Tag Archives: dog

Mutual admiration society

Someone was telling me about a friend who had died, sharing the admirable characteristics this person had, which made me think of my own friends and what I admire about them.

One of my friends, someone I have known for almost fifty years, endured a debilitating disease when she was in her fifties. She recovered, but she was left financially depleted, and so she took a job overseas where she could make enough money to restore her retirement nest egg. I am not sure I could have uprooted myself and lived in the different places she lived, and I admire her courage and determination.

Another friend has incredible clarity about her values. When I think about standing up for what one believes, I think of her. She is unwavering in her commitment and untiring in deepening her knowledge about the issues that shape her life. I admire her clarity and commitment.

My dog died two years ago and rather than get another dog, I started dog sitting—inspired by the woman who had been my dog-sitter. Her love of dogs is pure, and the joy she gets from them is delightful to see. She helped shape me into the dog-lover I have become and she inspires me by her willingness to tell the world how much she loves dogs. I admire her childlike love of dogs and her freedom to express that love.

Several friends have lived in non-traditional communities—such as Catholic Worker Houses and l’Arche—and I admire their ability to successfully navigate community living.

Several friends inspire me by their generosity. One friend loves to cook and to share what she cooks, and another loves to garden and has helped me in my garden. I admire people who find their passion and are generous in sharing it.

I could go on and on, but I will stop there and invite you to think of your friends and what you admire in them. And once you have a good list going, start telling your friends what you admire about them. Perhaps they, in return, will share what they admire about you, and you can start you own mutual admiration society.

All that positive energy has the potential to transform us and our world.

Feeling blessed

I had another dog-sitting gig this week, with a sweet Brittany Spaniel pup who happens to live on a lake, so it was like being on vacation. Just before coming to the lake, my sister brought me a box of chocolates from Paris, and so I enjoyed them while watching the dog play by the water. Life is good.

blessed-God-gratitude
Looking out the window onto the lake.

All week, I felt incredibly blessed. It seemed that one good thing after another kept coming my way. I finished my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, a two-year program with quite rigorous requirements; got invited to speak at a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit; was asked to consult on a project; the last of my home-improvements projects was completed; and I got to share the lake view with several friends who came to visit. A very good week.

At the same time, a cough has settled in my chest, and I can’t seem to shake it. It worries me because I am someone who rarely gets sick—and when I do, I usually respond to medicine. Not this time, though.

I am doing what I can about the cough, following doctor’s orders (getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, taking my medicine) and, at the same time, trying to focus more on the good things happening in my life.

Balancing life’s challenges with life’s blessings is a work we are all called to.

Being grateful for the good in my life and putting more energy into the positives helps tip the scales toward the blessings. I can’t ignore the challenges, but I can keep them in perspective.

blessed-God-gratitude

And I can remember that most growth comes from challenges. I am where I am because of the struggles I have gone through.

After a particularly difficult time in my life, I came to believe that God holds all the cards, and my job is to play the hand I am dealt. Sometimes that hand is a winner, and other times I just want to throw in the cards and ask for a re-deal.

God invites me to stick with it, even when my cards are lousy, to keep looking for glimmers of hope and to remember that God is with me through it all.

Ode to Sadie

Belgium’s greatest gift to the world,

I used to think,

was chocolate,

rich and sweet,

an explosion of flavor

melting on my tongue.

And then I met Sadie,

a Belgian Malinois,

as sweet as chocolate and so much more.

She was bred to herd sheep,

but with no sheep in sight,

she now shepherds me,

walking by my side,

in case I think to wander,

keeping me line and in sight,

making sure I am safe.

Smart, strong, fearless, loyal,

lots of energy and anxious to play,

risking everything for a mid-air catch,

heedless of any danger,

running as fast as the wind.

So much fun to watch,

as I pop another

Belgium chocolate into my mouth.

Love and loss

A few weeks ago, I told my dog’s veterinarian that my dog, Detroit, was not eating and she refused to take her medicine.

