Archive for the ‘deaths’ Category

The Thing About Grief

Monday, November 10th, 2014

My first dog, Zomba, was a therapy dog. For eight years we were hospice volunteers together, although she got most of the attention. She loved the work because she got lots of treats, but she was very connected to the work as well. I learned that when I saw her grieving for one of the patients who died.
z and bear wide shot 11-01 copy
It was someone who she had enjoyed visiting over a few months, and when she died I took Zomba to the empty room. She looked for her friend, she smelled the room carefully, and then she went to the door to leave. When we got home that day, she took her bear out – which by then had no stuffing left. She held it in her mouth, cradling it almost, and sighed very deeply a few times. She just stayed there, and I could feel the sadness in her posture and her breathing.

It was a position she used many times coming back from hospice. Only when someone died, and it was the only time she ever took out her bear and held it in that way.

My grief for Zomba when she died was like none I had ever experienced. I had cried losing pet cats, turtles, and even birds and other animals we held funerals for as a kid. Losing my first ever dog was much more visceral, deep, and painful. She had been such a part of my life every day nearly every hour for 9 1/2 years. It was a bond and a connection I had never felt before. I was so very alone without her, and she had been such a true and wonderful companion.

Everywhere I went, everything I did, she was a missing part. I grieved with my heart, my soul, my hands and my body that was used to having her next to me to touch and to hold. I missed her with every sense – her smell was missing, the sound of her nails on the floor, her warning bark or conversation about needing to go outside. My routines were gone, beginning the day with her by being outside. I noted all the ways I anticipated her greeting me at the door, coming to cuddle next to me. And how she anticipated out walks, visiting the people and stores she liked, the places we visited so often. She was so well integrated into my life I hadn’t known how cold and awful it would be without her.

The grief felt like missing part of my own body. Her absence was so deeply held inside of me. It felt never-ending and too large to ever contain. But that was seven years ago. It moved through me in waves, it did become smaller, the memories changed and another dog found her way into my life and my heart. And the grief is never-ending. It is still present, can still be evoked by photos, or stories. From holding the collar that she once wore. It is now every once in a while, not a daily sobbing and tightening of my jaw and the muscles around my heart. It is more sweet than pain, it is with love and not anguish.

Certainly death brings the largest grief, the never again loss, the tragedy of young death is especially great. When my mother died a friend stayed over, and in the middle of the night I woke him up in the bedroom next to mine and felt that if I wasn’t held and enveloped in his arms I might disappear as well. I sobbed, feeling on the edge of hysteria. He kept me in place. That same night I had spoken by phone with my grandmother, who had just lost her daughter. I heard her cry as I had never heard before. A parent mourning the death of her child, a pain so wrong and raw, so very primitive and piercing. Her loss was not like mine.

My brother gave us long warning of his impending death. Once the doctors said there was no hope he lived six more weeks saying goodby and pondering the transition he knew was coming. So we had moments to talk and reflect, and he said many things that I found important and helpful. But his death was still stunning and sadder than I could imagine. i felt that my whole history and life story was now partly lost. As well as my best source for encouragement, critical feedback, and support. All of the ways he was part of my life emerged as loss, and the grief and realizations continue even more than two years later.
6-14-12 AlDavid

So many deaths of good friends, family, and even the hundreds of strangers I met weekly at Hospice. So many tears, sorrow and connections. Sometimes I am at peace with our last words or times together, sometimes I ache for more or something different.

And it is mostly just the passage of time that soothes, that eases that ache, that allows me to explore that deep space the paradox of hollowness and fullness that is love, life, and loss.

The grieving of those still living is different certainly, but also mostly healed by time. The loss of a love relationship also hurts deeply and uniquely. It is one that i have mostly, in my past, tried to hide. Because it is embarrassing? Because I’ve been rejected? Because someone has found me not good enough? I don’t really know the impulse, but it is a strong one. My first love ended in total confusion when he sexually assaulted me. At 15, I couldn’t share the complexity of my guilt and fear and sorrow and rage at what had happened. I had many things to grieve, it took many many years to sort it out.

