Jack + Jackie boy + Man’s Best Friend + My Buddy

Yesterday we put our dog down. When I say “our,” I mean me, my wife and my children.

We met Jack 16 years ago. We had been forced to give away our three cats to other owners. Our daughter developed allergies which helped make the decision only mildly more palatable. One cat, also known as my cat, Jasmine was the most difficult to let go. She was the cat, who no matter where I was would find me, climb up my arm and drape herself around my shoulders like a scarf.

We didn’t waste much time seeking out Jack. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I needed him. There’s something about that unconditional love, that wagging tail greeting me at the door when I came home after a difficult day of seeing patients that were helpful.

Jack

Now we have said our final goodbye.

Yesterday we put Jack down. This, next to my grandmother’s passing, has been one of the most difficult goodbyes I have ever had to say. Last week I suggested to Nancy we call the vet and take Jack and have him examined. I guess, as I think about this decision which never materialized, I was looking for someone to make this decision for me. As a social worker, have this conversation, sometimes more frequently than I would have ever hoped. As I spoke with the vet, fighting back tears, I felt as though I had been having a conversation with myself. She was telling me everything I tell others in a similar situation. I knew the answer. I knew what needed to be done. I knew what the humane decision was.

Jack4

The night before, I spent the evening with him. I watched him nervously walk into the kitchen and stand in a corner staring into space. His vision gone, clouded by cataracts which have grown rapidly over the past several months. His hearing also gone. After several minutes he began to walk in circles around the kitchen. He found another spot of significance only he knew. This behavior has gone on for the last 2-months and more recently has grown worse. He grows tired after a half-hour and retires for a couple of hours when I rise and watch the rise and fall of his chest to ensure he was breathing. As I watched this behavior tonight, I was reminded of the kindness of our decision. This is no way to live. There is no longer any quality to his life and watching him struggle simply pains me.

Jack2

Today, our first without him ― feels so lonely, we ache without him. The silence is deafening, and we sometimes “hear” him, only to remember that sound is now gone. We’ll never again hear the jingle of his collar as he comes to greet us or look down at him as he sits by one of us at dinner hoping a scrap will either fall or the kindness of one of us will bestow him with a gift. I never imagined saying goodbye to such an amazing friend would be so difficult.

We returned home and with a bottle of Makers Mark recounted our memories. Listening to my wife and son I am reminded of the great gift he was in our life.

I slept horribly. I read and reread a poem sent by a friend. The grief and sadness I feel, commensurate with my love for him. The thought of falling asleep and waking without him being there to greet me was too much to bear.

Jack3

Jack has been an amazing teacher to me. He taught me the what it meant to live life unselfishly. He reminded me of the importance of caring for others when those emotional batteries had been bled dry.

Jack

I am grateful for the life lessons you have taught and for my willingness to learn. In so many ways I have become a better person as a result of those lessons.

Our future, I am sure will be graced by another canine but Jack will never be replaced. His memory, like other memories, will fade but he and the gifts he gave us will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace Jackie boy.

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Spring + Gratitude

The seasons are changing.

I know this not just because of the date on the calendar. There is a change in the air. The smells are different. Birds are singing and in the east, the sun is beginning, at this early hour to peek above the horizon. The air also has lost the bite which has kept most of us indoors for the past few months.

I stepped outside for my run this morning feeling hopeful as a new week begins. A quick glance toward the heavens and I am humbled and reminded as I look at the stars which are visible. I am reminded that I am but a speck in this vast universe.

I think, a lot during my runs. I enjoy running because of the usual escape from deep thought which is offered by running. Often I cannot recall what I have thought as these thoughts cascade and become lost like a drop of water breaching the crest of Niagara Falls.

As I run down darkened streets, the only visible light is coming from my headlamp. It lights a path directly in front of me allowing my immediate universe to remain even smaller. I think about the humility which I feel and for which I am grateful. I thought about the recent goings on in our country and find myself dismayed. Dismayed that we can’t even treat each other with the smallest speck of respect yet we hope by continuing to confront each other, often with violence on very polarized fronts we will unite and achieve our desired goals.

sunrise

Instead, I think of the symptoms of Tinnitus which have been bothering me with more frequency and intensity over the past couple of weeks. The ringing had been much improved for reasons neither I nor the doctors understand. I think I had lost a small amount of gratitude for the life which I have. These last several days when the ringing in my ears has been difficult to ignore, I have reminded of the importance of gratitude. Visiting my mom and dad last night and seeing his inability to walk reminds me that there are bigger problems to manage and I am a lucky individual.

Dad

Mom called tonight. Her voice sounding of frustration and exasperation. She said, “Chris, I don’t know what to do. Your father has been sitting in the garage for the past 45-minutes.”

Dad turns 80 March 31st.

Dad had polio when he was a child and now, many years later he struggles with post-polio syndrome. Throughout his life, he has been bothered by these symptoms. Never did I hear him complain despite the pain and frustration which I saw on his face. He did his best to hide it. He would grimace and if caught, he would pass it off as “just a pain.” He now struggles with legs which have not supported any weight in several years, his breathing labored and crackling because of a diagnosis of COPD. His legs are weights which serve to provide him only balance when he sits in his chair.

I grew up watching him limp yet every day he rose and did what he needed to do to support his family. His health did not allow him to do the things most kids want their fathers to do. We didn’t throw a football or a baseball but I know he loved us.

dad

In 1990 he made the decision to retire. Physically he began to break down and the struggle became more visible. His limp became more pronounced yet complaints were never heard. What I did hear were reminders to always stay strong and to see the good in things. To see and respect what you have instead of what you don’t.

Tonight was difficult. I drove the short distance to my parents’ home. The garage door was closed and my mom waited at the front door. I entered the house and then the garage to find my dad sitting on the scooter in which he had been sitting for the past 45-minutes. It took him another 20-minutes with my help to transition to his other chair and then up the ramp into the house.

His breathing remains labored and difficult to hear. His lungs rattle. The other night my mother, who often sleeps very little as she lays by his side listening to his breathing, “almost called 911.” He begged her not to.

The pain and frustration remain on his face. It is clear to the one who reads his facial expressions. Thos who don’t know him believe he is “doing really well for his age.” Thos who know him and are willing to see it, see the struggle.

Death

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the process of death.

Last week Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries died suddenly at the age of 46. That shouldn’t happen. People shouldn’t die at the age of 46 yet they do. People die every day. Despite knowing this, many of us choose to navigate through life thinking it will never happen.

While I myself am not sick, I am still dying. We are always marching forward toward what I have accepted as inevitable. I know death is inevitable, but it amazes me so that so many people think they can cheat death.

My dog Jack, who has been a faithful companion over the last 15-years has seen a rapid decline in his health. He has lost weight, his eyes are cloudy with cataracts and his hearing is all but gone. His vision is so bad that food placed directly in front of him cannot be seen. I felt guilty a couple weeks earlier when I watched him walk directly off the top step of our back porch. He was unable to see that he was on that level. He has been an amazing companion. When I have experienced a difficult day at work, there is nothing better than experiencing his greeting at the door. There is no judgment, only unconditional love. I would rather spend time with Jack than I would with most humans. Now, he is unaware of the comings and goings of others.

Jack

My dad, who will turn 80 on March 31st of this year has continued his march toward the inevitability of death. I visit him and my mom every week and every week I hear about another medication or another test. When my dad is not present in the room, her worried look returns as she tells me of another new concern, of another test received and another test where results continue to be processed. When my dad returns to the room, her smile, forced has returned. Anyone who knows my mom knows this is not a true smile for there is much pain behind it. I find myself becoming frustrated when I hear others complain about her complain. My words to them would remind them they had asked her how she is doing and if they didn’t want to her response, then don’t ask.

dad1

If you look at my dad, he appears healthy with the exception of managing post-polio syndrome. He is one of the 25-40% of the people who will have to manage these symptoms after having had polio as a boy. Dad sits on his powered scooter, his back twisted forcing him to sit to one side. He never complains. I mean even when I was small, no matter what the issue, no matter what the stressor, I never heard him complain.

On a recent visit, my mom explained how “it’s getting really tough.” She told me how it took him over an hour to sit up and transition from the bed into his chair; the chair that has been his home for the last decade. His feet, swollen and useless as his legs no longer offer him any support. Instead, they are appendages which than likely cause him more stress today than they ever have in the past.

His chair is useless in even the smallest amount of snow. This forces my mom to leave him behind when she runs errands or attends church services. I know he enjoys the time spent away from her as much as she enjoys the time away. Despite their love for each other, the stress on my mom’s face when arriving for a visit reminds me of the reasons why we are often afraid to age and ultimately die.

My dad and I have spoken of death on many previous occasions. He shakes off the thought saying, “It is what it is. It’s going to happen to all of us. The good Lord will take me when he’s ready.” While appearing superficial, I know there is much truth, much acceptance of these statements.

It the time I spend with him now as I approach my 55th year on this planet that reminds me of the importance of living each day as it arrives. I have done much work to make this process easier for me and for the clients with whom I provide counseling. I have long ago adopted my dad’s phrase of “it is what it is.” It is this phrase which has helped me to shrug off much of the insanity with which I find myself throughout the day. This world I live in today is one far more complicated than the world in which I was raised in the 6o’s and 70’s. Many times I long for the simplicity of those days and those times. I long for the different stress with which we all lived during that time.

Despite what I know about death and growing older, I continue to find myself also occasionally struggling with priorities. I see approximately 35-40 clients every week often leaving myself emotionally drained by weeks end. I have to remind myself daily to find the joy, which despite being ever present is often difficult to see through the crowded forest of life events and stressors.

I too will die one day. I work hard every day to ensure I am not one of the individuals who die having regretted the life they have lived.

2017

“Tomorrow the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” – Brad Paisley

As I sit to write, there remain just 12-hours in this 2017 year. Like any other year, there have been highs and lows. Life is like that. Ips and downs. So many of us complain about those changes, I like them. It is what keeps me strong and focused. My life does not remain on autopilot for long. There are too many things which can go wrong with that setting. The things in life over which I have no control are filed under the tab “fuck it.” Those things over which I have control, I accept what I can do and I do it. If I need assistance, that too is OK. I ask for help and use the additional tools and support to achieve success.

I have had in my life the opportunity to have my path cross with that of some amazing teachers. The best teacher I have ever had is my dad. More on him later when he reaches his 80th birthday at the end of March. dad1

The one undeniable truth which I have learned is that in everything there is both happiness and sadness. Sadness is not a bad feeling. It is not a feeling from which we should run nor is it a feeling from which we should cower in fear. If we remain in contact with our feelings and accept them for what they are, we take the opportunity to accept any amount of power we may have to make the changes necessary in our life to overcome those down times and manage the destructive negative feelings in which so many of us wallow in self-pity.

You’re right if you’re thinking there is little in our lives over which we have any if much control. That’s OK. That’s life.

The quote by Brad Paisley goes hand in hand with the man who I have referred to as my spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. Thay, as he is often called by his students said, “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.” It is sad for me to know too few of us realize and accept this fact. Instead, we travel through this wonderful journey kicking and screaming. Instead of problem-solving, we complain expecting things to get better.

Musashi

“Without effort, there are no rewards. The results you achieve will be in direct proportion to the effort you apply.” – Denis Waitley

I had an interesting year. Like any other, there were ups and downs. I manage the downs like I would hope any of my clients do.

I finished 2016 still frustrated with a knee injury. Instead of following up with a doctor, I sat idly and hoped for it to heal. It did not. There’s that thing about putting forth the effort. I had surgery on my knee on April 6th, just 5-days after waking and experiencing ringing in my ears that would later be diagnosed with Tinnitus.

presurgeryThe ENT I went to see sent for testing to rule-out a diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease. I am grateful the tests were returned negative. Knee surgery resulted in the partial removal of the meniscus in my right knee. The surgeon asked repeatedly that I not return to running but being the stubborn individual that I am, this was not going to be the case. I gave loved running for many years. The solitude from which I reap from this activity is boundless and helps me to maintain some modicum of being centered throughout the day.

surgery

As the year progressed, I felt the ringing in my ears which has been a relatively consistent companion had begun to improve. Now improve may be a rather stroing word because there is no cure for this diagnosis, but nonetheless, I found the ringing becoming less and less intrusive. I am sure my daily practice of mindfulness has played a strong supporting role. Regardless, I have looked at this diagnosis, like I have with any other problem, as a challenge to overcome and not just a bad hand of cards from which I have chosen to fold and walk away. That’s one of the beautiful notions of life; there is always another hand. The rules aren’t like poker where we have a single opportunity to trade in a few cards. Until our death, we can have as many do-overs as we want. I love this book. I found it perusing one of my Instagram friends. It contains simple quotes which are more like reminders to not take life too seriously.

never have a bad day again

I don’t look forward to the end of the year for the same reasons that many others do. I don’t make resolutions. For me, that is a lot of wasted time and energy. Instead, I use my daily journal, my daily mindfulness meditation either through sitting meditation or running to help maintain the balance I need to face the adversity that is life. There will always be ups and downs in life. I have accepted this fact, and as a result, my life is much happier.

Happy New Year to everyone and Namaste.

Searching for the spirit of Christmas

The last couple of years I have searched for the spirit of Christmas. I began writing this post two to three weeks before Christmas. I went back to it off and on. most of the time I sat idly in front of my computer, fingers poised over the keyboard as if waiting for a spontaneous rain of thought to begin to move them.

When I was younger, the spirit of Christmas meant something very different from what it does for me today. I suspect this is similar to what many others think. We have grown into such a materialistic society. I know that means that I don’t have to jump on that bandwagon. It is difficult as much of the advertising begins months before this season.  When I was a child, Christmas meant gifts, fun, food and more importantly spending quality time with family. Christmas also revolved around endless discussions with friends about what we hoped to get and the day after Christmas was when the competition for who got the best gift began. These comparisons were often emotionally painful.

cookies

My wife and I decided not to purchase anything for each other. I, being the guy asked several times if she really meant what she had said. I didn’t want to get caught up in “Don’t get me anything for Christmas” and then when I don’t, I look like the schmuck.

Materially, my wife and I are pretty simple individuals. We choose experiences, spending time with each other and surprising each other throughout the year with small tokens of our thoughts for each other.

Our gifts this year were spending time with each other and with family. The icing on the cake as it was, was watching our soon to be 3-year-old grandson open his gifts.

Chase1

 

It’s early and I am still searching for the meaning, the spirit of Christmas. It is actually the day after Christmas and I just returned home from a very early run in temperatures which are sure to make any normal person think twice about leaving the house for anything, let alone a run. The Christmas tree remains lit in the darkened living room, the house quiet with the exception of the fountain pen I am using gliding across the pages of my journal. Beneath the tree remains the material trappings of Christmas. As I start at the tree, I try to find some meaning in the lights and the ornaments. My heart, worn and tired from always giving reminds me that the meaning of Christmas remains elusive.

mom & dad

I continue to write because I know writing always helps to clear away the noise. The smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee and a freshly inked fountain pen help me as I continue this search for the meaning of Christmas.

I find the road, as I grow older is not always a straight line. I also admit I can be a slow learner. Chasing childhood memories of the simple pleasures cause me to struggle to see the path which I am on. When I was younger I found myself despising this fact. It was the destination and now it has become more about the path and what I notice along the way. I am able to see because I allow myself to see the gifts which are bestowed upon me along the path. They can be difficult to see because they are not wrapped nicely in bright paper and with a bow. There is no name written on the gift denoting it is for me. It is my willingness to look inside which tells me this is a gift. I find it easier to accept the often relentless pace of change and accept the inevitability of change as part of my life.

 

hands

Long ago I stopped comparing myself and my life to others. My father remains the master of pointing out the fact that when you think your life is terrible, a simple look around serves as a good reminder that this is not always true. This definition, in and of itself is subjective and serves if we maintain it as truth to allow us to grow more disillusioned, angrier and ultimately, less happy.

My children, now grown and having their own lives still gather with us to celebrate dates on the calendar which we have identified with some level of importance. For this, I am grateful. It is times such as these that remind me of the importance of understanding those things which bring a smile to our faces. For me, my gift this Christmas was being with my family and sitting back, with a smile watching. Christmas, as I write is now two days old. Retailers will tell you there are now just 363 shopping days until Christmas visits us again.

Chase

As I write these words having come inside from a run where I found myself fighting to stay warm against the 6-degree temperatures. I am in my element, the element of silence. It is silence which allows me to witness the gifts around me and to know, that regardless of what happens, I am blessed to have this time on earth. “Waking up this morning” as Thich Nhat Hahn says, “I smile knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me. I vow to live fully in each moment, and look at beings with eyes of compassion.”

The spirit of Christmas, was right in front of me the whole time. It is encompassed in the photo of my parents, the hands of my mother as she passes around chocolates, more worried about the happiness of others; it is in the photos of my grandson both as he looks toward me and as he smiles playing with his favorite gift of the night. It is sitting back and enjoying the chaos of family and the time spent with loved ones.

Early morning run

Early morning run. The sound of my running shoes as they mingle with the frozen snow the only sound. My breath forming a cloud as it leaves my nose and mouth seem to hang in the air before dissipating.

The temperature is 15 degrees. The wind-chill dropped the temperature to a “real feel” of 0.

I rounded a turn and headed east. A gust of wind blown directly into my face stealing my breath but at the same time reminding me I am alive.

For others, life has been fleeting. They have entered and left this earth bothered by the trauma of one kind or another; alcoholism, drug addiction, and other issues, often beyond their control. I now look for the magic in each moment. At times this is a difficult task despite the magic being directly in front of me. I have allowed myself to be distracted and not witnessed the gifts which may be hidden from my view.

As I grow older, I look for these moments and cherish the good health which, at this point has been bestowed upon me. My mother, like her mother, have suffered fromsunset macular degeneration. I am sure this “gift” will be lurking around the corner for me like a receding hairline. Until that time arrives and as long as my vision remains intact, I will continue to enjoy reading, making photographs and witnessing the beauty, which, despite being in plain sight, remains hidden from view for many.