Ode to a Dog

Ohhh this one hurts.

Meditation dog.  Never sat down to meditate without my sidekick showing up.  Had her own sheepskin but she would usually crawl in to my lap midway through the set.

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A little too full-figured for a lap dog.  She didn’t care.

Silly dog – people would smile at the sight of her.  Some would ask to take her picture.  She made me laugh.  Every day.

Drove to Texas with Lili to get her at 8 weeks old.  She was the size of a baked potato.  A baked potato with huge ears.

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When she was happy she would roll on her back and make strange choking sounds.

Everyone thought she was a boy.  “Don’t they see the pink harness?” I would ask myself out loud.

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She loved me.  My god the devotion.  She would whine outside the bathroom door for me.  When I traveled she would go on hunger strikes and suffer bouts of depression.

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Had to stand on my lap in the driver’s side looking out the window on car rides.

Flew on the airplane like a champ.  My “emotional support” dog.  She would fall asleep as soon as the plane took off.  Lying across my lap, occasionally farting.  Nobody seemed to care.

Her breath was terrible.  All her life.

She was unafraid.  She would challenge the largest deer.  Shrilly barking at the nonplused herd.  I thought she would get brained one day by a sharp cloven hoof.

She was Mr. Magoo blind.  Unaware one time that a large red fox was stalking her in our backyard.  I had to run out in my socks and scare it away.  Then she barked like a mother fucker.

Dare I say it, she could strike quite the elegant pose in her old(er) age.

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I burn with shame to say that I don’t remember the last walk I took her on.  I’ve been pretty busy the past several days.  And it’s been snowing.  Not her favorite weather condition.

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The last two nights of her life she slept uncharacteristically close to me, up by my pillow.  It was cold outside, I didn’t mind.  Sweet comforting presence of her, snuffling and snorting.

Her last day, she ate a good breakfast – rotisserie chicken and kibble.  She took a nap with me on the couch.  I’m wracking my brain to think of what else she did.  Barked at a puppy – as was her way.  Not very friendly to other dogs, sorry to say.  She skipped dinner – that should have been a huge red flag.  She enjoyed her meals.

Last night, I came downstairs to turn off the lights.  In hindsight, I do think it was strange that she hadn’t already made her way up to my bedroom.  I saw her sleeping on the rug in the TV room.  I called her name and she didn’t wake up.  Not strange though as she’s become hard of hearing lately.  I stretched my hand out.  She was cold.

Linda called her “soulful” and that felt too deep to me at first.  I found her subtlety dismaying.  Never a licker or a tail wagger (she didn’t really have one) her face was a mystery.  Poker face extraordinaire.

She was my heart companion.  For ten years Ruby has been by my side.  When I cried, she would charge her way to my side.  Concerned.  Present.  A reassuring weight.  Her favorite place was on me or right beside me.  Always.  So “soulful” it is.  I can see that now.

I am chagrined to note that in all my “death” experiences of being and sitting with people and animals that are dying, I was a basket case when it came to this.  I was afraid to touch Ruby and I felt totally freaked out, like I wanted to run or throw up or both, simultaneously.

Grateful to my kids for their compassion and kindness last night, to my sweet friend who stayed up until 1am with me on the phone and to my sister Linda who came over this morning and did what I couldn’t.  She helped me get Ruby out of the cardboard box in the garage, set up an altar with sweet flowers, candles, oils and incense.  And chanted Akals to my soulful heart companion, Ruby.  Then she helped me wrap her in the same sheet we had wrapped her beloved mastiff, Juno, in just a few weeks ago and bundled me in her car, while I held Ruby in my arms, kissing her sweet nose, and drove me to the vet, where I left her to be cremated.

No way to fill a hole like this one.

RIP Ruby.  You are missed.  You are loved.