The wonderful sweet love that bloomed just after that ended a few yeas later just as suddenly, home from college while I was still in high school he broke it off the day after Christmas confessing to his secret involvement with another woman, and demanded I not contact him from that day on. I showed up for dinner with my family trying to conceal what had just happened just an hour ago in the room above the dining room table. I had to run back to my room in tears, midway through the meal. I had no idea how to hold the grief of ending. I certainly didn’t know that other people could be comforting and supportive.

I have been that comforting and supportive person so many times now. I’ve been given the opportunity to be with people grieving their losses and pain and suffering. It is an incredible honor to share those darkest moments with someone, to be wet with their tears and add my own with theirs. To just simply offer all I can be. I was once afraid to go there, to be there, to feel and to witness such vulnerability. That has changed to awe and to love.

There are skills in working through grief. There are therapies and rituals and waves of change and feelings to go through. The simplest help is knowing that time will help. That grief can overwhelm me, and I know it will also recede. It always has. It always will.

I also know that deep grieving allows the sky to be more blue, the leaves of the trees more stark and alive, food more filling and nuanced, each step I take has more meaning, the moments of happiness are sharper and more live. My state of grief is very close to ecstasy. When my mom was dying I first found that agony/ecstasy relationship and had many years to explore how that worked. It is simply about feeling alive.

I am grieving the ending of a relationship I thought, I felt, would last my lifetime. For now, every day brings tears of loss and sadness. I live within the waves of tears and changing mood. Every day I pass through the sudden and unexpected change in my life and how I spend time. I share feeling this heartbreak with times of joy and contentment. It isn’t really confusing, it just is. I’m happy to have loved so deeply, and I grieve what has ended and what never will be.

I appreciate knowing time will help. Time will pass, and the grief will lighten. It always has. i would like to live even more fully.

Saving a Life

Monday, August 4th, 2014

How many lives have you “saved”? What does that even mean? Is that a responsibility that anyone should accept?

There are numerous feel good stories about people who save someone from dying. Pulling a driver from a car wreck, successfully getting people at risk out of a dangerous country, stopping an attack on the street, knowing critical first aid. But what happens next can be complicated.

There are at least 6 people who I can say my intervention saved them from likely death, five of those instances confirmed by medical practitioners. In 34 years of practicing holistic health care there are other instances of helping people “wake up” to life, regain a sense of meaning and purpose, make lifestyle changes that certainly enhanced and prolonged life. And dozens of times I was consulted about what medical care was needed – and I was fortunate to know enough to send them to the ER or urgent care when it turned out conventional care was urgently needed.

Some were friends, some family, some clients, some complete strangers.

Considering those moments, those stories, those decisions can feel burdensome. Heavy. Partly because if I did indeed save these lives, the converse can also be true that I could have dropped the ball, made the wrong decision, and participated in someone dying. And not everyone will appreciate or thank you or even agree that your actions were helpful.

I don’t think we are meant to be responsible for other people’s lives. Even a parent is priming their children to let go, be on their own, be responsible for themselves. Holding on and claiming authority or ownership of another can’t work. If you are a parent, a teacher, or someone who has saved a life, you must let go.

The cliche “life goes on” is especially profound in this circumstance. You may have touched a person in a deeply meaningful and significant way. Then the best thing to do is to step back, let life go on, and be at peace with that. Maybe you’ll continue the relationship and be thanked on their death bed. That has happened to me. Maybe you’ll be vilified for your actions. Yes, I’ve had that as well. You may never see the person again, or only casually. Or they were too young to know your part or your role has been dropped from the story. That has also happened. Of the 6 people I did rescue, two would deny it and they also let me know they are angry about my intervention. Not everyone welcomes such an intimate and real contact. My one experience with a birth where there was a life threatening complication, it ended a long time close friendship.

I like it when it turns out I am the right person, with the right skills, at the right place, at the right time. And I can reflect that I did the best I could. Thirty years after the fact, my brother told the story of being exactly that. He had been trained in first aid and overdose aid, and as a 16 year old in 1973 he was staffing the first aid tent at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. They were handling people with bad trips, dehydration, simple things.

Then they were called to deal with a young man who was choking, whose airway was cut off. From some drug or allergic reaction, no one knew and there was no time to tell. As David told the story, they had all been trained to do an emergency tracheotomy but of course no one had actually done it. And David and the adults he was with all knew that was needed. But who would be willing to give it a try in this life or death situation?

