To There and Back Again

Six months ago in the wee hours of a Sunday morning I dreamed about my oldest son. In this dream, a police officer told me that my son had been hurt and was taken to the hospital. I kept asking over and over again, what happened? Was he going to be okay? There was never a response, just a click and then a dial tone on the other end.

A mother’s intuition can sometimes be unsettling and I woke up with a terrible sense of foreboding.

The next morning I received a phone call with the caller I.D. displaying West Virginia. Normally I don’t answer calls from another state because more times than not they are solicitors. However, I knew from the dream that I had that this call was going to be different. From my solar plexus, I knew that it wasn’t about my daughter overdosing again on heroin. I thank my lucky stars every day that she has gotten her life together and our relationship has blossomed because of her recovery. No, this was definitely different and I knew that I wasn’t going to be prepared, dream or not, for the news coming from the other end of the line.

I was relieved to hear that he was fine and that he was going to be okay, but he was in the hospital.

And then the story unfolded with information that I found difficult to process.

It was Two weeks before the incdent that he called me. He didn’t need money or anything, he just wanted to talk. He was living less than an hour away from us in Portland, but his daily life was busy with working full time and going to college.

I knew that he was stressed, his girlfriend of three years went off to college out of state and the long distance thing wasn’t working out too well. It was on again off again for 6 months before they officially ended it. He hated his job and had taken on too many classes. Add to that, he was having to deal with his alcoholic father who called him incessantly, all hours of the day and night while in a drunken stupor asking for favors that my son would inevitably give in to.

This was a 20 year-old who had reached his breaking point, but I never knew just how bad it had gotten for him. Yes, I knew these things were happening in his life, but the more I pried, the less I knew. He was careful to omit the sordid details; details that would eventually be revealed. He was always one who didn’t want to burden others with his problems, so he kept the conversation light, thanked me for listening and told me he loved me.

A few days later he just up and left at 3 a.m. He packed his car and headed to Kentucky of all places, to visit “friends” he had met on an online game. When he called me from Missouri, I was shocked, but he was an adult. As hard as it was, I bit my tongue. I couldn’t very well ask him what the hell was he doing or demand that he come right home. He was in good spirits and sounded happier than he had for several months.However, this journey he was on wasn’t all he had hoped it would be. He realized that no matter how far he went, he wasn’t going to be able to escape his problems.

So he had decided that there was really only one solution to his misery. After some quick research, he found what he was looking for. He got in his car and drove four hours east. With a Sharpie he wrote his first and last name on one arm (to make sure his body could be identified) and the password to his phone and laptop on the other. He then climbed out onto the ledge of a bridge that is known as a hot spot for suicides. People are drawn to this place with its impressive height and view of the Appalachian Mountains. It was a sure thing to extinguish feelings of hopelessness.

It just so happened that on this sunny day a sheriff’s deputy was on patrol and saw a car illegally parked alongside the bridge. This usually meant only thing, and sure enough he was found standing on the 3 foot wide ledge. This situation was very personal to the deputy because she lost her sister to suicide just three weeks prior. She called for backup and they were able to talk him into being helped from the ledge and taken to the psychiatric unit at the hospital.

The next 5 days were a blur as we caught a flight across the country to West Virginia. We got his car out of impound, and met with the doctors at the hospital. The relief that I felt when I saw him walking down the hall overwhelmed me. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t help the tears that flowed. My hands were trembling when I hugged him. Through his own tears, he kept apologizing for what he put us through, just as he had apologized to the sheriff’s deputy for causing a traffic jam on the bridge. At that time, I could only tell him how much he was loved, and how happy I was that he was still “here”.

The drive home was more of a rollercoaster ride for my emotions, and we sought intensive outpatient care as soon as we got home. We also began family counseling, where we learned that he began thinking about self-harm at 11 years-old. By the time he was 12, he was cutting himself on his upper thighs where the wounds would be hidden.