August 9, 2006 – April 28, 2016

12 Do’s (and Don’ts!) Supporting a Friend Through Surgery

or… What I Learned Last Week Through Trial and Error

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I spent a chunk of last week caring for my dear friend Barbara after she had surgery.  I have never had surgery and really had no idea what to expect.  I just knew that this is one of my best friends and I wanted to be there for her and so I volunteered to be her main person for the first few days.  What I know in hindsight is that this is no small task nor should it be taken lightly.  And…it’s not for everyone.  So I’ve compiled a list of what I learned in the hope that it will help others – both caregivers and people about to have surgery – so that they can make the best decisions about who is in their space at this tender time.

DO’s

1-Play to Your Strengths

For example if you don’t have the best bedside manner but you make a really mean chicken soup, volunteer to make meals, but don’t sign up to be the hand holder for your friend or family member when she’s getting prepped for surgery.  If you decide to take on the “job” of caregiver, go for it wholeheartedly and no holds barred. Be on board. If rubbing somebody’s feet makes you squeamish, find someone who is great at giving massage to come sit with the patient while you have a little break.

2 – Take Your Job Seriously

Remember that you are the gatekeeper and that your job, to the best of your ability, is to filter all the personalities, energies and information that the patient is being bombarded with. You are an advocate for the patient.  You’re another set of eyes and ears, don’t be afraid to take notes or even record the doctor when they are speaking.  In my experience, nobody minded when I asked for clarification on certain things or had questions about the aftercare instructions. In general, I felt that the hospital preferred that I was there as a go-between for Barbara.

3 – Be Gentle with the Patient!

Even if you’ve never had surgery before, it’s important to note that the days leading up to surgery, immediately after the operation, and the days shortly after the procedure can be a very tender and vulnerable time for the patient and her family. My friend Barbara kept saying that the veils were thin.  I think she was referring to the fact that all of her defenses were stripped away and this can be a time where fear and powerlessness are magnified.  Be especially gentle and kind with your loved one.  This is definitely where a nurturing and gentle caregiver will be preferred over somebody with very little bedside manner.  Let that person run errands for you or help in other ways.

4 – Have Food in the House

Do have lots of yummy and nourishing snacks available in the house for the patient after surgery. Don’t assume that the patient only wants to eat soup or bland foods. In fact, I knew Barbara was feeling better on day two when she started fantasizing about lasagna!

5 – Rest

Encourage the patient to have many breaks and to rest quietly. It can get a little overwhelming with friends and family calling, texting, and stopping by. No matter how wonderful it is to be reminded how loved she is, my little Energizer Bunny needed quiet time so that she could recharge. One of my best memories was playing my Dragon Drum for Barbara while she napped.  Also in this category, do encourage the patient to take her 3 AM pain pill and go right back to sleep.  You do not want her to get chatty, nip that right in the bud.  You need your sleep too!

6 – Show Some Emotion

Let yourself have feelings. Your friend will appreciate someone else expressing themselves; it’s not just the patient who is feeling an overwhelming amount of emotion. Once all the forms were signed and Barbara came out of the bathroom in her cloth gown and paper cap, s*** got real and I couldn’t help myself, the tears just flowed.  Barbara held my hand and it was a very loving moment.   Also, don’t be afraid to share a laugh – always good medicine (where appropriate, see below.)

DON’Ts

A lot of these will seem like a giant “Duh!” to most of you but I assure you these were either learned the hard way or witnessed.

1 – Don’t Forget to Eat

Don’t eat the patient’s yummy nourishing snacks!  And don’t underestimate how hungry you as the caregiver might get.  It’s important to think ahead if you can and if you have that luxury, stock the refrigerator for you as well.  When well-meaning friends text and ask what they can bring you can also say that the patient is very hungry and wants chocolate and almonds (even if they’re really for you!)

2 – Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive to Surgery

Do not, repeat do not, let the patient drive herself to the hospital on surgery day with you in the passenger seat. The patient has a lot on her mind and will be distracted. When she tries to back up into a very tiny space it will not go well.  Avoid this scenario by insisting upon driving.

3.  Laughter is Good Medicine Except When Patient is Nervous/Crabby

Don’t make too many jokes right before surgery. Usually the patient will not appreciate you making references to your giant pimple on your face and asking the surgeon if they have any medical recommendations for you.   Once again, the patient will not think this is funny.  Neither will the doctor.

