Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Why Marriage Matters (to me)

My good friend and co-worker was recently married. Spending time with him as he planned and prepared for his wedding really made me consider marriage and why it is so important to me. I do want to preface this by making it clear that this is really about my feelings about my marriage. I don't expect my experience to be universal, and I believe that people make the best decisions for themselves and its not my place to judge those decisions.

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One of the benefits of having a lesbian wedding is there were far fewer traditions and expectations. We could do whatever our little hearts desired without people batting an eye.  In 2008 we went to California with a few close friends and family.We had a courthouse ceremony to get our marriage license and then exchanged rings on the beach at sunset.  We wrote our own vows and didn't have anyone officiate that part. We came back to Arizona the next day and had a reception with our friends and family. Since we didn't have quite a normal wedding party, we asked a friend to make a speech, we skipped over all of the typical dances, and ate some cake. I think the cake was really the only traditional part of our wedding.



Flash forward to present time and same-sex marriage is in the news almost daily with all of the court battles going on. It makes me wonder what exactly we are fighting for. In this day and age, what does marriage really mean to most people? With divorce rates so high, why go through the trouble? The taboo of living together out of wedlock is all but gone. Even having children doesn't seem to have the same stigma attached.

So what is it? I think, as with everything, we all bring our own experiences and expectations to marriage. Hopefully those preconceived notions line up with those of our partner. Would our relationship be different if we weren't married (legally or otherwise)? There's a Schrodinger's marriage joke in there somewhere...

This year has been hard. There have been a lot of reasons why it has been challenging, and I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty. I am a worrier. I stay up at night worrying about work, our finances, what it will be like to have a teenage daughter (yes, I know I have over a decade to prepare...), and a myriad of other things that won't change a bit no matter how much I worry. I don't worry about my marriage. It is my rock, it is permanent. It takes work, yes, but I believe in it more than I believe in any other thing. This year has been rough, but I know that some day soon, things will get better. Some day soon, the weight will be lifted and our marriage won't be any worse for the wear, it will actually be stronger because we got though it all together.

 We have proclaimed-- to our family and friends, to our community, to the government, to complete strangers-- that we love each other and that we are a family. This year has tried us, but our marriage is a light in the darkness; a hand leading the way.

So, to my lovely wife- I love you. I love our family. No matter what life throws at us, we will come through. Together.



(now we just need more photos of all three of us...)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Horse training log II

Some of you may remember my posts from last summer about some horses I was training at a quarter horse ranch.  Last fall, after our car accident and subsequent time spent in the body shop, I had to quit going to the ranch.  Once I had the car back, we found ourselves into the holiday season, and then of course lost our sweet pup Nova and then our wonderful old guy, Manni.  Finances have been a little tight, and the ranch is NOT located close to us, so I haven't been in several months.  Much to my chagrin.

I promised myself though, I would not and could not give up on my underdog friend, Luna. I've finally made it back out to visit her, and I'm really pleased with the news I have to share.

The first time I saw her after a long hiatus, I don't think she placed me.  She saw Yvonne (the ranch owner) and was acting slightly nervous, pacing at the front of her stall with a stiff neck and body.  I let myself into the stall and she finally did notice me.  I began scratching and stroking her shoulders and withers.  The first thing I noticed (apart from her fuzzy winter coat!) was that she'd gained a good amount of weight back.  Her hindquarters weren't hollowed out, her ribs weren't showing, and she didn't look skeletal any more.  I was thrilled to see her looking so good.  Her tail had begun to grow back in, and the rubbed-out portion of her mane had new growth as well.  Of course, nobody had taken her from the stall since I'd last seen her, much less groomed her, and I set to work. The hair was flying!  Warmer temperatures and springtime caused her to begin shedding out that long winter hair.  It had to feel good to get groomed! Yvonne stood outside the stall and caught me up on the ranch horses. (Turns out they were able to sell Abe the Paint stud to a show home because of the great start I gave him!) She also mentioned that since I'd taken the nasty old halter off Luna, she wouldn't let anyone catch her.

Luna pushed her nose into her purple halter when I offered it to her and eagerly followed me to the gate after I clipped on her lead rope.  We walked out to the round pen.  She was a little nervous on the way, or maybe more like hyper-alert.  After all, she hadn't stepped foot outside her stall since autumn.  We walked around the round pen, and Luna spooked when two large Labs came bounding up to the fence barking their heads off.  They really took her by surprise!  It didn't take very long before Luna decided they weren't going to eat her, and we moved on.

