Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

The One Left Behind…

**Linda** (Name changed to protect privacy) said to me on Monday night, “You are always reading everything you can get your hands on. You want to understand what you did and why you did it and take responsibility for what you did, and that’s one of the things I like about you the best. But I think you might be reading too much information. I think you need to take a break and read something light. I think it’s great that you’re looking at your past trauma and abuse and searching for answers. It’s great that you want to know how you can do better. I love that about you – you always want to do better. But I’m going to send you a list of books that might be good for you to read – to take your mind off of the trauma – you are being so hard on yourself.”

I got the list of books in the email from **Linda** but when I was at Barnes and Noble last night with my 20% off coupon and my $50 gift card I received as a birthday gift, I didn’t buy one of the books.

I bought one of the other kind of books – the kind that helps me to understand – because I want to do better.

Even though it’s too late and there’s nothing I can do to change the past.

And even worse (I don’t know why I feel the need to confess this, but I do) – I sat down with a pile of letters he’d written me (two by hand, one typed from long ago), and all the cards I had (now all bound together with a rubber band) that I’d kept in various places in the house.

I started reading them. When I read the handwritten letters, I cried, no, I bawled – because of what it implied that I had done, or more specifically, what I’d said. I want so much to remember everything I said.

I can’t shake this guilt over the things I said that I did not mean, that I should never have said, when I was angry, or scared, or more accurately, in the throws of trauma – real or imagined – memory or current.

And then, there was one – one he left behind. One he did not keep:

I found the last wedding anniversary card from 2017.

I remember, now,  it was the one sitting on the table that he did not put away. And I picked it up, and I don’t remember what happened next.

But somehow, it has ended up in the stack of cards that he gave me, and I think, I must have found it, and thought, “I should save this.”

I’m glad I did.

It is the only one.

The one left behind.

The only one left – at all.

I am glad I have it, but now, I don’t know what to do, except I am glad – glad that I did not throw away mine. Glad that they are all still here. Glad that in one of the moments of deep pain – I did not suddenly throw them away.

Because when they are gone – thrown in a trash bag, and taken away, there is no turning back. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next year. Or in ten years.

If one day the sudden shift happens when we do not want to pretend we don’t remember. When we suddenly want to look back – if they don’t exist anymore, then we can’t.

I don’t want to forget the good things I did, and I don’t want to forget the bad, either.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I seem to feel compelled to understand my part in everything. I feel the need to make amends for anything and everything I have said or done, intentional or unintentional.

I realized, recently, that I had been so traumatized in my past, at so many different points, to different degrees, that somewhere along the way, I developed a fear of letting someone love me – meaning, afraid of letting him love me.

I had no idea.

And now, it’s too late to fix it.

I am having a hard time living with that. Every day feels like I am riding this wave of consequences – the pain is so heavy, it’s like I’m being pushed under the wave and can’t swim up to the top. The current is so strong. (This actually happened to me in real life when I was a young girl living in Los Angeles. I used to body surf and ride the waves and a gigantic wave pushed me under the water. I tried to swim to the top but I couldn’t. I remembered, thankfully, to stop fighting the current and let the wave pass above me and to stay still, letting it take me with it, until it was safe to paddle to the top).

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I was lucky, because people drown under waves like this one, but I held my breath, the wave crushed me, it shook me, it took control of my body, I was at its mercy.

But when it passed, and it was over, I was safe again.

I wanted so much to show him how much I loved him – because I loved him so much – he never realized how much, I’m sure. And now the cards that told him are gone.

I didn’t know how to show him, not in the way he needed me to – I thought I was, but it was not in the right way.

I told him recently that I was never able to move for anyone else.  It is true. My college boyfriend and I broke up after five years because he was moving to Phoenix, Arizona, and I did not want to leave San Diego.  Three years later, my long-distance boyfriend at the time broke up with me because I did not want to move to Las Vegas (we had never lived in the same city, we were set up by a mutual friend). He and I have always remained friends, and I’m grateful that we could eventually be friends – it does not always happen.

But, then, this was different.

In 2006, I made it back to San Diego after living in Santa Barbara for a year – it was not expected, and it was a wonderful experience, but I always knew I wanted to go back home. I’d spent that year healing from the worst breakup, the most traumatic of my life up to that point – but San Diego was home, and I had no intention of letting the heartbreak stop me from going back. I made it back, finally, on September 1, 2006.  My dad brought Toby back home to me that day, too. My dog and I had been living apart for that whole year – it was awful being separated.

I was home, and I promised myself I’d never leave again.

And then, on January 25, 2009, I met him.

One month and 3 days later, suddenly, everything changed – again.

I had a feeling, a strange feeling, almost a premonition, when I read the email he sent me on February 7, 2009, that I was going to marry this man.

