Dog Love, Family, Grace, pets

All Dogs Go To Heaven

We had a dentist growing up I couldn’t stand. From upstairs, my sister Anne and I could hear our mom scheduling the appointment for this twice a year misery, and the weeks leading up to it were tinged with dread. We could be having a perfectly lovely summer day and one of us – maybe as a joke to freak the other out, I don’t know – would throw out those two words, “Dr. Pike”, and instantly fun turned to fear. 

Dr. Pike didn’t wiggle the inside of our cheek when he gave us Novocain like my dentist does now, so it hurt more than it needed to. He didn’t wait long enough for our mouths to get numb either before he filled our cavities. His one room two-chair office had a strange smell, a foul cocktail of toothpaste, that burnt metallic drill smell and the sour cup of liquid fluoride he’d sloppily smear across our teeth with a Q-tip. 

One time I shared an appointment with a boy around my age – we were maybe 12 at the time. Dr. Pike asked him if he had a girlfriend and, sheepishly, he shook his head no. Then Dr. Pike asked me and got another no. He wrapped up his taunt with the proposition that maybe we could be boyfriend and girlfriend, and did we each want that? Mortified and blushing so badly my face burned, I had nowhere to go in that one open room that I had decided surely was hell.

This week brought traces of Dr. Pike dread, but this time I’m the mom making the appointment – not for a dental, but instead for a loving goodbye. I set it up from my car in our driveway, not that Lucie can even hear me since her hearing went a few years ago, but she needn’t be saddled with that same dread. She still tracks me with her sweet eyes from across the room, still gorgeous and eating well and smiling when she can, but she is painfully uncomfortable moving around, especially sitting down. I see her struggle more each day, yet I have to move past my own pain with this decision as I know it’s the right thing and the right time. She will be comfortable and at home with all her family near and with her dignity, and without a trace of shame or fear or pain. Of course, I want her to live with me forever, but if you love someone, sometimes you have to let them go. 

Lucie and I are so in tune I sometimes forget she’s an entirely different species, one that I knew intellectually going in would have a shorter lifespan. Yet now, despite an impressive 14 ½ years together, it still seems too short. In our house growing up, our pets got such royal treatment and my mom always said that in her next life she’d like to return as a pet in our household. On hearing this and knowing how close she and I were, my boys used to suggest that maybe Lucie is my late mom who’s returned as our husky/shepherd? Each time I offered Lucie a lamb bone and she’d happily whittle it down as effortlessly as if it were a flaky croissant, they’d ask, “Did your mom like lamb?” “Why yes! Yes, in fact she did!” I’d exclaim. This happened with countless other foods and we’d smile and laugh knowingly at each other and Lucie, happy we’d found a way for the kids to meet my mom.

I could have easily named her Grace for her beauty and elegance and the way she soared like a gazelle over the ravine at the dog park, and also how she tenderly sniffed and snuggled the cats. She never showed any food aggression and I could be on the floor with my face in her bowl and she would have gladly shared her kibble with me. Same with hand feeding her scraps which she gingerly took from my hand, never once biting; she knew I’d keep my fingers outstretched until she got it all.

People moving around unpredictably made her nervous, and the few times she nipped friends and family at our house, it was so sudden and secretive and upsetting. Her DNA test came up as half Husky, half German Shepherd, with trace amounts of Australian Shepherd, so it made sense that she was a herder. After learning that,  we secured her when company came over.

She sometimes lifted her leg to pee, odd behavior for this gorgeous girly girl who was still all dog rolling outside in stinky things, sniffing cats’ butts and other dogs’ too. Dogs smell for the same reasons we read – to gather information or get caught up in a story – and Lucie was a voracious reader, often rereading her favorites, stopping to sniff a familiar tree or shove her snout down the same chipmunk hole. 

The Siberian Husky in her loved when it snowed, and her little paws left the cutest imprints in the pristine sparkling blanket outside. A few times we connected her leash to the sled and the kids shouted “mush!” curious if she’d instinctively take off pulling them. Instead, Lucie just stood there and smiled, clueless, lapping up the incredible white wonderland. Car rides were another favorite and keys jangling would find her at the door, hopeful, patiently waiting. I taught her to shake, lie down, roll over, and kiss. Her kisses were licks on our arms and faces or we’d get the snout bump, nose bumping against our mouth, getting it done and more importantly, getting the treat.