I want to mention that last autumn, in the single session that I was able to have Luna in the round pen, she was very nervous and suspicious of my saddle sitting on the ground.  She was visibly anxious about it, and normally young horses aren't afraid but rather curious. Of course, I had that rough tough cowboy to thank for Luna's reticence about the saddle.  As if it isn't hard enough to start a young horse right, I knew I'd have to help Luna see that not everybody is out to get her and that the saddle and being ridden can have very positive results.  I knew last fall that Luna and I had a lot of work ahead of us.

So this time, I worked her around the round pen without pushing her - I hoped that walking for awhile beforehand would be enough to warm her body up so that she wouldn't injure herself being an idiot after all those months cooped up.  She was surprisingly reasonable at the end of my lunge line, particularly for a young, very green, very fresh horse. Once she'd stretched her legs, we began simple groundwork.  It's easy for me to fall into my habit of assuming that the horses I handle know what I'm asking of them - I constantly have to remind myself to keep expectations low for Luna and remember that she really doesn't know anything.  This helps immensely in keeping my frustration at bay. We worked on walking side by side, turning together, stopping together, and backing up when asked. I began asking her to move different parts of her body independently with very little pressure from me.  I was amazed at how quickly Luna picked things up - I legitimately don't think I've ever worked with a brighter horse.  She would move her shoulders or her hips aside for me with just a touch of my hand within minutes of learning what I was asking. Teaching a horse these things on the ground is helpful because they're all things that I want her to already know when I finally do manage to climb onto her back.  (An aside - I always refer to Luna as "little", but I think maybe that's just because of her affectionate, in-my-pocket kind of personality.  In truth, she's quite large!  She stands at least 16.1 hands high at her withers, and I wouldn't be surprised if she were still growing.  Someone forgot to tell her she's a quarter horse and NOT a Thoroughbred.)

Luna was progressing very well, so I felt inspired to try introducing the saddle and pad again.  I retrieved them from my car and brought them to the round pen.  Luna snorted anxiously at the sight of them and I saw her eyes widen.  I set both the pad and saddle over the fence rail so she could sniff them as I came through the gate.  She must have smelled every square inch of both saddle and pad by the time she was through.  Once she was satisfied that they were safe, she began gently taking different parts between her teeth and tugging.  At this point, I was reminded yet again that although Luna's body may be 5 years old, her mind is still very immature.  She hasn't been exposed to hardly anything; she has not had the opportunity to progress like a normal adolescent horse and so, she is very much like a two year old (or younger) in how she approaches life.  This fact alone explains to me much of her behavior.

I brought the saddle and pad into the center of the pen, and Luna followed me dutifully.  She had to re-inspect them, because now they were on the ground and they looked different. Satisfied, she was not bothered when I picked up the pad and held it to her nose.  She sniffed it, and bit it.  I rubbed the pad slowly against her.  I noticed she was not nervous about it, so I grew bolder.  I switched sides and rubbed her with the pad.  I opened the pad and began flopping it gently against her.  I placed it over her back, and she was fine.  I felt proud of her for being brave. I took the pad on and off several times, walking her around in between applications.

Then I held up the saddle.  After sniffing it some more, I stood beside her and just lifted the saddle slowly into the air without advancing towards her.  She eyed it suspiciously the first time, but quickly settled.  Then I would lift it and touch it to her back.  Slowly, back and forth, advance and retreat.  Luna was uneasy, but held still and kept blowing warm air into my face as I worked beside her.  Finally, I hooked the edge of the cinch ring over her spine and slowly slid the saddle onto her back.  She craned her neck around to look at it, but her feet remained steadily in place.  I pulled the saddle off and repeated the process several times before leaving it in place.  I asked her to walk forward and she was a touch nervous, walking sideways a few strides before settling down.  I stroked her neck and repeated my mantra, "You're safe.  As long as you're with me, you're safe." I pulled the cinch around her belly and pulled it just tight enough so she could feel it against her.  We walked a few more strides as I pet her and talked to her.  I tightened the cinch another notch.  Walk, repeat.  I never tightened it enough that it would actually support a rider's weight getting into the saddle, but she had issues with cinches and bucking with the cowboy and I didn't care to repeat them.  I just wanted her to learn the saddle isn't so bad.

