Sharing the lessons along the way…

Dear Duke…

Dear Duke,

I felt the need to write you a farewell letter.  Many times, both in my head and through tears, I have composed the start of this letter since you said your goodbyes to us Friday.  I awoke lost, without my alpha dog on the first morning without you beside me in bed, waking me up by flopping over to spoon and cuddle as I waited on coffee and the snooze alarm, but then remembered all that you have taught me over the years about dealing with loss, challenges and hard times.

Through my terribly sad fog of a brain, I knew that it was my turn (on my own and with all those whose lives you have touched) to take care of all that you have helped with so much over the years.  You have not only been my favorite and most talented co-therapist in this life, but also my grounding source, my sounding board, and my motivation for being a better human.

You literally helped me up when I fell down, and you knew my soul better than any human ever could.  You reached me when I had no longer allowed anyone else to try.  You picked some of my new friends as you helped me to create a new and better life after wheelchairs, homelessness and nursing home, and you kept me moving forward no matter what.

One could argue that you were “just a dog” but it would be a huge and tragic missing of the mark, for who you were to me, and to so many whose lives you were honored to touch was so much more.  You were magic.  You were magnificence.  You were the epitome of any definition of love, selflessness and giving.

The veterinarian told me that your neurological status at the end should have made you miserable, nauseated and dizzy.  No one who made it to say his or her goodbyes Friday morning saw that.  You wagged, you smiled, you let us all cry and tell stories about our life with you, and you did not complain.  Until the end, my son, you were the epitome of all that is good, right and holy in this life.

Because of that, I know it is important that I have not only “gotten” the life lessons you have spent so many of your last 14 years trying to teach me, but also that I pay those forward whenever I can with a loving, giving, self-less spirit in which you taught them to me.

You would want me to stay grounded, stay focused, and continue creating my own life and to create opportunities for others to create better for their lives.  You would want me to make sure your “boys” are doing the same in your honor at work, and that the staff and friends who loved you do the same.

It has truly been an honor to hold your leash as you trail blazed your way into the hearts of those at work, and as you made every single person who crossed your path to feel loved, special and whole.  You could see that they were worthy of that, whether they could or not—I see that too, but only because you taught me how to see it.

While I am terribly sad and feel a bit lost trying to imagine a world without you physically in it, my heart is so much bigger because you picked me for you and your brother.  My life is so much richer and my world so much fuller than I could ever imagine because you opened me up to it.

I would not trade any of the tears I shed, and will continue to shed as I grieve your absence, for never having the opportunity and the privilege to share so much of my lifetime with you by my side.

My soul mate dog, it was your time.  I will always love you and appreciate all that you were to me and to so many others. You have given so much, and now you can rest.  We will take it from here.

me kissing dukie at hep

may dogs 14-15

May is always a significant month for me, and I think I write about it every year.

This May marks 10 years since I broke out of the nursing home and embarked on independent living that everyone seemed to tell me was not in my future.  My Duke and Amore’ returned to me on the month of their 4th birthdays, and we proceeded to create a new life together.  I find it hard to believe that in the 10th year after homelessness and nursing home experience that I am where I am.

It is a bit more intense this year for me.  So much so, that I have to think about it in little tiny bits and pieces.

In the month of May, I met the older “sister” I always wished I had through an interesting turn of events, and it is a decade long friendship that certainly was well-timed for figuring out how I wanted to start my new life chapter back then.

May is the month of my mom’s birth and mother’s day.  As I inch closer to the age she was when she died, these have a different feel to them.  I cannot imagine feeling like giving up in this life at such an age, but I am old enough to be able to see clearly the good things I got from mom and to appreciate her.   It has become the month when I celebrate all of the moms who have adopted me over the years.

Five years ago, Duke became an official Therapy Dog at the Homeless Emergency Project.  He not only celebrated his 14th birthday this month, but he also celebrates a 5th work anniversary.  I can hardly believe the number of major life events he has been witness to and been both my lighthouse and my grounding.

Last year, Ruby entered my world in May and so did many of her greyhound rescue folks.  While it has been a challenge to integrate a unique little soul into our household since the loss of Amore, she has certainly kept me focused, grounded and present.

I am always fascinated how one month out of twelve can hold so much significance.  Even if I only look at the last 10 years of Mays, I can hardly believe the number of events that have contributed to the me I have become.

As you celebrate Mother’s Day today, I hope you will take a few minutes to consider where you might have been ten Mays from now.  Honor the differences, honor the change and honor the growth.  I think mom would be proud.  I certainly am.

Life is Twisty-Turny

twistyturny

I find day-to-day life rather entertaining.  It is very twisty-turny in the way that one situation leads into another.  It is twisty-turny in how interactions with one person influence interactions with the next, and it certainly doesn’t stop its twisty-turny nature there.

Living with a chronic condition is equally twisty-turny.  One relatively “normal” bodily shift can twisty-turn all other already compromised functions.  One medication shift, one night of poor sleep, one infection, one more physical therapy exercise…makes everything all twisty-turny.

I have probably taken some combination of my dogs on walks a hundred times passing these twisty-turny trees over the last ten years of living in this neighborhood.  I was having a particularly twisty-turny week last week when they caught my eye and made me smile.

Life is twisty-turny.  Even in nature, we see these twists and turns.  It is part of the joy of growing through life.  Moving through the twists and turns to see the new twists and turns is part of the fun of it.

I think we have this idea that there aren’t supposed to be twists and turns in our lives and that we are doing something wrong if we have them, so we tend to resist them.  I know I spent nearly 30 years resisting them because I really thought that was what a person was supposed to do.