She loved her walks but her Husky “I’ll do what I want” attitude made training a challenge, and often she pulled. One night after dark on their first walk together, she broke Joe in when she happened on a dead squirrel, and he got the pleasure of plucking it from her jaws. Her wanderlust kept her mostly leashed except during the occasional tennis ball toss in the yard. If the ball went deep, she’d take off running for a catch me if you can game toward the street behind us, terrifying me each time.

We walked a lot around our little town and its surrounding neighborhoods. She’d go where I wanted, the leash a tiller I could adjust ever so slightly for a change in direction. Some shop keepers knew her and invited her in and gave her treats. Her beauty – that striking white wolf face with perfectly applied eyeliner and a plush creamy apricot coat – was extraordinary, and people wanted to get near her. In the first weeks I had her, walking downtown near the subway station, we came upon an elderly woman who ambled over to us, stopped for a moment, hands on hips, and proclaimed, “That dog is pretty as shit.” That was all and she walked away, satisfied she’d told us what was on her mind.

Lucie was a great car rider and we took her on short trips – to parks and to the mountains and once to the beach near Charleston. We had never taken her swimming before and were delighted to see what fun she had dog paddling in the surf, and watching her soaked little wet chicken legs trotting down the beach. She was game for most anything, walking when I wanted to, resting when I rested, and one morning waking up in the dark with Ben and me to watch the sun come up. I felt safe with her by my side and honored to introduce her to the majesty of a sunrise over the ocean.

She used to follow us room to room and upstairs in the evenings to sleep on the floor beside me. These days, she watches me in the kitchen from her corner spot on the floor, and now with severe arthritis, only gets up to eat or go outside. This has been our little world together for weeks now. 

She’s grown bored with her usual fare and she’s all over the new change in menu. Sometimes sweet potatoes and broccoli mix in with her kibble and a little bone broth to bind it, or even better, crumbled ground beef. The other night it was Costco seared tuna – a huge hit. I wrap her medicines in deli meat, which goes down easy. She still loves rice and I always let her lick the pot, and cut up fruits too – watermelon, strawberries, bananas. Good food and big bowls of ice water, rest and medicine fill her days, and while she’s never been a hugger, she’s allowing it. Oh, how I’ll miss her!

Mornings are sweet. I come downstairs and wipe her face with a hot cloth, cleaning her crusty eyes and wiping down her forehead, snout and cheeks. I often whisper, “How was your flight?” as these gentle towels take me back to my first trip to Europe flying Lufthansa. In that quiet cabin at the beginning of dawn, the nicest flight attendant handed me a hot towel, whispering, “I hope you slept well.” I felt so loved and cared for waking up in this way, and Lucie is getting that same sweet care.

I know our situation is not unique and so many go through this but still, it’s tough. You’re in that no man’s land between feeling guilty and all the while seeing your baby struggle. You have to grow up, be the adult and make hard choices. These days, these 14½ years, this life with Lucie has been wonderful, and I’m doing all I can to keep it together and honor her with a dignified loving sendoff. I’ve recorded a hymn for her, Amazing Grace, which seems right for this moment. I’ve added in some of my favorite photos too. 

She’s going to a place where there will be spectacular sunrises and sunsets, car rides with the windows rolled down, fluffy mashed potatoes and turkey that’s juicy for a change, tennis balls to run after where you don’t have to bring them back, endless meadows of monkey grass to wade through, walks in the rain and magical snowfalls. She will be free to roam untethered. I love her to pieces and am lucky to have found her and she me. Lightness and love, my sweet girl, fly high.

Covid-19, Encouragement, Grace, hope, Nature

Sunday Service

My grandparents moved down to Vero Beach, Fla. years ago, leaving behind their lives as New Englanders to become Floridians. My grandmother’s tanned wrinkly knees, breezy summer shifts with a Kleenex tucked in one sleeve, and her wide brimmed straw beach hat are as clear to me today as they were each year we visited. She and my grandfather walked the beach many Sunday mornings after their strong and stout black coffee, sectioned Indian River grapefruit halves and English muffins spread with butter and apple jelly, and of course after breakfast was cleared and the dishwasher loaded. I don’t know if they chose to walk left or right, left toward the big pier that extended way out into the water or right toward the swimming hole with the big step down that rose up to a sandbar where the water suddenly was ankle deep. Either way, they found their rhythm of how they wanted their Sundays to go and they kept to it religiously.