I kept my lunge line short and asked her to move out.  She began trotting in a very small circle around me, unsure about the stirrups bumping into her sides but moving forward and trying.  I called out to her and praised her efforts.  Though she was obviously uncomfortable with the stirrups bouncing around, she never blew up and went on a bucking rampage, which is what you can typically expect of a young horse wearing his first saddle. Gradually I let the line out and her circle widened.  After a few full-size revolutions, I asked her to pick up a lope.  She did so, lengthening her stride and picking up the pace.  She loped along uncertainly, but the point was that she was trying.  For me.  She wanted so badly to do as I asked.  I called for a whoa, and turned her the other direction.  She trotted along until I asked for a lope, and when she transitioned into the faster gait she took a misstep and caused one of the stirrups to hit into her side harder than usual.  She tucked her hindquarters underneath her and kicked out with her near hind foot one time, but then picked her lope back up perfectly, if not a bit confused about what had happened.  She loped a few turns around the pen before I stopped her and let her come in to me.  She stopped in front of me and sniffed my cheek, my hair, before touching her nose to mine and blowing sweet hay breath in my face. I hugged around her neck and told her how proud of her I was.

Just then, Yvonne stepped out onto her porch.  She had been watching from inside.  She called out to me, "That is damned impressive.  The cowboy said when he saddled her, she broke down his railroad tie round pen with all her bucking.  TWICE."

I glowed a little with happiness just then, knowing that Luna was willing to try so hard for me.  I hoped Luna saw how hard I was trying for her.

I didn't want to push my good luck, so I unsaddled Luna and took her out of the round pen.  We stopped at the tack shed to brush out some of her sweaty long winter coat before heading back to her stall.  As always, saying goodbye to Luna is the worst part of my day.  Her bright chocolate eyes always follow me as far as she can see.

We still have a long ways to go, but I feel encouraged.  I know Luna is special, and I'm interested to see what we can make of each other.

(I brought a camera to take pictures of her, but the battery was dead!  I was so disappointed I didn't get a photo of her first time wearing my saddle.  Oh well.  Next time.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On the nature of selfishness and desire

A few weeks ago, we discovered this adorable little park in our neighborhood.  We didn't know it was there because it's tucked away in a part of the neighborhood that we never go, on a dead-end street. We've gone a few times.  

Last week, E and I went to the park by ourselves for the first time.  It was a beautiful day, complete with blue skies and a light breeze.  The park was empty, so we had the run of it.  E climbed on the play structure, she slid down the slide a couple times, she wanted to swing for awhile.  We wandered through the grass and had a snack.  A dog from a house across the street got loose and came running up to our stroller and began sniffing and circling in earnest, very interested in peeing on it.  I clapped my hands and yelled at him and chased him off.  He proceeded to pee on every tree and he even topped it all off by pooping on a tree.  Nice.  I walked across the street to notify his owner that he was out.  

When I came back into the park, a dad and his toddler had shown up and were sitting by the swings.  E was very interested in the little blond boy, so she took my finger and led me over to him.  She got about five feet away and was struck with shyness, preferring to hide behind my legs and watch the boy and his dad. 

I began chatting with the dad, telling him to be aware of the peeing dog, whose owner brought him into the house and promptly left his front door open again.  The dog's next escape was inevitable.  The guy laughed and asked about E, how old she is, etc.  All the parent questions.  We talked about the kids - his son Freddy is only a few months older than E.  The kids wanted to swing, so we pushed them and talked about the park and our neighborhood.  We discovered that we live only a few streets apart.  I hadn't mentioned T at all at this point, but he asked how long I'd been married.  I assumed he saw my wedding band tattoo.  I told him we'd been married five years and in the neighborhood almost as long.  Then Freddy wanted to get down and go slide, so they wandered off.  Then E wanted down, she had to follow Freddy onto the playground. 

A short while later, Julian (the dad) and Freddy had to leave.  They came over and Julian shook my hand, said it was really great to meet us and wondered if we'd be interested in meeting up at the park again at another time.  He mentioned that he didn't have many parent friends and was always looking for other kids for Freddy to play with.  I found Julian funny and easy to talk to, and was happy to have another friend for E.  We exchanged phone numbers. 