No one was stepping forward, so David called for the pocket knife and a pen to use as a temporary tube. He says he cut the man’s throat, in the right spot, and inserted the pen piece. The man was breathing and regaining some color when the ambulance finally arrived.

The emergency crew quickly took over, but one of the paramedics commented that they didn’t want to know who did the emergency trach, but whoever did it did a good job and certainly saved the man’s life. What would he have said if he knew it was the bearded 16 year old standing by?

David told the story with great relief – he took action and it worked. It wasn’t the first time he was called to act quickly and decisively. He was the one who found the client who had tumbled down the stairs at the crisis center, fracturing his skull and lying in a pool of blood. He was the one who found the neighbor’s home on fire, and grabbed a hose while calling out for someone else to dial 911. David was very good in emergencies.

He also shook it off. He extracted what he could learn from each crisis, pondered why he saw so many of them, and evaluated his actions and those who were also involved. And then let it go, let life go on. Although he also relished a good dramatic story, and enjoyed sharing the lessons learned when he could.

I’m not entangled in the lives I’ve saved or the times I’ve been able to help. It works better that way, and I also don’t hesitate to be open to the opportunities to help. I believe in each person’s autonomy and hope they can be powerful, strong, fully enabled human beings. I truly cherish those intimate connections and sometimes grieve when that intimacy is cut off or fizzles away. And life goes on.

Measuring Time

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

My brother David went into hospice care a month and a half after he turned 55. Six weeks later he was dead. I’m going to outlive my brother.
It may seem an odd way to measure time, but I do compare myself to my brother and where he was in his life. I just turned 55. I imagine if I was in that position, of drawing down my life, seeking medical help to survive a few more days, planning for the end looming larger with each trip to the emergency room.
After considering how big and hard and overwhelming and scary and sad that all was, I try it on and then the distancing begins. I would like to live a long life. And I work hard to make that as likely as possible. David died at 55, and our mother died a few days after turning 60. She was ill from congestive heart failure for 13 years. She had a damaging heart attack at 46, and lived the rest of her life less fully than she would have otherwise. She was sick a lot, weak most of the time, and eventually (by about my age) unable to work.
I can’t help but compare myself to them, especially my health and wellness and fitness. I walk a few miles almost every day. Because I like it, and it is often more convenient than driving somewhere, and my dogs need the exercise. But also because I want to live.
I count servings of vegetables and fruits, I eat foods I know will prevent cancer and heart disease. Because I love eating this way, passionately, but also because I want to live a long healthy life.
I think about what my mother did at my age. She was also writing, she was considering the larger questions of the meaning of life, what happens once you die, how to live as fully as possible. But when I’m out in the woods, flying around town on my bike, making love with my sweetheart, traveling and hiking and making new friends, I often reflect that she was not able to enjoy these things at this age. The fear of overdoing it, being incapacitated, having to call for an ambulance, always was in the forefront of her mind.
When David was right about this moment in his life, he went into arterial fibrillation and would have died without his pacemaker and defibrillator. That episode resulted in some long hospital stays, eventual surgery, days spent sedated with a ventilator, and then coming back home to hospice care.
I measure these moments.
It so totally sucks that both of these lives were cut short, and that they were marked with so much time being incapacitated, so many nights spent in the hospital. So many close calls and the pain and knowing life would be cut short. Even worse that both my mom and David haven’t been here to see what happened next, to do what they loved, to be with the people they loved. What would they have created and done if they had had that extra time to be well and strong for the years they deserved to live?
It is a bit surreal to outlive my older brother. The obligation to use every day, to live my life, to create and do and love more fully rests heavily on me at the same time it is an ecstatic state that fosters a deep awareness of the preciousness of life.
I cannot take the simple act of living for granted.
There are indeed many mysteries in life, and in this world. I’d like many more years to confront them, learn them, and go deeper into the many meanings and ways of being. The importance of that, the value of living fully, is made larger by the death of my brother, and also the last almost 21 years that my mother has been gone.
They both lived their full lifetime, but also too short a time. When I helped a client die who was 104 I experienced the contentment of letting go after a very full very long life. When I volunteered so many years at hospice I met thousands of people who died, most of them in their 80s and 90s. The more jarring and difficult deaths were of children, or middle aged people who were at the end, and not the middle after all. So many deaths are too final and too soon.
It is an odd way to measure time, comparing my life and my vitality to another. But where that leaves me is in this reflective state, and also inspired. As I’ve written this the sun has risen and this new day has come.
Taking nothing for granted…

Tradition

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

I don’t know what to do for “the holidays”. We had tradition. Our family would make a big deal out of Christmas eve. We weren’t christian, but as kids my parents wanted us to have some normalcy and to be part of what everyone around us had. Presents and food and time together.

