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.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Trying to deal

So here we are, December 2. I feel only the slightest -- and I do mean slightest -- inkling of any sort of holiday merriment. Last year was far worse, but this year isn't exactly celebratory.

Most of my loyal readers and friends know that Christmas isn't my favorite holiday. It hasn't been that way for pretty much 20 years. Even I can't pinpoint why this is the case. For me, I suppose I associate the holiday with my paternal grandmother.... and once she was gone, so too went my sense of the holiday.Then The Goon left and a large part of Christmas joy did too -- part of what I loved was trying to find just the right present for him. Obviously I failed there too. At any rate, shortly thereafter, whatever sentiment I had for this time of year went out the door and hopped on a train for parts unknown. And I can certainly say that working for a church at the holidays will leach every last drop of joy and cheer from you.

And then there's this year. My dad has already cleared the deck for outdoor decorations, but I really don't think we will do anything in the house. And honestly, I don't want to. It would be different if my brother or I had kids. You have to do Christmas for the kids, always. But it's just three adults, and truthfully we're fairly practical people. I was the one who used to pitch a huge hissy fit if things weren't JUST right at Christmas. It was more during my college days and shortly after, when I needed something solid to hold fast as life progressed so quickly.

Mama loved Christmas. She could never understand why my Dad was so blasé about it -- or especially why I couldn't have cared less after a while. I could understand Dad's unwillingness to get caught up in the hype. I couldn't explain mine. I still can't, not really. She would tell us how much her dad loved Christmas and how he would have totally gone overboard if he'd known us. And wisely, I stopped myself from saying, "But he's not here. He doesn't know us. We don't have to make it special just so you can retread an old memory."

Last year was awful. Anxiety and depression were keeping me in a never-ceasing cycle of junk in my head, junk I couldn't clear at all. Then as I was handling that, Mom got sick and.... well, you know.

This year, low-key is my buzzword .

Thursday, October 20, 2016

You Did It Again

Mom, you continue to amaze me.

When I wasn't sure how I was going to make NYC work, you found a way. I have a feeling you and another mother ONCE AGAIN are working behind the scenes. And so yesterday's pleasant surprise was a gift.

But today, you outdid yourself yet again... Bon Jovi tickets. Kicking off their tour right here at The Well. And you helped me once more.

I am in awe. I am so humbled and grateful and awestruck. I have no words. I don't know what to think, how to feel. What I feel is a sense of amazing love that transcends the barriers of time and space.

I know that in life, we often had our tense moments. We had lots of times we really may not have liked each other. Yet flawed as it was and limited by our own biases and issues, love was always present. I feel that now, I know this as truth.

This is your message to me: spread my wings and soar now. I hope you understand why I held you and your memory so tightly for so long. I understand now why you had to get my attention as you did that Saturday, in telling me to let you go and soar too.

Flying high together, Mom!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Twenty Years Ago Today

I woke on October 5, 1996 with the knowledge that I was now grandparent-less. My lone remaining grandparent had died in the late hours of October 4.

I never knew either grandfather -- one passed before my mom ever married, the other when I was 5 months old. My mother's mother died when I was 12 -- and nearly 35 years later, I still miss her terribly. But my paternal grandmother and I didn't exactly see eye-to-eye on many things and so I felt a little conflicted.

Was I sad? Yes, of course, but more for my dad and his siblings. This was it for them. And I felt very sad for myself, because for me, Christmas would never be the same. Christmas was her holiday. Command performance at her place and if you weren't there, then you got the cold shoulder.

But I didn't necessarily feel personal sadness, not the deep bereavement I'd felt for years over Granny P's death. As I said, we didn't often agree and my feelings for and about her had led to years of visiting her when I had to. I didn't make it a point to just go visit because it was something I wanted to do. I went when I was dragged. I'd reflected a lot in my early adult years on her role and influence on certain areas of my life -- and gotten very angry. I couldn't figure out the inconsistencies and match them to the person who I knew her to be.