That afternoon, Julian began texting me.  The conversation is as follows (verbatim): 

J: Really nice meeting you today :) 
A: Yeah it was!  Nice to have friends in the neighborhood.
J: For sure - so you spend a lot of time at home, you said?
A: Yeah, we do.
J: Me and Freddy are always down to hang out - I heart adult interaction.
A: I'm with you on that!
J: Is it alright if I told you you looked great when we met?
A: Well... I will always take a compliment, but you should know that I'm gay and married...
J: Ah... no problem, as long as youre cool with me thinking thats pretty hot and you dont mind a flirty personality in a friend.
A: As long as you know it'll never go anywhere.  I don't want you to feel that I've led you on.
J: ;) 
J: With that clearly established may I ask a fairly inappropriate question?
A: Um. You can ask...
J: Lol how big are they?
(several minute pause)
J: sorry hope that didnt offend - Ill leave it at that, have a good evening.  Again I apologize.
A:  It seems this really isn't the relationship you'd hoped for or intended, and I feel like it probably won't ever be able to be just a friendship for you.  You're a cool guy, and I'm sure you can find somebody to have a fun, flirty, straight relationship with.
J: Super nice of you to say that ;) 



I was really floored by this whole thing.  This man seemed genuinely nice, friendly, and funny at the park.  I never got any weirdo creep vibes off him.  I never caught him looking at my chest.  He obviously already knew I was married, and yet he initiated this conversation.  

As soon as he asked if it was okay to tell me he thought I looked great, my guts immediately looped into a knot that settled heavily.  I was already trying to find a way to back out, but I was desperately trying to do it gracefully and without being rude.  It happened so fast, that in hindsight I'm less than pleased with my own responses. I should have reacted more strongly - why was I so concerned with seeming rude?  Wasn't Julian the one objectifying me and disrespecting me and my marriage?  I should have shut him down authoritatively and immediately.  If I'd done that, I probably would never have had to realize that he was only interested in my (admittedly large and unwieldy) breasts.  I was more concerned with seeming like that "cool woman" who thinks this kind of thing is funny and not disrespectful.  When he asked how large "they" were, it took me a few seconds to consider what the heck he was talking about!  I permitted the "inappropriate question" solely because I absolutely expected that it would be a question about E's conception.  His actual question blindsided me. As the realization hit, I felt deflated.  Defeated. 

He didn't know me, or care to know me.  It was of no importance to him that I am married and by definition, am not interested in him THAT way.  All he was interested in was knowing my bra size, and I do not wish to know what he was going to do with that information.  He didn't give a shit that I'm hilarious and kind and generous.  He was more interested in using me than he was in having a friend for his young son to socialize with.  He thought it was acceptable, in our very first text interaction, to show me how disposable I was to him.  

And then he thought he could undo it all by throwing out an empty apology.  Because that's what we do to appease women, right?

For many, many years, I've considered myself a feminist.  An independent, liberated woman, above needing the desire of others to make me feel good about myself. 

But when it came down to it, my first thought about this was: "I was just wearing a black tshirt, jeans, and sneakers.  My hair was in a greasy ponytail.  He can't really have thought I looked attractive.  I know I'm not." 

My first thought was to disbelieve him, when he told me he thought I looked good.  This brings me an immense amount of shame.  

This experience has taught me a lot about me, I guess.  It's been a lot of years since I've felt truly objectified like this.  This wasn't a joke between friends, or a come-on from a date.  It injured me more than a catcall from a passing truck.  

I'm just me - my body is my body, it's normal to me.  I don't think about it other than to be annoyed when I can't buy bras in most department stores, or when I try to find button-up shirts that fit (there aren't any, I swear). 

And to think, Julian has likely just moved on to objectifying someone else without giving his conversation with me a second thought.  It was no big deal.  He apologized, didn't he?!  

But for me... I'll carry this with me for a long time.  The more I've ruminated on it, the deeper the cuts feel.  To me, to women, to the human race.  All of us, sliced open.  

At the end of the day, it haunts me that Julian's son Freddy is going to grow up with my darling daughter.  This boy whose father is a major creep is going to be one of those teenagers who think that women don't need to give consent, who feels he's above the rules, who thinks my E is there for his pleasure and nothing else matters.  

I really hope I'm wrong about Freddy.  And I hope that E is stronger than me, that she's got it in her to stop people in their tracks before they make her feel like a lesser person because she has a desirable body. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dear Manni

You left us yesterday.  Technically it was yesterday, but really it was Valentine's Day evening.  We had a prior photography engagement yesterday and I was able to bury my head in the sand regarding your death, but I can't do it anymore.

