The Love We Have

This one is for my friends who are dealing with loss. ❤️

I’m sitting in Oregon as I write these words surrounded by gray mist and red tinged trees, thinking of how a year ago today I also found myself in this beautiful state. I was here to race Silver Falls Marathon and having just lost my beloved Dog the week before, I arrived feeling like a bedraggled orphan seeking sanctuary from the onslaught of grief that had haunted me all week.

My life was knocked out of gravitational orbit. I felt no sense of affiliation or family with him gone. I was unanchored, and I had never felt so lost. I had a dull hope that somewhere among the pine laden trails and warmth of friendship which had invited me to this lovely state, I’d find something healing about the journey.

I remember sitting in a coffee shop that first day with my writing and art supplies seeking refuge in the comfort of creativity and forcing myself to post a picture of a bright red tree on my Facebook page. I didn’t want to post that picture at first, because I had only been posting about Dog. Talking and writing about him was keeping him alive inside of me somehow. Posting something other than him meant life was moving on.

I didn’t want life to move on. I wanted things the way they were. Every step away from how it had been was a step towards something new, foreign and highly uncomfortable. That bright red tree represented more than just fall beauty and sharing my trip to Oregon on social media, it was the beginning of my acceptance of change.

I felt that same resistance in me this last weekend as I went through the one year anniversary of Dog’s loss, and realized how deeply the imprint of sorrow and felt sense of experience is still imbedded in my cellular structure. I was completely unprepared for the heavy tears that came of their own accord throughout the week or the ache which dulled my tired heart.

It is amazing to me how strongly we store information in our bodies. It was almost as if anything that didn’t get expressed last year simply waited patiently for the right time to release, determined it would have its say. I felt like I was losing him all over again, and I couldn’t figure out why it was so potent. It dawned on me that similar to posting that picture of the bright red tree last October, my reluctant admission life was moving on, I was struggling a year later with admitting how much life is moving on.

The memories of my beloved Dog and our tiny simple life together are still so fresh and alive. Always one to use fall as a time for introspection and reflection on the passage of time from a year earlier, I remember much of last fall and all the memories that include him. They make me smile. They make him feel close to my heart.

Next fall will be different. There will be new memories when I reflect back. This Oregon trip will lay fresher in my mind than last time. The imprints of this fall will be more easily accessible than a year ago. Life is changing, and while I believe I will always remember his life with me, it will be further away on the timeline than it is now. My memories are going to fade, replaced by new ones, and my awareness of this truth makes me feel I am losing something dear to me.

I think it is profoundly beautiful how deeply humans hang on to that which they have loved. How difficult it is for us to release the reigns back to life, admit life is moving on, that we don’t know what the future holds. That the future is always an unwritten possibility. New. Foreign. Highly uncomfortable. That it is okay to feel lost until we find our way again.

Here is what I do know. Last year I sat blogging at a table outside as sunshine streamed down on me and yellow leaves swirled merrily, and I realized something so simple it seemed silly to say. Yet it went so deep I could feel the healing my heart so craved.

The love we have, we take it with us.

It will always live on. Beyond bodies, beyond circumstances, beyond timelines, beyond change. Love is greater than death, and so it can never be taken from us. Even when those we’ve loved have gone on.

I felt this truth settling into me as I sipped apple cider and watched the golden leaf dance. I wrote a blog likening Dog to Obi Wan Kanobi when he said “if you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” and I realized the love I had for him hadn’t changed with his passing. In fact it felt even stronger, because I loved beyond the physical realm. It would never be changed by time, space or distance. It may now exist in only my heart without an object to bestow it upon, but it was as real as real could be.

Surely to love like that is one of the greatest gifts one can ever receive.

I wrapped myself in that knowledge last year. Placed it upon my shoulders like a cloak of strength and took it with me wherever I went. I felt powerful in my ability to love so steadfast and blessed with grace that I could feel love humming happily in my heart, realizing that somewhere under the layers of sadness lay something so pure and beautiful.

And now we are back to a year later where I’m sitting cozily ensconced on a sofa staring out at a rainy day ripe with autumn colors, and I am realizing this lesson all over again. The new loves in our lives do not take from that which was there before. They only add to it. Making it stronger and more beautiful.

