Feel it. Love what you love. Trust. Be devoted. Give in.

Last Monday at noon I went to my first yoga class in several years. For whatever reason my yoga practice vaporized from my agenda when I had my second kid. It went from daily to nada. I’ve missed it and blabbed about missing it but didn’t do anything about it.

And then Alice died. I haven’t hiked or ran since. Well, I did once and felt like an anvil sat on my heart the entire time, pushing buckets of tears out of my body. I was not ready to be up in these hills without her.

One late night last week I got out of bed to look up yoga schedules in Missoula. I found a class time that worked for me and promised myself I’d go. And then I saw the teacher’s name. Marina. She’s my old teacher. In fact, the last time I went to this particular studio I was eight months pregnant with a breech Margot. Marina helped me through giant-bellied handstands and headstands until my bug swam herself 180. Marina!

People say dogs don’t live long enough. This statement is true in human brains. For dogs, I think they feel just right. Because they always do feel just right. Always.

Alice dies on Thursday night, November 20. It is a shock. We just – two days ago – ruled out the kidney failure diagnosis we had mourned. We have a new vet we love. We release ourselves into an ocean of relief and optimism.

She falls over in the living room. She recovers. My kids think she slipped on their paper snowflake scraps. A short while later, her back legs stop functioning. I am on and off the phone withe vets, neighbors, my husband. She wants to drink endless water, she wants to lay in the snow. She is scared. She looks into me for answers. All I have is love.

The day before – the day of the glorious blood and urine work news – we ran together. She gained four pounds back in two weeks. Moments before the episode I took a picture of my new boots to send to a friend. She pushed her wet nose into my hand. I called her into the kitchen for a treat and she bounced into me to be sure I remembered.

Four bucks stand 15 feet away, staring at us. One is impossibly noble. I see his breath in the cold air. Alice lays in the snow and can’t get up.

Fuck. Is this happening?

I carry her back into the house. I feel calm and alert. My kids are playful and hungry. I manage it all and notice that I feel emotionless. Alice vomits everything she ate that day, undigested. I clean it up with a dust pan. I make dinner.

Andy walks in and says hey, girlie like he always does. Every day for 11 years. She softens. She wags her tail.

We have a few normal hours with her. We wonder if she ate something weird. We sit with her and it feels like it always does. There is a shift. It is subtle, calm, peaceful even. We feel it. We know. She leans into me and closes her eyes.

As she is dying in my arms in our bedroom, she tells me a few things.

Feel it.

Love what you love.

Trust.

Be devoted.

Give in.

My husband looks old when he wraps the brown fleece blanket around her body. I remember his smooth face. I remember 16 years old. I remember not a thought beyond that moment of our first kiss.

We hold her. Her breath changes. We FEEL her life leave. It is so visceral I may even see her life leave.

I remember roaring when in labor. It shocked me. Not because I am a quiet person but because I had no control over the noise bellowing from my guts. This is the same. I howl. I gag.

When I arrive to the yoga studio Marina lies flat on her back on a mat in the middle of the floor. She slowly rolls toward the entry and giggles. She tells me I look tall. We hug.

She asks for updates about my body that might help her during practice. I tell her about my knee injury last winter. I tell her I am really sad. I say I might burst into tears during practice. She says, well we all might do that dear.

It’s a hatha class but I expect options for movement and intensity. I think I want intense, that I will elect for the “if you want to take it one step further” options. We sit and breathe for many minutes. We lay down. Marina reminds us that the earth is entirely responsible for supporting our bodies and we can give in to it. With those words I feel a fracture into my sadness. I try to grab it. I can’t. We stretch our toes. I push through spiteful cobwebs in down dog. I feel my shallow, arthritic breath. I try to push it down into my belly. I remember that satisfying, oxygenating, alive feeling. I want it.

I can’t wait for the sun to rise. It rises. We tell the kids in our bed, when they join us as they do every morning. Margot arrives first.

Where is she? Margot asks.

On her bed right here, we say.

Can I go to her? Will you come with me?

Yes.

She is cautious. She places a flat palm on her body and feels the coolness, the bones.

Can I listen to her heart? she asks.

You can, I say. But it isn’t beating anymore.

Does her brain still work?

No. All her organs have stopped working.

Will she remember us?

Oh baby. Yes I believe so.

Ruby wakes. We are all crowded under the down and wool. Andy tells Ruby.

Where is she? Ruby asks.

On her bed right here, we say.

Can I go to her? Will you come with me?

Yes.

Ruby rolls into her. She stares into her open eyes. She lays on top of her and says what feels different, what feels the same. I am astonished at her inhibition.

She hugs her. She pushes her fur back and forth. She peeks under the blankets. She cries.

The morning is gray. It is the day before Ruby’s birthday party.

