Athens, Georgia, Cancer, Canine Cancer Awareness, Christmas, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Writers

“The Last Christmas Tree” – Dedicated to Reggie Roberts

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Reggie underneath his last Christmas tree: December, 2018

This short memoir, “The Last Christmas Tree,” was submitted to Flagpole Magazine. I wrote it for Reggie, knowing it would be our last Christmas together in our home, but also suspecting the truth – that he was dying of cancer, which was confirmed on December 14, 2018. The story was not published ( a different story of mine, “Chasing Fireflies,” was published under the pseudonym, J.L. Mirisch), however, I am including the Christmas tree story in the blog post ahead of an update on Reggie’s Christmas week – which follows the memoir below. Thank you to all my blog readers, and to everyone out there who loves, or has ever loved, Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts.

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Our 2018 Christmas tree

 

The Last Christmas Tree

By Jill Hartmann-Roberts

 

For three months, I wrestled with whether or not to fly back to California for Christmas. My $455 Southwest Airlines voucher made the prospect of a warm west coast Christmas that much more tempting.

 

But I knew if I went to California, there would be no Christmas tree. And I couldn’t imagine Christmas without my own tree – especially this year.

 

You see, this will be my last Christmas tree – my last one in the life I have known for the past decade, at least.

 

Before 2016, I spent every Christmas in California with Mom, but since then, I’ve stayed home in Athens.

 

I really wanted a tree for my first Athens Christmas in 2016. Coincidentally, my friend, Jay, drives the Cofer’s tree delivery truck. He suggested I check out their selection of fir trees and try out their state-of-the-art delivery service.

 

They did not disappoint. I picked out a beautiful 7-foot tree, with so many branches there was space for every single ornament with room to spare.

 

In 2017, I settled for a 5-foot tree; I didn’t even sign up for delivery – just packed the tree in the back of the station wagon.

 

I was happy to have a tree at all, but it just wasn’t the same.

 

I promised myself, “Next year I’ll get a bigger tree.”

 

It feels like last Christmas was just yesterday.

 

Jay advised me to get a jump on buying my tree this year to secure an early delivery time slot, so I didn’t waste any time. On November 16th, my French bulldog/pug mix, Reggie, and I set off on our quest. As soon as we arrived, anticipation welled up inside me, and I headed straight for the Christmas trees. We were met with a sight to behold: rows and rows of lush fir trees as far as the eye could see.

 

A gentleman approached us right away and asked what kind of tree I was looking for.

 

“I want your best 8-foot tree with the full delivery package!”

 

I was still determined to go all out and buy the biggest tree I could afford.

 

The huge selection was overwhelming, but when I told the clerk I have heavy ornaments, he led me straight to a tree with thick branches capable of carrying their weight.

 

“I’ll take it!”

 

After he tagged the tree, I set up delivery for the day after Thanksgiving, the perfect day to decorate a Christmas tree – with a whole month left before Christmas Eve to enjoy it.

 

When Jay and his partner, “Boo,” arrived at my home, Santa hats and smiles in tow, they had to cut the branch at the top of the tree; it was so tall it hit the ceiling. Almost immediately the scent – that fragrant scent that nothing else in the world compares to – filled the living room.

 

I love that Athens is small enough of a city that one of my friends happens to be the person to deliver the one thing that could make it feel like a real Christmas this year.

 

It has been a hard year: my pug, Lizzie, died in October, and Reggie has been gravely ill since 2017.

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Lizzie Roberts Oct 7, 2018

 

This will probably be my last Christmas with Reggie. Last year, I knew it would be my last Christmas with Lizzie, and so I stayed home with the dogs instead of going to California.

 

I’m so glad I did that. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I’d missed Lizzie’s last Christmas.

 

Reggie watched closely as I wrapped strings of multi-colored lights around the tree. He followed behind me as I searched to find the perfect branch for each ornament. (My favorite one has a photo of me holding Toby, my first dog, at his last Christmas in 2010).

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My Christmas 2010 portrait at PetSmart with Toby – our last Christmas together. Toby passed away in August 2011

 

Now, Reggie loves to sit under the tree and the beautiful lights glow on his dark coat and in his large brown eyes.

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Christmas tree lights glowing –  lighting up Reggie

Every time I descend the stairs, the first thing I see is our glorious tree, illuminated in lights, and I immediately feel uplifted with the Christmas spirit. That’s the magic of it.

 

This may be our last Christmas tree, but it is no less beautiful, and I know it will be a joyous holiday for Reggie and me, if we let it.

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Reggie and me with our last Christmas tree

 

A special thanks to my friend, Jay, and his partner, “Boo,” who work so hard all season long to bring that Christmas spirit into all of our homes and hearts.

(End of story)

 

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Reggie in his favorite spot in the house: December 2018

Lately when I come home, or when I can’t find Reggie, he is sleeping on the red couch, in the space where his daddy always sat – it seems to be Reggie’s favorite place to be nowadays, especially when I’m not home. I’m not sure if this is recent, or if I wasn’t paying close attention before, but I have noticed how often I find Reggie there in the past two weeks. It makes me wonder if he knows the end is near, if he feels his vulnerability. I imagine that he does, to some extent. Animals are far more instinctual and intuitive than we humans give them credit for. I don’t know if Reggie knows that his body is dying, but I can tell he knows that something is wrong by how he feels – even if he does not have the words to define what is happening to him.

 

I’m learning by experience how rapidly things are changing for Reggie. Last week, he was responding to the medications: Metronidazole and Prednisone. This week, at least since Christmas Day, his symptoms have returned – meaning, I come home to a big mess, I wake up to a big mess, and I hear Reggie getting up several times in the night.

The good news is that I do not hear him wailing in pain, so I think that the other treatments, the holistic ones, are helping, so far. We are still waiting for the Chinese herbs that Dr. Stoppe ordered for him. He has been to acupuncture twice, and Anna, one of the techs, has told me that he does wonderfully – he sits quietly while the needles do their magic.

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Reggie during acupuncture: December 17, 2018

The first time (see above) Dr. Stoppe kept the needles in for about 10 minutes.

The second time, 10 days later,  (see below) she kept them in for about 20 minutes. She said since he’s doing so well, she will try increasing the time towards 30 minutes next time, give or take.

