Category Archives: Broken Heart

Day of Rest

*sigh*

This picture is the last one I took at Lee Martinez Park, the place we walk almost every day, sometimes twice. On that morning, that walk, I had no idea that the next day would be the day Dexter died. I knew it was coming, we’d known for a year it was on its way, but on that particular morning it still felt unknown, uncertain, undetermined.

We haven’t been back to Lee Martinez since Thursday morning, the last time we walked there with Dexter, the walk we took knowing it would be our last. We’ve been to City Park, Big South Trail, and this morning we walked at Colorado State University, but we haven’t been back to “our park.” It still feels too hard, too sad.

We’ve managed other grief hurdles. Eric cleaned the living room floor yesterday. The raw wood in that room was covered with tiny spots where Dexter’s nose had dripped, (because of his cancer, he basically had a constant runny nose). I washed some of the blankets from his bed, along with his Little D baby, (I’d originally planned to have him cremated with Big D but in the end I couldn’t stand to lose them both). Eric brought home his ashes, and I put those on top of his mostly empty crate, along with his collar and a clay paw print.

memorialWhen I’m able to, I’ll open the ashes and put some in the urns I have that contain Obi’s ashes (one is on my writing desk and another on my meditation shrine) — I left room for Dexter so they’d be together again, they loved each other so much.

pawprints

I still haven’t been able to put clean sheets on our bed (the ones that are there were slept on by Dexter) and his toothbrush is still on the counter, and I’m still putting a tiny offering of food in his bowl every time I feed Sam. I know it’s silly, but I was devastated yesterday when I went out to do poop patrol in the backyard and couldn’t find any of Dexter’s. I was so sad that I’d never get to pick up anymore of his poop — that’s a crazy kind of love.

Eric has been dealing with his grief, in part, by cooking. Yesterday, he made three pies. We did a pie drive by to our friends’ house last night because even as much as I love pie, we couldn’t eat it all ourselves.

griefpie

Jamie Ridler’s mom, who also had cancer, passed the day after Dexter. Jamie invited me a few weeks ago to do a guest post in honor of her mom, the prompt being something her mom had recently said, “It’s not about being tough, it’s about being tender.” I have so much to say about that, will be finishing up my post and sending it to sweet Jamie later today. These losses (something we all face as we live and love), this prompt, has me thinking about how important it is that we have confidence in our basic goodness, the essential wisdom and compassion and power that rests in each of us, that we practice self-compassion and keep our hearts open, knowing that life is beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible.

In this audio recording, Pema Chödrön talks about basic goodness. She tells a story about burnt cookies and a fox that is such a great metaphor for how we can approach difficulty — we can allow ourselves to become hard, closed off, or we can stay open to reality, to be present for whatever might arise. Yes this means we will be vulnerable, we’ll get hurt, but we will also be amazed, healed.

My heart is broken right now. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. But there is so much worth showing up for. Such as:

A chance to get away. We hadn’t wanted to do this when Dexter was still here, were worried about being too far away from a vet if something happened. But now, sometime soon, the three of us are going to rent a cabin in the mountains and spend some time together in the green and the quiet.

Pie. Especially the ones made by my person, who is as sad as me, who knows just how I feel, just what I’m missing, who will talk all day about what we’ve lost and never get tired of it, who wants to do whatever he can to make me feel better.

peachpie

Friends, near and far, sending us love and light. So many have reached out to me, offering such kindness, making this heavy thing so much easier to hold.

The sweet animal bodies that are still here, that long for love and need care. It’s Sam’s turn to become my favorite, and when we are all ready, there will be another dog.

sam

Laughter. Last night, on the way to our friends’ house to deliver the pie, Eric suggested that they expected this happy gift of pie, so it would be funny if when they opened the door, we gave them a pie in the face instead. It was such a ridiculous and awful idea we laughed the rest of the way to their house. It felt good.

Brilliant nature — blooms and fruit and animals and trees and landscapes and sky and deep water and weather.

Practice. Yoga, meditation, writing, and dog — this regular attention, showing up and being open to whatever arises, moving in ways old and new, creativity and discovery, is medicine.

Music. I heard this song for the first time yesterday, and am totally in love.

because nothing lasts forever
some things aren’t meant to be
but you’ll never find the answers
until you set your old heart free

I’m so sad, kind and gentle reader, but at the same time I am so in love with my little life, my heart so full of every last wonderful thing that sometimes it feels like it will explode.

