STILL HERE

It’s been two days since we said goodbye to our dog, Tuck.

Tuck was in care several times since our move to Santa Rosa. So Tuck being absent for a few days hasn’t worried our other dog, Nick.

I know dogs can’t understand human speech, but last night, I sat with him and told him Tuck wasn’t coming home. He gave no sign anything was out of the ordinary, though. Just gazed at me with his I-yam-still-a-puppy eyes.

In the comments in my last post on Facebook about Tuck, Jon posted a video we took of Tuck, howling when he hears a siren. He would do it once, and that’s it. We would laugh and laugh. It was a low, mournful song, very drawn out. We loved it.

He never did it out here. I don’t know if his hearing was worse, or if the emergency sirens are at different frequencies.

And Nick never howls. Ever. In eight years, he has never howled at anything.
This morning, Jon was replaying a recording of a siren we sometimes played for Tuck.

And Nick howled!

Higher-pitched. Shorter. But still…..definitely howling to the siren.

He did it twice, but refused to do it for the camera.

We laughed with the first joy we’ve felt in days.

It’s like….either Nick feels there is a fill the gap in our lives that he can maybe fill. Maybe he knows that was Tuck’s “job”, and wants to let Tuck know he’s gotta get back here to do it.

Or maybe someone/something is telling him to let us know Tuck is still here, in our hearts, and in Nick’s.

I remember my animal stories:

Dog tells me, “I will always walk at your side. You need never be alone.”

ALL DOG STORIES

All dog stories begin with laughter, and end with tears.

Today, we had our dog Tuck put down.

We adopted him on our last family vacation, to the Turks and Caicoes islands, over ten years ago.

We’d been looking for a dog to go running with Jon. When we landed on the main island, I picked up an island magazine to read at our hotel. In it, we found an article about a rescue group, the TCSPCA, that rescued potcakes, the island name for the village dogs that were pets, then dumped, then feral, then rescued, a common cycle for village dogs around the world.

Unfortunately, when we visited the shelter, it only had very sick dogs and puppies, as there were no facilities for all the rescues. They were all in foster care, in private homes!

While we browsed the gift shop, hoping to contribute to their efforts, the manager quietly called a foster mom. Soon, a van turned into the parking lot, and three adults and four potcake puppies tumbled out of the van.

Tuck was one of four puppies left, of eight born to a female potcake, rescued by a British family, when they took in the abandoned mother. The other four had already been adopted, and these four were left.

For the rest of the week, we test-ran puppies (literally!) to see who would jog with Jon. We loved them all, but fell in love with three. Then our first choice was adopted, and another, and we were left with our second choice, Tuck. So we brought Tuck, our second choice, and his sister back to the United States with us.

He then proceeded to change our lives.

Potcakes are an anxious breed, and they can take awhile to fully house-train. And this being our first dog, we were amazed at what they considered edible. Our most frequent phrase those early years was, “I didn’t know they ate things like that” and “Eeeeuuuww!!!”

He loved to lie on the sofa with us, and of course, he slept with us on our bed, until he got too big. And until we took in Nick, who was even bigger.

We were fortunate to have a big house and a big backyard. We lived within minutes of river trails and reservoirs with open areas, perfect for a dog to run free. I can still remember Tuck and Nick (a later island rescue) racing through high drifts of snow, plowing through snowbanks like furry snowmobiles. They loved snow, and sunshine, but hated water. Island dogs! Go figure.

When Tuck was young, he was very good with other dogs, including the dozens of potcake puppies we received over the next five years, as other returning island visitors carried adoptable puppies back with them. We would meet them at the airport and place the puppies in wonderful homes, for our remaining five years in New Hampshire.

He grew from a sweet awkward puppy into a beautiful, elegant, graceful dog. A friend’s mother remarked that he was “a noble dog”, and somehow that suited him perfectly. When he was aggrieved about something—having to share the couch with a cat (our elderly cat Chai) or Nick, he would grumble about it, but begrudgingly accommodate them.

