Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dear Craft Companies

To Whom It May Concern:

Allow me to share with you my frustrations at not finding craft products that speak to me.

I am over 40, single and childless. I'm not swimming in dough but I do have some discretionary income. And I'm pretty creative and crafty. But the products just don't address who I am. 

Feminine? Yes. But I'm not into all florals. Glitter? OH PLEASE! That's for 8-year-olds. Fabrics with prints of Parisian cafes and the Eiffel Tower are..... no. I like shabby chic but it just isn't me. My favorite shoes aren't Louboutin and Choo, but more on the lines of New Balance and Dansko or even Docs. I love tee shirts and jeans but I'm not all red-white-and-blue and country chic. Note: denim isn't just for the yee-haw crowd. I love bright colors but I don't want neon, I don't want sparkly, and I don't want polka dotted everything! I do not always want faux paisley. I sure as hell don't want chevron ..... and zebra prints and leopard spots? Oh no, no no, especially when combined with marabou feathers. STOP IT! I'm so over all this! Who decided that this is what women wanted and needed and we are this style?

I want something that speaks to the girl who loves attending both rock concerts and Broadway shows. To the girl who loves flowy Boho scarves and skirts -- and tartans and plaids -- alongside her tees and jeans. To the one who isn't a sports mom, who doesn't have a froo-froo pet, who maybe has a tattoo or piercing other than her ears. To the girl who is a sports fan and who isn't there because of her man, but because she loves the game. To the girl who knows who she is -- and it's none of the things being marketed to us.

What I really want is something that speaks less to the girl we were back then, and more to the woman we have become. To the one who has persevered and overcome things in the way that countless others have: with style and grace and a reserve she never imagined she had. I want real and authentic. I want Stratocasters next to the daisy prints. I want stylish and confident, secure in knowing who I am at this point in my life.

I want a line of embellishments that reflect my likes, my needs. And I'll happily help you out for a small consulting fee. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Year of Firsts

Yesterday marked 50 weeks to the day. In exactly two weeks from today, it will be one year since Mom left us. This Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of her final trip to the ER. Everyone told me about the "year of firsts" -- all the big events that are suddenly missing a person.

Last year, we had less than 24 hours until we hit the first of those firsts.  Mom died the day before Dad's birthday. A week before my brother's birthday. Three weeks before Easter 2016. Those firsts came along so rapidly that we didn't have time to process them. Then came Mother's Day, which is a day I would just as soon forget for the remainder of my days. And on and on it went.......

The first six months were horrible. I grieved Mom so much. Then on that anniversary weekend, she sent me a sign, a siren call really: it was time to let go as I'd promised, as I'd wanted her to do and be free. She was telling me that she couldn't be free as long as I clung tightly.

My birthday came and went. I missed Mom giving me a card and saying "I'm sorry it's not more...." As if I were still five years old and expecting a couple of dollars tucked in there. It was a rather wistful day.

Thanksgiving came and went. Then we lost Maddox. Losing Mom hurt, losing Maddox cut hard and sharp. Christmas came and we were okay until Dad choked up during grace. We made it through New Year's and all the bowl games.

And now comes the anniversaries we never wanted to "celebrate" ......
Another friend in the one-parent-left club mentioned that for her, the second year was the worst. The first was bad but you expected to come upon these things ...... But in that second year you're somehow supposed to be over it. As if you ever are.

The hard days for me will be Feb. 27 -- the day the doctors told us to start considering all our options -- and March 4, Mom's last full day, when I spent hours in silence with her at Hospice and sang to her. March 9 will be the anniversary of her funeral, and that day too may be hard.

What this year has taught me is that life is short and fragile, that you had best tell those you love that you love them. You have to follow your bliss and enjoy every moment, because you are not promised even one additional second. Do what makes your heart sing and soar. And love. Don't put tags or labels on it, just love unconditionally, as you are loved. Love large, love often, but love wisely all the same. And fear not.

As my family has unpacked Mom's passing and her life, we are saddened by how much and how often she was guided by fear. I usually am not the type to allow fear to rule my choices, but now I'm even less inclined to do so. I will not allow fear to make my choices for me.