It’s hard to know for sure, but I have a feeling that the acupuncture is helping with pain, as of now, and I hope it continues to do so. I know with human cancer patients, acupuncture and massage and other holistic healing is often recommended not only for anxiety, but also for pain management. Reggie does seem less anxious these days, albeit, quiet, most of the time. He gets feisty and fussy when I take him out in his stroller. He seems to have a lot to say when we go to Jittery Joes, and boy, did he really have a lot to say at the “Read-In With Us in December” meeting I hosted at Barnes and Noble Cafe on the 27th! I suspect the problem was that I forgot to bring his food with me, my bad, and he was letting me know how he felt about having to wait for his dinner. But, around the time our meeting ended, he went to sleep, and rather than wake him up, I let him nap in the stroller while one of my writer friends and I visited. He didn’t make a sound, and I was happy to see him rest so peacefully. He seems to sleep more peacefully in the stroller at the coffee houses than he does at home. It reminds me of infants who can sleep through anything when they are out and about, but have more trouble at home (I’ve heard this happens with some, not all, babies).

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Reggie in his stroller at Jittery Joes, December 2018

Reggie and I had a lot of fun at Barnes and Noble on Christmas Eve. It was a hard day for me (Christmas Eve this year, in particular, was a very sad day for me, and I needed to get out of the house for as long as possible). He loves to sit up tall in the stroller at Barnes and Noble. I’ve brought him there with me often, now that I think of it, and roll him around the store while I look at books – which is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world – even if I do not buy any books. It has been since I was a little girl.

Books (and dogs) have always been my “best friends,” so to speak.

On this particular day, Christmas Eve, the store was packed, and I mean, packed, with people, not surprisingly. However, one adorable little African-American boy, who was probably about 3-4 years old, absolutely stole my heart. He didn’t say a word, and his mom watched from afar, not too far away, at the information desk, as he shyly approached Reggie, with a coy little smile on his face, looking up at me with big brown eyes that silently asked me, “Can I pet him?”

“You can pet him. He likes people,” I said to him, smiling and enjoying the moment.

The little boy stayed with Reggie for well over 5 minutes, maybe longer, petting him softly, and Reggie was very accommodating, happy to have the gentle child pay attention to him. Reggie sniffed his hand and gave it a few licks. He never got close enough to lick the little boy’s face, which is one of Reggie’s signature moves, but I was ready to warn the child to watch out if Reggie stuck out that tongue – I wasn’t sure how he’d like a bath on his face, nor did I think his mom would want that, either.

But, you never know, some people, like me, love that. Others hate it. Better to err on the side of caution with strangers.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo, or ask the mom if I could take a photo, I should say, but I was enjoying the two of them together so much (it made me feel much better, too) that I didn’t even think of it.

Next time…and I hope there will be a next time with a gentle child just like him. I didn’t even get his name…

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That night, my friend Lisa, and her husband, invited Reggie and me to her house for dinner. Much like two months earlier, with Lizzie, shortly before she passed away, Reggie rested calmly in his stroller, at Lisa’s house. He stayed beside me at the kitchen table, so quietly, in fact, that we almost forgot he was there with us!  Lisa had been concerned that Reggie might try to get at the stew, but he didn’t even try, he was so well behaved. It was the first time I brought him to anyone’s house, as a guest, since he was diagnosed with cancer, and he was an absolute angel. I’m glad – hopefully we can do it again, not everywhere we go, but sometimes. I know many of my friends have very active pets, including large dogs, and it wouldn’t be a good idea. But, any time Reggie can come, I am glad I can bring him since we have so little time together, and these last days, or weeks, or however long I have him, are so precious – especially now, while he still has quality of life. I don’t want to miss a single opportunity to share my life with Reggie.

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Reggie falling asleep in his stroller at Jittery Joes while I was working

Christmas morning with Reggie was bittersweet. I took 2-3 videos of him, wanting to capture his last Christmas Day on camera, and not just in still photos. (Unfortunately I do not think I can attach videos to this blog post, but, if I figure out how to do that, I will update the blog post with at least one of the videos).

He struggled to open his presents, even though they were not wrapped in paper. I put his three stuffed animal toys in a gift bag to make it easier for him to get to them. He sort of picked at the bag with his paw, and sniffed at it a few times, stuck his head partially inside, but unlike past years, he didn’t go for it full throttle. His energy level was so low, it broke my heart. I could see that he was not feeling well, and like I mentioned, he’d had some accidents in the night, and so it was clear, he’d spent some of his limited energy dealing with his cursed symptoms.

I didn’t give up, though, and pressed the center of the toys’ bellies to sound that squeaker noise Reggie loves so much. He did become more interested in the toys at that point, and he even took the raccoon in his mouth and started chewing at it for a minute, or less. He didn’t shake his head wildly back and forth, as he once did, trying to kill the prey, and when I threw it across the room (along with the pig and the otter), he didn’t chase any of them. He watched them fly to the other side of the living room and then just looked at me, as if to say, “I’m too tired to chase them. Can you bring them back, please?”  Which I did, bring them back to him, that is. He quietly sat by his toys, and rested against my feet, with his back to me, waiting to be stroked, as he does so often.

Later in the morning, he did trot into the living room (presumably feeling a little bit better), when I made another effort to get him excited about his toys and their squeaky sound. He’d been resting in the dining room, heard the sound, and answered the call. Slower than in past years, but he still came. He took the otter, or tried to, it was too thick, and played with it, paws and teeth engaged, only for a few moments, but it happened – and I thankfully captured it on video.

I had to leave Reggie home in the late afternoon when I went to my neighbor’s in-laws, and then to my friend, Jay’s, mom’s house. (I am so grateful to have had people to see on Christmas Day). I didn’t like having to leave Reggie, and I thought about canceling, but I knew that I had to take care of myself, too, and that it would sink me further into despondence about the loss of my family if I stayed home alone all day.

Thankfully, my friend, Marcy, who is a veterinarian, coincidentally, invited both Reggie and me over to visit her in the late morning/early afternoon, and that was wonderful! He rested and slept, didn’t fuss much, maybe a little, and when I took him out in her yard for a walk in the warm sunshine (lucky for us, the weather was beautiful) Reggie was like his old self, or, his old senior self, l mean, (pre-cancer) – marking the grass several times and sniffing all the bushes, rife with new scents.

This past week has flown by, which I was hoping would not be the case, but it has been quiet and peaceful in Athens, and I have had quality time, both in town, and at home, with Reggie. That pet stroller has been a Godsend (as I’ve said before).

I am grateful to Reggie and Lizzie’s daddy, Audie, for buying it for Lizzie, and I remember when he did that, Audie said that one day we would be able to use it for Reggie, too.

Little did Audie, or I, know how soon that day would come, when Reggie would need the stroller. I wish that day had been far off, very far off, and I’m sure if someone were to ask Audie, he would say the same.

But, thank goodness, Reggie has it, when he needs it, however too soon it happened.