He also kept his puppy fur. His coat was soft and dense right up to his last days with us. And that face! To his dying day, he would give us that anxious, winsome, sad-puppy dog look that never failed to melt our hearts.

As he grew older, he became a bit of a grumpy gus, grumbling and barking at other dogs, including Nick. But he never showed a sliver of violence or aggression when handled by vets and nail-trimmers. He never crossed that line with anyone, ever.

He was always a sweet, sweet dog. And he was a great dog to run with. He ran with Jon until we moved to California, and Jon had double-hip replacement surgery. No more runs. Also fewer places for a dog to be off-leash here.

So his life became a little smaller, but it was still good.

Then the year of death hit us, hard.

In one year, I lost both my parents, and my daughter miscarried with her first child.

I made many trips to Michigan and Washington, D.C. that year. Tuck had already begun slowing down, more reluctant to take long walks. And that fall, we thought we were losing him for certain. We thought he had a stroke. He couldn’t walk, he was incontinent, he couldn’t jump up on the bed, he wouldn’t eat. We were frantic with worry.

We rushed him to an emergency pet hospital, fortunately to find out he’d eaten a marijuana brownie on a walk the day before along a local creek trail. He was high on weed!

It was frightening for him and for us. But we made it through. And afterwards, we could laugh about our bongo dog. We thought we were past the hard year, finally.

Then, early in 2019, my daughter lost her second baby, this one at 8 months into her pregnancy. It was awful.

We took turns flying out to see her. She and her husband were—still are—devastated. There are no words when your child is suffering, no wisdom or insight or advice that will magically erase the horror of what they’ve gone through, what they are still going through. (Fortunately, the hospital staff were incredibly compassionate and supportive.)

We were still reeling with that when, a few weeks later, Tuck’s life took a major turn for the worse.

He developed acute pancreatitis, which was misdiagnosed by our first vet, but caught by another emergency hospital when he was referred to them for care.

After all our losses from last year, and this, we were determined to spare no expense to ensure Tuck’s recover.

That turned out to be a disaster, financially, and health-wise, for him.

The next six months were a horror-show.

When he recovered, he had developed diabetes. We worried about the cost of that, but were told, “Oh, insulin for dogs is only $60 a bottle.” No one mentioned at the time that he would need four bottles a month. Plus syringes. Plus a special bucket for disposing of the syringes. Plus a syringe disposal fee.

Still, okay. But wait! There’s more!

Our lives became a highly-scheduled regime of expensive food, multiple bottles of insulin each month, stuffing supplements and antacids down his throat. He was never a pill-taker, and forcing those pills were harder on him than the insulin shots.

The hospital and office visit costs started at few thousand dollars. Ulp. But manageable, right?

But then that got worse, too.

We had to take him in for bi-weekly reassessments, at several hundred dollars a pop, plus meds, plus everything else involved, which we did for several months. Oh, that was going to go on for several more months though. And oh! They would need to be repeated several times a year, for the rest of his life. His meds and supplements alone ran to over $500 a month, not including these additional testings. As Jon said, “We gave him more access to health care than most people in this country get.”

And Tuck hated it.

Was it worth it?

That’s a hard question. There’s no price on a dog’s life, in one sense. He’s a member of our family, and we thought it would restore him to a normal life again. Maybe we would have him for 3, 4, even 5 more years. It seemed worth it.

And it would have been. But in addition to the financial strain, it became obvious his quality of life was permanently changed, and not for the better.

He was weaker. He was in discomfort. He began to whimper, and squeal and whine constantly. He refused to even walk around the block. He lost a lot of his vision, and struggled mightily with that. Only his hearty appetite remained, and yet his diet was severely restricted. No treats (which we never gave him anyway, just a bite of cat kibble now and then.) No dish-licking. No licking the yogurt container when it was empty. Just expensive, no-fat food at almost $100 a bag, a month.

