Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as ravens claws. -Jim Morrison
My days tend to start the same way. I kiss the husband, the kids, and then, Sophie, Butter, Pepper, and our newest addition - Ellie. Well, sometimes Ellie gets skipped. She likes to hide under a bed in the morning.
Getting out the door can be a challenge. Butter and Sophie seem to wake with the same notion every single day. Maybe today I will be going along! They could care less where I am going. If I am heading for the door, they nearly trip me underfoot, trying to beat me there. Every single time - they take their optimistic chances.
By the time I arrive at work, I am already a smorgasborg of smells for our patients. Stray hairs, here and there. I am unequivocably - a pet owner. "Animal companion." I wonder about that term. Who is companion to whom?
One of my favorite things about my job is being surrounded by animals. Puppies, older dogs, elderly dogs - white in the face, dearly beloved. Kittens in for their first exam. Long haired, short haired, exotic bengals.
The vet where I work is in an affluent community. Our clients can, in large part, afford their pets' healthcare. We have one client who brings in a cat nearing twenty years old (!), to get fluids intraveniously. This cat has all but stopped drinking. But he'll still purr, and climb into a lap for a long snuggle. A little hydration from us, and he is good to go - skin and bones and fur, perhaps - but ready for another few days of love. Unconditional, endless, love.
Being exposed to this kind of thing - and not just exposed, but surrounded by it daily - this incredible bond between human beings and their animals - is far beyond anything I could have asked for when I returned to work. I am daily inspired, humbled, and moved by the boundless love that flows between pets and their owners.
In my past career, during the years I was immersed in the (outside the home) working world, I have dealt with missed deadlines and resentful coworkers. Bosses I affectionately referred to as "yellers" who made me want to scream right back. Endless hours, overtime with no pay, glass ceilings and old boy networks in the unlikliest of places. Exhausting, overwhelming, and frustrating - yes.
But nothing could have prepared me for this job I have now.
I have watched grown men and tiny children weep as they have left the rooms wherein I work. My heart breaks a bit, at every loss. I have seen women break down over these tiny little animals that give such great big love. And I've seen teenagers carry in dogs that lived with them their entire life, and then walk out empty handed - and I am certain that the emptiness cuts straight through to their hearts.
On my second day at the vet, a couple came in with a golden retriever well over 14 years old. For a dog, a big dog at that, that is just plain old. On this day, he'd stopped eating, stopped drinking, and was having trouble moving at all. They knew, it was time. They'd had to carry him from their car, and when they came into our office, their dog sat down again. A big pile of golden furry love. When a room was ready for them, their dog had trouble standing. He tried, shaking, but fell back down, and then - looking up at their heartbroken and expectant faces, he tried - again. Someone went in back to get a sling to help pull up his rear side, to help him into a standing position - but before they returned - this dog tried standing a third time - and this time he succeeded. As he walked with his owners into the treatment room, he did not lower his eyes, he stared the whole time at this couple that loved him so, and... on this very last walk of his life - he wagged his tail. He wagged his tail, as if to say: "Look Mom and Dad. I stood up. I did it! I did good."
It's not my job to cry. The circle of life includes death, I know. But oh, the grief. The heartbreak, the loss of such great love. We are better for having loved and lost - yes, yes, I know. But sometimes, the heartbreak - right there in front of me - it is so very much to bear.
Dogs love us so ferociously. So protectively. Above and beyond the call of duty. And at times, without rationale. This morning, we received a call from a client who had a five year old pomeranian. A fuzzy little ball of fluff. He slept each night at the feet of this woman, in her bed. Over the weekend, this woman had her young grand-daughter over - to spend the night. In the middle of the night, the child approached her grandmother's bed - and the pomeranian gave in to some raw instinct, fueled by what? Protectiveness? Jealousy? Perhaps a bit of both? He lunged at the approaching child. Not once, but several times, growling and biting the screaming child - eventually drawing blood.
The child got several stitches, but will be ok. The dog, will not. He came into our clinic this morning, in the arms of his mother. His loss of temper resulted in an injured child, a broken hearted owner, and in turn - the end of his life.
"The holidays are hard." I'd been warned, when I first began this job. Why? I wondered. I tried asking, but there was no real answer. "I don't know, it just seems like there is a lot more loss," one co-worker said.
Just before lunch, as I was cashing out a routine vaccination, the telephone rang and as I counted out change, I also answered the phone.
