When God is Silent

I’ve been uneasy lately.

This time of year is always difficult for me, and I can never put my finger on why that is exactly. I think it’s a combination of nostalgia for all the days and years gone by as the kids grow so quickly, mixed with excitement for the wide-open calendar of summer and all the various activities we’ll likely fill those days with.

It’s also a time of year where, very often for me, God goes silent.

Or I get too busy to hear.

Or both.

Today, I felt there was only one solution.  I took a walk along  Baxter’s and my favorite trails this morning for the first time since my solo memorial walk after his death.  It was muggy, warm and overcast, as we are expected to get rain later today.  But God has been silent around here, and so I went off looking for him in the places that I used to hear him best–nature.  Immediately as my feet took to walking, I heard the call of the birds, I saw wildflowers blooming, and I thought of all the miles Bax and I covered along those trails as I huffed and puffed my way through the hills and valleys.

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Before Baxter, I was never really one for the great outdoors.  I was content to slide my thermostat from the warmth of 68 degrees for the winter to the refreshingly cool 72 degrees of summer.  It wasn’t until I had Bax that I suddenly had a reason to be outside every single day, even if only for a moment sometimes.   Because let’s face it, with a dog, getting outside is necessary.  This morning, it was time to admit to myself that I’d been avoiding walks ever since his death.  Without Baxter (or at least without having another dog) the walks seemed pointless somehow.  And I suppose there was at least a small part of me that felt like I’d be betraying him if I walked his favorite trails without him.  Still, God had fallen silent and it had reached a point that I knew I’d need to get back out into nature in order to hear him again.

It didn’t take long.

As I felt the warm breeze on my face, I was reminded of the fiery, windy, breath-filled Spirit of God of Pentecost (which we celebrated this past weekend).  As I stepped into the shade under the canopy of trees on the hills, I was reminded of St. Catherine’s meditation, and I thought about my life and how the Tree of Me must look.  As the sun beat down on me in the wide-open blacktop as I passed over the parking lot, I remembered that this is still  the same sun– so many thousands of years later– that shined for Noah after the flood, working with the sky to make a rainbow of God’s promise that the world would never be destroyed.  (This took my thoughts to animals going in two by two, of course, and I was reminded again of Bax.)  I suddenly realized, though, that while I missed my walking partner terribly, I was happy to have my feet moving again.  The whole process this morning seemed to be nature’s way of saying that things must change.  Life is moving on, and I can either go with it, or resist it, but it’s moving on all the same.

It’s an easy decision.

I’m going with it.

And as I heard the birds calling to each other in the treetops, and watched the squirrels hurried movements up and down the trees, I remembered that while I can get caught up in my head with all kinds of to-do lists and nostalgia and plans for the future, the truth is,  life is always only happening right now.

Yours and mine.

And I took a deep breath.

And I felt the silence.

And I breathed in nature’s perfume.

And I remembered I AM.

In Three Months’ Time

It is amazing to me what can happen in three months’ time.

Which is how long it’s been since we lost our beloved dog, Baxter.

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And still how my heart grieves!

Slowly, over the three months since his unexpected departure, all the things around the house that were his (and there was literally something in every room…EVERY room!), have been packed up, put away, tucked out of sight for now.  To look around here, you would not know this house has known a dog’s love, a dog’s wet, muddy paws, a dog’s endless loss of fur.

Which makes me sad.

When will we be ready for another dog?

That’s the question on my mind today.  Especially because I was just on a field trip with my son’s middle school class (hence this late afternoon blog post) and spent the better part of the day with a teacher who had been incredibly supportive when Baxter died.  At that time,  I sent an email to all his teachers letting them know what my son would never be able to put into words–that he was grieving the loss of his first dog.  While all the teachers were supportive and kind in their replies, this teacher was especially touched–moved to tears even–by the story of Baxter.  And so today she was eager and excited to hear what we’d done “since then.”

And it was a bit awkward because I wanted to say, “It’s hardly been that long!”

But to some people, when it comes to losing a dog,  three months is three too many.