We finally found a great vet a couple weeks ago, and had “the talk” with them. What was this going to look like, going forward? Could things get better? Was it possible they would get worse?

They assured us that some dogs recover from this, and have a good life.

And, they said frankly, some don’t.

What were we looking for, they asked.

Clarity, we said.

How do we decide when it is all just too much for a dog to handle?

We  have loved all our pets over the years, every single one. When we thought they had a chance at a good life, despite their injuries and illnesses, we gave it to them.

But when it was obvious their quality of life was not so hot, were we doing them any favors by keeping them alive because we needed them to be here for us? No matter how miserable their lives became?

We are not those people.

They gave us some suggestions, some strategies, and assured us they understood where we were coming from. We left, feeling reassured that we could take a few measures to ratchet things back, and wait until we knew the time had come.

It came less than two weeks later. It came yesterday. It started last night.

He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t pee, just dripped. He wouldn’t eat. He whined, piercingly, nonstop, all night. We took turns sitting up with him.

I got angry at one point, as his piercing squeals jerked me awake dozens of times with a start. I yelled at him. Stop it! I said. Just stop it! I am so ashamed to admit that now. I didn’t realize it was his last night with us. I was exhausted, and scared.

I want to believe he forgives me for that.

The next morning, things were event worse. We knew it was time.

Unfortunately, our new vet was not available for a consult today. Once again, we took him to the animal emergency hospital. We explained why we were there:

If blood and urine tests showed that this was manageable, fine. We could go forward with treatment, and hope it would help. But unless they felt sure his new condition was treatable, easily, without incuring thousands of dollars more, we were not going forward with this. It would be time to say goodbye.

The first person who came to the lobby to discuss this was simply mean. No other word for it. They made it clear they felt we had failed our dog, that we were careless and uncaring, that our vet was out of line, that we had screwed with his meds and messed up his care. This was on us, his suffering.

That hurt. It’s hard enough to make these decisions without those who would judge us. We almost left to wait to see our vet tomorrow.

But neither of us could bear to see him suffer another 24 hours.

I’m glad we waited. The next vet tech person to talk with us was amazing. And then we spoke to the vet, and they were amazing, too.

We made it clear how much we love this dog. We made it clear it wasn’t about being “cheap”, or wanting a fancy home or car instead of a healthy dog. It wasn’t about trying to economize on the expenses, though it was causing issues for us.

But the expenses we went through meant we can’t do that for any of our remaining pets, ever. When we first went there, we told them, we met a gentleman who told us he’d spent $14,000 to save his kitten.

$14,000.

We thought at the time, “Are you crazy?!” We’ve been living with one car for five years, Jon is underpaid at his current job for his industry, we haven’t been able to set aside funds for our retirement for five years, and that’s not going to change soon. We haven’t been able to significantly offer financial help either of our kids all year because of this expense. My art and writing biz has tanked in the last five years, partly because of the move and leaving a loyal and loving audience behind, and partly for reasons that have nothing to do with me or my work. In short, that was simply a jaw-dropping amount of money for us to contemplate.

$14,000. Well, we came pretty close to that figure over six months. We knew we couldn’t go on with it indefinitely.

But even that wasn’t the deciding factor.

We were also very clear that, if we KNEW Tuck’s quality of life would definitely improve, if they told us this newest episode was something easily fixed, easily cured, we would do it.

But if not, that would be the main reason to stop this.

If we had to put him down, we would miss him forever. But putting him through more misery just because we didn’t want to feel bad about it? Not an option.

It’s our job to offer our pets the best life we can.

It’s not their job to suffer because we’re too tender to let them go.

The staff reassured us. They were compassionate enough, and honest enough, to tell us that a good recovery would not be the case. There wasn’t much hope.

And what brought the tears for both of us, is when both professionals told us repeatedly that it was a good decision. Too many people go down that other hole, they told us, and put their beloved pets through hell, trying to “fix” something that just can’t be fixed. We weren’t “copping out” like the first person implied. Yes, it is a difficult situation, really hard.

