Autumns come and go.
Though gone a while, we’ll still smile.
This one’s bittersweet.
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Clarence, a kindly guardian angel shared those words in the classic 1946 movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.”
And I’ve often found the words ring even truer when talking about our dogs.
As my fourteen year old lame corgi Maddie continued to struggle earlier this summer, I was already feeling an all too familiar void coming my way.
While lamenting with a fellow corgi owner strolling by with his own corgi pup, I was advised to adopt another dog before Maddie passed on “to help ease the pain.”
He was speaking from his own experience.
“Thanks for the suggestion,” I said, but dismissed the advice right after our conversation.
After all, I already had a couple of little four legged friends back at home.
Still I knew the hole in my heart was growing as Maddie’s days continued to shrink.
I guess it was no surprise that I found myself ‘just stopping by’ a rural shelter one afternoon while driving out in the country.
I’d been visiting a nearby cemetery where my parents and brother were buried, and was feeling a little blue.
As I first entered the shelter, I spotted a white five pound dog dancing with joy as he first saw me.
The silver wispy curls shining like a halo on his head reminded me of Clarence.
And this little guy was clearly a senior as well.
Estimated to be about ten years old, the dog was a dirty, matted mess when he’d first arrived. He had so much hair on his body that the shelter couldn’t safely guess at the breed buried below it.
This little fellow, named ‘Dirty Harry’ by the loving staff, was cleaned up and had since been shaved down.
A half hour after my arrival a smiling Harry and smiling me walked together out of the shelter after completing adoption paperwork.
I’d chosen to leave the dirty part of his name far behind.
Back home Harry quickly got to work befriending Maddie as she rested on her plaid dog bed in the kitchen.
Harry continued to share his sweet smiles and dancing acumen daily in spontaneous recitals of joy right next to the stove.
Maddie appeared to approve, watching every move.
She once loved to dance herself on those short hind legs years prior to her lameness.
Harry quickly fell in love with his big sister, joining Maddie in her stroller on our trips to the farmer’s market and for outdoor band concerts down by the lake.
And also on that comfy dog bed.
Maddie was soon smiling brighter again herself.
Yet just two months and a day after Harry’s adoption, the music suddenly stopped.
Harry had left us while sleeping peacefully on my shoulder, just like he did every night.
My own vet suspected Harry was much older than ten and detected a heart murmur, though it wan still unclear why Harry had died that evening.
But one warm day a week later it became clear to me.
Earlier in the morning Maddie had also passed on.
I choose to believe Harry, her guide and protector, had flown back to get her.
He was an angel after all.
Maddie’s guardian and guide granted her wings to finally move on to a more beautiful place where she could kick up her heels and run free once more.
My heart is full again, just at the thought.
“…So their work is mostly us, their families. They stay close, pay close attention, watch over us, and are always available to us.”
Book author Jon Katz wrote those words in a post last week about smaller dogs.
I smiled as I read it, and I also cried some as well.
My 14 year old corgi Maddie had just passed away last Monday.
It seemed I’d become Maddie’s purpose over the years after a brief stint as a breeder dog.
And she handled her role with grace, love and compassion always.
I often felt she’d become my own unique caregiver over the last decade as I dealt with the loss of both my parents and husband from Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
She’d calm my constant rage with the cruel disease by simply offering her belly for scratching or even a soft ear that would just listen.
Sometimes it was a just a big, wet button nose to kiss.
Maddie’s whole face wore joy so well, even in her final months.
She radiated happiness in her pet stroller as we’d navigate around the lake in the sunshine.
And Maddie looked even happier as we’d stop at the nearby bakery for free sugary smells and fresh samples.
Yet she was also very content just keeping an eye on me from her cozy dog bed in the kitchen in her final days.
After all, she still saw it as her job till the end.
Those big round eyes were so full of soul, yet often they were mixed with just a little mischief.
No wonder everyone loved Maddie, both man and beast.
The morning after Maddie passed, my Chi pup Rex was blue and refused to eat for the first time.
And my Yorkie Tucker, hid under the bed.
He’s never done that before either.
Yet this week we all seem to be moving on.
I know Maddie’s in a good place. And as I told the rest of the canine clan this morning, “Don’t worry, she’s still watching over us.”
I like to think they agreed as we looked up at the sky while walking out the door into the beautiful day before us.
“I’m crabby,” I told my pup Rex early yesterday, but he wasn’t listening.
He seems to know when Sunday’s rolls around again, and that day is his fun day.
Rex wasn’t going to let my foul mood and gray skies get in the way of his plans.
He knew an extra long walk was already on the morning agenda for just the two of us.
Just like we do every Sunday.
With my senior canines softly snoring in some kind of post breakfast bliss, Rex and I quietly snuck out the back door.
As we got closer to the lake where we typically walk, my mood was still heavy.
The heat and humidity generated during the week hadn’t come from just the weather.
Ignoring his usual stop to smell sweet cinnamon bread cooling from the oven at the bakery, Rex’s nose instead led me to a display of flowers on the steps outside an old church across the street.
I found myself taking a picture, but it wasn’t one of the typical pretty nature shots I try to take on our walks.
