Dogs, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Uncategorized

Downsizing 2.0


“I have to do it.”

I stared at the torn, smelly beanbag that had wreaked of Lizzie’s accidents for a long time. It had been sitting in the garage since the day after Reggie passed away.

I couldn’t let go…today, I did.

Not because I wanted to. Because I can’t take it with me. And it’s not going to get easier. I ripped off the band aid and put it inside the trash can.

I felt awful. It was Lizzie’s favorite place to rest for years, and I threw it in a trash can as if it were nothing but a meaningless piece of junk.

What it really was, to me, was a piece of my life with Lizzie. In fact, it was part of Lizzie, and I felt like I’d thrown a part of her in the trash, too.


I hate this. I love my house. I love my neighborhood. It is the one piece of stability in what is an accelerating spiral of chaos – one thing after the other.

Holding on to the house no longer means I am holding on to the past – for me, I see it as a way to ground myself in the present. But I don’t have the choice to do that. I have to be practical – on an emotional level, the practical thing to do is to find a way to stay. I won’t find a less expensive place to live, if anything, it will be the opposite in the long run – I know that. Except – a large house like this one costs money to maintain. The two sources I counted on – no, the three sources – have not worked out in the 2 months since the clock  started ticking. It is the most unfair thing in the world to have this monkey on my back, but it is what is. It is the reality.

I have no idea what comes next. I hate limbo, and uncertainty.

My soon-to-be ex-spouse is the same way.  I am not sure which one of us has a harder time with it, but what I do know is that right now – I’m the one in limbo, with the big question mark looming in the sky.

I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through my books and movies and clothes and keepsakes. It’s been a repeat performance again and again. But it seems no matter how many books I force myself to put into the donation boxes, there are still so many left.

My books and movies and music are my sanctuary. My mementos of the dogs and people I’ve loved over the years are my history. The notebooks from workshops I’ve attended are my education. Must I discard all of that?

My friends have been helping me sort this out in my mind – the field is split. Some say I should not get rid of the things that mean a lot to me, that give me peace, that make me happy, that I will miss, or even need, down the road.

Other friends have said I do need to be hard – to be thick-skinned about not holding onto any stuff.


That’s the problem. The stuff is easy to downsize, to discard, to throw away, or set aside to donate.

It’s the things that make a difference in getting through the days, or even things I love that have followed me through the years of my life, that I am struggling to let go of.

That beanbag – it has been five hours since I put it in the trash, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I knew I couldn’t keep it, but did I give it up too soon? Should I have waited until the very last minute before I leave the house for good?

It will never get easier. There will never be a good time.


There was never a good time to say goodbye to Reggie and Lizzie, either.

Sometimes, we don’t have choices – and those are the hardest times to make the right choice in order to not make things worse than they already are.

I first bought the beanbag in 2004 for my second graders to use during reading time. They used to argue over it – there was something about the privilege of sitting on that beanbag that made them fight each other for it. Two, sometimes three, of them would crowd together on it, giggling, pushing each other for more space. It became one of the classroom management challenges of teaching that year, but I have to admit, it was amusing, too. They were so funny, racing for a spot – at least no one tried to run over anyone. The kids were good about following the rule about no running in the classroom.

Toby was not as partial to the beanbag as he was to blankets and dog beds. It wasn’t until Lizzie and Reggie moved in with us that the beanbag endeared itself to me as a symbol of the dogs I loved. When my teaching career ended, three years before I ever met Audie’s dogs, I brought the beanbag home with me and left it in a corner of the closet, virtually untouched. I thought Toby might like it, but when he didn’t, I thought about donating it to another teacher to use in her classroom.

Obviously I ended up keeping it, and it gave Lizzie, especially, so much joy, I’m glad I changed my mind. She was so sweet – she gravitated toward it – some of my favorite memories of Lizzie are watching her sleep on it, listening to her snoring.

I miss that. I miss her.

Lizzie shortly after major eye surgery in fall 2011

I’m going to miss the beanbag because it reminds me of her.

It sounds crazy, but one big reason I’m angry that I have to sell the house is because it meant I had to throw away the beanbag.  I literally thought about that today – if I did not have to move, I could have kept the beanbag in the garage for as long as I wanted. Every time I saw it, I felt like a part of Lizzie’s and Reggie’s past was still here.

There are other things of theirs I still have, but their favorite things are something special and the beanbag was one of Lizzie’s favorite things.