Let Go and Begin (Again)

Not so long ago, I finally figured out where my meditation practice fit in my daily routine, where it belonged. I get up at 4:30 am, feed my dogs, write my morning pages, check email and facebook and my blog, then either go to yoga class or walk the dogs. When I get back home, I shower, eat breakfast, and then, then is when I meditate.

Then is when I should meditate, when I am supposed to, when I plan to sit, and for awhile, it was working. I felt I had finally settled there. Then Dexter was diagnosed with a fatal cancer. Or, rather I should say after about a month of back and forth, trial and error, and one bloody scare where he spent the night at the emergency vet, it was determined that the most likely explanation was a nasal tumor. We would lose our second dog in a row to a treatable but ultimately incurable cancer.

This time, with this dog, we determined the right approach was palliative care, the least disruptive and least harmful option. Rather than grasping, hoping for more time, we accept that Dexter is dying and are committed to doing what we can in the time we have left to keep him comfortable and allow him the best quality of life–even if it will be short. Dexter doesn’t have a bucket list, doesn’t have anything that he’d hoped to accomplish in his life that is left undone. He has eaten the treats, played with the toys and other dogs, taken the walks, and loved the humans. This is all he wished for, everything he wanted. Attempting extreme measures to get more time would be about us, our needs, and that’s not right, not now and not for this dog.

This means we very literally are taking things one day at a time. If he’s had a good day, we agree to go together into the next. And so far the only way his experience has changed is a sometimes stuffy, snotty, slightly bloody nose and sneezing, taking a daily dose of an anti-inflammatory (which as far as he knows is just “I get more treats and attention than before” since each dose is wrapped in something yummy and followed by a “good boy!”), and no more 8-10 mile hike/runs–which to be honest is completely heartbreaking, but I think about it like he’s gotten too old for them, a reality we would have faced it he’d lived to be too old, an option I’d prepared myself for and expected.

Because I need to both pay closer attention to Dexter and my own grief surrounding this new reality, I am distracted, weepy, raw and tired. If I wake up during the night, which I do, it’s hard to get back to sleep, so I’m not getting enough rest. I am doing what has to get done, but almost everything else has been put on hold so I can focus on this change, this caretaking and letting go.

And while meditation is something that would help me in this, I find myself avoiding it, forgetting or even refusing. On the surface, it’s that I don’t have time and when I do, I’m too tired. Underneath, I am reluctant to face the full force of my grief, to sit with my fear and panic, to stay with the uncertainty and impermanence. And it’s easy under stress to slip back into old habits, smashing myself to bits, pushing and doing rather than being gentle and caring for myself. Under these circumstances, I’m finding it hard to get myself to my cushion.

And yet, I knew coming here and telling you, confessing, coming clean, would allow me to forgive myself, to soften and be gentle, to commit to trying again. This morning, after walking the dogs, I meditated. First I listened to Susan Piver, my virtual meditation instructor and friend, give a short talk about meditation and creativity, in which she reminded us (Open Heart Project Practitioners) that all you have to do is start–drop everything, let go, and begin. Even in the midst of meditation practice, if you notice you’ve drifted off into story or daydreams and fantasy, if you find yourself caught up in thoughts or carried away by strong emotions, simply notice and come back to the breath, return your focus to the technique and begin again.

A magic thing happened during my practice this morning. Dexter had been next to me on the floor, playing with his Little D, and when I adjusted myself for practice, he got up on the futon next to my cushion. As I meditated, he rested, and something about his gray dapple against the purple, the morning light streaming in the window over his head, the way he was posed–I was dropped directly into the present moment, a place where he was his most beautiful, a space where we were present and together–a perfect moment. Then he heard a garbage truck and got down to investigate. When his front paws hit the floor at the same time as a breath in/half bark out, he snorted, gagged a bit, a symptom of the tumor, and then he was gone.

I was alone on my meditation cushion, focused on my breath. His absence, the shadow of his presence, was so immediate and tangible, even though his physical presence had gone. In those three or so minutes, our entire relationship played out–our beautiful togetherness, each authentically ourselves and present, followed by a moment of his illness, and then his departure met by my loss, sadness. Through it all ran the thread of my practice, being distracted but noticing and coming back. It was a profound reminder of the way life is, the way love goes, and that no matter what, you can always start again.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” ~Mary Anne Radmacher

Three Truths and One Wish

1. Truth: Letting go of something you love is difficult, one of the hardest things. But, I will survive it. I have done this before, watched someone I love die, been separated even though the thing we both wanted the most was to stay together always, and I am still alive, even without them, even with no guarantee I will ever see them again, heart broken but still bound, tethered to an invisible but tangible love.