I did.

And I did, because, I could not bear to live without him.

I knew I would have to leave San Diego again, even though I had promised myself in 2006 that I never would.

I really thought nothing could ever change that.

But one day, in late summer 2009, I said to him that, “San Diego is just an address. You are my home. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without you.”

I really said that.

And – I meant it.

To this day, even after losing him forever, I still feel that way.

But it was not what happened.  Or to be more accurate, sometimes, it was not what happened.

Sometimes I said I wanted to leave. Sometimes I said I wanted to go home.  Sometimes I even asked him, “When can we move?”

I thought I was ready. I wanted to be ready. I wanted to be with him. I wanted it to work. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.

But I couldn’t just do it.

I was so homesick. I felt so alone. So disoriented at times.

So locked into the head space of some long ago trauma, that I was listening, but I did not hear him. I thought I did. But then, I read the letters, and I realized, I was not hearing him.

The saddest irony in all that, is that one day, something clicked, and it changed. It shifted.

But, it was just too late.

Now I look around me and I can’t imagine going back to San Diego, or I don’t want to go back, and I think – I’ve changed too much. Being here has changed me. Living in Athens has changed who I am – for the better, oh, only for the better.

I am a creature of two places, two lives, one past, one present, and now I can’t just leap back 10 years and suddenly be the person I was as if I never knew him. As if I never loved him.

As if I could forget him.

I could never forget, and I don’t want to – it made me who I am, a better person who learned from him, from our marriage, from my mistakes – I learned more from my mistakes, than from what I feel that I did right.

I don’t know what to do with this card left behind.  I know it’s mine to keep, if I want to – but it is a reminder of the ones that are gone, the unwanted ones.

Most of all, it is a reminder of the ways I tried to say how I felt, to show how I felt, and somehow, I fell short. I must have.

I always loved him. Every minute. Of every day. Of every year. Even when I was far away, and he thought I did not want to be with him. I did.

Maybe, it’s best that I have this card, the last one, the one left behind, the last anniversary card, accidentally misplaced.

Thank goodness I found it.

I do not want to stop learning. I do not want to stop reading. Understanding. Studying.

Because although I may be the only one who knows how deeply and unconditionally I truly loved him, I know that I did. And always will.

I want him to be happy. Always.

I wish I could find that same self-compassion and forgive myself for not being perfect. For trying, and failing, to always show him and tell him exactly how much he meant to me, that I never wanted to go back, ever, no matter what.

That when I said, “San Diego is just an address. You are my home. I can’t imagine my life without you,” I meant every word. And always did.

I hope that someday, the wave stops crashing above me, that I can drift to shore, and land on my feet, stick my toes in the sand, dig in, and look out at that ocean behind me, without shame, without guilt, without regret. These waves that crash down on me – all three of them – are holding me back.

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I know this is where I am at right now, and if it is where I need to be, then I’m reading the right books, the ones I need to.

The more I read, the more I understand.  I know it seemed, sometimes, like I never knew him, but I did.

Even when I didn’t say the right things, or do the right things at the right time.

I carried him with me, everywhere – he became a part of me, and always will be.

This post is the prelude to one I am not sure how to write. I know I want to tell the story, but how to do it right, I’m not sure yet.

For now, I hope that someday, it won’t always hurt this much. I know it will always hurt.

My friend said to me on Monday, “The more the pain, the more real the love.”

This love – on that scale – was the epitome of the real thing. The most real love I’ve ever known, or ever will.

I can’t imagine ever throwing away these cards…

…I think I’ll keep the one that was left behind.

I always want to learn from this, to honor what I learned, to honor what he taught me, and to honor who I became –

For the better.

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"Me Too", ADD, Child Abuse, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Mental health, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

“Courage Does Not Always Roar…”

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“…Sometimes it comes in a quiet voice that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”

 

When I was in my late twenties, I started collecting a lot of posters from the Successories store in University Town Center in San Diego. Some of them have been destroyed in one of my many moves since then, but a few have survived and now hang on the wall in my home: “Passion: Nothing in the world has ever been accomplished without passion,” “Perseverance: Our greatest glory lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall,” “Integrity: Integrity comes when character is tested; keep true and never be ashamed of doing what is right,” and…”Courage: You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” (This last one came directly from Aristotle and the quotation from Perseverance is my signature mark on this website because for years, that quote has sustained my resilience through my life’s hardest falls and seen me pick myself up and start over again through sheer will and…perseverance).

In 2017, a therapist that I saw a few times while I was searching for the right one on a permanent basis said to me, “The only way out of the pain is through it.”

That was the last thing I wanted to hear – who among us ever wants to hear that we have to walk through the physical, spiritual and emotional feelings of pain in order to exit on the other side and start over…from the beginning…when we never wanted to lose what ended in the first place?

