Ten Years On…..

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There are the springs the park is named after. Even in the most f-all cold weather, they still flow through the green cress lining their banks

And there are the Mother Maples, still standing after ten years of storms, their roots like knobby toes gripping, digging into the forest floor.

Ahead of us is the river, shining silver in the early sunlight. Oakley and I turn west on the trail, following paw prints that faded from the trail over time but never from my heart.

The last time I was on this trail was ten years ago. Solo, around Labor Day. back. I hadn’t been out there since the next to last week in May when Orion had crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk there for three months. One of the other dog persons saw me walking alone, guessed what had happened, and threw her arms around me.

I hugged her back. No words were needed.

Before that, before the damned heart condition and the double damned lymphoma took him, Orion’s last hurrah echoed through the park. He caught the scent of a rabbit, the quarry of Brittanys across North America and around the world.  With an unexpected burst of energy, he dragged me down the trail, up the hill to the larger lake, around the west end of the lake, up another hill, then turned us east and slowed to a tentative crawl as we went back to the car.

The final decline began the next day. He had problems getting up and walking and just wanted to lie in the grass in the back yard.

And then he didn’t even want to do that. He stayed in his spot by the back door. I stayed next to him, begging any deity who was listening to please intervene, to please guide me. Was it time to call in the vet?

No, he just had a rally and ate a little banana and a bite of turkey. He was acting more engaged and a little cuddly.

Maybe. He’s not in any pain, but I couldn’t get him out in time.

We’ll try sub-q fluids. That’s helping. He perked up.

And then on the last day,  a Saturday, Hubby brought home a garden cart, one of the mesh ones, put one of Orion’s beds in the bottom, loaded Orion into it, and took him on a ride around the property lines and up and down our road.

We spoke of taking him for a ride the next day at the park, but then he crashed and burned.

I called the emergency number for our vet clinic. No one was able to come out and help with that final act of kindness. The nearest emergency vet was a half-hour away.

If he starts acting like he’s in pain, if he has respiratory problems…yeah. Otherwise…

We took him to his spot. I stayed with him through the night, candles lighting his way. Whispering that I would miss him, but I understood if he needed to go.

I laid on the floor next to him, watching the stars crossing the night sky through the skylights. The classical station played a lot of Bach for some reason through the wee smalls.

Just before the first cracks of daylight opened, I felt my heart get torn from my chest and had a mental image of Orion giving me a play bow, running around our back two acres, then taking off towards the east. I sat up. Checked the pulse points.

That stage of his journey was done.

Mine was beginning. The journey of fumbling through the darkness, the numbness. Not being able to even drive past the entrances to the park without tears scalding my cheeks.

Eventually, while the gaps and holes remained, they shrank, and the raw edges scabbed over and turned pink with new growth. I could walk at the park again.

And then came Oakley. While Orion had been exposed to the outdoors from nearly birth as part of his hunting dog training, Oakley had spent his first six months in a shelter with little exposure to the world outside the building. Walking him and showing him the world of his big brother was nearly impossible due to the anxiety triggered by the overwhelming scents and sounds.

Even with all the training mitigating his early lack of exposure, I just couldn’t take Oakley back to that park. He learned to love the other parks in our area, but the state park I just couldn’t…

But then came the current plague where social distancing became a must. Hard to do at the forest preserves and their weekend crowds. A couple of weeks ago we took a little drive and checked the parking lot to see if it was at 50% capacity or less per safety recommendations.

Deep breath, bite lip behind my scarf. Get out of car. Yes, I’m OK. Oakley’s OK. New playground gear? Great. That tree is still standing. Those outhouses, the ones where Orion and I took refuge from an out of nowhere electrical storm, finally came down.  That final hard wind probably did them in. The flowering trees, the picnic areas hadn’t changed that much. We walked. Oakley sniffed. He may have listened as I pointed out Orion’s favorite places to sit and watch the river go by. But I think he was too busy sniffing to hear me.

Since then, we’ve worked the park back into our rotation. Early morning is best for contemplating the abundance of beauty around us in quiet and semi-solitude while we walk, my feet and his paws padding down the mulch covered trail by the river.

Sometimes in the silence occasionally punctuated by a bird’s call or the wind in the leaves, if I listen with my heart, I can hear an unseen set of paws running alongside us.






Lurching Towards Normal in 3/4 Time

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Thank you for your understanding about my absence the last few weeks. We are still in the process of picking up pieces, reassembling them, and carrying on in the wake of saying “see you later” to Hubby’s family members.

His brother in law finally let go of this world and slipped into the next two weeks ago this coming Monday. BIL’s passage came almost six weeks to the day after Hubby’s sister made hers. Hubby went to the well-attended funeral. The officiant and the attendees all had kind words about BIL. He and Hubby’s Eldest Sister had owned a couple of pharmacies. They had done well for themselves, and supported an organization helping refugees settle into their new homes. And he had filled prescriptions for free so no customer had to make the Hobson’s choice between food or medicine.

