My little lieutenant

Over the years we’ve both shared the loss of two immediate family members, two corgis, a senior chihuahua, one cairn terrier and a hospice cat.

My boy Tuck’s definitely not a kid, but his exact age is unknown.

Thirteen maybe?

Perhaps older.

Tuck was found 11 years ago as a stray traveling country lanes in Missouri,
not too far from a puppy mill.

The pads on his little feet were worn down from his life on the road.

“Probably dumped because he was no longer useful as a breeding dog,” my kindly vet had speculated back then, shaking his head

I’m seeing more gray hairs now framing Tuck’s face with eyes increasingly cloudy as he sits next to me this morning.

Just where he’s chosen to be.

After all, Tuck’s always been my loyal little lieutenant.

He’s also been my anchor in an often stormy sea the last decade.

They’ll likely be a sunset before too long when I’ll have to lift that anchor and finally set Tucker free.

But in the meantime, I’ll be celebrating this courageous and constant companion and the great comfort he’s always given me.

It seems this senior pup finally found his purpose.

How lucky am I?

The Cat who came for Christmas

“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.” – St. Francis of Assisi –

Even one sunbeam is a gift from above in mid January and I was particularly grateful they were present early yesterday morning.

Mr. Bojangles, my hospice cat, was warmed by those same sunbeams as he took his last little breath.

My heart was warmed some as well.

It seems Mr. Bojangles decided to leave on his own terms.

He passed away peacefully while the car was warming up so I could drive him to our vet.

However, Mr. Bojangles earlier days had been anything but cozy, and were laced with many shadows. He had originally come to the shelter as part of an animal cruelty case.

Yet his days in my home appeared to be happy ones for him. He fit right in with the household and immediately claimed his special spot on a desk near a window.

It was just perfect for catching a sunbeam or two, as well as a quick catnap.

Mr. Bojangles passed exactly one month after he came to us from the shelter.

Though his time here was brief, I will always remember the sunny days we spent together and smile.

And I am at peace knowing the shadows in his life are finally gone forever.

Beauty blooms in January

“Beauty is so quietly woven through our ordinary days that we hardly notice it. Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness there is beauty.”

-John O’Donohue
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Perhaps it was a little crazy to take on a hospice cat over the holidays, or was it?

I was asking that potentially depressing question to a friend earlier this week since my husband passed away in hospice right after Christmas a few years ago.

On this gloomy bitter cold Sunday I’ve been watching Mr. Bojangles curl up on a cozy cat bed right beside me.

And I’ve actually been finding myself smiling.

Mr. Bojangles is holding his head up high, but not quite as high as he did when he first joined me.

Still he does so with grace.

Sure the fellow’s estimated to have only 2-5 months left at this point, but who really knows when our time is up anyway.

Three days ago Mr. Bojangles had stopped eating and didn’t seem to be drinking water. Yet by the next evening, I discovered he was back in the game.

However, it’s clear his appetite isn’t what it once was no matter the type of food given.

I’ve also noticed Mr. Bojangles is moving a bit slower, still every step he takes is deliberate. Though I no longer find him climbing the stairs to join the dogs up in the kitchen for breakfast.

Instead he prefers I join him in his private room and hold him as he tenderly takes in every flake of his tuna meals.

It seems Mr. Bojangles likes this extra one on one time.

I do know that I love providing him the extra attention he deserves along with some extra warm blankets.

Mid January can be especially cruel here in the upper midwest and this week has been no different.

Sub zero temperatures, icy roads with 20 car pile ups, and what looked like the loss of my hospice cat 3 days ago was beginning to play havoc with my soul.

Yet as I smell my beef stew now simmering in the crock pot while watching fresh snowflakes dance out the window to the sounds of that hospice cat still purring softly, I know it still is a beautiful world.

Yes, even in January.

One Wise Man

I was told he came from an animal cruelty situation.

I was told to expect him to live another three to six months.

Still you’d never know it to look at him.

At least, not for now.

Mr. Bojangles appears to be one happy gentleman. And he knows what he likes.

Since coming home with me right before Christmas, I’ve learned he clearly wants to be part of the family.

And to find his own place in the sun.

On this fifteen below zero morning, that meant scoring a soft bed on a desk near a well insulated window for a nap.

Occasionally Mr. Bojangles would jump down to stroll through the house, moving with gentle grace as he explored new closets and cozy corners.

Yet his speed would increase whenever I called him or when he heard the already familiar squeak of the door to the kitchen cabinet where his snacks are kept.