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Reggie is happy to be out and about in his stroller

I have yet to find a grant writing expert to assist in applying for some of the canine cancer grants I found through some Internet research. I hope I find someone in time.   I have no regrets, and I never will, about spending what I need to spend to take care of Reggie’s needs and to make him as comfortable as possible, but I’m also worried about it. Worry does not mean I am giving it a second thought, though. I will not sacrifice Reggie’s well being for anything – he’s counting on me, and I love him so much. He is the only remaining member of my family, and I want him to be happy, and for his life to be as full as possible.

I have many friends who are trying to prepare me, to be able to make the decision, when I am confronted with it. I do not want this to be real – every day, I can feel the denial setting in deeper, even though I’ve had to set my alarm 15 minutes early again to clean up the morning mess, even though he’s slowed down so much. (He still has an excellent appetite, which is one good sign, for now).

But, I did get some bad news when he went in for acupuncture on 12/28: Reggie lost 1 1/2 pounds in just 10 days, in spite of eating his breakfast and dinner and taking all his medication like a trooper. (It’s unbelievable, actually, how he not only does not fight me on the liquid medications, he actually licks the droppers as if he’s drinking a treat – thank goodness for that because Lizzie and Reggie used to hate liquid medications. It was a chore to get them to cooperate in the past.  Any tiny blessing…).

In any case, the doctor expressed deep concern at this rapid weight loss – 1.5 pounds is a lot of weight in a dog his size, too, which makes it even more dangerous. She told me to feed him more, but he needs moist food, because of the tumor, so I am soaking puppy kibble (per her recommendation) and adding it to his food. It is high in calories and nutrients. I remember, I had to do this with Lizzie, too, in the last couple months of her life…

As New Year’s Eve is upon us tomorrow, I am glad that Reggie and I will be together. I had hoped with all my heart and soul that December 31st would not end the year 2018 in the way that it will, but I am grateful that Reggie made it to the new year. I was worried that he wouldn’t, and that I was being selfish in asking him, or expecting him, to, for my sake.

But from all indications, he does not seem to be ready to go, not just yet. The vet did not say anything to that effect, either, so we go on, for as long as we can, for as long as he can, with quality in his life.

I am not ready to send my third, and last, dog over the Rainbow Bridge. When I think of it, I have to stop thinking about it, in order to go forward. I never let Reggie see me fall into that state of despair that is lingering below the surface, waiting to emerge when my conscience and my love leave me with no other choice but to say goodbye to him. There are other decisions to be made in the meantime, and other people who love Reggie, and I am trying my best to think of them, too, in terms of what is best for Reggie. It’s not easy, but I have said for a long time that in the end, we have to be able to live with ourselves, to look in the mirror, and be able to look in the eye of the person staring back without shame, or guilt, or regret, if we can. Years from now, when I look back on Reggie, and Lizzie, I want to be able to look in the mirror and be 100% certain that I did the right thing – for them, and for those they love.

Hopefully, there will be many more weeks to write about Reggie, but if there are not, thank you for reading my stories and for keeping Reggie in your thoughts and in your hearts, and a few prayers wouldn’t hurt, either. Know that Reggie is receiving the best care possible – he is loved, and safe, and he is living in peace. He loves to be with people, and people love to be with him. Whatever can be done, will be done. I am glad I elected not to pursue a dangerous surgery – his life, however short it may be, will be better this way – without pain or infections or whatever else could have gone wrong, and was likely to do so, according to Dr. Barker and Dr. Clifton.

Knowing I am willing to let go, gives me a little bit of peace of mind, for now, but every day that I wake up and Reggie is still here to greet me, wagging his tail, or barking at me, or smiling, or following me, or resting on my foot, to stay close to me, I am relieved that it is not that time yet.

As I used to say with Lizzie, “Every day that Reggie is alive is a good day.”

Happy New Year from Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts to everyone!

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Reggie in his favorite winter coat

 

 

 

 

Athens, Georgia, Canine Cancer Awareness, Christmas, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Grief and Loss, Memoirs

Two Paws Too Many

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Christmas present 2010 I commissioned for Audie: portrait of his 2 dogs, Reggie and Lizzie Roberts

 

I was so excited to see the look on Audie’s face when he opened his Christmas present 8 years ago.

I had once commissioned a painting of my first dog, Toby, from Darlene Pucillo.

I wanted Audie to have a portrait of his “Lizzie Bear” and “Reggwood” also.

He loved it. I think he may have told me it was the best Christmas gift he’d ever gotten at that point in his life, or something like that.

Last year, 2017, was Lizzie’s last Christmas. She passed away from complications from pneumonia and tracheal collapse and went into heart failure the night of October 12, 2018.

We said goodbye to her the next day.

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Lizzie’s paw

Never did I imagine that two months later, I’d be facing losing another dog.

But that’s what’s happened.

Today I found out that this year, 2018, will be Reggie’s last Christmas.

Too many paw prints. Two too many, in such a short time.

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Lizzie’s paw prints

Reggie was riding in the car with me, sitting in his usual spot in the front passenger seat, when I got the call from Dr. Barker today – she had the biopsy test results from Reggie’s colonoscopy. We were almost home, and it was pouring rain.

Perfect weather for one of the worst pieces of news in my lifetime.

Odd, that while Dr. Barker’s voice was projecting over the car speakers, explaining the conclusion that three different pathologists had all agreed upon, Reggie was looking at me, hearing his diagnosis, but not knowing what was being said, much less that it was about him.

His diagnosis is terminal:

…this is a rectal carcinoma. The mitotic index is high at 35/10hpf. This is consistent with a fast growth rate. This tumor is a malignant cancer. Spread to local lymph nodes, lungs or liver is possible. I am concerned because the (2) lymph nodes around the mass were enlarged. Surgery could be considered to resect and anostomose the colon. However surgery would be risky because the colon does not always heal well. In general, surgery for colonic resection for a carcinoma would be associated with a 6 to 9 month survival time. Prior to surgery (if this option is elected) I would recommend chest radiographs. If surgery is not going to be pursued, treatment with prednisone or an NSAID would be reasonable.

Prednisone is one of my least favorite drugs on the planet, no, it is my very least favorite. It infected Lizzie’s body and almost killed her 9 months ago.  And then, ironically, it extended her life for a week in October, which I was resistant to, but sadly, it was the only choice.

I treasure that extra week, and always will.

Reggie already has a heart murmur, and I cringed when the doctor said he needed the steroid, but parenting a dog, like parenting a child, is made up of a series of difficult decisions, many of which we don’t like because there are no good choices, only less horrible ones.

I admit that today I did ponder whether or not surgery was reasonable for Reggie (even though I told myself last week I’d never consider it because of the stress it would put on Reggie’s body and the high likelihood of complications, with a very short life span to look forward to, if it worked at all).

Dr. Clifton was the deciding factor –  when I brought Reggie in to see her today to talk about my options. She did the same during the last few weeks of Lizzie’s life – we are so lucky to have her.

