Archive for the ‘Grief’ Category

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Carolina

March 1, 2012

Carolina.  Where have I been, what have I been doing for the past two months.  It was a time that went by in no time.  I don’t know what I was doing, where I went or whom I saw.  At the time, I thought I was getting my life back.  I said at a meeting that I was happy.  Happy, but I kept looking over my shoulder for what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t just be glad in the day, I worried.  It has been a long time since I was really happy.  This felt real, it felt like I was moving on, getting over it, getting on with it.

 

Carolina started to refuse food two weeks ago.  We all know what that meant.  I didn’t need a diagnosis and I won’t write a eulogy.  Bob and our vet said it was time to let her go.  I wasn’t ready.  I was done grieving.  I grieved for two years.  I was moving on.  But in the end, it wasn’t about me, it was about Carolina.  Sweet Carolina.  She loved everyone and everyone loved her.

I started writing about two years ago and stopped about two months ago.  It occurred to me that maybe I can only write when I am grieving.  Or better, writing is something I do only when I spend most of my time wrapped in a blanket on the couch.  I am the happiest when I am making something or doing something.  Writing doesn’t feel like that.  Writing fills the time in between.

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Promises

January 16, 2012

When I was in my 40’s I learned that no one hires menopausal woman.  Seriously, who would invite that into the workplace?  It is bad enough having the ones that already worked there.  It is like having a house full of adolescents.  So when I knew I had to go back to work I decided to teach because it was the only profession that hired woman 40 to 50 years old.  Looking at it closer, I found that there was a demand for math teachers, middle school math teachers.  A menopausal woman teaching pubescent students seemed like a perfect fit!

March 31st last year I finished my student teaching.  Within a week I completed all my requirements and got my post baccalaureate in middle school mathematics education.  I submitted my credentials and soon had my Georgia educator certificate.  My 50th birthday was approaching, April 27th.  I was looking forward to it. I had a plan. I was going to go back to work, pay off my debts and in just 15 years, and have the house paid for and retire with a pension and social security.

Well people plan and God laughs.  My mother died April 26th and I did not find a job.  I knew other people who were looking for teaching jobs and they didn’t find a position either.  No first years.  This made me feel a little better, but at the time I didn’t care because it gave me the time to spend with my father.  I stayed with him in Massachusetts to help him adjust to living alone.  My husband Bob was supportive and took care of the dogs and the house while I was away.  I promised him I would find a job after the holidays.

The holidays are in the past and the school year is half over, and there are a few teaching positions open; people who did not return after fall break.  I got only one response back from all my applications that said I did not fit the qualifications and “there were many, many applicants”.  So, I applied to various youth organizations in the area even though they require a degree in psychology or sociology.  There are lots of jobs available because the job requires long hours and is emotionally draining.  The pay is not that good either.  I haven’t gotten any responses to my applications.

I made a promise.  I told Bob I would find a job this year.  I will keep looking, but today, I am turning to my higher power for help.  One of the promises in the big book for the 12th step is “when we look back, we realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves in God’s hands were better than anything we could have planed.”  I guess he has a plan for me.  I hope it happens soon.

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Layers

January 5, 2012

My friends have decided it was time to get my field back into condition to do some dog agility.  The tornado did a lot of damage to it.  But it is not the damage from the tornado that is keeping me from the field, it is what happened the day before the tornado, the day my mother died.

Agility Field in December 2011

 

Today my agility field is covered in layers of debris. It is in the woods and in the summer the trees that shade it, cover it in the fall with leaves.  Under the leaves are weeds.  Weeds that grew from roots that were there long before it was an agility field.  Below the weeds is a layer of soil brought there by the rain that washes down from the woods.  The bottom layer, which may be gone, is wood chips.  Wood chips that were brought in to create a natural footing for the dogs to run on.

 

My higher power, Nature, who protects my field with a cover of organic materials, also wrapped me in protective blanket of family and friends.  Much of the time I wouldhave spent on my field, I spent with my father and my sister and brothers. Each with our own fields of debris, we grieve for our mother who lies peacefully in the earth, in a field of lawn and trees.

