One of the Great Ones

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My dog died.  Gebo died.  That still sounds strange.  It’s not yet real.  Two days after he died we hosted a lively and fun, touching Thanksgiving full of goodness.  Our eldest generation shared beautiful, heart-warming prayers of gratitude before dinner.  After dinner, pie and gingerbread houses, I was packing up tableware lent from my parents.  I struggled with a small white box, not able to open it and unsure what it was.  On the bottom I found a label and read, “Gebo.”  I put it down, not breathing, and walked directly into the arms of a cousin who would understand such things.  My dad had kindly picked up his remains on the way over, but had not yet found the right time to present us with our beloved pet.  Though perhaps not the best delivery, a day of thanksgiving was the right day.  Experiencing tough moments sometimes helps us realize what will give us strength in future hard times.

Sad-sweet nostalgia surfaced over the ensuing days.  I called his name to clean up dinner scraps a few times, and our 2-year-old asked a dozen times of his whereabouts.  Then my mom went into the hospital with more health issues (she is ok), and I longed for his soft scruff to catch some worried tears.  I’ve done some weird things, like sitting on a dock at sunset, letting my hand pet the air where he would have sat beside me.  My husband admits he has reached out to pet him in the empty passenger seat of his truck too.  I started writing this a week ago.  Today I started editing and realized I had to change every verb to the past tense.  His goneness settles in more everyday.

At the same time, I don’t always miss him because I forget he’s gone.  I mistook a pile of dark laundry for him last week.  His picture is in my phone, and I talk to it.  This would have been appeared weird a few years ago but these days I can get away with it.  I saw a coyote near my yard today and I am pretty sure he was checking on us for Gebo.  See, its a mix of intentionally forgetting he’s gone and loftily believing he’s still around.  I had my weeks of endless tears.  Now I soothe myself by forgetting somedays, and remembering others.

When I do remember he died, I sweat; a surge of hurt.  I can level the thermostat as long as I keep believing he’s in my phone, or in the coyote; anywhere but that white container.  As long as I avoid a few thoughts, most Christmas specials, and that dam song on the radio about the kid who wants to buy his mom shoes before she dies, I live peacefully with his memories and his presence.  I’ll accept his passing enough by spring to memorialize him; spread his ashes in favorite places, tell stories with the kids, plant a tree and float some lanterns to heaven.

My oldest son once told me, “having Gebo makes me feel like maybe we’re special, because WE got the greatest dog ever.”  Even our vet said the last time he saw him, “he is one of the Great Ones.”  I agree.  I miss not only my dog, but one of my favorite parts of being me.  I miss the me that had a close friend that was an animal.  I miss the me that picked him out at the farmer’s market in Bozeman, Montana.  The ranchers who sold us Geebs said he would be so loyal, we had to promise to shoot him instead if we ever had to give him away someday.  No need.  I miss the me that swam and skied with him.  I miss the me that heard him shake with excitement when we turned down gravel roads.  I miss the me that parented with a canine assistant.  He not only changed my life, he changed me.

I don’t know myself without him.  I miss his outrageous greetings, his lush ears, and his noises; the jingle of his tags, the groan when he stretched out on his bed, the high-pitched yalp at the end of his yawn, the snorty sneezes that meant he wanted to play, and the soft exhale in his bed I was just barely conscious of hearing.  Though it drove me crazy until a few months ago, I now miss how after 14 years he decided to forgo the rules.  He sniffed out stuffed animals from toy bins, holding them under his chin with the white rims of his black irises showing so sweetly we couldn’t say “no.”  I miss how he and I walked the boys to the bus stop together everyday.  The day I tried to leave before the boys were aboard, he refused my tugs at his leash.  He rolled over on his back, never severing his gaze from the smallest of his herd until both were safely seated.  I miss the gentle way he took treats from the kids’ fingers and his popcorn-scented paws.  I miss him following the kids around, eager to be in the thick of childhood.

