The Puggle

We had a rough night because Bella – puggle extraordinaire – threw up all over the bed. Then I woke up a little later because she wet the bed. Our bed. When we scooped her out, we found out she couldn’t use her legs.

Long before Joe was sick, I used to get into bed and put my cold feet into the small of his back. He hated that. He’d grump at me and tell me to stop because it ruined his whole snuggle into bed routine. I informed him there would be a time in our lives where I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore and he’d be sad. He told me not to jinx our lives.

Clearly that went the wrong way.

I got Bella shortly after we moved into what I wanted to be our happy family home where I would raise the girls into successful, happy adults. Although she was Jay’s dog, she came to live with us before he did. I told people I got her used, and that’s why she had so many bad habits. One of which was sleeping in our bed. I’m about kennel training dogs.

Every night I’d scoop her into our bed, and she took up so much room. This 35-pound puggle easily took up a third of the bed. She would snuggle into my legs and really lean in. I disliked that. Many nights I couldn’t get comfortable because all of my leg space was occupied by an aging, emotionally needy puggle. Probably how Joe felt when I stuck my ice feet into his back when we got into bed.

Every time we took her to the vet, they told us to cut her food back. She was overweight. Which, she was a puggle and if you bread two dogs with obesity problems, you get a puggle. (Alex’s observation) Last fall, after she was diagnosed with kidney disease, we decided that she could eat whatever she wanted. We started giving her people food and turned her into a people food begging monster. She’d flip her food dish at us and we, naturally, filled it back up. The directive to keep her at a cup a day went out the window. She was allowed to be fat and happy.

Z named her princess-baby-cupcake. It’s what we called her, although my family teased by reissuing the name princess baby butterface. She didn’t care. Mostly because her grasp of the English language was rudimentary at best and she couldn’t understand the difference.

Although I got her used, she was truly my dog. She followed me everywhere, even when she struggled to get up the stairs, she would follow me up and down as I went back and forth between my office and the kitchen or living room. At night, I’d scoop her into our bed. Jay told me that when she was a puppy, she could make it up on her own. Those days long behind us.

This morning at the vet, the doctor told us that we could consider leaving her with them – they would do an MRI and try to treat whatever it is that’s keeping her legs from working. Jay and I declined. Like I said, her English is terrible and if we left, she wouldn’t know why. She’d feel abandoned when she needed comfort. I wouldn’t be able to explain that it was for treatment. I couldn’t leave her alone when she was most scared and in pain.

When PBC (Princess-Baby-Cupcake) first came to live with us, she was supposed to be Z’s dog. That’s was Z’s intention and certainly mine as well. I took Z to PetSmart and she declared that pink was her signature color (shout out to Steel Magnolias). Z picked out a pink and brown collar, a pink bowl that said princess, a pink food mat, and a new pink bed. We made a new tag for her collar with Z’s phone number, followed by Jay’s number, then mine.

When Z passed, I didn’t change the collar. First, I just couldn’t. It was her gift from Z and I wasn’t going to disturb the workings of the universe. Second, she was old – she wasn’t going to run away. She needed to stick by home, near me. It didn’t matter that Z’s phone number was listed, no one was going to call.

Last fall, when we went to Alabama for Thanksgiving, I got her two new beds. One for my office, one for under her perch in the kitchen. She loved her kitchen spot – it was where she could see everything. Her bed was broken in, but she wasn’t about to abandon it, so I just put the new bed under the old bed so she’d have more cushion. She liked that.

When she was younger, occasionally we’d come home from work to discover that she’d moved her bed from the kitchen to the sunlight in the family room. I always loved that, because although she was a little bit of a dummy, she knew what she liked. And she like sunning herself.

After we decided we weren’t going to further treat PBC, I snuggled her tight while the techs came into the room to place an IV. The doctor came in later. She’d mentioned Bella was the first dog the vet had ever spayed. We didn’t request this vet in particular when we made the appointment. That was just what the universe worked out for us. And, I suppose the vet too. We signed the paperwork for an individual cremation, and I held her little life in my arms while the medications were administered to put her to sleep and then to stop her heart. And even though I couldn’t explain what was going on, she did snuggle her head into the crook of my arm and lived her last in my love.

