I burned my morning oatmeal the other day, the first time I’ve ever done that. I had it bubbling away in a pot on the stovetop when I remembered I needed to find a photo for someone, and since the laptop was right there on the counter I figured I’d look the image up while I was thinking about it.
These days my memory leaves something to be desired.
But as I looked for a specific picture of my Aunt I got sucked into the file filed with images of her. She left us last October, already five months now.
I had pictures of her from many of my visits with her during that last year together, and some from before we knew cancer was growing inside her, when we took our last trip down to Alabama together.
I did a lot of fun stuff with my Aunt Becky, she was always on the go and lots of times she brought me along with her. I want to be like her when I grow up. But I hope I get to live beyond her young 87.
I miss her a lot, but sometimes it’s hard to remember she’s not here. It’s like I have to relearn the sad reality over and over. I suppose that’s normal.
But darn, I didn’t realize I’d burn my oatmeal while remembering the good times.
Friday night we attended the Ann Arbor Symphony’s Christmas Pops at Hill Auditorium where I’ve enjoyed many AA Symphony concerts with my aunt. Friday my husband sat on one side of me but there was an empty seat on the other side.
I was lucky enough to hear Sleighride and Christmas Festival again, pieces I play every year with my own community band. I have to say I think CCB’s whip instrument was more effective than the one used Friday night, but having strings really makes those pieces extra wonderful.
At one point Silent Night was filling the auditorium, voices and instruments singing softly, the sound rising up to hover near the ceiling and I thought about my aunt and how she would have loved this concert. I wished she could be there, I could imagine her, dressed in holiday red, grinning back at me as we silently acknowledged just how good it all was.
I got sort of misty-eyed.
Then I noticed some movement in the lights up near the stage. One of the big round lights near the ceiling was flickering faintly. And, as I watched, it blinked. Twice.
And I grinned.
Because I knew right then and there that my aunt had figured out a new way to grin back at me. Merry Christmas, Aunt Becky, I think you had the best seat in the house.
I’ve been thinking about the best way to share this, some eloquent words that capture the loss our family experienced this week. But there is no easy way.
My last post, Wordless Wednesday is an image I captured in May when my aunt and I were walking through Hudson Mills Park. She was looking for dogwood and trillium. I was trying to capture as much of the experience as she’d let me.
Which means most of my images were taken from behind.
We walked slower this spring than we had the year before, took the shorter trails, gauged whether a hill was too steep or manageable. We stopped to rest on convenient benches more often. There was, after all, no hurry. In fact there was more savoring the moments because we both knew it was our last spring together.
She’d been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and she had chosen not to take any treatment. They told her she’d have a good summer, and, right on schedule, she did.
My sister and brother came up, then my sister came up two more times. We visited her as often as we could. We attended her last symphony, brought her simple suppers rather than expecting the elaborate meals she has made for us our entire lifetimes. We swam with her at her community pool, walked in her beloved Mathi gardens and the University of Michigan Arboretum.
On our last visit, she sat in a wheelchair, pulling sheets of music for my sister and me to play, music she had written when her children were small. She sang along. We played music until she seemed tired, and then we talked just a bit. “Say Hi to Dad,” my sister said, “He’ll surely be waiting for you.”
It was a gift, she said, that she had these past months to spend with her children, with us, with her friends. And so that she could plan and arrange to make things as easy as possible for her family to carry on without her.
We all cried a bit, and then had a long, last hug.
This past Monday morning she left us to say hi to her brother, my dad, and to her husband, her mother, my mother, and so many other family members who had gone on ahead. And on Saturday we all said “see you later” at the most beautiful funeral I’ve ever attended.
She had, of course, planned it all, including her own words to all of us, the hymns to be sung, the prelude and postlude played by the incredible pianist, and the bagpipes played by my sister.
The time she spent with us was our gift as well. She was a gift to all of us, her family, her friends, musicians in her beloved symphony, her neighbors, the students she taught, the community band in which she played.