The layers of tears and excuses, reasons why I cannot return to my agility field are my grief.  I can’t go there.  It is too thick, too heavy, to overwhelming to clear away.  It will take a leaf blower, weed eater, chipper mulcher, rakes and shovels to get the bottom.  The bottom that nature has worked three seasons to renew is the foundation for me to build a new field, a new life, a new beginning.

Agility Field January 2012

My friends are coming on Monday.  I will provide the tools.  They provide the strength; the power to peel off the layers that Nature has protected me with.  With each layer, they will be helping me get my life back.  Together we will shred the debris, the pain of the past year and spread it on the field as Nature has done.  My husband will bring new wood chips to make the footing for me to run on as Nature has intended.

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Acceptance

December 26, 2011

The very first time my husband and I entertained together, we had only been dating a few months.  It was New Years Eve.  We went to the grocery store together to buy food and soft drinks, the package store for alcohol, then to his apartment to get ready.  As soon as the groceries were put away, Bob said he had to run an errand and would be right back.  I didn’t ask any questions and kept cleaning as he walked out the door.

A few hours later he returned, more excited than I had ever seen him.  He found a vintage guitar and wanted to buy it.  As he paced around, I encouraged him to go back and get it before someone else bought it.  When he came back a few hours later, the apartment was clean, the prep work was done on the food, and all that was left to do was cook.

Seventeen years, fifteen guitars and countless parties later, Bob still disappears on the day we have company.  Each time he says he will be there to help, and each time he comes rushing in just an hour or two before company is expected to arrive.  He does the cooking and he entertains as he does it.  This Christmas Eve while I was home preparing a Feast of Seven Fishes for twelve people, he was at the galvanizing plant watching zinc melt.

I could hear myself yelling above the sound of the vacuum cleaner, “seventeen years and he is never here to help me get ready for a party, why should this party be any different…”  I was so mad.  Then I stopped.  The next voice I heard was my oldest brother saying the eulogy at my mother’s funeral.  He was telling the story of how my father would always come home late on Christmas Eve because he would stop on the way home to visit his friends.  My brother said, “Ma would get so mad…this happened every year.”

When Bob finally got home, he was so excited.  He said “the kettle didn’t crack and the temperature was at 850 degrees, right where it needs to be.  Everything is going according to plan, the zinc should all melted and we will be ready to galvanize product on Tuesday.  What do you need me to do?  I was thinking I would dust the guitars.”  I tried not to be mad and replied, “Do what you want, I will have everything ready, all you have to do is cook and entertain.”

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Searching

September 27, 2011

I talk a lot, but I don’t say much.  I am actually pretty shy.  Keeping secrets is a shortcoming.  Not secrets about you, secrets about myself.  Many people, even those closest to me, do not know very much about me.  They are often surprised to find out even seemingly ordinary things about me.  But there are people, those I know and those I have never met personally, who tell me my secrets.  These short stories are about some of those people.

“Honey, what are you going to do about your marriage?”

“My marriage?”

“I could see you’re not happy.  You’re too young to be unhappy.”

Was it that obvious?  He was quiet.  He didn’t talk very much during our visit up east, to me or anyone else.

“I am not making any decisions right now.”

“Maybe you should get some counseling.”

She only stands shoulder high, but her presence is undeniable.  When she smiles her teeth mash together as she crinkles her nose.  It was impossible to avoid eye contact when she talks.  She is my aunt.

Memphis had a tough start to life.  He was aggressive, and I could not control him.  I came very close to putting him to rest.  When he was only a few months old, he would go from sleeping peacefully in my lap to violently attaching the other dogs, Boston in particular.

To manage his behavior and to keep the other dogs safe, I strategically placed baby gates, crates and air horns throughout the house.  At the time, trying to manage the situation was all I could do, while I uncovered the cause of the behavior and to modify it.  I used special collars and leashes, changed his food, gave him supplements and adhered to strict rules and routines.  I would not let any of the other dogs stare at him; they learned to look away and not make eye contact.  Things improved, but there were still fights.

When Memphis would get into a fight, my first concern was always safety.  I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.  My second concern was all of the dogs’ emotional states.  I worried that Memphis was insane and that it was affecting the other dogs.  They all learned to be cautious around him, but were they scared and unhappy too?