I felt honored to be there for Gebo in his old age.  I could see trust in his cloudy eyes, and bewilderment at legs gone weak and tummy gone sour.  I am so grateful for the sense of safety he brought me for 15 years.  He saw me through every transition from single woman in the mountains to mother of three in the plains.  I am grateful to him for staying off the couch, leaving food on the coffee table, always returning to the front stoop, and tolerating a leash, though we both knew he never planned to leave my side.

Gebo, I wish you high mountain vistas and sun-soaked fur.  I wish you rock-catching in streams.  I wish you the perfect snatch of a frisbee in the air.  I wish you the agility of your youth, and long games of chew-face.  You have prepared us well for the end of our era together with at least three practice runs at death.  Well played for a protective guy; you were every bit as loyal as they said.  Though I long for your companionship, I feel grateful and optimistic; perhaps because I was once the recipient of a magical being.  You are my Pete’s Dragon, my first young, and my wise old man.  From our adventures in the mountains, my years in young love, the formation of this family, and our life by Minnehaha Creek, you followed me and loved everyone I ever asked you to love.  Thank you for sixteen years of loyal service to your herd.FamwGebs

Does God Send Saints?

gebotrunk 20131202-000541.jpg Jason and I spent the morning in sleeping bags, lying with Gebo in the yard. Our friend and doula, our life-cycle specialist, visited with flowers just before the vet arrived. Gebo gave her an enthusiastic greeting and kiss (he rarely kissed), but he could not stand. She spooned us spooning him. We cried in great heaving sobs. She met the vet at the door. I’m not sure we otherwise would have responded to the nauseating knock. But with Gebo’s comfort and dignity in our hands, we banked on there being a better place for our very old, very wise, very loved pet. We agreed it would never feel right, maybe because his mind and his eyes were the same as always, or maybe because he couldn’t give us express permission. His body was entirely used up. Gebo relaxed his head on my lap. We cried and held him. Jason choked out, “I have needed to cry like this for thirty years,” and thanked him for that departing gift. Gebo gently wagged his tail. The sedatives kicked in and the vet took the last step. His tail wagged euphorically and we whispered, “race on, Gebo,” through our tears. I felt a surge of tangible peace. “His heart has stopped.” I looked up at the sky for an eagle or rainbow, laughing at my ridiculousness. I chose the surge of peace as my sign. His quiet body rested in the sun. I curled him up. More sobs, last warmth, last goodbye.

In his final month, Gebo mentored me on my quest to meditate outside for fifteen minutes everyday. Within the first week we learned he was dying. Like Jason, Gebo gave me a departing gift; a few weeks of excused absences. We cocooned together. I stayed home, I said “no,” I turned off my phone and neglected email. I took time for myself. I hurt, I cried, I smiled, I listened. I woke up. I contemplated God. On day twenty-four I realized that preparing for the future demise of a very-much-present being is not, in fact, being present. Sitting in the woods, listening to the creek, sniffing leaves, tasting fall air, appreciating the universe, and watching Gebo watch squirrels; that is presence. He gave me an excuse to take long-overdue time to be quiet and observe. Now I can’t imagine facing this loss and losses yet to come without the weakness and strength I found in me my last month with Gebo.

photo-1Gebo’s gifts to my kids are countless. Most recently, he gave them grief lessons. This month we cried together, told stories, created Gebo-art, planned a memorial, discussed God/universe/magic and talked about Heaven/hereafter/souls. My children have excelled at this, teaching Jason and I in turn. We have prayed together, which is new. I nudged the kids to give Gebo a good solid goodbye before leaving for school the morning he could no longer stand, and they were not shy with hugs, kisses, I love you’s and gratitude. When we met them at the bus and told them Gebo was gone, they leapt into our arms. We walked home and looked through photos, drew pictures, made a flip-book of Gebo rolling in leaves, lit candles. Tenny soothingly finger-knitted us bracelets. Wilder shared, “this candle is glowing brighter than other candles because his spirit is here. Oh, there goes a spark–that must be him taking my prayer up.” Tenny said to me, “mom, don’t hold back your tears.” Even our two-year old informed us, “Gebo went to Heaven’s house,” and was a little mad that HE didn’t get a playdate with this Heaven character. Wilder explained that God greeted Gebo upon his arrival and swiftly helped him find his old friends. How could they be so good at this? They have found what consoles them.

