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I thought I was ready for this. Still, I sat in the car and pondered the finality of it all, forcing the pain back down to where it was manageable, to where it belonged; underneath the hitches in my breath, wiping the fog from my eyes. She passed a week ago; surely I was over this by now. Surely not, I guess. We’ll see, I thought, and bounded out of the car and through the large white imposing wooded doors to the main office.

I would ask for you back, but that would prove how selfish I truly am.

The young tech at the counter recognized my face; she was the one who gave us the grieving room the week before. “Here to pick up little Sadie?” she asked sweetly. “Yup,” was all I could get out before I cleared my throat and managed to smile back at her. “Wait here a second and I’ll go get her,” she said, and disappeared between the swinging metal doors to the back of the clinic. She was gone only a few minutes, re-appearing with a small retail-like paper sack with handles, which she set gently on the counter in front of me. Kinda pissed me off instantly; marketing logo, right smack in the middle of the bag that held the remains of my loved one. Geez, is it always about marketing, all the dammed time…crass.

I reached into the bag and retrieved the lovely carved wooden box; gave my stomach a stab. The staff had also included a sympathy card, which I purposely left un-opened lest I go all wobbly in front of the young technician. Something else was in the bag; a smaller plastic bag with a hard, disc-shaped object. I pulled it from the crematoria-marketing bag and flipped it over to get a look; it was a plaster casting of her tiny little paw-print. At that point, I had no say in the matter; wobbly be dammed, the sobs came in great heaves and I had to put my hands to my face to try to get a grip. All my glory, all two-hundred and forty pounds of fifty-five year-old manliness, bawling uncontrollably over the passing of a six pound hairball generator that shared my life for twelve years. Now, all I had left were her remains in a pretty, carved oak box, a plaster casting of her paw, and a sympathy card from the staff, all thoughtfully packed in a wonderful carry-all bag neatly emblazoned with the logo of the crematorium right on the side.

It took me a good five minutes to gain my composure once I got back to the car. I really didn’t think it would hit me again so hard. Just a week ago, I held her tiny head in my hands as she became quiet, a head no bigger than a large walnut, looking deceptively larger due to the wonderful coon-coat she wore. I watched and listened as the life ebbed away from her little body and buried my face in her ridiculously soft neck as I had done many times while she was alive; only this time, she didn’t struggle to break free. The last thing I could do before I gave her to the doctor was kiss her one last time and close those hauntingly big beautiful eyes. And like that, she was gone; the little shit left her paw-prints all over my heart, dammit.

Like the animals who passed through my life before her, Sadie was quite the enigma. She was more the kid’s cat, if cats are really ever “owned” by anyone. She was quite timid, but very loving and dedicated to her younger human companions. She’d run past me with suspecting eyes; maybe I could get her interested in chasing toys on a string every so often but she always roamed to be within short distance of the girls. Usually, she could be found at the foot of one of their beds. She would occasionally yap and chat at me however, as Maine Coons are apt to do and I think her quiet aloofness was really all a front; just a way to capture our hearts with her feigned indifference, her lie exposed by the volume and ferocity of her own purring.

I wondered the last time I lost a pet; why would I do this again? Was this all worth it? To those who have never loved an animal, maybe those of us who do are quite nuts. Maybe. Could be. It sure feels that way today. I still can’t reach into the bag and look at her paw-print and for the life of me, I can’t tell you why. But I can tell you this; I have never been disappointed by any of the animals I have had in my life. I have never been lied to by any of them, have never been asked to be anything other than “there,” never been expected to be something I am not or may never be. And they have shown me a love that wasn’t measured by bank accounts, the car I drive, and the clothes I wear, the positions I took or the opinions I had. Very few can say there are humans in their lives that love them with the same pure devotion.

So once again, I find myself quite melancholy over the passing of a dear furry friend; much of it the result of the pain I see in the eyes of my daughters and wife; the ridiculous feeling that maybe somehow I could have protected them from this. But protecting them would have meant being firm and keeping to my words when I initially said, no pets. A way to keep them from having to go through this? Yeah right. A way for me to avoid having to go thorough this more likely. But in the end, I would have denied them a love in their lives that they would rarely see, a chance to see the real beauty in life because of that love, and yes, experience the pain and cold, hard ache of having it taken away.

