Category Archives: Life

#augustbreak2013 Day 19

White

dexterspawprintThe pawprint, the box and the ashes inside, all white. I have two full sets of these, one for Dexter and one for Obi, both lost to fatal cancers, treatable but ultimately incurable. Over the past four years, two of them have been spent living with, loving, and letting go of a terminally ill loved one. It’s been hard, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to love that much, to hurt that much. And yet, to do so, to open my heart to them, love them so big even though I knew they would ultimately leave me, break my heart, to be there as a witness when they did, is a precious thing, a horrible, terrible, brutal, tender, beautiful thing.

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.

Day of Rest

I went to the Farmer’s Market yesterday morning right when they opened to get strawberries from Garden Sweet, to be sure I got there before Amy ran out. They are so precious in Colorado, there are so few and the season so short, that we typically don’t waste them in a pie or jam, but rather eat them as they are, four boxes easily gone by the end of the day. We planted a small patch of our own strawberries this year, but they got too hot and didn’t all survive, and even if they did, it would be a few years before we’d produce enough ourselves to come even close to satisfying our hunger.

Strawberries are so much more than a fruit. For me, they embody my childhood, my home, where I came from, The Farm, Oregon, summertime. Growing up in the Willamette Valley, one of the first paid jobs a girl could get besides babysitting was picking strawberries. I don’t remember much about it, other than the early morning bus ride to the field, the wet bushes and muddy rows that would eventually dry out and warm up in the heat of the sun, getting paid by the flat, how at the end of the day you were sore and tired from squatting and bending and kneeling and reaching, crawling up and down the rows, and your fingers were stained with green and dirt and strawberry juice. I was allowed to use the money I earned for just about anything I wanted, and if I remember correctly (which I’ve been accused of not doing), the Sticky Fingers denim painter pants that were my uniform in the 6th grade were paid for with strawberry money.

strawberriesfarmersmarket

I first learned to pick strawberries in a field on my grandparents’ farm, The Farm. When I was only about 5 or 6, my cousin Christie and I would pick the same row, into the same basket, and when we had a certain amount, we were allowed to quit early, to go swimming in the pond or exploring in the woods. Grandpa always let us get away with not picking quite as much as we were supposed to, and with eating almost as much as we picked.

In Oregon in the summer, the most common restaurant dessert options are strawberry shortcake or marionberry cobbler. The closest I can get to marionberries in Colorado are frozen boysenberries (from Oregon) or something called a “Marion Blackberry” which are not marionberries at all. When I was growing up, I took for granted that the abundance of fruit was just what summer was like, anywhere. We had a Royal Anne cherry tree in our backyard, could pick and eat as many as we wanted, and my mom would can what we couldn’t eat fresh — we had so many it was possible to get sick of them. Now, I pay sometimes up to 6-8 dollars a pound, desperate for that remembered sweetness, and they are never as good. My Aunt Karen has so many marionberries that most years she is begging people to come pick them, to help her get rid of them.

blackberrybabies

I have newer berry memories too, from our time spend at Waldport, on the Oregon Coast. Mo’s Seafood has the best marionberry cobbler. The first summer we went, when Obi was only five months old, he found a patch of wild ones on our morning walk, picked and ate them all. We are usually there during berry season and there are three different farmer’s markets within driving distance three days a week, the berries are cheap, plentiful, and so delicious, and we are almost never without.

One year ago today, we were arriving at “our house,” beginning a month long stay. Not knowing when I can make the trip again (I’m most likely not leaving Colorado until Dexter is gone), makes me feel a particular kind of homesick. And yet, Eric and I have made a home here. We planted our own strawberry plants this year and yesterday, with some of the berries I got at the farmer’s market, Eric made me a strawberry pie, a dessert that comes from his family, has now become our tradition during berry season. I am content, happy here, in love with our little home and the place we live, and still, even though I am happily home, I am utterly homesick at the same time.

strawberrypie

This is how life is. A strawberry isn’t just a fruit, and yet in order to truly be content with life, we must put all our attention on it when we eat a strawberry, focus only on its essential strawberry nature, let go of the story we have to tell ourselves about it, and in this way we can truly taste it, fully experience its sweetness and its impermanence, as in the story Pema Chödrön shares,

There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.

Today, I am delighting in the preciousness. It seems like a good way to spend the day, to spend a life.

Everything Changes

Another Wednesday without a wishcast prompt. And yet, I’m feeling a powerful need to make wishes — big wishes, important wishes, wishes for healing and peace.

I wish good health and healing for Jamie’s mom. I wish for strength, peace, and comfort for Jamie and anyone else loving and supporting her mom right now.

I wish for Dexter not to suffer, (he was at the emergency vet three weeks ago, his nose has been bleeding more that usual — whatever “usual” even means when cancer is involved — and on Saturday, he sprained his leg — a different one, not the one he’s already in physical therapy for). I also continue to wish that he have an easy death, whenever that might come.

I wish good luck, a safe trip and a workable outcome for my friend Ann. Today she’s making another visit to a doctor in Boston who might have a new treatment option for her cancer. No matter what happens, I wish her and her partner ease, comfort, and clarity.

I wish comfort for my friend Susan, my dear friend Kelly‘s mom. This past week had to have been so rough for her, with Mother’s Day and the three year anniversary of Kelly’s passing just days apart — but I also know that the arrival of a new granddaughter is offering so much joy. I wish for comfort for all of us who love Kelly and still feel so sad, miss her so much, who will forever carry that ache.