The next day, I stood where he died in our yard. All is not blissful in nostalgia, even in a well-earned, timely and poetic death. Death sucks. I ache. I miss my dear friend. Wow—people endure much, much worse. We will endure worse. It’s no wonder at all that God has to exist in order to ease our suffering.

In the spring we will make a gravestone, bury his ashes, and plant a tree. We will see him in the sunshine. He will force us to believe that souls endure. I still anticipate his greetings when I come home. I long for him. Today I heard his long exhales around the house. My inner cynic chastised me for thinking the furnace noises were Gebo all these years. The believer fought back with doggie angel visions. The buoyant me, the one that learned a thing or two from that dog, just smiled and said “Gebo” without questioning.

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Does God Send Buffalo?

Week 2 & 3: Sit Spot Report

20131114-161354.jpgDay 8-9: I forgot the whole point is to listen for nothing. Autumn sun, beautiful, wagging dog friend here with me. Mutual grins. Hum when my mind gets going. Old trauma’s voices are the only ones that break through.

Day 10: Check in with the 5 senses, as per usual. Last night’s campfires, yellow leaves, cold air, woodpecker, armor. I actually say “armor” out loud. I have been identifying things like “chilly nose” for the sense feel, not “armor.” But today I went deep inside, inspired by my husband who is a little more “woo woo” than I. He did the Sit Spot and came back with reports on his Chakras, and I realized I had been glossing over this sense, with intention.

Day 11: I go back to last week’s coyote lesson and picture taking off my fear and my urgent unders. I attempt to lift the armor. Its heavy.

Day 12: I cuddle Gebo in the sun. Death is coming; the vet has confirmed it. It looks like a warm yellow light. I remove armor; put it on a dressing form nearby in case I need it.

Day 13-16: Its quiet. Armor is back on. Mind is busy. I feel like giving up. Gebo seems happy in the sun.

Day 17: I feel like prey.

Day 18: Gebo limps to our spot. Its easier to stop thinking with the sun glowing on my closed eyes.

Day 19: I carry all 55 pounds to the sun. Gratitude for Gebo overwhelms me. God gave me one of the great ones. Armor is off.

Day 20: The crying starts. We share some goodbyes and knowing looks. He wags for me.

Day 21: We spoon in a sleeping bag in the grass, shivering together. Head is a traffic jam of thoughts. I take a deep breath and try pouring love into Gebo.

Day 22: I am frustrated and doubtful and busy. I practically shout at God that I’m done figuring out a purpose in life, a career, that makes me feel fulfilled. I’m sick of myself. I find a plastic buffalo in the same spot where I saw the coyote. Weird.

Day 23: Just us. He wags every time a child walks by. He wags at the geese flying south.

After 23 days, I write a letter of gratitude to Michael Trotta, the Nature Coach at Sagefire Institute who suggested the Sit Spot to help me on my urgent quest to “find my purpose;”

20131114-161124.jpgDear Michael,

Thirty days now feels short to me too and as you said, hardly enough. Its day 23 and I can’t imagine living without this practice. It has already been so grounding just to remind myself, “did you sit in nature today?” With that said, I haven’t been sitting in nature everyday. My heroic dog that has joined me throughout this is dying. I have followed him out into the leaves and sun to our Sit Spot over the last few weeks and watched him like a mentor, absorbed in nature. Eventually I started carrying him. This week I started criticizing myself for skipping days. Today, with death more palpable, I reversed that self-criticism. What could be more natural than sitting with the dying? The days I haven’t been out there I have been on vigil, riding the ups and downs of the end with him since about Saturday. Sometimes it feels silly to put my life on hold for a pet. Most often I thank Gebo for putting my life on hold for me. My guard is down; everyone including my mailman has seen me crying. And I feel like I must be the most special person in the world right now to have been given the world’s best dog. I feel like Pete saying goodbye to his dragon.