Reggie still has time. He still has quality of life, albeit, it’s not the same, and never will be. Palliative care is the best and most humane option for him. But I don’t know how long his quality of life will last. I asked her if she thought he’d make it to New Year’s Day, at least. She didn’t know, but most likely, she thinks he will. It’s hard to say.

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Reggie at Hope Animal Medical Center Friday 12/14/2018

I have been unable to sleep all week, ever since Monday, when Dr. Barker showed me the images of the mass inside Reggie’s colon.

It is hideous, and huge, and bloody, and reminded me of the head of the alien in the original sci-fi classic, “Alien.” It filled the screen…and Reggie’s colon. I cannot believe that Reggie is living with that “thing” inside him. It is like an invader, no it is an invader, taking over his intestinal pathway, wreaking havoc on his body, and on his peaceful, happy life. (I do not have copies of the pictures, but even if I did, I would not post them online – too grim).

I only cried for a few minutes when I got off the phone with Dr. Barker – in the bathroom, when Reggie couldn’t see me – I can’t let him see me cry. And I can’t let myself fall apart, just like I said before, earlier this fall, I am a dog mother, my dog needs me to be strong for him.

There will be time to grieve and cry one day, but not now.  Now, I have to cherish every moment we have and give him the most comfort and love and joy I can in his last days…which I hope, will extend into weeks, and even further, hopefully, into months.

But I’m not kidding myself, either. I’ve seen it, twice, now. How fast it happens. I won’t know until he tells me.

And I know he will.

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Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts November 2018 at home

When Reggie’s symptoms began to worsen a few months ago, I made up my mind that this would be Reggie’s last home. I could not see another place where I could take him, or anyone could take him, unless they owned the house, that is. But most people might not even do that.

I’m not most people.

I am determined that Reggie will never be uprooted again.

He’s moved four or five times throughout his life, with resilience, mind you. Dogs don’t care as long as they are with their humans. In fact, they love new places, new smells, from what I can tell.

If their person is with them, life is perfect. Life is grand.

They have all they need as long as they have their pack.

And food of course, always food.

I admit, I did not let myself even contemplate that I would not have two, three, more years with him.

Maybe I should have.

My eyes were dilated earlier today so my vision was too blurry to drive this afternoon (great timing, I know), and my next-door neighbor was kind enough to drive us to the vet since it was a short workday for her (Winter vacation starts today in Oconee school district).

I was glad she was with me, and Reggie adores her. Oh my Gosh, does he ever! He adores everyone over there at her house. As soon as he sees any of them, he takes off and runs right over to them. Barking, tail wagging, coming in for a whole lot of petting.

In fact, today, it was the first time he perked up all day – riding next to Pennie in her car. He didn’t even shake at the vet, much less try to get away, with Pennie there. Amazing.

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Pennie and Reggie at Hope

Looks like the feeling’s mutual.

Dr. Clifton and Hope Animal Medical Center have been a Godsend (and right now, God is not my favorite person. I’ve had more than enough, but I’ll think about it another time, after Reggie is gone). I was glad that she told me that if it were her dog, she would not put him through surgery, for all the reasons you can guess, plus some more medical reasons you probably haven’t thought of.

In the meantime, his palliative care options are manageable, as long as I stay organized: special food to make it easier for him to digest and excrete, prednisone (steroids), metronidazole (antibiotics), stool softener so he is less constipated, something special for pain and anxiety that they aren’t supposed to talk about (Ssssh), possibly Gabapentin for pain, but not yet, and Chinese herbs and acupuncture with Dr. Stoppe.

There’s probably more I can do, holistically, and believe me, I’ll be researching that.

In fact, sadly, I now fit into the category of most of the grants I researched online, when I was looking to apply for a grant to pay for his original colonoscopy.

Most of the grants were for dogs living with a cancer diagnosis.

I’m sure it’s competitive to get any of those grants. I’m sure it’s a long shot. But I’m going to look into it. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

I knew this would be expensive, but I’ll figure it out. Somehow, I will find a way to do this by myself.

I really don’t have another choice. I refuse to let go of my last dog without a fight.

Reggie is also my last family member in the life I’ve known for 10 years:  a life I loved, a life I miss, a life I am grieving for and wish I could fix.

But it’s lost forever.

In that I have no choice.

In this, with Reggie, I still do. I still have one choice left.

Reggie is still here. He still has quality of life.

He is tired. He is in pain when he has to go to the bathroom. It pains me to hear it: he wails in the yard, and he never did that before. This week, I heard him wailing in the bedroom. His body is telling me he needs help. And I’m going to make sure he gets it…

And, more love than ever before…if that’s possible.

Fortunately, many people out there love Reggie. And that will lift him up and give him, and me, the strength to get through this, to make the remainder of his life, however short it is, as wonderful as it can be.

For no dog could be more deserving of a wonderful life than sweet, precocious Reggwood.

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Pennie and Reggie at Hope

But, there is a gray cloud hanging over me, one I am trying to put out of my mind.

And so it goes. The questions. The doubts.

Did I wait too long to get Reggie the colonoscopy?

If I’d done it in March, or April, or May, when I wanted to, when we were advised to, would it have made a difference? 

Now, it’s too late for chemotherapy. The mass is too large. The cancer has metastasized, and the cancer cells are multiplying too rapidly.

The mass could obstruct his colon, or rupture. It’s out to drain his life away, as it grows like the parasitic demon that it is.

There’s that question, too. I’m taking a chance with that, too. That weighs on me more than the cancerous disease itself.

The reality is that 9 months later, since his first ultrasound with Dr. Barker, Reggie’s options are fewer, and because we waited, his life will be shorter. It has been hard on him already.

As Dr. Clifton said, I can’t go back, and she’s right, I can’t. Anger won’t help. Beating myself up for not doing it myself in the beginning won’t help. And, the cancer was there, beginning its life inside of him, back then. It had to be. His symptoms started after his neck surgery in late summer of 2017.

Yes, back in March, the cancer had not advanced, had not metastasized, but the phantom was there. We couldn’t see it, but the tumor had fixed itself in Reggie’s colon, waiting to grow and spread its ugly cells.

According to Dr. Barker, it’s possible we could have started chemo then, and extended his quality of life a year longer, but this kind of cancer is so aggressive, she said, it would have come back again sometime next year, somewhere inside him, most likely.

That’s what cancer does. It feeds itself by draining the life from its host.

But, I still questioned: what if his life would have been happier, less painful, in 2018, had we caught this early, and started aggressive treatment right away? What if it would have given him the time he needed to heal? Could he have defied the odds and lived another year if we did the colonoscopy this past spring?

