here’s to the dog

Here’s to the dog who transformed from a scared, skinny, reserved mess into a brave, athletic, playful son. When we first met you at the pound, we took you into the yard to see how you’d interact with us. As Dad threw a ball, rather than fetching, you cowered, trying desperately to disappear into yourself.  Our hearts broke at the invisible story that brought you to such a sad place. For years, we didn’t think you had a voice at all. Maybe your box had been removed? Dad would give me such shit for trying to teach you to speak. But you learned, didn’t you. You found your voice and the courage to use it to protect us, to laugh with us, to tell us you were there, to tell us you were hungry. Our hearts applauded your self-discovery. We knew you came into your own when we’d let you loose on at the local park, and you would run like a freak. Unabashed. Insanely. Comically. Gleefully. Our hearts celebrated at the freedom you finally felt in love.

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Here’s to the dog who transformed us into ninjas in the morning. As our bodies eased out of deep slumber, we’d stealthily adjust in the bed so as not to awaken your bladder. Our even worst was when our bladders were awake. We’d lie there in pain, just so we didn’t give you the false impression that our day was, indeed, actually starting. Or sometimes, you went into the ninja business with one of us. So as not to awaken the other parent, one of us would coax you out of the bedroom as sneakingly as possible. But alas, your hummingbird tail always drummed the bed, the walls, the door, our souls: the imperfect perfect alarm clock.

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Here’s to the dog who was my dancing companion. You know as well I do, Momma don’t clean without some good music. And so there I’d be in the living room, blasting Rihanna or Britney Spears or Juanes, and well of course my feet and hips would catch on. And so would yours. You’d look at me from your bed, then your tail would mark time, then you’d raise to your feet and bow your chest to the ground, then you’d come to me, then I’d pat my chest, and what do you know, I’m in my living room dancing with a four-legged companion, upright on your hind quarters, paws on my shoulders, mouth panting in rhythmed ecstasy.

1930457_33430112812_8591_n 1919160_192461262812_7397308_n 38418_439971082812_4160013_n 73041_492507727812_2398029_n 73694_492508172812_1248683_n 261853_10150308992172813_6826574_n 425146_10150641017682813_1306980350_n 1044143_10151737797722813_1331969970_nHere’s to the dog who never met a rock you didn’t conquer. No matter what trail, what state, what adventure, the nearest rock would eventually become your throne as you explored it and scratchily fell off it and climbed atop again and eventually planted your paws like Armstrong on the moon, standing tall and regal, tail in the wind like a flag’s declaration, surveying the conquest.

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Here’s to the dog who was just the goofiest kid who just wanted desperately to be liked by his peers. You hated water until you saw one of the cool kids running around in it. You didn’t understand fetch until you saw another dog doing it, then you tried out for the team but didn’t make the cut. Oh, you’ll eat a treat because that dog ate a treat. You loved to stick your nose in anything, even when you found it being exploded back into your face by a sneeze. You playfully wrestled with the ground. You looked like you were seizing when you tried to roll over on command.

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Here’s to the dog who was loved by all those we loved. You were the calm dog everyone felt comfortable being around. You protected the Doyle girls like they were your own. Your were gentle with my aging parents. You let puppies have their space (we’ll pretend this was your honor, instead of the fact that you were petrified by them). You cradled yourself into our families and into our friendships. You were our son, and everybody knew it. And they loved you.

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Here’s to the dog who loved his brother beautifully. You’d fight, and then you’d paw and makeup. You’d share your toys and your treats and your bed. You kept on eye on him when he walked around the block with us. You were compassionate and kind to him as he aged, and then as he died, and then, you stood steady for us our in grief.

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Here’s to the dog who was your Dad’s favorite. When you’d piss me off, he’d defend you. When I didn’t want to get fur bombed, he’d gather you between his legs and pet you. When I looked and looked and looked, he’d go right for that perfect spot around your ears that made you smile like a druggie. You were his dog, and he was your idol.

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Here’s to the dog who was the soul mate for our lifestyle. When we ran, you ran. When we hiked, you hiked. When we camped, you camped. When we melded into the TV, you slept in your bed. When we took road trips, you curled up in the back seat. When we took naps, you snored. When we lounged outside, you curled up in the grass. When we ate, you waited at our feet. When adventure called, you sat politely while we put on your collar. When home beckoned, you greeted us at the door with that one of a kind hip wiggle of yours.

