Sweet Passage: Part One

“…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.

Country musings

It was a short trip to the country, long overdue.

I know you can’t go home again, and my final destination never actually was my residence.

But in my heart it was home, especially in summer.

My grandparents once lived in the little Minnesota town I was fast approaching. My childhood memories there are still ripe with picking rhubarb, fresh corn, Grandma’s lemon pies in the oven, and porch swings.

My final stop was to be a rural cemetery in the corn fields just about a mile beyond the town’s Main Street.

My brother, parents, and grandparents are buried there, along with a host of other relatives.

It’s my tribe.

I recall a great aunt softly grabbing my arm and walking me through the place at my brother’s burial service many years ago.

She introduced me to each and everyone of his new neighbors there. And it seemed I was related to them all.

The main purpose of my trip was to check on the state of my family’s monuments and pavers.

And also to pay my respects.

It was a lonely, cold and gray morning at the cemetery. Memorial Day had already come and gone, just like the northerly wind.

There was just me and the morning doves around.

I noticed looking across the grounds that flowers on the graves were very few.

Perhaps those who used to plant the red, white and blue petunias on the burial sites of their elders had now passed away themselves.

But as I walked around I found some unexpected gifts.

A small bunch of yellow silk forget-me-knots adorned my brother’s grave. They were faded some, but lovingly placed perhaps by a stranger who cared, or was moved by the words ‘beloved son’ engraved on the tombstone.

I also discovered sheaves of corn placed around his grave and those of many others.

There is an old custom of placing these sheaves on the burial ground of those who once farmed.

Though no one in my immediate family had worked the land, it was still in their blood.

I pulled my old down vest tighter as I battled the chill back to my car.

Driving again through my grandparents aging small town to enter the highway back towards the city, I became a little blue. I noticed the downtown looked a bit dead with many vacant storefronts.

And I realized too that this trip out in the country had lacked the charm I used to know. The once proud red barns were now decaying and swaying in the breeze. And many of the other small towns along that highway looked lost and weathered as well.

I longed for any signs of life in traditional small town America and rural America.

And maybe just to see a farmer in bib overalls, I thought.

Suddenly I pulled the car over at the sight of something familiar, yet a bit different.

To my right I saw that the old Victorian funeral parlor, sitting kitty corner from my grandparents’ old place, was filled with life again.

There were tricycles and toys in the front yard. Maybe a growing family lived here or it was a bustling day care center I hoped.

Then I looked to the left.

My grandparents’ former home was shining brighter than ever with a fresh coat of paint.

And a few minutes later as I was driving back on the highway, I finally saw my farmer in bib overalls coming out of a dollar store.

I smiled for a moment.

I was happy.

At least it wasn’t a big old Walmart.

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.

A little heartbeat

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“My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet.” – Edith Wharton

A friend asked me when I adopted Rex back in December why this little guy is so special to me.

I think I may have found my answer in the quote above while reading on my porch love seat this morning.

Living with intention has never been one of my strengths, though I’m working on it.

However for Rex, it surely is.

The day I first met Rex I’d only stopped by the shelter to pick up a few pet supplies.

Rex however had other ideas and trotted that 6 pound body over to me to offer his assistance.

He seemed to sense I needed to get my empty heart beating again after some losses in my life.

He seemed to know I needed a younger, active pup to get me exercising for my health.

And Rex has now learned that sometimes in the early morning hours, all I need is to hear is that little heartbeat at my feet.

He’s one very smart boy.

And I’m one very lucky girl.

 

Dignity, with a dose of joy

Grief is a funny thing.

Or maybe not.

You think you’ve got proper protection then something bites you in the backyard.

Just like a big old mosquito.

I was outside playing with the dogs tonight when I got stung.

There laying on the freshly cut grass before me was my loving corgi Maddie. My girl’s close to 14 now and she was looking lethargic with her head down on the ground.

One of Maddie’s backlegs is lame, and now the second seems to be slowing down as well.

I joined her on my stomach anyway right next to her, and started snapping pictures.

But that usual magical spark was missing in Maddie’s eyes which was bringing me down even lower.

My girl’s expression reminded me of the words my paternal grandmother shared with me in her eighties.  “It’s hell getting old,” Grandma would often say before she passed from Alzheimer’s a few years later.

I stopped and thought for a moment about about those I’ve lost in in my life, particularly in the last 3 or 4 years.

There once was a mother, one husband, and three sweet senior dogs.

Mom, my spouse Richard, and even one of the dogs had dementia. And yet they all managed to keep happy in spite of their illnesses.

Perhaps even happier than my late corgi Mariah and chi-doxie Greta who held on to their cognitive skills till the day each of them passed on.

I began to scratch Maddie’s soft belly for a while to calm her and to calm me.

Suddenly a mourning dove began to croon on the weathered fence post behind us, but it wasn’t a sad song at all.