As we got older, the whole thing was moved to Christmas eve so that we could celebrate Christmas day with our “significant others” families. But Christmas eve was important to be together, especially to my mom.
Once she died, we limped along, and especially continued the tradition for my brother David’s three kids. The core traditions were to exchange presents, and to have a Swedish smorgasbord of food. That was modified a bit with my vegetarian conversion long ago, and David’s daughter becoming vegetarian and then vegan.
The other tradition was to open presents in the strict order of youngest to oldest, repeating that go around until people started dropping out from lack of presents. We also lightened up on that rule. My mother, the main enforcer, had been gone for years when we finally got lax about who was next.

The first Christmas in our new house in Ann Arbor. The three of us and my mom. My dad took the picture.

Then we stopped exchanging gifts once his youngest was 18. None of us really needed more stuff. My dad had been just giving us money since my mom died. Everyone seemed relieved although I’ll admit it was kind of strange and sad to not get any presents at all from anyone some Christmases. I do like presents, when it is something I actually need and will use.
When David got sick, he stopped hosting the party at his house. My dad did it a few times, as did I, but that also wound down. With my mom, and then with David, there was a lot of emotional baggage – what if this is the last Christmas together? Well, for both of them there was that last time.
We didn’t get together two years ago because David was suddenly much worse. We did last year, a short get together at my house, and I even let people bring meat. That was the last time we were all together.
We aren’t going to be getting together this year. I suppose partly because it makes the absence of David – still an open wound for each of us – more glaring. Added to my mom’s absence for almost 20 year now.
It is the end of a tradition. Which seems really sad. And should be a chance for a new tradition, a new way of participating in this “holiday season” that it sometimes feels like everyone else has.
I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know what matters, what I want to extract from this special time of year. I don’t want to feel alone, or left out, or without a family. I’m not sure even what special way I want to be with my sweetheart, who is really the closest to family that I have – this will be our 2nd Christmas time together. Last year I put up a solstice tree, and really appreciated seeing all the ornaments I’ve collected over my life, and the ones my parents have passed on to me. But that seems a little awkward still. I hadn’t done that since the Christmas after my mom died. That year I did the whole decorating, but ended up tearing down the tree and throwing it out the front door on Christmas. I couldn’t stand the memories without having my mom around. That was dramatic.
I would like to have some new traditions. But I don’t know what to do.
I will grieve the loss of family, the loss of tradition, and look for the opportunity for something new, something meaningful.

The holiday time is a stark reminder of who is missing. The people you have always shared this time with. It could be devastatingly sad. I need something else to do.

Community

Monday, June 1st, 2009

I was part of two gatherings today. And they couldn’t have been more dissimilar. The first was a quiet somber affair, commencing at 8:15 a.m. There was only one person I knew, and there were a couple hundred people there. Jury Duty. No one was talking, people sat in chairs facing front, and tried to put distance between themselves and resisted sitting side by side. The long narrow room was hot and still. It became even hotter when coffee and sugary snacks were brought in.

People didn’t want to be noticed, acknowledged, called on. But we were. And I eventually was part of a group of 60 marched down to the court room. Once there it was an inspiring speech about the democratic process and the duty to serve. But many of us had to stand, it was so crowded, and we remained still and somber.

The seating process asked us to recall our own past horrors and possible connections to this trial, a murder with rape and larceny. Questions of our experience with knowing someone who was murdered, raped, assaulted, asking us to consider and then listen to others stories. Were we fit for this trial which promised to be brutal and difficult?

I had my turn in the jury box, and was immediately asked to leave. Was it because of my own sexual asault? People close to me? I’ll never know. Because I called the police last week? Perhaps. Because of the questions about knowing someone with DNA knowledge, mentioning my brother and his work with the 9-11 identification of victims.

