My mom died at age 46. I have been 46 for longer than she was, and soon I will be 47. I think I get her inability to handle being here—not because I don’t want to be, but because of all that is going on out there in the world.
She was a sensitive soul who had experienced her share of tragedy in her younger years, and I choose to rewrite her story in such a way that she simply wasn’t equipped to handle all the ick. She simply didn’t understand her own sensitivities.
As a sensitive soul myself, I would like to think that I have ways to cope with the ick most of the time. I give back, I pay it forward, I reach out instead of withdrawing, and I express my needs, thoughts and feelings–granted sometimes a little bit too much.
As my birth year surpasses my mom’s living years, I find myself even more driven to make a difference in the lives of as many as I can, while I can. My stats at work don’t necessarily show the reach or the quality of the reach, so outside of work, I am still driven to be that change we all wish to see in the world.
When you have a December birthday, it gets lost in the mix between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I have had to find my own way to make it more special. Some years, I play, or do whatever I want to do, and just that. Some years, I spend some quality time alone and others I spend it with friends and family I love.
This year, it seems I want to spend my time making a difference. I have two primary charities of choice and five thousand others (maybe not that many) that speak to me and with which I would love to do something to help. The two primary ones are the ones I spend the majority of the year pouring my extra energy outside of work supporting with those efforts, so for my birthday, I would seem to be setting up time helping several of the others that pull at my heart.
On the day I actually turn 47, I plan to be at Horsepower for Kids volunteering to do whatever they need me to do. Last weekend, I spent with dogs that were being screened to be potential therapy dogs and it was a lab-a-palooza—mostly yellow labs– but one special black one whose “special” was obvious when he walked in the door with his humans. Next weekend, I will be doing nothing very important for the rescue from which my last Hope Fiona found me. I miss animal rescue and two of these at least have me near it.
There is one weekend in-between where I will likely work on promoting my book Detour because I feel like the story is worth sharing. And 20% of course anything I make selling it goes back to a charity.
In the midst of all the mass shootings, the nuclear warhead testing, the discord among each other, I think we just need inspired to make a difference in our own little area of the universe where each of us can make a difference. Stats might not show it wholly, but the impact is still making a ripple in this life.
Mom didn’t get the ripple effect. She didn’t get the butterfly effect. She couldn’t adjust her expectation of success to be an interaction that rippled out into the universe to be an even bigger impact. I appreciate that she didn’t—not because I don’t wish she was here to get it—but because of her, I think I do get it. I wouldn’t likely have gotten it otherwise.
There are very few things in this life that change everything. Examples might be loss, major life changes, total eclipses, gratitude, humility…
Perspective however seems to need at least two of the above examples. And it sure changes everything.
Life changes when there is a detour on what you originally perceive as your path. This path you have so carefully mapped out, perhaps sometime in your late teens or early twenties, or the path you have planned after that one didn’t work out.
That detour can bring chaos of unparalleled proportions.
That detour can bring perspective of unparalleled proportions.
The shift in consciousness of which you are left after the detour is not something you can hit the reverse button on a remote control. In fact, that shift requires you move forward with a courage and boldness that you have never known.
If you have made it to this point in life where you recognize you are following the detour signs, I am proud of you. If you have driven passed those big orange road signs and find yourself continually re-routed to somewhere else, keep your seat belt on.
You are on your way to something that your life has waited for…at a level you aren’t even sure exists until you reach the other side of the detour.
But you know when you get there. It is like the surprise party that you wished you hadn’t been the person who is at the center of attention. And then you have to figure out how and what to do with it.
Often we miss that surprise party, so the ah ha is more like an uh oh. Other times, we are changed forever.
When we have perspective for what our true purpose here is, we cannot possibly use a remote control or GPS to re-route.
The title of my book is Detour. It certainly was a detour that I could not have predicted nor could I have imagined being able to follow the signs to the other side. I found my way and my perspective was changed forever. I could not have predicted the good that would come out of it or the position it would place me to make quite the same difference in the lives of others that it did.
Now, the story of my Detour 15 years ago is out, in print. Now my story hopes to be able to make a small difference in the lives of everyone struggling to figure out what the detour in their life may mean to them.
I have a neighbor who has a little Chihuahua dog and he never kept him on a leash when they were in their front yard. My boys and I struggled going past the house on our because my boy Amore’ often would get aggressive with other dogs. When Amore died, Duke met the dog and the dog would often come to the other side of the street to see us on our walks. Ruby met him too. The guy seemed like a nice enough guy despite the one negative experience I had.
When I was using the walker and the motorized wheelchair, we didn’t have a choice but to go by his house because the sidewalks on the other street were better and I was less likely to fall. But we always had to take that chance of the little dog coming and my dog or dogs pulling me off balance. Once the neighbor yelled at me because I wouldn’t just go on down the same street instead of passing his street. I yelled back that the sidewalks sucked and that the walker didn’t work well and to please get his dog.
We still exchanged pleasantries after that incident and I had no hard feelings because he couldn’t understand why sidewalks would be a problem or that Amore was often unpredictable—who could who hadn’t had to try using a walker or had a problem dog.