But it doesn’t help answer the question…what is the “proper” amount of time for me?

People seem to really want to know.

(Nobody wants to know more than I).

All I could tell her was, “The time will be right when my heart is ready to let the new dog be who it’s meant to be, instead of wishing it to be another Baxter.”

For some people, that is almost right away.

For me, it is…not yet.

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At the same time, I believe that the healing won’t be complete until a new dog is ours.

Somewhere in the depths of my heart, I know this.

In a way, that belief was confirmed for me this past weekend when we had the unexpected joy of having my husband’s uncle and aunt drop in on us with none other than their own beloved pup!  Such a treat!  Never have the kids been so excited to have a dog back in the house!  We got out the water bowl and all the toys (and I noted how quickly we found them all.  They are still at arm’s length, it seems.)

Of course, as soon as they left, it was hard not to run right out and pick the first dog that caught our eye.

But, no.

Still my heart is not ready. (It certainly doesn’t seem to mind taking a look on the internet for available dogs, though!)

From a practical standpoint it makes sense that we wait to introduce a new dog until we know our travels will be few and far between.  But, with summer rapidly approaching,  and a few trips planned, that is one reason why right now is not such a good time for a new pup.   Still…

When?  my heart screams.  Because I want desperately to pet a furry head, to step over a furry lump on the kitchen floor, to walk again with leash in hand.

So…when?

I knew  I’d heard some words of comfort in a poem that my good friend and spiritual advisor shared with me right after Baxter passed away.  So, when I got home from the field trip today, I searched for the words and was able to find them without difficulty.   (Thank you, internet!)

“[There are] days when you have your heart back,

You are able to function well

Until in the middle of work or encounter,

Suddenly with no warning,

You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.

All you can depend on now is that

Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.

More than you, it knows its way

And will find the right time

To pull and pull the rope of grief

Until that coiled hill of tears

Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed;

And when the work of grief is done,

The wound of loss will heal And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From that gap in the air

And be able to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return all the time.”

-An excerpt from For Grief by John O’Donohue

I don’t know how else to say it.

The answer to “the right time” is somewhere in these words.

All I know for sure, is this…

For me?

Three months’ time  is not enough.

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Little Rays of Light

Every once in a while we moms have a moment where we are caught off-guard and realize that maybe we’ve not done EVERYTHING wrong.

This morning I had one such moment.

Between bustling one kid off to the dentist and dragging another along who woke up with a fever, I felt like this was going to be one of those mornings where I just couldn’t win.  But then, after dropping the Middle One at school after his appointment, there I was with my Little Bean in the van when I noticed off in the distance, through our overcast, cloudy, sky a hole in the clouds where a bright ray of sun shone down.

“Look over there, Bean, isn’t that pretty?” I asked.

She looked up.  “Wow!,” she said, “It looks like Heaven!”

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She read my mind, I thought.

There was a pause.

And then, “I bet it’s Baxter looking down on us from Heaven,” she said with a smile.

“Hmmm.  That’s a beautiful thought,” I said, “I bet you’re right.  He probably dug a hole through the clouds to peak at us.”

She giggled.  “Hi, Baxter!  Hi, Jesus!”  she shouted from the back seat.  She was so happy and matter-of-fact about her greeting–so sure of herself and her faith–that for a moment, I wondered if she might actually see something I didn’t.

But then.

Then,  God pressed down on my heart real hard, and said, “Or maybe she just remembers everything you’ve taught her.”

Amen.

“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” – Mark 10:14

The Post I Didn’t Think I’d Have to Write

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This is the post that, two weeks ago, I really didn’t think I’d have to write.

I really thought our miracle dog was going to somehow rise above it all and provide me with some miraculous (and hopefully funny) stories to share with you about the tremendous odds he’d overcome to stay with us.