I left feeling shaken, emotional, connected to those memories and stories, and questioning myself and if I should have ignored the real questions I had – could I be impartial and not moved by those stories and my own experiences? I thought I was that sort of person. And I had doubted myself. I told the truth.

After a long nap, I went to the memorial service for Ken King. There was traffic, so m early start got me there only a few minutes before the scheduled time. I arrived to a hall full of people I knew. Almost 400 smiling faces, so many were familiar, I walked into dozens of hugs and waves of hello and recognition. People who had read my article about Ken, and had lovely things to say about it. Old friends from decades past even. People I had lost touch with, people I had seen just yesterday.

I sat next to someone I hadn’t connected with in a while, and I said “I never want to move away from Ann Arbor”. On my other side were some farmers who I have enjoyed getting to know over many years, just chance meetings and welcome conversation. The sensation of home and community was so immediately strong. After the introduction we were asked to think of memories of Ken, and people told those stories, and sang, and told jokes, and the room was a tapestry of emotion and connection and ways that we cared and knew each other so well. The intimacy of 400 people sitting in a sort of circle, all faced to the center of the room, being together to celebrate a great man, I felt enveloped and warm and just wonderful deep inside myself. Accepted and part of something so large, and so sweet.

And after, we were fed and the food was unique and a crazy quilt of its own of tastes and combinations. And it was filling so one plate was enough. And people just talked and hugged and shared stories and they were happy and it all felt so velvety rich and loving.

I could hardly leave. My pain and anxiety and sense of being wrong that I had had all day was not even a memory. I felt loving and wanted to just embrace the whole experience, the strangers and the friends who had all come together.

Many hours later I’m home. Calm, happy, sad and aware I cried during part of the service. Feeling the contrast, so ever so more grateful by contrast for this small part of the world I live in with the hundreds of friends and truly good people to be with.

It was a good tribute to an extraordinary man, who I have hoped to honor in my other small ways. The night seems a little surreal tonight, I can not seem to sleep, but my heart is full, that peace and welcome are still palpable. And so delightful to have dipped into that caldron of love and community and hope and the honoring of a man who contributed so much to the richness of our lives. People like him feed it. And nourish us all.

A deep sigh for the contrast. I’m so glad I could fall into the arms of my place, my community, and feel so loved and blessed. Taking nothing for granted…

Ken King

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Rather than repeat myself here, it would be easiest just toread the tribute I wrote for him at The Ann Arbor Chronicle. I was hoping the Chronicle would write about his death, and Mary said they were swamped with other projects. Would I? A wonderful synchronicity of people places and timing then unfolded, and the article nearly wrote itself. Of course.

I hope this is just one of many tributes for this remarkable man who has really touched so many and made a wonderful difference in the world.

My Mom

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Grief is a strange uneven thing. Two of the largest losses in my life were my mom and my dog Zomba. I’ve written enough about Zomba recently. There are also some friends who I just am pained to know I will never talk with again, who are not around any more. I thought of my mom’s friend Jane Street, who died a few years ago, because I had a chance to go to Chicago and hang out with a new friend. It didn’t work out to go, but the thought of going to Chicago without staying with Jane and without seeing her brought up a lot of sadness, and missing her. Since I only saw her every few years I can sort of pretend she is still there, in her apartment, playing piano, singing, and engaging me in intense conversation about my family, her son and family, my work, my thoughts, and more.

She did have a mothering energy I liked a lot, and her thoughtful hospitality was sweet and something I always enjoyed. She showed more interest and enthusiasm and support from me than I was able to receive from my own mom.

Which is sort of what I intended to delve into with this post, thinking of Jane so much lately makes it a stronger feeling.

It’s too late to be mothered. I’m 50 years old, if mom was alive we would have a natural and gradual role reversal as she aged and became less strong and able. It is supposed to work that way. But I was a “mature” kid and was let be older than my age from a very early time – maybe nine or ten. Responsible, thoughtful, aware of the consequences of my actions. Premature frontal lobe development. There are a few of us in most batches of kids. The one who says “wait, if we do this then….” and all the other kids say “shut up!”

Who wants a mini-parent talking out the possible ramifications of whatever fun thing you’ve suddenly decided to do. Yep that was me.