If I hadn’t started sitting in the woods with him, I would have no idea how to process his exit. With this gift of 15 minutes of quiet in nature everyday, his passing has become a gift as well. I am grieving the young me that raised him, the stay-at-home-mom years we were together most everyday, the tiny boys that love him so growing up too fast, and the deaths that are to come among our eldest family members. You’ve given me a trail for this journey, and I am so grateful.

You are so right; it doesn’t always work to quiet my mind. I have not yet felt free of thoughts. But I can see the value in the attempt. “Its about dropping the stuff (armor) that stops you from being awesome and as deeply connected with your intuition for yourself (as you are for others).” Thanks for this. I can hardly lift the armor to put it on now. I even called my mom the other day just to tell her I hurt; she is one tough cookie. My weapy call absolutely brought out the best in her, and let me be ME instead of what I have always been to my family; the tough one, funny one, light one, the easy one…in the armor.

“…Its in our vulnerability that we find what we are seeking…the tension and emotions you are experiencing…I see you embracing them or at least, acknowledging them. Perhaps, this is your job right now? Perhaps your exploration of stillness is your job.” This has allowed me to wait for the next track to appear, and trust that it will, without so much demoralizing effort. It also made me realize my question isn’t so much “what is my purpose” as it is “who am I now?”

I don’t know if you can relate to how my dog’s death has been such a poignant part of my experience. But remember what I explained after my first week? The first week the universe sent a loud truck, then a bulldozer, a coyote, an empty gas tank, a fierce wind, and that was easy. Then it sent some terrifying quiet and stillness. That was hard. When I was about to give up, the universe sent death. As you suggested, Michael, I could no longer see past “what’s real, right here, right now,” as Gebo began to die. Gebo translates, “a gift from the universe; partnership, forgiveness.” Gift, I acknowledge. Partnership, we’ve done. Forgiveness feels like the last step. I don’t feel like I have to go searching for what or whom to forgive; I just finally feel done with my armor. After he’s gone, which I believe will be eerily close to day 30, I have a feeling the quiet and stillness will be a whole lot less terrifying.

As I was leaving the place where I saw the coyote, I found a tiny toy buffalo on the ground. According to Lakota Shamanic Tradition, the bison symbolizes manifestation, courage, formulating beneficial plans and abundance.

In gratitude,

Shawna

Does God Send Trucks?

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If I were to launch into my recent self-discovery, my meditations, would you cringe? I feel a need to qualify sharing this with some excuses and jokes. I have always been pragmatic and scientific; one who blushes when asked to exhale audibly into a room. I like my religion grounded in hymns and history; and it takes effort to believe in that. I have a master’s degree in evidence-making. I like proof. Don’t get me wrong, I also like hugs and cards and deep conversations. I like sharing and caring and children’s books and Sarah McLachlan. I actually named my dog after a Norsk ruin stone. I like it when my intuitive cousin reads my cards. I like tears, other people’s tears, to flow freely. I just get uncomfortable when I am asked to let down my own guard. A friend recently told me I should try to be a little less tough. Pppff. Whaa? Me? Tough? That is so not…well…ok. I was raised by a psychiatrist and a teacher in a Lutheran family. Lots of communication, love, campfires, singing of songs we all knew. How I ended up valuing “toughness” and “evidence” is a topic for another day after a few more years of therapy. But, I decided she was right and I am going soft. Its soooo uncomfortable. And yet it feels so good (Blechy blechy). So I am launching…

I started an exercise a week ago called “Sit Spot,” suggested by personal coach Michael Trotta, from Sagefire Institute. I asked a panel of coaches in an online discussion for advice on how to quiet my busy mind and listen to my heart. Michael suggested sitting in nature for 15 minutes per day for 30 days, taking inventory with all 5 senses, which resonated. I trust nature. Its old. Historic. Deeply rooted. I think having static-in-the-attic is a fairly universal problem, so I am sharing a weekly update this month in the hope it will be helpful to some of you, too.

Day one: I picked the only 15 minutes out of every 2 weeks the recycling truck comes. Beep, beep, beep. Trying to hear dam bird. I had to work so hard to hear every squirrel for the shattering glass that I was actually distracted from my thoughts. Apparently I needed a serious challenge.