4.  Let It Roll

Don’t take anything the patient says prior, during, or after surgery personally.  A lot of emotions can come up.  It’s best to encourage the patient not to make any long-lasting, life-changing decisions in this general window of time.  The patient’s mood could be perceived as erratic – something seemingly harmless like a little elderly man pushing a motorcycle up a hill could drive the patient into a murderous rant.  Best to just soothingly reassure the patient that you hate that motorcyclist too…there, there.  The patient will have almost zero recollection of what they said or asked for. For example when your friend/patient asks you to mince garlic in her lemon water she might actually mean ginger and will look at you like you have sprouted a second head when you ask her if she really wants you to put garlic in her tea.  (Actually, as I write this, it occurs to me that this section could be written for perimenopause too…aaack.)

5.  Don’t Be A Jerk

In her tender time post-surgery, do not give the patient any books regarding her medical condition or tell her stories about people who have died from the same medical condition.  Right?  Also in this category, do not judge any type of procedure or follow-up care the patient decides upon afterwards.  This may take an attitude of trust on your part, but I assure you most people think long and hard and confer with their doctors and their loved ones before they decide on any follow-up treatments and it is OUR job as a supportive community to love our friends and family members through all of their decisions without judgment or opinion unless asked.  And even then, people, use your heads.  Remember…this is a tender time.  Tread lightly!  No bombarding the patient with statistics and medical data.

6.  Don’t Forget What a Sacred Window of Time you are Sharing Together

Take as much opportunity as you possibly can in the surprisingly busy days post surgery to reassure your loved one what an absolute gift it is, and continues to be, to spend time with them.  To hold their hand, to do their laundry, to steam there garlic tea, to warm up their soup, to stroke their hair, to give them a kiss, to cry with them, to laugh with them, to drive them around, and to just be in their presence.  It is a rare gift to share so intimately with another and I am grateful to have had this bonding time with my sweet friend of 26 years.

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Isn’t she cute?

Huge thank you to my family and friends for supporting me in making this trip happen, kids got shuffled, pet/house sitter bent backwards, drum carrier got fedexed so I could bring it with me on the plane, friends held space for me and said healing prayers for Barbara.  I know it’s cliche but it truly takes a village.

Hawk Medicine

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new tattoo, hawk feather, mission ink, ron nelson, santa cruz

“When we are heavy with the world’s sadness, call to us through Hawk’s cry, reminding us to look up and beyond, trusting in Spirit’s great design.”  Tiphaine Bonetti

For years I have related to the hawk and have felt that hawk was one of my special animals.  I would have dreams of hawks and sightings – close encounters.  There is a connection between Hawk and Kundalini energy, some say hawk comes into your life only after Kundalini energy is activated.

Four years ago, my friend, Lance Gentry, was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor.  During the last year of his life, he saw many hawks and started to feel that they were messengers.  We had some email conversations about hawk medicine and that’s when I started calling him “Brother Hawk”.

Around this time, Nancy and I would go for hikes and have heart-to-heart discussions about our life.  I prayed for my life to have meaning and wished there was something I could do for Lance and his family.  Nancy prayed for Lance.

“This powerful bird [hawk] can awaken visionary power and lead you to your life purpose.  It is the messenger bird, and wherever is shows up, pay attention.  There is a message coming.”  from Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews.

In the Spring before Lance’s death, I got to spend more time with him, giving him Reiki and quietly sitting with him.  I was able to let all the words I wanted to say to him, and all the love I felt for him flow through my hands, through my touch.  His gift to me was that he received that love.  We got to communicate without words…and share sacred time together…the biggest exchange of LOVE I had ever experienced with another human being that I wasn’t related to.  It was a soul love, without form or expectation.

The day Lance died was a beautiful hot June day.  He was at home, in his bed, made peaceful with morphine.  A friend of Lance’s stopped by to see him and brought a hawk wing, not knowing that Lance had an affiliation with hawk, but feeling called to do it.  Lance died 10 hours later, surrounded by dear friends and Nancy holding him in the bed and his mother by his side.

