Lois in June.

Almost 10 months ago, my dog Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer. Since we think she’s almost 12 years old (a rescue, so we’re not sure) we opted to not have her endure treatment, but to make her “last days” comfortable.

I put last days in quotes because here it is, almost 10 months later, and she’s doing so well she may outlive us all. I’ve learned over the past 10 months to take each day as it comes. I wake up, gauge how she’s feeling, and go from there. Some days she’s bounding out of bed before me, a big grin on her face, tail wagging, giving me body slams to get me up, licking my face. Other days I’m up first and she looks at me forlornly, her chin on the ground, big eyes gazing up as if to say, “Sigh. . . Mommy I sure wish I felt better. I feel like shit today. Why do I feel so bad?” On those days I take it easy with her and stay home if I can, giving her extra pets and love, extra treats if she’ll take them, walking a little more slowly with her around the yard. Hoping that she’ll feel better tomorrow and that this isn’t indeed the beginning of the end.

But seriously, the “bad” days (also in quotes because every day with Miss Lois is a good day) are few and far between. Sometimes I forget she’s sick. Sometimes I look to the sky at whatever god may be there (take your pick) and ask, “Are you granting me a reprieve? May we have her just a little bit longer than we thought? Is this all really just a bad dream or a misdiagnosis?” Then another bad day happens and I’m reminded of how precious every day is, every moment is really. Every second with her that she feels okay I’m eternally grateful for. I’ve learned through her to not just be grateful for the big stuff, a house, a car, a loving husband, but the little stuff. The moments, the seconds, the minutes when she’s lying beside me in the early morning and I can hear her breathing. Every second.

On her bad days I’m reminded of the fluidness of time. Nothing stands still, we’re all moving, changing, flowing, getting older. I’ve noticed little changes in her during this time beyond the diagnosis. She moves slower, has a cloudy blueness to her eyes, has a calmness, a resignation that wasn’t there before. She doesn’t react as psychotically to thunderstorms and fireworks, but resignedly goes to a closet or the shower. “Not again. . . sigh,” she seems to say, her paws padding on the wood floor clicking away from me. “Not again.”

I have days, weeks even where I think it might always be this way. She will always be okay, we’ll always be together, everything will always be fine. Time stands still. Then something happens to remind me that nothing stands still. Everything moves and changes. Her salivary gland blocked up a month ago and I knew this was the end. I prepped myself for it, steeled myself to feel the pain. But after overnight minor surgery? She’s a new dog and again I’m looking at the sky in gratitude.

This past week, my good friend lost her beloved horse to cancer. Blue had been diagnosed almost the same month as my Lois and over the past 10 months my friend and I had consoled each other and talked with one another about our fears and our hopes for our loved ones. In a weird way every time Lois did better I thought maybe Blue was going to do better too. Sometimes this was the case, sometimes not. When he passed suddenly I was reminded like a savage blow to the head that nothing stays. People and pets pass. Time passes. Hope isn’t always enough to keep the ones you love with you for as long as you’d like. The anger and frustration I felt, the sadness I felt for my friend was overwhelming. I felt hopeless to help, was at a loss for words when I called her, just felt damn mad that someone I cared about had to go through this. The hopelessness was a like a tight collar around my neck, choking the hope out of me. It made me hold Lois a little closer every time she walked near, gripping her around the belly in a tight hug, smelling the beautiful doggy smell of the fur on her neck, vainly trying like hell to just hold onto one damn moment of good against all that pain.

Not too sound too “guru” or anything, but because I’ve been meditating a year now, in a weird, strange way I’ve been able to relay all of this shit into my practice, which has been struggling as of late. Since Lois’s diagnosis my distraction has reached new levels of hilarity, getting so bad that I was actually reaching for my phone to check email during my 20-minute sessions. It was weeks before it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t the way to go about things. I put the phone on a high shelf, backed my minutes up to 5, and started again.

Now I’m up to 12 minutes as of today and am slowly building up to where it was before Lois got sick. It’s okay I did that, obviously I needed to. No beating up of the self allowed. And it’s okay I get frustrated I can’t hold onto anything. Everyone does. You’re not supposed to be able to hold onto anything in this life. And you’re supposed to go through frustration after frustration until it hits you like a Tyson blow that maybe this is the point. There is no holding on. You have to let go. Of everything. Every minute. Every minute of life is a free fall. Loosen that gut you’re holding in during meditation. Loosen the grip on your doggie’s neck. Loosen your breathing. Loosen your thinking. Breathe. Loosen the criticism in your head about how you can’t help your friend. Let go of it all. Every minute. Every second. Instead of holding onto the moments with your beloved doggie daughter, practice just BEING in the moment with her. Lightly. And when it’s time (and yes, in my head I’m thinking, please don’t let it be time anytime soon), breathe. Then let her go.

I’m a Writer.