Day two: Bull dozer loading bricks. For real. I went through my senses over and over, switching every time thoughts crept in (which was often) but the constant kaboom helped, again. Does God/god/nature/Universe/whatever send noisy trucks?

Day three: Nighttime experiment under the stars. Very still. Distant roar of tarmac. Geese fly south at midnight?? The creek. Its so loud and lovely–how did I miss that before? Sleepy. Wee small voice says, “get more sleep.” Woah–was that The Voice? Wisdom? Heart speaking? Nah, probably chamomile tea.

Day four: I brought a mentor; Gebo the dog is a serious expert in sitting outside doing nothing. He is also a soul mate of mine, age 15, and dying. We need quiet time together. Someone walked past me, saying “I believe in the Universe. It sends lessons and then…” Huh. I am feeling more open to this whole nature/God/Universe/spiritual thing.

Day five: First thing in the morning, I ran out of gas on the highway at rush hour. Trapped. I knew the car was on empty. I didn’t take the truck. Didn’t stop to fill up. Too rushed. Suns coming up–the light in the car is beautiful. I decide this is my 15 minutes with “nature.” Cars and trucks speeding past me are terrifying. A MnDOT man comes and gives me gas. I stand there watching him step into traffic to fill my tank–his life at risk for my error. That would have been my husband had he not shown up first, less adept and not wearing a flashing vest. I’m here, tank empty, demanding someone else fill it, rushing to an appointment it turns out is tomorrow. Analogy is quite clear; “Fill your tank.”

Day six: I sit in sun for 5 minutes and then suddenly jump up. Behind me, coyote, 40 feet, happy and bounding. Coyote 20 feet, eye contact. Calm. Coyote 10 feet. Stare. Heart. Racing. Instincts say leap into tree! She recoils. I fall, she runs. Breathe. Laugh. Breathe. Adrenaline. The difference between the coyote and I glares at me. She wasn’t scared until she felt threatened. She owned urgency and fear and employed them like tools–I saw them enter every inch of her body as she turned coat and ran. I, however, put on my jeans, some fear, a shirt and my favorite urgency every morning. She trusted her instincts to stimulate fear at the right time rather than wearing it all day long. I have instincts. I stood before I knew she was there. A talk with a friend later helped me face there is a constant voice in my head saying “something is coming. Be ready.” Time to thank that voice for teaching me so much and giving me skills; I am not conflict avoidant. I operate keenly when distressed–eg: awkward painful leap into tree. Thank you for your service, fear voice, you may leave. Urgency; I have worn holes in you.

Day 7 (one week): Me and the mentor. Gebo can sniff one leaf for over a minute. 100 thoughts circulating. I even check my phone. Argh. Start the timer over. A voice inside says, “you’ll get better at this.” Again, is that THE VOICE? So unfamiliar and calm. Lots of sunlight and warmth; scent of last night’s backyard fires. Its loud out here. I cover my ears. Its sad in here. Vision of my mom in a hospital bed. I feel a little of that day months ago–ouch. Vision of life without Gebo. Double ouch. I do an inventory of my hurting family and friends. So many right now. I send them all love. Well, well, Universe. No motor vehicles or wildlife today?

IMG_3227 - Version 2Week one and I felt something new; I felt pain that I did not resist. I felt comfort. I felt pending loss. I felt safe without my armor and cloak. We all have a little warrior in us. But I’d like my warrior robes to be something I don when necessary, like the coyote, not a daily wear. I can’t say that after one week my mind is any quieter. And I certainly haven’t removed all of my armor. But I have realized it will take much more bravery to disrobe than it ever did to start wearing this tough-girl costume.