And I had pretty good judgement, could figure out what might happen and how people would feel with most situations. I had a pretty constrained kid life as a result. I didn’t do a lot of stupid things, although there were a few times…

But my mom especially started not only cutting me loose to be on my own, without her support and involvement, she also started coming to me for advice and help when I was 13 and 14. Sharing personal concerns and involving me in parenting my siblings, asking for help and ideas and advice.

Later on we even formalized this switched role when she got her first professional job since having kids – at Ozone House. Where I was on staff as the Program Coordinator, which although we were in a collective, put me in a de facto role as her boss.

She had some time where she was there once I had left, but it was a little weird, and certainly helped cement the role reversal.

When it was clear that she was dying, she and I did some therapy together about this issue. I wanted her to care more. About me, my life, what I did, what I thought. I wanted her to take care of me, I wasn’t sure how, since I was also a bit prickly about anyone helping me or taking away from my independence. Counseling helped me understand how much I was pushing people away, including her. But it didn’t bring her any closer.

Even the simple hugs, physical closeness, saying I love you, she got stiff and pulled in when any of that came up. So I did too, when I was around her. It never got resolved before she died.

Those issues seem especially large today, this week. I got a bit over extended teaching and caring for people and trying to meet new men, and having some very down clients and friends. That part of me that still asks – and who will take care of me? – looms larger than normal just now. I suppose I would add turning 50 to the mix, as well as having still fairly recently ended a relationship with a man who really did take care of me is some wonderful ways. I felt partnered, and his competent strong presence and caring was something I was still discovering and enjoying even as the relationship ended.

I’ve moved forward a fair piece on this interdependence and dependence issue. I have much more capacity to let people in, as well as much more comfort in asking for what I want. And a lot of emotional triggers and sadness, and grieving about missing so much just plain mothering.

I feel very informed about the roots and causes and family patterns and all, so I have very little (if any) blame or even anger. It was her loss as well as mine, and she felt it. And her relationship with her mom was even more difficult and strained. Much more.

I’m putting a lot of time and energy into dating. Some of these unmet needs can be met with a partner, and a lover. Not all of them. But certainly during a month like last month, someone who can pick up some slack and make food, keep the kitchen clean, help walk the dog, and push me out the door to go for a walk or drop a canoe onto the river would be a very good thing. Not to mention a hug that lasts for an hour or two or more.

In polarity therapy we call it the return current. It carries information, re-formation, and supports the ability to express again. My return current has been pretty messed up for the last few weeks, and with my mom it was just off from the beginning. We never really got it right. I like the friends who it is renewing to just be with, connect with. I imagine that those who have died are also in my camp, cheering me on with energy from some other realm. And I will be grateful to find that partner who helps me to feel renewed and revitalized and supported so I can continue to be there for other people, and more.

Maybe if my mom had had more time we would have worked it out. Maybe if she hadn’t been slowly dying when she was my age now, we could have found that balance. I’ll never know. From age 46 on, she was walking a vastly different path than what I’m grateful to have. Yeah, she never really understood who I was and what mattered to me. But I’m also not were she was at this point in her life and can’t imagine what it would have been like to have spent the last four years losing capacity and finding life shrinking from you. And to be dead 10 years later.

It is indeed one of the teary years. And yet, I just can’t help thinking and feeling that there is something wonderful just around the corner. I can hold grief and optimism in the same hand.

Zomba and the Purebred Question

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Zomba missed what would have been her 11th birthday last week. It has been almost 1 1/2 years since she died, but even typing that sentence brings me to tears. I loved her as I’ve never loved any being before, or since.

Nala and I are getting along and bonding, and finding real joy together. But there is no dog ever like your first dog, and Zomba was not only my first dog ever she was an incredible and wonderful soul.

She did touch hundreds of lives by being a hospice volunteer for most of her life (she started March 11, on her first birthday. She was that calm. Nala is 3 1/2 and hasn’t reached that level of calm loving.

But she was just my dog, and we learned together how this dog/human relationship can happen and how awesome it can be when allowed to flourish. Zomba opened up parts of me that I knew needed to be changed, she taught me how. If I have more capacity for love and ability to praise and be happy with people, a lot of that is because of Zomba.

Really.

