Posts Tagged ‘Life’

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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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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.

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Fast

September 20, 2010

I knew I should have quit.  It is a problem we dog trainers seem to have; we don’t know when to quit.  Memphis was learning to swim.  He jumped off the step.  I wanted to him to do it again.  On my left shoulder was the good angel saying STOP, on my right was the bad angel saying ONE MORE TIME.  I did it.  I coaxed him into the pool.  He swam; I got so excited I was jumping up and down.  Memphis was so excited he started running around the pool.  Then Boston started running around the pool.  The two dogs collided and Boston broke his toe.  I should have quit.

Boston is a good dog.  He does everything and nothing at all.  We took him hunting, he loved it but we didn’t.  I taught him agility, I loved it but he didn’t.  We have reached an impasse where he doesn’t do much except dig holes and lay on the couch.  I am okay with that.  Really.  I took him to a Sportsman store to socialize him.  We looking at the hunting equipment when a man approached us and said “I bet that’s a house dog”.  Why would he say that?  He was bred for the field.  His father and grandfather are field champions.  He is lean and muscular.  He can run 35 miles an hour (really he can, I paced him).  How did this guy know, Boston was a house dog?  Better yet, why was I so offended by it?

My husband Bob is a business man. He works hard.  In the fourteen years I have known him he risen from engineer to VP of manufacturing.  He is driven.  He hasn’t taken a vacation in at least fourteen years.  He doesn’t quit and he always wins.  He collects guitars.  He has stores from Georgia to Wisconsin calling him when something special arrives that he may like.  Did I mention he likes fast cars…

Many of my friends rescue dogs and many of them are wonderful dogs.  Most of those dogs have fewer issues than my dogs do.  My dogs are not rescue dogs.  I bought them and paid quite a bit of money for them.  I like them fast, lean and athletic.  So I am often asked, “what do you do with your dogs”; I respond “not much”, “you?”  I train my dogs, I play with my dogs, but mostly I just like sitting on the porch and watching them run.  I don’t do much else with them except take care of them and love them.  Why do I have to do something with them?

I am starting to get a germ thing.  I wipe the shopping cart with disinfectant before I do my grocery shopping, and I do notice that I get a different cart at the check out.  I usually have to make a scene about not wanting plastic bags, so I don’t say anything about the cart.  If I can push a door open with my hip I don’t put my hands on it or on handrails in public stairwells.  Now you know.  I wash my hands before and after every training session.  I don’t have hand sanitizer in my car, not yet anyway.  Anyway…

So why do I have fast dogs?  It would take a thousand hours of therapy to find out.  In isolation it is a good question.  But it makes sense when you look at the whole me.  I married a high drive man.  I drive a fast car.  I like my food fresh.  These are all reflections of me.  Real or not, this is the person I what people to see.  I have a sign on the wall in my office it says My Goal In Life Is To Be The Person My Dog Thinks I Am.  And it is more than that.  My goal in life is to be the person I am on the inside.  My dogs, my husband, and my car are just my skin.  The man in the Sportsman shop saw through it.  He saw what my dogs see, he saw the person who has to wipe shopping carts in the grocery store.

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Grief

August 24, 2010

Dedicated to my dear friend Rainey and her dog Wolf

 

On the day the tumor ruptured and Virginia clung to the floor in her safe place, Bob was the first to come home.  He called me on my cell phone, I was on my home and he did not feel it was reasonable to tell me about it.  He did show alarm when I arrived.  Earlier that day, Virginia was slow retrieving her football.  This had happened a few times in the months leading up today.  I knew there was something wrong, but three different veterinary specialists said there was not.  I immediately called her vet and told them we were coming.  Bob carried her to the car and put her in. Bob did not go with us.  He had a meeting to go to and asked if I would be back in time for dinner.

This is a story of grief and loss.  Virginia’s story cannot be separated from Bob’s story.  But this is my story, not theirs, and I will do my best to keep it that way.