"Please be patient with me," started a broken voice on the other end. Their dog, the voice explained - was fine, she explained. And then, a correction - "had been fine" He had been just fine, until this afternoon, when her husband had gone out into the backyard, and found that their dog, their just fine dog, had laid down under a tree, and died. The voice, which has asked for patience, is breaking, and I can hear the anguish between the syllables, and I think of my Sophie and Butter, my own Sophie and Butter who are fine, at home (right?) and with that thought, my heart breaks again, just a little bit, along with hers. And still, I have to hand over a receipt, wish someone a good day, and then - in soothing tones, discuss options over the phone. Autopsies if wanted, cremations and scattering or returning remains. In soothing tones, I have to explain what would tear my heart into a thousand pieces if I were on the receiving end.
Nothing, prepared me for this.
At the end of the day, a beautiful 3 year old cat came into the clinic. I won't go into details here, as they will take this post in a completely different direction. Suffice it to say, this cat was beautiful and healthy - and her ailment was one that would be expensive and inconvenient to treat in the long run, but was it fatal? Not until this afternoon, when her owner decided that Euthenasia was the only answer.
In this case, the owner left the cat with us. She didn't want to stay. This is of course an owner's option. Everyone deals with grief and loss in their own way. Not everyone can bear to be by their pet's side when that pet dies.
Now, in back in the treatment room - I have been asked to help out with many a nail trim (dogs and cats tend to be very squirmy. To put it mildly.) I've been asked to help hold or restrain an animal here and there for a quick procedure, more than once or twice.
But today was different. I think there were more of us than needed to be, gathering round this beautiful silky cat. All of us feeling the same sense of frustration and sadness. She was so young, I could still see the kitten in her eyes. One of us rubbed her legs, and another leaned down and stroked her side. I scratched her gently, on top of her head, and leaned down to talk to her. "It's ok," I said. I lied. I wanted it to be true. "You're going to a better place," was the only truth I could find. And just before she got her final shot, under the weight of all those people holding her, just before she pulled in that last breath, I could feel her begin to purr.
I don't know what the angel of death looks like. I don't know if that angel is scrupulously honest, or if, on some days, his every word is a lie. And I've suffered and seen enough loss of human life to know that I'll never understand the "how and what and why." But in moments like these, it is not so far fetched to consider that death indeed makes angels of us all. I can only hope that somehow the wings of grace will lead me through, because God knows, nothing prepared me for this.
"A new kitten will turn your house upside down and at the same time make everything seem right."
(That's a picture of my son RJ, taken about ten years ago. I have always loved this picture. He has a little heart painted on his cheek, and those big brown eyes, oh my.
He is bigger now, still beautiful, (always will be to me, I'm sure!) and sashaying toward adolescence. Sometimes I forget that a part of him will also always be that same little boy, inside.
Today however, something very difficult happened, and I was reminded of his fragility, and overwhelmed with love for him, and by how blessed those of us who are parents - are - to have such tender lives - those of our children - handed over to us for safekeeping.
This morning, RJ's Dad came to take him out to breakfast, to celebrate father's day. But then, right before they left for breakfast, with RJ right there - my ex husband turns to me and says: "Oh, I've been meaning to talk to you. I wanted to let you know that - for a number of reasons, I've decided to stay in Colorado. But, I'd like to have RJ visit me for several weeks this summer, and you know - I'll come visit with RJ when I can - on weekends."
For brevity's sake - I am leaving out some details. For example, the fact that RJ's dad remarried - a woman who has been living in Colorado (we live in California) - a little over a year ago. RJ has only met her a few times, and hasn't seen her in over a year. Oh, and she's pregnant - expecting a child at the end of this month.
It is a baffling situation to say the least. My ex has been leading this odd double life, living here in California part of the time and flying across state lines every other week to spend weekends with his pregnant wife. But, up until this point, RJ's dad has had 50% custody of our son. and while we knew that RJ's Dad was going to Colorado tomorrow morning - for an "extended stay" - to go and be with his wife who is expecting the baby, we always thought he was returning in August to continue this strange double life he'd set up for himself.
I've talked about a lot of personal things on this blog before, but never my ex husband. He's my son's father after all, and there are no words - really - to express the gratitude I feel toward him for being a part of the most extraordinary gift I ever received - that being, the opportunity to be a mother to my incredible and beautiful son.