There was a beautiful ceremony for his life at the Shambala Center – a buddhist center here in town.  His body lay in a cardboard casket.  He wore his favorite hat and favorite T-shirt that said “Love More, Fear Less”.  The hawk wing was placed on his chest.  We kept Lance’s body on dry ice for 3 days and friends took turns staying with him so he was never alone, sleeping with him in shifts. It’s hard to describe the holy atmosphere of the place in the middle of the night, sitting in solitude with Lance, candles flickering, watching the room start to lighten with the morning sun.

"I Am Always Watching" by Amélie Gentry
“I Am Always Watching” by Amelie Gentry

After Lance died, so many people reported fantastic hawk sightings, myself included.  Nancy had one experience with the kids where a hawk came flying right down the middle of the street towards them, at eye level, and flew right past them.  They all felt that they had just had a visitation from Lance.

I am missing Lance and really missing that beautiful heart of his.  It’s hard to lose something that feels that sweet.  I had a dream about Lance the other day, and there he was in my dream, so loving and kind, smiling.  It was good to feel him again.  One thing I committed to, after Lance died, was to always let the people in my life know how much I love them…Lance taught me about being loving.  He taught me that there is beauty and grace in openly loving people and not hiding it.  After Reiki he would often say “I love you” and it felt so good to hear it from him.  His face was open and radiant and all the love in his heart came pouring out of his eyes.

“Lance:  Friend, husband, father, mountain climber, son, brother, voracious reader, truck fixer, bookcase builder, barefoot runner, dead head, Truth Seeker, guerrilla marketer, peanut butter hawker, solo quest maker, adventurer, risk taker, meditator, guide, braver warrior, soaring hawk—We remember you.”  Tiphaine Bonetti

 

When Friendships End…

Three years ago, over the course of three months, I lost 3 friends.  They didn’t die, they dumped me.  All of these relationships ended abruptly and each one of them came as a surprise to me.  I’d love to have a nice new age explanation for why these friendships ended – like, it was time for anything and anyone that doesn’t serve to end – but all I really know, is that they did.  End that is.

I didn’t want anyone to know that someone I had considered one of my closest friends no longer wanted to be in relationship with me.   You know that phrase “You’re only as sick as your secrets?” well I kept this a secret for a long time.  Only my husband and one or two close friends knew.  Recently, as I was confessing all of this to another friend, she shared that she had recently had some friendships end too. “There’s no term for friend divorce.” she said.  As we spoke, I realized that I’ve been carrying a sense of shame about these endings and feeling very secretive about it.  I can feel guilt and hurt, but carrying shame is toxic.  Why is it that the very thing I am embarrassed about in myself, I can accept and understand in somebody else?  I wonder if other women are walking around feeling shame about friendships that have ended.

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sad me, feeling vulnerable, 3 years ago

A few weeks ago, I was in a group that was studying with Ann Drucker, and we were discussing the shaman practice of “dismemberment.”  In a shamanic journey, it can be common to experience dismemberment by one’s spirit guide.  This is a unique experience for each person, but it’s common to be literally torn apart, limb from limb, or eaten/ingested so that there is nothing left of you.   The spirit guide does this with great intention and service to the individual, in order to tear down and clear away the old, what no longer serves, ego.

Make no mistake about it – enlightenment is a destructive process.  It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier.  Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth.  It’s seeing through the facade of pretense.  It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.  – Adyashanti

I started thinking about my past relationships and wondered if on some energetic, karmic plane, these particular friendships were dismemberment gifts to me.  I have no idea, but I can say that looking at these endings with this lens is comforting.  I felt totally naked, exposed, raw when these friendships ended – one in particular.  She wrote me an email and said terrible things to me about my character – things I would never have thought a friend would say – I did feel like my heart was ripped open – the same way a Jaguar spirit animal might eat my flesh.  But what if that was the gift?  I hardly ever know why things happen the way they do…that’s actually one thing I’m looking forward to when I die – I hope I get let in on the mysteries of life!  But I do trust the universe.  And I do trust that these friendships ended for a reason.