But that’s how it is…I am finding out…the hard way.

The only way out of the pain is through it.

During one of the last visits I had with a counselor whom I miss greatly, she shared a story with me about two arrows: the first arrow that pierces the heart is the initial pain.

The second arrow…the one that does not have to be…comes from the suffering on top of the pain that we bring upon ourselves.

I know that the cure for the second arrow is radical acceptance…and breaking silence.

There is no one definition of courage – for some, the courage to be silent is as worthy as the courage to speak out.  Life is not black-and-white.

Neither is grief. Neither is healing.

Neither is the way out of the former onto the pathway to the latter.

I have realized, or learned (or both) in the last few years, but most acutely in this past year, that trauma hibernating in the dark corners of our memory – waiting to be awakened without warning, is a silent killer – it is not courageous, however, its remedy is the epitome of courage.

The problem is that trauma is stealthier than the most silent and cunning of predators, and make no mistake, trauma is a predator – of the worst kind. It lies in wait in the recesses of your brain – for years, sometimes for decades – and strikes before you ever have a chance to prepare yourself for it, much less fight back.

Trauma’s greatest ally is fear. Its adversary is breaking the silence.

Human beings, with the best of intentions and/or the primal instinct to protect ourselves, are unwitting perpetrators of keeping the silence.

Sometimes it is the individual. Sometimes it is within families.

Sometimes it is simply our unconscious brain trying to cope.

Recently, the TV sitcom, “Mom,” has brought the silent shame of adult women with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) into the spotlight, and I am so grateful to them for bringing this into the spotlight – if nothing else to bring those suffering in silence out of the darkness and out of their prison of shame.

Just like heart disease manifests itself differently in women than it does in men, so does adult ADD.

What was even more noteworthy and a revelation to me was tackling the connection between ADD and Trauma.

When I did further research later (to confirm it was not just sitcom writing for the bells and whistles of getting higher ratings), I discovered that it is true:

ADD manifests as a coping mechanism for surviving trauma.

I won’t get into all the details in the blog, not today at least, but I do encourage anyone who suspects they may have ADD (men or women, boys or girls) to read more and learn more.

I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders when I first read this and then I could not stop reading about it – I was starving for more knowledge, more explanations, more research and case studies to connect the missing pieces of how ADD and all its life-altering symptoms go back to the brain shielding itself from feeling the agony, the abyss of buried trauma.

In my last post, I referred to my past – to my childhood and adolescence, specifically – and that I am a trauma survivor, like so many other people out in the world who hide it, or try to, behind the face of normalcy and perseverance and yes…courage.

You may have heard the expression, “Be kind. For everyone you meet is experiencing pain you know nothing about.”

It may or may not be true about everyone you meet, at any given time, but I do believe, to one degree or another, it is true about everyone.

It is one reason I live by the idea of “there but for the grace of God go I,” and try to be compassionate to everyone, for, truthfully, I do not know what sorrows and what pain they bear behind their smiles, or frowns, or words.

I recently came to some realizations about myself, some of the most painful ones I have ever had to face, and from what I am reading, and have learned so far, the source of all of it is suppressed trauma, some of which I remember, some of which I don’t – and maybe, I never will.

Believe it or not I hope I do, for as I said in my last post, I know that the trauma has dictated – against my free will – things I have done and said that I wish I could take back, now that I understand, now that I know what I know now.

I wonder, if I were to share, if my speaking out, would help someone, anyone, to have the courage to do the same.

If nothing else, I do not feel that I owe it to the memory of the perpetrators, now deceased, to protect them, or what they did.

Some perpetrators are still alive, out there, and maybe they read this blog, maybe they don’t. I don’t really care. I no longer wish to be controlled by the fear of what they will do to me if I break my silence.

But for now, I will leave them alone, except I will say, about one of them, the one from 2006-2007, whom I found out no longer lives in San Diego (thank God) that: ever since the “Me Too” movement raised its voice in courage in 2017, I have felt the guilt of the previous decade rise to the surface, and that voice, “Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you report what he did?” screaming at me again.

I know why I didn’t say anything.

I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

And I also knew, he was capable of killing me if I did.

How many women have felt that way?

How many children like me, were told, by an adult, a grown man – bigger, stronger, louder than us – that if we told anyone what he did to us, he’d kill us (or in my case, he would kill me and my mother).

I felt guilty about not reporting the man in San Diego because I knew that I was not the first and I knew that he would do it again, to other women.

When the “Me Too” movement came about, I actually tried to find out if I could report him – that’s how courageous I felt in the wake of the wave of women’s courage and their voices speaking out – and it was also how guilty I felt for not speaking out right away, when I knew where he was, and when I might have been the one to stop him from doing it again.