It's my fault you died.  I'm so sorry. I can't go back and change what happened, and so I'm trying to forgive myself and move forward, but it really hurts my heart to know that if I'd done something differently, you'd still be here today.

I forgot to give you breakfast on Valentine's Day.  The day was a busy one, and you didn't even give me a reproachful look to tell me that you were hungry.  We went to meet a friend at the park for a playdate, then headed to Costco to finish getting our membership, and by the time we got back home that evening, we were already behind on dinner.  I put it on the stove while T was creating a flyer for the barrel race we were to take photos of Saturday.  By the time we'd all eaten, I was clearing the dishes and I saw your empty bowl.  I then realized that you hadn't eaten all day and felt my insides cringe with guilt.  I gave you two cups of food and poured some warm water over it for you, since you're getting old and like it that way now.

I admit, I wasn't paying attention to you while you ate.  I was putting E in pajamas and getting ready for bed.  I asked T to let you outside once more before bed.  We'd been laying in bed maybe ten minutes after you came back inside when we heard you knock something over.  I asked T to go see what you were doing, as my contacts weren't in.  She came back in and said that you'd been gagging and trying to vomit.  So back outside you went.  A few minutes later, she went to get you.  T came back into the bedroom and said that there was something obviously wrong with you, and could I come check.  I put in my contacts and found you right outside our door, sitting on your bed.

Your breathing was labored, your eyes looked like you were in a faraway place.  You were so uncomfortable, you kept trying to move, but you couldn't walk more than a few steps without laying back down.  Fairly quickly, I saw that your belly was full and hard and swollen.  I knew right off the bat that this was likely the end for you.  I called the emergency vet and loaded you in the back of the CR-V and off we went.  The vet told me that you had bloat, or gastric dilation volvulus.  As I'd feared, the treatment for this would likely be much, much more than we could afford.  I told the vet right then that we needed to euthanize you and stop your suffering.  He agreed.

I got to see you once more.  You were lying on the table, catheter placed in your leg.  You looked up when I entered the room, and your tail thumped on the table just once.  I reached for you; you put your head into the crook of my elbow, pushed against my belly.  I stroked your big head and kissed you right between your eyes.  I told you that it was going to be okay; that your pain was over and I was going to fix it.  I scratched behind your ears and tugged them gently one last time before the vet pushed the euthanasia drug into your veins.  You were gone before he even checked for your heartrate; I just knew.  I pulled your collar off before touching your sweet face in goodbye.

You've been a part of my life, a part of me, for nine years.  I'm really going to miss you.  And I'm really sorry that this is how our relationship has ended.

When I was eighteen, I wanted a Rottweiler puppy.  I went to an adoption at a Petsmart where I was told there was a rottie mix pup for adoption.  You were inside the little cat room with the Plexiglas front window, and I couldn't see anything but a tuft of black fur.  I went inside and you bounded up into my arms, a ten week old black hairball and a pink tongue spotted with purple. I petted you and hugged you and laughed at you for a few minutes before going to the table to fill out your adoption paperwork.  You sat in the window and watched me, tail wagging all along.

You certainly didn't grow up to be a Rottweiler, but you did grow up to be such a great dog.

There are so many things that I want to remember about you - so many things I'm afraid of forgetting.

