Drowning? You’ll be fine.
Support’s there, most everywhere.
Open up your eyes.
(Dedicated to the caregivers among us)
“…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 do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Since the moment those deep soulful eyes first met mine, I knew the 6 year old corgi resting before epitomized grace.
And I sensed her grace would help lead me through the journey I was on.
Much like a spirit animal, I thought.
I’d brought my husband Richard along for the long ride to meet Maddie.
“We’re going to drive north and we’ll just take a look,” I’d told Richard earlier that morning eight years ago as I hurriedly entered the interstate to beat the heavy rush hour traffic.
But I doubt he was even listening.
Richard’s early onset dementia had also been rapidly accelerating, as was my stress. And my mother’s dementia seemed to be on the same fast track.
When we arrived at the animal shelter four hours later Maddie spotted us, sporting a smile. She soon rolled to her back, begging for a belly scratch.
I quickly felt my stress melt in spite of the chilly weather.
Maddie had been a former working dog.
“She’s was from a very questionable backyard breeder,” the volunteer told me frowning.
Living on a back porch in the frigid winter months producing litter after litter must have been miserable, I remember thinking.
Yet looking back it seemed Maddie did learn resilience, and fine tuned her nurturing skills while there.
Maybe I have as well through all she’s shared with me over the years.
Today my caregiving responsibilities are gone with the death of my husband and my mom a few years go. I’ve retired from being a caregiver, at least for now.
Maddie and I have become seniors ourselves though she’s outpacing me some in that race.
My girl’s 98 in dog years, and is totally lame.
She’s getting tired, but is still happy most days.
“You need to start thinking about Maddie’s end of life, and her quality of life,” the vet told me recently.
“I am,” I replied with a look of resignation as I walked out.
I was in desperate need of a good cry.
It quickly became my purpose that day to see the controversial movie, “A Dog’s Purpose”.
In the film I knew there was a well loved corgi portrayed who passed away.
My sobbing started as soon as that corgi appeared on screen.
And my tears were quickly creating a waterfall.
They blocked my vision as I stumbled out of my seat, past the buttered popcorn, and then blindly entered the mens’ room in search of more Kleenex.
I apologized profusely to the three gentlemen in there who were staring at me.
Now that my tears are finely gone, I’m watching for more signs that it’s time for Maddie to move on.
This morning she smiled up at me when she spotted me, just as she has so often.
I’ve been blessed to witness plenty of those warm smiles on the sometimes bumpy journey we’ve shared together.
Yet I’m also starting to pay attention to what Maddie has to say as well.
Unfortunately there are no carefully drafted end of life wishes for our aging canine friends.
“Are you ready to go girl?” I ask Maddie if she’s looking a bit down sometimes at night.
I’m not hearing an answer, at least yet.
Author Jon Katz has written in his book ‘Talking to Animals’, “If we listen, they can tell us.”
One day soon I know that Maddie will.
And I’ll be there to help her along, no matter what path she decides to take.
I only hope she can run again like the wind.
Sometimes it’s easier to do nothing.
Sometimes you realize you must.
In a four year period my father died from Alzheimer’s, my mother was diagnosed with dementia, and also my husband Richard.
Life wasn’t pretty back then.
And my coping skills were more than spent.
Since Alzheimer’s and dementia are ultimately fatal diseases, Mom and Richard also soon joined Dad in the after life.
It’s been three years now since Richard, the last of the three, passed away.
I wanted to stay far, far away from the battles of anger, frustration, and pain I often felt while caregiving.
Yet after watching a recent PBS special that spoke of the “tsunami” of Alzheimer’s, I was drawn back into the war. http://www.pbs.org/tpt/alzheimers-every-minute-counts/about/the-film/
With the numbers of those afflicted woth Alzheimer’s increasing dramatically, it’s no wonder the show refered to the disease as both a “human tragedy and an economic one as well” for our country.
Last week I was asked to facilitate an Alzheimer’s support group for caregivers.
I admit I stalled some in making my decision and went for a long walk around the lake to mull it over.
Was I emotionally ready? Did I have the right skill set? Did I have the time?
Then I thought again of all those caregivers. Warriors who are battling the biggest storm of their life, or at least of their loved ones.
As I finished my trek, I stood and looked at the beautiful vista unfolding before me.
Maybe I could help some caregivers find a patch of blue sky and even bloom just a little on the darkest days.
I went home and immediately sent a note of acceptance for this great opportunity to serve.
How could I not?
“You can pick him up now. There’s nothing left to test,” I was told by the busy neurologist on the phone.
He was referring to my late husband, Richard.
And he was talking about my husband’s fading memory.
The appointment was just a year after Richard’s initial dementia diagnosis. I’d been told by the doctor they would need several hours for testing.
Yet my cell phone was ringing in less than five minutes.
It wasn’t long after the call that I started considering eventual placement in a group home at the strong encouragement of Richard’s doctor.
I was in over my head, yet needed to be convinced that the quality of his care and his existence would be improved if he was to move.
One category on my wish list for him was the opportunity to go on outings which I knew would require a van.
The home that Richard eventually moved into had both, as well as a great activity director.
On my first visit to the home, I’d noticed museums were a favored destination on their calendar including the beautiful art museum where my husband used to work as a curator.
On Richard’s first outing back to the museum as a group home resident, the man with no memory somehow managed to get out of his wheelchair and navigate purposefully down several long hallways, and through a restricted area back to his old office.
The museum guards stepped out of his way and smiled as they watched their former co-worker, as did the teary eyed staff and volunteers from the group home.
And though that magical moment never quite had a second act, that group home van would eventually take Richard on many other magical adventures that would always put a smile on his face.
Concerts, apple orchards, theaters, fishing excursions, picnics, restaurants…
Richard’s play list went on and on.
Oh, the places he went.
Thanks to a van, his magic bus.
“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.
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.