So my little Sadie now joins Sneakers and Cousey roaming the grounds of heaven where, one would assume, the litter box is always clean, the balls of yarn are large and soft and where there’s always a nice patch of sun-warmed grass to stretch out on and spend the better part of infinite days until we get to hold them all just one more time. Until then, I’ll avoid the paw-print and pictures for a while at least until I can do so without the tears running down my face. And I’ll thank God for the privilege of having yet another of his wonderful creatures roam though my house as they captured my heart, knowing full well that very few of us are really worthy of their devotion; yes, all this for an animal. All this for my little Sadie.

And yes, I would do this all over again.

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How old am I? I can clearly remember a time when we were taught that all life was sacred, every person mattered and that the painful decisions of life and death were left to those afflicted, grieving families, their doctors and whatever faith leaders they sought comfort from. When did this all change? When did we become so calloused, so cold, so detached from the plight of others that we could allow a faceless state to be the ultimate arbiter of the time, location and manner of our passing? And how do they determine what dignity, our dignity, actually means at the time of our death?

Is there dignity in hope?

I have no idea what “mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome” is. I really don’t much care to know. No one should be forced to know; least of all a ten-month old infant. But the UK government, in its infinite wisdom and compassion, has decided that the parents of little Charlie Gard have forty-eight hours to convince them that he is worth saving; that he has some chance, a realistic chance, or they, the benevolent state, will forcibly end his life. And don’t get confused over my wording here; they aren’t going to hold the little boy down and smother him. Although, it certainly appears as though they could if they wanted to, being all powerful and righteous and stuff like that. No, they’ll physically restrain his parents as the young boy is allowed to die; how? Slowly wither away? Will they flip some magical switch and instantly end all his pain and suffering, and that of his parents? Not at home, not in the arms of his mother or father? Let’s get some clarity here. Just how does the state intend to offer this child a death with “dignity?”

Let’s face it, we’ve come a long way as a civilization in the fifty years or so that I’ve cast my shadow on this planet. We’ve been treated to break-through after break though in medicine, although there are far too many scourges we’ve yet to conquer. And because of that reality, we’ve also grown intellectually; or so we think. No, we’ve had our brushes with eugenics along the way. Thought we’d put that ugly chapter to bed, didn’t we? But what is this if not a branch of that, the next logical extension of “for the good of all.” And don’t be confused here, for what else is the rationale behind denying a child and his parents an opportunity, a hope no matter how slim, to prolong the life of a child? What harm could there be in letting a grieving, desperate parent fly to some willing medical center that is offering a chance; without any expense to the citizenry or the state at all? What is at stake here? Simple; power. The power to decide which groups deserve to live, which don’t. A power thinly disguised by the state as compassion, acting in the best interest of the child as if the parents were flying him to some dark, remote location to perform untold medical experiments upon him. No, we can’t take that chance. Let’s kill him now.

Power. A power that the state has taken great pains to cultivate and one they would rather not give up. What group of unfortunates will be next? How about those with advanced cancer? Should the state decide at some point, sorry, your medical support is done? No chance for you, no matter how slim. We have determined that and we know what’s best for you. Alarmist? Hardly. What convincing argument does the state have to sentence this child to a certain death when there are others, doctors in other parts of the world possibly, who offer hope. Not a guarantee, but hope. And at no cost to them. Because at the end of it all, that’s all medicine can ever offer us is hope. No guarantees. Deciding to withhold services is one thing; forbidding someone from getting them elsewhere, even for a glimmer of that hope is nothing short of euthanasia. The “group” here is those determined by the state to be “hopeless;” hopeless, because the state is all about destroying the concept of hope. Hope leads to people taking back power from the state. And it won’t be long before other groups will be “hopeless” for some reason or another. Soon it will be age; or ability to produce for the state coffers.