Some days I don’t know what I’ll get, what mood I’ll be in, how I’ll perceive the day ahead, but as my sister and I mused, you just wake up and walk into whatever is waiting. Yesterday was a collision of too much: a toxic mix of worry, restlessness and overwhelm, and the only fix was to get out of the house. These days nowhere feels safe, not even home.

You just wake up and walk into whatever is waiting

My son who today was supposed to move into his college dorm recently tested positive for Covid. He’d spent some time with a friend who later learned he had it, and so my son got it too. Thankfully he had just three days of mild headaches after which his symptoms disappeared. His doctor said per CDC Guidelines he can end his quarantine ten days after his first symptoms appeared, which will be Thursday of next week, so thankfully he can move into his dorm then in time for classes, two thirds of them virtual, which begin the following Monday. On Friday, my husband and I drove in separate cars the 45-60 minute drive to Newnan, Ga. where we both took drive-by rapid Covid tests and learned we’re each negative. Despite these positive negative results, you can still analyze symptoms, phantom and otherwise, to death and believe me, we have. Joe thought maybe his throat felt heavy and I decided my sense of smell was fading, waking each morning to sniff the vanilla extract, perfume spray bottle or jar of peanut butter, the latter rather unpleasant pre-coffee. In reality, we don’t have symptoms and each day we wake up without them is in anyone’s book a small victory.

Thank God for large drafty houses. We are living in separate rooms and I’ve chosen to be on an air mattress in our parlor, and am noticing that the early light breaking through these 1880s bay windows is heavenly. I’ve taken over the downstairs bathroom and after eleven years here have finally broken in its enormous claw foot tub. Those quiet morning baths, that southwest facing bathroom, with dappled light streaming through its two windows, has become church for me. There’s a fireplace opposite the tub and when we’re through renovating this glorious place, when these miserable Covid times are behind us, we’ll enjoy decadent fireside soaks.

The early light breaking through these 1880s bay windows is heavenly.

For months now the world has been consumed with this virus, and knowing it’s here in my house walking around inside in the form of my son has left me itching to stay away, unnatural for a mother to self-assign to home’s far recesses or even further, outside them. It’s both ironic and unfortunate that these last few days with him home I’m having to stay more separate than ever. Maybe like quickly ripping off a Band-aid in lieu of its slow painful removal, the universe is making our separation easier by having it abruptly start now? Certainly not intending to make him feel like a leper – and he doesn’t –  I can’t cut any corners, not when doctors look at me with their knowing eyes and tell me that early results show that cancer survivors don’t seem to fare well with Covid. Excuse me? Not even trying to define “well,” just trying to stay alive. We all are.

It’s unnatural for a mother to self-assign to home’s far recesses.

No circle in these concentric circles in my inside world and outside it feels exactly safe, yet home I am realizing is where I am. I feel strong and can move and walk miles and miles. Yesterday I left and with mask in hand and on face whenever there was anyone in sight, and with no particular destination in mind, wandered all around Decatur – through the cemetery, residential neighborhoods and downtown. Walked four miles and some change and with AirPods tucked inside my ears, strutted straight out of a ‘70s music video, moving through the entire Billy Joel’s Turnstiles album and on into ELO’s greatest hits, finding comfort in something familiar from a simpler more predictable time.

Joel’s Summer, Highland Falls is one of my favorites. Fast flitting piano juxtaposed with a ribbon of melodic rambling vocals felt perfect. He wrote it after he’d returned to New York after many years away when he was living outside the city near, you guessed it, Highland Falls. The song speaks to the highs and lows of life, it’s either sadness or euphoria. We are always what our situations hand us. Perhaps we don’t fulfill each other’s fantasies. We stand upon the ledges of our lives with our respective similarities.

 It’s Sunday and as I lie here on my air mattress, now slightly lumpy from hours of air slowly seeping out, I clutch my Target mug, strangely comforting albeit mass-produced, with its colorful floral “S” initial and shiny gold handle, filled with that sacred first and only cup of coffee. I’m soaking it all in, this day, this life, the changes that are coming. This moment feels like my church, and it’s offering lessons and bringing comfort. With so many unable to return to their own churches, I am wondering where or how are you finding your church, your soothing Sundays?