By the time my therapist had helped me unblock the trauma through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), the man who assaulted me in my bedroom when I was 6 years old – my mother’s boyfriend – in a home invasion – had been dead for many years.

He was also Jewish, like us. He was a doctor, a prestigious cardiologist. And he lived in Beverly Hills – a place most Americans know about because of pop culture and Hollywood.

And I was just a 6-year-old girl whose parents had recently divorced.

I still don’t remember everything that may have happened. But I remember most of it, more than I wish I did. And it’s the reason why, to this day, I’m terrified of strangers having access to my home.  Something that irreparably hurt my marriage  in the winter and spring of 2012.

But, I didn’t know I had post traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t know I was reliving the trauma of that home invasion – or, more accurately, the fear of it happening again – when all of a sudden a real estate agent threatened to give strangers free access to me and my home – one month after I’d moved to Georgia, before I’d even finished unpacking my boxes, much less gotten my land legs after the first relocation of my life, from San Diego, CA to Athens, GA.

Every day, I wish I could go back to that time and do things differently (which I would – knowing what I do now and why I could not stop the terror and the behaviors in me it triggered).

But, having opened the door to the effects of one trauma on the rest of my life, I have found the courage to face the other traumas, the ones I remember at least.

In other posts, I will speak out, in the newfound courage I am finding to break the silence, but for now, I will leave it with this:

If there are any little girls or little boys out there, who are afraid to speak out, to tell your parents, or anyone else, that someone has hurt you, please do not be afraid to tell someone.  There are people who care, who are there to help.

You do not deserve to lose your childhood, or any part of your life, to the fear of retaliation or any other abuse from someone who is such a coward that he or she would hurt an innocent child.

Trauma is the silent killer of truth and of happiness – do not be afraid to stand up to it and slay it through its heart.

Truth is your sword – trust that you are not alone.

Athens, Georgia, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, San Diego, California, Uncategorized, Writers

The Eyes Are the Window to the Soul

It was just supposed to be a donation. Part of the downsizing. Just a quick stop. Drop off the blankets, the sheets, the bedspreads, the old towels. Then turn around and go.

In honor of Reggie and Lizzie, I made two trips to Athens-Clarke County Animal Control this week.

Just to drop off sheets, towels and bedspreads.

But…it was much more than that.

No, I did not adopt a dog. But as soon as I heard the chorus of barking when I exited the car, I should have known, like the children hearing the flute of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I would not be able to leave without looking at the dogs in the kennels.

When I got out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the redneck guy with a huge, macho-looking black pickup truck, stocked up to the brim with tires in the bed of the truck – doing what I hate most, what I can’t stand, what I fight against – he was surrendering his dog to the shelter. He handed his medium-sized, light-colored dog, on a rope to the shelter worker. The dog looked at him with its tail wagging, not understanding what was happening – he watched as his owner walked away without even petting him or saying goodbye. He just strutted back to his truck. He looked at me, and I looked away. (I won’t tell you what I was thinking or what I wanted to say – especially on my public blog, but if you are a regular reader of my blog, or if you know me personally, I’m sure you can imagine).

Thank goodness he didn’t just dump the dog on the road – or tie him up somewhere and just leave him – that would be far worse, and too many people around the world do just that.

I know for a fact he did surrender his dog because his dog, Scar, was one of the dogs I saw in the kennels not long afterward. He had not been there long, but he already looked terrified and lost and confused.

And Scar, you did not deserve that.  There is always another way – but again, I remind myself, it is better than leaving him on the road.  This way, he has a chance – someone, or a rescue group, may save him.

But this is not a no-kill shelter. That’s why they are closed every Wednesday.

When I entered the lobby, I brought the four or five bags inside and asked if I could also donate the wool blanket that Reggie had soiled before he died. Unfortunately, for health code reasons, they could not wash it there, but I did take it to the laundry on Prince where I went a few weeks ago, and Michelle, gladly took it and told me she would not even charge me to clean it since I am donating it to the animal shelter.

As I turned toward the door that led to the kennels, I took a deep breath. I could hear the dogs from the inside, and once I entered the walkway of the front kennels, it was strange – I felt like I was listening to a concert – but it was not soothing – the dogs’ howls ranged from desperate to agonizing to angry to sorrowful to hopeful. It did not bother me as far as the noise, it was more like music to my ears – hearing dogs barking does not phase me at all – they must truly be my soulmates in another life, as well as this one. I am very sensitive to loud noises, but not dogs barking. Though, the sound of the dogs in their emotional pain did create these waves in the center of my chest, where my heart chakra is – it drew me to them, and I could not help but bear witness to their pain and to their longing for someone, anyone kind, to take them home and give them a forever human to love.