In high school, I was on the editorial committee that decided which poems and stories would make it into our literary magazine. Every submission was anonymous, and the committee would first have someone read the piece aloud, then the rest would comment. My junior year I submitted a poem, one I was proud of because it stated my deepest longings, my most deep-seated fears, my hopes, my wishes. It was angst-ridden. My cry for help. After it was read aloud, the committee frowned. “It’s pretty obscure,” someone commented – the nicest comment of the ones that followed. For what seemed like an eternity the group tore apart my poem, line by line. The criticism was not constructive, but cruel. They gorged like lions at a fresh kill while our teacher looked on, silent. I never submitted another piece again, and from that point on, I kept my writing hidden from the world.

Writing was my life, my reason for living, but I pushed it down, pushed it away, because obviously I sucked at it. It didn’t help my parents never encouraged my writing, but instead pushed me into music, art, dance, anything else. After high school, I pursued a degree in illustration, which pleased my mother to no end. When that didn’t work out, I tried every other job imaginable: store manager, barista, bartender, receptionist, typist, copy editor, proposal writer, newsletter editor, English teacher. You’ll notice those last few jobs incorporate writing. I like to think of them as “writing adjacent”. Even though I feared writing, my gut couldn’t get away from it, and so I took jobs to get NEXT to writing without actually touching it.

Even if the job didn’t involve actual writing, I made damn sure it involved my time. I said yes to every project, forged ahead with every new plan and proposal and development at whatever job I happened to have. I wanted my entire day (and sometimes night) FULL, so unconsciously I didn’t have to think about the fact I wasn’t writing. For a time, I even worked two jobs, 16-hour days, which only left me enough time to come home and drink myself into a blackout stupor before starting the whole merry-go-round of denial once again.

But recently, I endured what I like to think of as an existential crisis of conscience. My last job involved some writing, so it was “writing adjacent” but it took up so much of my time. Not only that, the circumstances of the job were so stress-inducing I often found myself lying awake at night – ALL NIGHT – trying to think of ways to make the job better. How could I get up in the morning, go to this job, and not go into the bathroom stall and cry every day? How could I make it more endurable? When you’re describing your job as “endurable” it’s probably not a good thing. Not at all. I had buried my fear, my desire to write so deeply that here I was trying to figure out how to turn a job I hated into one I could at least endure another day. It was a breaking point for me.

I quit. I had to. I was so deep within it, I couldn’t see I was pushing my desire to write away, allowing my fear to act as a wall against it. I would rather die of stress at this job, constantly fighting to make it better, constantly denying my love of writing to sneak into my psyche, rather than just letting it all go. It took a good friend to show me what was going on – to take me by the hand, pull me outside of myself, and show me the scene as it was playing out. She was like the Ghost of Christmas Present in that Dickens tale, her hand around my shoulder, showing me the scene. “Do you see what you’re doing to yourself? Why are you fighting so hard?” Isn’t it funny how someone outside can see the solution so easily when you’ve been banging your head against the wall for years? I remain grateful for her insight, and her swift kick in my ass.

So I cut all ties to that job. Now I was unemployed, untethered, like a balloon set aloft except there’s no wind to carry it anywhere. It’s just there, floating, waiting for someone to blow on it. Waiting for direction. It’s incredibly frightening to feel like that, but exciting-frightening. The anticipation, the faith you have in yourself while you’re untethered is what keeps you aloft.

Elizabeth Gilbert said when you begin a major life journey, when you finally let go and do things differently for the first time, heading into a direction you’ve never been in, you have to have faith the truth will be revealed. And everyone you meet on your journey is a possible teacher.*

This is the truth I keep coming back to. My truth. I have no idea where to go or what to do next. But I keep reminding myself the truth will be revealed. I have been listening to “Eat, Pray, Love” again on audio. It’s amazing how her journey for balance parallels mine for purpose. Because that’s what I’m looking for – purpose. What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to be? In Chapter 30, when Liz finally decides not to become a mother she asks herself, “Okay, so who am I now?” It was like an arrow of light went right into my heart. Because that is me. That is so me it hurts. I say “arrow of light” because it was so validating to HEAR another woman state what I was feeling. I had read these words two years ago, but hearing them now, it really sunk in. I heard it with my heart, not my head.

My husband and I tried to have children, and then when it didn’t work out easily, we decided not to pursue it. We are happy as we are. And even though we didn’t really talk about why, now I know. Both of us, having had happy childhoods, also still possess a huge amount of painful memories and demons we’re still working through. It would be so unfair to bring up a child, the hardest job of all, without having worked through this. Without letting this go. While I might not know my purpose, I do know we were brought together to take care of each other in this life. And that’s more than enough purpose. Except it isn’t, is it? Taking care of my husband is so easy, and my greatest joy. I’m still left with the question, “What now?”