I’m soaking it all in, this day, this life, the changes that are coming.

Growing up, we were required to attend church every Sunday, and unlike my grandparents, my parents didn’t stray from that traditional script and wander into nature on Sundays for nourishment. I think we need to wander there in order to return right back home, back to ourselves.

Stay safe and look for love and comfort wherever you can. It’s still there under all the rubble, which increasingly will clear away. I’m leaving you with music from a Sunday I will always keep close to my heart. I was in New York with a dear girlfriend and as we walked through Central Park, this haunting celestial music pulled us in, blanketing us all and moving me to tears. Amazing Grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

connection, Encouragement, Grace, Nature, Uncategorized

The Show Must Go On

The birds don’t know. They’re singing as the sun climbs higher in the sky. Spring is continuing with its plans as various shrubs come out of hiding for Fashion Week, sporting pink and white and red buds.

The news outlets are encouraging us to call our grandparents – if only! – to find out what they used to do in their day, how they filled their free time at home, inside with family and outside, playing with their imaginations. Board games can be dusted off, families can reconnect and we can return to togetherness, the new separate variety.

What do you do if your family doesn’t like board games, won’t sit with you and play Scrabble (asking for a friend :)? Do you force family fun time or let teenagers default to video games and group chats? The prospect of being home together indefinitely looms and I suppose as with most things, you strike a balance, engage and disengage. There is food in the fridge and dry goods to tide us over, though I wasn’t early on amassing TP so we’ve got all of 14 rolls in the cupboard. I remind myself, stores will restock and besides, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s toilet paper supply.

That I even stopped to count tells me I’ve been watching too much news. My husband toggles between CNN and MSNBC, and the numbers of doctors and experts they interview and re-interview is staggering. Yet the news is largely the same: wash your hands the right way (I’ll spare you another set of instructions), stay home, practice social distancing. It will get worse before it gets better. What else can we do as we wait?

Italians are choosing to open their shutters and sing, tap tambourines and wave to one another across piazzas. The Whos down in Whoville had the same idea as they awoke to nothing yet realized they already had everything. It’s morning and those birds are still at it, and a light breeze ushers in their concert through my kitchen window. The sun streaks across the breakfast table as the house sleeps. The TV off dials up the sounds, the refrigerator rattling, the dog sleeping and cats moving through rooms sizing up the day.

The natural world is calling. While we can’t touch our eyes, nose and mouth, we can see and smell and taste the season, and let it touch us. We’ve all got tickets to our very own Broadway show outside ready to fill up our insides. Be well and enjoy the show.

 

 

 

 

breast cancer, Grace, Health

25% there!

Last Friday, I received the first of four chemo treatments I’ll get over the next two months. It’s strange to willingly drive to a place where you know they will inject you with poison that will drip through you for several hours, and that you’ll repeat this drill every three weeks over the course of your treatments. Yet it is this very poison that will help you. Sometimes we all need a complete detox, even if it’s a tox that’s doing the de-toxing.

scrubbing_bubbles_logoI’m receiving this custom infusion by two very Special Agents C & D, initials of the chemical agents I’m receiving, Cyclophosphamide & Docetaxel, helpers, like Dr. Seuss’ little Cats A, B, C and so on. These agents are cleaning me through and through — picture Dow’s scrubbing bubbles, an infusion of Mr. Clean’s strength cut with Mrs. Meyers’ love.

I’ve been outfitted with a Dignicap, for which we must pay extra, which is a recently patented fitted head cap that fills up with cold water and then ice, down to 3 degrees Celsius, designed to protect your hair follicles, nearly freezing them from chemo’s harsh effects. Joe and I both agreed the name could use some improvement, because surely we all have dignity, with or without our hair? Still, I’ve had 56 years with mine, so I want it to stay if it will. To help the cap perform at its peak, the Dignicap folks suggest you wash your hair no more than once a week, so looks like Fridays are my hair washing day. I feel quite good except for the oily separating hair that is getting darker and flatter by the day from the lack of shampooing. It’s just hair I remind my vain self, yet I will continue to protect mine down to the last strand.

carol channingI should know in the next three weeks if I will experience typical shedding which is expected even using the Dignicap, or full on hair loss. I’ve already got a call into a Piedmont hair expert and based on the recent photo of me that I sent her, I’m a candidate for her synthetic wig titled “California Dreamin.” All I can picture is Carol Channing for some reason!