But they said we were making a decision based on what was best for Tuck, and that was commendable.

It helped. It also made us cry, again. Thank you, we said. Thank you for understanding. Just….thank you.

They put us in a private room with a soft cushion for him to lie on. I’d put my hoodie jacket on him, the lobby was so cold, but they brought fluffy blankets for him. They explained their process, which exactly met my request: Give him something to soothe him, and let him fall asleep as we held him, just like normal, just like always, one last time.

And when he was deeply asleep, and released from his anxiety and pain, then he could have the final dosage.

They gave us time alone with him so we could say our goodbyes. We said we wanted to be present for the entire process. We owed him that, to sit through something heartbreaking, to be present. To be with him to the end.

Jon and I sat with him, and held him. We whispered, “Who’s a cute puppy?” and “What a good dog!”, words that always made his tail wag gently, and perked up his ears.

He simply lay there quietly. Sometimes critters fight back at the last moment, instinctively. It makes it harder, as if they’re saying, “No! Wait!”

But he didn’t. It felt like he was ready to go.

We told him he was the best dog in the whole world. We told him we would love him forever. I traced the white patch on his head and neck that looked like a bunny. I looked into his beautiful eyes, eyes that look like he wears eyeliner. We said goodbye.

It was the softest passing I’ve ever experienced with a pet. He melted into my lap, relaxed, and closed his eyes. His labored breathing softened, evened out, gently, in. And out. And in. And out.

And then he was still.

Goodbye, beautiful boy.

Thank you for the years of joy and laughter, the wonderful memories.

Thank you your exuberance, for your companionship, for your devotion and love. Thank you for your expressive face, your noble look.

Thank you for being a poop about getting your nails trimmed, and yet not making it hard for the people who trimmed them. Thank you for being afraid of skateboards, because people glide on them in a weird way and they make a rattling noise.

Thank you for your love of a wide open field, and a brisk wind, and sunshine. Thank you for hating rain and baths. Thank you for loving smells, and cats, and fluffy pillows, and blankets.

Thank you for inspiring me to learn more about dogs, learning about their deep history with humans, going back over a hundred thousand years. Thank you for evolving right along with us, so that you always somehow knew when we were sad, or disgruntled, or afraid. Thank you for teaching me that dogs have walked by our side for an eternity, so that we need never walk alone.

Thank you for making us dog people. It wasn’t hard, was it?

We were waiting for you all along, never knowing how much we needed you, until you showed up in our lives.

After Jon and I argued a day ago, we made up and drove to Bodega Head. For the first time ever, when we put the windows down, Tuck and Nick both stuck their heads out of the window. I could see Tuck in the rear view mirror. He looked happy.

We went for along walk along the road that follows the inner bay. He tried to eat a dead crab. (No, Tuck.) He sniffed every piece of garbage. He tried to eat a sandwich wrapper. We laughed. Our last good day with him.

Today, I can still see his serene, smiling face, with his snout facing into the wind, just….happy.

And now I know first-hand, what I’ve always known is true:

All dog stories begin with laughter, and end with tears.

FINDING HOPE IN THE HARD PLACES: My Blog Tagline Works Its Magic Again.*

Don't miss Luann Udell's words on finding hope, faith and inspiration in what you do
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s words on finding hope, faith and inspiration in what you do

FINDING HOPE IN THE HARD PLACES: My Blog Tagline Works Its Magic Again.*

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

It’s been a year. A lot of death, a lot of loss, a lot of grieving.

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water…. (Cue “Jaws” music.)

After yet another emergency trip to the East Coast in mid-March, this last crisis seemed almost too much to handle. Our dog Tuck, our first dog, and the one who inspired not only my dog artifacts, and my dog story ***, but also this article that ran in the magazine formerly known as The Crafts Report became critically ill last week.

He stopped eating, he was misdiagnosed by our newest vet, and he ended up being hospitalized for acute pancreatitis and diabetes (as a permanent complication.)