Miracles happen. Even with humans, anyone would tell you, the sooner you catch the cancer, and treat it, the better the chance of survival.

But I can’t go back. I can’t afford to be angry, not at myself, not at anyone. I have to move forward. I have to focus on Reggie.

Dogs can pick up on human emotions, especially stress. I can’t afford to let him see me crumble, or break, or even flinch.

This will be our last Christmas. I can’t change that. I’ll be damned if I let cancer ruin it for us. No, we are going to have the best Christmas I can give him – even if I have to will it to be so in my mind.

But, I think I better skip the Petsmart pet photos this year.  Thankfully, I have other Christmas photos of Reggie from years past, and Pennie took photos of us in front of the tree so I will always have pictures of this Christmas to remember.

It’s still hard to believe this really will be Reggie’s last year, and last Christmas. I knew it was possible. But now, it’s not just a hypothetical. It’s our reality.

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Reggie’s Xmas portrait with Santa, 2010

I know deep down that I’m convincing myself that I’m fine, when I’m not.

The truth is that I’m tired of filling my room with paw prints, not paws, with photos of dogs that have left me, instead of feeling my dog cuddling by my side.

Too many paw prints. Too many losses, in such a short span of time.

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Toby’s paw print

But that’s what we sign up for. I know that.

Audie told me many times, and I agree with him, that it would be worse if we died and left our pets behind. We want to go first so that they are not grieving for us, and most importantly, so that we do not die not knowing if they are okay, if someone takes care of them for us. You can put your dog in your will ( I did that for Toby in 2008), but if you’re gone, you still don’t know for sure what happens to them.

No, Audie’s absolutely right, better that we outlive them, not vice versa.

We have to know, when we enter into a life with a dog, that we are signing up to say goodbye to them first, and for all the grief that goes with it.

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Bronze-like cast of Toby’s paw print

Not once, not for a second, did I ask myself today, “Is this worth it?”

I would never need to ask that because the answer is always going to be, “Yes, yes, without any doubt. Yes, it is all worth it.”

I can’t imagine my life without Reggie, just like I could not imagine my life without Lizzie, or without Toby, and God knows, I miss them every day. I still tear up, all of a sudden, without warning, over Lizzie. And sometimes, over Toby, too, even after all this time, but with Toby, I’ve had more time to adjust. Still, the pain of Toby not being with me anymore has never gone away. That’s the price of love.

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My favorite ornament: Toby’s picture at his last Christmas

 

Lizzie left me two months ago. I have not recovered. Not from the weeks leading up to her death, and not from the aftermath that followed.

Reggie’s illness accelerated in, and overlapped, that time, and now, I’m left knowing that the aftermath will be worse, much worse, at a time in my life when the losses are piling up like books burning in the rubbish of the dark days of history.

When will it stop? When will the losses stop coming? When can I breathe deeply again? Sleep peacefully again? Wake up without missing someone I love who has left me behind?

Okay, I will admit it. I have repeatedly asked God, “Why? What did I do? What did I do wrong to deserve this much pain?”

And the answer is: I did nothing to deserve it, but life does not come down to what we do, and don’t, deserve.

It just comes down to what happens. Even if it all happens at once.

Someone told me the other day, “We make plans and God laughs.” That’s just the way life is. We can fight it, but we’ll lose every time. Reality always wins, whether we like it or not. We can accept it, or not. We can argue with it, or not. But either way, life happens. Period. It’s up to us to find a way to live with the life that happens to us when we’re making other plans.

The harsh reality is not one I can understand, and I know I don’t deserve it, but it is what has happened:  the dogs I was leaning on to get me through the biggest loss of my life, the most painful loss of my life, will not be here to see me through to the end of it.

Bottom line is that I have to find a way to cope with that. Not today, but the day will come when I have to find the strength, without Reggie or Lizzie, to bear the loss of the man I loved more than I’ve ever loved anyone. There is a way to do that, I’m sure of it, but right now, I don’t know what that way is.

These two dogs have been my lifeline: when Toby died, I had to be there for Reggie and Lizzie. When Lizzie died, I had to be there for Reggie.

When Reggie dies, there is no one left to be there for.

What does that mean?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

I know the answer will come to me, eventually, but I can’t imagine what that answer will be.

There’s more. Much more.

Reggie and Lizzie filled the void in my life, in my womb, for a little while, after I was denied the experience of pregnancy and motherhood.

For now, at least, I have my beautiful, sweet Frenchie/pug to love and nurture and watch over and support.

For now, Reggie is what matters. Love is what matters. And I love Reggie, with all my heart.

A special thank you to everyone who donated to the GoFundMe Fundraiser for Reggie’s colonoscopy. I appreciate your generosity from the bottom of my heart.

On December 26, 2018, the annual Slackpole issue of Flagpole magazine will be released. I wrote a story for Reggie that I hope will be selected for publication called “The Last Christmas Tree.” I read it aloud at the Athens Writers Association open mic at Normal Books last Saturday night, too.

If it is not published in the Flagpole, I will share the story in a blog post, before New Year’s Eve, not for myself, but because it is a tribute to my dog, Reggie, on his last Christmas.

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Photo of Reggie under the tree I submitted with my story

 

Athens, Georgia, Canine Cancer Awareness, Christmas, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, San Diego, California

For the Love of Reggie

 

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Christmas lights glowing on Reggie under the Xmas tree, December 2018

Tomorrow, Monday, December 10, 2018, is going to be one of the most important days in Reggie’s life.

He is having a colonoscopy at Woodlands Veterinary Clinic to determine if his 18-month-long illness originating from his large intestine is a chronic autoimmune disease – or cancer.

Last week, I had to take him back to his regular vet at Hope Animal Medical Center for additional blood work and a second ultrasound  because his condition has worsened since September, in spite of additional medications and diet changes that we were hoping would ameliorate his symptoms.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, has worked.

Dr. Clifton found increased inflammation in his blood, and the ultrasound showed that the large intestine tissue looks worse – in other words, whatever is the cause of the abnormal-looking tissue has become more aggressive.

This does not surprise me given that Reggie is in more pain than he was a few months ago, and I’m scrambling to keep up my supply of carpet and floor cleaner and paper towels because he has gotten so much worse.

I’ve come up with every trick and solution I can think of: covering the bedroom carpets with heavy duty trash bags as best as I can, and putting down cardboard on some of the hardwood, but there is only so much I can do.  Often Reggie spontaneously has an accident before I can get him downstairs, and out of the house, and in the middle of the night, when I’m asleep, I don’t hear him crying to go out – in fact, he usually does not cry, he just goes – and then I can tell he feels bad about it in the morning from the look in his eyes. I can’t be upset at him, he can’t help it, but, I have had to set my alarm 15 minutes earlier every day to make time to do the daily am cleanup.