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Here’s to the dog who made our life complete. Here’s to the dog whom we miss with all of the broken pieces of our heart. May you run, smile, rest, and wag in peace.

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her death. her life.

Two years ago today, my Mom died. One week prior, I received a call from my sister saying she was taking her to the hospital for flu-like symptoms. In the ensuing avalanche of diagnoses that tumbled over our hearts, my Mom was swept away within 7 days. Less than 168 hours.

My Mom died as she lived. Fierce. Brave. Strong. With gumption and energy and wit and gusto and dignity and humor and sharpness. Though it absolutely devastated me and my family, my Mom died with so much life…and for that I am grateful. Nobody had to take her in. Nobody had to worry about her. Nobody had to make plans for her. Nobody had to watch as she diminished into nothing. She died as she lived: independently and vigorously. This, ultimately, is what she wanted.

Here are some pictures showing my Mom’s…life-ness:

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She would kill me for posting this. But that smile…

Along with these pictures, I found this, written by my Mom between 1992-1993.

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Lots and lots of misses. That is now the burden I must carry.

Lots and lots of life. That is now the glory I must reflect.

roaring chickens: how I found my voice

One of my Mom’s many stories was about how she kicked the bucket…literally:

I had a job stacking pails coming off a paint line. One of my bosses came in and told me to stack them one way, and so I did. Well, then, my other boss came in and told me to stack them a different way. So I did. Then the first boss came back in and asked: “Why are you stacking ’em this way and not the way I told you to?” Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I kicked those pails all over the place and turned to them and said: “When you two get your shit together, come and get me. I’ll be in the break room.”

This story can be filed under the motto of my Mom’s life of strength and fire:

You picked the wrong damned chicken to mess with!

For most of my life, I’ve been the perfect chicken to mess with. Being the youngest in the family, I fell naturally into the role of making peace. I didn’t want tension or drama at any cost, and so in my naivety, I’d be the go-between, trying to make all parties feel better. In my past jobs, I rarely spoke up, letting people run over me rather than dealing with the ramifications of protest. For my first years as an educator, I struggled in the middle-ground of blatant wrongdoings against our students and staff while wanting to keep my job. I was a woman whose voice burned within me, but sadly, never manifested externally.

During many of my conversations with my Mom, I was haunted by her persistent call to courage:

Mary, you can’t just let people run all over you.

Her deathbed words to me (though not on her deathbed, but on the owl-light-lit porch, in the darkness of night) were:

Mary, be strong.

Her conviction and her challenge have been planted in my deepest parts since she died in September of 2013. Slowly, painfully, the seeds have cracked open under the dirt of my grief, broken through the shattered pieces of my heart, and have reached toward the warm sun of her legacy. There, they bloom, while the birds’ songs harmonize with my own resurrected voice.

In this expansive field of flowers, I see and hear my Mom within me. I have cut toxic people out of my life. I have learned to declare and honor my protective no’s and my worthy yes’s. I say what needs to be said, shooting through the heart of the elephant in the room. I ask hard questions instead of making easy assumptions. I openly admit my faults but do not minimize my strengths. I talk to people instead of about them. I am the microphone for the voiceless. I foster discomfort, assured of the future benefits. I feel good in my skin, knowing I am Created. I have found my voice; I have rightfully claimed my voice.

For much of 2014, Katy Perry’s “Roar” would come on the radio…and it felt like my Mom was singing to me, reminding me of her strength and fire. This was my song, my anthem, of a life spent hiding, then finding my voice; like mother, like daughter; the wrong damn chickens to mess with.


This post was inspired by Synchroblog’s January prompt. Follow these yellow-brick-links to other ponderings!

her last month

August 5, 2013

Mom comes home from the doctor with positive news and a positive outlook.securedownload

flight
August 13, 2013

Mom arrives in Colorado for what would be her last trip to the place she loved dearly. Our time together entails adventures at the casino, the buffet, the dog park; drives through the mountains with affectionate hand-holding and back-rubbing; story-telling; chilly mornings in robes with cigarettes on the porch; visits from wildlife; long naps together in our bed.