I had always bragged that Detroit thought her daily pills were crunchy treats, and she usually gobbled them down as she did any other treat. But she had stopped eating most everything except chicken. She would not even eat her favorite treats.

One day, we sat on the back porch and watched a cat walk across our yard. Detroit did not even flinch—she made no move to chase the cat.

Detroit lived to chase squirrels and cats. She loved to let the world know that our yard belonged to her and only she could grant permission for visitors. But twice in one week, I had seen her allow a cat free access.

I knew something was seriously wrong. Not gobbling down her food, no treats and not chasing a cat in her yard!

Blood tests revealed Detroit had liver disease. The vet prescribed some medicine, but after a week, Detroit’s liver levels had gone even higher; the medicine was not working. And then Detroit stopped eating chicken.

I inherited Detroit from my friend Jim who died from brain cancer eight years ago. She was the love of his life, and his one wish for her was that she not have surgery—ever. He hated his time in the hospital for two surgeries connected to the cancer. He did not want to live or die in the hospital, and that is what he wanted for his dog, too.

After a third visit to the vet, it was clear that Detroit was not going to get better. The vet said surgery was a possibility but there was no guarantee it would help. I said “no” to surgery and then took a few days to process the fact that Detroit was dying. Last Saturday I took her to the vet one last time.

I believe that Detroit has been reunited with Jim, and although I miss her terribly, I am happy for them. I imagine Detroit jumping into his arms and licking his face—an image that makes me smile.

grief-dog-hope
Jim and Detroit, 2010

She was a wonderful companion to me through many changes and losses over the past eight years—and especially during this time of isolation. I feel so blessed to have had her in my life.

Gratitude mixes with grief.

.  

Let the tears flow

Grief comes through the door and invites me to sit with her and

remember what has been.

Honor the gift, she says.

Be grateful, she says, to have known such love.

I am grateful,

and I am also saddened by

what I have lost.

Gratitude and sadness live side by side.

My tears flow freely,

easing my pain and

relieving the ache in my broken heart.

The thin space between earth and heaven

embraces me gently,

giving me room to feel my sadness and

let my tears flow,

knowing that I can also hope,

because I have been so unconditionally loved.

death-dog-love
Detroit, 3/22/2009-5/16/2020
death-dog-love
affirmation-dog-vulnerability

Asking for what I want or need

My dog Detroit is very good at letting me know when someone is at the door or the phone is ringing or there is a squirrel in the yard. Even though I assure her that I know these things and she does not need to bark, it does no good. She will bark incessantly until I answer the door or the phone—or let her out to chase the squirrel.affirmation-dog-vulnerabilityShe seems to think it is her job to warn me of these perceived threats.affirmation-dog-vulnerabilityBut in other situations, Detroit is likely to sit quietly and wait for me to intuit what she wants. Sometimes, I find her lying by the back door waiting to go out or sitting by the pantry that holds her treats. Then I say to her, “Use your words.”

It seems to me that she is good at telling me when she thinks I am in danger, but not so good about telling me what she needs or wants.

I wonder if she learned that from me. Has she watched me sit home waiting for someone to ask me to go out? Is she tired of being hugged because I am afraid to ask for a hug from anyone else?

Sometimes on Saturday mornings when I am cleaning the house, I turn on pop music and dance while I clean. If Detroit comes into the room, I might pick her up and dance with her. I can almost hear her say, Get a life.

I admit it: I am not good at using my words to ask for what I need or want.

What words do I use to let someone know I want a treat—whether it is something sweet or a hug or an affirmation? How do I ask to go out, to be with others and have some fun?affirmation-dog-vulnerabilitySince moving to Michigan four years ago, and leaving behind people who knew me very well, I have been even more challenged to ask for what I want or need. Admitting I need or want anything makes me feel vulnerable, and feeling vulnerable is one of my least favorite things.

After I was here for about two years, my spiritual director commented that it didn’t seem that I was initiating social contacts. She was right. My grief and sadness at all I had lost or left behind had incapacitated me from initiating. I just did not have the energy to risk rejection.