You were always a sensitive spirit.  You sat on my feet, head in my lap when I'd cry.  When a baby cried, you'd rush to whomever was nearby but not holding a baby and look at us with those soulful brown eyes as if to say, "The baby is crying - why aren't you fixing it?"  If T and I were arguing, you'd tuck your tail between your legs and slink back and forth between us, trying to stop the raised voices and hurt feelings.  You loved sitting in front of the security door and watching the world outside the house.  When you tired of sitting, you'd lay down with your nose out the crack at the bottom of the door.  You would back up obligingly when E decided she'd rather have the front door shut, and she was going to do it whether or not you were in the way. You were so incredibly tolerant of babies.  All kinds of babies.  We fostered puppies and kittens and you loved each one, letting them chew on you or hump you or make nests out of the hair on your tail. You let our foster son and daughter pull your ears or fling themselves on you or open your mouth to examine your teeth and tongue.  And when E was born, you showed an attachment to her that melted my heart.  Your favorite place to nap was in front of her crib or under the kitchen table.  You were always so gentle with E, carefully taking the dog food she pilfered out of your bowl and insisted you eat out of her hand. You were always ALWAYS excited to see us when we came home - often to a point of annoyance because you wouldn't move out of the way so we could come inside. When we had visitors, you could barely contain yourself for want of running up to them and wiggling or sitting on their feet or sticking your nose in their crotch.  You were never the most graceful of creatures, but you were funny.  UPS, mailworkers, delivery personnel, Jehovah's witnesses, kids going door to door raising money for their team or club - people from all walks of life were TERRIFIED of the huge barking dog that lived in our house and frequently ran into the door because he didn't stop running in time. I never could convince anyone that all you'd do is love them to death.  You were so strange about food - sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get you to eat.  And you were so good about not begging.  You knew you weren't permitted near the table during mealtime and you politely waited at the edge of the dining room.  You were so scared of thunderstorms and fireworks.  We had a ThunderShirt we'd wrap around your ribs to help you feel safer, but ultimately you'd rather curl up under a bed or table or in a corner somewhere until the loud noises stopped.  You were amazing about only having accidents on hard floors rather than carpet.  I don't know how you taught yourself that, because I surely didn't, but you never had an accident on carpet.  And we really appreciated that.  You loved going for walks and car rides, even though you weren't terribly good at riding in the car. You had such a kind and accepting heart.  You thought all animals wanted to be your friend, even if they distinctly thought you were too excited, too big, too much to handle.  A dog trying to bite you obviously seemed like a dog who needed your love.  You weren't the brightest crayon in the box, but you tried so hard to please everyone.  And when I got frustrated at you, you'd lower your head and lay your ears flat and have the grace to look embarrassed. You loved to dig into the cool dirt in the shade and stretch out for a nap.  You loved escaping the yard and taking yourself on adventures through the neighborhood.

It's so strange to walk out of our bedroom and not have to step carefully over your sleeping form, or trip on your bed, or accidentally squeak your favorite Lambchop toy underfoot.  I keep seeing your empty waterbowl and thinking, "oh shoot, I need to fill that up!".  I drive up into the driveway and hope that E wasn't sleeping, because your barking at my arrival will surely wake her.  I no longer have to be vigilant about the gate latching all the way.  There's no black Houdini dog to push it open anymore. I vacuumed today - and I knew that it meant I was vacuuming up the last of your hair clumps.  It almost felt disrespectful to be getting rid of every last piece of you so soon after your passing - and having that thought feels foolish.  Leaving your shed hair in my carpet won't bring you back home.

You have been with me for my entire adult life.  To face the day without you now... well, it feels like stepping into a new chapter.  I hate the fact that E will probably never remember how much you loved her.  I hate the fact that you'll never meet any other child we may have.

We knew that you were getting on in years, and your hips and legs have only been getting worse in recent years.  We knew your time was close.  I just didn't realize how close.

Sleep sweetly and well, wonderful Manni dog, knowing that you were loved and that you did an amazing job of being our dog and our friend.  I'll miss you and your happy dog grin.




 Manni McGill
March 2005 - February 15 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dear Grama

Today was your memorial service.  I've never actually attended a memorial service before, so I can't say how it compares, but I thought yours was fitting.  I think you would have liked it.

It was simple.
It was heartfelt.
It was full of love.
It had Pepsi.

We gathered together, everyone in one room, seated in burgundy plastic chairs facing a table.  On the table was a simple cloth, a 2 liter bottle of Pepsi in the center, two framed photos (one of you from your Navy days, one of you with your adult children around you), and two elegant vases of cut flowers - tiny sunflowers and daisies and baby's breath.  It made me laugh, because as my mother-in-law remarked, cut flowers were perfect for this because you always said you hate cut flowers. Cut flowers are for funerals.  And here we are.

Aunt Gretchen was our master of ceremonies, and she led us into a short but meaningful program where several family members recounted stories and thoughts of you, followed by the Lord's prayer, and finished up with the playing of Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" remix.

Many people say, during times of grief and loss, that our loved one who has passed away wouldn't want us to be sad.  But I don't know if that's accurate even some of the time.  Today, I think you would have appreciated that we all are saddened at the idea that we'll no longer be making new memories with you.  Everyone wants to be loved.  Everyone wants to leave a mark on our ever-changing world.  Sometimes that mark is just a room full of people who weep to think that you've left us. Of course, you've left a more lasting impression than that in all the people who are here because you were here.