And in doing so, I will honor my mother.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

When Adulting Sucks

Today marks 48 weeks since Mom passed. And come Monday, we McClellans will gather again to say goodbye to yet another member.

Dad's oldest sister, my Aunt Joyce, passed on Wednesday, February 1. Another one to pass at age 78. There have been way too many people I know recently and throughout my life who died at that age, and it's kind of freaky, to be honest.

So since 2009, we have lost Uncle Clyde, Uncle Bill, Aunt Harvalene, Uncle Jack, Mom, Aunt Glendel, and now Aunt Joyce. Two siblings and their spouses, plus three more of the in-laws. And counting my Uncle Bob's first wife, two other cousins lost a parent as well. Eight family members gone in as many years -- but four of them in less than two calendar years.

There are five left..... Uncle Bobby, Uncle Donnie, Aunt Peggy, Daddy, and Uncle Harry. There are two spouses left: Aunt Peggy "Red" and Aunt Betty. Bobby will be 81 next month. Harry just turned 71 last summer. Daddy will be 73 next month. I knew the day would come when my childhood and the people in it would be gone. God knows I went to enough funerals as a child and teen (and continuing...) that I have a pretty decent grasp on death and dying. But it never gets easier.....

In fact, as I get older, it gets harder. It's a slap in the face to my own sense of immortality. I know, I know, I didn't really ever believe I was immortal -- when you lose a classmate at age 14, it really steals that whole idea from you. But I've been trying to slow down time since I was 18. In my head I still think I'm in my late 20 or early 30s at worst. I've been to high school class reunions and number 30 is upcoming this year. But it's impossible, is it not? So my oldest cousin just turned 60 - I'm still a baby, right? The mirror tells me a different story and I know it.

There's a special irony in battling wrinkles while you're still battling acne -- or that you're still battling acne when wrinkles are supposed to be your biggest skincare issue at this age. When you're coloring your hair not to look spectacular but to hide the silvers and greys and making sure that you're covering the mousiness. When you're caught in that space of trying to look the young person you know that you still are, but not trying to look as if you're desperately clinging to a long-gone youth. Subtly covering the gray is great, but using "Loretta Lynn Bootblack" is another story.

Adulting sucks at times, and saying goodbye to loved ones is among the suckier parts of being an adult. With that, I look back on the fond memories of my family and my childhood, and plan to say a sweet farewell to my aunt. She is with her loved ones, and I rejoice that she is free from the confines of a body that did not want to cooperate with all she wanted to do still.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

One Year Ago

I can tell you exactly where I was -- working from home on an ice day. And sitting at the dining room table in yoga pants, a tee-shirt and my well-worn black hoodie, headphones on and blasting "Say Hello 2 Heaven" while I cried buckets.

There were two primary reasons: foremost, January 22 is the anniversary of the passing of two good friends, eight years apart. Last year was the tenth anniversary for one, and coupled with the slew of celebrity deaths that had just happened (David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Glenn Frey), I was a hot mess.

But just as important, the day before, a good friend sat me down to let me know she and other people were worried about me -- seriously worried. I had been snippy and snarly, more so than my usual self. They were worried that all the tumult of 2015 had caught up to me at last -- my own surgery and unexpected delays in full recovery, my brother's emergency surgery and subsequent hospitalizations, my mom's continuing decline, job changes and stresses. She suggested I speak with my doctor and I made plans to do so on the next appointment (the following week).

And I spent time trying to figure out where it all went so crazy wrong.........

I still don't know exactly. I knew then and still know where one key turning point was, but it was already long past those expected trigger places and events. Instead, it was years and years in the making. Years of making do and years of putting off. Years of being strong and going on an empty tank. Years of saving others before I put an oxygen mask on myself.

But the time had come. No more running on empty. I spoke to my doctor and she absolutely agreed that I needed chemical intervention. We started a medical regimen for assistance. And after a year I can honestly say that I do not care at all if I have to take this pill for the rest of my life, as long as I never have to feel the way I did from October 2015 through January 2016.

I planned to not say much about my story. I'm not one to provide ammo to my enemies either. But then I learned that my mom had generalized anxiety disorder -- as did I. My mother absolutely refused to acknowledge any shortcomings, especially mental health issues. That happened to others, not her and certainly not her children (ahem, both of us).