Fast forward to last week, sitting in my car, on the phone with a friend, both of us confessing about our ended relationships and both of us realizing that we carry shame and secrecy around this.  As we talked, she gave me a gift.   She said “People are complex.  We have our faults.  We’re not perfect.  But I know this, if any one of those people reached out to you today and asked if you would meet with them, you would say “yes”, wouldn’t you?”  I said “Of course!”  and just like that, I re-membered myself.  I RE-MEMBERED myself!  All the shame, all the embarrassement, all the secrecy I’d been carrying for years started to lift.  Yes, I am imperfect.  I am horribly hormonal sometimes.  Ugh.  I am flawed.  But I am also unflinching in crisis.  I am always, always willing to try again.  I have a gentle and kind heart.  And my friend reminded me, to re-member who I am.  I AM.  And that is another gift of the shamanic spirit guide, after they dismember you, they re-member you so that you are complete. Whole.  It took me awhile to remember myself, years to be exact, but I am more whole today because of those friendships.

These days, I am filled with gratitude for the women in my life.  I am blessed to experience the level of intimacy in my relationships that I do.  I feel humbled with the abundance of love that is beamed at me, regularly!  I’m still me, I didn’t suddenly become the greatest person in the world.  I do keep working on myself and try to own my shit, when I’m aware of it.  The one common thread that all my relationships have currently is the quality of “leaning in.”  I can truly lean in to my friends and they can lean in to me.  Each of them have seen me in my rawness, my vulnerability and my imperfection and loved me anyway. Inspite of.  Because of.  Deep gratitude to the women in my life – all of them.  Past.  Present.  Future.

I'm FREE!
I’m FREE!

and PS – thank you to my husband who midwifed me through all my grief during that time, even as he struggled to understand what the big deal was.  I love you.

Thank You

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It never fails to amaze me – the redemptive quality of families – of forgiveness, love, laughter – the messiness and imperfection, the prayers for patience and tolerance, the unexpected kindnesses, the tears as we go around the table saying what we’re thankful for.  I started the day out with a “raisin” heart – all small and shriveled, feeling protective and prickly and ended the day with a large, spongy heart = like those little pills you drop into water and they expand 10 xs their size into a giant snowman or pine tree.  That’s me.

Things that touched me yesterday: my mom home with the flu, alone.  Making the best of her day, knowing someone would deliver some delicious food to her later in the evening.  FaceTiming with my daughter and son and their father and laughing over the airwaves with them.  Spending the day at the beach with my husband, playing volleyball in the sunshine.  Sitting with my step-daughter at the dinner table and feeling how thankful I am for her in my life.  Ruby, my heart companion of a dog, almost drifting off to sea, as a wave came in – she doesn’t float!  Grateful that the wave subsided and she ran to shore (I would have saved her.)

Dear family & friends texting, messaging me, facebooking me, from all over the world = global village.  People posting on Facebook and inviting others to their table, recognizing that people can feel alone and sad on holidays.  Another friend, alone on Thanksgiving and feeling the freedom of that!  Skating at Rockefeller center, watching the parade and enjoying New York’s first snow fall of the season.  Light and dark.  Vulnerable and tenacious.  Hearts beating.  Breath catching.  Eyes watering.  Lips curling.  I felt it all yesterday.  It was beautiful.  Thank you.

If you only say one prayer in a day, make it “Thank You.”  -Rumi

 

 

True Confessions – Part 2

Vunerability and Truth…two of the most potent spaces to be in – combined anything is possible.  It was in this spirit that my relationship with Nancy West McGuire was started.  On this day, at this cafe, it was the right time for us to connect.  Do you have any friends like that?  Where you know each other peripherally, or see each other around, but for some reason you finally connect and you wonder “Why did this take so long?”  Ahhh the mystery of life.  I love it.