So, as I watch the papers and read blogs and comments, I see a number of people expressing concern and dismay; let the child go somewhere, anywhere, while there is still hope. But I am troubled by the rather large numbers of those who are expressing disdain for the parents; they need to let go, they’re making the child suffer needlessly. I’ve even seen them called selfish for holding out hope where the commenter has determined there is none.  But only those who are truly hopeless themselves never see hope. And I doubt like hell that the parents want to see this child suffer. And of course, there are those who are begging the parents to let the poor child die with dignity, a phrase already used by the state. Odd juxtaposition; if the child wanted to mutilate themselves, we’d be cheering the parents for tolerance and understanding. And just twelve months ago, it would have been perfectly acceptable to tear this child limb from limb, without any concern for whether he felt pain, only to be sucked out of the womb by a tube so his parts could be sold to the highest bidder. What type of dignity is that? This is where we’ve traveled. To this point; where a parent, struggling to save the life of an infant is given forty-eight hours to prove beyond doubt that he can be saved, but waiting forty-eight hours before deciding to tear him from the womb is unacceptable.

No, this is all about the ultimate power of the state; and the right we have given them to determine for ourselves and for those we love, to dictate the reason, the manner and the time of our death; and the definition of our final dignity at the end of our lives.

 

 


It was going to be hot; which meant I needed to mow the lawn early in the day; although mowing the front lawn near the edge of the road mainly consists of creating huge clouds of dust and sending across the road the various pieces of gravel which the department of public works had spread all winter long. Those same yahoos who invite me to play “hide and seek” with my mailbox every winter storm; and I pay them well to do it too. Cody was lying underneath one of the trees in the front yard, his paws in the air, squirming on his back in the cool morning grass. Lesson here; deeply enjoy life’s little pleasures whenever you can.

Comet; painting the skies with love.

She caught my eye from a distance up the road. I noticed that her gait was much slower than her usual daily walk around the neighborhood. She was alone; the empty space beside her obvious and hurtful. I continued mowing away from her, in the same direction she was headed. When I turned around to make a return pass facing her, she noticed me and waved. I killed the mower and took off my earmuffs and safety glasses. Yeah, safety spaz; hell, I can end up bleeding by just sweeping the sidewalk. A real practicing klutz.

She glanced up and noticed I was still watching her. She raised her hand to wave again but quickly brought her hands to her face. She tried to wave me off as I approached her. No, I don’t think so. The distress on her face was clear, painful to see and quickly shot to my heart. She tried to explain through sobs and broken words that she couldn’t talk about it. Just couldn’t and tried again to wave me off. Bullshit. I reached out for her hands and pulled her in and hugged her, as much for me as for her. It was hard she said, so hard. It came so sudden; they certainly weren’t prepared. They were all devastated. He was such a big part of their lives; the kids were taking it okay, but everyone was lost in their own way. They loved him so much and he loved them back. The hole was huge. They miss him so.

For those who aren’t animal lovers, it may be hard to understand the impact that the passing of a beloved pet has on those of us who consider them our furry children. To some, we all look like the crazy cat ladies we always hear about; so be it. Guilty as charged. But those who are fortunate to have the priceless love of an animal understand it fully. Try to find anything on two legs in your life that will show you the dedication, the devotion, non-judgmental love and the willingness to let you be the center of their universe; far and few between.

No, these are our furry toddlers; it takes that kind of dedication. Often, it’s another damp carpet; maybe pieces of your favorite shoe spread across the living room. Sometimes it’s those dammed dead spots on the lawn or the wonderful piles of humiliation that you can never seem to completely clean from the nooks and crannies on the bottoms of your sneakers. But they’ll still look deeply in your eyes and let you know that you are the only human on the planet that matters. Have a horrible day at work and they’ll wag you back to peace. Don’t feed them; they’ll forgive you. Be an asshole; they don’t care. Heap unwarranted abuse on them and they’ll still look deeply into your soul and tell you that it doesn’t matter; as long as they can feel your hand between their ears, hear your voice, be in your presence, tug on the other end of that rope, their life is complete. They’re not here to judge, to accuse, to demean. They’ll still love you, often well beyond any measure that you should be entitled to; they’d be willing to die for you. And not once would they demand anything in return.