I can’t be sad, though I will miss her so much; she had a wonderful and joyous homecoming on Monday morning. And, as someone said at the funeral, she’s probably up there organizing heaven right now.
Thanks for all the good times, good meals, good conversation and good company, Aunt Becky. I’ll see you on down the road.
The thing is, I thought you’d live forever. For so many months during your last year we thought we had it figured out. We were a great team, you, me and your daddy, on a strict schedule of meals and pills and head rubs. You were so good about eating the food you didn’t love, taking your pills in peanut butter, going outside to do your jobs so we could photograph and analyze your poo, even coming out of the bedroom in the middle of each night on your own to get your blue pill from your dad, right on schedule.
Until suddenly it didn’t work anymore.
And now when I wake up in the early morning, not because you’re huffing at me to go outside, but because the morning light shines in my eyes, my face is wet with tears and my very first thought is of you. And when I go to sleep at night, not because you insist it’s time to go to bed, but because I’ve worn myself out, my face is damp with tears and my last thought is of you.
And all through the day, when I glance out into our yard, where you lay on a blanket in the shade of a tree under blue skies with white puffy clouds and a soft early summer breeze, my eyes fill again. Sometimes I go stand out there, the place you left us, and silently call for you. I want you to come home. My head is filled with your lasts. Last walk, last time sleeping in the tent, last time at your park, last….everything.
But that’s not what I want to remember.
I want to remember all the wonderful things you did, we did together. I want to remember your days of running with a big grin on your face, and all the thousands of times you posed for a picture, and your joy in meals and ice cubes, and how you loved to catch snowballs and frisbees and run through tunnels and leap over legs and jumps and just how joyful you were, how very ready to go on the next adventure. Always ready.
You remember, don’t you, Katie-girl, how you weren’t sure you wanted to come home with daddy and me when we first met you? How you hid behind a chair when you were left alone with us for a moment that day we went to pick you up? How I came and got you and held you and you snuggled your head into my neck and in that instant you were ours. And we were yours.
Do you remember that first night at home? When you were so exhausted by all the change that you fell asleep upside down on the sofa? You were so tiny. But when you woke up you were a little tornado, always into something. If I didn’t know where you were, if you were quiet, I knew for certain that you were doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing. And loving every sneaky moment of it.
I was in graduate school and you didn’t allow me to read. Your entire life I called you my anti-reading dog because you always felt that if I sat down I should be focused on you. You napped while I did chores, washed dishes, clothes, or cleaned. If I was moving then all was right with your world and you’d settle in on one of your many beds and watch me until you fell asleep. But if I sat down, then all bets were off and I should be playing with you. No reading allowed.
And when you were young, if you really wanted attention and I was ignoring you, perhaps reading on the sofa, you’d leap up, walk up my body, stand with your little feet on my chest and bark at me. The only thing that kept you from continuing to bark was if I massaged your shoulders. You loved that. Your little feet would begin to hurt me, and I’d move you slightly as I massaged, but you’d move your feet right back, insisting on more attention.
As you got older we did more things together. Remember how much you loved doggie school? Even when we were doing obedience and you got bored with all the heeling and sitting and standing and waiting and coming, you still loved school. Mostly because of the treats. And, of course, all the attention you got because you were so beautiful. Everybody loved you. Everybody wanted to give you treats, but you’d only take treats from me. You’d sniff their offerings and then, as a true Princess, you’d turn your head away. You broke so many hearts, little girl.
You got your CD title in AKC and your Rally Excellent, and then we both retired. You weren’t excited about competing, all that waiting around, and your mom couldn’t get those rally signs down anyway. Your job was to follow mama around the ring, not your fault if mama couldn’t read. You tried a bit of agility, but didn’t like waiting for your turn. A princess, should, always go first, right? Plus there was the scary teeter, and don’t even talk about that chute thing!
