The Long Goodbye

This past week has been one of goodbyes. As one goodbye piled upon another, I began to pay attention. I was reminded of a piece I wrote with another writer years ago called, “The Long Goodbye,” a wife’s farewell to her husband who lived more in the realm of Alzheimer’s and less in their sixty year marriage. For me, “The Long Goodbye” was always more about living than moving into another realm of existence.

Dudley

Nowhere is that truer than at an animal sanctuary where I’ve been a volunteer for the last four years. Mostly, I send out monthly updates to animal sponsors–it’s easy and fun–I relay stories and pictures of animal antics, always a welcome email. As the sanctuary is for elderly and medically needy animals, goodbye is often on the horizon. At times, goodbye is said so often it is hard to catch one’s breath.

In the past two days, three sanctuary residents crossed the Rainbow Bridge, one goodbye after another. Two of the residents were elderly canines, Snapper and Rocky, and the other was a very human-friendly rabbit, Dudley. For the remainder of their lives, the sanctuary provided them the security of home, a daily routine they came to trust. Lives regained. No matter how long or short their stay at the sanctuary, each of their lives ended in arms of love. Would that every one of us lived a life with such a long goodbye.

Cooper

As I have learned from Dr. Mac and the residents of the sanctuary, the long goodbye is unique to each and every being. On the very morning the long goodbyes played out at the sanctuary, Cooper reminded me the  moment looms for us as well.  Like his friends at the sanctuary, Cooper lives in the moment, devoted to routine. For now, he is still willing to accommodate the physical changes his body is undergoing but he will let me know when the end of the long goodbye is here. There won’t be much notice, just enough. Until then, we go on as if life has always been this way, and after a while, we believe what we tell ourselves.

For some time, Cooper and I have been witnessing a long goodbye between a woman and a canine that live in our apartment complex. Alice has Alzheimer’s and her hair is white just like Buddy’s, her West Highland Terrier. In the two years we’ve known them, the two have been the best of friends but for a while now, Alice hasn’t been able to remember their routine. While Buddy does his best to remind Alice, Alice remembers routines with other Westies. Buddy does his best to keep up.

Snapper

We learned that Alice and Buddy are moving, and while we know it’s a fact, the actual date is never mentioned. At first, Alice told us that all of her sons were moving as well and the whole family would be living in the same state. First it was Colorado and then it was Connecticut but now the most frequent moving destination is an assisted living center in a small Florida town not too far away from us.

Of course, none of these moves involve Buddy living with Alice anymore. Alice’s sons have dogs of their own, and they seem genuinely fond of Buddy and he of them. He is a fairly young dog, smart, but he has had to fend for himself a lot lately, and he is not as trusting as he once was. Buddy and Alice have done the best they can for each other but the change they face may not involve a long goodbye, at least with one another.

Rocky

I am reminded that the long goodbye is not a guarantee but a gift as I re-read the sponsor updates of Snapper with her tennis balls, of Rocky’s kiddie pool antics and his chomping at the hose water trying to fill his pool. Even little Dudley felt safe again after what seemed a hopeless situation. I cannot know what will be for Alice and Buddy but the long goodbye is often the reward of a life regained.

(AWARDS: Recently, this blog received some awards exchanged among bloggers, and I am humbled. Thank you, fellow bloggers. It is a true honor to have one’s work appreciated by one’s peers.)

Gifts at 60

On this first day of my being 60, I am not writing the blog post I had planned; living in the moment is like that or so I am learning. Certainly, I thought about this particular post much more than I usually do—I kept considering it my first blog post of my next decade–but by mid-week, that ego balloon went airless.

The last week of my fifth decade proved to be a week of surprises, mostly in the form of sugar, but not entirely in the obvious way. For the most part, my system no longer tolerates sugar in any form other than what it produces itself. Generally, this is not a statement I have to consider but in my last post, I mentioned that I had an appointment with a practitioner of Eastern medicine. Not so surprisingly, she and I had different interpretations regarding Eastern medicine–and sugar–but rather surprisingly, I agreed to try two different remedies at least one time, which proved to be more than enough.

Buoyed by the possibilities presented by the practitioner, I decided to have one (1) glass of red wine, my first in three years.  Although my glass of wine and my dose of “remedies” were days apart, literally, my week collapsed before Wednesday noon. I am more recovered than not and leaning toward awareness.

KM Huber Image

I suspect I was caught up in birthday bliss for it has been a week of gifts beyond remembering the lesson of sugar.  Once again, I discovered that I really can, and should, trust my instincts and not my ego. It was not my instincts that chose the remedies or the wine but my ego filled with the idea of birthday, a balloon born to burst. I am reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe–“To see takes time”–a sentence for the rest of my life, yet another gift.

KM Huber Image

I was pleasantly surprised by lovely flowers from  Dr. Mac and all of the sanctuary “critters” at  secondchancefarms.org. As you can see, EmmaRose wasted no time in her inspection, and yes, all are “kitty safe” petals.

Cooper and I began our morning on the Gulf of Mexico, near this palm tree at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge but here is where we will both end our day.