When I saw Bob for the first time, I told to stay away from him.  He was known at the ax man and everyone who he came in contact with got fired.  That explained why he was standing alone passing back and forth with a cigarette between his stained fingers.  I said yes when he asked me out weeks later even though I was married to someone else at the time.  I enjoyed working with Bob, sometimes working against him, and wanted to spend more time with him.  From the start he held on to life with white knuckles as he tried to build the business and a new life for himself.  After I divorced my husband and moved away, he continued to hold on.  Bob held our long distance relationship together for over a year until we were together again then got married.

Virginia loved the mornings.  She would greet me everyday with a smile.  She would sit on my chest and insist I pet her on her belly until I got out of bed.  In time, I saw the mornings through her eyes and came to love them with her.  I would let her outside with the other dogs to take care of her business.  She was always the last one back to the door.  Virginia never learned the business first rule, no life was too short, and she always played first.  After chow, she would lay on the couch with me while I drank my coffee.  If I didn’t pay enough attention to her, Virginia would stand up rub her face in the cushion and stomp her feet.  Not sure what she was trying to do but it got my attention.  We would laugh a bit, then she would lie down and I would go to work on my computer.

When I married Bob I knew that I would take second place to his work.  He did have a business first policy.  His work was important to him and that was okay with me.  There was enough of him left over for me.  We were always together.  We worked together and we danced together.  Every local band and bar tender knew us.  We enjoyed each others company.  That all ended in the months leading up to his sobriety.  He fired me from work for the third time.  Well, the second time, the first time he fired me, I didn’t technically work for him.  The business was becoming hostile.  Bob was losing his grip as the alcohol and the bankers wore him down.  I could only watch as the alcohol softened his brain while the bankers hardened his soul.

My biggest fear when Bob went into rehab was he would come out a jerk.  I decided I would rather have 10 good years with him than 30 bad ones.  We had what appeared to be a very loving relationship.  After ten years of marriage, many of the people we met thought we were newly weds.  But Bob was deteriorating.  None of his forefathers lived past 65 and that milestone was only ten years away.  Every time I asked him to stop drinking his response was always the same “not going to happen”. So imagine my surprise the day he answered “okay”.  I knew Bob.  I knew he meant it.  I knew he was going to stop drinking.

Virginia loved to ride in the car.  She would lie down and hold her head up so she could see out the window and get some fresh air in her mouth.  She would smile in anticipation of where we were going.  That day on the way to the vet, she had a different kind of smile; the kind I knew meant pain.  We both knew this was not a ride like the hundreds we had taken together before.  She went to agility shows and demonstrations with me, to elementary schools and to visit friends and family.  No this ride was different.  It was the beginning of a new journey we would take together.  The very next day she was able to walk to the car following emergency surgery.  They wouldn’t tell us how long they thought she would live.  I was hoping for at least four days I got six months.

At the time we put Virginia to rest, Bob had been sober for nearly 2 years.  In that two years the only time he really hugged me or showed any emotion was the day we buried her.  Even today as they are trying to bury his business, he is emotionally bankrupt.  Before he was born, alcohol took over the part of his brain that controlled emotions.  Without alcohol he has no emotions.  Many wives of drunks lost their husband to alcohol, I lost mine to sobriety.  Virginia was my dog.  She was one of four dogs in our house, but Virginia was mine.  She filled that place that Bob held for the first ten years of our marriage.  She loved me unconditionally, as I now try to love Bob unconditionally.  I want to be like her.  Even in pain, she loved.  She greeted every day with a smile.  I try, I really try, but I have not smile for him.

Grief is like a bright orange life vest.  It weighs heavy on my chest, but somehow keeps my head above water.  It is so heavy, sometimes I cannot breathe, but it reminds me of when Bob would hold me tight as we danced well past midnight in the bars and night clubs and of Virginia sitting on my chest each morning.  As I long for the past, grief floods my mind with memories of Bob and Virginia.  But it won’t let me sink into despair.  It pains me to keep me in the present.  It is stronger than pain or love.  Perhaps it is all that is left when the pain is over and the love is gone.  Grief is mine.  And I will hold on to it with white knuckles until a greater love comes to take its place.