He knows that both mean a slow scratch and a tuna treat will follow.

It seems simple gifts bring Mr. Bojangles the greatest joy.

As well as just living in the moment.

And that’s made for one very wise man indeed this holiday season.

Mr. Bojangles

I spent Christmas Eve four years ago in an empty hospital watching Saturday Night Live reruns with my husband, Richard.

It was always his favorite show.

I held his frail right hand in mine, but found myself smiling.

My husband slept mostly, yet didn’t seem to be in pain.

Richard was in hospice at the time and wasn’t expected to make it until Christmas Day.

Though my mind was sometimes on overtime processing a host of decisions and emotions, I still found something beautiful about my husband’s hospice experience.

You see I often found myself living in the moment as well.

Maybe that’s why I found myself drawn to go back to see a special hospice cat I met last week at a local shelter.

This dear man will be joining me for Christmas Eve, and for the rest of his days.

The happy cat’s name is Mr. Bojangles, and it seems he still likes to dance.

At least for now.

But of course, I’ll still be there even when he doesn’t.

After all, that’s what life’s all about.

Isn’t it?

One Christmas Cat

“I’m a hospice cat, yet I still have a life to live,
I’m a hospice cat, but I have so much love to give.”

I met a charming new friend last Friday evening as I dropped off my year end donation at the local animal shelter.

He was resting not far from the front desk as if he was waiting just for me.

I was saddened some as I saw on a nearby sheet of paper that he was a hospice cat.

And he was estimated to be only about eight years old.

I knew I wanted a picture of this special friend to bring home.

I didn’t have a camera, so I grabbed a pencil and found a torn Christmas card envelope inside my bag that I could use to sketch a quick portrait.

Once finished, the two of us spent about a half an hour together visiting.

My friend’s soft purrs seemed to say alot as we played with a shiny red and green ball and a tiny stuffed purple mouse. His sweet face kept looking up at mine, smiling it seemed with his heart shaped nose.

I smiled back.

After a while he looked a little tired.

And it seemed I was as well.

As I opened my bag to put the envelope back inside, I thought to myself how this little cat had opened my heart some on a cold December night.

“Merry Christmas dear one.”

“I’ll be back again soon,” I told him.

“Very soon.”

And I know that’s one New Year’s resolution I will definitely be keeping.

Good dog

So gentle and kind.
That heart warms my soul.

Her days weren’t all easy.
A few took their toll.

Yet strong my girl is.
Though she cannot walk.

She still speaks of peace.
As her eyes still can talk.

Then she kisses my hands.
To prove up her love.

While I whisper “good dog.”
Until called up above.

Burying those ‘Bah Humbugs’

I was having one of those ‘Bah Humbug’ moments.

I’d just lost a mitten while shopping for my kitten.

I had been busily stocking up on emergency supplies at the store up the hill as a winter storm was coming.

Buying replacement mittens definitely was not on my shopping list.

But kitty litter, bread, milk, and lots of chocolate were. And all were fortunately within easy reach of the Santa cookie tins and one available smiling clerk humming “Let It Snow.”

I’m thinking their placement was geared towards keeping my spirits bright.

However, it didn’t.

I soon caught myself uttering another “Bah Humbug.”

Christmas fell off the top of my favorite holiday list way back when I was six.

That was the year the new doll smell and curly blonde hair of a baby doll delivered by Santa attracted the attention of our young beagle. Our dog thought she made the perfect chew toy.

The doll and my Norman Rockwell holiday were never quite the same.

It seems the annual arrival of frigid sub-zero weather with the holidays hasn’t helped my attitude either or all that crazy commercialism and greed.

Even family celebrations have grown a bit more bittersweet year by year.

It’s hard to forget the Christmas Eve when my late dementia stricken mother stared at her grandchildren across the dinner table and blurted out, “So who are you?”

Or the memories of sharing hospital meals of wilted salads and frosted Christmas cookies with my husband while he was in hospice three years ago.

But things really are beginning to look up.

Even in a year when peace and joy seem a bit hard to find.

Luckily, I just found that favorite mitten.

And I’m playing Santa for a few seniors, an animal rescue group, and the young children I work with.

I’m also hoping to share many more last minute smiles before the big day.

You see I once saw a flying Santa in the skies do the same.

It happened a few years ago.

I’d awakened at 6:00 a.m. to hysterical laughter on a holiday flight returning from Amsterdam.

The plane was packed full of travelers of all colors and nationalities. Many didn’t speak English.