Comet meant that much to her and her family. He meant a bit to some of the rest of the neighborhood too. He was a rather large dog; long legged, loopy gate. He seemed to be the type of dog that you would swear was smiling. He was a “Golden Doodle,” a breed whose name would bring a smile if not outright giggles. I’m quite sure that “Golden Doodle” translates in some places around the world to “Shetland Pony.” He was usually covered in curls, soft and deep. The occasional shearing made it even more obvious that he was a large framed animal, not just a bunch of hair for show. His pinkish-brown, wet nose seemed to have the circumference of a baseball. I’m sure that some found his size intimidating; for others it may have been his high level of enthusiasm. But in the end, he was he was large vessel of love and happiness and I was always prepared with treats in my pockets when we passed. And he knew it. I for one will miss his commanding voice, a bark that would resonate across the neighborhood. Some may have found this too, to be intimidating. But it was his way of telling his family, and those who were walking by that he was keeping an eye on anyone who might approach those who he would willingly die for.

As with any comet, he was rare. Comets shine brightly but briefly and we’re left with the memory of how they painted the dark skies of our lives. So it is with Comet. And I’m sure that Lisa and Peyton and their kids will have these brief moments in the future when something will jar their memories and they’ll recall the Comet that appeared briefly in their lives and touched them all. The pain will eventually fade and the memories will be far more joyful than they are now. And in whatever sky he is streaking across now, with his wet, pink baseball-sized nose I’m sure he loves them as deeply as he did when we was laying at their feet. One would imagine he’s in the fields of heaven giving the local squirrels a hard time.

God Speed Comet; I hear the angels love a good game of tug-of-war.


I struggled choosing the gift. He’s quite mechanically inclined, as he aptly demonstrated the night he removed his own ankle bracelet, so it had to be something he could do with his hands, something that he would find engaging, but not too challenging. Hopefully, I’d find one that didn’t have a bazillion little parts, beyond his limited finger dexterity. A simple wood-working project, that would do. I got him the pirate ship and a birdhouse, small balsa wood models that would fit together simply with the tap of the harmless wooden mallet included in the package.

The dust of one's existence is easily wiped away..

The dust of one’s existence is easily wiped away..

On the way there, we discussed the gifts; too many small nails we decided. Tiny brads no longer then half an inch each, gave us pause. I could envision them scattered on the floor, spilled into his bedclothes or worse, finding their way into his mouth. We pulled over at a Toys “R” Us on the way to find something more suitable if we could. Not really sure of what mental age we would find him in, we settled on a beautiful stuffed German Shepard, warm and soft. Someone to keep him company.

Walking down the corridor was disheartening. Broken minds and withered bodies littered the hall, many staring blankly at empty walls no more than a foot from their faces. A few were aware enough to wave to us, either mistaking us for someone they knew or begging for someone, anyone, to spend a few precious moments with them; one woman kept pointing to me and motioning to a bouquet of flowers in the middle of the barren institutional table she leaned on, as if she was proud of the gift or possibly thanking us for it.

The door to his room was partially opened and I rapped loudly, knowing there was a possibility that his hearing aids were on low. As it turns out, we woke him from a late morning nap. He stirred slowly on the bed, half startled and disoriented but smiling nonetheless. As he greeted us and slowly struggled to a sitting position, Di sat across from his uninviting hospital bed on the only chair in the room; a small folding office chair, the kind you would pull from the basement only if you ran out of decent lawn chairs. The drapes on the window behind her were tattered and worn, threadbare and barely hanging off the curtain rod that looked as if it was mere seconds shy of dropping from the wall. There was nothing in the room to describe its inhabitant; the tan and gray walls were completely barren; no paintings, pictures, frames, decorations or signs of life what so ever. Fitting décor for a place to warehouse those with broken minds.

