you’ll forgive the anthropomorphism, that they are making fun of the fishermen on shore. At times one pod member performs something similar to a gymnast’s tumbling line, making its way through the trough between beach and sandbar with one leap after another. It’s not all fun and games, I’m sure. The pod is likely snacking in their high tide hijinks, mixing purpose with their play.

My purpose has finally shifted back to writing to a point.

The stressful and time-consuming process of setting up the house has slowed. I no longer spend my days looking for stuff for the house or ways to stuff the stuff we already have into the much smaller place.

The grief flutters in and out several times a day. Little reminders arise that I won’t see or hear my parents ever again. Momma and Dad come to me in my dreams in various ways—good and bad—that leave me near tears upon waking.

The national and international topical topics grind away on my sanity daily. Politics and its cohort Societal Entropy are driving me to wish I drank. I am attempting to cope with them by reading a book that stretches me considerably. Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy by Susan Neiman. It’s a bit like drinking vinegar to cure acid indigestion, walking on hot concrete to heal stone bruises, or hiring someone who bankrupted his own businesses to balance your books. Neiman poses these questions: “Can there be meaning in a world where innocents suffer? Can belief in divine power or human progress survive a cataloging of evil? Is evil profound or banal?”

Meanwhile, my news feed tells me about earthquakes killing hundreds in Italy, chlorine bombs dropping on innocents in Syria, and my fellow citizens arguing over how many flags one must wave to be a true patriot and whether one can sit during the national anthem. Nothing has changed in fifteen years. (“I’ll take ‘Banality for Beelzebub’ for $400, Alex.”)

Still, I have this idea, perhaps unrealistic, that at the end of this book, I’ll better understand a purpose for evil, unfairness, and complacency, or at least be better able to stomach it.

My best response might be to retreat to our little island home and watch for our pod of porpoises. I think they know the answer to the questions that book poses. Evil is just a function of being an animal on this planet and must be lived through (or not). Move on to the next shore. Play and dine in the waves.

There are wonderful days ahead in this sweet home by the beach. I do know that. Purpose and play, not just politics and banality. I am grateful for, if yet baffled by, my world.

How Saturdays would happen if the Big Blind Dog had language:

I awaken and get out of bed. My husband (hereafter known as Dad) is showering so I leave him in peace and head straight for the kitchen.

The kitchen is part of an open architecture, great room structure with a large portion dedicated to a den area. In the den sits a plump, oversized couch known as Dog’s Bed #1. As I cross the threshold from bedroom to great room, Big Blind Dog (BBD) lifts his blocky brown noggin, eases one front paw off the couch, then another and, bum still planted on the cushions, looks at me. Well, as much as he can be said to be looking. He is listening to find out who exactly has come through the magic portal.

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Who’s there?

“Good morning, baby boy,” I say, and close the door behind me.

“Oh. It’s you. I suppose you’re going to give me breakfast.” BBD heaves his wide load up, stretches with back legs tall on the couch, causing a whistling intake of air into his back end, and hops down onto the cold tile. “Do get on with it. It’s been two hours since my automatic feeder gave me kibble and I’m famished.”

“I love you, too,” I mumble and shuffle into the kitchen where I ladle one heaping tablespoon each of pumpkin and yogurt into his food bowl, but not quickly enough to prevent a puddle of dog drool on the floor.

“Where’s Dad?” he asks, as he licks yogurt off his nose.

“He’ll be out in a minute.”

“Not good enough. I must register a complaint.” BBD turns away from my loving pat on his back and bumps his pumpkin-yogurt mug against the wall on his way to the magic portal and where he begins to whimper. “Oh, Dad. Please come out. I’m so lonely. There’s no one here but the lunatic woman who curses loudly and often. Please. Please. Please.”

I start my coffee and ignore the doggy drama though it increases with the familiar sounds of my husband’s routine as it nears completion.

The portal swings open.

BBD leaps for joy, raising his rear end slightly off the ground with each bounce like an obese bunny. “Dad. Dad. I’ve missed you so. It’s been forever. I thought you were never coming out. Life without you is drab and empty. Let’s go to the kitchen where we can be happy and eat and dance and bark and drool together forever.”

Dad winds around drooling dog and bouncing dog and nibbling-at-the-fingers dog, the many-in-one dog. In the kitchen, BBD leads him to the biscuit jar. Dad does as he has been trained, picks out a large biscuit and gets to work in his front-room office.

I sit in the den with my coffee—or rather I try to.

BBD walks to the back door. “Mother. I must go out now. Let us not disturb Amazing Dad. He is far too busy and important. This is your job.”

Of course.

  1. I’m a writer who works* out of my home.
  2. I am always available to my dog, my husband, the Fed Ex driver, geckos that get stuck in the house. I try to be available to my grown daughter via telephone when she needs me.

With this availability, I didn’t expect my dog to be so much like a toddler and decide that I was just too danged available.

Every stay-at-home parent (SAHP) experiences it, that moment when the working parent comes home and the young child behaves as if they have been left ignored and unfed for ten hours by the hopeless and useless SAHP. But honestly, my dog?

Lately, it seems more and more the case, for BBD. Yes, I am more focused on writing now, but a lot of that focused time is on the couch, some part of BBD pressed up against me as I work. There are no fewer treats from the biscuit jar. Quite possibly there are more than when I was working on my MFA. There are no fewer walks. I pet and cuddle with him often, but I don’t crowd him. I am working on decreasing the cursing and if I do curse, I ask forgiveness with a treat. All it takes is a whispered profanity for him to act injured.

Yet, when Dad comes home from work, a new and grand world has opened up and life is wondrous again. While when I go out for morning errands and come back home, BBD herds me to the kitchen for a treat but that’s about the extent of it. No joyous bouncing or finger nibbling.

Don’t get me wrong. I know he loves me in his canine fashion. Much of the time, when his initial excitement over my husband’s arrival has ebbed, he comes to sit with me. Like the toddler who adores the working parent but relies on the SAHP for lunch and dinner, BBD knows who fills the food bowl every night and sits on the patio with him every morning.

This sounds like just a whinge about the dog not appreciating me as if he were capable of understanding the concept. Of course, I know he isn’t. I don’t know why a dog or a child attaches such importance to the arrival of the away parent v. the available parent unless it is some reptilian-brain fear (perhaps more to the fore in the dog) of the away parent not returning.

This is simply the statement of a truth. I sit at home and write all day (well, much of the day) several days a week. I don’t have a “real” job because my body doesn’t allow that but also because, truly, writing is what I have always wanted to do. I’ve been blessed to be able to do this. I am thankful for this. I admit, in my darker moments, when the dog brushes me off in favor of the Dad, when the kids don’t have time for us, when the husband has to work late, when the latest rejection hits the inbox, when I simply look at the page and see tripe instead of the quality writing of which I think I am capable, in those bleak moments I experience complete despair. What value do I have? Is it my purpose in life solely to let the dog out to do his business? God knows, it’s a job I want to do because I adore his fuzzy little snoot. But is it all I’m good for? Well, that and washing dishes and laundry?

I keep telling myself that the raft of emotions I am floating on day to day is a result of the sea of grief still surrounding me since Momma died. That my sense of worthlessness, my fears of the future, my anger with my loved ones, my disgust with the world as a whole, is all a result of those battering waves. That it is not rational.

Believing my precious dog loves my husband more than he loves me (or vice versa) is not rational. He’s just a dog, for God’s sake. But grief is not rational.

*as much as writing and not making money off of it can be called “work”