One of my absolute joys in life, and a reason I believe I’m here in human form, is to deeply connect with other human beings – on a heart level.  Sitting down with a “stranger” and finding common ground with each other energizes me and makes me glad to be alive.  It fills me up on a soul level.  And guess what?  Nancy loves that too!  The more we shared, the more excited we got to recognize a kindred spirit in each other.  We both had been event planners in past lives, we had gone to high school within 7 miles of each other, for decades each of one us has been drawn to different trainings and teachings to improve ourselves.  We each have a reverence and curiosity for death and dying.  It was a such a treat to meet and spend hours (!) talking and enjoying myself.  The items to be discussed kept growing and tumbling out, it felt as natural and comfortable as seeing a friend after many years – a sister…a best friend from childhood…where had she been all my life?

The cherry on top of the sundae was that Nancy was passionate about India.  Not only had she traveled there solo and lived there, but she was familiar with the one city that has been calling to me – Varanasi.  The one city on the “Journey to India” itinerary that I haven’t been to, yet feel called to see.  Nancy told me story after story about her days in Varanasi, about impromptu dance parties with women in the slums, about chartering a boat to take families down the Ganges to a park for an afternoon of play, of paying for children to go to the dentist for the first time and have their teeth cleaned and filled.  To hear Nancy speak of Varanasi, is to see her come alive.  She’s a strong woman with a large heart and she exudes confidence, competence and gregariousness.  But the nectar is to watch Nancy soften when she speaks of Varanasi and the people there.  She looks like a young girl, delighted with life, and sweet with vulnerability and truth.  See for yourself:

True Confessions – Part 1

Every day I make a ‘to do’ list and I write: “blog post about India.”

'to do' lists
‘to do’ lists

I usually get everything done on my list, except the blog post.  Why?  Well…I have a secret to share.  I am sharing this with the hope that it will help others and set me free at the same time.

When I first decided that I wanted to plan a trip to India, a part of me felt that I needed a “draw” – like, I needed a big name or talent to get people to sign up.  I knew I could handle the details and organize the trip, but I didn’t think that I could get people to sign up just because I was leading it.  So I set out to get a well known teacher to co-lead with me.  Only problem was, for different reasons, the teachers weren’t able to do the trip.  This was not working out how I planned.  I kept giving God a squinty-eyed look that said “I am not doing this trip myself God!”  I didn’t want to.  But here’s the dirty little secret…it wasn’t because I didn’t think I could do it – that wasn’t the scary part for me at all – it was because…because…if I couldn’t get enough people to sign up for the trip, and had to cancel, then I would be a FAILURE.  And not only that, but I would fail PUBLICLY.  Everyone would know that I failed.

I wrestled with this for awhile.  I suffered.  During a BARS energy work session with Kate Spear’s gentle questioning, I started to unravel my beliefs around the trip.  What would it take for me to put both feet in regarding the trip?  What would it look like if I partnered with God?  What would it feel like if I let India be the “draw”?  What if I planned a beautiful trip and trusted that the participants would have their own experiences?  I could feel my chest expanding with each question Kate asked.  The true freedom of letting go of any attachment to the outcome…the relief of stepping back and trusting that India, and India alone, would be the bell calling out to each soul.  Partnering with God filled me with trust.  I felt humble and unafraid.  I was committed, both feet in, to follow this journey towards India and see where it would lead me.  There was no failure in trying, only learning.  I made a commitment to move forward.

The very next day, Nancy West McGuire sent me a freind request on Facebook.  I knew her peripherally but I had always been too shy insecure to reach out.  I accepted her freind request and shared my secret that I had always wanted to be her friend but had been holding back.  She responded instantly and warmly, saying “Hello new friend!  Life is too short to be shy!”  and we set up a date to meet and have tea.  Two days later, we met at one of my favorite cafes in Boulder and talked for hours – discovering many common themes, one of which was a shared passion for India.

In Part 2  I’ll write about how a Facebook request, and a truth shared with vulnerability from the heart led me to be co-leading a trip to India with Nancy.  See you tomorrow!