It has taken a while for me to truly “get” that these twists and turns make for one amazing ride through this life.  In my particularly twisty-turny week last week, I did my best to go with it and to keep moving forward through all of it.  I even made up comedy shticks for some of the less pleasant of the twists and turns.  I know that once I get past the twists or turns, there is another side, so it is just a matter of moving through.

The twists and turns were simply twists and turns.  I didn’t allow myself to put more meaning or more energy into any of them.  Instead, I remained focused on what I needed to accomplish each day and figured out ways to amuse myself along the way.

It’s ok that life is twisty-turny as long as living life, as fully as possible, doesn’t stop at the first twist or the first turn.

…wait for it…

wait for it1

Sometimes I feel like a contractor building a demolished house from scratch.  Engineers and architects are being consulted, land surveys are being completed, plans are being designed and redesigned, and permits being applied for—all long before the first footer is ever poured.

By the time the foundation is laid, it seems that an inordinate amount of time has elapsed.  This house is taking forever to build!

Over the years with illness, I have grown more accustomed to being friendly with patience.  Nothing in the world of illness happens all that quickly.

I haven’t always been so patient with my planning and desire for immediate results.  In my 20’s, I would want the house built the day after the plans were approved.  I would have been ready to paint and lay the flooring day two and ready to move in before a week was out.  I spent much of my life getting way too far ahead of myself.

Now I don’t mind making sure the foundation is laid properly, so that the house will stand–long after I no longer live there.  The structure and grounding is more important to me than the décor, and the time it has taken to make that solid will be well worth it.

As long as there is forward progress in the construction of it all, I am satisfied with where things are.  For nearly seven years, the foundation has been in progress.  Now the process of truly rebuilding something  has begun.

The first part of the process—the minutia and the details—have been wonderful opportunities to develop a solid hold on what it is that is going to be built.  Even that can be amended by the architect throughout the process, but the commitment to build here, upon a more solid foundation, has been made.

While I have no idea anymore just how the end result will look, I know it can be legendary!

Symptom-land Remix

The sun

The whole gist of this blog is to share my journey with a chronic, progressive illness.  You will notice that I actually don’t spend a lot of time talking about the illness or my symptoms, however.

I have likened living with a chronic illness to be similar to having an infant that arrives and totally changes the way you have to do everything—only it isn’t a cute.  I do most things differently and have had to rearrange that as different symptoms become worse or better.

While I deal and manage my symptoms on a daily basis, I still don’t spend as much time talking about them as I do managing them.  For me, if I am able to see the lessons in my day-to-day life, and to show up for life with a genuine smile, then I am being successful in the management of my symptoms.

I can hardly see the lessons when I am frustrated or stuck focusing on my symptoms.  Actually, there are times when I can hardly think about much else when I am stuck there.  You have certainly shared many of those moments with me throughout the postings over the last several years.

Today, there was a lot of inquiry about symptoms.  I don’t mind sharing, but sometimes I am just as confused as you are about what I can and am unable to make my legs, feet and such do.

There doesn’t seem to be much of an understanding about why I seem to do well on flat land, but cannot go up an incline without assistance.  Or why propelling myself in a forward motion works well in some instances, but in others I need to push off of something, and why that seems to vary with no real rhyme or reason.

I have unanswered questions that will probably be left unanswered.  I am ok with that at this point because I really would rather spend my energy elsewhere.  It is funny what happens when there are a lot of questions, however.  (Not so much ha ha funny sometimes.)

It is probably one of the reasons I prefer to see doctors only when I really need to see them—I don’t like to focus on my symptoms.  I am more than happy to do whatever I have to do to manage them and figure my energy is better used toward that end.

For the latter part of the afternoon, however, I had a little detour into symptom land.  While I was still productive, I found myself actively having to shift my focus away from them and back to what I was doing.  It isn’t that I am not aware of the symptoms or that I am trying to pretend they aren’t there—I know it’s all there.  I am not trying to minimize it either.

It is what it is, I reckon, for me.  It doesn’t run my life like it did in the early years and most of that is because I stay out of symptom land and stay in symptom management land because it only serves to dampen my quality of life when I don’t.

If you don’t have an illness and think you can’t relate, then think about this example.  Let’s say you didn’t get enough sleep last night and all you can think about is how tired you are.  Are you going to feel any better doing that?  It really isn’t much different!

Near-Missed Opportunity

Ruby by the water's edge

Ruby’s first trip to the water on our dog walk reminded me of so many memories that Duke and Amore and I created when we first moved to Florida.  It also reminded me of the fun Ruby and I will have in her lifetime creating our own memories together.

I love creating new memories and consider each day, each moment, an opportunity to do just that!

What I realized while watching Ruby (who was quite confused by crossing a larger road and seeing water) this morning was that with the flood of memories about Duke and Amore, I almost missed the opportunity to be present with her.

There were thoughts of missing Amore, thoughts of Duke’s back issues worsening, thoughts of Duke’s labragoat days of climbing rocks, thoughts of all of the times the three of us were the first on a little beach area to make footprints larger than the shore birds…

There stood Ruby at the other end of my leash, tail tucked, ears back, wondering what she was supposed to be doing at the water’s edge.  Her nose was moving in all directions, seemingly at once.  She stepped back in her quickness, and one foot fell between some pine needle covered rocks, and startled by that, she jumped into the air to get behind me.

As I realized I was so caught in the past that I was missing everything, I parked the walker and sat down beside her.  After some ear stroking and some chest rubbing, she was eager to move forward along the path by the water alongside me with less anxiety.

I told her of some of the memories I was thinking about, and then told her how much fun she and I were going to have together making our own memories.

My take away from the dog walk this morning is this:

We cannot miss the opportunities to create some wonderful memories in our NOW by staying in the past.

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