Memories may fade and it’s true that every step forward is a step away, but we are not here to stay in the same place. We are here to venture into the new, foreign and uncomfortable. We are here to learn about love.

And learning about love requires great courage to face the come what mays. It requires loss. It requires the admission things have changed. It requires letting go of what was so we can make room for who and what we’ll be.

That is okay though.

Because in the end we will never lose what matters most. It will always live on. Through pine laden trails and bright red trees and misty changing landscapes and new characters in our scripts.

The love we have, we take it with us.

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who we are

and it is of this
I am constantly
reminded

loss will change you
make you different
than you were before

yet if not for endings
how would we ever
know beginnings

and if not for yesterdays
how would we ever
travel to today

and if not for that
which breaks
who we were

how would we ever find room
to receive the ingredients
life knows we need
to help make us
who we are

so we can keep
becoming who we are
truly meant to be
in this world

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About a Dog

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I will keep today’s post plain spoken. Goodness knows if you go back a year on this blog you can read the whole before, during and after with richer language and vivid images, but for today I just want to tell it as it is without regard for fancying up the words and simply say it was a year ago today that I lost my furry friend who had been with me through thick and thin for many, many years. He was family to me and my best friend. On this blog he was simply referred to as Dog.

I wasn’t ready to lose him, though I don’t think we are ever ready for the losses life brings our way, and though I may not have been ready, Dog was. Sometimes life just has a timing all it’s own, and I knew it was time.

In choosing to accept and let go, I found that something irrevocable changed inside on that day. Though that may sound trite or overstated, it was my simple truth. Loss changes us, and for me change was an odd mixture of pieces rearranging themselves that I have since tried to piece together.

My little buddy had seen me through a massive metamorphosis and losing him meant losing the bridge between two worlds, my old and my new. Goodbye meant saying goodbye to one last link to the past, and I could feel things uncomfortably shifting as an important chapter closed, and I faced an uncertain future which did not contain his prints.

I also had a deeper sense of sincerity and gravity towards my life which arose from two realizations after that day: 1) The only kinds of people I want close to me in life are the kinds of people who are there for you when your dog dies. I decided I was done with relationships that did not offer emotional availability and reciprocity of care, and I meant it as I started releasing ties that no longer supported my full self. 2) I had a new found knowledge of the massive amount of strength I possessed that allowed me to navigate such a difficult loss with presence and love. I found a deepening belief in my own abilities to stay open to life and face whatever came my way.

I was sorrowful and accepting and terribly lonely and very brave. I could feel the earth shifting beneath my feet and wondered where I’d land.

A week later I found myself in Oregon running on a trail for a marathon I’d signed up for months earlier. I was running faster than normal, spurred on by the events of the week, feeling that if I somehow put in a good time during this race it would honor the loss of my friend whose tiny, arthritic legs overruled his giant heart, never allowing him to run with me. Then I ran past this guy who has since confessed he liked the look of my orange running pants and the good energy he could feel coming from me.

We ran together for awhile and chatted, I noticed the way he laughed and tilted his face up to receive the rain. He looked grateful to be alive. We bonded on a wicked downhill section that he took at full throttle discovering he couldn’t shake the chick from Alaska who spends her summer running mountains. We took pictures of our muddy shoes after the race. He got my number then asked me for coffee the next day.

I almost said no. A random coffee date with a guy who lived in another state didn’t seem to fit where I was at in life. I wanted comfort, stability, and healing. Not change, frivolity and the potential for more hurt.

I surprised myself with saying yes and proceeded to have the best conversation with anybody I had ever had. I told him about losing Dog. He told me how he lost his dog a few years earlier and had considered Sam his best friend and life saver. I told him about my tiny apartment whose walls were painted blue the minute I moved in, because I don’t believe in white walls with so much color in this world. He told me about his small home with red, yellow and sky blue walls. We had strong coffee and as he told me I had a place to stay in Oregon if I ever needed one.