It’s a labor of love, and I have no complaints about that part – nothing is more important than saving Reggie’s life.

I just hope and pray that once the results of the biopsy are in that I will be able to save his life – or that the vets will, I should say.

I can clean and/or replace carpets and floors. I can’t replace Reggie. He is, and always has been, irreplaceable.

Reggie and I did not start off on the right foot, although I thought he was adorable, and I wanted him (and Lizzie) with me. I was skeptical because I’d heard rumors about how naughty he was back in Seattle, WA when he lived with Addie. Apparently he was not the most obedient dog and he often got into trouble – even his pet sitters claimed that he was a handful, or so I heard.

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Reggie with Lizzie in Audie and Addie’s condo in Seattle, before I met them, circa 2007-2008

Yes, this cute little Frenchie pug was a pound, or 20 pounds, of trouble. Hard to believe when you look at those ears and big brown eyes, but, it’s true. In fact, Audie used to warn me, “You have to be alpha with Reggie. You have to be dominant.”

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Reggie, age 4, shortly after he moved in with me in December 2009

This is true, and it’s taken years, literally years, to master that with Reggie, but at this point, I’m confident I’ve elevated to pack leader status.

At least, I hope so:)

However, he definitely has tested me over the years, especially when it came to my elderly rescue dog, Toby. In the beginning, I was very worried, but I consulted with Dr. Kaleka (my longtime general vet) at Governor Animal Clinic in San Diego and she gave me specific instructions on how to integrate Reggie and Lizzie into Toby’s domain without conflicts.

Toby’s internal medicine specialist, Dr. Sara Ford, assured me that it would be good for Toby to be around the younger dogs. She told me that it would add years to his life and rejuvenate him (it was true, it did put more life into Toby’s last two years).  Having a larger pack of dogs did have its pros and cons, but Dr. Ford felt certain that the benefits would outweigh the downsides.

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Toby, Lizzie and Reggie on the patio at University City Starbucks, circa 2011

As soon as Audie and I brought Lizzie and Reggie home from San Diego airport that first day, December 22, 2009, we took them on a long walk with Toby, before we even let them into the condo.

One of the best lessons I learned about adopting a dog, or introducing dogs to each other, period, is how to avoid the territorial battle: take the dogs on a long walk together in neutral territory.

It seemed to work out perfectly. After the walk, we brought Reggie and Lizzie into the house and put them in the kitchen behind the pet gate, where they had to live for a month, per Dr. Kaleka’s instructions. They needed to learn that Toby was the “main” dog in this house.

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Reggie and Lizzie behind the pet gate in December 2009

They were allowed to come out to eat with Toby, (who had to be fed first), to go on walks together as much as possible, and to mingle with the rest of the family in the main part of the condo in gradual increments. We started with 20-30 minutes and built up to full-time intermingling by the end of the first month. (Full disclosure: it was probably less than a month and moved faster than we were told, as I recall. I hated to leave Reggie and Lizzie behind the gate, though probably not as much as Audie did).

Toby didn’t mind. He’d stare at them from the living room – they’d stare back from the kitchen.

This went on for days…I think Toby built up quite a bit of chutzpah during that time – watching Reggie and Lizzie pawing at the gate and barking, wanting to get to him, and to us.

Yes, being king of the condo suited Toby very well.

Maybe that’s why Reggie let him have it fairly soon after he was allowed to roam free.

I was angry, and scared, when Reggie attacked Toby out of the blue – with no apparent provocation.

I was so distraught, that I told Audie I wanted Reggie to go back to Seattle.

I honestly feared that Reggie might attack Toby randomly at any time, and that his life would constantly be in danger, if we kept Reggie with us.

For the second time, we considered separating Lizzie and Reggie, but gladly, cooler heads convinced me otherwise and I backed down.

We kept Reggie, and I tried not to worry.

Thankfully, he didn’t make a habit of going after Toby, although, it did happen twice more, and I didn’t see it coming. First, Reggie went after him while Toby was sitting on his own dog bed (Mind you, the first week Reggie arrived, he lifted his leg and pee’d on Toby’s dog bed. Those alpha males!).

Everything was fine for more than a year and a half, and then suddenly, one day in 2011, all three dogs were doing their own thing, minding their business while eating from their own dog bowls, and Reggie lunged at Toby’s neck and knocked him down.

It was loud, it was violent, and thankfully, it was brief – neither dog was injured, though Toby was so weak, compared to Reggie, not to mention blindsided by the sudden attack, that he never had a chance to fight back.

I was shaken up, and angry at Reggie, but by this time, there was no question in my mind that Reggie was not going anywhere – I didn’t want him to – I was completely attached to Reggie.

I stopped feeding Toby and Reggie together for a while, but it was not long before I tried again. Thankfully, nothing like that surprise lunge ever happened again.

But, I never left them alone, either, at food time for the remainder of Toby’s life.

Reggie has often surprised me, in a good way.

When Toby died – I was touched – and surprised – how much Reggie grieved for him, searching for Toby in all the usual places, and looking at me with sadness in his eyes. This went on for several days.

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Reggie circa August 2011

 

Reggie returned to his normally perky self in no time, but I never have forgotten that in the end, Reggie showed me how much he really did love Toby, and that he had bonded to him, in spite of their alpha male competitiveness.

If someone were to ask me, “What is your favorite thing about Reggie?” there is no question in my mind how to answer that. Although he doesn’t do it anymore, sadly, Reggie had the innate instinct, and ability,  to get himself revved up like the Road Runner (the cartoon character) when Audie and/or I teased him by trying to chase him, or even just pretending to go head to head by leaning down, as if we were going to pounce, reaching for his legs. In response, Reggie would lean forward, as if he were getting ready to pounce too, and then all of a sudden, off he’d go!

And when I say go, I mean gooooooooo!

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Image from Warner Bros. and Courtesy of Facebook images

 

He’d jump off the couch and speed down the hallway, in a flash, disappear for about 30 seconds, and then all of sudden, he’d whiz by us, full steam ahead, back into the room. He’d get more and more excited, to the point he’d trip over himself sometimes, spinning in circles two or three times, and then he was off! Like a little bullet, he’d tear off down the hallway again, out of sight, in a black blur. He’d go back and forth, several times, until he finally wore himself out and landed somewhere close by us.

All the while, we would laugh so hard, it was as if the whole condo filled with the sound of our belly laughter.

I never laughed harder, nor did I ever hear Audie laugh harder, than I did in those times – many, many times – over the years, in all three homes we lived in together.

We couldn’t help it. There was absolutely nothing funnier than Reggie when he got himself all worked up like that. It was so funny, in fact, that Audie and I would provoke him on purpose just so we could make ourselves laugh while watching him go, go, go!