So many are suffering. It can feel overwhelming sometimes. But just when I start to feel like it’s all too much, someone does or says or makes or shares something so beautiful, that I remember: life is tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal — keep your heart open.

Today, it was a post on Hopeful World. It included beautiful words from Jen Lemen, who has been the healing balm for my own suffering so many times I’ve stopped counting. The video in the post is one she’d shared with me back in September, at a moment when it was just what I needed, and my response to it was just what she needed, but I was sworn to secrecy. I’ve been waiting patiently for her to share it with the world, so I could share it with you, and today is the day.

Everything changes. And when we can remember that during the low times, our hearts can fill with hope. And when we can tell each other this in the good times, our hearts can fill with gratitude. No matter what, we can be gentle, we can be kind. And we can remember, that even in this, we are never, ever alone. ~Jen Lemen

Day of Rest

dexterinstagram

Today has not been a restful one for me. Dexter has had a wonky belly for a few days and his nose has been bleeding more than usual. This morning, he refused to eat, wouldn’t even take his favorite treats, so I took him to the emergency vet. They have him now, giving him iv fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea medication. I just got back from a short visit with him, checking on the blood work results (high white cell blood count which indicates a bacterial infection), giving him some love, and dropping off his Little D to hang out with him. The vet said if he stays stable, can eat some dinner later and keep it down, we’ll be able to bring him home tonight. This is such good news, and for now we’ll concentrate on that.

bigdlittled04

Everyone here is feeling tender.  Even Sam seems a little sad. We know Dexter will be back with us, but the fact that our time together overall is so limited lingers, and makes this time apart difficult. We are all bumping up against what it’s going to be like to be a family of three, and it hurts. And yet, our guiding intention remains that Dexter doesn’t suffer, that his death be easy–even if that means we get his belly feeling better only to need to make a bigger decision because of his nose. The good bad news is that how much we love them is equal to how much we hurt for them, how much we’ll miss them, how sad we are to be separated. It’s like Susan Piver said at our retreat last week, “no matter what, every relationship ends badly.”

dexterkiss

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~Mary Oliver

Just One More Minute

bed

I slept in this morning. I typically get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning, weekdays and weekends, but there are some mornings when I just don’t want to get up, and I don’t have to, so I sleep in. All I have to do is say to Eric, “I’m staying in,” and he turns off the light, hustles the dogs out, takes care of their breakfast and Dexter’s medicine for me. When they are done eating, Sam (the baby of the family, but maybe the laziest of us all) comes back and gets in with me. This, the comfort of a dog sleeping next to me, makes it even easier to drift back to sleep, to stay in.

From time to time I wake up, always thinking to myself “just a few more minutes.” It’s so cozy and nice, and I don’t really have anywhere else I have to be right now. This “just a few more minutes” typically becomes at least two extra hours of sleep. On days like this, I’ll tease Eric if he takes a nap, saying I already took mine.

After I got up, I was thinking about this “just a few more minutes.” I was thinking about all the other places this manifests. I remember every kid I’ve ever known begging for a few more minutes of play, just one more half hour of TV, just one more book, just one more cookie. I was thinking of the other ways it comes up for me, just one more bite, just one more page, just one more mile, just one more episode of whatever show is on HGTV as I ride the elliptical at the gym, just one more day. Grief arises as I think of those I’ve lost, how we both wished for more time, another day, another moment, just a few more minutes here together, how those lives were over too soon, how there was so much more living and loving to do, how hard I prayed that they be given more time, how angry and hurt I still am that it was denied.

fieldofgrass

This is where we live our lives, in these few minutes. If we are lucky, we have a succession of them, minute after minute, moment after moment, but our experience is only in this single, small measure of time. One breath, one beat of the heart, one flash of experience, one chance, one kind act, one moment of connection and compassion. We long for there to be another that follows it, but the wisdom that lives deep in our soft animal belly knows that we must savor this one, the one just now, to squeeze everything out of it we can, to really see it, to notice, to open our heart to it, because this is all we can be sure of. In this moment, we can know that we are here, we can be here, brave and open and vulnerable and tenderhearted.

What do you plan to do with your one minute, kind and gentle reader?

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~From Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day

Three Truths and One Wish

stop1. Truth: I was going to skip this post today. This week has been insanely busy, overwhelming, and it’s only Tuesday. I got my hair cut yesterday and fell asleep in the chair. There is so much to do–Reverb12 posts to write, grading to do, appointments that need made, meetings to attend, doggy health issues that need addressed–I woke up with a headache and there is work work work to get done, so much to stress and fuss about, the familiar mantra repeating with each step, “I’m so tired, I’m so tired,” and yet when I walked the dogs this morning, three ideas arose, spoke their truth, insisted on being shared.

dexteratcsu2. Because I already have so much to worry about, I haven’t been worrying about Dexter. He’s been having good day after good day with hardly any symptoms of his cancer, so with so much other muck and mayhem, it’s easy to forget he’s still dying, that this is a season of good-bye.

csucairn3. This means when Dexter finally does start to get worse, I will have to restart the letting go. It won’t be entirely new, but it will have to start again, to begin again, I will have to revisit the grief, the tangibility of his loss, have to face it again, anew, like waking up from sleep, having forgotten the bad thing has happened, only to have that awareness touch you, remind you, surprise you with it’s immediacy and weight, even after all this time, fresh and raw.

mygiftOne wish: that no matter how busy or overwhelmed or stressed out or tired or sad we might be, that we can feel some relief, some measure of ease, even if only for a few breaths, even if for only a single moment, that we can stop and recognize the gift of life, that we can love and appreciate it, all of it, beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible.