Friday, August 26, 2011

Grief and Gratitude

Goodbye Freck How I Love You 083It’s been a week since my polka-dotted hero, out-runner of greyhounds, the subject of many  spontaneously and lovingly re-written opera arias,  and celebrated MMM mascot, took her final journey.  The collective embrace from all of you - here, on Facebook, in person, via text message, by phone, on internet forums, through the good old USPS - has been humbling.  And enormous.  You shared your stories, you understood the depth of my grief, you offered comfort. I heard from people who knew (and loved! - how that touched me!) her, people who knew me, and people I’ve never met at all.   Some of you cried your own tears for her, and so many of you recognized the true nature of the what a pet-owner bond can be, and the deep sorrow that accompanies the loss of life’s most faithful companion.  How it comforts me to know you understand!  All your words of kindness kept her alive for me those first few impossible days.

I know from you and from my own experiences that time will eventually heal, but this week it has been my enemy.  Each day that passes takes her one more day further away from me.  So, as the flowers on her little shrine wilt, I can’t say I’m feeling any better yet.  But I know I will, and that is enough for now.  So many times in life, we are asked to bear the unbearable, and so many have been asked to bear much more than I ever have.  Yet somehow we do.  We do!  It is possible, in no small part, because of the good people around us.  I thank you, dear friends and readers, deeply.  Your understanding and compassionate condolences have eased my way on this challenging journey of the heart.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Final Journey (A Significant Other Matter)

Freckles on the Couch 029 


I met her on the examining table of the pet hospital I used to work at a lifetime ago.  You met her briefly here, again here, and watched her in a little mischief here. I marveled at the sweetness of her disposition that day in 1998, and later, after I adopted her, at her remarkable emotional sensitivity.  I still do.

She saw me through some tough times – my divorce, bouts of tool throwing, and the agony that was my life during 2009-2010 (a little of which I told you about, most of which I did not.)

I saw her through her own tough times, too.  A cancer scare involving surgery in 2009, surgery, pins and a cast in 2002 (an injury specific to racing greyhounds - we were so proud!),  and, in a bizarre coincidence, the loss of that same leg to cancer in 2010.  She held up during her challenges much better than I ever have.

Freckles has a star power unlike that I’ve ever seen.  Crowds cheered her as she honored the loss of her leg in the 2010 Tucson Day of the Dead Celebration.  In 2004, she co-starred in a photo shoot for the Muscular Dystrophy Association's "Fill the Boot" fundraising campaign.  She got the job done in half the time it took the "professional" Dalmatian used in years prior.  It’s rare that I don’t hear whispers as she dances down the street,  “Look!  A Dalmatian!”  People are often so bedazzled by her spots and sweetness that they completely miss the fact she’s down one leg.  And when they do pick up on this, they are always inspired and touched by her agility and spunk.  Jaws drop when people learn that this active young pup is really 15 years old.  Walking her feels like community service -  she brings so much inspiration and joy to all the people whose paths she crosses.

One day this week, during our daily “morning games,” I felt a mass in her belly.  An ultrasound told me what I already knew.  She doesn’t know it yet, but this will be her end.  There really isn’t much to be done, and the medical details are purely academic at this point.  I don’t know how long it will take.  She doesn’t have any symptoms yet, and although it is unlikely related to the prior cancer that took her leg, that tumor moved so fast, it doubled the size of her leg in less than a week.   Although she usually spends her summers in the custody of her “Daddy,” this year she’s coming to Utah with me.  I don’t know where we’ll live, and I don’t know how I’ll afford not living in the free apartment usually provided to me, but we’ll find a way.

And so, I will be with her as she embarks on her final journey.  I suspect, in that strange twist of fate I've experienced before, it will be the dying who comforts the living.

I wrote this post on a quiet afternoon in mid May, with Freckles napping by my side.  She passed peacefully  on August 19, at the age of 15 and a half, as we lay quietly spooning, just two days after our arduous return to Tucson.  A spotted vase of flowers now marks her window look out perch.  In one of her final gifts to me, she, who could not walk in her last days, summoned her strength to hop across the house to greet me at the door.  My grief is unbearable, and my gratitude for having had her in my life overflows. 

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Dining While Stranded (The Daily Special) – Grilled Salmon with Garden Harvest

Let’s just say you were driving home to Tucson from your summer job in northern Utah.  And let’s say that your car overheated, but didn’t bother to warn you.  So you kept driving.  Until… kaput!  You need a new engine.  Pretend it’s the same car you just spent $1,300 on replacing the drive train, amongst other things.  And one whose registration you just renewed last week.   Let’s pretend there’s no way/no how that (a new engine) is going to happen, so you tow to Salt Lake City and find yourself stranded for a few days while you figure out what to do.

Hmm, that’s not a great scenario, so I’ll add to it. Say you had some good friends in SLC with whom you can stay.  They’re off in the mountains, so you have the run of their incredible home and yard.  Say the kitchen has a Viking Pro stove and granite counter tops, the yard and house have an amazing mountain view, and there are fresh veggies to harvest for dinner every evening.  And squash blossoms.  And, yes, even a grape arbor, delightfully hung with tiny sweet-tart dark purple flavor bombs.  Oh, and say your friends left a luscious piece of fresh salmon in the fridge for you.  And a beautiful porch on which to dine and enjoy the view.  And a telescope to watch the full moon rise from said porch.

Sound better?  I thought so, too.  So while I practically (okay, really) cried when I sold my car for a whopping 300 dollars today, dinner was a delight.

Take your slab of salmon and adorn it with what you find to harvest as you amble about the garden.  Colorful tomatoes (save the beefy red one for a tomato salad), basil, peppers, summer squashes… whatever is ripe at the moment.  Salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, onion.  Use the fancy camera at your disposal to take a photo, since, despite the two weeks of exhaustive research you just did on cameras, you will  not  be buying one anytime soon.  You’ll be buying an extremely used car, instead.  Wrap the salmon up in foil, toss the package on the awesome barbecue on the awesome porch.  Grill some bread, too, for bruschetta.  Rub a halved garlic clove over the crispy browned bread, pour on a thin stream of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, for the simplest version, or top it with anything else delicious you can think of.  Eat the salmon when it’s juuust barely done.  That determination is up to you, but depending on the thickness of the fish, the heat of the grill, your personal taste, it could take 5-10 minutes. Or more.  Or less.  I didn’t check the clock, because, as usual, I wasn’t planning on writing about it until after dinner.  Just poke at it until it looks like something you want to eat.

Consider your luck, both good and bad this week, and decide your good fortune wins, hands down.  Worry about that whole car thing tomorrow.

Salmon with Garden Harvest (5) copy
Hmm, aluminum foil adds an entirely new lighting issue.  Whatever, I had dinner to make!