And then your mama introduced you to scent work. Man, you loved that game! Sniff a box, get a treat! How perfect was that. You loved, loved, LOVED going to scent work school! You couldn’t wait for it to be your turn, you pulled on your leash the entire evening, begging your mama to let you get into the ring and find the right box! I felt bad that we didn’t pursue it further, little girl, you loved it so. But we were traveling more, remember? That made up for missing classes, right?
Remember all the camping trips in northern Michigan sweetie? All those walks under towering pines at Hartwick Pines, or along the beaches of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron? I never got you up the Lake Superior, but those waves might have made you nervous anyway. You weren’t sure about waves at all the first time we walked on the beach, and they were just tiny waves. Your ears went flat and you turned your back on them. Your face told me that my fantasies of walking my dog on the beach at sunset were not likely to happen. But later on, when you got more brave, you ran on the beach and barked at those old waves. You were set on protecting your mama from the danger they presented. Mama tried not to laugh.
And remember when we traveled to Alabama and you ran up and down the dock barking at the waves? You were so cute. You loved the Alabama house, with the air conditioning vents in the floor, perfect for cooling a sheltie tummy. You loved exploring Smith Mountain and the boat rides with your Uncle and Aunt. You loved sleeping on the deck overlooking your lake and napping in grandma’s chair by the big window. And you loved visiting friends, especially the farm with all the horses.
Remember visiting your Aunt’s house? She made you a special bed and you slept on it along with your new toy Mr. Porcupine. We went on long walks in brand new parks, and you got to sniff new smells in downtown Columbus along the riverfront. Why that walk was so long you got to walk in Georgia and Alabama before you made it back to the car!
And you loved running on the beach with your boyfriend Reilly and his dweeby brother Denny down in Florida, remember? You visited them more than once and you always had a wonderful time with them and their parents. The special treats you got while you were there were unrivaled! Let’s just say doggy ice cream was a hit. It was a special time in your adventurous life wasn’t it, girl.
You were lucky you got to meet so many people. Remember Ricky and Callie and their folks? How you had such a good time walking in the ravine, though you wouldn’t walk across that little stream, even after watching Ricky and his mom do it? You made me go back and carry you across, though the rocks were little more than damp. I guess it’s true a princess does not get her feet wet. And you made me carry you up the stairs at their house too. Repeatedly. You figured out how to go down stairs there, when Ricky showed you how, but you refused to go up. Silly little girl.
Sometimes we had adventures closer to home, remember? We’d meet people and go for walks in all sorts of parks. Remember your friend Deuce? We went for plenty of walks with him and his mom. We even went on one walk with him and his brand new little brother Ace. Ace was just a tiny bundle of fur and you were a mature girl of 13 or 14. You told him in no uncertain terms to back off, and he did. By then you were turning into quite the diva, but we figured you’d earned it.
You loved your walks with Queen Abby too. She was sedate like you, and the two of you ignored each other most of the time, except when the moms made you sit for a picture. Even then you didn’t want to sit too close together, you both knew about royal space requirements. But you sure enjoyed some wonderful walks together.
You had good walks with your friend, Peep, too. Lots of long walks in the woods, in all kinds of weather. Peep introduced you to one of your favorite parks in Holly Recreation, where we ended up camping so many times. We wouldn’t have even known about it if it weren’t for Peep explaining how great the park was.
And let’s not forget your time with your sister Payton! Two peas in a pod, you two. You only got to meet twice, but you both loved your walks together. In fact it was with Payton that you walked around Katie’s Park for the last time. You guys were so cute together, I’m glad we were able to spend time with Payton and her folks. I think they loved you too.
In fact, sweetie, I think that’s your legacy. Love. Everybody loved you. You had a huge fan club filled with people, most who never got to meet you. They all feel like they know you, they all loved you, and they all miss you. I know you’ve seen all the cards we’ve received in the mail, all the emails, all the comments on your blog, all the neighbors expressing their sadness.
