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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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.

 

 

The End of a Rainbow is Just The Beginning

My step-daughter got married yesterday. It was an outdoor wedding in a beautiful forest clearing not far from our house and a family friend performed the ceremony. It was supposed to rain all day, but somehow the clouds steered clear, making way for the nuptials. The ceremony itself was nonreligious and simple. I loved every moment of it. The bride looked absolutely gorgeous, and witnessing my husband walk her down the aisle made my tears begin to flow.

I never thought a wedding could be so perfect. My youngest daughter was the flower girl, and after some practice I was successful at completing a waterfall braid with her waist length hair and added sprigs of baby’s breath here and there. My youngest son walked the dog down the aisle following the groomsmen. My oldest daughter was a bridesmaid and she actually looked really good, so much so I that I was inclined to believe her when she said she had been clean for over a month. My oldest son ushered me down the aisle, just ahead of the flower girl. (my step-son ushered his mother down the aisle as well).

It was very casual and earthy with just a little kick of boho-chic. It was the perfect opportunity to wear my handmade, heavily embroidered, flowy purple Belladonna/Stevie Nicks style dress with my tall black boots. I curled my hair in tight ringlets then brushed it through and tousled it a bit. I very rarely curl my hair but I felt so pretty that I may have to do it again sometime, just for the hell of it.

The reception overlooked a small valley where we all awed at the complete arc of a rainbow. It was so big, bright and complete that from where we stood we could easily see the end of it hitting the ground.

I laughed and I cried. I danced with my husband beneath the twinkling lights. My parents who have been married for 44 years, danced beneath the lights too, proof that love can last and endure all the ups and downs of sharing a life together.

Yesterday was a beautiful beginning for two amazing people in their early 20’s who were highschool sweethearts; and each other’s first and only. If fairytale weddings exist, then this was one of them. May they live Happily Ever After.

Many Blessings on Your Journey )O(

Day by Day

My husband went away on business today. He’ll be gone for two weeks; same as last year. That first time was pretty rough because we had never spent more than two nights apart in 14 years. It was really strange having him gone so long. He will be in intensive training all day, every day and then there’s 2-3 hours of homework every night plus projects on the weekends. Quite frankly we won’t be talking a whole lot. I’ll miss his calls and texts. But I’ll really just miss him. His soft kisses and big strong bear hugs.

He warmed our hearts today (mine actually melted) when after giving us goodbye hugs and kisses, he handed each of us a small notebook. These little notebooks had handwritten messages for each day. We were told not to look ahead, just read each entry for that day and then do our part. I was good, I only looked through the kid’s books because he whispered in my ear that I could, but he stressed the fact that I was not to look all the way through mine. “Day by Day” he says, “and when I read them when I get home I will savor your responses just as much as your curiosity tempts you to look ahead.” Then he kissed me again; a long languorous kiss that sealed the deal. I swooned over my big, burly, Irish Druid. And said goodbye.

He wrote personal little messages for each day he’ll be gone. For the kid’s books, he created tasks for them to complete and sometimes asks them questions about their day. For example, a couple of our daughter’s things to do is, “If you could be any animal real or mythical what would you be? Write me a story about a banana eating a monkey.”

For our son, “Draw your favorite food being eaten by a bug; Tell me a story about a boy that couldn’t stop farting… And then he threw in a few math problems for the both of them; what a meanie, right?

My notebook’s first task was to listen to a song that reminded me of him and then text him the song. What a brilliant way to check and make sure I was doing my mini journal. He’s smart like that. I’m so glad I didn’t forget to look at my notebook!

So I’m alone. Sort of. I’ve got my kids and dog so I’m doing okay tonight. In fact, I will be fine for the first 3 or 4 days before those pesky little pangs of loneliness and longing start creeping their way in. I plan on being busy doing activities with the kids to make the time go by faster. A trip to the science museum, see a movie, visit the library, go to the pool, and then the yogurt shop where we can create our own frozen yogurt with mountains of toppings….

As much as I will miss my husband, there’s also a few advantages to my alone time too. I’ll get to stay up as late as I want reading a book. I’ll have Alexa all to myself (Amazon Echo was my birthday gift last week) and I’ll be tempted to eat cookies in bed and allow the crumbs to fall on his side….just tempted though because I know I’ll probably end up over there in the scratchy crumbs at some point. So I shall save my wild woman ways for the upcoming weekend….

Which brings me to something fun for just me. I’ll be kid-less this weekend thanks to my mom and dad and I’ll be spending the Lammas weekend away in the forest with my Sisters in Spirit. And oh my, will I ever be a wild woman wandering through the trees, luxuriating in the beauty of nature and reveling in the powerful magick of the old growth forest. My feet will be dirty, my hair tangled, and I will be wearing a big smile on my face.

Those are the things that will get me through the first week. The second week is still a blank page full of magickal possibilities.

Many Blessings on your Journey )O(