And I could see how harmful that was. I was spiraling deeper and deeper into myself; it was a grand pity party.affirmation-dog-vulnerabilitySince then, I have pushed myself to ask friends to go to concerts or out to dinner, and I do more things on my own, like visiting art galleries.

But, I know I have a ways to go in asking for what I need or want. Telling Detroit to use her words is a great prompt for me look at how well I am doing at using my words.

 

Tips for a relaxing staycation

I am taking a staycation—my first real vacation in almost two years. There are many positive aspects to staying home, but one fear I have is that the many projects around the house begging for my attention will take up all my time and I will be as tired at the end as I am at the beginning. So instead of following my own inclinations, I am going to try to follow the schedule of someone whose life is an extended staycation—my dog, Detroit.

DSCN1617

Dogs seem to have a handle on how to live a good life. Detroit’s days are made up of five main activities: food, exercise, sleep, work and play.

Food. I think Detroit loves food more than anything else. My sister says I feed Detroit too often, which may be true, but I am a grazer, and so it makes sense that my dog would be a grazer, too. In between meals, Detroit likes lots of little treats—me, too.

Exercise. Every morning we go for a long walk, and Detroit checks out her surroundings, greets neighborhood dogs, leaves little messages for dogs who will come along later, stalks squirrels until they run up trees and generally enjoys the fresh air. Although I impose this walk on her, Detroit seems to enjoy it. For me, though this walk is more stroll than exercise, so on my staycation, I plan to take extra walks and maybe even ride my bike.

Sleep. When we get back from our morning walk, Detroit stretches out on my lap and within a few seconds, her body is totally limp and she is sound asleep. I will follow her lead and take a nap.

Work. Waking up refreshed, Detroit gets to work. Her job is to patrol the backyard, keeping it free of squirrels, rabbits, cats and birds. It is an important job, and she can spend an hour or so clearing out all the undesirables.

detroit in yard

 

She also likes to take some time to sit and admire her work. IMG_3513

After a nap, I will tackle some house project. The list is long, and I will alternate between chores that are more and less enjoyable. More enjoyable projects for me include working in the yard, sewing and painting furniture; less enjoyable ones include washing windows, cleaning out the freezer and dusting. After work, it is time for another nap.

Play. Every day includes at least one extended play time when Detroit will get a toy and bring it to me for a game of tug-of-war or some fetching.

Detroit running

During my staycation, I plan to spend more time writing, praying and studying Polish. My play time will also include reading, gardening and perhaps exploring some nearby towns to poke around in shops or maybe go to a museum or two.

I figure if I pace myself and adhere to Detroit’s schedule, my staycation will be somewhat productive but much more restful and relaxing.

What Detroit taught me about grief

Grief was not something we talked about when I was growing up. We were more of a “suck it up” and “move on” kind of family.

But at my grandmother’s funeral, when I was eleven years old, I watched my father grieve his mother’s passing. It was my first funeral and the first time I had seen my dad cry. I remember being shocked and confused. There was my dad showing emotion; he was sad, weeping, grieving.

After the funeral, we didn’t speak about it—not my grandmother’s death nor my father’s feelings about it. The message was clear: even if we feel something, we don’t talk about it. We get over it; we move on.

In my work at a cancer support center, loss and grief are common topics of discussion.

Recently, I was talking with a woman who is in treatment for cancer. She said she is very emotional and is easily moved to tears. We talked about the losses she has experienced because of the cancer and how she is processing her grief.

I told her I had learned about using ritual to process grief—from an unexpected source.

When my friend Jim was sick, his dog Detroit was by his side throughout his illness, and she was with him when he died. While his body was being taken from the house, I took her for a walk. When we got home, she ran to his room and just sat at the foot of his bed. She was grieving.

The next morning, she went into his room and again sat at the foot of his bed. She looked up at the bed and then at me, as if she was asking, “Where is he?” It broke my heart to have to tell her he was gone. Her sad eyes mirrored my own.

Every morning for the next few weeks, Detroit started her day by going into Jim’s room and sitting at the foot of his bed. She would look up at the bed and then at me. I would do my part for her ritual and tell her that Jim was gone.