So, I don't want go on and on here about my feelings, in terms of the timing, or logistics, or bizarre handling of this situation. And, in truth - the feelings I DO have about his - aren't about me anyway. I'm not the important one here. This, is about my son.
Let me digress to say that I adore my own father, but he is no gem and has a knack for abandonment which has rattled my self esteem and trust on such core levels, I couldn't explain it if I tried. I simply have no words for how damaging it is to our fragile spirits, when we were parented by someone reckless and unreliable.
And I'll say this - my heart broke anew today, for my son - this little boy love of my life, when the gravity of the situation hit me. His father moving out of state - has been my son's greatest fear, ever since his Dad remarried. My son has actually said this out loud, during the past year. In tears no less. "You don't think my dad will move to Colorado, do you?" (I can't even remember how I answered those fears. "I don't know what your Dad is going to do, RJ - but I do know he loves you very much." Something like that.)
It's been coming of course, for months now. My ex-husband never talked about it, but this dual life was a bit ridiculous. His wife had to endure the entirety of her first pregnancy, without a husband there 80% of the time! How was my ex-husband going to manage one child 50% of the time in one state, and a newborn and wife in another state? How would he be there, much less hold down a job or be responsible or accountable toward either child, under such bizarre circumstances?
Perhaps some people know how to handle these situations, but I am going to put it mildly when I say that I don't feel that he handled it well... no he simply did NOT handle it - at all.
Cut to today. Father's Day. It may have been coming for months (the news, not Father's Day) but it felt like it appeared out of nowhere - this declaration. The elephant in the middle of the room - roaring suddenly. "Oh, by the way... I'm moving out of state, to live with my new family, my new child. See you later. Goodbye."
There was no talking about it. No forewarning. No... figuring out how to handle this together so that we could mutually support our own child, my son - and reassure him that no matter what everything would be ok. No preparing for the fact that if this was handled badly - my boy, who is still a boy, only 11 years old, after all - will worry, late at night, under the covers, that monster under the bed - up and out and whispering in his ear "your Daddy doesn't love you [as much] [anymore] [now that he has a new family]."
All I had, was that moment, my ex husband explaining that "maybe in six months, a year, maybe, he and his wife will find new jobs and a new home out here. Maybe, then, they will return. Maybe, then, he will be a father again, to our son.
And in this surreal, ridiculous and heartbreaking moment - the weight of the world, every bit of responsibility that the blessing of a child bestows on you - seemed to have been carelessly tossed in my lap. With my child watching, I could not be angry. What if RJ thought that meant that I was angry that he was here full time now? I could not tell my ex-husband that he was a louse or a fool, or how dissapointed I was in his choices and the way he has handled them. Because, the only thing that could make this moment worse for RJ - would have been to have to see his mother and his father fight.
I had to smile. I couldn't shake or even grit my teeth. I had to say something equally ridiculous and surreal, as if I was talking to a neighbor, a casual aquaintence off for a trip around the world. "Ok, well keep me apprised of your plans."
"I'm not really moving... I'm just going to live "there" instead of "here."
It was as if he had become Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat. Bizarre double speak, that made no sense.
My mantra. Smiling. No yelling. THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME. My son was looking at me. I couldn't even grit my teeth. Here is what I said:
"You know what? I don't think it matters what words you use - "living here, living there, or moving" - or whose name is on what electric bill in what state - all that really matters right now, is that RJ understands that you love him, no matter where you live, and of course - you do right?"
Please, please, please. Tell our son you love him, before you say goodbye.
And he did. He said, "Oh, yes, well of course..." He took RJ out to breakfast, and when they returned - it was my ex husband who started to cry. My 11 year old son hugged him and said - "Dad, it is going to be ok."
His Dad left. A car door closing. He drove away.
Everything in my son's life changed today. I know, he will always remember this day. The day his Dad moved. That car, driving away.
"Well, I have to go to the pet store to get some dog-food. Wanna come?" I asked RJ, a few minutes after his Dad left.
RJ sat on the couch. "No Mom. I feel sort of wiped out."
"Ok. Well... you know what. I want you to come anyway. Alright? I just want to hang out with you - ok?" So RJ relented, and came with me.
As it turns out, a local animal shelter was having adoption day at the Petco where we went for the dog food. RJ wanted to hold a kitten, so we sat down together, with the sweetest tiny little tabby I have ever seen.