She changed me from the inside out and without question helped me to be a better person and a more loving person. And when she was gone I missed her presence, I missed the feeling of her, the scent of her, her slow tail wag (she was never much for displays through the tail). I loved tracing the ridge on her back over and over, I loved having her in my bed and her sighs or dreams.

Nala came at the right time. Because it was so sad to be in this life without a dog. And without a Ridgeback.

Because I like everything about the Ridgeback. How they feel, how they smell, their independence, their beauty, their special empathy, intelligence, and strength. They were bred to hunt and think independently, but also work in a team to harass a lion. That’s a cool combination of smarts. i like the long eyes, the long nose, the ears, the entire package. Personality and presence.

So I’ve chosen a purebred dog, three times, even as mixed breeds are turned into shelters, and are looking for a home as nice as mine. And I only see Ridgebacks in my future. I like knowing what I’m getting, having a dog bred for temperament, and health. I like having some record of parents, and that the dog was carefully socialized and taught starting at day one. I like having the best chance of a fabulous dog.

Which all sounds great, and I also know this idea can go terribly and completely wrong. Ambo was such a carefully bred dog, his dad was a Champion many times over and won the Ridgeback Specialty for the third time the day he was born. And there was something terribly and totally wrong with him. And many of his siblings.

I’m glad Nala is a “re-homed” dog, a return to breeder. So she was rescued in a way. The breeder would have made sure she had a good life no matter what. And that is what a good breeder does. Watch for every puppy they have ever brought into the world. That is the best of the purebred world.

i want Ridgebacks to continue as a breed, and I want to support ethical breeders. I’m not the person who will save deserving dogs, my life is just not set up for that this time around. I want my best chance to find a companion and friend and complement to my life. Two out of three, I’ve done well beyond my wildest dreams.

And Zomba was the beginning of that. She is deeply in my thoughts this week, and all weeks, and I’m happy that she was in my dreams this morning and we were together again. Happy, calm, steady, and deeply in love.

a misunderstanding

Monday, February 16th, 2009

A couple people have said I enjoy hanging out at the hospital. Being part of a crisis. I use some of my experiences (names, details, and other identifying info changed) in my high school class. Which led one student to comment that maybe being my friend seems risky. Yes, I tell a lot of stories, spanning many decades now. And there have been some tragedies, some adventures, and if they can’t be turned into learning experiences then what is the point? I teach safety, addictions, nutrition and sex ed. I think it is important to use whatever material I can to make the very serious points, although I also look for humor as well.

One of the exercises in the class is about being part of an emergency. What role are you comfortable in? I have them stand up and place themselves on an invisible line that represents a continuum. On one end, those who would be ready to help, assess what is needed, and be part of the solution. the other end I identify as those who can memorize 911, but not much more. Because some people are not good in emergencies. And that’s OK.

Then we talk about the skills that make a difference, the personality traits that people have that may help or hurt in a crisis, and how to upgrade those skills.

One thing that I do well is I’m willing and able to talk about hard things. I’ve talked to countless people who are dying. 9 years of hospice volunteering. And I will cry with people, I’ve been doing counseling for about 36 years now, since I was a volunteer at Ozone House at age 14. I don’t think there is a subject I find difficult to talk about. Some of those conversations have been hard. One of the hardest ever was talking to my grandmother the night my mom died.

I think being part of nearly 200 births also has changed me. I can be with a women in the most pain ever, in her most powerful moment. And encourage her to go through the pain. Often these days it is with a woman I’ve just met. We get very close and very intimate very fast. I was there holding my dad when they stuffed a tube down his throat and that was torture for him. And really hard to do but I helped him through it.

So there are a lot of skills I bring to a crisis situation. I can figure out the medical jargon, I can make jokes in the midst of a tragedy (mostly appreciated), I can provide physical support and comfort, and I’m told I have a calm presence that is appreciated.

Anyone with a skill likes to use it. Likes to be useful. It feels good to do what you do well.

So my skills are often about helping people in pain, who are suffering in one way or another. People come to me often in crisis. So this is what I do. Do I like it? Do I enjoy it? Those questions just don’t work. I do my best to care about people, to help them, empower them, and certainly to teach. It is often a profound honor to be part of a transformative point in their lives. And I mostly do find energy and balance and affirmation in doing what I do well. And sometimes it drains me totally, especially helping at a birth I’ll wake up the next day and feel as though i’ve been beaten up form the inside out.