Actually, I can’t remember anything that has made me laugh harder, time after time after time, in my entire life, than Reggie’s speedy Gonzalez routine. Hands down, when I look back on my years with Reggie, it is the thing about him that brought me the most joy, over and over again.

He never does it anymore. I have tried to get him excited and worked up to it, but he is just too tired, I think, or just is not feeling well.

The other day he did show interest in one of the plush squeaky toys I bought for him two Christmases ago – a reindeer – but after a couple of rounds of toss and retrieve, he got tired. Mostly, he just wants to rest nearby – nowadays, he sleeps a lot, for most of the day.

It is hard seeing how he is slowing down more and more each day.

Still, he has not lost his loving nature, and I’m thankful for that. He wags his tail when we meet people and still barks like the territorial protector that he is when the doorbell rings. And don’t even tell me about how bent out of shape he gets when he spots one of the neighbor’s outdoor cats wandering around our driveway or in the front yard. He does not bark at the TV as much as he used to, but he did let Sully, George H.W. Bush’s service dog, have it, when I was watching the dignitaries pay their respects to Bush 41 at the Capitol on CSPAN.

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Reggie cuddled with Lizzie back in Seattle circa 2007-08

This past week, I broke down and posted a GoFundMe fundraiser to help me pay for his colonoscopy tomorrow. I really did not want to ask for help, but I need it in this case, with no money coming in for several months and so much money going out for bills that I never expected this year, on top of my usual medical expenses and necessities. My friends urged me to try it because people post GoFundMe fundraisers for just about everything, they said, even if they just need to fix their car, or want to do something much smaller than trying to save their dog’s life.

I knew it would expose my vulnerabilities to put myself out on the Internet publicly in this way, so I hemmed and hawed about it for over a month.

Finally, last week, I looked at my situation and the reality slap left a sting and a nasty red mark on my cheek.

I decided to give it a try. So many people, near and far, local and long-distance, love Reggie and always ask about him, what could it hurt to try?

I told myself, Reggie is the one thing in my life I do not feel guilty about reaching out to others for assistance with, because God knows, he’s worth it. He’s the sweetest, most loving creature, and I can’t imagine losing him anytime soon. There is no way to help him if I don’t know what’s wrong – and whatever is wrong with him, is not going to be inexpensive to fix.

I’ve prepared myself already for the worst case scenario – and what I’d want to do about it, or at least, what I think is best for Reggie.

He also has a heart murmur and he has been very stressed and anxious. I don’t want to put him through major surgery, or chemotherapy, I really don’t. Dr. Clifton said palliative care is an option for a little while, if it’s cancer, because he currently isn’t showing any signs that he cannot have more time with quality of life.

If his cheerful greetings and wagging tail when people come up to pet him is any indication, I definitely agree with Dr. Clifton. Not to mention, he still loves people food, albeit he’s had it with the hydrolyzed protein kibble – wants nothing to do with it lately. (Thankfully Dr. Clifton said to let him eat what he wants until the procedure since we don’t know what is wrong with him, let him enjoy what he’s eating.  “He has to eat to live,” she said.

And, he really wasn’t eating, sometimes for 2 days, so that was that – he got a free pass to eat white meat ground turkey and ground beef and a little bit of apple and pumpkin. (I dare not give him anything else).

A few days ago, I was reminded, again, to be grateful for all the little things and all the small acts of kindness in the world.

In this case, it was owing to the kindness of a stranger.

Reggie was sitting by my feet at Jittery Joe’s while I was editing a story for the Slackpole and he was either in pain, or cold, I’m not sure which. It has been so cold in Athens lately, it probably was the cold. I tried putting him on my lap and it helped a little, but he kept shaking, mostly by his rear end, which worries me – he does that a lot lately and I’m not sure if it’s related to his intestinal problems.

A lady who looked to be in her 60s approached me to pet Reggie and noted how cold he was, in a nice way of course, she was just concerned.

“I forgot his coat at home,” I told her. (Audie bought him a beautiful brown winter coat several years ago and he looks very handsome wearing it).

“Ohhh,” she replied sympathetically.

She left after a bit and I went on with my business.

About ten minutes passed, give or take, and the woman came back, handed me a green argyle dog sweater with a snowflake pattern, and said, “Here.”

I was floored.

“Keep it,” she said, “Merry Christmas.”

And then, just like that, she left as I thanked her profusely.

I put the sweater on Reggie right away.

It fit perfectly.

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Reggie’s new sweater

 

He doesn’t even seem to mind it, and he usually hates wearing doggie clothes, except for the coat that Audie bought for him.

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Reggie’s brown winter coat

 

It’s been a long two months waiting for this appointment tomorrow, and they said it might snow, but I think it’s going to be okay, and that we’ll be able to get to the clinic in the morning.  It felt like this day would never come, and now in 24 hours, it will be over with.

Hopefully, I’ll know Reggie’s diagnosis very soon.

In the meantime, he is resting by my feet under the dining room table, and he looks so peaceful. I hope there aren’t any complications – they said he would probably have some cramping and more gas and…more for me to clean up….if you know what I mean…but otherwise I am not sure what to expect for the aftercare. I do know that Reggie is in good hands, and Dr. Barker’s kindness and confidence has been very reassuring.

I know I’m doing the right thing, that’s what’s important.

It’s so strange when I think of Reggie and me.  I know I’ve said this before, but it comes into my head so often these days when he’s cuddling up next to me in bed, or nestling in my lap, or sitting by me near the Christmas tree, or riding with me in the car, or just about any time he comes up as close as he can get to me, looking at me with those amazing saucer-size brown eyes.

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Christmas 2018

Nine years ago, give or take two weeks, I didn’t even know Reggie, except in pictures. I almost did not keep him, twice, right before, and right after, he first came to live with me.

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Reggie and Lizzie in the dog bed behind the pet gate, circa December 2009

 

I was second-class human for years; Audie was his person, period, unless I was the only human in the house, and even then, he never climbed into my lap to get as close to me as possible like he did with Audie.

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Audie with Reggie in his lap at University City Starbucks, Thanksgiving 2011

 

I used to tease Audie that Reggie only wanted me when he was not home, and Audie used to tease me back about how Reggie liked males best, especially him. Often Reggie would not obey me at all if Audie was home, and sometimes not even when Audie wasn’t home. When he climbed up onto Audie and put his paws on Audie’s shoulders and stuck his head right up to Audie’s face, trying to kiss him, I knew, that was it, I was definitely #2. In fact, sometimes Reggie would give me this look like, “Don’t come near him, he’s mine.”

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Lizzie and Reggie climbing on Audie, circa 2012

 

I laugh about it now. Everything is always bittersweet in hindsight after it’s gone.