2. Truth: I can’t change the facts, but I determine how I respond. It’s staying dark later in the mornings now, that’s a fact of nature. This morning, so dark that I’d need to wear a headlamp for our walk, I was feeling grumpy, resistant, wishing away the dark. And yet, a few blocks from our house I looked up at the still dark night morning sky and saw stars. I thought about how on the way back, I’d see the sunrise, how I was taking this walk with two of my dogs. Instead of being cranky that it was dark and cold and early, things I can’t change, I noticed. I felt gratitude, thankful for the grace of one more morning to be awake and alive and together. I can’t alter nature, can’t keep Dexter from dying no matter what I do or how I feel about it, so instead of resisting or wishing things were different, I choose to open my heart to all of it, to be fully present and alive, wakeful and wise and compassionate.

3. Truth: It is okay. As I am surviving this loss, as it washes over me, passes through me, there will be messy moments. I will feel panic and cry in public. I will get angry and fall into despair. I will blame and accuse and rant and regret. I will wish and hope for things to be different. I will vow to never love again. I will hold my grief like it were a physical thing, with warm breath and sharp teeth. I will numb out, sleep and eat too much, say I’m okay, insist on it when I am anything but alright. This is the way love goes, the way the physical form where we focus our love leaves us. There is nothing to be done but to surrender, to be wounded. Eventually there will be another dog, and I’ll do the same thing again–open my heart knowing full well it will be broken. This is the way love goes. It is what it is, and this is workable.

One wish: My single wish underneath all my other wishes right now is that Dexter has an easy death. But, I also wish that those of us in this process of letting go feel some peace, some relief, and have faith in our innate wisdom and kindness and strength, being certain that we’ll know what to do and that whatever arises, it’s all workable.

When Things Get Weird

May the grace of god be with you always in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a part of something beautiful.
~Alexi Murdoch

The past few days have been weird. It started yesterday morning when I got to the gym for my yoga class–6:30 am and still dark out. There were police cars blocking off the road, and an ambulance was just pulling away. Apparently, a homeless man had been hit by a train. He was a known drinker, and he may have passed out or fell on the tracks, (sad postscript: his death has been ruled a suicide). I only mention his homelessness because that street is between a men’s shelter and a city park where many homeless people hang out during the day, and it’s not the first time there have been police and paramedics there, in fact it’s quite common. There are lots of fights and suffering and mess there, people without any where else to go.

The ambulance left without a passenger because it was a scene to be investigated, not a rescue. After yoga, people inside the gym and out on the sidewalk were trying to get a better look. The police had put up temporary barriers, but they weren’t hiding much, and if you looked just right, without trying very hard, you could see everything. I accidentally caught a glimpse of one tennis shoe and looked away. It’s the third homeless person to die in that area, in full view of the gym, in the past as many years. It always throws a shadow over the space, over the rest of the day, (as it should). Every time I hear a train whistle, sadness washes over me. It’s a pitiful sound anyway, but this death, lonely and needless and brutal, now adds to the melancholy.

May the grace of god be with you always in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a part of something beautiful.

I left work a little early because the sky was turning dark and getting noisy, and I knew that big thunderstorms were predicted. Eric had emailed that he was taking the dogs to Lory State Park (there was a break in the weather midday), which I would have argued with because of the storms in the forecast, but he was already gone by the time I knew. I expected him to be back when I got home, but I pulled up to my house, with its empty driveway, just as the rain started.

And then, it started to pour, thunder and lightning, and eventually hail. The rain was coming down so fast it was spilling over the edges of the gutters, the downspouts gushing water and leaves. At one point, the thunder sounded for at least five minutes straight. The streets started to flood, and still no Eric. I did every stupid, mindless chore I could think of to distract myself–sorted, folded, and put away laundry, straightened up, swept, made the bed. All I could think of was him and the dogs stuck up in the park somewhere, exposed, Dexter unable to handle the downpour so reverse sneezing, nose bleeding, Eric struck by lightning, Sam frantic and lost–every awful scenario I could think of. Just as I was thinking “should I take someone with me or just drive up there by myself and try to find them?”, Eric called and said he was parked under a tree not far from the house, had to pull over because it was raining so hard he couldn’t see, that he’d be home in just a few minutes. The storm hadn’t hit up at the park, they’d only gotten a little rained on towards the end of their hike, and he was surprised how bad it was in town.