And after she passed, I became more determined not to be silent. I no longer cared what anyone thought. Silence kills. Silence creates shame. My mother truly suffered in silence because she was too concerned with what others would think. I no longer cared. I would not allow others' opinions to have one iota of effect on my healthcare. I would not live in shame and embarrassment over a chemical imbalance.

I do not have a character flaw.
I do not have a weakness in my positivity.
I most certainly do not have a defect in my spirituality.
I have an imbalance in my brain chemistry. It is an illness, just as hypertension or diabetes or gout are illnesses.

My illness affects my brain and my thought processes. My illness sometimes affects my ability to relate well.

My introverted nature and my disease are not mutual by-products of each other.

Yes, my anxiety disorder feeds my depressive episodes at times. At times, the depression feeds the anxieties. It's a horrible cycle and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

But I have help. I have medication. I have good friends. I have awesome music. I have creative outlets (music, jewelry making, writing, photography and others).

And I have hope. When all else has become uncertain, I still have hope.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Annette's 2016 Brag & Gag! (electronic version)

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” — Vicki Harrison

If there is one recurring theme I have heard from friends near and far about this year, it has been “Sweet Baby Jesus, can this year get any worse?” Of course, hearing those words in January and February should have been the clue to beat all clues. I remarked to a friend the other day that it was strange to realize that 2016 was both the best year of my life and the worst year.

My odd year actually began somewhere just before Thanksgiving 2015. I found myself battling an episode of the blues that wasn’t just related to Seasonal Affective Disorder. I could not shake it, and all the positive thinking in the world wasn’t working. Add in some killer migraines, and I was not my usual sparkly self. The slew of deaths of some of my favorite celebrities in early January only seemed to compound things. Luckily, with the assistance of some good friends, I was finally able to get back into the groove of my life. I really had no idea just how much I would need to be in that happier place again, and all too soon.

As most of you know, in late February, our family faced its most difficult crisis – Mom fell very ill. We believe that her congestive heart failure worsened and led to another heart attack. Unfortunately, her body was in no position to fight back. In just four days, she had a steep decline, and the doctors asked us to begin considering all the options. As the days went on, the continuing lab work results gave us no hope, and soon we had no choice. We began the difficult and heartbreaking process of letting her go. In the earliest light on March 5, just before dawn, she left our physical presence. You know that at some point in your life, you will lose your parents. However, let me be the first to say that you’re never adequately prepared, no matter what you think. Yet in the months since her passing, I have felt closer to her than ever before. I feel her when I sing, I hear her words and inflections coming through certain phrases. And I laugh, realizing Big Nance is still here after all. I’m proud to be her daughter still.

If that weren’t hardship enough, in December, I was forced to make a similar decision for my beloved Maddox. He had developed a tumor on his side which seemed to grow almost exponentially in late fall. In early December, it appeared that the tumor had ruptured and broken his skin. After consulting with our vet, we realized there was no hope of improvement -- only worsening. With the heaviest of hearts, we let him go. Fittingly, he left us on the exact 9-month anniversary of Mom’s funeral – he and my mom were buddies to the end. He was never the same after she didn’t come home. As he was leaving, I told him that if he saw “Nanny” he’d better run to her. I’m sure the two of them are together, looking over us even now.

And it is more than just our family – it literally takes both hands and a few toes to count the number of friends of mine who have lost a parent this year. I became scared to see a name in the Facebook or Twitter “Trending” sections – for fear that if I clicked it would tell me that person had died (and sometimes it was just that). It was a horrible year to lose some of my favorite artists -- and all I can think is that Jesus finally became so bored checking out the shoes of heaven’s newest occupants that he decided he needed an ongoing “Heavenstock” or “Glorypalooza” because he took some of the best!

But he didn’t get all of them! The “Best Year Ever” side of the equation was that I got to see some amazing concerts and do some fabulous traveling! It all started in January when Pearl Jam announced that Greenville (my quasi-hometown) would host a concert on their 2016 tour. Of course, I wasn’t going to miss that. My brother and I went and had a great time – especially when they played “Given to Fly.” It had extra-special meaning for me, as I’d used some of the lyrics to announce mom’s passing (And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky / a human being that was given to fly…).

