Tag Archives: grief

Moon Jelly Tide

A few days ago, we walked the beach on a cool, cloudy day. Moon jellies lay splattered about every fifty yards: flat, clear, mostly-harmless blobs in the sand.

Spring is approaching and the tides are bringing in spring things. Warm days lie ahead with increasing numbers of visitors appearing on the beach on weekends while weekdays remain quiet. Birds of prey are scooping up fish and field critters as the chills of winter fade and breeding season ramps up. Brown Pelicans are gathering again, drifting in from Central and South America to form ever-larger squadrons along our spit of land called Follet’s Island.

The wind is in its March wilding, blowing the house into shivers and rumbles. Day to day, the Texas coast simply can’t decide what season to express: Forties one day, eighties the next, sixties yet another.

Life feels upended.

Life is revealing its rough edges as harsh and unpredictable days often keep me from wandering the island while howling, ghostly nights keep me awake with the racing thoughts of my history, my future, and this precarious, ever-present grief.

Springtime. Beach houses. Dogs. New cars. Jewelry. None of these things patches a hole in a grieving heart or solves a personal problem. One simply feels a moment of appreciation of a new bauble, or a few months of joy in the glow of new adventures. In time, the newness becomes the reality of life the way it always was and one returns to routine. The glow gives way to the same internal and external battles.

Certainly, the beauty of the beach and its inextricable partner, the sea, is as soothing as anything can be. Stand at the shore on any given day—be it a calm day with a shore break so gentle that the sand seems to whisper in surprise when a wave falls softly on it, or a raucous, red-flag washing-machine before a squall hits—and one can find awe-inspiring peace.

Can. In theory.

Some days, clearing the mind and reaching over the water for that peace is like reaching across the sky to grasp the moon. Some days, life is upended and you are upended with it and all you can do is teeter at the water’s edge and listen to the whispers or the raucousness and hope to be set upright again.

On those days, I often don’t listen to the sea at all. I put in earbuds and listen instead to music made by landlocked humans. My mind’s eye sees things that aren’t in those restless waters: memories, dreams, past and current hurts. Some would say that is one of the greater of my many flaws. I am not letting the sea heal me like I should but am running from that healing much as I have run from my Faith in the last several years. In the end, I am little more than the jellyfish, lying on the beach, deflated and dying, having traded the healing music of the sea for the music of the unforgiving land.

But, that might just be okay, for now. Processing only what I can process on this Moon Jelly tide might be all that should be required of me right now.

Loose Ends: Dangling

I let the day go by without comment.  January 13th — the first anniversary of the day our Big Dog left us. I couldn’t bear to note it or comment. I’d been sick (Christmas flu leftover cough) and various levels of grief were simply too much to tolerate. His picture showed up in my social media feed several times that week. I reposted some of them.

The fourth anniversary of my father’s death was January 12th. The fifth anniversary of my mother’s death is January 29th. June’s anniversary of my sister’s* death will leap out on a Texas summer day and throw its cloud over everything.

Dominoes falling in my heart.

My heart was beaten and bruised with the losses of my parents. My heart was absolutely shattered when Big Dog died. I have never recovered. I keep waiting. We have adopted a new dog and I love the furry monster, but I feel the loss of Big Dog daily.

I have struggled with this constantly; why this sticks in my heart like some sort of parasite chewing away until I have so little to give anymore. I have tried to pull it out by loving Sammy the Mutt as much as I can. I spend a great deal of time with him. I hug and kiss him (he loves it, he’s weird that way), let him sleep on the bed with me when I’m writing, and take him for long walks. When I’m well, I run him alongside my bicycle. Love and spoil him as I do, my heart aches every time I see the large box of ashes on my dresser. Some days, a moment of complete silence in the house without BD snoring next to me is a moment gone dead.

Big Dog the last summer of his life.

Articles on the internet about grief are, by and large, about the loss of our human loved ones. I can’t, for even a moment, imagine the loss of a devoted spouse or a child, nor do I want to. I know that, in the long run, the loss of a pet is not the same. But bear with me, for this loss is still no small loss.

I have avoided this blog entry. It is difficult. It is self-centered. It is self-pitying and self-indulgent.

It is time.

The few articles I’ve seen about the loss of a pet focus on the idea that we miss our pets because of the love they devote to us and how innocent and good they are. The words “unconditional love” are thrown around.

I don’t, honestly, believe in anything called “unconditional love.” My dogs have all, to varying degrees, had conditions: food, water, medical care, attention.

And this is where I think a lot of these articles fail to really understand or address at least one major reason why this loss of a pet is so profound: This little creature we have spent every blooming day feeding, watering, giving treats, loving, walking, seeing to their toilet habits, bathing, doctoring, training, playing with, sleeping with, framing our day around, has died.