I asked him if he knew who we were and he said of course, but he never mentioned our names. He asked us how far we had traveled, a question meant to hide the fact that he truly had no idea who we were but which masked his embarrassment that he didn’t. I told him who we were anyway and he admired my sweatshirt emblazoned with the “UNH Wildcat” logo. It pleased him greatly as he touched the raised letters on my shirt and repeated “Wildcat, that’s fantastic,” repeating the growl of a wildcat for us several times. We told him we had a gift for him and he struggled to open the gift bag; I held it on his lap and pulled the stuffed dog from it. He was positively delighted; he asked us if it had a name and we told him no, that he could name it whatever he wanted. I specifically picked the Shepard from the shelf, remembering the story of the Shepard he once had as a boy. There was no connection. He was proud to put it on the small under-sized nightstand near the other small stuffed dog already there. He kept repeating that he wished it could bark, showing us what sound he wished it would make to keep the other residents, who had a tendency to wander into his room uninvited, at bay. He turned and asked us how far we had travelled. And again, we told him.

He said he wouldn’t be there long; he couldn’t wait to go home. He assured us he was going home soon, he just didn’t know when. He never said, but it was clear from his eyes that he not only didn’t know when; he didn’t know where. Where was home? He asked us where his car was? I assured him that it was in his garage, right where he left it. He admired my shirt and asked me where we had traveled from.

The conversation went just that way; seconds of him smiling, us making him laugh, him asking where his car was and how far away we lived. He spoke of boredom (not once while we were there did any staff interact with him at all), how at times it was too loud to sleep but today was quiet because many of the residents had gone for the day, other things to do. I’m quite sure he didn’t have the capacity to realize that none of them were able to go anywhere. I asked him if he remembered our tradition of decorating my house for Christmas, as he stood on the lawn in front of the porch and directed the work. His face lit and he assured me that he remembered, and how much he enjoyed it as well. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if he was trying to fool me or himself, but I decided that I wasn’t going to let go of this memory and told him that we loved it too.

The visit was short, barely an hour. He smiled often, we made him laugh. He asked us where his car was and how long was our drive. He asked us if the dog had a name. He said he was bored; there was nothing for him to do. I wondered if he would have been more connected to others, to himself, if he had some stimulation, a least a picture on the dammed walls or possibly someone to speak to. The smell of the institutional meal was wafting down the corridor and we knew his lunch would soon be coming. We decided we needed to let him have his lunch, to keep him at least on this small schedule. We told him we had to leave and he stood and hugged us. He wanted to walk us up the corridor to the nurse’s station but no further; anything more tires him out he told us. He asked us how long we had to travel and we told him. We said goodbye and exchanged kisses on the cheek, though his hug reminded me of the cordial embrace one gives and receives from someone who was once a passing, fleeting acquaintance.

On the way home, I realized I had been sitting in hell’s waiting room. I saw the shell of a man I admire; empty, void of identity. He wakes in a strange room in a location he can’t identify. All he was, all he knew, shattered images in time, lost forever in a cloud of nothingness; no attachment, no past, nothing to remind him of who he was or who he is. I wondered if he was in emotional pain; can one long for those you never knew? Is all that’s left a daily void? Every minute of every day, surrounded by strangers, some you just met thirty minutes ago; many who tell you they’ve know you all their lives. Is it frightening to be forever surrounded by people you don’t recognize, including the one who stares back from the bathroom mirror?

So many things I wanted to tell him; so many things I wanted to say; things that would be quite startling, confusing, possibly unnerving coming from a complete stranger. I would tell you that I miss you; that we love you. That you mean so much to us, the couple you just met and will probably forget before we even reach the highway on that drive that we told you about so many times.

We are fragile. We make memories to hold, to comfort us as we get older. We reminisce fondly of those who have shaped our lives, many molding us into the person we have become. It is nothing short of utter desolation to lose all we were, all we are, and to forever be in a world where we are strangers to ourselves too.

After all; who are we if we are not the collection of moments we gather to ourselves over the span of our lives: that collection of experiences, faces and events that apparently can be easily wiped away like some useless writing on a forgotten chalkboard.