We walked out of the community room, where many of us allowed ourselves to truly feel the finality of your loss, and we left the darkness of the building for the bright sunshine of a desert winter's day.  A light breeze cooled the tears from our cheeks.  The great grandchildrens' shrieks and laughter filled our ears - the music of life.  We remembered to smile.  We gathered in groups, taking photos of people who see each other all too infrequently.

It was a gorgeous day.  I know you would have loved the warm sun on your skin, the crisp scent of fallen leaves in the air.

It was the perfect day for you, for your memory to be firmly embedded into each of our hearts.

Together, we will forge ahead.  Sometimes, we'll let the grief overwhelm us.  But that is no way to live.  So mostly, we'll keep living.  We'll live on with the lessons you taught us, the jokes you laughed at, the jewelry you left us, the photos we gave you that have now been returned.

And the next people to join the family?  The spouses to come, the children yet to be born?  They'll know you, too.  Everyone will know the infamous Nan, the matriarch of the family.

Thank you for sharing your life with us, Grama.

Another Goodbye

I fully intended on writing a blog to share all of the Christmas photos, but it seems that Christmas is going to continue to be overshadowed by loss.

Today is the memorial for my grandmother. I should be getting dressed.  I just can't bring myself to put on the outfit I picked out. I know its a memorial, most people will be wearing black.  I never in my life saw my grandmother wear black. For her entire family to gather, somber faces and black clothes just doesn't seem to be a testament to her very colorful life. 

Unfortunately, I don't really have anything bright enough to make that statement. I work in a theater, 95% of my wardrobe is black. So I will go put on my black blouse, and my grandmother's ring, and go find the comfort of family as we celebrate the life of my grandmother.




Friday, December 27, 2013

Dear Nova

Dear Nova,

Today's the first day that you're gone.  Today is hard.  We miss you.

When you came to live with my parents, you were just twelve days old.  When we saw your pictures, T and I both felt something strong.  I fell in love with you then.  We wanted to bring you home, to have you in our family.  We waited and hoped and finally, just before you turned six weeks old, it became official that you'd become a McGill.  The day before you turned eight weeks old, you had your spay and your scar adhesion removal surgeries, and we brought you home to Tucson.  That was a special day.  December 2nd.

Over the next weeks, you grew and you ate and you loved and you chased and you dug holes in the yard.  You ran and played and snuggled and grew some more.  We started leash training and went on daily walks.  We began working on basic commands - you loved to learn new things!  By the time Christmas arrived, you knew come, sit, up, down, crawl, and we were working hard on stay.  You were so quick, so intelligent, so curious.

You loved your little girl, E.  You were so gentle with her.  I really appreciate you being careful with our toddler, even when she tried to sit on your head or hug you too tightly.  She loved taking you outside and praising your potty training efforts.  "Good girl!" quickly became her phrase of choice. She loved you from the start.  You two were supposed to grow up together; we'd hoped you would sleep in her room and be her champion.

Christmas morning arrived, and you happily pulled your new quacky duck toy from your stocking and ran around stealing wrapping paper and ribbon.  You got your very own tag for your collar - it had just arrived two days earlier in the mail.  We took Christmas photos and hugged your silvery body and kissed your wet black nose.  You went to bed a happy pup.

But the morning after Christmas, you weren't feeling well.  You scarfed down your breakfast as usual, but then you threw it back up.  You wanted to go lay down.  That was already the beginning of the end, but nobody knew how seriously sick you were.  I'm so sorry, Nova.  I'm so sorry I didn't know.  I wish I'd taken you sooner to the vet, maybe that would have made a difference.  But you were so damn strong, you were acting just like your normal self until you could not do it any longer.

You laid on your little dog bed, your blanket tucked around you, all morning.  All morning we watched and worried.  I tried to get you to drink water, but you didn't want any.  I syringed water into your mouth and you swallowed it.  I listened to your lungs, they sounded clear.  Your heart rate was getting higher and higher and you started working hard at breathing.  We grew more concerned.  We called the vet and were referred to the local emergency hospital.  My dad started his car and drove us.  You sat curled up in my lap, shivering and breathing hard.

The vet did some x-rays.  You had pretty bad pneumonia in both lungs.  Even when the vet listened to your lungs he'd said they sounded clear, so everyone was surprised.  He also found that your belly was full of gas from you swallowing air while trying to breathe more oxygen in.  Your intestines were inflamed, he said from a "dietary indescretion".  We'll never know what had your intestines so upset, but our guess was that you had too many different new kinds of treats and maybe you'd eaten some plants in the yard.