We all thought you’d live forever, little girl. And I guess you will, just in another way. It’s been a month now. The longest month of my life. The shortest month of my life. I saw you out of the corner of my eye a couple nights ago, heading down the hall to the bedroom as the evening light dimmed. Just like normal, heading off to bed when it got dark, looking over your shoulder to see if I was coming. It was just a shadow, not really you. Or was it?
Come visit me again, sweetie. I take comfort in knowing you are up there with so many that love you, lots of your doggie friends, and members of our families. I know you’re just fine sweetie, no more achy hips, no more upset tummy. You’ve got all sorts of great treats to munch on, and snowballs and frisbees to catch, wonderful beaches to run on, and lovely woods to walk in with so many great smells it’s beyond description.
Watch for us at the bridge, baby-girl, because we’ll be looking for you, our beautiful Katie, when we get there someday. Your daddy and I miss you so much, we will always and forever be yours.
Run fast and free sweet Katie-girl, we’ll see you again one day.
I’ve written posts of celebration for other dogs. Friends’ dogs, dogs I loved, some I’d met, some I only knew online. Those posts flowed from my heart through my finger tips, past my tears and onto the screen as if by magic.
But this is my girl.
And the pain, so deep, is creating a fortress wall high and wide, filled with hidden devises ready to ignite without warning as memories explode and fade in my mind like 4th of July fireworks.
The words in my heart, aching to be set free by my finger tips, are trapped.
This is the time to celebrate Katie, to sit and remember all fifteen years, five months and twenty-three days of her extraordinary life. To relive the adventures, the funny head tilts, the squirrel alerts, the soft tummy tickles.
The last couple days I’ve been thinking about Bonnie, our sheltie-girl who lived with us before Katie. She had an entirely different life with us than Katie has. Not bad different, just different.
The only school she went to was puppy school, where she was mostly shy, but very smart. She threw up on the ride over to school most weeks. I’d arrive with a damp, smelly puppy and jeans soaked in puppy vomit. Regularly. When we got to the distance sit/stays she was so scared she slowly turned around until her back was to me as I stood on the other side of the school gym. The instructor said to me, “Well, she certainly hasn’t bonded with you!” Yet, at the end of the class she won 1st place in our mock obedience trial. Because she was a very good girl and had, in fact, bonded with me just fine.
She had lots of health problems. Born with a heart murmur, she had occasional seizures and was on meds for that her entire life. She had a toe amputated, and her tail, too, after it was injured durng a stay at a kennel. Through it all she soldiered on.
She was lost for four days once, when she was staying with her favorite Grandpa Jack and got out of the house when no one was paying attention. Bruce and I were out of town and Grandpa Jack didn’t tell us she’d run away until we got home. Devestated didn’t begin to describe us and him. Luckily we got her back after signs were put up in the neighborhood and a woman called to say Bonnie had been hanging around in a vacant lot several streets away from Grandpa’s house.
She got lost for a little while here at home, too, when she chased a cat into the woods behind our house and I couldn’t find her. Turns out we hadn’t realized she had become deaf, so she didn’t come when we called for her out there in the woods. My husband found her sitting in a clearing waiting for us to come get her.
I called her my sweetie-girl because she was. Except the three times she got skunked. She never needed to be on a leash, we let her out to do her business at night, and sometimes she got involved with the visiting black and white kitties. Oh the smell! I can tell you with certainty that tomato juice does not take away the smell of skunk. It does, however, give you a smelly, wet orange dog.
She was a special little girl who died three months shy of her 15th birthday, here at home exactly 15 years ago today. I wrote about her last afternoon with us way back when I began this blog. Today I went back to the blog to find out when she died, because she’s been on my mind.
Imagine my surprise to find today was the anniversary.
She never went camping, never explored a park, didn’t go traveling, never really liked being in a car. What she really liked was being home with her people. I guess she’s been hanging around my heart and my mind these past few days because she wants me to know she’s still here. Of course she is. She never ever wanted to be anywhere else.