Then a monarch darted and danced right past Maddie’s black nose demanding her attention before taking off for the barbecue next door.

Soon I saw joy and dignity return to Maddie’s face.

And I felt a growing smile on mine as my camera hooked just the shot I was looking for.

It’s definitely a keeper.

Reinvention and resilence

“Get your ducks in a row,” the polished silver haired woman seated before me advised.

A few months after my husband Richard passed away from dementia, and a year after my Mom did the same, I thought I better see a grief counselor.

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” I’d asked myself one night in the mirror.

Previously I’d attended a group session for family members of those who’d passed while in hospice, but I left feeling worse then when I went in.

I no longer needed to share my tears and grief over Mom and Richard, but instead wanted to move on with my life. After a decade of caregiving responsibilities related to memory loss for both of my parents and my spouse, I was ready.

Yet I was still mourning what I saw as the loss of ten years of my life.

I felt I’d gone from middle aged to old with the snap of an arthritic finger.

So as I sat with this wise woman before me for my two sessions, I took her advice to heart.

I knew I wasn’t getting any younger, but getting my affairs in order so I could fully enjoy the rest of my days made good sense.

As I sat down by the lake this morning watching sailboats and the family of happy ducks before me, I reflected on the changes I’ve made in the last eight months.

I’ve swapped both houses and communities.

I retired early from my corporate career, and I’m now working in the non profit sector with children.

And I believe I am at peace.

Sharing a muffin with the ducks, I thought too of a former co-worker from my corporate days who experienced rough patches in her own life. She is now an accomplished and very talented poet.

I believe she’s very content and proud of a new book she just published that I finished earlier this morning.

She should be.

And I thought again of contentment as I greeted another former co-employee later at the farmers’ market, a few blocks up from the the lake.

This bright fellow’s become a farmer.

It was an unplanned lifestyle change, starkly different from his corporate life in the city, but it seems to agree with him.

Buying a bunch of red radishes from my friend, my eye caught a basket of colorful notecards with photos he’d taken on his beautiful farm.

An expression of pride immediately spread across his face as I selected the shot of a cheerful and smiling pig to send to an ailing friend.

“You know, these aren’t at all easy to capture on a pig’s face,” he told me, smiling wide as well.

After I left I was thinking how different ships come in during the course of our lives as we venture to different ports of call.

And we always encounter storms along the way.

But in the end, perhaps what provides us peaceful passage may just be those very smiles we give and receive.

From Blue to Pink

I’ve been missing my Mom.

Every tax season brings gentle reminders of Aprils past when I’d take time off work to call banks and insurance companies to reissue Mom’s tax forms.

In her final years, Mom would often lose, toss, or neatly fold her 1099s into empty containers of Pringles chips.

Dementia was eating away at her brain.

Still we’d persevere.

I’d put Mom on the desk phone in the family room next to her brightly colored Swedish horse collection.

And I’d be on the kitchen wall phone with an extra long cord, so I could prompt Mom as the phone reps for the firms would answer.

But she was much quicker on the draw.

And sweeter.

She’d be peppering them with questions from the first hello.

“Now, where do you live, and how’s your weather out there today?”

“That’s nice, say, what’s your name again?”

“Oh my, so you’re Swedish then. I bet I know your cousin! ”

It didn’t matter if the phone rep was Irish, Israeli, or Indian.

Everybody was Swedish in her new world of memory loss.

After each prolonged phone call, we’d celebrate with a toast to strong coffee and Swedish Ginger cookies.

These chilly April days I’m making phone calls for my own missing tax forms.

Did I lose or toss them like Mom used to do?

Or could the issue relate to a recent move?

Glancing at Mom’s Swedish horses this morning living now in my family room, I craved a ginger cookie.

And a chance to see Mom’s smile again.

I decided to take a break and drive to a hot new restaurant nearby. It’s a bit pricey at night, but I was hoping a ten and the change in my pocket would more than cover breakfast.

The cuisine is Scandinavian, but as I walked in the new age Swedish music and contemporary design said “this is not your Mother’s Sweden”.

I grabbed a table anyway, as filtered sun through the front window warmed me from the cold and damp beyond.

Then I peeked at the menu and grinned.

I heard Mom in the printed words before me: herring, lingonberries, pickled beets.

Though I opted for Swedish pancakes.

I was in heaven with the first bite tasting the warm juniper, honey, and oranges inside.

As I poured myself more coffee from the shiny glass decanter, something caught my eye outside the window.

I looked up to see iridescent bubbles of blue, pink, and gold catching a breeze and rising higher and higher.

Finally, melting into the clouds.

It appeared the source was a bubble machine nestled behind an oversized teddy bear in front of the toy store across the street.

I lingered longer at the sight, watching the bubbles dance away.

And so did the children and their mothers strolling by.