The good news is, he has received excellent care, and may even be able to come home tomorrow.

The bad news is, this cost nearly as much as I made all last year in my art biz, including writing these columns.

I was afraid the high cost of emergency care would force us to make a painful decision. But my husband, as usual, gave clarity. “He’s part of our family,” he said firmly.

I was so relieved. We live fairly frugally (except for living in California!), so though this isn’t an easy budget item, it won’t destroy us. My heart goes out to people whose financial situation would force them to do otherwise.

Why am I writing about this today?

Because I could not stop thinking about this: The financial cost could have superseded all other factors in our decision. And yet, the devastation of losing our pet would have last for YEARS….

Love, and hope, vs. money.

In many ways, I cannot be counted as a “successful artist”, especially if money is used as the only measure of my success. Even at the height of my art biz career, I made less than minimum wage today.

I am not famous. Although I love it when someone stops me in mid-conversation and says, “Wait a minute….You’re Luann Udell?? THE Luann Udell?” it doesn’t really happen that often.  (Don’t let that stop you from saying that, though!)  :^D

So what is the “true value” of my artwork, my writing, my presence in this world?

Frankly, who can say? Who cares?

What really matters?

My art, my words, my actions, have given me a place in the world. The size of the return doesn’t matter.

My work has given me a voice in the world. The size of the audience doesn’t matter.

They have given me solace, an outlet, and much joy. What they do for others is an important, yet ultimately secondary effect.

The past 12 months have been filled with loss, exhaustion, despair, the feeling of not belonging, not being “good enough”, and not being valued. Even when I’ve traveled to be with those who are grieving, my only “gift” was being present. I could not “fix” their grief, or give them the answers they seek. I could only be a mom who cares.

But even now, I still rejoice at the prospect at getting back to work in my new studio. I know I will be restored to my better self. I know the healing power of my own art.

My words will probably never bring me wealth, or fame, nor will they end a war.

All I can offer, myself, with my art, the work of my heart, is this….

A small place for hope.

A safe place for grieving.

A little money to help those who are worse off than I.

A listening ear.

And sharing my stories, hoping someone, somewhere, they will help someone who needs to hear them today.

If you make tons of money for your artwork, I celebrate with you. I’m truly happy, because it means there’s a chance I will, too, someday.

If you have gained fame and fortune with the work of your heart, I hope you use it to make the world a little better than how you found it.

Although I usually tell artists not to “water down” their art by relying on sales of cards ($4,000 paintings, $4 cards??) I have to admit that such a card, sent by a friend recently, with their beautiful work on the front, lifted my spirits. A lot!

My hope for you today is that you feel the power of what you do. That you have faith in the power of what you do, no matter how much, nor how little, you can see.

And here are a few side notes on what the first vet, and the animal hospital did right, that also inform our art-making/marketing:

When the vet realized the condition was much, much worse than they thought, they immediately contacted us and referred us to a more experienced resource. Lesson learned: When your work gets in a rut, when things seem too hard, step outside your box and explore new options. Kick it up a notch! A class, a new body of work, perhaps even a new medium, can be just the uptick you need. Start that email newsletter! Clean up your website. Try Instagram?

The hospital saw us immediately. And every day, we not only received updates twice daily, we were allowed to visit Tuck. Which put our hearts at ease, and his, too. Lesson learned: Your audience wants to hear from you, too! Use your website’s “Events” features, your email newsletter, and other social media to let them know what you’re up to. You’ve created a relationship that goes beyond just sales. You’ve created a real human connection.

Most important, be grateful. Be grateful to those who know the depth and power of our love, for our family, for our pets, for our art. They will raise you up when things get hard.

Be grateful you are able to make room in your life for your art. So many people feel they can’t, that they aren’t good enough, that nobody wants their work, that they aren’t “successful” enough. It’s okay to want more recognition, to want more skill, to make more money. It’s also okay for “making” and “making it” to be enough, for now.