My mother liked to play bingo.  This was the only time she ever went to church.  Every Tuesday, she would ask one of us in the house to go with her.  The answer was always no, but she went anyway.   Bingo was for old people, it couldn’t be much fun. One week she couldn’t drive, I don’t remember why; but I agreed to take her.  I was nervous, not knowing what to expect.  When we arrived at the church, we stood in line, waiting for the doors to open.  It was important to get there early, so she could get her “usual seat.”  The desk in the hall had piles of bingo cards on it.  People bought a hundred of them.  My mother got her cards, and I began to sweat.  “I’m with her,” I said.  “I’m just going to watch.”

I followed my mother down the long hall into a huge room full of tables and chairs.  We sat down in her usual spot.  She spread out some of her cards.  They were made of newsprint, so she took some tape out of her bag and taped them to the table.  In her bag was also two plastic bottles of ink, a bright red wand with a magnet in it, lots of red translucent markers, and cash.  She took one of the bottles of ink and dabbed the free, center square of the nine cards in front of her, then placed the bottle down.  She was ready.

Memphis had not gotten into a fight in almost four months.  Then one night, Memphis and I were sleeping and I rolled over onto him and woke him.  He instantly stood up on the bed, looked me straight in the eyes and froze.  I was sure he was going to kill me, so I was quietly making a plan to defend myself.  Then, just as suddenly as he’d stood, he looked away, shook, jumped down off the bed, circled a few times, then got back on the bed, laid down and went back to sleep.  He shook it off and was now sleeping! I could not close my eyes.  This was the moment when I knew he was better, this was the moment I saw him look away.

“N32 . . . B14 . . . G50.” The man calling the numbers was on a stage with a round basket next to him, and a large sign with numbers and letters above him.  The sign would light up each time he spoke.  “B1!”  Everyone in the room swiped their bottles down the B column and dabbed the corresponding square on their bingo cards.  No one spoke.  Their gaze was on the cards and their ears alert for one word.

“Only a few people know this: my husband is a recovering alcoholic.  He has been sober for three years.  It was hard for him to stop drinking, but he did it.  We are still adjusting to our new life.”

“Three years is a long time, honey.”  She said as she leaned in closer.

I wanted to tell my aunt everything but I couldn’t.

“I know, but right now he is focused on his work and staying sober.  I can wait.”

“Are you getting help, have you gone to meetings?  They really do help.”

How does she know about meetings? Look away, look away!

“Ya I go to meetings, we both do.  We are working on it.”

“That’s good…”  I don’t remember what she said next.  I was trying to hide my pain and fight the tears.

Finally, I said,  “when my parents had their 50th anniversary party, my mother said, ‘Fifty years, and they weren’t all happy.’  Well, how do I know if these are the years that aren’t so happy?”

“You know if you have a good foundation.  You have to be good to each other; but remember, you are responsible for your own happiness.”

BINGO!

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Hope

July 31, 2011

“I think you should get her thyroid checked.”

“Her what?”

“Her thyroid.  Goldens are not supposed to be this shy.  She may be hypothyroid.”

That conversation happened at a dog-training center.  We were talking about Virginia, when she was about two years old.  I was taking a class to prepare her for her Canine Good Citizen Certificate (CGC).  She did not approach strangers, she was uncomfortable when anyone pet her, and no one was allowed to touch her feet.  I just accepted that she was shy; I did not imagine it could be the result of a medical condition.  After a few weeks of have having every person I saw pet her, touch her feet, and give her a treat, I made a vet appointment.  Virginia learned to tolerate the attention, but was still never as accepting as a Golden Retriever should be.

“Who told you to get her thyroid checked?”

“Natalie.”

“The dog trainer?  Oh, . . . there is no need to test her thyroid.  If she had a thyroid problem, her coat would be thinner she would have dry skin, and be overweight.  Virginia is healthy.  She is just shy.  Some dogs are shy, even Golden Retrievers.”

Most people think I am outgoing, because I talk a lot and I have no trouble talking to strangers.  I am equally comfortable instructing a small group of adults and a gymnasium full of elementary students.  I do, however, have a problem making friends and forming long-term relationships.  I have only a few close friends.  Typically, I only contact them when things are going well.  When I hit a rough patch, I keep to myself.  The friends who know me best know exactly how long to leave me alone, until they call or visit to bring me back to life.