Mom, too, would have loved the display I thought to myself.

As would my grandsons.

After paying the bill, I crossed the street to buy some of the colored magic potion.

“Oh, we only use the clear bubbles here in our machine,” I was confidently told by the clerk.

Baffled, I walked out of the store.

I looked up at the sky one more time.

“The clerk is right, the bubbles are clear,” I mumbled softly.

Still, I was sure they weren’t when I looked out of the restaurant window.

I smiled as I slowly walked back to my car to continue working on my taxes.

And just for a moment I felt someone watching, and smiling over me.

 

Simple Needs, Simple Gifts

While grabbing the mail a few weeks back, I noticed one oversized envelope with a stamped New York return address.

“5th Avenue” it read. It was sent from a suite in in the Empire State Building.

Yet my Minnesota address was handwritten.

I smiled for a minute, thinking of the many trips I made to the city when I was young.

I thought fondly of one employer who’d put me up in a particularly posh room at the UN Plaza, overlooking the Chrysler Building.

I remember sitting cross legged on my oversized bed at 3:00 a.m. gazing up at that skyscraper shining brighter than the stars overhead.

I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.

But I never quite made it to the Empire State Building.

Was this some kind of a fancy invitation now, I wondered?

Well, sort of.

Inside the envelope was an offer to select a gift to thank me for my many years of service from a more recent employer. They provided me a with a password to use on an internet site.

I retired back in the fall.

The selections they presented me with were dazzling though I couldn’t find any new car batteries or gift cards for dog food included.

Instead I saw regal looking clocks with chimes, delicate diamond bracelets, circular saws, and 24 piece flatware sets.

Nice merchandise indeed, but I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that more than 90 percent of possessions I owned when I retired are no longer around.

In order to downsize to an 800 square foot cottage that same month, I needed to pare down quickly. And I was also in the process of paring down to a 30 hour work week with a non-profit.

It’s pretty clear my lifestyle’s changed.

And I have as well, I was thinking as I took a second look at each of the possibilities before me.

I quickly rejected the handsome clocks. My time on earth is too short to sit and watch each minute tick by.

And diamond bracelets aren’t a must for my current wardrobe of three pairs of faded jeans, two sweatshirts, and a salt stained winter parka.

I then consulted my neighbor who advised me that deciphering the detailed instructions for a circular saw would clearly have me running in circles.

And once my late husband was diagnosed with dementia, I threw all formal dining out the window and became a permanent fan of plastic knives and forks.

I finally decided to set the big envelope aside for a while.

Instead, I stopped over at the local thrift store to take a look at a small rocking chair for $4.00.

I’ve downsized so much I don’t have chairs anymore for my grandkids to sit in when they stop by.

I found walking through the shop was like walking through my own personal history museum, as I’d donated so many items there.

To my left I saw my husband’s colorful collection of silk ties, neatly displayed next to several of his crisp blue checked shirts.

To my right were lovingly crafted pottery pieces that used to sit on our coffee table.

And in front of me was a display of our old crystal pieces.

There stood my tall Tiffany candlesticks, our beautifully etched bowls, and all my elegant vases.

I saw my favorite vase where I once displayed the yellow roses I received each anniversary.

I became a little melancholy.

But only briefly.

I know all the goods I donated will find the homes they deserve.

And I’m helping out a worthy local charity that does a great job of helping clients find food, housing, and jobs.

Today I went back again to view the gift website of my old employer.

And this time I saw something new that had been added.

The gift was described as a ‘creative vision’.

An ‘evolution’ of sorts.

One encased with color ‘creating a dramatic presence’.

The words made me think of what I want for this late chapter of a life.

I quickly hit the ‘send’ button.

An aqua infused crystal vase will be coming my way in 10 days.

It’s a simple gift really, yet shining with light.

And it will bring back color to a landscape once cloudy as it frames the yellow roses I’ll be growing in my new little garden.

What more could I possibly want?

What more could I possibly need?

Not one single thing.

Love Connection/Life Connection

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My first connection with handsome man Rex last month was somthing akin to speed dating.

I’d entered a room ripe in potential for love connections immediately upon arrival at the shelter.

“Hey there handsome guy,” I announced while approaching Rex’s pen, sandwiched tight between some boisterous hound dog brothers.

Only Rex turned around, cocking his elfin head, and thrusting his little chest forward.

We made immediate eye contact, then he ran over to greet me extending a tiny paw through the fencing in the gate.

Labeled extremely shy when he’d first arrived, this handsome man had made a miraculous recovery.

I hailed a kindly volunteer over to escort Rex and I to a ‘meet and greet’ room where we soon were sharing savory snacks and sparkling water.

I told him I really wasn’t looking for a year old pup, “being an aging woman and all, but I just wanted to meet you”.

He looked disappointed.