Recently, someone asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a writer,” I replied. The words felt awful in my mouth, like I had just decided to find out what rocks taste like. They rolled around on my tongue like maggots and it took all my force of will to get the words out. I wear a bite guard at night, and frequently I have dreams where I’m trying to speak, but because the guard is blocking my talk the only thing that comes out are squeaks and inhuman noises. This felt just like that. I was like Helen Keller discovering water, except I heard the words and I didn’t believe them.

For the longest time I was a quiet mousy girl, but because of all the shit I’ve gone through in my life I blossomed into a mouthy broad. You can’t shut me up now, and you better not even try unless you want your ass kicked. Now I just need to learn to open my mouth on the page. To get to the point where writing is as easy as talking. So for the time being I’m an untethered balloon. Floating and silent, but emitting a squeak here and there. And that’s fine for now. I have faith.

*I’m paraphrasing, can anyone find this quote for me? I gave my copy of the book to a friend who really needed it.

Char Char

I’m still coming to terms with losing my beloved Charlotte. She wasn’t a pet, but a part of my family, a sister, a mother, a friend. And yes, I find it ironic that her death occurred the same month as the anniversary of my mother’s death. While I’m finally getting the courage to write about what happened on 1/7/91, putting it all on paper with the hopes of letting it go, here I am in the throws of losing another soul I care so much about.

So I’m finagling blog entries moving them about, “Part 1, Part 2” etc. Oh crap, my cat died so I should write about that, but here I am just starting to write about Charlotte too. I need to just let it go and realize that you CANNOT plan life, you can’t place blog entries in the order they “should” go. Life happens. And so some days I may continue to write about Momma, other days I may write about Charlotte. In the grand scheme of things they are one and the same anyway.

I see the connection. The energies of this world have decided that I need to learn to let go, that I need to learn that when someone dies, they do not die. Their energy becomes a part of your energy, a part of the world’s energy. They live. You don’t lose anything. In living your life you allow them to continue to live through you. It’s all one. I know that in my head, I do, but my heart is still getting used to the fact that I won’t ever hear her soft meow anymore. That she won’t ever come stand at the living room door to announce, “It’s 10pm, time to go upstairs to bed so I can curl up beside you then cover your face with goodnight kisses.”

My heart knows she’s still here. Right here. My head just needs to catch up.

Aminopterin and/or Melamine

My cat, Charlotte died on March 15, 2007, from renal failure. I believe it was brought on by eating the Iams pouch wet food (“tuna in sauce” and “salmon in sauce”). I have packets of this food left, and the numbers match the product recall list. It was purchased at the Giant Eagle in Waterworks, Pittsburgh, PA on 3/9/07.

She had been eating this food for a long time, and loved it. But the weekend of 3/10/07 she started eating less and began throwing up anything she did eat. I took her to the vet that Tuesday, and she was diagnosed with acute renal failure.

While Charlotte was elderly, she had never experienced kidney problems in the past. She had high blood pressure and hyperthyroidism, but was being treated for both successfully with medication. She had a 6-month checkup on 2/22/07, and my veterinarian, Dr. Sherwood Johnson, DVM, made a point of saying that her thyroid levels were “perfect” and his only concern was her blood pressure was a tad high. An adjustment in medication brought this to normal levels. No mention of concern was made about her kidneys – none at all. I have since received copies of her two checkups and no concern for kidney failure is present.

I realize this may not be the “clearest case” of food poisoning because of Charlotte’s age and other medical problems. However, eating poisoned food certainly didn’t help and I feel it brought about her passing much sooner. Just as e-coli affects infants and the elderly in a far worse way, I feel this poisoned food affected Charlotte by causing her kidneys to fail when they had been functioning just fine for a cat her age.

I have contacted every television station in the area, as well as Linda Fuoco of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I have pouches of the tainted food should anyone wish to contact me for further testing and/or proof.

I still have not been successful in getting through to the FDA or Menu Foods but I will keep trying. I don’t know what good posting this will do, but it does help me feel better to know that I’m informing as many people as I can. Please, if you have pets, check your food.

Anything you can do to get the word out about this is much appreciated. People need to realize the dangers so that they will not experience the heartache that has come to my family by losing such a beloved friend.

Charlotte

Dear Friends,

My cat, Charlotte has taken a major turn for the worse, her kidneys are failing and I will be helping her into her next life this evening. She has been my closest friend and confidant since 1989 when I found her as a small kitten, quiet and scared. For many years she was more of a mother to me than I was to her – helping me and my husband by comforting us when we were low or unwell. She’s the most intuitive soul I’ve ever met and I will miss her deeply.

I’m very sad, but also very grateful to have had her for 8 more months after last summer’s scare. I just wanted the people I care about to know, since all of you understand our “friends with fur” and I’m so grateful for the fond wishes you sent me last summer. Thank you.

Please send warm thoughts this evening if you think about it. And I hope this finds all of you and yours happy and well.