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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Dad + the next step

Friday morning.

Dad celebrates his 80th birthday tomorrow.

I just got off the phone with my mom She’s tired, emotionally and crying. Dad is being moved to a nursing home at 4:00 PM because he cannot transition on his own from bed to wheelchair.

Twice in two days, mom had to call 911 to have EMT’s come to the house because he had fallen out of his chair.

My dad remains eerily quiet. If you catch him deep in thought a smile, however, forced will replace the previous countenance. I know he is concerned. I know he is scared. He does not wish to die but has also accepted this fact as inevitable.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2018-1-19,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

He like me is constantly thinking but we have a tendency to not show the rest of the world how we are feeling and of what we are thinking. Some people find this frustrating, I find solace in not wearing my feelings on my sleeve. My father and I have discussed before how we manage our feelings. We don’t believe we are stronger than others, we just don’t believe in what has become, as I call it, the “Art of Complaining.” If I need help with something, you had better believe I will be the first person to ask for help. If I cannot see an immediate way out, then I’ll keep chewing on it until I do. When I say “fuck it” and decided to let it go, it doesn’t mean I don’t care nor does it mean I have given up. It means there is nothing else which can be done or as I like to say, “It is what it is.” Thanks, dad for teaching me this statement. It has saved my ass more than once from becoming overly involved in something over which I have no control. I have signs in both of my offices which hang ominously projecting this belief to all who want to hear.

This morning I called my mom and the upset tone which was in her voice yesterday morning was now replaced by worry and fear, her words muddled by her tears. I will pick her up and we will go, together to the hospital to be with my dad and ensure he has loved ones around him as he readies for what will ultimately be the next steps in his life.

Memento Mori. This term was one which I saw scrawled in spray paint on an overpass under which I have driven God only knows how many times in my 54 years on this planet. I saw it and frankly never gave it much thought. Several months ago after being introduced to Stoicism, I was reintroduced to this phrase.

Memento Mori, when translated from Latin means “Remember Death.” We are all going to die…this is inevitable. Unfortunately, many of us live our lives thinking, believing we will magically live forever. We race throughout our day focusing on what we believe or have been told is important while leaving those things which, in the larger picture are often nothing more than a means to an end. The day after my father was hospitalized, my sister’s father-in-law, the proverbial picture of life and success and the same age as my father, was sidelined by a stroke. His fate remains in the hands of God as a prognosis is too early to formulate. He appears, at this time to be stable. This too is a reminder that our lives can be over in the blink of an eye.

Memento Mori

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.

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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.

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.

I am a Therapist

I am a therapist.

I have worked more than three decades to get where I am today.

The work I have done has allowed me to remain on this path which has helped me to achieve success and happiness so I can help others find the same degree of success and happiness.

I have worked hard to overcome difficulties in my own life to achieve the happiness in my life which I have come to enjoy.

People come to me for therapy and have unrealistic expectations.

People expect me to make changes for them. This is NOT the way this process works.

Change in the lives of others is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of the individual seeking change.

I am simply a guide. I am the person who you approach asking for direction and support.

I am that person who you want to be open and honest with you when you ask that I provide feedback and support.

I am not that person if you are not looking for honest feedback. If you are looking for someone to lie to you about the problems which you experience in life as a result of decisions which you make, I am not that person. What you need, what you want is a friend. Most of us have had friends who tell us what we want to hear. This is NOT a friend. A friend, a true friend will provide us with honest feedback. We are lucky to have walked a path in life with at least one true friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will hold a mirror to you and help you see the flaws in the process.

I am that person you hire when you realize you need more than a friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you identify and find the path which you desire to make the changes which you decide need to be made to achieve the happiness for which you have been searching.

Our life, your life is one in which we have the opportunity to either stop reading or to make the changes we desire to make to come to a happier ending.

I am that person.

In the Shadow of the Mountains

Roadway in autumn forest

I rose this morning, the floor cold to my bare feet.
Golden daylight falls through the barren branches of the stand of white birch trees.
As I stare through the stand of trees, I see the silhouette of one of the Adirondack ranges standing majestically.

Hot black coffee.
Alone with my thoughts,
As I stare out the window.

Things are simpler here.
I can just be…
There is no judgment, no expectations, no goals,
No fears.

There is no one to please, no one to help.
The quiet solitude of leaves as they dance on the breeze.