Nevertheless, at the end of the funeral, I made a sound I have yet to make again -- not even at my own mother's death or funeral. I came close to the same sound at Padre's wake but still nothing like this. It was primal, raw, deep -- a strangled wail that commenced in my toes and in my brain, met in my abdomen, and projected forth from my lungs in one big deep-voiced scream. It was one big squall, and then......

That was it.

In twenty years, I have not grieved, at least not in the same way that I have for Granny P and especially for my mother. As time has gone on and I've gleaned more nuggets of information about my grandmother, there will be no more grief. One gigantic wave and done. Sometimes I wonder if that is any better than those waves that seem to never stop, the ones that lessen over time in frequency and intensity but which never go away.

I still feel for my father who now has lost one sibling and a few in-laws in the ensuing years, along with his wife. But I don't think he's ever unpacked things about his childhood, not the way my generation has, or even to the extent that others in his family have. Dad and Mom both, in their own ways, love the warm fuzzy blanket of denial. I've been there too -- and while it comforts, it also strangles. I am choosing to breathe and daily strive to be authentic. Denial is an okay place to visit but not to live. Once you're out of the tomb, you sort of refuse to go back in, ya know?

So on Friday, I'll pause a few and remember that day and that strange wail. I may try to analyze yet again the place from where that sound came. Twenty years of pondering hasn't helped so far but I'd love to know, for my own sanity.

And when I get to the afterlife, don't worry. I'll find her and Ol' Roy. I got a crapton of questions for them. An interrogation that would make Lennie Briscoe proud.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A Liminal Moment

Yesterday (September 5) was exactly 6 months since Mom passed. After Saturday's events, however, I must say that I have felt much more peace about things. 

Yesterday, Dad, a friend of his, and I went  to some area orchards to buy apples. It was an enjoyable trip into the mountains for the afternoon. I kept my earphones in most of the time, to keep my ears open to stop the possibility of motion sickness or another migraine attack. But it also cut out some of the chatter. I don't mind conversation but I don't always need to be involved. Another area where Mom and I differed. She loved chatting; I endure it unless it's with a small group of trusted people in my life.

Anyway, we got back and I had to run a quick errand before dinner. When I pulled the car back in, it happened.

A butterfly landed on my car. 

I had to stop. I knew in my marrow that this was an important moment. I heard Fr. Sandy's voice saying something about a liminal moment. He'd use that phrase sometimes in his homilies and I had a pretty good idea of its meaning. But I reminded myself to look up the word, just in case I was on the wrong track.

I watched the butterfly move its wings as if it were stretching. I mean, one of those awesome, full upper-body stretches out through the arms and through the chest and everything feels opened up. It was as if the wings themselves were fluttering from the stretch. I sat there, afraid to even open the car door because I knew this was important.

But I had to go in. As soon as I got out and closed the door, the butterfly flew away. I said aloud, "oh no, come back!" But it had gone.

I smiled. Time for it to fly. No cages. No restraints. I kept smiling. I got inside, put down my gear, and looked up "liminal." The definition above is exactly what popped up.

A moment at a threshold. I don't know that any other word would have fit so perfectly. I'm forging a brave new world for myself. Mistress of my own high seas and navigator of my own soul's depths. Wings ready to soar to new adventures greater than I ever guessed.

Because of one who gave me roots and wings.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Birdcage Wisdom

I was dreaming. 

Odd that I actually recalled what I was dreaming about.... I rarely do. Not in ages have I recalled more than a snippet of a dream, if anything at all. But yes, I was remembering the dream.

It was a vocal audition. I had to do three songs: one of the judges' panel choosing, one that was more traditional of my choice, and then a more modern piece. I don't remember the judges' choice, I think Paula or Mary helped me choose a more traditional piece but I DEFINITELY remember my modern selection. I began to sing it and had gotten part of the way through it.

