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.

Blue Highways

“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.

So long, Sunshine

Rain drops and falling leaves covered my windshield as I drove back to the vet’s office tonight.

I’d dropped a little friend off yesterday with the doctor for observation.

Sunshine, a Cairn Terrier, has been with me the last three years.

Much longer than expected.

She became a permanent foster, celebrating her 15th birthday with us just last month.

Sunshine’s start in life was tough, living in a puppy mill in the south for close to a decade.

The vet telling me her oddly shaped nose may have been caused by it being pressed up against a wire cage.

But this little girl still had a heart of gold.

With a heart murmur that no longer could be kept in check.

I like to believe Sunshine’s just joined up with that frolicking dog pack of other canines in my life who have since moved on.

And in the days ahead she’ll be breathing easy.

As I type this I look fondly, with a bit of sadness, at the Halloween picture of us from an adoption event a few years ago.

Though I’ll be moving on as well.

I just returned an email about a volunteer commitment this weekend for a two legged senior friend.

And my next note is offering to help as a vacation foster for an 11 year old Pomeranian, in honor of Sunshine.

I bet she would have liked that.

Rest in peace, my little friend.

And may there always be sun light on your path.

And then there was light

A heavy dose of State Fair pronto pups and mini donuts were my goals for Friday when I’d originally asked to take the day off work. I’d planned on inviting my young granddaughter to join me. The weather forecast was promising wide smiles on the faces of fair goers.

But my plans changed as did the forecast.

I’d received an email back from a ship captain about a bucket list item I’d been putting off. It’s something I knew I needed to accomplish, but it would also present me with a tough challenge.

Yet I was determined to get it done before my milestone birthday in the fall. So instead of traveling to the fairgrounds I traveled south along the Mississippi River bluffs to a 40 acre lake.

I left early at 5:30 a.m. to leave plenty of time to make my appointment to meet the captain at a marina.

Navigating rolling country hills framed in late summer’s goldenrod and sunflowers, I felt I’d made the right decision. Especially if the thunder could be kept at bay.

And I even held tight a glimmer of hope the light might actually shine through.

To some, I was making this journey alone. Yet actually, I wasn’t. I was traveling with my husband’s ashes, and those of his mother’s to their final resting place.

My husband passed away the day after Christmas. His mother, almost three decades before. I’d never had the chance to meet her, but knew from my husband she was a beautiful woman inside and out.

As I drove, I said a silent prayer for strength as I knew there was some risk in accomplishing this honor without other family or friends at my side.

But scheduling conflicts and weather complications had interferred with earlier attempts. And with cooler weather coming and the captain’s schedule, I knew I had to quickly grab this time slot.

After I’d confirmed back to the captain’s email Monday night, I’d read a blog post by an author I admire, Jon Katz. His words summed up where I am on my cycle of grief and affirmed for me that I’d chosen the right path for my Friday:

“To celebrate life rather than simply mourn death and loss, to seek the light after the dark…Every day, we affirm our own existence, find our strength, and move forward into a place of love and purpose.”

I’ve wanted to find my own strength and move forward for a while.

And along with, it neatly press and fold grief and tough memories to place into drawers to close tight.

So as I walked the long docks yesterday to the slip and the 35 foot sailboat, I was happy to finally meet the captain.

He’s a man of great compassion who has experienced loss in his own life as well.

I knew this extra guidance would be a blessing for my trip.

We sailed on to the perfect spot, near a park on shore my husband always loved. As do I, and my daughter.

After taking care of the task at hand, I placed a couple of yellow roses in the water for my husband and pink ones for his mom.

The captain commented on how the roses seemed to be sailing off together in the gentle breeze.

Suddenly the clouds overhead broke up some, allowing the light to shine through.

And soon all the clouds sailed away, and the captain surprised me by asking that I take the wheel of the boat for a while.

Grabbing the wheel of a sailboat actually’s been another bucket list item for me.

The captain also asked me to smile for a picture. And it turned out the smile came much easier than I expected.

Afterwards, we docked and I stopped at a restaurant my husband and I always loved overlooking the water. I bought a green coffee mug made by a local potter whose home we’d vacationed at years ago.

The green represents renewal and growth for me. And the mug will be there always to remind me of my husband.

I was escorted by eagles soaring above the lake and then along the Mississippi for part of the drive back home.

Where I slept, longer than I have in over a year.

So did my dogs.

All at peace with decisions made, and this special day.

And as to the State Fair and those pronto pups?

They’ll be around next year.

Just like always.