It didn’t matter.

Everyone was looking up at the same movie screen smiling, sharing just a few brief moments of comfort and joy.

As well as those chuckles.

This time of year, no matter your beliefs, perhaps that’s what matters most.

Handsome Man

“You need a handsome man.”

I wasn’t looking for any advice, but recently got some anyway from my five year old grandson.

My daughter Nicole and grandkids had stopped over for a pizza party.

Nicole shook her head commenting, “Where’d he ever pick up that line?”

I quickly turned the topic over to the Mickey Mouse holiday puzzle in front of us.

It will be two years next week since my husband Richard passed from early onset dementia and other related health issues. He left us the day after Christmas.

In terms of holidays, Christmas has never been my favorite. Thanksgiving’s always ranked number one on my list.

Maybe it’s because I prefer gratitude to the greed that often blooms bright in December.

Yet I knew Christmas had snuck in the door once I noticed the annual Lutefisk dinner ads posted in the bathroom stalls at the local Lutheran church.

Still no handsome man was going on my wish lists and most of my Christmas decorations were donated as part of my recent move to a smaller home.

With that move, I’m now living a mile from the hospital where my husband died. And I need to drive by it every night to return home from work.

I’d recently found the gray December weather had made me blue, particularly once the annual holiday light display was turned on again at the hospital.

But one night last week I noticed for the first time a shining star to the north while driving by.

It rested atop the hospital’s brick tower where my husband spent his final days in hospice.

I found myself smiling as I looked up.

And then I turned the radio over to the all Christmas music station.

As light flurries began to fall, I continued driving north to pick up one potential gift I’d put on hold.

This one’s a gift for me.

And I know he will be for others through the volunteer hospice work we’ll be doing.

You see, I ended up taking my grandson’s advice after all.

I went and found myself a handsome man.

And it seems my four legged fellow already knows how to give perfect puppy kisses.

Mom and the blue sky above

My mother had already been in hospice for more than a year when I received an out of state call one Friday afternoon from my sister Nancy. She told me that Mom wasn’t expected to make it through the weekend.

Once Mom’s illness had transitioned into late stage dementia, Nancy moved Mom out to be with her in Colorado. My mother’s rapid decline was occurring at the same time my husband Richard was entering into his own late stage dementia back in our home state of Minnesota.

I knew from the conversation with Nancy that I couldn’t possibly make it to Colorado in time to be there at Mom’s bedside. But the rational side of my thinking wasn’t helping my emotional side at all. I had been at my father’s death bed when he passed away in Minnesota just a few years before. Still I remember how hard it was on my sister that she couldn’t be back with us at the time.

All weekend I was tense as Nancy and I exchanged multiple phone calls. By Sunday, we’d been told by the doctor “it was a just matter of hours.” I felt I had to do something to keep my head straight and my body busy.

Weather wise, it had been a gorgeous day with bright blue skies and near perfect temps. I knew there was a 5:00-6:00 pm yoga class scheduled nearby so I decided to attend. As I drove up to the club, I was hoping the session would be held outside on the deck overlooking beautiful and very peaceful marsh land. I was glad to see the teacher was already putting down the pink, blue, and green mats outside just as I stepped out of the car.

I couldn’t help but remember how Mom loved nothing more than being outside on a beautiful day. However, I was also wondering if I might lose Mom while there in that yoga class. I tried very hard to stay focused on the breathing instructions the instructor was giving, but of course my thoughts kept going back to Mom.

Near the end of the class, we did a relaxing yoga pose called shavasana where students lay down flat on their backs. Normally I’d be falling into a nap at this point, but not on that special day. Instead I looked up at the sky, listening quietly to the birds in the distance.

I soon saw something cardinal red in color floating up higher and higher into that miraculous blue sky. Was it a balloon or a satellite I wondered?

Or maybe even an angel?

A tear suddenly rolled down my cheek. And yet I felt very much at peace.

Afterwards I went directly home to check my emails. I had a message from my brother-in-law. He wrote that Mom had passed away exactly at 6pm, just as the class ended.

My sister called me later from the hospital and told me that when Mom passed, she saw a single tear had rolled down Mom’s cheek, just like mine.

I awoke early this Mother’s Day, the first one with out Mom. I checked in on the cardinal’s nest right outside my window. I saw the baby birds had moved on and were flying into the sky.

I left my cozy nest also and then drove to a special yoga class honoring all mothers.

And once there I shared a special gift with my own mother of just one more salty tear.