Hold on to your dreams. Know the power of love. And keep making your art!

And when we do lose Tuck (that day will come), I know we will still welcome another pupster who needs a loving home into our lives. “All dog stories begin with laughter, and end with tears.” Keep the laughter coming!

How has your work lifted the hearts of others? How has your work helped you get back to your happy place? I’d love to hear, and I bet others will, too!

*My art tagline is, “Ancient Stories Retold in Modern Artifacts. But my blog tagline is, “Muddling through life with the help of art.” (Some of my subscribers call themselves “Muddlers”. I love that!)

Mercy Now

Need to just cry for a few moments?

Mary Gauthier’s heart-achingly simple and beautiful song “Mercy Now”. That violin! Tania Elizabeth nails it with sweetness and restraint.

It’s been a hard month so far. Family matters, hard and sad stuff with our kids, impossible to solve. “Nobody died”, has been our way of framing things for Jon and I over the past 30 years. Still hard. Health issues (I now have not one, but TWO inhalers). A runaway pet. (Of course, the one who panics once she gets outside, and figuratively goes crazy.) Listening to people blame those dealing with hardship on…guess what? The people going through those hardships.

Where is the kindness?

Many people confuse “nice” with “kind”. I’ve learned to tell the difference.

So I pulled up that video on YouTube and played it loud, three times in a row, this morning.

For the first time, I noticed its date: 09/09/10.

Nine years after 9/11. Two days before my birthday.

And yet, the lyrics could have been written today.

Today, I’m going to donate to three causes. One will be for immigrant children separated from their children at the border. (Of course, there should be mercy, too, for the immigrant woman who was denied entrance because even though her husband KILLED HER TWO CHILDREN, it’s been determined spousal abuse is not a valid reason for entrance.) And btw, I often sign up for very small monthly amounts. Even $5/month adds up.

Today, I’m going to mail presents to my kids. One will love them, one will resent my “pity”.

Today, I’m going to do some journaling, something I tend to forget now that I have a regular writing gig.

Today, I’m going to schedule horse therapy time. I thought the horse needed love and acceptance, & I’d being doing HIM a favor. Doesn’t work that way.

Today, I will look for every opportunity to be kind.

Today, I’m going to take exquisite care of myself. Because like so many others even less fortunate and privileged as I, I need some mercy now.

noddy and nick
Noddy, please come home!

 

 

 

 

 

PIGEON GRATEFUL

cute pigeons 2 flickzzz.com 019-768559
Last month I rescued a sick pigeon.

I’ve done it before. In fact, this is the third pigeon I’ve rescued.

I like pigeons a lot. They are actually pretty smart birds, and they do well in captivity. Better than in the wild, in fact. In captivity, wild pigeons can live 10-15 years. In the wild (in cities, I mean), they last about a year or two. (Yes, all those pigeons you hate are very young pigeons.)

Most injured wild birds will die in your hand from shock if you attempt to rescue them. Not pigeons! They will get quiet and look at you as if to say, “Well, finally, my ride is here! Where have you been?!”

I spotted this one on my drive home one day, and knew he was in trouble. It was extremely hot and humid, and a thunderstorm was brewing. He was staggering in circles, listing to one side, barely able to stay upright.

I vaguely remembered the virus PMV that causes these symptoms. I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot and stalked him for fifteen minutes til I caught him. He kept trying valiantly to fly away, but after flying into a building and then into a passing car, he was finally exhausted enough to let me pick him up.

I looked up his symptoms to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself, my family or my pets to anything toxic, then made up a cage for him. I didn’t expect him to survive the night–he was in pretty bad shape, with an injured eye, dehydrated and subdued. I forced a dribble of water down his throat, made him as comfortable as I could, and left him alone.

The next morning, I was surprised to see him looking (askant) at me from his cage. Beady bright little eyes, like the pilfering penguin from the Wallace And Gromit movie, The Wrong Trousers. “You made it, Magoo!” I exclaimed. I made him drink a little more water, cleaned him up, set out some cockatiel food, and left him alone again.