The first two dogs were pitbulls, and I have to tell you, (I’m terrible with names), the smaller one, a female, tilted her head and looked right into my eyes with an expression I will never forget, I’m sure – it was like she was pulling me toward her, like a thread, a rope, connected her heart to mine. In her eyes, I saw her plead for me to love her, to take her out of this cage and give her a home. She jumped up, not in anger, but in eagerness, in hope, that I would be the one to open up the gates to a new life for her.

But I can’t. I couldn’t, and yet, I could not walk away from her.

I squatted down and approached her and looked at her, right in her eyes, and I told her, “I’m so sorry. I can’t take you with me. I’m sorry.”

The dog to her right was also very excited to see me and looked at me with that hopeful joy, the kind of joy someone feels when someone who might just be the one to love them forever, unconditionally, has just come their way.

But I couldn’t.

I continued walking down the row, in the front, very slowly. There were medium-sized mutts, some looked like Rottweiler mixes, some were Pit mixes, some looked like a mix of all kinds of dogs. None of them were very large, but none were small, either.

Even if there were a small dog, I could not take one home right now. For many reasons, but even if I did not have to keep my house immaculately clean, now that it is immaculately clean, for the first time since I moved in, I am not ready.

No dog, anywhere, can take Reggie’s and Lizzie’s place. I can’t even imagine another dog besides Reggie or Lizzie living in this house.

Some of the dogs, in the back kennel, looked at me with fear, with suspicion, and I knew – these were the dogs who had been abused, beaten, neglected, and they were the ones I was drawn to the most, and yet I also knew, they needed me to respect them, and give them space, at least, for now – if I was not going to take them home with me, it was not fair to do anything else.

There was one dog, an older lab mix, a girl, that leaned right up against her cage when I drew near, and I stuck my hand near her nose. She licked my hand and then pressed her body – on her right side, as close to the chain link as she could. I knew exactly what she wanted me to do and I was happy to oblige her. I stuck my fingers through the small space and began to pet her.

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It was like coming home for me – to pet a dog again – even if she wasn’t mine.

She is the first dog I have pet, that I have touched, since Reggie died.

I have seen dogs, but I have not approached them, not even my neighbor, Pennie’s dog. I just feel like since Reggie died, I don’t want to do that, but somehow, being in the shelter, something happened, and I did it without thinking when she reached out to me, without words, and asked me.

There were some female students who were taking dogs out of the kennels to walk them and play with them in the back fenced-in area designated for the dogs to exercise and let out some of their pent-up energy – and who could blame them – being cooped up in those kennels with nothing but a tiny canvas cot and a floor made of concrete – no warmth, no love, no comfort of any real substance.

No wonder their cries fill the air with voices that are so ripe with hope and agony, they must be singing out to God to help them, and yet, so few of us hear them.

These last few weeks, this last week, especially, I have been lost myself, much like them. Really, I have been lost for almost 2 years now – since May 2017. In some ways longer than that, but most acutely since May 2017, and in some ways, it has consumed me, completely, since June 3rd of last year.

And then, as I knelt before the dogs, and looked into their eyes, I felt as if I could almost read their minds, and their souls, and I knew – I knew who I was, or more specifically, I ***remembered*** who I was – for the first time in a long time, I felt like me again. These lost dogs, who have been led astray, guided me back to me, the real me – the one who has a dream of a dog rescue of my own, the one who loves dogs with all my heart and soul, the one who would do anything to save a dog in need, the one who, after the worst heartbreak of my life, the one that I was sure would break me, is still standing – unbroken and resilient and stronger than ever.

Make no mistake, I am heartbroken – I have never, ever known heartbreak like this – but in their eyes, I remembered that my heart, though broken, is still beating, still alive and still open to love – to love my friends, to love my mother, to love the memory of Toby and Lizzie and Reggie.

And someday, when I’m ready, to come back, to this shelter, or to another rescue group, to open my home, my heart, and my life to another dog, who I know I will love as much as I love the three I have lost.

I did not intend to see the dogs. I did not intend to ask the front desk about how else I could help, but I did. I only intended to drop off some sheets and towels and bedspreads.

The universe had other plans for me. And I am so glad. I know I will be back. I used to be afraid to go to the animal shelter – afraid it would be too hard for me.

It’s not too hard – not anymore – having made it to the other side of “too hard,” “too painful,” and “too much to bear,” I have found I can handle more than I ever realized – I underestimated myself – and I’m not the only one, but I won’t do that again. I know where I belong – I belong with the dogs, I belong with other writers, I belong with other people who tell the truth, who keep their word, and who know how to forgive and let things go, when someone expresses remorse and makes amends. I belong with my music,  I belong with my books, and I belong with my advocacy for those who have survived trauma.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  I always have hated cliches.