I did keep the Nyla bone chew toys she and Reggie loved so much – another one of their favorite things. I have two, one for each of them. I am keeping them both, since both dogs loved them so much – for now. One day I may gift one of them to another dog, or to a shelter. Pay it forward.  But, losing the beanbag, the stinky, torn-up beanbag, makes it harder to imagine giving away anything they loved that is small enough to keep.


Lizzie with one of the 2 Nyla bone chew toys

Lately, I walk aimlessly around the house – avoiding the act of downsizing, avoiding letting go.

I was not given a choice in letting go of Lizzie, or Reggie.  The natural course of a dog’s life made that decision – that and diseases that took Reggie from me too soon, and Lizzie too suddenly for me to make the kind of arrangements for a memorial that I would have wanted. I’m grateful that I had 7 extra months with her – I would have lost her too soon if  we’d gone through with letting her go on March 14th or 15th of 2018, and there is no urn or plaque or paw print that would have been worth that – never. Ironically, with Reggie, I had all that time, and yet, he died at least 2, if not 3, years before his time for a mixed breed his size.

I had no choice in letting go of Audie, either – that choice was made for me.

I wish I had a choice in letting go of the rest of it – the material things – but my resistance is making the hard stuff harder.

I’ve been working on radical acceptance.

I don’t like that it feels like someone else’s choice, not mine. That feeling that someone else has control over my life decisions is a terrible feeling. I know many people have been backed into this corner – some of whom have shared their stories with me, which I appreciate. It helps to feel less alone in a time of great losses.

balboa park

Often, I remind myself out loud that it could be much worse. I remind myself out loud that today, I am in my house. I remind myself that I still have many of my favorite things I brought with me from San Diego. I remind myself that I don’t know for sure that I will have to give up all but two or three suitcases full – that could happen, but maybe it won’t. I hope not.

It bothers me that my things mean as much to me as they do. I’m told it’s common with PTSD, especially, and with multiple losses, to hold onto things – to cling to possessions.

It makes me think my priorities are screwed up.

They’re not.

Last night, I told my mother that I’d rather give away everything in this house, even the house itself, if I could have my life with Audie back – if he felt about me the way he feels about his new significant other.  I know I’d give up everything to have Toby, Lizzie and Reggie back, too.

But, I also know that it’s easy to idealize someone after the fact – and in this case, it’s easy to idealize someone by comparing how he treats her to the way he treated me.

Thankfully, that idealization was a temporary setback on my journey to radical acceptance – which is not to say that I do not genuinely love many things about him – I do, and always will. He has many wonderful qualities.

I do not regret helping him move, either.  I’ve talked about it a lot the last 2 weeks. It was unequivocally the right decision, and I’m glad I did it. I’d do it again if I had it to do over again – without repeating one or two mistakes I made at the time. Mostly, it went well, very well – from my point of view (minus the way it ended).

Most of all, it felt right to do it together – for me.

And I feel good about doing it – treating him the way I would want to be treated in his shoes, making amends for my part, wanting to make it easier on us – especially because I never wanted him to have to leave the house in the first place.

I know he will never believe this, but I did empathize with him moving to a less than ideal living situation for many months.

I hated that he was unhappy – it did not make me feel good at all.

And now – I’m left to finish downsizing alone – and it is painful.

I bought a book a little while ago called, Less. It has great pictures as well as sound advice on how to downsize and live with less. I also have the Marie Kondo book that is all the rage. The books are helping a little bit, but not as much as I hoped. I still am struggling to look into the future and know that it will be all right to let go and create new space to breathe.

There are so many things I wanted to do in Athens, that I never did. I feel the ache of that so often. Today was one of those days when I was talking to a repairman about what needs to be done to make the house ready to sell. And, it happened, again, when I was at a writers workshop later in the afternoon – thinking about how I would be able to write, and edit, and grow, in both respects, if Audie and I were still together.  I often think about how I would have the space to go back for my masters, or to find the job that is the perfect fit, how I would be able to take classes, to remodel the house, to learn to do so many things I wanted to do within the marriage, because of the marriage, that I never did – because it was not the past we had.

Downsizing used to feel good, when I was single. It even felt good when I wasn’t – right before I first moved to Athens – I had to downsize then, too, to declutter – but I did not have to part with anything that meant too much to give up – no books or movies or music or keepsakes that I really wanted. No dog beds, no dog toys.

No beanbag.



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