I went back to Alaska that night thoughtful about this man I had met. He called a few days later to talk about chocolate peanut butter ice-cream and the cold freeze settling into Bend that made his home feel more like my corner of the globe than the high desert where he lived. I called him a few days later to tell him about the little white dog with the magnificent snaggle tooth I had just rescued, having decided that a single girl without her dog was a lost girl indeed.

We talked a lot. Every Sunday night for at least 3 hours  we shared minuscule details of the day, life stories, favorite books, relationship histories, family matters, how we looked at the world, what we believe is beyond this world. I wondered where this best friend had come from who I’d met with such happenstance, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt this was a person who would take my sunshine and my clouds.

He came to visit in January, and everything changed after that. I even found that my writing started spontaneously changing as I stopped writing the whole story and started writing poems, tiny word pictures, short vignettes. It was all so new to me, and I felt a sense of protection towards this beautiful seed that was sprouting, as if too many words would somehow make it too cerebral and keep it from being exactly what it was. New life. Potential. I needed to give it space to become what it would without analyzing it. I couldn’t tell the whole story, because I didn’t know it.

I went to visit in February. And March. And April, because by then we’d already figured out that this was the unexpected game changer for both of us and with his portable job he was the better candidate for “Most likely to move as soon as possible, because long distance relationships start to suck after awhile.” He moved on June 12th accompanied by a rather unhappy cat in a carrier cage.

Since then there has been a whole list of events. One thing I’ve found is that the world keeps on spinning and life doesn’t stop for anyone. Various ailments, buying a home, an engagement, moving into said home, emergency surgery, a painful recovery, setting up our colorful home, the very unexpected loss of a cat who was no longer unhappy and was finding his place in the household. The addition of a new cat, because you can never replace what you have lost, but you can choose to share the love you have and let that heal.

And that brings me back to today’s post. You can never replace what you have lost, but you can choose to share the love you have and let that heal.

I am sad when I think about the loss of my friend. Profoundly so. But there has also been great joy that has accompanied the loss and new love in my life, and I wanted to tell that story on this anniversary day. It is a story of the sad loss of my wonderful friend which ushered in new joy and new beginnings.

I like to think it was Dog’s gift to me. All the love in my life now. That somehow he knew I needed an extra push to run just a little bit faster that day and arranged the whole thing. He was always very clever that way, that Dog of mine. And whenever I get to really missing him I just think upon these words.

*She asked where he lived.

‘Second to the right,’ said Peter. ‘And then straight on til morning.’

 And I know he’s up there looking down. Happy with what he sees.

eric

*J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

magic

I had these
fairy tale dreams
and numinous visions
that got me through
each day

some called me idealist,
some thought me
a touch odd,
some said I wasn’t
living in the real world,
that I should plant my feet
more firm on practical ground

but all I know
is that I refused to live
in a place bereft of more,
and decided I liked
my version better

so I saw magic,
everywhere I’d go

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love is the only cure

Love was
the only cure
I’d ever found,
and I couldn’t
help but see it
everywhere I’d go.

I saw it in my friend
who finished her race
through ironclad odds.
I’m convinced it was
her heart that pulled
her through because
quitting meant loving
just a little bit less,
and she doesn’t know
how to do that.

I saw it in the eyes of
this little blind dog who
carried the kinds of sad tales
that could close up the
strongest of hearts.
Yet she curled in my lap
with such tenderness
and naked affection,
I knew she saw something true
I’ve yet to fully see.

And I saw it in the
lines of care etched
across his face each
time he looked at me,
deconstructing any defenses
that kept love out,
for how could those walls
possibly remain standing
beneath such purity of gaze.

I don’t always know
why I feel the dark.
Maybe because change
really is that hard.
Or maybe because
I stare at the world
with both eyes open.

Or maybe it’s just
that Octobers,
no matter how beautiful,
always make me cry a little
for something I can never
fully put to words.

But this I do know,
for I can’t help but
see it’s power stamped
everywhere I go.

Love is
the only cure
I’ve ever found.

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October Ground

The longer my feet
trace a path along
the steps that mark
our days,
the more I find
my riches in that
which is most
simple and dear.

The company of
a good friend.
Feeling loved.
The way the leaves
leave the trees
eager to meet
October ground.
A warm cup of soup.
Sanctuary.

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