Instead, two weeks ago today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I had to take Baxter yet again to the vet.  He was in bad shape this time, having thrown up three times that morning between my getting up at 6:00 AM and the vet’s office opening at 8:00 AM.  I was able to get him in at 9:40 AM for another appointment, but he threw up again before we left.  He also barely moved.  He just laid on our bathroom floor, not complaining, not whining or whimpering, but looking miserable all the same.  And, most disturbing to me at that time, weird as it may sound, was the fact that he wasn’t trying to eat his vomit.  That’s when you know your dog is just not even able to be a dog.  I mean, come on, on their best days a normal dog would eat ANYONE’S vomit, not just their own!

Not wanting to alarm the kids (who were all home for the national holiday), but also wanting them to understand the severity of the situation at hand, I told them that they might want to take some time loving on Baxter and wishing him well before I took him to the vet, because I didn’t think things looked good.  They, not surprisingly, grew sad and anxious, and each of them quietly cried at the news.  “I could be wrong!”  I kept saying, perhaps more for my benefit than theirs, (because I was hoping like crazy I was).

“I want to go with you,” said the oldest.

“To the vet?”  I asked.  He nodded.  I sighed.  My real concern at that time was that Baxter’s stomach had somehow twisted in the night and he seemed to me as if he were suffering some of those symptoms.  I thought he was either going to need another surgery, or he was going to have to be put down.  I was hoping for the former, but bracing for the latter.  I wasn’t sure if the kids would really want to be there for that.  But then again, I thought, me leaving the house with their dog and coming back without him, wouldn’t exactly be a picnic for them either.  Plus, I could remain stronger if they stayed with me.

“OK,” I said.

“Me, too!”  piped in the middle one.

“And me!” said the youngest (which is a good thing, because if the other two were going, she wasn’t old enough to stay home by herself anyway, so I’m glad she was able to make the choice).

I let out a long slow, breath, praying for strength, courage and wisdom as we got ready to go.

Trying to keep the mood up, I asked Baxter in my usual peppy voice, “Wanna go for a walk?”  to which Baxter dutifully thumped his tail on the tile, but made no move to get up.  I showed him the leash.  He didn’t even stand.  I scooped him up (all 75 lbs.) and walked him down the stairs to the garage.  I noted to myself, that while I rarely carried him, he felt heavier than the few times I’d lifted him in the past.  Outside, he wouldn’t step into the van either.  Normally this was no problem whatsoever, since he was consistently of the mindset, Wherever you go, I go.  But this time he just stood there, looking helpless to step up.  I lifted him again.

He threw up a fifth time on the way to the vet.

At the vet’s office, Baxter and I had become such regulars that our arrival reminded me of when Norm walked into the bar on the old TV show, Cheers.  It was as if the whole team of workers looked up and, at the sight of the dog they couldn’t help but love, let out a warm sunshine chorus of “Hi, Baxter!,”  but I could see their faces turn to concern as they took him in this time.  They saw what I was seeing:  his eyes a bit distant and his gait a little “off.”

They ushered us into a room and when the doctor came in, he tried so hard to be positive.  He didn’t want to believe any more than the rest of us, I’m sure, that after all the hard work that had gone into “putting Humpty Dumpty back together again” he would already be falling apart.  Baxter was again laying on the floor and wouldn’t stand to greet anyone (which was just unheard of, because a person walking in the room meant a new crotch to sniff, which was the creme de la creme for Baxter).   The doctor and his staff looked Bax over asking me questions, checking his eyes, and mouth for signs of dehydration and shock, taking him temperature, etc.  Nobody knew for sure what was wrong at that point, but when the doctor pushed on Baxter’s abdomen it made a very disturbing sloshing sound.  Like he’d just poked a water bed.  And the doctor got real quiet.  “I think,” he said, “we need to do another x-ray and see what’s going on in there.”

So, the kids and I said our goodbyes to them and to Baxter, and in a last-minute flourish, I took a bottle of  holy water out of my pocket (my intuition led me to grab it before I left the house) and gave Baxter a blessing.

And I’m so glad they went with me… because that was the last time we saw him alive.

It turned out he had internal bleeding, and though they tried their best to repair and correct it, in the end he’d just lost too much blood and his heart gave out.