Maybe I should reconsider that – losing my entire family, the future I dreamed of, the man who was the love of my life, my dogs, my home, it didn’t kill me. Not yet.

And I don’t plan to let it.

Maybe, there is something ahead of me so wonderful, so magnificent, so fulfilling, that I can’t even picture it – and then, maybe then, I will know why this happened, and maybe, I will be glad it did. It’s hard to imagine that I could ever be glad about that, but I am stronger than what others think of me, stronger than the false way in which they choose to define me, stronger than the black-and-white and distorted way in which they see me.

On the night he proposed to me, he read me the list of 32 reasons why he loved me, before he knelt down and said, “And for all these reasons, will you marry me, sweetheart?”

Even though that life, that future, is no longer, those 32 things are still true. They always were. They are the real me.

If the dogs at the shelter, if the souls I saw in their eyes, are the beginning of my journey to finding me again, then I can’t wait to meet her.

Bless the dogs of Athens-Clarke County Animal Control…and all rescue dogs everywhere. They are God’s gift to the world.

Save a life…adopt a pet.

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

“Ask forgiveness not permission.”

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“Ask for forgiveness not permission.”

Audie taught me that many years ago – it is his philosophy, and that of many others, so I’ve heard.

It’s not something I find as easy to do – it doesn’t come to me naturally to “push the envelope” and break the rules. I’m a stickler for rules, too much so sometimes – even when I should break the rules, I have trouble doing so. It makes me uncomfortable, I fear getting in trouble. Big trouble.

No, following the rules is my comfort zone.

And then, today, with Reggie, I did not do that.

“Ask forgiveness not permission,” I said to myself (like he taught you).

And so I did, and I opened the door to Dr. Niknafs’ office and rolled Reggie right into the waiting room.

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Reggie at Dr. Niknafs office

I didn’t ask permission, I didn’t even blink. I just walked right up to the sign-in sheet and wrote down my name. There were several people in the waiting area, one lady gave me a “what is that dog doing in here?” look, but, everyone else was taken with him, and then all of a sudden, that lady smiled, too!

Hmmm, interesting.  Have to remember that.

I walked to the chair in the corner, set my books on a side table, and sat down, pulling Reggie’s stroller close to me. The lady in the chair next door flashed me a big grin and said hello to Reggie. I moved his stroller closer to her and asked her if she’d like to pet him.

Her name was Cheryl, and she was all over petting Reggie.

“You smell my dog, don’t  you…” she said as she pet him. “You smell my Sophie.”

We had to wait a while. They were busy today, more than I remember from past visits.

“Jill?” I heard my name called.

I got up, gathered my things, and walked right up to the red-haired nurse and said, “This is Reggie, he’s my emotional support animal.”  Just like that.

And, surprisingly, I needed no forgiveness, or permission. She just “oooh’ed” and “aww’d” like most people do and all was well.

Dr. Niknafs, and Tyler and the nurse’s mom (I forgot to ask their names) were just as kind. I especially appreciated that the doctor was so understanding.

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Reggie in the exam room at the doctor’s office.

When I checked out, the older nurse, the younger redhead’s mom as it turns out, had a hard time – she couldn’t look at Reggie without tearing up.

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Reggie at Dr. Niknafs

As it turned out, she too had a story to tell, about three older dogs of her own, and what was worse, she didn’t realize until recently, you could, and should, be with your dog, at the end.  I didn’t even know people couldn’t, but she had had experiences in the past where they took her dog in the back and put him to sleep, alone.

“No, you need to be the last person they see,” she said, “when they die, they need to know the person they love is right there with them.”

I agree with that, and I can’t imagine it any other way, but if your dog is in the ER or the hospital, it definitely would not happen that way.

I hope that does not happen to Reggie. I’m trying to avoid that, even if it means I lose him sooner.

We are at Jittery Joe’s now and he’s staring at me, wanting my lunch. I’m glad to see that he has an appetite. We stopped at Marti’s at Midday after Dr. Niknafs to get some tuna salad.

Again, I did not ask for permission (or forgiveness), and I wheeled Reggie into the cafe with me. I’d done that once before, so it was not as risky, but, this was only the second time, and the first time, I did ask permission.

I also had an ulterior motive for stopping at Marti’s at Midday today – the ladies that work there love him. And even though I couldn’t bring myself to say these are his last few days, it gave me happiness to see Kim, the manager, come over especially to say hello. I wish more of the people we knew had been there, especially the owner, Marti, who took to Reggie right away, but it was late in the day and long after lunchtime. Better, for us, I’m sure – it would have been more difficult to bring Reggie inside with a long line and throngs of people at the counter.