Soon Mr. Magoo (I have no idea if it was a he or a she, but “Mr. Magoo” seemed to fit his bewildered stare) was drinking on his own, and eating, too. He was still aslant and wobbly. But every morning he let me pick him up so I could clean his cage and refill his food and water. Every time I went out in the mudroom, he looked down at me from his cage with his shiny eyes.

About four weeks went by. I was getting ready for a drive home to my folks in Michigan. I knew Jon wouldn’t be wild about cleaning up after a pigeon every day. I toyed with the idea of letting him go. he was getting a little better every day. But I wasn’t sure if he were fully recovered or not.

The day before I left, I went to lift him up. To my surprise, he fought me and flew out of my hands. I managed to corner him and snag him in the mudroom. But I knew then it was time for him to go.

I took him out to the front steps and set him down. “If you’re ready, you can go,” I told him. “If not, you’re welcome to stay.”

He exploded into the air and flew away without a backwards glance.

I didn’t begrudge him the lack of gratitude. Wild things don’t owe us anything, even when we help them. I was glad he lived to fly again.

A day later, I went to get in my car.

On the driver’s side door was a huge white splat of pigeon poop dripping from the window all the way down the panel.

Now, I could have have been annoyed, and made up a story about how pigeons will poop on the person’s car who saved them.

But I like to think that a pigeon, wanting to say, “I’m alive and okay!” would have very few ways to communicate in a way we’d be sure to notice.

So I’m making up a story that Mr. Magoo was saying, “Thank you” the only way he’d know how, by pooping on my car.

GOMEZ SAYS GOODBYE

We have everything we need to know, right here in our hearts.

More musings on the grief writing workshop I teach at Home Healthcare and Community Services here in Keene, NH….

For each week of the class, there’s a central topic for our journaling or free writing exercise. Some topics allow us to talk about who we were, and where we are now after the death of a loved one. Some encourage us to remember them in a different way. Some acknowledge the difficult nature of our relationship with them. Some “point us toward home, so we can go there…” (A quote from DEAN SPANLEY, a remarkable, gentle and sweetly funny movie about death, grieving, and redemption.)

There’s one particularly powerful exercise we do in the writing workshop. It’s so powerful, I’m afraid I’ll give away the punchline. But it’s also so healing, it would be a sin not to share it with a wider audience….

It’s something I structured, sort of aim the sessions toward, so we get there at just the right time. Last week was the proper time.

I ask everyone to imagine the deceased in a place–it could be heaven, it could be nirvana, it could be in an alternate universe, it could even be in our dreams. It’s a place where they are safe, and loved, and happy. A place where they are fully healed, in mind, body and soul. A place where they are at their highest, most evolved self. A place where no matter what their faults or failings were, no matter how much they’ve already suffered or given, or loved, they are the best person we’ve always dreamed they could be.

“Write a letter,” I say to the class. “From them, to you.”

This always draws a lot of confusion and questions. I usually have to repeat it a few times. There are frowns, and pursed lips, and sighs.

Then the writing begins.

And then come the tears.

I am always astonished, when we finally share what we’ve written. It’s as if people have really stepped outside themselves, and delved into the heart of that person. The things we see, and recognize, and understand and finally accept, are incredible.

It’s a letting go of what could have been. It’s accepting what it was, and is. It allows hope to sprout the tiniest, most delicate green leaves.

And it lets the healing begin.

It’s never failed me, this exercise. I wrote about this the first time I did it, with a complicated death that had haunted me for decades.

I did it again last week with my beautiful cat Gomez.

It was a funny night to begin with. Three of us selected animals to write about. It felt a little disrespectful at first–People before animals, right? Except we were also accepting that the loss of a beloved pet can be just as rattling, especially since they are often the very thing that soothes us during other, larger losses.

And so we wrote a letter from our pets, to us.

