Hello from the other side

Dear Beau,

I didn’t really like you much when you first came to live with us. You were annoying and disruptive to my peaceful existence. The house was all mine after Fred died. At times, it might have been a little lonely but I really didn’t mind. It isn’t easy growing old. I was 13 and a half when you arrived and my bones ached, my insides didn’t work right and I had to take pills with my food. One day, you’ll understand how it feels.

As obnoxious as you were, I have to admit that you brought me back to my days as a young pup. I guess it was fun romping at the beach with you and taking your chew toys. I give you credit, as much as I tried to intimidate you, you never gave up trying to make me your friend. Thank you for that.15 months

You’re looking good, kid. A solid 77 lbs, you’re probably full grown. I bet you’re finally neutered, too. Now that you’re all grown up, you need to know what’s expected of you:

  1. Bark at strangers. It’s your number one job. Heck, bark at everyone. It’s hard to know whose strange and who isn’t.
  2. Walk in front of Mom. You’re there to protect her no matter what she says.
  3. Always, always be the first one in the car so you don’t get left behind!
  4. Cuddle often. It’s the only reason Mom lets you on the big bed.
  5. When you have to go number 2, go off the trail so Mom doesn’t have to pick it up (even though she does anyway).
  6. Eat fast. Someone might take it from you.
  7. If Mom gets the watering hose, RUN!!
  8. Practice your “sad puppy” look. You’ll get more treats.
  9. Chew the furniture. You’ll get more toys.
  10. Give lots of hugs and kisses. Mom will give them back.

It took two of us, both Fred and I, to take care of Mom. It’s up to you now, kid. If you need some help, just look at our pictures on the mantle and we’ll help you figure out what to do.

Looking back, I guess it’s a good thing Mom got you when she did.

Love,
Ethel

 

 

 

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Remembering Ethel

My sweet Ethel left this world today to join her life mate, Fred, in that place people talk about over the rainbow bridge. A place where dogs run and play, free of pain and aggression, full of joy and as many bunnies as a dog can chase. The place over the rainbow bridge where I told Steve to go when he passed.

“Find Fred, Steve,” I told him as he lay quietly in the hospital bed last fall. “He’s waiting for you.” Tears started rolling down his cheek and I heard him choke up in his comatose sleep.

I can see Ethel joining them in that beautiful place, running free and sharing big sloppy kisses with Fred and her human dad. The bleeding tumor is healed, her appetite restored. She can see as far as the mountain top, clear and bright again. Her body moving as fluidly as the river and her ears flopping like the wings on an eagle.

Ethel was my problem child. Aggressive to other dogs, she would twist and lunge on the leash knocking grown men to the ground. We had an understanding though. She couldn’t get away with that when Mom was walking her. I learned to be alert, on guard, attentive at all times. She mellowed with age and eventually lived up to her nickname “Sweet Ethel”.

With people, she was all hugs and kisses, an 80 pound lapdog. She loved the car. “Let’s go!” was her favorite command. We’d find her in the car long before we were ready to leave. She didn’t want to be left behind.

Fred wasn’t much for the water. He’d wade in the shallow part. But Ethel, she loved swimming. She would fetch sticks in the water for hours. Retrieving on land was boring but nothing distracted her when she was swimming for sticks.

Stroking her soft thick coat, I whispered softly “Find Fred, Ethel. Steve will be with him and they are waiting for you.”

Sweet Lonely Ethel

It’s been two months that Fred’s been gone. People asked me how Ethel would be as an “only dog”. I thought for sure she would relish the opportunity to have ALL the attention. After all, she LOVES being petted and won’t let you stop once you start.

Occasionally, I’ve brought her to work with me and my co-workers seem to enjoy having her around.  She doesn’t make trouble and stays in my office. I’m not sure she enjoys it though. When we go to leave, she can’t get out the door fast enough.

The past few years, I’ve asked neighbors and friends in similar situations how their surviving pet was after losing the other. I often heard that they didn’t want to have another dog brought into their home… the surviving dog didn’t want another dog. Ok, in both instances an animal psychic was involved.

So, I wondered, “Does Ethel want to be an only dog for a while? Or, is she lonely?”

We visited my parents for Easter and Ethel loved having us around all day. She especially loved the hike that was part mud and part snow. She even joined Coal and Jemma – her canine cousins – swimming in the cold stream running by.

Now that we’re home and she’s alone every day, I wonder if she misses having another dog around. Is she depressed? Is she lonely?

A week ago, she stopped eating and had little energy. I took her to the vet and for $185 I learned she had an upset stomach and got some pills that I had to bribe her to take. She’s better now but drinking a lot of water and having accidents in her bed.

Hey, Ethel…  How about a puppy?

From a friend

My dear friend Kathy recently lost her golden, Hercules. She shared this wonderful poem…

We have a secret, you and I, that no one else shall know, for who but I can see you lie each night in fire glow?

And who but I can reach my hand before we go to bed and feel the living warmth of you and touch your silken head?

And only I walk woodland paths and see ahead of me, your small form racing with the wind so young again, and free.