"Can I have him Mom?" RJ asked after a few minutes. I began to prepare mental notes for all the reasons why another cat in the house would not be a good idea. Why we couldn't, we shouldn't, we wouldn't... and then RJ said:
"Since I won't be going to my Dad's anymore, I'll be with you all the time. So I can take care of the kitty better, that way."
Well. What can I say? Our menagerie of pets has grown, by one kitten. This is a picture of him - near asleep, this afternoon - on RJ's Bed.
He is the sweetest little kitty in all the world. Still, RJ named him "Pepper." Ah well, I suspect RJ - has had a bitter-sweet day.
Ok, before I end here, I want to say this: In my life, I am surrounded by extraordinary men and fathers, all around. My best friend Jenna's husband Randy is father-of-the year, every year, in my book - for the loving and tender way he takes care of his children, his step-children, and RJ too. My other best friend Marc is single and childless, but is incredibly loyal and caring, and both my children - RJ and Abigail, love him dearly, as do I. My brother is an amazing father to my nephew - a joy behold - I love them, my brother and his son - beyond any words' ability to explain.
And of course, my own husband, Richard. He has wrapped his sense of family and faith and loyalty around me and my son and his daughter, as if our family was always meant to be. And of course, I too believe that to be true. Here he is, when RJ was six, making sure that my boy was safe and ready to ride his first skateboard. Making sure, that he was safe.
My husband, my love. He did what a dad will do when they are worried about their children and want to reassure them, today. He hung out with RJ this afternoon. He didn't get mad about the kitten we brought home (goodness knows, this alone is proof this man loves us!) and even told RJ, that his new furry friend was awfully cute. Then, my husband built a rocket with my son. We walked down to the park, our little family - and launched this hydrolic foam rocket high into the sky.
What can I say? Today, something very difficult happened. But also some things wonderful. My son's heart and soul was turned upside down - and because of that, so was mine. But my son and I are so loved and so blessed, and so lucky. AND, we have a new kitten! Life changes and turns, and sometimes hearts break - and yet, it seems, in the end it is always alright.
It makes me think of that quote about kittens:
"A new kitten will turn your house upside down and at the same time make everything seem right."
So, I'll end with this:
Happy Father's Day to all you wonderful fathers out there. Hold, and hug, and keep your children close. They need you near, more than words can say.
And to everyone - hang in there through the difficulties and upside downs. Hang in there. soon enough the tide will turn the other way, and life will seem alright.
And finally, this - another picture I love, taken several years ago of me and my little boy wonder, my blessing, my child love of my life...
My little Sophie, a rescue dog herself - is tyring to hop on the bed here, she has a request of all of you - for just a little bit of help.
Oh, but NO, not for her!
Sophie's asking for help for the incredible animal rescue foundation, A Place to Bark.
The extraordinary generosity of caring individuals all over the world has boosted A Place to Bark into second place in the America's Giving Challenge hosted by Parade Magazine.
This next ten days will make all the difference in trying to push A Place to Bark into the winning spot.
Have you made a donation yet? Every $10 (or higher) donation made by individual donors helps to get A Place to Bark closer to winning. And when the hundreds of dogs (and cats too!) that Bernie rescues are given a chance to live a life full of love, affection, and the care that they deserve - we all win.
If you haven't donated yet, donate now. If you have donated - thank you - and now is the time to send emails, post on blogs, and ask your family and friends to donate too.
AND ~ a wonderful array of artists have stepped forward to offer gifts that will be awarded to randomly chosen donors, at the end of the contests. When you donate, you may just end up receiving:
So, on behalf of Sophie, myself - and certainly Bernie and all the dogs she has and will continue to rescue -
Bernie at A Place to Bark has entered a contest to win funding for her animal rescue foundation. For every $10.00 donated through the badge below, she gets closer to the prize. Right now she is now #5 in the top ten badges
BUT she needs to be in the top 4 badges to win the grant -
From Claudine Hellmuth:
"We can do it, we are SO close, thanks to all your help! To those of you posting the badges to your blogs and spreading the word -- thank you! thank you!!! Each $10 donation is important and helps her get that much closer to winning!
But we need more help to get A Place to Bark to win this grant! Let's make Bernie the number 1 badge!!! We only have until Jan 31st so we have to work quickly! I know we can do this."
As a thank you for donating your $10 to A Place to Bark, Tim Holtz is giving away one of his artworks to a lucky donor andClaudine Hellmuth is giving away her incredible original artwork as shown above - a 16x20 framed artwork that was featured in Claudine's book Collage Discovery Workshop:Beyond the Unexpected.. In addition - ZNE will give away one Lifetime Membership!