But, through our taking him to the vet together, I was able to assure the kids of one thing: that Baxter knew we would never leave him until we had to. And for a dog who suffered from severe separation anxiety, we all knew how much that meant to him.

As a family, we’ve spent the last two weeks grieving in our own way.  We’re making a scrapbook of Baxter and we have a paw print and a swatch of his hair to remember him by, among other things.  His cremains arrived last Wednesday, and we put them on the bottom shelf of the end table in the front office.  He spent most of his time on the floor in here at my feet anyway, so it seems fitting.

But we still struggle with the emptiness.

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The quiet.

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The space that is the *lack of* Baxter.

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But, as I continue to work through the many stages of grief (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and– eventually–acceptance, I’ve read), I’ve held on to one thing through it all:  the outpouring of kindness, understanding, support and love from those people who know and love us and who knew and loved Baxter.

He was a DOG, I keep thinking.  Not a PERSON–like a grandparent, or parent, or  (God forbid) a child.   But still, a part of our family all the same.  And so many of you know that that means a part of my heart that I didn’t even know was there until I had a dog, is now experiencing a loss. 

And I hold tight to your words and your kindness as time marches on.  Each day is a bit better, the quiet a bit more peaceful, the emptiness a bit more bearable, all because of YOU.

  • Thanks so much to the doctors and staff who did their best to save him.  Your efforts were heroic and your love and concern for Baxter were clearly visible.  We have no regrets entrusting him to your care.
  • Thanks so much to ALL the dog lovers whom I’ve come to know through Baxter, the trainers, the behaviorists, the kennel workers, the pet store staff, and my circle of friends–old and new–who have cried with me, sent a card or enote, left me a message or lent me their ear to bend for awhile with my stories, or lent me their shoulder to cry on (or both).
  • Thanks to my family for understanding that Baxter was so much more to me than “my first dog.”  He was a childhood dream realized, he was a reflection of “my own soul with fur,” my trusted spiritual advisor, and my loving and faithful confidant–even though, from time to time, even I would refer to him as “the damn dog.”
  • Special thanks to my brother for turning one of my favorite pictures of Baxter into the beautiful and loving memorial above.
  • And, finally, thanks to Agape Pet Services for their understanding of our loss, and their loving care of Baxter’s remains.  I am perhaps most grateful for the words they found in Scripture that I have always believed to be true, but have found most comforting all the same:

“…in His hand is the soul of every living thing…”  Job 12:10

Because, now, it is only through the power of His loving hand that my soul is able to know and feel Baxter still.

LOVE IN ACTION and THE FAMILY DOG

It’s important to me that you understand something. When I embraced SIMPLIFY as my theme for 2013, it wasn’t my intention to never blog again. That would be OVERsimplifying, which I almost never do. In fact, I had intentions to blog at least every Monday, and then add a second day to each week next month.

The thing is (as is often the case), Life had other plans for me.

So, in my case, instead of blogging, Life has kept me preoccupied by playing nurse to my golden retriever. In an attempt to keep the story SIMPLE, let me just outline for you the past two and a half weeks of my life:

  • Left Dog in kennel for vacation.
  • In an attempt to escape and find us, Dog tried to secretly eat his way out of the kennel, but told no one.
  • We returned from vacation and brought Dog home.
  • Dog was happy, but had trouble sleeping and seemed unable to relax. Since, in our presence, Dog can easily be confused with a throw rug until you say the words, “walk” or “yum-yums,” this had us concerned.
  • Dog went to vet and was treated for acid reflux.
  • Dog slept like a baby that night, and we breathed a sigh of relief.
  • Symptoms returned for Dog the next day and we took him back to the vet.
  • Dog was given a special “cocktail” to soothe his stomach and “clear things out.”
  • Dog slept like a baby, but refused to eat the next morning.
  • Dog went back to vet to undergo x-ray.
  • X-ray revealed a mystery item in stomach that would not move.
  • Dog had surgery to remove the “largest mass of foreign body” our vet has ever seen in his 20+ years of vet medicine. They saved a “small fraction” of it for all of us to enjoy (it’s a gallon-sized bag, just so you know):