When I met Bob, we were working together in Charleston, South Carolina.  The company was recruiting people from all over the country to build a “World Class Manufacturing Plant.”  The first time he saw me, he told his friend, “Now, that’s trouble.”  At the time, I was married to someone else, so I said no the first time he asked me out.  The next time he asked, I said yes.  My husband was still living in Indiana, and it was becoming clear he was not planning on moving.  I was also realizing that I ran away from him, as much as I went to a new job.  When it came to fight or flight, I always chose flight.

Not long after that first date with Bob, my life changed dramatically.  I divorced my husband, moved in with Bob, got laid off from work, found a new job, and moved to Nashville.  During the time we were separated, Bob held our relationship together.  On several occasions, I said I could not handle a long-distance relationship and I wanted him to let me go.  He is a fighter.  He fought to keep his job and me.

Bob was the last one out of the building, when the plant closed 18 months later.  He got a job with the new owners in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and convinced me to come with him.  We got married 5 months later.  Bob and I stayed in Wisconsin from New Year’s Day to Valentine’s Day three years later, before moving to the Chattanooga area to build a manufacturing business.  We were working together again and I was happy, really happy, for 12 years.

Virginia did not pass her CGC; she failed, not on the touching tests, but on the separation test.  She did not like being left with Natalie for three minutes without me.  She pulled, barked and lunged on the leash to get to me across the training building.  I was not upset we failed; she wanted to be with me, and that meant more to me than a certificate.  After the test, Natalie recommended Virginia and I take her obedience class, saying that it would help socialize her.  So we did.

On the first night of class, a small, mixed breed dog leaned into her and growled.  Virginia fled under a table.  Then the dog blocked the entry into the training ring.  The dog’s owner did nothing to manage his dog, so I picked up Virginia and carried her over the threshold.

“Don’t pick her up.”

“She was afraid.”

Natalie said, “Put her down.  She needs to learn how to behave around other dogs.”

I thought, “What are you correcting me for.  The owner of the other dog did nothing when his dog chased her away.  That dog and owner need to learn how to behave around other dogs.  In the meantime, I am going to protect Virginia.”

I later learned that picking her up was the wrong thing to do, but for a different reason.  Picking a dog up like that makes the dog and the person the target for attack.  That did not happen.  Virginia was safe, which was all that mattered.  I have been teased and made fun of my whole life, and there were many times when I wished someone would pick me up and carry me to safety.  I didn’t pick her up anymore, but I did get her out of harm’s way every time she was threatened.

Three years ago, life took another turn.  The owner of Bob’s business sold it to some bankers.  The workplace was becoming hostile and he did not want me to get hurt; so Bob fired me.  For the first time, Bob started losing his grip on his work and his life.  So, Bob stopped drinking.  He withdrew into his work and his program.

While he was holding on to his job and his sobriety, I was holding on to him.  Then Virginia got cancer and died.   I felt so alone, I wanted to jump into the grave with her.  I cried for months.  I still cry.  Many of my friends believe I am having such a hard time with Virginia’s death, because I am mourning two losses: Virginia and my marriage.  Now my mother is dead.

Friends are asking how long I will stay with Bob.  He is hardly ever home and when he is, he barely talks to me.  He spends all of his time at work or at meetings.  They say, “It’s been 3 years of grief and it may be time to move on.”

They are right.  It is time to move on, I need to quit grieving not my marriage.  All my life, I have run away from my problems.  This time I want to stay.

I am feeling better.  Wisconsin is beginning to fill the space that Virginia once held.  She has brought play and joy back into the house, into my life.  I don’t feel alone anymore.  My mother is with me all the time now.  We are no longer separated by time and distance.  Bob is working hard to make a good life for us.  What I need to do is stop pulling against the leash.  He can’t pick me up; but if I wait, he will come to me.  Barking and lunging will not bring him closer.  I am moving on.  I am done grieving for my past, and I am staying right here.  This time, I will not flee.  I will fight.

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Leap

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.