This constant presence in our lives, like one of our limbs, is just gone.

Suddenly we are at loose ends.

My days** with Big Dog were completely structured around his needs. I got up at a certain time to give him his meds. I took him up and down in a lift at all hours of the day (we live in a beach house) because his hips were failing. If the lift failed or he simply insisted, we took the stairs and I held onto his harness to take the weight off his hind end. He always handled his blindness well, but in his last months he lost his hearing and suddenly he was getting lost in his own house. Now I was having to help him find his way around the house. Of course, I took him to the vet regularly to monitor his failing heart. Come nighttime, there was the last round of medication for the day, diapering (one of the drugs was a diuretic), and finally settling in. At least, until a 4 a.m. wake-up because he didn’t like using his diaper. Down we’d go in the lift in freezing January or rainy March or mosquito July. He’d shuffle into the grass while I kept my eyes open for coyotes and back up we’d go. We went nowhere without first considering the impact on Big Dog.

The point of all this is not to tell you what a great dog mom I was. I had many failings: missing medication doses, losing my temper at silly stuff and scaring him, forgetting to fill his feeder. The point is, every day was Big Dog day. Every day revolved around this furry little being that had the mind and utter dependence of a toddler. He could not have survived without us.

By extension, I became completely dependent on him. He became my reason for living. My husband can live without me. My child is grown and can survive without me. (technically, I’m not talking emotions, here). There was no one in my life that couldn’t keep moving on without me. Sammy, this big, Shepherd-mix goof sleeping next to me at this moment, is self-sufficient and could survive without me and has done so before.

SammyRoo. Mr. Independent.

Big Dog needed me absolutely. My husband had all the tools to care for him but not the time and BD would not allow a stranger to care for him.

And he’s gone.

Being needed may be the most basic human requirement for existence. Many suicidal people can often justify leaving this world by saying the words I implied above: the people I love will be okay without me. I can go.

When Big Dog died, I felt I’d lost purpose. I still do.

I spend a lot of days at loose ends.

This January 13th my head was filled with the stress of upcoming doctor appointments for both my husband and me, but I’m thankful for those things because I’d probably have simply dangled off those loose ends until I couldn’t breathe. Now I just have to breathe and look toward the next domino on January 29th.

*Elise was my sister-in-law but she was my sister in my heart.

**My husband did this many times as well. As I said, this is a self-indulgent post because I was the primary caretaker.

Busyhead: Anxiety as a symptom of grief

My head is full of bees. Thoughts hum constantly and without direction.

Grief has been the strangest animal for me. Perhaps, in part, because what I am experiencing is a sort of “grief from a distance,” which has a character neither easier nor harder than any other grief, simply different. I lost both my parents after several years of living apart from them and seeing them only once or twice a year. I lost my much-loved sister-in-law who lived in the same general area as my parents, so was also not regularly in her presence.

My Big Dog, he was a daily, all-day presence and utterly dependent on me. With his ashes on my dresser, he remains a daily, all-day presence. I still feel his silken ear on my lap every day.

I am still processing all these losses but I think, some days, I’m getting a handle on my grief. I may think, “oh, I don’t think of Momma as much anymore, perhaps I’m healing” or “I cry less when I see pictures of Big Dog or notices his ashes.”

Then suddenly a day comes that I’m having panic attacks and feeling indescribably lonely and lost and I can’t understand why. I look at my life and it is all well and good. I am healthy and loved and fed and clothed. I lack for nothing really. But something gnaws at me until I can barely breathe and I look for comfort and peace in every corner of my world and fail to find it.

And one morning as I am sifting through the confusion and anxiety I stumble on the answer—I am still grieving .

And in this grief, I have a new enemy—Isolation. No one can grieve with me. Grief, like death, is a lonesome event. It does little good to have someone say, “Yes, I feel that way, too.”

And in this isolation, I find only more panic. Panic itself is isolating and a sort of cycle of terror sets in that can’t be interrupted by simple measures.

I have taken up bicycling.

I focus on training the new dog.

I listen to music as if it is a hard drug to which I am heavily addicted.

I stay away from television as much as possible as it seems to increase the anxiety.

I clean a lot. (Yay! Says the husband)

I have said goodbye too many times the last several years.

I’ll do it again before I get to heal because, well, you never really heal. I know it can’t be helped. It’s part of getting older. I will still rail against it.

I disappear into my head with the bees. I don’t know if the bees will ever leave.

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

biscornu1_2

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.

av-4

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).

lomb

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.

bddeck2

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.

lost