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  • We feel Dog deserves a plaque like on Man vs. Food that announces “Food Won” (or in this case, “Foreign Body Won”), but I guess the vet thought we were joking because no such plaque has yet been presented to Dog.
  • Dog seemed much better.
  • The next day Dog got worse again.
  • Dog has been at the vet two of the past three days and was treated for gas and other things.
  • As a result of trying to guess what all may be wrong with him, I get to give him all these meds at least twice each day. On a good day he’ll take them wrapped in the cheese slices, but he hasn’t had a good day yet this week:

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  • To date Dog is still eating very little and/or refusing to eat altogether.

So, I’m at that scary place right now where I don’t know how the story will end. And so I don’t want to write, because it’s difficult to write when you’re in the middle of something scary and painful.

But that’s kind of why I realized I had to write. Because I want you to show you how my mystic mind has learned to deal with scary, painful times.

Here’s a punch list of how I’ve been dealing with this:

  • I write down the things I’m grateful for every day. It can be as simple as “The dog pooped!” and as deeply sad as, “I am so grateful that if I have to experience a loved one suffering it is my dog suffering and not my children, husband or other  human loved one.”
  • I lower my expectations for the day. I don’t expect the world to understand how much my dog means to me. But I know our story. I know how much he means, and so I know I need to hold myself more gently right now. I’ve cleared my schedule so that if I need to stay busy, I get busy with housework, and if I need to lay low and watch TV for a bit while the dog walks around backwards into things (which he’s been doing a lot), then I can watch him and use the TV as a distraction.
  • I stay focused on what matters. This is, for me, at least, much harder than it sounds. I get distracted so easily with thoughts of “what if’s” and “then what’s” that I tend to miss the big picture of what these series of events will mean in my WHOLE life. Yes, it’s hard to watch my dog in pain. And yes, it is EXPENSIVE. Yes, it’s hard to think of having to let him go (if it comes to that). Yes, it would be sad…BUT…Yes, my kids are healthy. Yes, my husband is still gainfully employed so we can pay those bills. Yes, when you can fix a problem with money it’s really not the biggest problem you’ll ever have. Yes, in spite of however this ends, I am still so happy and grateful and better for having known my dog that I would do it all over again– even if the end of our relationship comes much sooner than I’d expected.
  • I (force myself to) practice what I preach. I’ve embraced a new mantra, and when I do that, I know from experience that Life has a way of testing me on it. My new mantra has been this: THERE IS NO BLAME. And these are the words on which I’ve tried to focus this whole episode. The people who supervised my dog at the kennel where he ate the stuff? They are not to blame. The doctors who didn’t have x-ray vision and know that my dog ate something? They are not to blame. The dog who should just KNOW BY NOW how to be calm in our absence? He is not to blame. And that leaves me with the one person left I like to blame the most for things going wrong: Me. The old habits are hard to break: I should have known….I should have said…I should have told them…I should have been more diligent…. But if I go down that road, I’m not helping anyone. Not the doctors, not the kennel workers , not my kids and husband who are just as concerned and hurting as I am watching our family pet suffer, not my friends and family who have called to check on his progress through this seemingly endless journey, and– most especially–not the dog.

In the meantime, I’m waiting and watching and praying. These acts are the silent language of LOVE IN ACTION that my dog understands. And whether these past few days end up being but a bump in the road of an otherwise long, enjoyable life with him, or they end up being his *gulp* dying days, it is most important to me that he see his life lesson has not gone unnoticed, that his message for me has been received, that his purpose for being has transformed me.

And I feel the Spirit within smiling and nodding and bringing me peace with this SIMPLE revelation:  Through the ages, few earthly beings have been more consistent about the message of LOVE IN ACTION than the family dog.

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Closing thought: If you have a family dog that you love and have learned some of life’s SIMPLER lessons from, feel free to post his/her name (or names if you have more than one) in the comments section below. I will know through that SIMPLE act, that you are joining your hearts with ours in prayer for a speedy recovery for our beloved Baxter.

xx oo

Lisa