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Reggie inside Marti’s at Midday Cafe Jan.  30, 2019

Reggie is having a good day today.

A very good day.

Such a good day that I don’t want to do it.

Too good of a day to imagine it – his best day in Athens since early December.

He’s more like he was a few months ago, than he was in the last few days. He’s even gone the whole day without any accidents – that hasn’t happened in a while, where I am able to handle this by just taking him out to the bathroom every hour or so.

(Disclaimer – I wrote this earlier in the day, and he did have an accident in the stroller, all over his beautiful green sweater. Oh well. Only one today, but in the wrong place)

He’s awake and interacting with people,  barking for my food, barking at another dog, even his walk, my God, it was quick, not slow and unsteady, but like his normal gait, normal speed.

(Later in the day I took him to Barnes and Noble and walked him down the sidewalk to the post office first. He was strutting at his old speed, keeping up with me and the stroller, and then halfway there, he slowed down again, to his latest slower pace. But, then he picked up the pace again for the homestretch. On the way back to the store, I put him in the stroller again. I didn’t want to push him too much. He’d had a good walk, a short one, but a great one. That was enough for one night).

My friend, Wendy, who is a vet, visited with us in between appointments today and she told me that happens, people do it too. They rally at the end and have this amazingly good day.  (I read about it in my colleague Lisa’s book, Words at the Threshold, also)

Are there more bad days than good days is the question. Eventually there are more bad than good. With Reggie, it’s hard to say. When I’ve taken him on the road trips, they were all good days, like today.  Saturday started off as a good day and by evening was terrible, and then Sunday was better. Monday and Tuesday were rough days.

Today has been amazing – like his old self (except for the diarrhea).

Should I do the math? Divide the days into halves? Or into hours? This many hours he was great, and then that many hours he was terrible.

2 1/2 good days, 2 1/2 bad days, I told Wendy.

When I started writing this post today at 4 pm, so far it had been all “good hours.”

We left the house around 9:30 am so…that’s almost 8 good hours.

I’m grateful for Reggie having such a good day.

It’s already 6 pm, today went by too fast. Way too fast.

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Why is it the hours go by fastest when you want them most to drag out?

He’s been so happy today.  I’m so glad for that.

He deserves it.

We spent two hours at Barnes and Noble, speaking of time flying by.  I didn’t take any new photos tonight, as I usually do, but he sat in the stroller the whole time and did not cry to warn me to rush him outside. When was the last time he went 2 hours? I can’t remember. He was so peaceful as I drank my tall soy latte and walked around the store, finally settling down to look through a book more closely, and I stroked him with one hand while he rested – that’s how the time went by so fast – it was so normal, as if nothing were wrong, as if nothing were going to change in a short time from now.

At home, I watched Reggie scarf down the prescription food and then hide under the table again in his beautiful brown coat that his daddy gave him many years ago.

I am sitting here having doubt – nothing but doubt – that I’m making the wrong decision if I let him go on Friday.

Reggie had such a good day.

The best day he’s had at home in weeks.

According to the books, that means the end is near.

Reggie is standing up underneath my chair as I eat my dinner I just sat down to eat, he is looking up at me, hoping I’ll drop something for him to eat.

Just like he always did when he was not sick – like he did just a month ago, before his sickness accelerated so quickly.

What does it mean?

I wish I knew.

Why do we have to play God – “I feel like I’m killing my dog,” I told my friend today.

“You are,” she said, “it’s the worst decision we ever have to make.”

She also said it’s a gift to free them from pain, and she’s right.

But he’s not in pain right now. He hasn’t been all day.

I feel confused, and I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to let him go if I don’t have to…but…I know what Dr. Stoppe said yesterday, I know what she saw. What she told me.

I’m glad I’m bringing him back tomorrow. We can talk more. So I can be sure. Sure I’m doing the right thing for Reggie.

He’s given up now, no food from me, but he’s laying by my feet, close to me, I can hear him breathing – it’s raspy, but not as bad as it’s been. More like snoring.

When I think of all the people who have loved on Reggie today: Ashley at Oconee Wellness, Cheryl and the nurses and Tyler at Dr. Niknafs, my friend, Wendy and my friend, Marcy (also a vet – we had coffee dates with 2 vet friends today), and the ladies at Marti’s…

No matter what happens tomorrow, no matter what happens on Friday…

Today, Reggie had the best day.

The best kind of day of all – the kind filled with love.

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Ashley Roberts and Reggie Roberts, Jan. 30, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

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

One More Day…

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Reggie at Barnes and Noble Book Store January 23, 2019

“He’s gained a pound!”

Dr. Clifton brought Reggie back into the exam room where I was reading the article they’d given me about how to decide when it’s time to let go.