Dad and I left you in the vet hospital's ICU, in the oxygen box to help you breathe.  They hooked you up with IV fluids, antibiotics, anti-vomiting meds, antacids, and some pain control.  Your oxygen saturation was at 97 percent.  We had to open a Care Credit account to pay for your hospitalization, but I was just focused on getting you home healthy.

After dinner a few hours later, my phone rang.  I recognized the emergency hospital's phone number and my heart began to deflate.  It was your doctor.  He said that despite all the treatment and being in an oxygen saturated environment, you were looking worse and your oxygen saturation was down to only 91 percent.  He suggested that we come back to see you and make a decision about your continued care.

We packed up the family and drove to the hospital.  You lay in the oxygen box on your side, belly clenched tight, head up on a folded brown towel.  You had an IV in your leg, a temp probe and an oxygen sensor attached to your lip, and you were shaking with the effort to breathe.  Your eyes were open, but not focused.  I put my hand in through the small opening in the plexiglas door and touched your velvet nose, rubbed that soft little hollow between your eyes, and then I held your paw while the vet talked.  He left T and I with you to make a decision.  I took my hand out after we'd talked, and went to go get the doctor.  T said to wait, that you were upset I was leaving.  She said you tried to get up, you lifted your head and looked for me.  I came right back, but my hand through the opening and held your sweet face.  You looked into my eyes.  At that moment, I thought you were asking me to not to give up on you.  I think that's what I wanted to believe.  We decided to give you a few more hours to fight.

We let my parents come in to visit you while we played in the lobby with E.  A few minutes later, the next shift vet came running out to get us - you'd begun trembling violently and barking out.  We rushed back in and I again placed my hand on your head.  You stopped barking, but I could feel the vibrations through your skull of you groaning and growling as your eyes rolled halfway under your silver lids.  I knew that you were done.  I knew I couldn't bear to watch you suffer a moment longer.

Gently, the vet asked me if this changed my decision.  Tears spilling down my cheeks, I nodded and croaked, "I can't ask her to fight like this anymore." He touched my shoulder before going and getting the meds he would need to help you go to sleep. A tech gently lifted you out of the oxygen box and placed you on a table, leaned up against my body.  Your little girl came in and she wrapped her arms around your neck and hugged you one last time.  She touched her forehead to your head, and then she waved at you and said, "Bye!" so brightly that it cut me down deep.  T carried her back out to my parents while you and I waited for the end.

I curled my arms around you, I kissed your soft head and I whispered how much I loved you and how wonderful you were into your ears.  T came back and held us both as the vet injected an overdose of anesthesia into your little body, and I felt all your weight slump into my arms.  He listened to your chest with his stethoscope and said quietly that your heart had stopped.  It felt like mine had, too.  Tears upon tears slid down my cheeks as I hugged you again and kissed you and stroked your wonderful face one last time.  I laid you gently on the table and left as quickly as I could after shaking the vet's hand.

The feeling of your warm body in my arms is all too real.  The scent of your puppy breath, of fresh dirt in your fur, they are stuck in my nostrils.  The memory of you doesn't even feel like a memory yet; 'It can't be true! She can't be gone!' my arms cry out.  I cried off and on the whole drive home from Phoenix.  I cried myself to sleep.  I woke several times during the night, convinced I heard your little voice again.  I cried myself awake.

Your toys were still strewn about the house this morning.  Your pen is still set up by the table.  E is still carrying around your dog bowl and pointing at the backyard, asking me, "Good girl?"  And I have to say, "No baby, Nova isn't here anymore."  And I cry.

I've gathered up your things.  They're in a pile.  I think I'll donate your blankets and puppy pads to a rescue group, and your puppy toys if the rescue will take them.  I don't know if I could bear to see them around the house for Manni to play with.  Your collar with your brand new tag sits on top of the pile.  Those I'll keep, though I don't know where.  You looked so beautiful with your periwinkle collar and your copper tag with stars stamped into it.  You only got to wear your tag for two days.  It should have been a lifetime.

I miss you so much it hurts.  But I thought you should know how very much you were loved.  I wanted so badly to do right by you, and I hope upon hope that I made the right choice.  And I hope that one day, I'll find you again, my Little Grey Dog.  You were a wonderful piece of our lives; you touched hearts and you will be remembered.































































Goodbye, SuperNova.

Love always,
A