And only I can see you swim in every brook I pass and when I call, no one but I can see the bending grass.

And only I hold you in my heart, feeling you near, and keeping you with me always and forever, more.

(I added the last line) Thank you dear friend. We walk together feeling the sorrow of having loved and lost one of God’s beautiful creatures in a very special way.

Ashes

“All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
Cormac McCarthy, The Road    

I picked up Fred’s ashes today. They came in a cherry box inside a cardboard box with his name on the outside, Fred Tremain. I never called him Fred Tremain. It was always Fred Dog or Freddy Boy but mostly just simply Fred.

Margaret called me last week from Wilderness Animal Hospital to let me know they had Fred’s remains, or cremains as I heard them called. I don’t know why but I’ve been avoiding picking them up. Somehow, it felt like the last step, the final act, the harsh reality that Fred’s body is gone for good. I’ve been numb. At work, at home, I feel numb. When my thoughts slip into the emotional memories of my last day or the final minutes with Fred, I quickly brush them away. It seems strange this steady decrease of emotion that’s significantly less each day. Part of me wants to still feel the deep sorrow, to dignify his passing, to hold on. The other side says to move on, to heal, focus on the future.

I saw the box come out and sit on the counter while I waited for Ethel to get her nails trimmed. When it came time for me to go, Beth gently picked up the box and respectfully handed it to me with one arm reaching out in a supportive embrace. The box was heavier than I expected. Tears surprised my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. When I reached the car, I sobbed as I held the box tightly to my chest.

Ethel and I made it home. Back to the nightly routine. Walk, dinner, clean up, check email, go to bed. The box titled Fred Tremain sitting unopened on the counter.

Loss is Spiritual

In meditation, I look for the energy of Fred’s spirit, but it isn’t there, at least not in the way that I expect it to be. I expect to feel  him still beside me, heeling – or healing – at my ankle like he did in his physical form.

That’s what we do when we grieve. We try to hold onto something that gives us hope. The Rainbow Bridge poem is a perfect example. Written by an unknown author, it talks about a meadow where pets run free, waiting for their owners to join them before crossing over the Rainbow Bridge … to where? Heaven?

I don’t claim to be a theologian or even a very good Christian but isn’t the promise of going to heaven at the center of Christian belief? Don’t we strive to follow God’s commandments and Jesus’ teachings so that we, too, can pass through the pearly gates? I believe in God’s grace and forgiveness. But, I’m not sure that it is only about an afterlife in heaven.  I believe that creation is bigger than just our world, that there is more than one right way to believe, that oneness transcends a single lifetime.

Last night my teacher, Michael Baugh, quoted Gangaji asking “When a body dies, is awareness any smaller?” Contemplating this, feeling into this, I concluded that awareness doesn’t change. It is still complete.

A day after Fred passed, Ethel and I were sitting on the couch watching our favorite show. On the bookshelf next to me, I had created an altar for Fred with his photo, paw print and fur clipping. There was a candle on the shelf that had been given to me for Christmas. I’d moved it over to be part of the memorial. As I stroked Ethel’s ears, her head in my lap, I started smelling that candle for the first time. It was a clean, fresh scent, like warm clothes straight from the dryer. At first, I didn’t know what the smell was. I smelled my sleeve. I buried my nose in Ethel’s neck. The odor was coming at us in powerful waves. Then, I looked at the photo of Fred. His eyes imploring me to understand. “Don’t worry, Mom. I’m still here.”

Love Dogs ( a Rumi poem)063

One night a man was crying
Allah Allah His lips grew sweet with the praising

Until a cynic, said so!
I have heard you calling out
but have you ever gotten any response?

The man had no answer for that
He quit praying
and fell into a confused sleep

He dreamed he saw Hitter
The guide of souls
in a thick green foliage

“Why did you stop praising”

“Because I’ve never heard anything back”

This longing you express
is the return message

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union
your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup

Listen to the moan of a dog for it’s master
that whining is the connection

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of
Give you life
to be one of them.

Surprised by Grief

I slept well last night, waking only once. It has become a habit, getting up in the night to let Fred outside. When the alarm went off, I hit snooze and pulled the covers over my head. When I eventually rolled out of bed, the tears sprang from my eyes as from gravity, the pull of standing upright.

I knew today would be hard but I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be. I fully expected to go to work and bring Ethel with me so she wouldn’t be alone. When it became clear that just standing caused me to weep, I sent word that I wouldn’t be in and went back to bed.

Ethel and I have been sticking close together. I think I need her more than she needs me today. We have the essential oils going in the diffuser. Elevation today. Yesterday, Fred chose Citrus Bliss to send him on his way. Even Dr.Jason commented on the sweet, spicy sent. It created a soothing and calm environment for all of us.

I’ve received so many blessings and kind words of support from friends and family. Thank you to everyone who has been following my story and sending comfort to Ethel and me.

It is another beautiful day. Eventually, Ethel and I will get out for a walk. For now, we’re waiting for time to heal the pain of loss, the deep sorrow of letting go.