Margot asks where Alice is now. Can she feel? Does she know us?

We talk about spirit. We look at her body together and notice her spirit isn’t there. I wish for a tidy answer about god or heaven but I don’t have one. I ask what they think.

Margot says I am pretty sure I get it. It looks like she’s somewhere else. It feels like she isn’t loving us right now even though she is right here. But, like, she’s not really right there. She’s out there.

Andy calls me outside to choose a place. He uses a jackhammer to break the first foot of frozen earth. The sound pierces the silence in our home. Then he digs. We stay inside. Soon he is shoulder deep in earth, in a t shirt. His breath, tears remind me of the bucks in the field the night before, of Alice in our room, of funerals and birthday parties.

The kids write words, draw pictures, gather things for our ceremony. They seem so content and I feel like enforcing how sad it is. I feel like telling them to stop laughing. I don’t. I appreciate how nothing is off limits to them. Nothing is inappropriate.

We wrap her in a white piece of fabric. My husband carries her from our bedroom to her grave. She looks small.

We cut rope and tie it around her body so we can lower her the six feet. The kids weep. Margot climbs the garden fence in protest. Ruby sits on the frozen mud. Andy and I stand opposite each other, across from the cold hole.

It is messy and the air is so saturated with every bit of our selves – physical and spiritual – that I feel like we could manifest our own storm.

We lower her onto a bed of pine boughs. We place our objects in with her, each dropped a few seconds after the last item. It seems foggy but it isn’t. It seems warm but it isn’t.

Margot wrote a letter that reads My dog died and we don’t know why. I love her. Ruby grabbed the magnet from her chore chart, the one that means she gave Alice snuggles. She holds that magnet until the end. I didn’t know she had grabbed it. She throws it up in the air like confetti and sobs I love you Alice.

The kids also add her favorite peanut butter treats, her collar. I read a letter I wrote. I toss in my running shoes. We couldn’t find her leash and Andy rightly points out how appropriate that is. We could never find her leash. He curls toward the grave and drops a bunch of dried lavender. Three earth worms emerge from the walls of the grave and fall in.

He asks to bury her by himself. Margot cries and grabs at my pants. Ruby tells us she doesn’t want to leave Alice outside all alone because she never did like being all alone. I sit on the snow with my daughters and we settle into it. Ruby says At least Alice has the wormies with her now.

Margot runs upstairs and into the house. I follow and find her on Alice’s bed. She rolls dog hair between her fingers and moves it around on her leggings. Ruby joins her. Together they sit there for hours.

At the end of yoga, we do this slow series of rolling across a pillow on the floor, first lengthening our side, our back, our other side. It sounds easy and relaxing, like a cooked buttery noodle draped over a fork. Marina asks us to take our time, to move when it feels good. I start on my right side. I am awkward and sticky. Al dente. My breath weak.

I wiggle and adjust. I breathe. I roll. I curl my spine up and then down. I broaden my shoulders. I breathe. I breathe a little deeper. I stiffen and squirm. I wish I was open and willing. I fill hollow, painful places with breath. I grow. I try.

Ruby turns five. She asks for her cake to look like Alice. Margot gets up early, gets dressed in her snow gear and goes outside. Later, I find her footprints lead to Alice’s grave. And there is a snow angel on top.

Feel it.

Love what you love.

Trust.

Be devoted.

Give in.

 

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nuggets: how bout we do some seasonal bits

I keep coming here trying to decide what to publish. I’ve been writing. About the confusion and truth of life and death — the dance of a life ending the day before a fifth birthday. About grieving with my husband and kids and without our dog. A friend pointed this out to me: the most unfair and painful part is that I want my dog’s love, cuddles and walks to get over her own death.

I will share more here about Alice last day the the next day. Today I share seasonal bits that make me happy. It’s complicated because the joy of cutting a tree is sad without our girl running up the hillside and the fun in the advent scavenger hunt is unbelievably quieter without our girl wagging and hopping beside the kids as they hunt. I’ve noticed that with every painful moment there is something beautiful to witness, that even the pain can be beautiful in its authenticity. And I’ve notice laughter. Man I love to laugh.

It snowed a few days ago. The big, meandering quiet kind. Margot said:

Wow. I like, FEEL Alice. It’s like she is in the snow or something. Is that what you mean by her spirit? I really think her spirit is in that falling snow.

Yes, that.

:: I do so enjoy decorating and arranging our home this time of year. It’s a solid shot of brightness and levity. Plus we will have a huge houseful this year, making the jolliness extra amplified.

:: My favorite new addition is the tiny, sparkly peacock that I attached to our bird feeder. I wondered if it would detract the droves of finches, nuthatches et al that feed here but on the contrary, they are unaffected. I like to think they enjoy their new always-gazing-over-shoulder pal.