Sometimes I hear voices in my head

IMG_1211The best part of a hot week in September is that it makes me excited for jeans weather and tires me of swimwear. We need the full thaw, the torching heat, in 6-month mitten-land. A month ago, however, we awoke to 50 degrees across the mid-north. Crisp air calling for hoodies; not July. My kids slept in. My dog remained curled in a knot on my rug. The sitter was late. I didn’t mind. I got on my bike and headed to the coffee shop to write under gray skies. Sunday mornings usually beckon a long line. No one came until the sun came out. I ordered my favorite iced tea, hot. Then today, 30 days closer to equinox, I poured myself a hot cup of coffee to escort my kids to the bus stop and within seconds outside my face was uncomfortably sweaty. I swear the cream curdled by the time I sent them off. I felt confused; out of snyc. It takes me back to other unseasonal days this year.

April;

This morning we awoke to glistening snow-laden branches; undeniably and implausibly beautiful. Despite the frenzy of media predicting our wintery April weather patterns, the visual of the snow’s arrival keeps catching me off guard. Last night as I watched the flurries out the window, my brain perceived an irregularity well before I was conscious of it. Late evening light doesn’t usually bounce off snow; its supposed to be dark early when snow is on the ground. A nostalgic inkling takes me back to 8000 feet in Montana where sun hits snow at angles much sharper than it should here in Minnesota, unless something unusual happens. The feeling is eery.April freeze

Yesterday I drove home in flurries and stopped at a red light despite a nagging feeling I need not stop. I’ve felt compelled to stop at red anything since I was 6; its hegemony. Why not today? No other cars were around. The houses were dark. Then I realized the red light was a reflection off my headlights; the power was out. I had known before I knew. I sat there for awhile feeling vulnerable, like a firefly in the woods. Conspicuous. The scene felt hushed, and measurably more comfortable when I turned my lights out. An oncoming car entered the intersection. She turned her lights out. Hush. Hide. We both drove through. I forgot my lights were out as the snow and the moonlight were more than enough to see the road clearly. I met another car. Before I remembered to turn my lights on, sure enough, he turned off his as well. Weird.

Back to September:

I saw nearly 50 robins in one tree in my backyard last week. A duck keeps quacking from the apex of my roof. A squirrel climbed so high in our pine that the entire tree bowed to the ground this morning. Why? Because spring isn’t here yet. Because animals compensate for that which is untimely. We know without knowing, just like the robins on layover await clear and warmer passage to Canada.

A Reiki practitioner and friend of mine, Anne Murphy (www.athousandhands.com), once said to me, “We trust cell phones and wireless. Why do we doubt we can pass energy between us?” Interesting point. Even when we claim NOT to believe in silent communication, we count on it. We know so much more than we are aware. When my 15 year old dog doesn’t greet me at the door, I know his hips hurt. After he is gone, my brain will think its him when I hear scratchy sounds on the wood floors. My brain will deliver the message “Gebo” when something enters my peripheral vision at 2 feet off the floor for years. When I hear jingle bells I might even walk toward the back door to let him in. But he won’t be there. My senses know him better than I know him, and what my brain knows will both dismay and comfort me in my grief when he is gone.

I wake up most mornings at 7:00 to the minute. Some would call that intuition, some would call it intelligence. If you have an older sibling, you might understand when I say I would know if my brother’s finger was a 1/2 inch from the bridge of my nose even if my eyes were shut. I know when my best friend calls how her day has gone when she says “hi.” That’s all I need. My husband has predicted the gender of 12 babies accurately; he’s been wrong twice. How many times have you picked up the phone to call a friend and she rings at that second? We all know when rain is coming because of the smell of the wind. My mommy sense tells me when the baby is about to wake up from a nap even if I’m outside in the garden. And man, if you thought you knew when to leave the party, you certainly know now when its time to leave the playdate.

My father is a psychiatrist and has been for 40 years. He also has a tender, nonjudgmental heart. My cousin is an “intuitive” healer. Some people claim they hear the voice of God. Animals just know stuff. My dad uses his training, my cousin uses her heart, others consult Oracles and animals have instincts. Whatever we call it, more information is undeniably available to us than we give credit. When we quiet down, say on a day its cloudy and unseasonably cool, there are voices in all of our heads. We’re not so different than the robins, we’re not so distant from each other, and we’re not so intelligent we can live well without listening.