Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Grief Is For the Living

Boulder, Colorado

We are in that place some refer to as "20 square miles surrounded by reality."

Maybe so, but reality or not, there is much to learn here.

Our good friends, Bob and Sandy, share their home with us this night.

More importantly, they share a recent loss and gain with us.

Their Barney, an American Red Cocker Spaniel, passed recently, and they handled his loss with grace, with understanding, and with learning for them, for all who will listen.

Barney was 13 years old, in pain. Rather than let him die “naturally,” which is not natural at all, Bob and Sandy set up a shrine in Barney's life, called their veterinarian, lit candles and incense and waited.

When the vet arrived, Barney suddently became excited, as if he was ready.

He was. Barney was ready.

Barney lay on his bed on the floor.

At first, he seemed reticent. After all, no one wants to die.

But Bob and Sandy carefully and slowly coaxed him back onto his bed.

He was at peace.

The first injection took away any regret.

The second took his life.

Or maybe it didn’t.

Barney’s “wife,” Bessie, a beautiful English Cocker, was pensive throughout the process, until Barney stopped breathing.

Then, suddenly, Bessie became excited, literally bouncing off the walls.

“Why?” Sandy asked.

Their veterinarian, more than a doctor of medicine, said, “Dogs have a special sense – they are in touch with the astral plane. Barney has moved there. Barney is young again. Bessie can see Barney. Bessie is playing with him.”

Bessie remembered me when I came into Bob and Sandy’s home last evening and I could see in Bessie's eyes what she could see in mine.

There is no end. There are only beginnings.

Tomorrow we leave our friends but we also remain – just as Barney remains here forever.

Grief is for the living.

And living is for the dead.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Puppy Size

2006 found me on the road more than 100 days on three continents. Those hundred days sometimes seem more like two or three hundred when I wake up in a dark hotel room and reach for the yellow pages for a clue to where I was when I last collapsed.

Sometimes when I return home I wonder why I still "do it."

The are lots of easy, convenient, self-serving, and inaccurate answers. They go something like this: I am blessed with work that is interesting, challenging, takes me to interesting places, and the money is good. But, while all those reasons are reasonable, they are no longer enough to overcome the wear of 30 years of chasing airplanes, rental cars, sweating like a hog in the south in the summer, and freezing to death in the north in the winter, seemingly never dressed appropriately for the mood of the climate. In other words, the reasons that have arguably driven me for three decades are no longer enough to get up me at 3:30 in the morning to chase some form of transportation.

I have long sensed the “why” is for some other reason, and have hoped that the some other reason is not just habit -- like a plow mule that pulls forward whenever the blinders are strapped on. Yet, while I have sensed there was a reason, I have never been able to get a handle on it, intellectualize it, say it.

As I readied over the weekend for a 3 ½ week road trip – a highway run that will take start in central Mexico, and take us through San Antonio, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Denver, Boulder, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Dallas, and Austin, I was tired and excited at the same time. This trip will be a mixed bag of delivering ten of Kelly's foster dogs to their adoptive families, doing some business, a little training, seeing a few friends, and visiting family. As I was working on my “to do” lists today with some trepidation, even regret, I received the following story by e-mail.

It falls under a lot of headings, one of which is that sometimes you get what you need when you need it.

The story was titled, “I Wish You Puppy Size.”

"Danielle keeps repeating it over and over again. We've been back to this animal shelter at least five times. It has been weeks now since we started all of this," the mother told the volunteer.

"What is it she keeps asking for?" the volunteer asked.

"Puppy size!" replied the mother.

"Well, we have plenty of puppies, if that's what she's looking for."

"I know...we have seen most of them," the mom said in frustration...

Just then Danielle came walking into the office

"Well, did you find one?" asked her mom. "No, not this time,"
Danielle said with sadness in her voice. "Can we come back on the weekend?"

The two women looked at each other, shook their heads and laughed.

"You never know when we will get more dogs. Unfortunately, there's always a supply," the volunteer said.

Danielle took her mother by the hand and headed to the door. "Don't worry, I'll find one this weekend," she said.

Over the next few days both mom and dad had long conversations with her.

They both felt she was being too particular. "It's this weekend or we're not looking any more," Dad finally said in frustration.

"We don't want to hear anything more about puppy size either," Mom added.

Sure enough, they were the first ones in the shelter on Saturday morning. By now Danielle knew her way around, so she ran right for the section that housed the smaller dogs.

Tired of the routine, mom sat in the small waiting room at the end of the first row of cages. There was an observation window so you could see the animals during times when visitors weren't permitted.

Danielle walked slowly from cage to cage, kneeling periodically to take a closer look. One by one the dogs were brought out and she held each one.

One by one she said, "Sorry, you're not the one."

It was the last cage on this last day in search of the perfect pup.

The volunteer opened the cage door and the child carefully picked up the dog and held it closely. This time she took a little longer.

"Mom, that's it! I found the right puppy! He's the one! I know it!" she screamed with joy. "It's the puppy size!"

"But it's the same size as all the other puppies you held over the last few weeks," Mom said.

"No not size ---- the sighs. When I held him in my arms, he sighed," she said.

"Don't you remember? When I asked you one day what love is, you told me love depends on the sighs of your heart. The more you love, the bigger the sigh!"

The two women looked at each other for a moment. Mom didn't know whether to laugh or cry. As she stooped down to hug the child, she did a little of both.

"Mom, every time you hold me, I sigh. When you and Daddy come home from work and hug each other, you both sigh. I knew I would find the right puppy if it sighed when I held it in my arms," she said.

Then holding the puppy up close to her face she said, "Mom, he loves me. I heard the sighs of his heart!"

When I read this story, I closed my eyes for a moment and thought about what makes me sigh. Sometimes it is puppies, sunsets, moonlight, or the brush of cool air across my face on a hot day, but mostly I hear sighs in the arms of close friends and family, and even feel it when I see some clients who are hard to distinguish from friends and family, if only because that is who they have become.

That may explain why I still "do it."

The story concludes that these sighs we all hear from time to time are the sighs of God. I don’t know. Whatever they are, and wherever they come from, we would all be better served to take the time to stop and listen to them because maybe it is true that "life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."