I was so happy to see them. To have everyone home and safe. Once the rain stopped, I looked outside, and there was a double rainbow.

May the grace of god be with you always in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a part of something beautiful.

Eric had to leave at 5 am this morning to drive to Pueblo for a conference. It was going to be a long day for me until he got back home, taking care of the dogs, working, teaching. On our walk this morning, in the darkest dark, there were people on the porch of a house down the road making weird sounds, ones that I at first thought were an animal. I thought they were fighting, then I thought maybe they were doing something nicer (and naughtier), but once we got close enough, I realized that one was really heavy, using a cane and possibly hurt, and the other was trying to get her in the front door, but having trouble. I couldn’t help because I had the dogs, but something about it stayed with me, made me think about all the private suffering that goes on in the dark, things we never know about, struggles and accidents we may never see. I worried for the thousandth time about Eric being on the road for three hours, wished and prayed that he’d make it there safe, make it home safe, in the same moment knowing so many others wouldn’t.

Later in the morning, I noticed that Dexter had another hot spot, that he’d licked a patch on his leg raw. For four years in a row, this time of year, he’s done the same, but last year he didn’t. Last year was the year he started to sneeze instead, and now there’s the maybe might be probably but we don’t know for sure fatal nasal tumor. Something about the hot spot made me worry, but was also oddly comforting–this is what he does every year, this time of year, and he is doing it again–the same routine, one more year. And then Sam came into the kitchen, limping, holding up his right foot, hurt. Seriously?

But later, both dogs were fine, lying in the grass, the warm sun, relaxing. All morning, I kept thinking, “This too shall pass.” All of it–life, time, worry, panic, joy, all of it arising one moment and dissolving the next.

Later, in my office before I went to teach, I felt raw and sad and tired. I closed the door and stood in mountain pose facing my wall of windows. On the other side of the glass was a tree that had turned bright gold in the past week, behind that was fluffy white clouds and blue sky, and below, CSU people walking and talking and laughing and suffering. In the background played Alexi Murdoch’s song Something Beautiful. I stood still, but strong, broken but whole, letting the tears roll down my face, holding my heart open.

I don’t know what any of this means. I want to think that it means something, like maybe I am a part of something beautiful.

May the grace of god be with you always in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a part of something beautiful.

An open love letter to Andrea Scher

Photo by Mara

I’ll admit, kind and gentle reader, I am afraid to write this post. I have avoided it for months, while at the same time silently writing and rewriting it in my heart, longing to say it out loud, to tell her. But what do you say to someone who has given you so much, altered your experience so completely? How can you ever possibly thank them? See…I’m right to be afraid, because every time I think about it, about how much I adore her and how grateful I am, I start to cry (now, for example).

Andrea Scher has been the sun at the center of a universe of amazement and goodness, the shiny middle that all the other bright and precious things orbit around.

self-portrait by andrea scher

Here is just a short list of what she’s given me, what she’s introduced me to: Boho Girl, Susannah Conway, Kelly Rae Roberts, Brene’ Brown (!!!), Jen Lemen, Flora Bowley and the wonder of painting, Laurie Wagner, Rachel Cole, Mondo Beyondo thinking, and the joy of photography.

I’ve taken two of Andrea’s classes, Mondo Beyondo (which she taught with Jen Lemen) and Superhero Photo, and on Monday, June 18th, I’ll be starting Mondo Beyondo Dream Lab.

Horse or Dog?

horse or dog? picture I took of sam during superhero photo

Superhero Photo altered how I saw the world. I got down on the ground, climbed on chairs and tables, went out in all colors and weights of light, looked close and far away, and went on treasure hunts. I took some of the most magical pictures I ever had, and I haven’t stopped taking them.

