Compassion creates understanding

I’m a fan of Yogi Tea. Every tea bag comes with a quote. They are always calming and zen-like. Tonight, my quote was “Compassion creates understanding.” It brought to mind something I learned this past year.

Sipping my Chardonnay one evening on the deck at Anthony’s Homeport in Des Moines with my friend Melinda, she asked me if I had a personal mission statement. “No. What’s that?” I asked. She shared three words that described how she wanted to live her life with a brief description for each. They had to do with integrity and honesty.  I started thinking about what mine would be. About a week later I had them.

Passion – I live my life with passion, fully engaged and present in the moment.

Forgiveness – I strive to forgive others and ask for forgiveness for my own hurtful actions. Dale Carnegie wrote “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Courage – I face each day with courage and resilience. That is how we learn and grow, by facing our fears and trials, not running from them.

I wrote these words on my bathroom mirror and looked at them every morning. One day, it dawned on me.

The sum of all three – passion + forgiveness + courage = compassion.

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching    

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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.

Finding Peace

pawFred passed peacefully this afternoon. He was ready. I still wasn’t.

Dr.Jason from Lap of Love came to the house. He took his time explaining what would happen and patiently answering my questions. He provides a wonderful service with great caring and compassion.

As we were talking, Fred laid on his bed, looking up at me with his big brown eyes. He seemed to know – to be grateful – that we were going to ease his suffering. Dr.Jason gave him the sedative and Fred went right to sleep. He was so at peace, his legs twitching slightly. I sat with him stroking his head and neck, such soft fur, such warmth, a soft blanket covering his body embroidered with “Love and Dignity”. After a while, I nodded to Dr. Jason and he administered the medication.

Fred didn’t linger. After several short breaths, his heart slowed and he was gone. Now he is running free across the meadow by the rainbow bridge.

Ethel and I took a walk after they were gone. We saw the most beautiful sunset. How fitting an end for such an extraordinary friend.

Here we go

Fred has stopped eating, except for a treat now and then. I think he knows that was the sign I needed to let go. He has no control of eliminations but it is mostly liquid now. Thank goodness for pee pads.

As I contemplated what to do, a friend suggested I talk with Fred about it. It is so simple. Talk to Fred. So, we talked. Ethel and I talked, too. After all, we’re in this together. That’s when Fred stopped eating. He still sleeps peacefully most of the time but he is wasting away, so skinny.

I called Doctor Jason from Lap of Love. He is amazingly understanding and compassionate as I deliberate over when to help Fred pass. What else would one expect from hospice, a hospice for pets. How cool is that?

Music has kept me company the past couple weeks. As we move into this coming week, I want to share words from a song by Sara Bareilles that will be comforting me and giving me the courage to let go:

So, here we go, Bluebird. Gather your strength and rise up. Oh, let him go, Bluebird. Ready to fly, you and I. Here we go…

 

 

My Inspiration

Last year, I attended a special dinner with a local writer, Nancy Horan. She writes historical fiction and has received acclaim for Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky.  It was an intimate gathering at a bookstore in north Seattle and everyone had a great time asking Nancy how she started writing and how she found her material. She told the story of a writing class she took. The teacher was tough, not fully complimentary of her work but she encouraged her to keep looking for the right material. When Nancy learned about Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah (pronounced may-ma) Borthwick Cheney, she knew she found her first story. It’s a wonderful book of historical fiction with a surprise ending.

Nancy was autographing my book that evening when she said to me, “You’re a writer. You just haven’t written anything yet.” Wow! I left that evening on cloud nine and feeling more inspired than ever. It’s been almost a year since the dinner. I guess I’ve just been waiting for the right time to begin. When things started happening with Fred, I couldn’t keep myself from writing about it. It gave me the reason to create my first blog.

The name of my blog, Living in a Bigger World, came out of wanting to explore life in a new way. The “status quo” life I had has been shaken up and tossed to the side. As a result, I’m learning to approach life’s challenges with greater acceptance. Resisting only feeds suffering.  In a way, it’s fitting that the end of Fred’s life, as my protector and loving companion, would bring me to the beginning of my first blog.

Please join me on a journey of discovery as I say goodbye to Fred in his physical state and learn to recognize the energy of him that lives on with me. We’ll learn together through spiritual exploration, the inspirational wisdom of elders and lessons from my remaining canine companion, the ever sweet, ever loving, Ethel M.

This will be fun…