I hate the morning mirror. Just another reminder on a daily basis that time keeps inching forward, and my waistline keeps inching outward. With all due respect to Sir Paul; no, I’m not half the man I used to be either. More like one and a half times the man I used to be. And, if wisdom comes with age, I must be a freakin’ sage. No matter, I have to concentrate and get rid of the horrific white stubble that makes me look rather like a vagabond. Today of all days, please let me get through this without severing part of my upper lip or excising an ear lobe. Is my hand shaking with too much excitement to do this? All I ask is that if I can no longer look young and handsome, at least let me look acceptable; passable. For tonight, I have a date with the girl of my dreams.

I hear it even now....

I hear it even now….

Somehow, I managed to get the cold, multi-bladed instrument of torture to navigate around the gourd that masquerades as my nose, with no loss of skin or blood. All in all, a pretty good start to the day. Hey, I’ll take my victories wherever I can, no matter how small. Now, I just need to make sure my shirt is clean and pressed, my slacks are neat and for gosh sakes, try to make sure my dammed socks match. Preferably with no holes.

Twenty years have gone by. Twenty. The same anxiety I had that night buzzes through my body now, just as it did then. My stomach is doing the same back flips. It’s simple really; I worried for a whole week twenty years ago leading up to that night, hoping that somehow I could convince her to say yes. Since then, I’ve been hoping to convince her she made the right decision.

Twenty years. The restaurant is gone now, replaced by who knows what; probably some quickie mart or local Hallmark store or whatever. She loved it there. The food was always fantastic, the service was welcoming and friendly. The atmosphere was so relaxed, dim and romantic with plants and flowers all over the room. It had to be there. Had to. I’ve never asked her if she expected it. I never asked her if she noticed my hands trembling like an addict’s in withdrawal. Thank goodness that the room was candlelit or she may have seen the red tinges of my ears, the flush in my face. Or was I terrified white? I can’t remember. I do remember the pain I felt in my right hand, jammed way down into the front right pocket of my slacks, tightly gripping the ring, rolling it over and over in my hand, stopping every so often to squeeze it tight enough to dig into the fleshy part of my palm. I was afraid to let it go, convinced that I was going to lose it, drop it on the floor, misplace it somehow in much the same way I can misplace my keys or glasses with alarming ease and frequency.

I managed to smuggle a small poem that I had written on simple white paper, in script, in a beautiful black frame. During a casual walk to the men’s room, I nervously slipped it into the hands of the waitress and she quickly became a co-conspirator. Well, actually, her and a couple of the other waitresses. She managed to bring it out just after our meal, right before we were expecting dessert. I wish she wouldn’t have waited near the table with her co-workers; it felt like a thousand eyes upon me. I was only interested in two; two beautiful, bright blue eyes that mesmerized me from the first glance and have enthralled me ever since.

I had to write it down. I would never have gotten through it otherwise. My mind was racing and scattered, my tongue had no master and my mouth would never be able to adequately convey my thoughts without rushing or stuttering. Somewhere between the heart, the mind and the lips, emotion takes far too many twists to be expressed the way that it’s truly felt. No way I was going to risk this; no way.

It was simple. She read it slowly, at first not quite sure what it was when it was placed in front of her. And in that moment, I realized that there is nothing quite so beautiful in the world as the reflection of candlelight in her tear-welled eyes. As she read it, I realized that I might have just managed to have another person peer directly into my soul. I let her read it over again before I said a word;

Diane;

Marriage is a dance to love,

which is the music of life;

Please dance with me until the music stops.

Love;

Jeff

Twenty years have gone by. Twenty. That she said yes still makes me tear up. Twenty years. And in all that time, I still hear the music. What was once a soulful ballad, sung softly by a hopeful lone voice has become a symphony with rich, deep lows and breathtaking crescendos. I hear it when she walks into the room. I hear it when she speaks, or when she sighs. I hear it when I’m alone and my thoughts wander to her face. It lulls me to sleep every night. It echoes in the deepest part of my being.

Please tell me, dear Diane, that you hear it too; that twenty years hasn’t dulled the beauty of the music for you. Does it make you sway involuntarily? Does it wash over you, warm your soul the way it does mine? Does it still have meaning, this symphony, twenty years after it became the soundtrack to my life?

If it does, then dance with me for another twenty years. Diane, give me your hand; stand and embrace me.

And I will waltz with you through eternity.

Jeff

 

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