But he seemed so happy! He laughed; a lot. He played with his younger siblings who were 9 and 10 years his junior. He loved sports. He had lots of friends. But deep down, where we couldn’t see, there was a sadness that grew and grew. We have talked about why he didn’t come to us then. He explained that with the chaos and anxiety surrounding his older sister and her addiction, he didn’t want to add more to our stress. So he kept it in. We didn’t see. We never knew. Not until it was almost too late.

Fast forward 6 months and we are still trying to navigate the choppy waters. The treatment is ongoing and he is still living with us. He recently got a new job that he likes and has begun to think about his future in constructive, positive ways. He now will talk honestly about his emotions and we can only take it day by day, dealing with the ups and downs of life. We notice and appreciate the small victories. But then there is the underlying fear that my husband and I share. I’m not sure if it will ever truly go away. It’s a familiar fear, but it’s a different sort of vibe, because each child is unique. Things are far from perfect, but I see subtle changes in all of us and how we connect. There is now hope where once there was only invisible hopelessness.

***This event made me aware of how preventative measures are desperately needed to close the communication gap. There needs to be a willingness to talk about depression and other mental health issues between parents and children and the teachers that we entrust them to. There also needs to be a willingness to listen and give support. Enough of the avoidance and looking the other way. Uncomfortable as it may be, learning about depression and feelings of self-harm should be just as important as the (sometimes controversial) 5th grade health films they show our kids in school. These issues need to be included in the topics covered in said films to hopefully lessen the stigma for those who reach out for help.***

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Letting Go

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Well, we had a good run dear Jazzy Girl, didn’t we? Today was peaceful, well as peaceful as a vet office can be for a skittish girl like you. For the most part it was just you and me kiddo, until we saw your vet who was kind and gentle with you as always. I think you and me both were ever so grateful for the soft quilt they laid on the floor just for you. Mamma even got down on the floor with you and we snuggled up close as they gave you the first shot. You fell asleep so fast and my resistance told me it was too fast. Even though I had already said a thousand goodbyes there really could never be enough.

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I’ll bet you know that I never let go of you for one second and never stopped telling you how much you were loved. When they began to squeeze the blue stuff into the vein on your leg to stop your heart, you did your little dream whimpers like you were having fun chasing the squirrels. I buried my head into your beautiful, soft, white fur that was so fluffy from the bath I gave you this morning. When you went silent and still and I could no longer feel any rise and fall of your belly, your doctor listened for your heartbeat and finally confirmed that you had passed. I stayed with you for a little while, knowing you were gone, but you were still so warm.

It was a fleeting memory that I had while I stayed with you. Remember when the kids were very small and were scared of the dark? I would place my hand on their heart and have them place their hand on mine and you’d always appear, squeezing your nose in there, making sure it touched the outstretched arm of the frightened child. And I would look into their eyes and say to them, “I send a bridge of protection and loving light to your heart” and they would repeat it, sending that loving light energy back to mine. You received some of that loving energy too, because it was always in abundance and there was plenty enough to go around. I calmly reminded them that the bridge was our connection and that our love kept it strong and no matter how far away I might be (which at bedtime, this usually meant I was merely in the next room) that bond could not break. And they felt safe. I just want you to know that I loved sharing little moments like that with you.

I couldn’t help but shed more tears into your fur before I left, trying to get a handle on my emotions and not letting guilt take over my heart because Little Love, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But sweet Jazzy Girl, I must put trust in the fact that you are no longer in pain and I take comfort in the fact that you were able to pass over with dignity and grace. Until we meet again my sweet girl, my heart sends a bridge of protection and loving light to your heart, and I can feel that same bridge of deep love and protection from you, connecting us between the worlds. You will be so greatly missed by your family, but I don’t really need to tell you that, Little One. You already know.

Jazzy Starr

 March 30, 2009 – January 30, 2017

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The Here and Now; Living in the Moment

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This morning I passed by the family room altar with a pile of clean laundry. As I dumped it over the top of the couch and thought about how I needed to dust, my eyes landed on a “memorial” of sorts for Jazzy. Call me morbid, but in trying to work out how I was going to help my children deal with the transition, I made something to be placed on our altar a few days ahead of time. Just a small, framed photo and poem about the “Rainbow Bridge”. I was too distraught to even create my own poem. Hell, I could barely even do that little bit of copy-paste.