Zero Stars. Do not recommend.

I’m bad at things too

I am super good at having tragedy happen to me.  I’m very well versed in what to do and how to act and how to respond to people.

I can arrange a funeral like nobody’s business. You want to know about songs and readings?  I’ve got songs and readings.

But because I’ve become accustomed to all of this happening to me, my emotional growth and know-how is stunted when it happens to people I love.

What do I do?  What do I say?  I mean, I know what not to say, but I get so caught up in the detail that I totally forget how to behave as a grown-up adult that is witness to some else’s grief.  Sometimes the occasion calls for more than just three green-heart emojis on a Facebook page.

This is a weird and totally foreign position for me.

And then,  the further problem;  I get so engrossed in trying to figure out the right thing to say, the correct thing to do that I forget that time is passing and then I focus on that and I allow things to just get weird.

No one is good at these things – why should I be any different?  Because really, there are no expectations from anyone.  Everyone knows the other isn’t “good” at bad things.  But still, we hold ourselves accountable for action and grace and proper word choice.

Because I’ve pressured myself to be exactly right at all emotional cross-roads.  And that is just not a reasonable expectation.

But here we are.

I’ve done nothing for anyone, and I’ve sat with my own brain long enough that all the words fail.  When is it too late?   When do I cross the line into terrible friend?  HOW MUCH TIME DO I HAVE TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT?

AAAAAKKKKKK!

This is the tricky part, for me.  With all of my dealings in the death business, it turns out that being gracious in life eludes me.

This is my admission for those of you that have ever looked at me and had all your words fail.  You’re in company.

Zero Stars.  Do not recommend.

Hamilton & Kobe

I can’t remember when exactly I got the original Broadway cast recording (OBCR) of Hamilton for Z, but it was shortly after it was released. Hamilton was still fresh and new and I probably heard it reviewed on NPR or some other such medium for the self important and socially aware granola eaters.

I got the soundtrack first and loved it. I figured this would be right up her alley, so I purchased a second copy and gave it to her at the following holiday. I can’t remember if it was for Christmas 2015 or Easter 2016. But whatever the case, she loved it too. We talked about the songs, about how much we didn’t know that we know now. We talked about what everybody else talked about when Hamilton first hit the scene.

We’d play it on our road trips. We’d turn the volume up and pretend we could follow along with the singing. We couldn’t. We hum along.

It’s been just over 4 years since she and I fell for Hamilton. Shortly after she passed, I tucked our copies away. It was a fun thing she and I shared and I ticked it up with all of the other things we shared. Hamilton, Gilmore Girls, Reading Lists, and other such sundries were put into an emotional box of things that just wouldn’t be the same without her.

This past week, Hamilton’s touring cast made a stop in Grand Rapids and I roped some of my cousins in and off we went.

I cried through a significant portion of the first act. Not the heaving sobs of a freshly broken life, but the emotional realization of what I was doing without her.

I was overwhelmed with the memories of our times together with Hamilton. I sat in my seat taking everything in and the weight of her loss filled my chest and my eyes started leaking and I resolved to enjoy this for us; for her and for me and for our times in the car headed up north or back when it was the three of us (Alex, Z, and me) with the sun warming up what we all assumed was a bright and happy future.

I’ve spent the last couple of days digesting my time with Hamilton and trying to arrange my thoughts about the subject in preparation for this blog. I sat down to spend some quality time with the internet and my homework and my thoughts about why I cry during concerts (see previous posts about Flogging Molly) and I fired up the internet to find out Kobe Bryant was killed today with his daughter.

I’ve never particularly felt an idolization toward him. He’s not necessarily one of my heroes, although an amazing positive public figure to be sure, but when I read the news about his accident I got super emotional.

An accident. A father killed. A daughter killed.

It strikes so close to home and I can’t shake it. Reading that news flooded me with fresh anguish. I re-read the news over and over. Accident. Father killed. Daughter killed.

I should have known what Hamilton was going to do to me. I should be prepared for the sudden tragedy that will take my breath away.

Everything is a minefield of danger spots that will make my chest tighten up.