“He is stable. I don’t think you need to worry about the weekend. I think his breathing is the same as it was on Thursday. He looks the same as he did on Thursday as far as his comfort level. He’s no worse. I think you can bring him in for another recheck, or you can choose a time, you can always call and cancel that morning if he’s not decompensating.”

I did not expect this at all. I felt a huge weight lift off of me, and my stomach settled down for the first time in 2 days – I stopped feeling that grabbing at my chest that made it hard to breathe. I hadn’t slept hardly at all the night before, dreading what she’d say this morning.

I didn’t expect this miracle at all.

She was giving me the green light to wait, if I wanted to.

We had an honest discussion – I was able to share how I felt while also being fair and logical. It was much different than Thursday when I could not keep from feeling the pain.

“He ate a whole can of salmon this morning with blueberries and last night he ate the whole can of tuna. He was wagging his tail and he’s slow, but he follows me around most of the time. He doesn’t get excited, exactly,  when I have food or take out his leash, but he wags his tail and jumps off the couch to come get his food or to go in the car. When I ask if he wants to go “bye bye car” he gets up and comes to me. He’s walking around the house, and up and down the stairs. He can still jump on and off the bed, he’s slow, but he can get himself up and down without struggling. The diarrhea is the hardest part, for both of us…But I do not want to wait until he’s suffering.”

Dr. Clifton had told me on Thursday there was nothing they could do, but then she saw him today, and she’d changed her mind. I couldn’t believe it. I asked more and more questions.

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Lizzie (after her eye surgery) and Reggie in October 2011 at La Jolla Cove

“With our dog, Ginger, that we put to sleep four or five months ago, she was 18 and filled with cancer, and when it was time, my husband and I just knew. She couldn’t eat or get up and she looked up at us and we knew, she’s done. With him, he’s not doing that, he had a good day yesterday, most of the day, and he’s eating, he’s not breathing as easily as we want him to, but I don’t think you’re going to have to bring him to an emergency hospital tomorrow. You just need to get through to Monday when we open. But, if he stays stable like this, I think you can wait and see how he does. It’s faster now that it’s in the lungs but you can decide if you want to bring him in for a recheck early next week, we can do that, and then you can decide if you want to book at time, you can always call and cancel. It’s up to you, it’s your decision. We can check him once a week…”

I was so confused. In a good way, but maybe she didn’t mean it literally – to suggest that he could have enough time to come in once a week.

“Dr. Stoppe is here on Tuesday, I’m here on Wednesday, if you want another pair of eyes.”

“Yes, I’d like Dr. Stoppe to take a look at him, too,” I answered.

I told her I didn’t trust my judgment these days, and that I felt that my brain might be telling my eyes what I want to see, not what’s real.

Sometimes the closer you watch something, the harder it is to see what’s there.

“That’s what we’re here for to help you.”

Anna, the technician, who is so kind, and so sweet with Reggie (she was the same with Lizzie, she’s a natural), was with us – I was so glad. Before the doctor came in to see Reggie I showed her photos and videos from our trips this week.

“I do not want to wait until he’s in distress, so how do I know?”

“That’s the thing, sometimes we have dogs come in like this…” She huffs and puffs really hard. “But usually it’s a slower progression where it takes more effort for him to breathe.”

“Lizzie had a bronchial dilator, do you think it would help him breathe?”

“I don’t know, probably not. We could try it. His airways aren’t closed. The lungs have a space like a balloon that fill with air, and the cancer cells are taking up that space with tissue so there’s less room in that space in the balloon for him to take in that air.” (She said it differently, more scientifically than this, but this is my summary in my own words).

“We can try Theophyllin, do you have any more of Lizzie’s, or did you donate it all?”

“I donated all of Lizzie’s medicines.”

“Let me see if we have any.”

Reggie was hanging out on the floor of the room, his back moving up and down, much more relaxed than when we came in – that’s the other thing. He does not like coming here, and the thought of him having to come in, knowing where he was, conscious of where he was, and then putting him to sleep – I could not imagine doing that to him – I realize that’s just my guilt, but I hated the idea of him coming in that door, so conscious and alert and nervous, not knowing he would not be coming home with me, and his trusting me that he would.

She came back in with some Theophyllin that she’d found, for a few days, until I come back on Tuesday.

I’m going to try this for a couple of days, while increasing his other medication for pain and stress management. She suggested that would be the best thing to do and what she would want for herself if she had cancer.

“You can take him somewhere else this weekend. It’s beautiful out.”

It was like night and day. I would not call it a miracle, per se, he is not going to get better. It’s not like it was with Lizzie at the 11th hour last March where I will have 7 more months with him, but if I could have even 7 more days…it would be worth it, for many reasons.

One more day…one more day to take him somewhere beautiful.

You know what, I take back what I said.

It is a miracle.

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