Each family member added something that reminded us of her. I planned on placing her collar and leash on the altar when I came home without her. My youngest daughter crocheted a small cotton yarn bracelet and hung it from the corner of the frame to be charged. She asked if I would place it on Jazzy’s left foreleg before she was “gone” and to tie it snug to make sure it stayed there “through what they, you know, do with her body after”. When I told everyone the good news, she immediately took the bracelet and with a big, beautiful smile on her face asked me to tie it snug to her wrist.

It’s many days later and our altar has slowly changed shape and form, but I decided to leave the picture itself there for the time being (interestingly, I never placed the date of her death on it). I feel it’s a beautiful reminder to us about life and the afterlife. The soul to soul connections we create (or continue) with loved ones during our incarnations are powerful and whether or not the “Rainbow Bridge” exists on the way to the Summerlands is really irrelevant at the moment. But I do think it will spark some creative conversation about how as individuals we feel about the cycle of life, death, the afterlife, and rebirth. There will be so much to talk about, and I’m curious to see what they spill out after being raised in a Pagan/New Agey/Touch of Wiccan/Zen Moment Reminding/Goddess Worshiping home. It should be interesting and I’m bound to gain new insights on how their own unique individual thoughts and feelings about their spiritual paths are evolving. They are old enough now to be able to make distinctions of what resonates with them and what doesn’t. And that’s what I want for them.

I think that some day next week we will sit down as a family and together write (or draw, or paint, and/or collage, etc.) something meaningful about our own personal connection to Jazzy in the Here and Now and create something special, perhaps a small hand-bound scrapbook or something that we all have contributed to… I don’t know yet, right now I am just too damned exhausted. My hope is that it will open the way to contemplate our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and to remind ourselves of what we take for granted. I want it to help each of us to realize and appreciate every moment we have and every meaningful memory we create in the Here and Now. Because really, the Here and Now, this moment, this breath, is the only thing we know is for certain.

 

All You Need is Love

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Since I received the recommendation from our veterinarian to put Jazzy down, I had a lot to deal with. A lot to think about. A lot to process.

German Shepherds (some might call her a White Swiss Shepherd) are notorious for their health issues. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia, pancreatic problems, Degenerative Disc Disease, Degenerative Myelopathy, Panosteitis, plenty of skin problems, Epilepsy, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, and on and on it goes. My only complaint for a long time was the amount of dog hair that would come off of her, even when I brushed her everyday and it wasn’t shedding season. I’d just finish sweeping when I’d see more clumps of fluff tumbling down the hall. I wish that was all it was, but for the past 3 years she has been suffering from chronic perianal fistulas that are very painful and very frustrating to treat. Round after round of antibiotics, prednisone, and $400 tubes of topical creams (not kidding) would heal things for a while, but as soon as the medication stopped, they’d come back.

I knew they had returned when the usual symptoms occurred. She is a long-haired G.S. so that means that she’s so dang fluffy and furry that it’s hard to even detect anything is wrong until it’s already gone way wrong. This time fecal incontinence happened simultaneously, and the vet told us that since that has happened, the P.F.’s would more than likely never heal and everything would only get worse from there. And apparently, it looked like she was suffering from arthritis too. At this point the only “humane” thing to do was to put her down. I wanted to wait. I wanted the weekend and a day or two after that to prepare myself and my family.

Upon receiving the news of what loomed ahead, my heart grieved while I cooked up her favorite food; boiled chicken & rice. Nothing fancy, just chicken breast and white rice. She’s always been a very finicky eater and never one for table scraps. She’s the first dog I’ve ever met that would spit out bacon, turn away cheese, ignore hot dog slices, or never bother with begging at the table. She simply knew that if she did, that she would get sick.

She’s been on several different novel protein diets over the years because the dry chicken and rice food didn’t seem to settle well on her tummy. We tried everything from salmon to buffalo, duck, and kangaroo. Lamb was what seemed to be working for her the best, so we stuck with that. But really, her ultimate favorite cooked food is the chicken and rice.