Fast forward from that moment three or four years ago to July 2017.
Hope Fiona and I were walking on a Friday evening past his house, which is our normal route. I had noticed I hadn’t seen much of him this year and that he appeared to be frail and wasn’t walking that well in the past month I had seen him. He stops me to tell me he was in a bad car accident in January and when he was having to learn to walk again, his first thought was of me.
He said he remembered me always continuing to walk my dogs whether it was with a wheelchair, a walker or a cane and that he hoped he had the same strength as he was struggling through his recovery.
He shared his journey from wheelchair to walker to cane and was proud to say he was getting around pretty well without the cane now and could walk around the block. He asked me how I found the strength to do it and continued to say how much he thought of me during and still because he had a tremendous head injury that has to continue to heal.
We talked about muscle memory and physical therapy and water therapy, and even though it was starting to rain and Hope really wanted to walk, we talked about the importance of continuing to move forward no matter what.
He asked me my name because in the 12 years I have passed his house and talked with him, we had never exchanged names. He thanked me for something I had no idea even happened.
This experience reminded me that I was doing something right in this life, but also reminded me about how someone is always watching you and that making an impact on others’ lives is far bigger than what you deliberately do for someone else. It is more about who you are and how you are while you are doing the simple, routine things in this life that has just as much of an impact.
I have been without a canine companion for nearly two full months since Ruby died. I have lost count of the number of people who have sent me posts of a dog in need of re-homing, the number of texts to take a dog, foster, and the number of times I have been asked, “Have you gotten another dog yet?”
Ruby was my back up dog for Duke and I did not have a backup dog for Ruby because I did not imagine I would need one for many years. Her death was sudden and traumatic. While I could not imagine a life without a dog exactly, I knew I was in no way ready for another.
My friends and I talked at great length about how we do not know me without a dog because for the last 16 years, I have had one or two. My brother said I could not be me without one.
I made a conscious decision not to rush into another because emotionally, losing three dogs in three years was a lot. I went on the hope method that I had learned how to stay grounded without the need of an external grounding source, which for me was always a dog or two. My dogs taught me how to do this over the years, and I felt somewhat confident in the lessons I had learned from them.
Still, I was not sure. I wasn’t sure if I would feel lonely without one. I was not sure that I wouldn’t lose my mind or otherwise lose my sense of mission and purpose.
Two months in, I have not lost my mind or otherwise lost my sense of mission and purpose. I still do not feel lonely. I do miss having a living, breathing, always loving being under foot, but have watched others’ dogs and getting my dog fixes often.
I figured I would be trying to find ways to avoid coming home to an empty house, but as it has turned out, I still like my place. It is still the refuge and the Zen space I created for my dogs and I. While I have the freedom to do other things, and sometimes choose to do them, I am often simply choosing to come home after work.
It is not uncomfortable. I do not feel like I am missing anything in my life. I do plan to add another dog into my life next year. I honestly never thought I would be ok under these circumstances.
It is certainly not my first post on letting go, nor do I suspect it will be my last post on the subject. The last few weeks, the universe has honed my ability to do so more quickly.
I am no stranger to traumatic experiences, nor am I trauma’s biggest fan despite the familiarity. What I have learned about trauma is that no matter how quickly you pick up the leftover pieces and continue moving forward, the imprint physiologically remains far longer.
Loss and trauma are strange bedfellows, I have also learned. Not all losses are traumatic, but most trauma involves a loss of something/someone.
With the vicarious trauma professionally, and from simply watching the news about the various tragedies happening world-wide, experiencing a personal trauma in addition, has created a variety of interesting visceral responses.
Nearly 2 ½ weeks ago, I unexpectedly lost my third dog in three years. The first two were inevitable as they were seniors, but the third was only five years old, and we experienced a painful final 72 hours of her life together. She was very vocal about her pain and suffering, and no amount of medication was easing that for her. I chose not to prolong her suffering.
While I chose to let her go, the experience of her suffering remains both in my heart and in my mind.
I went back to work the following week, and while apparently numb, I found myself extra sensitive to suffering of all kinds. In my semi-conscious waking state for the first week, I saw her eyes and felt her pressing her painful self into me attempting to ease her pain. The second week was a bit more interesting in my sleeping state.
Nearly every soul connection I have had in the last decade came flooding back in my dreams. The gist I could gather when I would awaken was the theme of letting go on a different level. Interestingly enough, Duke was not among them because he was in my dreams the week before all this happened with Ruby. It was his death anniversary, which is the last time I posted a blog.
Because it is my nature to look for the lesson and potential growth opportunity in everything, I cannot help but to think more about these losses and the residual effects they may be having on my ability to move forward in my life. Perhaps that was Ruby’s ultimate lesson for me in our relatively short time together.
Grieving, letting go and healing trauma happens as a process. It appears to be happening on a global scale, and not just in my personal and professional life, so I have to believe that continuing to move forward while being open to the process itself, will promote that healing process.