And then Hubby found out that another sister (he has/had three older sisters) has cancer.    She just started treatment, so we don’t know how this will play out.

After we finished that call, Oakley and I went outside for his bedtime potty run. I looked up at the sky and snapped “REALLY?!?!” at any forces, spirits, deities who were listening.

We are not alone in the tsunami of loss this fall. The passings of humans and pets; changes in circumstances; and news of one close friend’s husband entering the last stage of Parkinson’s show up in my social media feeds, emails, and texts. At times giving updates on conditions and passing on the word about transitions has left me feeling as Walter Cronkite must have when he read the casualty counts on CBS’ evening news during the Vietnam era.

Surviving these times involves focus on the tasks directly in front of us. Hubby came home and went back to work on his assignments for class. I walked Oakley a lot and made sure Hubby had reasonably healthy food to eat. We do talk about memories of the dear departed; he finds comfort in his religion.

And we stay on the routine, the rough schedules giving structure and meaning to the day.

The raw, tender edges of the gaps torn by their absences will scab over and heal in time. Yes, there will still be the openings that will never quite close again.

But we lurch around them and go on.






Operation Grief Bacon Be Gone Begins

Not too long ago, a link to an article about expressions in languages other than English with no direct translation popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. The closest translation to one of the German ones: grief bacon, the term used for weight gain related to stress or sorrow. 

In the last few years, I’ve accumulated quite a bit around my hips and belly along with a muffin top. The death of a beloved companion/fur-bearing child and the unnecessarily protracted illness and drawn-out passage of a family member plus menopause will do that to a woman. I’ve tried a few other times to release it, but for whatever reason, it didn’t leave. I had problems staying on any kind of food plan except the one that I know works best for me: eating low-glycemic/somewhat higher protein.

No, this is not like the Atkins or Paleo food plans. Well, a little in that the emphasis is on non-starchy veggies, fruits that are high in fiber and lower in sugar such as berries, nuts and peanuts, fish, meat and poultry, healthy fats such as real butter and avocados,  and other items that register five net carbs or less.  In other words, put the white carbs down and back away from the table.

I reread parts of The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, MD. That’s what she told patients going through the menopausal metamorphosis to do. She also recommends not eating anything per snack or meal more than you can hold in your two cupped hands.  Yes, it’s doable. Yes, I can have chocolate here and there. Yes, I can rendezvous with objects of desire such as potatoes and pasta once or twice a week.

Just not every day, and in moderation.



The Road Without a Map

Today is a snow day, one of respite and rest.

I hope. Please, Great Mystery, let it be both.

Last week felt like swimming though a tsunami of grief. Since the beginning of February,  social media friends and one who lives locally had to take the sad and sacred walk to the Rainbow Bridge with their companions. I wept, sent (((hugs))), hugged in real life. Along with the tidal wave of grief came ripples of anger–anger at the diseases that claimed some of them, at the aging process, at untenable circumstances.

Orion made his passage from lymphoma at 13 1/2. Nothing, between his age and his heart condition, could be done, and even if he were eligible, was I willing to put him through hell for six months of questionable quality of life. He wound down, still insisting on two walks a day at his favorite park until he lost the ability to walk. I stayed on the floor next to him until the very end. That was the weekend before Memorial Day.

I spent that summer trying to keep walking, breathing, doing yoga, anything to stumble into the new normal through the fog of shock and grief. Labor Day brought the light that dissipated the mist. I went to the Fox Valley Folk Festival. As I sat beneath a tree enjoying a hummus wrap for lunch, I realized that I was still here, that I still felt the old maple’s support behind my back, and that the sky was still blue. I sighed, and just sat for a while. 

Later that week, I dreamed that I heard Orion at the back door. When he wanted to come in, he would let us know with a deep “wooooooof.” As I approached the door I saw the most exquisite chestnut and white puppy between his front paws.

When Oakley and I adopted each other, I found out that he’d been born that week. He was scrawny and semi-feral and had a lot of un-adorable moments, but what teenager doesn’t? With the grace of a good trainer, we moved through the challenges. 

Oaks walked me as I finally surfaced on Sunday. The clear sky hinted at spring.

I still occasionally find my nocturnal wakings smeared with the last vestiges of guilt and grief over Orion. …switched vets sooner…recognized grain allergies earlier….titered sooner or not done as many vaccs…I should have hosed him off more often to get rid of the runoff from the neighboring farm…and then Oakley’s snoring jolts me back to the present. The questions about grain based food and doubts about vaccines had only recently started to surface in the collective questioning. 

Perhaps the objective of the grief process is not so much one of getting everything sewn up into a tidy bundle. Perhaps, instead, it is a question of acknowledging the holes, accepting that they will shrink and settle over time, but still be there. 

Oakley snuffled the old snow edging the trail at the crossroads. He tilted his head upwards, and sniffed the air. We walked off to the right, into the wooded portion, not sure of trail conditions, but knowing that we would get to its end in t