And then I heard the clock chime quarter till..... My eyes flew open and I had to get up to see exactly quarter till when. I saw the time and that was that. I was up. I then knew why I had chosen my modern piece and awakened when I did.

It was 5:45 am. The song was "Release" by Pearl Jam. I had been awakened in time to sit vigil today that I didn't get to do 26 weeks ago. 

I went out to the back room/man cave-ish area, sitting on the steps and silently weeping. Trying to sing the lyrics and feeling tears absolutely dripping off my face. I waited in the dark for her to speak to me.....

And she did. I did not expect to feel what I thought she was saying to me. I thought I had to be mistaken. 

Let me go, Annette.

Let you go? LET YOU GO? The hell? Mama, I appear to be the only one who gives a single solitary damn about you and your memory right now. Me, your daughter. The one with whom you battled and fought, the one who proved to be a pretty damn worthy adversary. ME. The one who hasn't just seemingly decided that well, six months is fine. Dammitall Mama, how can you say that to me? I don't get it.....

So later on, befuddled and bewildered, I got in the shower to get ready for my day of errands. I don't know why but the shower seems to be my conduit to the cosmos. I get amazing ideas and insights there that I can't get other places. I'd put on a different playlist this morning and on came "Black Days III" (aka "Fell On Black Days (Demo)") from the Echo of Miles box set.

It's a very different setting of a familiar song. So as I'm doing a little head-banging and body cleaning, my favorite lyric from the well-known version came into my mind: 

Lyrics which mean so much to me in an entirely different manner suddenly gave me the perspective I needed for mama's message to me this morning. When she was leaving this life, all I wanted for her was to soar higher and farther than she ever could as an earthbound. And she's been giving me wings my whole life -- including since her passing.

It is time for me to return the favor. I am giving Mama her wings too. I am freeing her from a life caught between my need to remember and keep her close -- and my desire to have her soar.

Earlier this week, I'd gotten a tweet response that read (in part): "The world is not the same without the one who loves you unconditionally." Indeed. My world is not the same. It goes on as ever, but differently. And so must I, figuring it out as I go along somehow -- never forgetting my mother but not keeping her hostage to my own grief.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mama, You Are....

Never far from my thoughts .... Especially in moments like this. I am in the middle of an awesome show, during a break between Night Ranger and Rick Springfield. Now, honestly, I think of you far more often.... every day, in fact, and usually accompanied by eye leaks. But I'm thinking of you right now because of music. How much music was a part of my life and how much of a role you played in that. I know I told you this, as you lay there at Hospice House, but I don't know if you had any clue just how much the gift of music has meant to me in life ...... and how you encouraged it in me. Whether through singing or radio or piano or whatever you never once said, "Honey, this music thing is out of hand." You just let me. That was such a gift.

I was painfully aware in my teen years that our money was tight. When all my friends were going to the concerts I so desperately wanted to see -- Rick Springfield, Hall & Oates, John Mellencamp -- we didn't have the money, I had to live vicariously through friends who somehow understood and didn't shame me further.

My first live show was college.... Two of them. Then I didn't see another one for several years. Is this why you are pulling divine strings for me this year? Because keep pulling them. I am loving every minute of it. Every live show has been an absolute priceless treasure. I'm honored to share the moments with my friends in snippets of videos and pictures. 

Two more after this -- at least two planned ones. I'm looking forward to the Avett Brothers in Greenville but OMG I absolutely am freaking out over Temple of the Dog at Madison Square Garden in New York. Oh my gosh mom .... Do you have any idea? Do you? I know in the afterlife you have to know more than I do but oh my gosh, really, can you POSSIBLY know how utterly psyched I am for that one? 

Have you run into Bowie, Prince, Haggard? Have you met Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley? Please oh God please tell me you've seen a heavenly Rat Pack engagement. That IS heaven..... 

Okay so Rick Springfield is about to take the stage. I love you. Thank you. Thank you for EVERYTHING.