That was only the beginning of the amazement. I am completely convinced that my mother (who fostered my love for music) has been my supernatural conduit to amazing shows and tickets. On the day that we were finalizing her arrangements, I bought tickets for a Chris Cornell show in June in Charleston. I got home from the mortuary to check the seating chart, and I was center stage in the fifth row. I knew then Mama was still looking out for her baby girl. It was also the anniversary of her mom’s passing that day -- so I know she and my grandmother teamed up to give me an unbelievable gift. Trust me when I tell you that if you ever have an opportunity to see him in a solo show, GO. I don’t care if you don’t know much of his music (you probably do and don’t realize it), I’ll give you pointers beforehand. But yes, you must go see him. You will be in awe.

I also got tickets in May for The Mavericks, whom I have adored for 25 years now. They were amazing; too bad the crowd was half-dead. In August I finally got to see Rick Springfield, whose posters adorned my walls as a teen. He had The Romantics and Night Ranger with him, and both groups were fantastic! In October, I saw The Avett Brothers – wonderful show, lousy row-mates (coming in, out, in, out, back in again, oh wait, back out again….). Also that month, I saw a new blues/roots rock artist named Fantastic Negrito. He is another artist you must check out. He had opened for Chris Cornell’s spring/summer tour, and then he had a small tour of his own this fall, which made a stop in Asheville. Little did I know that I would see him twice more after that, because he was selected as opening act for Temple of the Dog for their 25th anniversary tour! I ended up seeing them twice….

For my first Temple of the Dog show, I spent a weekend in New York City—it was my first trip there, and I fell immediately for the Big Apple! My dear cousin and her husband were there as well, and we had an amazing time! Even though our seats weren’t all that awesome (nosebleed level), we saw the whole band -- our seats were right over the side of the stage. We also got a bonus comedy show from the 3 clowns behind us! Before the show, we did a tour of NYC, including a stop in Little Italy for lunch, picking up stuff in Chinatown, a harbor tour to see the Statue of Liberty, and a show on Broadway! And you must go see Kinky Boots, it is phenomenal!

My second Temple show came about rather unexpectedly. In September, a friend who had tickets to the Seattle show asked me if I wanted to go with her to Seattle. Her niece (who was supposed to go) was not going to be able to make it. Plans were made for me to join her, and we met up in Seattle that weekend. What an amazing place and weekend! We did the Space Needle, the EMP/Museum of Pop Culture (which is unbelievable), Uber’d our way to other spots we wanted to see (including the apartment complex from the movie “Singles”). And of course, the concert was fabulous! The band was just as phenomenal as they had been in NYC. Apparently, we were also right in the middle of a VIP section, not that I recognized any of them. But they all had super-duper badges and access codes. SPECIAL!

Work: I cannot begin to say just how blessed I am to be part with an amazing work team. They have been there for me whenever I’ve needed them this year. I am still in Customer Service/Dispatch and this year became the Onsite Escalations Specialist (slash Team Lead). We have an awesome company and I’m excited to be part of our growth forward. Last year, I gave up working for Weight Watchers when Mom got sicker. As much as I enjoyed the people I met and what I did, I needed to be there for my family. No regrets at all.

Travel: Besides New York City and Seattle, I finally got to visit a few other new places and knocked some states off the “been there” list! First up in my travels was a weekend trip to Jacksonville for my cousin Scott’s wedding to the adorable Edith. I’m so glad that she’s part of our family, and that we didn’t scare her too badly…. Ha!! In the early fall, I made a visit to my friends Russell and Amy in Louisville, KY/southern Indiana. During part of my trip there, we met another friend Amy K. and wandered over to the boot-heel of Missouri for a cool road trip. There was no concert while I was there, but I saw the possible venues (including the very gorgeous Palace). And we got to see the graves of Col. Sanders and the still-fresh dirt at Muhammad Ali’s plot. I am sad to report that the Colonel is not interred in a bronze replica of a red-and-white-striped bucket, much to my dismay. While I’m definitely planning to return to quite a few of those places, I already have one trip planned for 2017: a trip to Columbus OH for a weekend festival/concert. Yes, I am insane, I realize that….