In my opening sentence, I immediately saw how empathic this exercise really is. I wrote, “Dear kind lady….” Because, of course, Gomez would have no idea what my name was. And being a cat, he probably wouldn’t care.

Here’s the small miracle: All three of us did the same. Realized our pets don’t “know” our names. But they know who we are to them. One writer started her letter with “Dear Mom”, because that’s who her dog would think she was.

Here’s my letter from Gomez:

Dear kind lady,
When I saw you at the shelter with your child, I knew I was going home with you. I saw you go to each cage, check out each cat. I saw you trying to connect with each one.

“I want an older cat,” you said to the shelter person. “I want a cat who really really really needs a home.”

But none of those cats would play with you. They knew I was meant for you. They wouldn’t give you the time of day–they knew it was my turn.

Finally, after coming to me 3 times–and every time I tried to tell you, I tried to show you–“Me! I’m the one! It’s me you want!”….

And finally, though you said I was too beautiful, and too young, you said I was the one.

I charmed everyone, didn’t I? Even Chai. Even Tuck. Even Nick.

I brought you mice, and birds, and I slept on your bed. You gave me a good home.

Yes, there was a bad man, and yes, it hurt. It hurt so much.

But that pain is gone. It is no more.

The only pain I feel now is the pain in your heart, the part of you that blames yourself for what happened.

It’s not your fault, kind lady. It’s not your fault. Be at peace.

My time with you was lovely. You cared for me, and loved me, and kept me safe. You gave me a good home.

Someday there will come another cat, a cat that needs a good home. Open your heart again, your kind and loving heart. Give that cat a home, a hearth, a sofa to sleep on, dogs to tease and torment, food to eat and saucy mice to chase.

Don’t grieve for me, kind lady. I don’t regret a thing.

Everything we need to know, is already in our hearts.

All we have to do is be silent. And listen. Truly listen.

Goodbye sweet boy cat.

GOODBYE GOMEZ

A local news story brings its share of heartache this morning.

Our cat Gomez has been missing since August 18, the day we left on vacation. He escaped the house just as we were packed and ready to go. “He’ll be fine!” everyone groaned. “Mary (our pet care person) comes tonight, he’ll be back for dinner time!”

So against my better judgment, we left. I tried not to worry. Everything would be fine, I told myself.

That was the last time I ever saw Gomez.

Mary called two days later to tell us there was no sign of Gomez. When we got home, he still hadn’t made an appearance.

We made very effort to find him–calling shelters, hanging posters, talking to people in the neighborhood. We met many wonderful people who tried to help us.

But every lead dried up. Even the black cat sightings all turned out to be other cats. I never knew there were so many black cats in Keene!

Gomez is such a great cat! I held onto a slim hope that he’d ingratiated himself into a new home, though I know that’s not how most lost cats end up. I called him every time I went outside. I watched for him as we walked or drove around our neighborhood.

Twice I was sure I’d found him. Happy, happy day!

Then I’d wake up, and realized I’d been dreaming.

Then I read the article in last night’s Keene Sentinel, our local newspaper. Three dead cats found in different Keene neighborhoods. Although there’s no evidence the cats were deliberately killed, the number of incidents, and some details about the deaths, raise a suspicion or two.

Two of the bodies were found very near our house.

I called the detective assigned to the case to get more information. Sure enough, one of the incidents involved a black cat. Actually, the head of a black cat.

It was disposed of by the home owners before the police arrived. And with no body, there was no microchip to be checked.

The head was found the day after Gomez disappeared.

The detective was sympathetic. He has pets, too, and had recently lost one. He knows how hard it is to lose a furry friend.

Some day soon, I’ll share those wonderful stories. As in any bad situation, there are good people who come forward, who cross our path, who restore our hope and faith.

It helps to know that Gomez is not lost, or suffering, or frightened anymore.

But right now, it is a very sad day at our house.

Goodbye, beautiful, beautiful cat.

Our charming and suave cat Gomez.

P.S. See this essay for how I finally healed from this.