How to win:
Everyone who donates just $10 before Jan 31st, will be entered into a chance to win. (PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION WHEN YOU DONATE, SO WE CAN CONTACT YOU, ABOUT YOUR GIFT:)
To make it even more exciting, Claudine will give away 5 signed copies of her book Collage Discovery Workshop: Beyond the Unexpected - to another 5 lucky donors!
If you have already donated you are already entered. To increase your chances of winning have your friends and family donate and put your name in the dedication line when you check out. A reminder: we need the most amount of donors to help A Place to Bark win this grant, not the most amount of money. Each person who donates $10 will be counted only once on the badge, so get your friends and family to donate too, if you can.
I know that I have really been making you guys wait for this. I am truly piecemealing this studio tour out!
Ok, you already saw the double doors, which you can't really enter through. Now, come around the the front side. You enter in to The Land of ZNE, here:
This is the front door. It is also my VIP business card holder. Most of the cards and art on this door belong to my fellow ZNEers and/or Pleasanton Craft Mafia members. Makes for a delightful entrance into my beloved studio home.
Here's a closeup of the lower half of that board:
Do you see anyone YOU recognize? :)
Maybe, just maybe... tomorrow, I'll let you see the inside of the office. Muwhahahahahaha!
Ok, people keep asking me about my dear friend Imogene Indie. She's a bit of a mystery - but here is what I know:
Imogene Indie is the Indie-O-Rama Queen. She likes to sit beside me every month and dictate the IOR eZine. She talks a mile a minute, that girl. I'd tell her to type it up herself - but somehow she has always managed to get a manicure on the very same day as the eZine production. Hmmm.
In truth, her life is completely dedicated to indie artist shopping, indie artist talkin', and manicures. This is the life of Imogene Indie. Here is how she looked when she arrived at my house yesterday:
I am telling you, this gal really knows how to live.
You may wonder why I do it. Why am I a slave to Imo Indie? Well, everytime she stops by, whispers in my ear, shares the wisdom of her incredible and growing list of indie-artists friends, with me - I am just so inspired. I am downright awestruck. Ah yes, just to have Imo share a moment of her day with me - not to mention have her sit beside me with her perfectly coifed retro hair-doo, her shiny red still-wet nails, and all her indie goodies - I feel so very lucky. She may not be much of a typist (she's got better things to do) - but she is an indie artist lover through and through. I admit, I live vicariously through her. Wouldn't you?
If you want to learn yet more about good 'ol Imo - check out Indie-O-Rama - its her thing.
Speaking of artists who inspire me - yesterday I also got to hang out with a fabulous Fondante (chi-chi talk for "founding") member of ZNE - Barbe Saint John! Check us out:
Barbe's on the right. She is the most amazing mixed media artist, and she can spin a yarn (!) like no one's business. You should definitely check out her website, Saints and Sinners. Tres cool.
In fact, this morning I was browsing her wonderful stuff, and just look at these Valentine-O-Riffic earrings that my hubby picked out for me. I mean, without knowing it - he picked 'em out for me. Ha! But won't he be relieved that he doesn't have to stress over a valentines day gift for me now? I snagged 'em up off her website and they are mine all mine now! Tee hee!
OOOH! LOVE THESE!
COMING TO AN EARLOBE (or two) NEAR YOU, SOON!
Barbe and I met at a Pleasanton Craft Mafia Art Marketing Workshop. She's actually a member of the SF Craft Mafia, but (in addition to our ZNE connection) we are mafia famiglia and neighbors, so she and another SF Craft Mafia Member joined us for the PCM workshop. It was a fun workshop, but - as is always the case with my wonderful Pleasanton Craft Mafia group - the best part for me is getting the chance to hang out with such talented and supportive craftisans. I am really growing to adore this fabulous bunch! Here's a piccy of us from last night. Note that I am holding our mascot - Adin! : ) Sneaky me.
Alright, well, that's about it for today. I'd give an "On To Art" update, but isn't that really what this whole issue has been about? Still, if you are looking for some fun artsy news - then check out the February issue of The ZNE Scene, because man alive are things cookin' in that group! Until then I am going to take a tip from (left to right) Sophie, B-Muse and Butter - and get some rest today!
xo - Chel
PS - THANKS FOR THE COMMENTI KAT!!! YOU ROCK MY WORLD!