I am still singing both with church choir and with Premium Blend (a capella). We still practice monthly and try to do a few small gigs here and there. As jampacked as last year’s schedule was at the holidays, I’m glad this year was a little slower. And I was thrilled to be able to meet up with some college friends for a long-overdue dinner out and catch-up session. It was fabulous to see people -- some of whom I hadn’t seen in possibly 25 years (which cannot be, since we’re all still 27 and fresh out of school, right?)

I also had the delight of making some wonderful new friends who are becoming part of my framily – thanks in no small part to the power of music. Many of us share very similar musical tastes, and it is a joy to share not just the music but our sadnesses and joys with each other. We know that music uplifts and heals, comforts and strengthens.

I also cannot overstate what a blessing my family has been this year. It has been them, along with my closest friends, who propped me up, held my basket when I dropped it, and served as a lifeline for me during the dark moments. Through laughter and tears, they have kept me safe and sane. Never ever take these people for granted: both the family of your birth, and the family you have chosen through friendship. You will need them all one day, and I am honored to have amazing people in my life.

To all of you, please know that my best wishes for a beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous 2017 go out to you all. May we all be shining lights in a world where too often we see only darkness. May we always seek the higher truth and the greater good. And may every blessing descend upon you and remain with you!

Remember my "Year of the Concert" post from June?

Yeah - it got way better after that. At that point in June, I had only 2 more shows planned on the agenda: Rick Springfield in August and the Avett Brothers in October. Life had other, much greater plans for me.

Okay, so let me talk about the planned shows: Rick Springfield was there with The Romantics and Night Ranger. All three were incredible. The Romantics did a short set, and they were pretty much as I remembered. Night Ranger tore the place up!! Not only did they play their songs but they pretty much owned their side projects too -- the guitarist had played with Ozzy, so they did "Crazy Train." Jack Blades trotted out "High Enough" from his Damn Yankees days. And "Sister Christian" made me feel like I was 14 again and the world lay before me, just for the asking. I would easily go see them again. Then Rick Springfield -- 3 days after his 67th birthday, and looking hotter than the 12th level of Hades -- kept us all on our feet! Even the newer material was very well-received. And yes, "Jesse's Girl" was the encore.

In between this show and my planned Avett Brothers show, I had the opportunity to go see Fantastic Negrito as a headliner in Asheville at a small club. Fantastic Negrito was the opening act on Chris Cornell's tour, and so I was honored to go see him again. He did not disappoint, and if you haven't seen my bazillion tweets and posts about checking out his music, then you're definitely not reading my posts and tweets. Seriously, this guy is speaking truth in his music and we all need to pay attention.

Then came the Avett Brothers -- I'm not a superfan of theirs but I like the music of theirs that I know. They did not disappoint either! They were way more energetic than I'd expected just from the music I was familiar with, and that was awesome to see! The only thing I hated about this show were some jerkwad row-mates. I had an end seat - no biggie, I almost prefer those - but these people took in-and-out to a whole new level. They showed up 80 shades of wasted and proceeded to ratchet it up to 100 while they were there. In with a yard of beer, out to expel a yard, in with another, back out because her bladder is teensy too. Back in 20 minutes later and 10 minutes later, out again. I left before an encore ever happened because I could not take one more minute of it. I had had enough. I'll definitely go see the Avetts again, because what I did see was incredible!!! And I'll definitely familiarize myself with more than just the hits.

But the best -- the very best -- was yet to come.....


On July 20, the shared birthday for two musicians I adore (Chris Cornell and Stone Gossard), they announced that there would finally be a tour for the 25th anniversary of the Temple of the Dog album. Oh Mah Freakin' Gawd. You see, at the Pearl Jam show, when they mentioned that very day was the exact 25th anniversary of the release of the TOTD album (04/16/91), the roof just about came off the place. By a miracle of miracles, I managed to get 2 tickets for the show at Madison Square Garden.