“You see Rex, I’m not one of those cougar women you hear about.”

He then gazed back up at me, seeming to understand, yet still determined to charm.

And boy, did he ever.

Rex was soon showing off his talents with the commands he’d already learned such as “sit”, “stay”, and “no”.

Rex also proudly displayed finesse at walking on a leash, an important gift to this graying woman before him for trips into the city.

I slid down onto the tile floor, where Rex immediately climbed onto my lap.

I told him tales of my sweet senior corgi, Maddie and her spunky senior Yorkie brother.

“That Tucker’s still got plenty of attitude”.

Rex looked up at me with his tiny brown eyes, amused.

Maybe that look of amusement, those brown eyes, and that blithe spirit is what finally captured my heart.

And my soul.

Especially when Rex kept sweetly licking my hand as I shared stories of the two senior dogs I lost last year.

“I’m guess I’m trading in loss for life,” I told him.

I shared part of our story with the shelter where I adopted Rex. https://quiltofmissingmemories.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/love-connectionlife-connection/

It’s since appeared on their Facebook page.

One popular comment was posted there afterwards asking, “Who rescued who?”

I know for sure I didn’t rescue Rex.

Nor did Rex rescue me.

I just fell in love that day with a little young man.

And I’m hoping he’s fallen in love with little old me.

One Dog’s Christmas Story

It was five years ago this week when I drove through a snowstorm to meet Grandma Greta, a soon to be 11 year old chi-doxie mix.

She was signed up for a holiday adoption event with a local rescue group.

I’d noticed her image on the masthead for the group’s website. Those jet black airplane ears taking half of the width of the page definitely caught my attention.

I was about to retire from short term dog fostering at the time.

My husband Richard’s rapidly declining memory loss had made conducting home visits and attending meet and greets with foster dogs unrealistic.

I’d been thinking instead about becoming a permanent foster of a hard to place black senior dog.

I had no particular interest in 4 pound yippee pocket dogs, but there was something about Greta’s gray muzzle and those big black ears.

And also her life story.

She’d spent the first 10 years on the road with a trucker who was ill, then a family with young children who terrified her.

After dropping off my husband at his adult day care center, I finally arrived at the busy pet warehouse that chilly Saturday.

I wandered inside, past the line for Santa to the back of the store, where I immediately recognized little Greta.

Instantly, I was smitten. I knew she was going home with me that day.

Against my better judgement, I decided to bring her over to Santa for a picture. The challenges of my husband’s dementia had been bringing me down and I thought a photo would put me in the holiday spirit.

Greta wasn’t exactly thrilled as I placed her in Santa’s lap. One photo was taken and then she jumped to the floor, slipping and sliding across rows of shiny linoleum and underneath ceiling high shelving units.

A store employee and I finally trapped her.

Santa never even got Greta’s wish list.

Still I bought Greta an extra small snowflake sweater and raw hide even though I was thinking she probably deserved some coal in her stocking.

The first couple of weeks at home, Greta was very icy towards me. I saw those tiny teeth of hers a few more times than I would have liked.

Yet she seemed to immediately warm up to Richard.

I would place her in his lap each night. Though he no longer spoke more than a few words, Richard would always instinctively stroke her back and Greta would peacefully doze off.

As Greta loved food, I was finally able to bribe my way into her heart some as well.

Not long after Greta moved in, it was necessary to transition my husband to a group home. Greta loved it there and would twirl around in her 25 cent garage sale pink tutu for all the residents to see.

And she would continue to nap in my husband’s lap on those visits until he passed away two years ago this Christmas.

Yet afterwards Greta reinvented herself once again.

She decided she was now my lap dog.

And she also became a social butterfly.

Greta loved to visit dog friendly coffee shops and bookstores. She’d be in her glory on long road trips or even short jaunts to McDonalds. And she was a big
fan of pet friendly church services where she’d always try to steal the communion bread and wine.

Greta discovered too that she was no longer afraid of young children in the area. They all believed she was still a puppy at sixteen because of her tiny size and spunk.

I like to think she really was flattered as she was quite the little diva after all.

Yesterday morning I wrapped up my little diva in her favorite red velveteen blanket from the couch.

And we took a drive in a snowstorm.

This time it was to the vet, as she hadn’t been feeling well.

The vet told me it was time for Greta to move on once again.

Crying some, I agreed. And I let her go.

Afterwards, I bought another red velveteen blanket at the store. And last night my other dogs Tucker, Maddie, and I watched “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” on TV while resting on Greta’s favorite couch.

I dozed off a bit, and awakened later to the sound of a train whistle from the tracks that run by the depot where my husband’s memorial service was held.

I smiled, thinking perhaps Greta was helped up to that holiday train and found her way back to my husband’s lap wherever he may be.

The thought gave me comfort, and I slept like a baby.

And Grandma Greta, I hope you are as well.