:: We always cut our tree on our friend’s property the weekend after Ruby’s birthday. This year we went on Thanksgiving day because we had our big feast with friends on Wednesday. Honestly, it was a hard day: the big exhale after birthday party, company, Thanksgiving. We settled into the distraction-free realization that Alice wasn’t there. We all kept seeing her, looking for her, hearing her. On the drive home the strap that held the tree to the car whipped in the wind against the window. Margot pointed out that it sounded exactly like Alice’s wagging tail against the inside of the car when she heard us approaching. It did. We drove under a giant full rainbow set against graphite sky. We saw mountain lion tracks and bushes that looked like dogs. Continue reading

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Rainbow Friday > giving away and giving back

Last year we inaugurated Rainbow Friday, a way to bring color and connection to the spirited days of shopping after Thanksgiving. This year is even better with every small, sustainable business not only offering a giveaway and great deal but also giving to a non-profit organization of their choosing.

I am blown away by the talent and big-heartedness of every business participating. This is your opportunity to shop; to vote for your neighbors with the purchase of unique, handmade gifts; to use your purchase power to lean in and give back.

I hope you will support their efforts and do some shopping this weekend!

* Each business is giving away an item. Leave a comment for a chance to win. Comments close on Monday, December 1 at 11:59pm. There will be 12 winners, announced here on Tuesday, December 2.

* Rainbow Friday deals run from Friday, November 28 – Monday, December 1.

* I will post the amount each business is donating to their chosen organizations on instagram and facebook next week. Let’s make it impressive! Continue reading

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nitrogen to carbon to nitrogen

I took a master gardening class years ago. I took it after I was fired from a housesitting gig for killing all the plants and before I started my gardening business. I still consult my Master Gardening Manual regularly, its pages soft with dirt and turned corners.

Gardening is meant for writers. From the poetic words like meristem and apical and brassica to the generous metaphors in tending, troubleshooting, growth, harvest and nourishment.

I saw David Sedaris read this week. I went with my friend after we were offered tickets one hour before he was to take stage. We sat high in the balcony and listened to his familiar cadence deliver hilarious and shocking words. I noticed two things. First, when a person is funny, it gives their audience permission to laugh at anything, even the serious and sad stuff. And it isn’t inappropriate to laugh at serious and sad stuff. It’s a legitimate reaction to the discomfort of big feelings. Two, I need to read more books and look at more art. When another shares their genius, an energy field is cast. It’s contagious in the most inspiring way.

I ordered a new computer yesterday. Mine is slowly croaking, keyboard and track pad kaput and the function straining at the smallest requests. Ruby says it sounds like it is sighing all the time. Yesterday afternoon I was on the mac help chat thing with Claire, trying to decide between a new or refurbished computer. I think those chat windows were made for moms. If I’d had to make a phone call, my kids would have immediately been starving, in great need of a glue stick from the top shelf and writhing from some ailment that required lavender oil and a bandaid. The chat allows me to get some questions answered while Ruby summits my body and Margot choreographs a jumprope routine to Frosty The Snowman in the kitchen.

October and September were bright and warm. Continue reading

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To what end?

I wrote this piece two weeks ago. I have written and rewritten it several times, each time unhappy with the lack of direction and the rambling nature. I have felt doubtful and afraid of being misunderstood. Then I heard this:

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

And I realized that sometimes the truest way from point A to point B is a big ol’ meandering zig zag.

:: :: ::

Sometimes I feel like I am letting feminism down. I am aware of the juxtaposition of my pre-kid ambitions and my current ambitions. I hear the roar of the Lean In Movement. I choose to lean differently and that can feel so isolating. I feel the criticism – whether legitimate or of my own imagination (I suspect it is a bit of both) – from colleagues; I wonder if I am a person they think of throwing away potential when they ask me what’s new or if I am making art these days.

While I feel inspired by and sure of my choices and my lifestyle in the giant, oceanic sense, I indeed have waves of doubt and insecurity. It’s remarkable that I can feel lost, when moving in right direction with a functioning compass.

I remain driven, although it feels so different from my ambitions, before child. For me, everything regarding my goals and perspective changed when my first daughter was born. Everything. I didn’t want to admit it for over a year. I was still invested in my work but it was no longer what defined my success.

At a dinner party last summer, I talked with a group of friends about how remarkable it is that in this town – where nobody moves for a career opportunity – we have all found meaningful work. A filmmaker, communications director in local government, reporter, nonprofit executive director, artist, nurse and me. My friend asked if I’d go back into my old work (development director at an art museum), someday. Really, you peaked before your time, she said. She said it lightly, as a nod toward how young I was in that job. But I cringed. You can peak more than once. I am peaking now, I defended. I do believe that. And I do feel defensive about it. Continue reading

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