Yep. I was going to be going to Mecca. The city that never sleeps. The city I had dreamed of visiting since I was a young girl. I could not wait. Originally a coworker was going with me, but in some strange twists of fate, she could not make it at the last moment, and my cousin and her husband went instead. We had a blast!!!! Both of us girls had not ever been to New York, but we've decided we simply must go at least once a year, if not more often. Live there? Maybe not, but visit often? Oh yes!! We got to see Kinky Boots on Saturday night, she and her husband saw Phantom of the Opera on Sunday night (while I rested off a bout of seasickness; don't ask....), and then we went to MSG for the concert of a lifetime!!!!

Our seats? Meh. Section 413. But we were in the building!! Seriously, you do not know how many complaints there were online from "longtime loyal fans" who were either griping about the lack of available tickets (which true, they sold out quickly) or the price of said tickets. So I kept my mouth shut and went, I didn't care if I had to sit on a freakin' toilet seat to see them. As it turns out, they may have been in the nosebleed section but we were front row of that section and could see the stage with no problem -- including all the guys in the band. And Temple of the Dog completely and totally rocked the joint. Speaking of joint, the guys behind my cousin and me were very much into joints for most of the concert. Cheech and Chong would have told them to slow their rolls (literally).

Then there was Seattle. My first trip ever to the opposite coast. I'd only been as far west as Breckenridge, Colorado before -- and at that point, the farthest north I'd been was 49th Street in Times Square -- all that changed! Seattle is lovely - there is no other way to say it. Even with the grey skies and rain, it is beautiful. At first it was a little discombobulating because while NYC was almost overly friendly (yes, really - put every misconception out of your mind, they're awesome), Seattle was a little more reserved. But the people were truly genuinely nice, once you kind of settled into their vibe.

New York was a place where I could visit over and over again, but I'm not sure I could live there (though I wanted to so much as a child and teen). Seattle, though -- yeah, I could live there. It's laidback and relaxed and that isn't just due to the legal doobie. It is a different vibe altogether. A very pleasant one. Yeah, Seattle was awesome. The people were chill in the best way.

Our seats for this? 14th row on the end. And somehow we were smack in the middle of the VIP section. I don't know how, and I didn't recognize anyone (although there was this very handsome slightly older than me guy who could have been Matt Cameron's brother --  just the smile and the way the eyes crinkled made me think so). But it was AMAZING. They rocked just as hard there as they did at NYC. I headbanged to a bunch of the songs. It was freaking awesomeness!


So I've had a quiet December, musically speaking ......... well, kinda:

You see, I already have 3 concerts lined up before next June. In February, I'm going to Bon Jovi, who is kicking off his tour in Greenville - yeah, THAT Greenville!! (to use a tagline). Then in May, going to see Soundgarden twice. Hell to the yeah, they're touring in the spring, doing a weekend festival circuit (which makes me hope for a full-on tour come the fall with the new album release). So I'm going to Carolina Rebellion in early May for the one day/night they're headlining. One, it's close to home and two, I'm not really interested in seeing any of the other acts for the weekend. Especially since so many of them will be at Rock on the Range, which I'm going to see 2 weekends later in Columbus OH. What drew me to this festival above all the others? The Sunday headliner: Metallica. The opportunity to see them (although as my brother says, most of their stuff since '95 has sucked) is much better than Kid Rock (the Wisconsin festival) or even Def Leppard (the Southeastern US shows). Plus, I've never been to Ohio! Not that I've been to Wisconsin either but if I'm going there, it had better be for a Packers game, ya know?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Second Hardest Day of My Life

2016 will be memorable. And by memorable, meaning I'll never forget how sucky it was. Yesterday -- on the 9-month anniversary of my mom's funeral -- I had to say goodbye to the Best Puppy In The Universe, my beloved Maddox.

Maddox came into my life near the end of April, 2007. My then-boss sent out a mass e-mail looking for someone who would be willing to rehome their dog. Something in my heart and soul screamed, "DO THIS" and without so much as a consultation with my family, I went to see him at the kennel that lunch hour. He was 11 months old but already almost full-grown. He stood up on those hind legs, reached out his massive front paws, and gave me a big scratch down my right arm that lasted for days. The marks he left on my heart in that moment will never go away. I came back and told my boss, "I can't take him home with me tonight, but do NOT give that dog to anyone else. He's mine." God love them, they did just that, and on Thursday of that week, May 2, I took him home.