Reggie does remind me of Toby in some ways, especially how he likes to kiss my face for a long time. I should not let him do it, but it is really comforting and makes me happy. When I really think about it, Reggie is very much like Toby.

But, Reggie deserves his own place in my heart, and he has more than sealed that deal. He always will have as much a piece of my heart as the other two (Lizzie and Toby) did, and in some ways, being just the two of us, he has an even bigger piece of it.

And he always will.

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Our Christmas portrait, December 2018

 

Dedicated to: Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts who has completely stolen my heart.

 

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Reggie Roberts circa December 2009

 

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Reggie Roberts circa December 2018

If you happen to see this blog post, in the next few days, and want to donate to the GoFundMe for Reggie, here is the link:

https://www.gofundme.com/my-dog-reggie-needs-a-colonoscopy-on-december-10?fbclid=IwAR1VHIqjmegopAk_tbkIX_9do2pcdTV2ge2gdWQFSomps4MQK1hB3LHF8kQ

 

 

Athens, Georgia, Christmas, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Writing

My Grown-Up Christmas List

 

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For the first five years of my life, my dad and my mom celebrated Christmas in our house – it was such an integral part of my early childhood that I never got over my love of Christmas, no matter how much my Jewish identity said I should not want or need a Christmas tree, or decorations around the house, or Christmas carols, or the same Christmas classic movies year after year.

But it didn’t matter what anyone said, not my college boyfriend, not his family (I adored them), not my step-family, conservative Jews from New York, whom I loved, not my fellow Jews in the Jewish Federation Young Adults Group – I loved Christmas – everything about the season makes me feel happiness, joy, and full of life – no matter how old I get, or what is happening in my life year after year.

It is not hard to understand when I watch the home movies from my early life before Mom and Dad divorced, with Nana and Pop-Pop, Uncle Randy and my cousin, Carly, my dog, Misty, and my Aunt Lynn, and all the presents and lights and beautiful colors everywhere around us. Everyone smiling and a house filled with people.

After Mom and Dad divorced, my dad did convince my stepmom to let us have a Christmas tree a couple of times, and we had presents on Christmas morning and Santa Clause and it was wonderful, but that did not last long.

After that time, and throughout all these years,  I have spent most Christmases alone.

When I was a teenager, my family did not approve of me bringing my love of Christmas into the shared spaces of the house, but they did not stop me from decorating my own bedroom. Until I left to go to college, I had to keep my Christmas celebrations, including Christmas music, to myself.

In college, my roommates went home to Northern California to be with their families. But, every year, we put up an artificial Christmas tree in the living room of the house we shared. When I was alone during those winter breaks,  I used to love listening to  Christmas music for hours while I lay on the couch, reading romance novels and admiring our tree decorated in large multi-colored bulbs.

After graduating from college I lived in various roommate situations in San Diego where we always had a Christmas tree, but it was often not my own tree – the landlady decorated it or I shared it with other roommates.

I didn’t mind at the time, but I did look forward to living on my own and picking out my own Christmas tree one day and decorating the whole house with my own Christmas decorations that I picked out myself. I had a favorite place to find them: the Curie Craft Fair in University City – every year on the first Saturday of November.

I was thinking just the other day – I miss the Curie Craft Fair so much.

Believe it or not, it was not until 2007 that my wish came true. I moved into the Grayson’s condo, and the rental had vaulted ceilings and the unit had enough space overall that I could finally not only have my own full-sized Christmas tree (not just the little grocery store tabletop ones), but I also finally had space for all the Christmas knickknacks I had bought from the vendors at the Curie Craft Fair over the last 7 years.

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It was a dream come true. And I had Toby with me, too. So I wasn’t really alone.

Two years later, my other lifelong dream came true. My boyfriend, Audie Roberts, proposed to me on Christmas Eve under a different Christmas tree, at the Hotel Del Coronado.

Every Christmas dream I had ever had came true that Christmas Eve in 2009.

 

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Audie and I in front of the Xmas Tree at Hotel Del Coronado after he proposed
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Wearing my engagement ring atop Audie’s hand

 

The following year, Audie and I got married, and we held our wedding reception on December 28th, which was my grandparents’ wedding anniversary.  It was also a dream of mine.

That was a long time ago. It feels like a lifetime that never really happened at all.

Everything is so different now.

This year, Lizzie is gone. Audie has moved on with his life. And Christmas dreams are a thing of the past, a past that does not feel real to me anymore, except the photographs remind me it really happened.

It was real, for a little while.

I wasn’t sure I would want a Christmas tree this year, or to put up decorations, for just me…and Reggie.

The house feels so empty, even filled with all of the Christmas decorations that I have more than enough space for, and the 7-8 foot tree that is so tall it reaches high up to the ceiling.

decorated tree

I knew this Christmas would be the hardest one of my life to date, but I was not prepared for the depth of the sadness I feel – I never imagined with a lifetime full of happiness at Christmastime that I could feel such loneliness, such grief and loss.

It does not feel like Christmas.  And I wonder, will I ever feel joy at Christmas again?

I hope I will, but right now, it is hard to imagine that the bittersweet reminder of Audie getting down on one knee that night and asking,  “Will you marry me, sweetheart?” will ever stop hurting.

When I was a little girl, I always made a Christmas list of all the toys I wanted: Barbie Dolls and Mattel toys and books and so many other things, like every child, there were so many things I wanted.

This year, I have a grown-up Christmas list.

I wish for my heart to heal.

I wish to feel happiness and joy at Christmas again.

I wish to be able to trust in love again.

I wish for Audie and I to be friends again, if nothing else.

I wish for Audie to look back on me with love, not with hate.

I wish for Reggie to get well and to be with me for a few more Christmases, at least.

I wish for all the children separated from their families to be reunited.

I wish for all the seniors who are cold, hungry and alone to have warmth, food and companionship.

I wish for all the people who have lost homes to fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes to find new homes again.

I wish for us all to pull together to stop the advance of climate change.

I wish for all the children who are sick to be cured.

I wish for homeless dogs and cats to be rescued.

I wish for an end to child abuse and animal abuse forever.

I wish for the women to be believed.

I wish for good health care to be available to everyone.

I wish for military families to be reunited at the holidays.

I wish for people in this country to stop hating each other for our differences and to love each other for our common humanity.

I wish to feel true love again.

Most of all, I wish for forgiveness, for me, for Audie, and for everyone who seeks it from those they’ve wronged.

Because we’re all human. We all make mistakes. And we all deserve to be remembered, and loved, for the good in us, and for the happiness we once gave to those we love.

2ndphoto122409
Audie and me in front of another Christmas tree in the hotel after we got engaged on 12/24/09.