Sharing the lessons along the way…

Posts tagged ‘canine assisted therapy’

One Year Ago…

Just Keep Smiling

Dear Duke,

It has been a year since you crossed over Rainbow Bridge, and I have done my best to honor your lessons and your legacy.  I cannot lie and say that I didn’t spend some time feeling lost without you, but I did my best to keep moving forward no matter what was happening in my heart or in my world around me.  I have off and on felt lost in the past year without your presence– in ways I cannot describe to humans who have not experienced their soul mate.

Your sister Ruby and I have bonded quite a bit since you’ve been gone, although she doesn’t seem to understand when I try to tell her about soul-mates.  She has her own lessons to teach me and I have grown quite fond of her unique ways, as I try to discern exactly what those might be.

Some days, I am not sure I don’t need you to keep going.  Some days, I am convinced that somehow you would know exactly what I should do next.  Some days, I know you could help someone better than I can or even a whole team and I can.  Other days, I feel confident that I am honoring everything you and your brother taught me over the years.  Other days, I am encouraging those who knew you to do the same.  Other days, I stay busy enough to not feel my heart aching quite as much.

At work, you are everywhere.  A plaque hangs in the lobby and a stone hangs in your courtyard—both with your picture in remembrance of your service.  Pictures of you are in my office and you will forever be in my Lightning Hero Award video.  I started volunteering with Project PUP because you no longer can.  Therapy dogs are at work nearly every day of the week because you cannot be.

I am certain I miss your presence more than anyone or anything else’s I have ever lost in this life so far.  So much so, that I can hardly believe it on some of my bad days.  I want you to know that I am doing my best to take care of your “guys” at work and encourage them to honor your service in the way that they treat themselves and others.

I trust that you and your brother are doing exactly what you most love to do over there, and I hope you have joined up with Maggie, Sadie, Zeus, and the many others you both helped to foster who have moved on from here.

 

 

 

 

WOW–September!

September arrived so quickly this year.  Perhaps I say that every year?

The Tawny Girdle

I was looking through pictures on my phone and realized that it was two years ago this month that my bad intrathecal baclofen pump was finally removed.  Since then, I have gone from wheelchair to cane, wheelchair to walker, fallen a few times, and now get around mostly without any assistive equipment.

Pools, bikes, practicing walking normal, stretching and a variety of other physical therapy things have helped me tremendously.  What I think has helped as much as those things is that I finally feel confident–that no matter what level of mobility and no matter what level of symptom interference–I can manage this illness enough to keep moving forward.

I have never been high on any self-confidence scale—likely right out of the womb it began—so to feel some confidence about managing something that ripped my world apart years ago feels pretty huge to me.

It took quite a while to convince me.  Probably longer than it needed to take, quite honestly.  And, it all came together with the Cali Magic of December, which has yet to lose its momentum in my life.  The Cali program serves to help me continue to trust that feeling of confidence, as it has become a part of what I am sharing with both the residents and my coworkers on a regular basis.

Even with the loss of Duke thwarting me, I still feel the momentum and see the momentum manifesting everyday—whether I am into it doing so or not.  Some days, the momentum scares me a little and sometimes I just need to be grieving Tawny.

I like to think Duke is behind me pushing me forward into those very things he pulled me back into years ago.  He is why I went back to the Homeless Empowerment Program (HEP)—I did it for him so that he could have a job since my improved mobility with the first pump put him out of work.  I did it for the folks at HEP because I remember how much it helped me to have a critter who only loved show up now and again.

Little did I know what would be in store for me next there.  Little did I know just what I could really bring to the table to help—even without my partner in crime.  I wasn’t sure how much I had to offer after the trauma of homelessness, the gap in true full time employment, the years of so much medication that my brain was a constant fog.  The little doubting Tawny in my head kept saying, “yes, but…” and “but, what if…”

Eleven years after staying at HEP as a homeless resident without my Duke and Amore, only two years after choosing to remove my pump, I am thriving as a full time employee nearly 9 months into it.  The end of an era has opened up an entirely new era.  It all seems to be happening so much faster than my little doubting and slightly reserved Tawny had it planned.