He immediately latched on to my mom (he probably thought, "Sucker!") and to my dad, "Papi," who never ever did anything wrong in Maddox's eyes. I might have been the one to claim him, but Papi did no wrong. Nanny (my mom) was just as awesome to him. We had some rough moments -- that first night, his dream state caused my brother to say, "Is that dog seizing?" (he'd never seen puppy dreams before). And about 4 weeks later, Little Buddy got himself a bad case of E. Coli that I assume came about from eating a hot dog he found in the street. Don't ask. That dog never ever passed up an opportunity to eat.

He had a few health issues, as Labs/Lab mixes are prone to have. He had an underactive thyroid that eventually went kaput. He had horribly dry skin and fleas flocked to him nearly every summer. He scratched constantly. I swear, he had just as much anxiety as his owner(s) did. But he was a trooper.

And when it came to the sad look -- oh my gosh, he was a master. My mother, The Sucker, could not resist the beggy-face. There were constant admonitions: "MOM! Do not give him anything, he's already eaten!" ("But he looks so sad" or "He just stares at me - I have to give him something.") Or when we were out walking, the bumps into people and the looks of "rescue me, I'm SOOOOO abused, they don't treat me well!"  But he also perfected the Ladies' Man Tail Swish -- when we were out walking and he'd seen a group of females approaching, suddenly he would perk up and give them the look that said, "hello ladies, you know you wanna pet me..... c'mon, you know you do!"  He never quite understood when he got the occasional resistant person. He was a "sniffer" extraordinaire. There was never a back side or front side he wouldn't stick his nose into....... I had to apologize so often that after a while, I just stopped.

He got older, more set in his ways, slower, sometimes grumpier. But I loved him in every place and stage of his life. He kept my mother company through her retirement, and then he witnessed her decline as much as we did. They kind of kept pace together through that. Usually around 1:30 each afternoon, he would go into my parents' bedroom, hop up on my dad's side of the bed and look at my mom as if to say, "Hey, nap time, get in here."

He wasn't quite sure what to think this past February, when the three of us sprang into action because Mom was in bad shape. He didn't quite know what to think of the EMS workers coming through our house and Mom being placed onto a gurney. All he knew was that Nanny left the house, and he did not know why she didn't return. We took him to see her at Hospice House when she was moved there. He sniffed at her, and she tried her best -- drugged up and weak as a baby kitten -- to pet him again. In my heart, I believe he realized at that point she was going, because he sniffed a little more and went away. I don't know if he sensed that she was decaying or what. But he went to the foot of her bed there and whimpered.

His whimper? Oh my gosh, to see this 120-pound big goofy beastie, you'd think he was fearless and powerful. But he was a big baby at heart. He'd see people walk down the street and bark ferociously -- but a kitten on the porch? Whimpers and vocalizations that would make any Husky proud. Our question back to him was usually "what are you womp-womp-womping at?" (to mimic the sound). I'd have to record an audio clip and post it because this doesn't begin to do it justice. Other doggies? Same thing. Squirrels, rabbits, birds..... none were immune from the whimper of doom.

And that same whimper -- but with more whine -- was uttered that day. He knew. He knew. And he would look at the chair that she occupied -- that I now do -- and be confused, even with knowing that Nanny was gone. He refused - absolutely refused - to hop up on her side of my parents' bed. It was as if he were saying, "She'll be back. I won't take her spot." We tried..... we tried, but no, he was loyal to her till the end.

When Mom was sick, I had noticed a small lump on his side but my focus was on her. And really I didn't notice much more about the lump until the summer. We had our family vet look at it, but we all thought it was just a lipoma and nothing much to sweat over. Then October came and it was much worse. The vet referred us to a specialist. He advised that it might be a sarcoma but unable to determine what. He drew aspirates to see if there might be some sort of clue, but nothing. The slides were inconclusive. The next option was a biopsy and surgery.