And I wish I could come home from a particularly hard time and have someone home who will just hold me for a long time. When that happens I feel very good.

I do what I do because it is who I am, because being able to help someone in pain or in a scary place is the right thing to do. It is not about enjoying it, it is not about liking to hang out at the hospital.

There is one thing I do enjoy. Being a part of something very real, touching up against that place of life and death. The trees seem more amazing, the greens of the plants are more vibrant. The sky is more vast, the people I meet more real. I love my dog more, I taste food more fully. There is a quiet amazement and everyday life is more surreal and beautiful. I started to find that as my mom was dying. I had the experience again and again. And that is what I like. That reminder of life and love and what is important, I really value every reminder of that.

It is a strange thing to depend on other people’s pain and suffering for my livelihood. And sometimes I do have clients who are coming for support and who are not in crisis. But this has been what I do for a very long time – on Tuesday I ‘ll celebrate 3 years of doing massage. And I had better be good after 36 years. 30 years of studying polarity therapy, and almost 20 of cranial sacral therapy. And closing in on 36 years since I did my first counseling training.

It is just who I am now. It is an honor to help people. I’m happy to be used, and used well. And every time I enter a hospital – since the time my mom was so frequently ill – I think, “I’m spending too much time here”. And there is a sadness. That hasn’t changed.

decadent nostalgic indulgence

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

I had a rather nice dinner with family – no presents this year, just food. And with Alex into cooking up vegetarian stuff there was good stuff to eat. I had a try at making some Thai curry, and I was very happy with the results. Recipe?

Saute 2 small chopped onions in olive oil, add 8 oz. mushrooms sliced, cook pretty well through, then a pound of cubed tofu. And about 3 cups brussel sprouts. Mix a can of coconut milk with about 2 TBSP red Thai curry paste, add to veggies. Add a bit more Thai hot sauce (not the chili paste but straight up hot sauce) to taste. Add about 1 TBSP turmeric. Let simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Serve over rice.

Oh, yum.

But that isn’t the decadent part. And neither was the chocolate cheesecake I made, which even Ian was complementing me on.

After we all left around 9 I went and picked up my lonely dog and we drove around the neighborhoods for 1/2 hour looking at holiday lights. I can say well I’m still trying to figure out how my car handles in the snow. But it was really about just having time to think and wander and enjoy the lights.

Now most any other time I would never just drive around, and I certainly am most appalled at the waste of energy yada yada yada and on and on with self righteous etc. OK so I indulged, and it was fun, and it felt peaceful and safe and very mellow and I even found a station on the radio playing Christmas music and kept it on.

So now you might think it is all just too out of character and strange. Which would be true. But you know, somehow the “holidays” are about being a little sad, realizing you’ve aged, missing people who have died, being scared that maybe some people won’t be here next time around, and wondering what the next year will be like.

This Thanksgiving I was amazed that I was with a bunch of people who were relative strangers who had grown to mean so much to me in just a year. And including Nala, I spent a good chunk of the year with Gary who had been unknown, and there I was with his best friends who I had know a little bit before.

Of course it all unraveled within a few days. Impermanence. Yeah.

But this is when I met Gary last year, half way between xmas and New Years. Look how much changed so quickly and then that moment – the almost year together – was gone. David made it through the hardest year of his life, it wasn’t certain that he would be able to show up on xmas eve. Even my father reacalled that my mom barely made it her last xmas eve, she as released from the hospital in time for desert. Now that was a weird feeling holiday. She was dead in less than four months.

So that’s why I took the indulgence and just drove around. I didn’t see any amazing spectacular over the top displays. Which is just as well. It owuld have brought out the attitude. What I liked the most were the soaring lights that would show off an already beautiful tree – the ghostly blue or simple white. I liked the trees the most.

And with that I’m ready to sleep. Tomorrow will be a pretty normal day. If it isn’t too icy a nice walk in the woods with my sweet Nala, and dinner with friends. I get to make bread for it, which is rising already in the oven. The rest I’ll report on rather than forecast.

All I can say is that at least with this car I didn’t even use 1/2 gallon of gas, driving around for 1/2 hour. So a reasonable indulgence for just once in the whole year. I’ll make it up. The mental piece of mind and trip into the past was worth it.