Mondo Beyondo fundamentally shifted the way I approached my life, the way I saw myself. In this post, (which Andrea wrote when she first introduced the course in 2009), she describes the concept of a Mondo Beyondo list, what that approach looks like and means. She says,

I had been making these kinds of lists for years but had never had a name for it, or ever formalized my mental list by writing it down. My Mondo Beyondo. I liked the sound of it. I also loved the idea of stretching yourself into this world of the outrageous. If your imagination could reach a bit farther with this exercise, then you were giving yourself a powerful gift: expanding your idea of what is possible.

image by jen gray

Here’s the list of what I’ve done because of Andrea Scher, things I can cross off my Mondo Beyondo List:

  1. Started writing this blog
  2. Bought a ticket to World Domination Summit (WDS, just a few weeks away!)
  3. Took a few classes with Susannah Conway, got a signed copy of her book (sent by her!), am taking a writing workshop with her at WDS, and attending an event on her book tour at Kelly Rae Robert’s studio (!)
  4. Met Brene’ Brown (holy crap, I even talked to her!), took a two-day workshop with her
  5. Signed up to take a yoga class with Marianne Elliott at WDS
  6. Went to a Fearless Creativity writing and meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center with Susan Piver (oh how I adore that woman!)
  7. Hosted a Well-Fed Woman Mini Retreatshop led by Rachel Cole
  8. Started writing a book

Maybe for some people, this list wouldn’t seem that astonishing, but we are talking about me here: INFJ, introvert, highly sensitive person who suffered from depression, anxiety, and writer’s block for 25+ years, (maybe longer?). This list is huge, ginormous, crazy wild amazing.

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

I found Andrea Scher’s blog, Superhero Journal, at a time when I was so brokenhearted, such a mess, so stuck, so tired. I didn’t know how to keep going, where to even start. I was searching, my view clouded by grief, knew that I had abandoned myself and my dreams, but didn’t know how to find my way back.

The person I am today: writer, artist, warrior, brave, open-hearted, funny, strong, joyful, sane, is possible in part because of Andrea Scher. She invited me to expand my idea of what was possible. She encouraged me, was kind and honest. She was constantly admitting the things that are hard and messy, while still pointing out what’s beautiful and precious. She reminds me of this quote from Muriel Rukeyser, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Split open, and through the cracks, the light would get in (or maybe get out?).

Thank you, Andrea. I adore you and am so grateful for your work, your truth and your light, which have been of such great benefit to me as I stumble along.

Day of Rest: I’m Wide Awake

the sky over my backyard

You may have heard already, but the wilderness northwest of Fort Collins is burning again, 14,000 acres so far, 0% contained, structures burnt, people and animals evacuated from their homes. It started as 2 acres, quickly grew to 200-300, then 5000, and 8000 by the time we went to bed, growing to 14,000 during the night. Just last week, because of other wildfires, the Poudre River ran black with soot and smelled burnt. Today, the sky is brown and there is ash falling. All day, I have felt so sad.

While I was out watering, after our morning walk, I found this Dragonfly clinging to one of my dead roses. They don’t normally stay still for as long as it did, so something must have been wrong, but it was so amazing, the blue and brown, the shimmer and wingspan. And then, on one of my newly blooming gifted plants, a fat bumblebee, similarly still, but beautiful. I wondered if they were somehow dazed by the smoke from the fire.

You know how I get stuck on a song sometimes? Last week it was I Won’t Give Up by Jason Mraz. This weekend it’s been Wide Awake by Katy Perry. I like her a lot, and I won’t apologize for it–just as I adore Pink and Kelly Clarkson, and refuse to feel any shame for it. In plenty of other ways, I have sophisticated musical taste, but there are some songs, some artists that I love without reason or justification–they are simply honest, uncomplicated, real, and I feel their work on the level of my guts, in the pit of my stomach.

When I listen to Wide Awake, I think about how Katy believed in something and it turned out to be wrong, and how bad that feels. You put your faith and energy and love into a situation, and it ends up breaking your heart.

That’s sad, but the grief that follows the mistake, the misstep, the wrong move, the misunderstanding can be precious, can gift you with a clarity impossible through other means. You are hurt, broken, but suddenly wide awake. You know how things are, who you are, and you find you are stronger than you thought, and that you are able to let go of the dream, the promise, the future and the past, the pain, the blame, the guilt, you are able to let go of all of it.

Susan Piver, in her book The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, writes “The heart that is broken has been broken open.” My experience shows this to be true, that the brokenness makes the cracks that let the light in, and being broken, your heart becomes tender and soft in a way it wasn’t before. You become a warrior with a broken heart, the gentlest and most powerful. You are wide awake.

P.S. Kind and gentle reader, if you are like me and get dizzy or carsick easily, don’t try to watch this video. Things are moving too fast, so maybe just listen instead.