Zero Stars. Do not recommend.

Affirmation

I remember the very first publicly posted affirmation poster I ever saw – it was a kitten dangling from a tree branch on a yellow background.  Hang In There!.  It was dumb.  Even my elementary school aged brain saw past the kitten and recognized the absurdity of the poster.  The kitten was a good distraction, but did not negate any part of the ridiculous message.  What does it look like, to hang in there?  What am I supposed to do?  Does hanging in there mean that I do nothing to change anything?  Does it mean that I should take a passive role in my life?  Is this just what we’re doing now? EXPLAIN THIS BS TO ME!

Alex calls me pretty frequently to talk about things she might be over-thinking.  She likes a reality check.  “Is it me or…”.  Similarly, I will call around to my people and run things by them, but mostly I know that I am 100% reasonable at all times, without fail, and the clearly anyone that slights me is in the wrong.  Clearly.  I just need confirmation of my never-ending correctness.

Alex once accused me over text of giving her some affirmations rather than actually contributing to our conversation.  I can’t remember what I said – but knowing me it was probably something about moving forward.  (We never move on.  There is a subtlety in the difference between moving forward and moving on).

Her accusation of affirmation sparked me on a month long inner discussion regarding my loathing for “Time heals all wounds”.  Uummm… no.  There are some wounds that never heal over.  They may scab up.  Get crusty.  But they never heal.  I will never recover from the loss of Joe or Z.

I don’t want to hang in there, I don’t want you to tell me Let go and let God (I super hate that one).  If you tell me to focus on the positive I will instead focus on the budding anger sparked by that gem.

Last August I went up to to visit Joe and Z on their day (Joe’s birthday, Z’s death day) and I did a quick drive-by at my Aunt and Uncle’s house.  My mom and I stopped in to chat and my aunt sat on the couch next to me and held my hand and refrained from telling me anything that involved the future or memories or (my least favorite) God’s will.  She just spoke softly about her love for me and that was it.

Affirmations do not help the recipient.  Often they aren’t reflective of the giver, either.  They’re just words that fill up an uncomfortable silence.  Back-alley therapy doesn’t serve any good.

Telling me to be positive is not a call to action.

Actually, I take that back.  It will make me angry, and that will give me something to act on.  I mean a kidney punch is not positive action, but it is still action.

If something I say triggers a response from you, and you don’t know what to say back – go with “Wow.  That sucks.”  Its not helpful, but it won’t make me mad and it will affirm my emotion.  So, there it is.  an affirmation.

Just sit with me and embrace the suck.

Zero Stars.  Do not recommend.

 

 

The Labor of Grief

The UP is a lawless land of the wild and my perfect cemetery being what it is, there are no graveyard amenities that come with buying a plot in the cemetery.  If you want to put someone into the ground, you must first dig the hole.  It is not a service provided.

In July 2018 my family marched to the top of the hill and took turns digging out the place I would inter my child and my husband.  It was hot, and sweaty, and the mosquitoes were in aggressive force, and it was dirty, terrible, heart-wrenching, and exhausting work.  It was good for our hearts.

Prior to this chapter(?) in my life, I’d never given thought to the catharsis that manual labor offers.   We know in our DNA, in the fiber, and in molecules of our bodies that these people belong to us.  Z came from my body, my body remembers, my body expects her to be with me.  I spent a significant amount of quality time working for my husband and the business of cancer.  I moved him from chair to couch to bed to car to chair and back again.  I moved him between appointments and I picked him up when he fell.  I worked so hard on his life.  My body remembers the work.

Manual labor allows our bodies to understand grief.  Quiet contemplation of the chore at hand engages the entire mind, body, and spirit.

This past couple of weeks we were in the UP for a big family holiday.  We normally don’t do that – normally we close up the cabins for the winter and that’s it.  But this year was the odd year on and I arrived a day after my siblings.  When I got up north, my brother let me know he’d shoveled a path to the back of the cemetery.  He got to spend some time with his thoughts as he did the work of the bereaved.