It represented the ugly horrendous side of human nature.
An act of gun violence.
Before us stood a makeshift memorial for a beautiful woman, and one of great peace.
A yoga and meditation instructor who had taught in the rooms inside.
She was shot accidentally by whom some call a trigger happy police officer last weekend.
Yet there were other victims as well, including:
-Our Somali community, as that police officer was the first Somalian officer in his precinct.
-Our police chief who was soon fired in the aftermath.
-And perhaps soon our mayor, who’s still directly in the line of fire from all the finger pointing.
I also believe many members of our police department and their families are suffering from the often unkind discourse on social media.
I feel too for the children in the community and their parents. How does a mother or father even begin to explain an accidental police shooting to a son our daughter?
Our city continues to grieve.
Rex and I stood for a while on the church steps looking at the brightly colored chalk drawn hearts surrounding us and small animals displayed next to the flowers.
It seems the woman who lost her life was also a trained veternarian and animal lover.
I read a sign written by the spiritual community that she was a part of inside the old church.
It spoke of “recognizing her message of love, peace and non-violence.”
Rex and I stood a minute longer in reflection and continued down the hill to the lake.
As we walked we found some serenity in the boats sailing by. And later a peace garden provided some comfort for our weary souls and feet.
As we turned to go back home I spied a patch of sunflowers and blue skies across a field.
I smiled and I like to believe that Rex did too.
Before we finished our walk, we decided to stop at the neighborhood Farmer’s Market.
I saw many shoppers carrying single white roses with their radishes and arugala.
As I turned the corner a smiling couple at an unmarked table ask me to take a rose “for Justine”, the beautiful woman who was killed.
They told me they were her neighbors and we peacefully spoke of the pretty day unfolding and the wonderful market.
I smiled again as well as I recalled from my days working in a flower shop that a white rose represents hope for the future.
As Rex and I left the market with our white rose and red radishes, I noticed a Laughter Yoga session was still scheduled down the street for later in the afternoon.
Perhaps life does goes on as it should, but we never forget.
Though I did choose to forget about that yoga class.
Maybe next week I thought, as I carefully placed the white rose in my most elegant vase at home.
“You could divorce your husband,” the young man on the other side of the desk told me sporting a somewhat pained expression.
I sensed it wasn’t his favorite option.
I’d made an appointment to gain advice on how to survive an approaching tsunami of expenses involved with caring for my husband’s early onset dementia.
That conversation with the professional is like many other heart wrenching memories of caring for a middle aged 200 pound man whose memory was fading fast.
Fortunately I find the toughest recollections have now faded a bit as well, stopping by for brief interludes on holidays like Valentine’s Day along with the very good ones.
I said hello to a little photograph in the red frame this morning of my late husband and me.
It was taken the night before our wedding at my parents’ home.
They’ve also since passed on from Alzheimer’s and dementia.
But I smiled as I held it.
It was a great celebration filled with love.
And today I will celebrate only my good memories.
In addition, I will honor the new ones I am making this Valentine’s Day.
I’ll be coloring bright red and pink paper hearts shortly with some little ones.
Then spreading sweet cheer later on with some very special seniors.
And finally, I will rest well this night with my loving four legged furry friends at my feet.
It seems anyway I look at it, love is still a wonderful commitment.
My husband Richard passed away three years ago tonight, but I find myself celebrating in a way.
Sure his life was cut too short, and his early onset dementia was cruel, yet most of his days were good ones.
It seems Richard knew how to live well.
His life was never a rich one monetarily, but it was in experiences, accomplishments, and in his work with the arts community.
Richard also knew how to laugh.
And mostly, at himself.
The first time I met Richard at a dinner party, he was already making the others guests hysterical while describing a crazy New Year’s Eve just spent with an elderly aunt in Boston.
And Richard would always be the first to chuckle at the graduate school pictures of himself from the 70’s with his long brown hair, skinny torso, and Barnaby Street bell bottom suits.
By the time I met him a decade later at the party, he was sporting instead a marine cut, balding white hair, and a slight Santa pot belly masked under preppy flannels.
I believe I admired most Richard’s ability to share his loving heart with others.
And often to those with the greatest need.
Richard was the first to mention the idea of adopting a very special 12 year old girl from Russia. And did he ever LOVE to spoil this girl after our adoption was finalized and we all came back together to the U.S.
That special girl grew to become one very special lady. She, along with her young family, came over today for a belated Christmas celebration.
We had a joyful time dancing in our family room and I hadn’t thought about today’s anniversary until she pulled out one of Richard’s old graduate school photos from her purse. I then glanced briefly at some later photos of Richard on the book shelves behind her and smiled.
Perhaps in this last week of 2016, I should now be thinking about jotting down my resolutions for the new year.
Like lose that extra ten pounds or find the best job ever.
But I don’t really need too.
I’ve just realized my resolutions have been right here behind me in my family room, and in bold, ever since I down sized into my new home.
Just three short words can say it all, and I will practice them every day.
“Live, laugh, love.”
Sounds like a whole lot more fun than going on a diet.
And after all, life is just too short.