Upon reflection, Mom slept a lot. There were questions that now haunt me. “Mom, why are you holding your stomach?” “Mom, why can’t you eat more?” “Do you feel bad Mom?”

mom colddog prkmom in chairbuff

 

August 27, 2013

Sitting outside of Dave’s work, I take a call from Joan. “Dork, I’m taking Mom to the hospital. She has flu-like symptoms. She called me and asked for helped, so you know it’s bad.”

joan updateAugust 28, 2013

Bad news. At school, I break down in my boss’s office. I come home, crumble to my knees, and call Dave’s Mom for prayers. I weep on the floor, holding Spooner, grasping for strength. I make arrangements to go home to my Mom.

my updateAugust 30, 2013

At the hospital, I am bedside with my Mom, where I should be. She is in good spirits, despite the fatal news. Dave, Joan, and I sit around her, positioned in a triangle-sentinel of care. We are recording her telling stories. We are imprinting her on our eternal soul. We are laughing, we are crying, we are living a good-bye that will come much faster than we could ever imagine.

August 31, 2013

Mom is released from the hospital and is glad to be home. Nova and I search several stores for access to her costly prescriptions. Overwhelmed by the amount of medicine and the fact she won’t be able to drive, something shifts in Mom; something shifts in Heaven.

We spend most of the evening on the porch, while Mom relives her past with vivid stories. She is surrounded by the love and listening ears of the Davenports, Nova, Chris, Dave and I. We eat Stir Crazy and Portillo’s, a feast of craving-conquerors.

mom'sSeptember 1, 2013

Today is Mom’s big day. Since we’ll be leaving soon, she decides to go big before she goes Home. We drive to Timbucktoo to eat at the Golden Corral and then we hit up the casino.duck facesjoan and momdave and mommom casino

That night, in the quiet dark, it is just my Mom and I, on the back porch, huddled beneath the soft glow of the wicker lamp. This night is our secret time; we are weaving invisible threads of gold between our souls. We spend hours in tearful conversation, planning for her passing, saying our good-byes, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. I am so very tired, how much more Mom. But something deep within me whispers to treasure this night, this time. “Mom, you know how much I love you, right?” “Yes, Mary, yes…” A glint of gold catches the light.

leavingSeptember 2, 2013–AM

We leave for our drive back to Colorado, to work, to real life, to a cold chasm between our dying Mother and us. It is the hardest good-bye of our lives…until tomorrow.

September 2, 2013–PM

In the car, in the middle of Nebraska, I have a panic attack. I am not right. Something is not right. I contemplate going to the nearest ER. Dave contemplates punching me to snap me out of it. Deep within me, unknowingly, I feel her weakened heartbeat from across the miles.

In the car, near the Colorado-side of Nebraska, the phone rings. It is the curdling-sound of death. “Mom is bad. We’re taking her back to the hospital.” “How bad?” “…The doctors say you should get here as soon as possible.”

We drive forward. We turn around. We pull over. We look for flights from the nearest towns. We turn around again. We brainstorm how I can get home the quickest, to say good-bye, to hold her and tell her I love her one last time. It is my Dad all over again, rushing against the clock to be there. We don’t know what to do. We turn around again. Endless circles, powerless, just like our stomachs, our hearts’ endless terrified grief.

“Mom, I love you. We’re coming home. We’ll be there soon.” Weak, distant: “Ok, Mary.”

Endless miles. Endless tears. Endless fears.

September 3, 2013–AM

We pull up to the hospital, looming like an ivory grim reaper. Beating the clock, we are with her. She is heavily drugged, heavily pained, weak in cognition, weak in breath. The mottle march of bruises creeps up her legs like a ticking time bomb.

September 3, 20113–PM

Mom’s breath changes. She rolls over to her left side, tucks her hands into her chest, curled like a baby. This is how she always slept, and so she will now. We gather around her, laying our hands on her, channeling our gratitude and love through us to her–to each other. We chant over and over, “We are here for you Mom,” “We love you,” “Go be with Dad,” “We love you,” sanctifying her departure with our blessings as she has sanctified our lives with her strength and laughter and stories. She opens her eyes. She looks into the distance. Something changes in her eyes, in her face, in the room. Her breath becomes shallow, still; her chest softens. She smiles, a deep gesture, with a purity and innocence that is other-worldly.

No more of her breath finds its way to life. It is now, only, our breaths, the breaths of her beloveds, living the life she gave us.

 

 

 

 

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