When he dug them out, he’d found this year’s grave blanket, left by Z’s archery coach.  It’s his mission to make sure this favor is done every year.   Coach builds them himself from fresh boughs wired together.  They are not purchased, they are a work of love and time.

When we allow our bodies to bereave the loss, along with our minds and souls, we allow ourselves to fully participate in the work of grief.  We calm the anxiety of the soul, the transferred grief of the body.

I will work to be present with their absence and give my body some relief.

Because the body never forgets.

Zero stars.  Do not recommend.

 

 

Merry Christmas 2019

We’re headed out in the morning for our first Christmas up north in lots of years.

I can’t specifically remember which year it was, the last time we did Christmas up north.

I do remember we had Z with us.  We rented rooms at an otherwise empty hotel and had parties in the hallway and took over their main conference room with our food.

Z got a Microsoft Surface that year.  I still have it.  It’s in my office.  With the rest of her life.

10 years ago, I was spending my last Christmas with Joe.  We knew what was coming up.  We knew it was going to be the last Christmas with him.

I don’t remember what we did.  Or where we were.

It was the first of many shitty holidays.  There was a 5-year window where they were upgraded to bittersweet.

I’m still getting unreasonably mad at things and unsuspecting people that don’t deserve it (apologies to the Amazon business lady that was trying to best to do her job)

But time marches along, holidays don’t stop just because I feel like opting out.

It’s walking into the wind, head-down.

I’ll laugh and have a good time.  I’ll see my siblings twice this year(!) because of this Christmas.  We’ll follow through with our grand plans.

My heart will ache for every second we’re there.

Merry Christmas.

Invented Guilt

“If you could have one meal with any person, living or dead, who would it be with?”. I’ve matured since this question was first posed to me. I’m older, wiser. So, now I know the proper question is “If you could have one meal with any person, living or dead, with whom would it be?”. See? Much wiser.

We, the sad parents of the world, are riddled with guilt. It’s one of the things we carry. What more could I have done? Could I have loved more? Were there different decisions that would have changed anything? No. The answer is always no.

And, honestly, I don’t feel guilt about that. I’m not in a position where the overall circumstances of Z’s departure would be different because of my actions.

I mean sure, there is the butterfly effect. If I’d have turned right when I turned left on any given day then maybe she’d be here. But I did the best I could with our lives. When I was making them, I was reasonably sure I was doing the best I could with what I had.

I’ve opted out of guilt because this load? It’s already too much. It’s almost more than I can take. I know my limits and one day I might break. I know this about me. So, to alleviate that possible eventuality, I opt out of recreational guilt. It’s not for me.

I’d much rather spend my time being sad than guilty. At least with sadness, I listen to my heart. Why make this worse? Adding guilt will not change anything. I mean if I could put on the worst hair-shirt guilt and wear it for the rest of my life in exchange for the life of my daughter, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t. This is not an offered option. So, I won’t.

Without consulting the archives, I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about surviving-parent guilt before. It is such a part of our lives. It’s always there. A.L.W.A.Y.S.

“If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, with whom would it be?”

It wouldn’t be Z. It wouldn’t be Joe.

I can’t. I can’t do that. I can’t re-live the fresh hell that was the aftermath of their deaths. I can’t do that to myself. I can’t do that again.

And this is the thing, what is it? I feel so, so guilty over this. I hate it. While I was on my writing hiatus, I brought it up in my sad parent group one night. This horrible answer to this stupid thing that won’t ever happen. It’s physically impossible for someone to give me one magical night with those that I love that have gone before me. It is not a thing.

Yet I feel so bad. I can’t shake the guilt to the answer of the invented question that has no meaning.

When Z first passed away, I’d invented a memory – I knew it was invented and it was horrible. But I pressed on and I got over it. And then I had a brief pause and then my brain started tormenting me with this fun, new invention.

I eventually bargained myself down. If offered a single meal with Joe or Izzy, I would pass. But if I got to have a meal with them annually, I’d do it.

I bargained myself out of the guilt and misery of my own making.

This is the brain of a bereaved parent. If we decide to eschew the guilt, we will still find a way to torture ourselves ad infinitum. That is just the way it is. So much ugly in the aftermath of trauma.

Zero stars. Do not recommend.