So that’s what I made her. I cooked up what I figured would be enough for her final days. I chopped the chicken up fine, hand-mixed in the rice and fed it to her warm.

I massaged her muscles, let her snuggle with me in bed, even sang to her, and all the while my heart ached. I bathed her gently, brushed her, and when I would cry she’d lick away my tears. I made poultices of comfrey and lavender, and swept up the dog hair without a grumble. I was more than happy to do so, for as long as I could.

And she never once made a mess in the house.

Monday came and she was dropping her favorite toy at my feet. She started chasing the cat, and following me around the house like everything was normal.

I kept looking at her smiling at me with those bright sparkling eyes of hers until I finally got it. This was a dog that still enjoyed doing things. In fact, she seemed happier than she had been in months. This wasn’t a dog that was ready to die. This wasn’t a dog that I was simply going to throw away. I still had hope because she held that hope for the both of us in those soulful eyes of hers. I cancelled the appointment to have her put down and contacted a different veterinarian.

Today she saw her new doc. They sedated her, and as she swayed like a drunk, I gently coaxed her to lie down on the blanket they had placed on the floor for her. A few seconds later her head dropped in my lap like a stone. I pet her and soothed her as the vet and her assistant sat on the floor opposite me to see what could be done. They clipped the hair underneath her tail close, flushed the wounds, and assessed the damage. She would be okay. A completely different outlook and a slightly different medication route. She will more than likely have to stay on the steroidal medication for the rest of her life. I’m okay with that as long as she is.

I asked helplessly, what else could I do? She smiled and said I was already doing everything I needed to do, I followed my instinct. Feeding her the bland chicken and rice was the best thing I could have ever done. Feeding it to her calmed her angry intestinal tract and ultimately saved her life. She wasn’t incontinent, her body was just finally reacting to the expensive dog food!

And to think that I almost extinguished the light in those eyes makes me angry and hurt. But I will be forever grateful for the time I spent reflecting on all the things Jazzy has taught me over the years. Patience, unconditional love, perseverance, and then more of that unconditional love stuff.

 

 

Little Strands of Hope & Grief

Well, it’s officially month 2 of my stepping down from the meds. I’m wearing a 37.5 mcg/hr patch, but have started taking Clonidine to help with the withdrawal sweating/shaking. We haven’t lowered my oxy dose, in fact it’s increased by 20 mg per day to keep me at a more regulated level.

Last month fell into a sort of blur. Not at first, of course. In fact, I took advantage of a partly sunny day and the kids and I headed to the pumpkin patch. I thought, “Hey, this’ll be a breeze!” But that was only day 1. I managed to go to the serpentine costume “parade” at the school on the following Monday but I was hot flashing big time, majorly woozy, and actually bumped into a wall on my way out the door. (geez, I hope nobody saw that) I didn’t go trick or treating w/the kiddos. The pumpkins never got carved. My husband called the dr. and picked up an rx from their office for a 25mcg dose and I stuck that thing on immediately, like the fiend I was.

I did a lot of coloring. So much so, I don’t think my hand will ever recover.

Slow and Steady.

This week I began to feel pretty darn good. Finally. I’m feeling really encouraged and am looking forward to the day I’m done with all of it!

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But tonight I got some pretty devastating news. Our white German Shepherd (my constant shadow) will be put down next Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. They will then cremate her and her ashes will be scattered over a rose garden dedicated for those purposes.

There are many reasons why, the number one being that her health has rapidly declined over the past several months and she is having a more difficult time holding her bowels, which is distressing to her because she doesn’t want to make messes.

She has always been fiercely protective of strangers, but things took a turn for the worse when she bit a child who had come over to play. It nearly broke the skin, and would have, had she wanted it to. The boys were roughhousing and as I was walking to the room to tell them to calm down, but she had already bitten him on his forearm. The mom was very understanding though. In fact, I was more upset than she was.

I already feel tremendous grief and a growing sense of loss. That gaping hole will only get bigger between now and Tuesday afternoon.

I’m trying to decide on how we should tell the kids.