Just the same, it is September and WOW, 2015 has been quite full of achievements, sadness, newness, change, and happy surprises all around!

The One-Year Rule

In my 20’s, my rule of thumb for how long it took to get to know someone was three months.  By my late 20’s, it had grown to six months.  And by my 30’s, it was a year.

In my 40’s, I tend to have an idea pretty quickly about the integrity or character of a person, but remain somewhere in between the six months to a year to really get to know more about them.

Ruby Working

Apparently, an adult rescue animal falls in the same time frame.  Magic can happen as you approach the year mark.  Animals aren’t nearly as complicated as humans, but bonding with a dog who had fairly limited human contact in the racing world can take a bit more patience and time.

Ruby and I celebrated our one-year anniversary on Saturday.  We brought her home on August 22 from her prison training stent.  She has made great progress from the skitzy, unsure girl she was in that year—both at home and at work.

It hasn’t been long since it has just been she and I trying to figure out what is next for us, but the connection we have developed in that short time has been amazing.  She is even finally making some connections with my friends and their dogs along with the guys at the Homeless Empowerment Program (HEP).  The guys there have been very patient and have helped her to understand that attention is really ok.

She is a sensitive little soul with a lot of love to share, and it warms my heart to see her start to express it more and more, as she trusts me more and more each day.  She trusted Duke to lead her and now I think she is starting to trust me too.

I called her Rubicon without knowing for sure what the word meant—it means bridge into the unknown, which is certainly what life feels like without the likes of Duke and Amore in it for me.

I am not sure I have ever had a better hostess when other dogs come to visit.  Saturday on our anniversary, she got out what she knew were her elder dog’s favorites from her toy bin.  She is gracious and quirky, and I love all of that about her.

Ruby and I are going to be ok.  I wasn’t wrong about her.  I am grateful to have her and she is teaching me so much already.  She will never be Duke or Amore, nor would I want her to be anyone other than who she is.  But like her, I am just gaining trust and getting to know her likes and dislikes.  I imagine only more magic as we move forward together into whatever is next for us.

In Duke’s honor, the staff at HEP are gathering up dog donations for Dog Day (which is officially tomorrow August 26) to go to the Greyhound Advancement Center’s prison training program where Ruby was trained (and interestingly enough, her soul sister greyhound who also works at HEP went through training).  I love that Duke lives on and that now he is passing it on to his sister.

Tribute to Duke, et. al.

I have written a few things since my letter to Duke, but nothing that seemed “post-worthy” here.  I babbled about feeling such gratitude for grieving with such a large number of people and how that made it suck just a little bit less.  I wrote about randomness and Ruby and the empty spaces in my heart.  I wrote about having a bit of a delayed grief reaction after being in control for a month, then a monsoon fell out of my eyes.

A few weeks ago, we had a tribute to Duke at the Homeless Empowerment Program with some of Duke’s favorite people that was so touching and so special for a variety of reasons, and I really wanted to share about it.  I simply had no adequate words to convey adequately any emotion or thought I had about it.

duke tribute cake

Here is what I know now…

Every day, I get up and keep moving forward.  Every day, I see others through the eyes of Duke.  I have made major purchases with Ruby, have had fun and have laughed a lot.  I have cried, with a sadness and longing that is palpable for Duke’s physical presence.  And, I have realized that every day I get up is a tribute to Duke and Amore.

They taught me to live in the moment, love and love some more if for no other reason than I can, to have fun, to laugh A LOT, cry, feel whatever I am feeling, and move forward into the next moment.  They taught me far more than that, but for now, if I am doing all of those on a daily basis, then I am honoring their memory.

lobby  plaque

For me, the commitment to those boys so many years ago at the Animal Control doesn’t end just because they are no longer physically here.  The connection was so much more to us than just being a committed dog mom.  The tribute will live on through me, Ruby, Koko and hopefully anyone and everyone else who was lucky enough to have learned life lessons from either of those silly boys.

photo

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

Ten Years of Mays and Happy Mom’s Day

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.

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