A Letter From the Past

I was organizing some paperwork for a friend when I came across a letter. He has a business and also a recovery house for homeless, drug and alcohol addicted men. The letter was from a mom, thanking him for everything he was doing for her son. “My son was lost, spiraling downward. I would lay awake nights scared I would get a phone call – the police, the hospital – and scared I wouldn’t.” They had tried everything they could think of.

Then, he came to the recovery house. He wanted this program. He wanted the craziness of his life to end. “I’m getting my son back. A miracle is happening.” Then, I saw the signature. I know her son – or knew him. He overdosed last week.

Serially Lost

“I’m home! Can you come out and help me with something?”

I can, but I don’t want to. I’m finally sitting down, letting every muscle let go of on-mode and melt into the couch.

“This will just take a minute.” Ok, I drag myself off the couch and as I open the back door a little lab puppy jumps on me, wagging his tail and wiggling everywhere.

“What the…” I don’t want a puppy. I have a full-time plus job and my husband travels for work so training will be all mine. If only our other dog would take some responsibility here.  But, this is our dance. He brings dogs home and I fall in love with them.

I try to resist, but fat chance. So, I sit on the ground and let him love me.

We name him Buster and I start the training. He is smart – and wily. He knows how to work me and he’s only 12 weeks old. He’s housebroken quickly but ‘come’ and ‘sit’ seem only to be suggestions. Every day I have a new story about something he’s gotten into.

Years later, he is much better behaved but still has a puppy heart. Nothing is boring. If it exists, it must be for his benefit – to smell, eat, hide. He has attached himself to me and follows me everywhere. When I’m cooking, he lays in the middle of the kitchen just in case I drop something. I step over him to get to the refrigerator. He sleeps with us and has to lay across the bed between us. My husband says we look like an ‘H’.

He lives at full speed. There’s always something new to sniff, a squirrel to chase. Then, one day, he just stops. His feet slide out from under him on the tile floor. He walks slowly with his head down. No smiles or tail wagging today. His eyes look sad, or maybe that’s just the reflection of mine. The vet says tumors, nothing can be done.

I cry. And cry. When I see his collar on the table, I cry some more. I hear his nails clicking on the kitchen floor – but he’s not there. The grief subsides. Then, one day, I’m resting on the couch and hear, “I’m home! Can you come out and help me with something?”

Heinz

Heinz

We found Heinz by accident all the way in the back of the shelter. He didn’t wag his tail or come to the front of the cage. He’d been through this before. People looked but turned away when they saw his problems and his age.  He was eleven years old and he’d been there a year. Heinz had lost hope of finding a family again.

Heinz came from a very happy home. He lived with his mom, dad, and four brothers – and his humans, who loved him very much. They all played together and he was never alone. Then the fleas got him. Who knew he was allergic to them. His fur fell out and he got infections from scratching. He looked horrible and felt worse. His humans couldn’t afford the vet bills and they wouldn’t let him suffer. So, they gave him to the Humane Society. They knew he would get the proper care – and he did. But, big patches of fur never grew back. And his chronic ear infections wouldn’t go away. So he stayed in a cage and wore his front teeth to nubs from chewing on the bars.

We were there to look at another dog, but he’d already been adopted. That’s when I wound my way through the maze of cages and found Heinz. I fell in love instantly; he barely looked at me. He knew no one wanted him – everyone wants young, healthy dogs. But, I couldn’t let him die in a cage. So, we took him home.

He gave me a quizzical look when we put him in the car. Like he wasn’t sure what was next. The last time he was in a car he ended up in a cage. Should he hope? Were we taking him back to his brothers – finally?  No, but he was getting a new brother and sister – our two yellow labs. He passed the sniff test and started to play. He ran in circles for so long I thought he would pass out. And then he smiled.

A few years have passed and both of our labs are now gone. Heinz is 16 years old! Amazing! But his arthritis has spread and is getting worse. We are past the glucosamine and strictly on pain meds. He likes to lie in the sun, but, this is Northwest Ohio and the winters are grey and cold. He still plays with our pug puppy. He lets Buddy climb on him and they lie together on the couch. Maybe he will be better in the spring. Maybe we won’t have to “make the decision” until fall. Maybe his heart will give out and we won’t have to make the decision at all. How do we decide when it’s time to say goodbye?

We are living one day at a time. The vet says we will know when it’s time. My husband travels for work and every time he comes home, he sees the decline. I’m here every day and don’t notice it as much. He says it’s time. We gave him a good life and it’s time to let go. I can’t do it.  A few weeks go by. I help Heinz get on the couch and I nuzzle him like I always do. He turns away. Buddy tries to play and Heinz growls at him. I will call the vet in the morning. But, the next morning, he almost runs out the door to chase a squirrel. He lives another day!

We continue this way for a while, but the good days are few and the spring rains bother him. Even I can see that it’s time. Keeping him here is just plain selfish. I call the vet and Heinz gets his last car ride. I cry but I’m not as upset as I thought I would be. I know it was the right decision – until the next morning when I go to help him get off the couch for breakfast. And he isn’t there. Then the grieving begins.

04/27/2014 – There is (still) Holiness in the Air Today

I had to concentrate on the ‘Holiness in the Air’ a great deal the last few days. We just lost a friend to cancer, another has entered hospice, and a third is in Intensive Care and has a 50/50 chance of living. These are all people who are 10+ years older than me, so fear of my own mortality is only slightly on the rise. I’ve heard those older than me say they have moved to the era where they are losing their friends and their world keeps getting smaller. Yikes! I never want to be in that position. That’s one of the things I liked about working at a university; I was surrounded by people of all ages. I enjoyed listening to the ‘adults’ around me. “Why can’t they pull their pants up? What idiot pierces their tongue (nose, navel, eyebrow)?” It reminded me of my mother’s comments years ago. “Turn that music down. I buy you perfectly good clothes. Why do you wear bluejeans? Tell him to get a haircut; he looks like a slob.” I thought I was so unique, but every generation has that rebellious stage. It’s how we separate from our parents.

So, here I am with deep holes in my life left by those who have bid me good-bye. But, my world isn’t smaller. Soon, I will realize that those deep holes are just nesting places for Heidi, Mary, Cathy, Sheryl, Melanie, Kent, John, and so many more. I am a very lucky woman who has the coolest life on the planet.