Almost always, Cooper takes command of the remote. Like me, he is a bit ambivalent about television but he has a preference for the remote.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for stopping by to read my posts and to chat, from time to time. It is such a gift you give, and I am most grateful, always.

“Once during the day, think of who you are as living energy and not as a goal to be achieved or obstacle to be overcome. Feel yourself without inventory” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

Waverly Mornings

Since early spring of this year, Cooper and I have been spending mornings at Waverly Park. Almost as soon as we started, Cooper needed a ramp for our just-after-sunrise strolls. We settled into the ramp and Waverly mornings as the way we began our days.

Summer has seemed nearly perfect for us or maybe it just seems that way because of Waverly. The thick carpet of grass, rich with dew, anticipates the heat of the day while the still waters of Waverly Pond mirror the day’s possibilities, an idyllic frame for every summer’s day.

We don’t have a usual path through the park that surrounds Waverly Pond, although we are partial to an initial stroll among the pines and dogwood. We weave in and out and among the mosaic mulch of pine straw and leaves long fallen. Shoots of coarse grass serve as sentinels for the forest bed.

Almost every morning we follow the arc of shade to a ring of crape myrtles–white and watermelon when in bloom—they are the gateway to a canopy of live oaks, primeval in their presence. The circular, gray-gravel path beneath the canopy of limbs winds round magnolia trees too young to know their first blossom. Who knows their promise?

Some mornings, we cross the bridge that holds the world away from Waverly.  I watch the waters for turtles and fish–they  surface more often than not–always, I wave in friendship. Cooper explores the bridge for the scent of those who have come before. He has taught me that no two crossings are ever the same. 

On those mornings that we cross the bridge, we never sit at the gazebo for there is much to explore. These are mornings when Cooper’s legs are working as we both remember them, without one wobble.  We admire the scent of the rose bushes but Cooper keeps his nose much closer to the ground, examining the gazebo full circle. Soon, I am given to looking out on the pond.

The turtle row launch is generally busy, negotiating space for incoming and outgoing, big or small. On less crowded mornings, a lone egret will land but the concrete of the launch is not as inviting as the verdant growth along the shores of Waverly pond, even in August. There is much to be discovered as the day begins.

I am grateful to Cooper for these Waverly mornings for it is his heart that holds us fast to our ritual. He has taught me the forever joy of “bye-bye in the car.” It is a lifetime gift, of course. Already there are times that we must settle for the memory of Waverly but for every day we are able, we have a Waverly morning. 

In the Moment

Reading up on Ramps

Cooper and I are ramping up—and down–our daily outings.

As always, he is unruffled when being requires an expansion of our routine.  If I am honest, my “Beagle Boy” is an exemplar of being, a trait that has run strong in the beagles I have known and one to which I aspire.

Cooper is progressing through another aging phase as his vertebral disks join his joints in degenerating—it is a condition we share–heightened by the dripping, Florida humidity that hails spring’s slide into summer, silent but steady. It is a fully body experience for both of us.

A week ago, Cooper’s front legs gave way as he stumbled, searching for a way to stay standing. His back legs held while both front legs were indecisive when it came to a simultaneous up or down.

We had not met this moment before.

Cooper kept calm—clearly, an anthropomorphic observation on my part–for an animal’s survival instinct is to cloak injury or weakness. I like to think I played my part in the deception as I kept talking in a tone he knows.

The moment seemed to require it.

Most of Cooper’s vocal responses are like a lilt, whether as a question, agreement, or his observations irrespective of mine. Infrequently, he sighs a low, gravelly moan that seems to signify resignation as well as contentment.

In this moment on the ground, however, he offered no comment.

Rather, he focused on breathing that was not panting, and I found myself breathing with him. We were in no hurry as we were within the confines of our apartment complex, and we had a sunset if we needed it, which we didn’t. Eventually, Cooper’s legs found themselves and a familiar rhythm, although forever changed.

For awhile, we confined ourselves to the area just outside our apartment, which is woefully inadequate. A day without an outing to a park or at least a ride in the car is like a day that never seems to start, as if we are willing to let it pass us by. Admittedly, that is how it feels to me, but if I read Cooper’s keening correctly, he concurs.

He is his own beagle, a definite advantage in being, as is having a portable canine ramp.

Can I Drive?

Cooper has always used the ramp to stroll onto our adjustable Tempur-Pedic bed, which sits too high for any access with ease. The ramp is also adjustable, shrinking to half its size and sporting a side carrying handle.

With medication and rest, Cooper stabilized. We moved into our next moment.

I carried the ramp outside and secured it while Cooper “waited” just inside the apartment door, trusting in the fact that he was wearing his harness, which was actually attached to his leash–both good signs. Yet ever aware, he kept his nose to the door, only backing off to let me proclaim that “bye-bye” was a go–Beagle Boy found his grin, again.

Even with disk disease and deteriorating joints, Cooper strives for the handsome gait that has all but left him. In seeing his ramp with his car for the first time, he took that in stride as well—allowing me to guide him in—bearing the grace of the being he is.

Once in the car, I buckled us into our seats.  With hand and paw on the gear shift, we moved into yet another moment.

For those of you who want to follow my ROW80 progress, you may view it here.