Then one day when she entered his room, she did not stop at the foot of the bed, but walked the length of the room, turned around and walked out. “Just checking?” I asked, and I knew she had moved to a different place in her grief. This new ritual—entering the room, walking the length, turning and walking out—continued for months.

And then one day she walked to the doorway of his room, paused, and then moved on. Her grieving period was over.

She still occasionally entered his room at random times, but the ritual had accomplished its purpose—she had mourned and now she was getting on with her life.

During those months, I watched in wonder at how Detroit instinctively honored her grief by creating a ritual and then adapting the ritual to fit her changing needs. I was in awe of how she mourned and processed her grief.

Crossing Over

My dog loves to cross the street, any and every street. At driveways or corners, she often pauses and looks longingly toward the other side. The wider the street, the more wistfully she seems to eye it. “Do you want to cross?” I will ask, and then follow as she merrily runs across.

I recently had a dream about crossing a street—a very wide street like Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. In some spots, Roosevelt Boulevard has five lanes in each direction, broken up into outer service drives of two lanes, and the main road of three lanes each way. Crossing it can take a long time and can be very dangerous.

In my dream, I was aware of how wide the road was and how dangerous. I approached the crossing in segments—first the service drive, then three lanes in one direction, three in the other and the other service drive. I was relieved when I made it to the curb on the other side.

Walking Detroit this morning and watching her eye the street for possible places to cross reminded me of the dream and the potential dangers in crossing to another side.

The past few years have had a number of crossing-over experiences for me in terms of relationships, jobs and where I live. Each time I reach a plateau, some sense of familiarity and comfort, I have a sense of accomplishment—I experience it as having crossed over. I am no longer on that side, but now I am on this side. The difference is tangible.

Recently, the crossings have felt like they are bringing me closer and closer to myself, to the “me” I used to be before Jim got sick and everything turned upside down—but with a twist. All that I have been through these past few years has changed me so that my new self is somehow a bit different from my old.

I now have a clearer sense of my inner strength, of what I am capable of doing and of what really matters to me. I am more aware of the importance of being centered and staying centered; and I think I catch myself more quickly when I am veering away from my true north.

I can look back to how life used to be and where I once was, and remember it with fondness. But now I live on the other side of the street. The grass is not any greener, but I did not expect it would be. What is different is that I am becoming more comfortable, more familiar with what is on this side of the street, and it is feeling more like home.

 

Bucket of Love

“Bucket of love” was one of the nicknames Jim had for Detroit.

Since Jim died and she has become my dog, I have been getting to know her better, and I can see why he called her that. She is full of love. She is very affectionate and loves to be in close proximity, a true lap dog. Every morning, she showers me with kisses.

When we are out walking, she is especially fond of greeting little children and giving them kisses (ok, she is really licking any residual food from their fingers, but they think she is kissing them).

A friend who is a professed non-animal-lover tried to ignore her the first time he met her, but she sensed a tender core under that crusty exterior and jumped into his lap. “Your dog is on me,” he said. “She sees through you,” I suggested. Although he could not be persuaded to pet her (at least not in my presence), she leaned into him and made herself comfortable—and he let her.

My niece stayed with Detroit while I was on retreat recently. Detroit had been a bit under the weather before I left, and I was worried about her while I was away. “They bonded,” my sister reported when I got home. “And I have lots of pictures to prove it. Detroit on her lap, Detroit kissing her, Detroit playing with her toys.”  I worried for naught.

I used to think the song “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” was a rationalization for bad behavior, but Detroit is helping me to see it differently. She was made to love, and she pours out that love on whomever she happens to be with.

She reminds me of St. Paul’s claim, “I am already being poured out like a libation.” (2 Timothy 4:6)

Her love is not diminished by sharing, but rather the bucket just keeps getting refilled each time she pours herself out.

She offers her love freely to anyone who will accept it and even with those who claim they don’t want it, she will still try.

She was born to love—but weren’t we all.

detroit 12 13