June 2, 2011

I should not have been surprised when my 20-week-old puppy, Wisconsin, leaped off the dock at a recent dock diving event.  But I was, thrilled!

It was here, at this dock that I saw the Golden Retriever I wanted; she was dragging her owners across the yard to the pool.  This was a small, light colored Golden, with good structure.  I thought she was a puppy, but found out she was over a year old. I was looking for a small Golden and was told that this breeder was very responsible, cleared their dogs for hips, shoulders and eyes and did not breed with dogs that had cancer in their blood line.  Wisconsin is from this breeder.

Virginia was also good at dock diving.  She learned to jump off the diving board at my parents’ house.  She would run to the end of the board and dive into the deep end of the pool after her football.  After grabbing it in the water, she’d bring it to the stairs in the shallow end, step out of the pool, and run back to the diving board to do it again.  When we traveled to dog events with dock diving, she would drag me to the pool and jump in before I could find something to throw to her.

During my mother’s wake, I did not stand with my brothers, my sister and my father.  I stood outside the door and greeted people as they came in.  I’d moved away ages ago and most of the visitors had not seen me in a long time.  When they saw me, some acted as if they had seen a ghost.  They thought I looked exactly like my mother.  I told them I sometimes look in the mirror and see my mother.  In fact, this past spring someone took my picture and wondered where my facial expressions came from.  He looked at the image on the camera and then looked at me.  It was not the same person.  He showed me the picture, and it was my mother.

At the end of the wake, when it was about time to go home, my sister, Maryann, and I kneeled at my mother’s coffin and talked to her.  I reached out to touch her and her arm was hard.  I was surprised.  My sister had already experienced this and said that this was not her.  She turned and put her hand on my chest and said, “Mom is in there.”  Then, Maryann put her hand on her own chest and said, “Mom is in here.”  According to her, our mother was not in that hard, cold, lifeless body, but was in us.

Although we have never talked about it, I don’t believe that my sister meant it literally.  I think she was telling me that our mother was in our hearts and in our memories.  Perhaps she’s right.  However, the numbness I felt in the first few months of grieving has faded, and I can now begin to feel my mother in me, in a very literal sense.  I can feel her arthritis in my fingers and toes, and I crave sugar the way a diabetic does.

Just yesterday, Maryann reminded me that my medical history is repeating our mother’s.  I already knew this–every time something was wrong with me, I consulted with my mother before calling a doctor.  What my sister does not know is that Mom and I both have also had long battles with depression.

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, also had arthritis and diabetes.  She died when she was 65.  I have only brief memories of her, twiddling her thumbs, putting milk and cold water into her tea, and brushing the knots out of my hair one hot summer day at the kitchen table.

“She brushed your hair? No, she would not have done that.”  This memory of my grandmother brushing my hair is so clear, but my mother said no.  We had this conversation a few years ago.  When I asked why not, she was vague.

“My mother,” she said, “was not affectionate. She did not take care of her grandchildren, not even brush their hair.”

I remember the night my grandmother died.  The phone rang late at night, and after all of us kids heard the news, we sat at the kitchen table with my mother as she cried over a cold cup of tea.

I have often wondered where souls go when someone dies.  I believe people have souls, and they go somewhere.  Is it possible that souls leap from one body to another?  Did my mother embody the soul of my grandmother?  Is it possible that I have inherited the soul of my mother, my grandmother and possibly many more generations?  If so, what do I do with this collective soul during my lifetime?

I have started mistakenly calling Wisconsin Virginia.  I do this perhaps in a way that parents go down the line of the names of their children, until they call the correct child.  But is it possible that Virginia leaped into Wisconsin?  This is what I was really hoping for. Wisconsin has many of the same traits, and I see more similarities every day.  She is even beginning to look like her.  I was hoping that Virginia would come back to me.  I wanted it so desperately, I looked for a dog that would look and act like her.  I intentionally bought a dog that had the potential to become Virginia, but is it possible that she is Virginia?

I have seen ghosts.  I can recognize other people who see ghosts.  The ghosts I have seen did not look like the people they were, but I saw them as they are now.  Perhaps these ghosts had nowhere to go.  They did not leap.  I saw Virginia carrying her football around the house for months after her death.  Now I see only Wisconsin.  I keep a football in the toy basket.  I will know she is Virginia when she picks it up and asks me to throw it for her to retrieve.  I never see my mother as a ghost or in a dream.  Her I only see in the mirror and in photographs.

I do not have a daughter or a granddaughter.  I worry who will inherit the collective soul of my mothers.  I am compelled to connect with these women and ask their advice.  I created a place for Virginia; now I must create a place for the souls I have inherited.  I have time.  My mother lived longer than her mother, and I expect to live longer than her.  I want to take that leap; I must find the heir and brush her hair.

There is a video of Carolina, Virginia and Boston playing at the pool at my parents house on my website http://www.MeAndMyDogs.biz.


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