Added to the scalp chill during treatment is the ice water I’m soaking my fingers and toes in. Chemo can give you neuropathy, that tingling hands and feet are asleep sensation, and from what I’ve read, sometimes it hangs around long after treatments are over. One way to counter these effects is to, as with freezing your hair follicles, ice your fingers and toes during treatment. Thankfully just one of my two “medicines” creates this neuropathy, so the icing only occurs during that single hour after which I can hunker down under a blanket and warm up for the second hour of chemical drip.

IMG_1259

This was my report from the infusion room yesterday: Got my cool cap on today and did the finger and toe icing (to prevent neuropathy). Then got under a warm blanket for another few hours with cooling cap.  Feeling good. Thx for all the positive vibes. Got home around 4:30 and went on a half hour walk with Lucie. Joe and I are heading out on another walk. Glad to get it behind me. The cold cap seemed to work because when they took the cap off, my scalp literally had ice on it! So maybe it’ll work? Keeping fingers in ice 75 min was harder than the toes, bc I wore surgical gloves vs thin socks on my feet. Took some 30-45 sec breaks, though. Had a tiny bit of neuropothy in my left foot for like a minute a bit ago, so maybe that is typical, especially so soon after treatment. All in all a good day. 25% behind me!

And the second update the day after: I’m feeling fine esp given that two chemical agents dripped through me yesterday 🙂 They put you on steroids for three days to cut down on water retention and help an anti-nausea medicine work better. Feel quite energized today which is to be expected. Going to make pasta sauce and clean up around the house. Yesterday walked 1.5 hrs which felt good. Going to keep that up daily. Walked a brisk walk for an hour today. Super energized with the steroids. I’m supposed to begin to feel the effects tomorrow or Monday which last 3-5 days. I asked if there were big spikes with side effects that I could expect – like would I out-of-the-blue projectile vomit while grocery shopping? – they laughed and said it’s more like a flu-like malaise. But added everyone is different. With anti-nausea meds at the ready I don’t expect to have that. Then apparently I should feel back to normal until my next treatment on January 17, and I repeat this cycle through four treatments which end Feb 28. The hand and feet icing for 75 min was “challenging” but I took a few breaks. Hoping for zero neuropathy and today have had none. Also these drugs can make nail beds darken and sometimes I read that nails just peel off! Icing also keeps this at bay so I’ll definitely do it each time.

IMG_6382Someone asked me if chemo is loud. Maybe she was picturing wails from patients as harsh chemicals surge through them, or loud machines chugging to push sloggy liquids through the lines. It’s hard to describe, but it’s none of that. You’re not worried sitting there. Or I wasn’t. And no one looks sickly or anything. There is a quiet kindness in the air and the room is pleasant and airy with big windows offering views of Atlanta outside. Only discomfort was icing my fingers and toes but I took breaks. Otherwise you’re just sitting in these super comfy chairs that recline, nicer than any nail salon, with an IV in your arm. Joe brought his laptop and we went over some house ideas – talked about fireplace details. We brought lunch from home and ate it there. It was almost kind of fun, in a day date sort of way. When the place cleared out, they even let him hop in a comfy chair to stretch out.

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m wondering if any effects will show up. So far there have been just a few: I could feel the start of a canker sore in my mouth but I’ve swished with baking soda and salt every day and thankfully nothing. These chemicals leave your digestive tract a bit sluggish, and mine has been no exception. My left eye lid has developed a sporadic twitch, most likely my body’s way of saying, wtf? I’m guessing my white blood cell counts are starting to drop as I’m told they will. Yet I’m not finding dry,  itchy skin, bleeding gums and nausea, or the boatloads of other gruesome things the Internet promised. Goals for 2020: stop researching side effects on the Internet!

I’m thankful I’m still here and rolling into the new year with my Special Agents C and D, who will be with me through late February, after which they will take on new assignments. I am grateful and humbled and healthy, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the love and support.