I was torn -- should I pursue this option? The specialist was very clear that even with this information, there were no guarantees, they'd have to operate and be sure they'd gotten enough margin and if not, perhaps more surgery or other treatments. I had to weigh the fact that he was ten years old now. Was I going to prolong his life by taking these measures?

As I pondered these questions, even more health issues began springing up. He began to drink excessively -- and I mean around 2 gallons a day. We had a huge water station for him that held 4.5 gallons. We went from filling it every 5-6 days to every other day, sometimes the 3rd day if we were lucky. He began waking in the middle of the night, panting heavily and wanting to roam the house. We had more labwork done to see if there were liver or kidney issues -- no, all clear, the other things were perhaps a product of his age, maybe even the early stages of doggy dementia.

Then this Tuesday, when I got home, I noticed he appeared to have scratched himself pretty heavily near this now-rather large lump. My dad and I investigated to discover that no, he was bleeding -- and dripping it everywhere. It was fairly consistent and we rushed to the emergency vet clinic. They did what they could with what they had -- bandaged him up, gave us meds (antibiotics and pain meds) and did a chest x-ray to see if the mass had perhaps metastasized into his lungs, causing the heavy breathing. Nope again. Chest was clear.

This mass had seemed to grow almost exponentially over the last couple of weeks. We woke the next morning to find he was still bleeding. And the next morning too. We added another med from our family vet. And none of the meds appeared to handle any of his pain. He woke again every night, sometimes at far too early an hour. He went outside in the very chilly temperatures at 2:30 AM - and wanted to stay outside. My dad, God bless him, stayed with him for 30 minutes, trying to coax him back inside, to no avail. Finally my dad, ever practical, said, "Just stay out here then." And he did -- and at 6:30 AM he still didn't want to come inside but did.

Food no longer interested him. Even peanut butter -- which he loved so much -- was turned away. This scared me more than anything. I'd seen it before with Mama. She suddenly lost her appetite for anything except sweets. For Maddox, it was bacon.

So Thursday, we put him to bed with no medicines, intending to go on Friday morning to the vet and pick up new prescriptions. He slept there all night. My father woke to find him in the same position. He even got the flashlight to shine in his eyes to see if he were still alive. He was but the breathing was shallow and a bit ragged. He didn't want to get up to go potty at all. It was almost as if he had no energy left to do anything. I went in to see him and knew. The time had come. The mass seemed to be in 3D compared to the rest of him.

Dad tried to coax him up with 3 strips of bacon. Behold the power of bacon - it heals the sick and raises the almost-dead. Maddox sat up and within 15 seconds, all three strips were gone and the plate was being licked. He finally got up onto his back legs, limping. His front paws were starting to swell - whether from edema or what, I don't know. At 8:30, their opening moment, I called the vet's office. I cried the whole time I talked to them. I told them that I was making the choice to relieve his obvious pain.

They called back and said to be there at 10:45. We would be there through the sedation, but couldn't be there for the final injection. We got there, and Doc came in. When he saw Maddox he only said, "Bless his precious heart....." and got misty too. He looked at us and said, "You're right. That mass is not going to get any better. He's not going to get any break from this. I'm so sorry." They came back with a sedative, and poor Maddox....... he just got panicky. He tried walking around but looked like a punch-drunk boxer trying to fight one last time. Yes, I wept all the more. We finally got him to sit, but he was fighting it. The doc came back, realized we needed a little more (given his size) and then Maddox lay on the floor, his breathing evening out to a very shallow puff. We stroked his fur, his nose, his thumpy-thump tail, and told him over and over how much we'd loved him, how wonderful he had been in our lives, and how much we'd miss him. I told him that when he saw Nanny, I wanted him to run to her and love her up for us, and that she would be smothering him in hugs and kisses. And I told him he was the best puppy in the universe.

Finally they came and told us it was time to leave. We hugged the staff, and walked out.

We will pick up his ashes next week. We're checking with the cemetery to see how much it will be to open the grave spot below Mom and put Maddox there. I had the idea that we could put him on the shelf until the next of us passes, but no, they didn't like that idea.......

The "best puppy in the universe" was something I would call him when I would be in the floor with him, giving him ear scratches and nose rubs and asking, "Who's the best puppy in the universe?"

He knew. He knew.