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 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

Mother’s Happy Day

IMG_0156My grandmother attended my wedding.  She held my first born and died 45 minutes later.  I believe she waited to meet him.  I know most people don’t experience the gift of great grandchildren, but I have always anticipated my parents would grow very, very old.  Watching my mom hooked up to tubes and monitors now numbs my brain.  Abandoning my routine to be here all day and much of the night has been exhausting.  Sounds like I am complaining.  But my mom is alive and she’s actually getting pretty good reports.  I won’t fuss.  The future still lies ahead of us, and I do not care so much about its length anymore.  A teacher at my son’s school wrote me a supportive email today, saying she understood because her mother had had a stroke.  She also lost her brother and her dad recently and reminded me; “what I take away from that is to live each day fully with as much love and compassion as you can muster-because it could all be gone tomorrow in a blink.”

I haven’t spent this much time with my mom since I was six, yet I miss her.  I keep picking up the phone to call her and tell her about how much I hurt and how scared I have been.  I think somehow my brain thinks the woman I am spending my days with right now is my grandmother who passed away at 98.  This couldn’t be my mom.  My mom sparkles.  Actually, my grandmother sparkled too.  I can see why my brain thinks I am with Louelle.  I was with her when she was diagnosed with heart failure and she looked at the doctor and said, “how dare you call my heart a failure after all these years.”  Now the tiny woman in the bed keeps waking up to crack jokes with her nurses in this low, distorted, slurred voice that is absolutely unrecognizable other than the wit in reveals.  Day 1 in the hospital she said, “I’m all for an adventure but I think I went too far this time.”  Day 2 she could really only open one eye, but I’m pretty sure she winked at me.  Day 4 we left ICU and when we made it to her room we shared our first post-stroke mother-daughter knowing look.  Day 6 the doc told her the MRI showed many strokes in her brain, like a shower of little lights; she said, “I’m a meteorite.”  Day 7; when I walked into her room she was sitting in a chair slowly talking with one of my close friends about fixing my brother up with her single friends so that he would move here to Minnesota.  My friend is a Reiki Master and I don’t know what she did, but I will be forever grateful to her for helping my mom out of her neurological shell for an hour.  Today my big brother and I gasped and squealed and clapped and hugged when we both heard her true laugh for a split second; just one twitter.  She was back.

But just for awhile.  When I leave the hospital the panic creeps back in through my pores.  The fear of losing her.  The terror of her being tormented by her body.  Back to Day 1.  The call from dad.  Seeing what I thought was her corpse in that E.R. bed.  Waiting for news.  Hearing the echoing voice of the neurologist say, “your mom’s health is very complicated and I can’t tell you yet which way this will go.”  Holding my husband.  Listening to my friend say, “breath, Shawna” on the phone.  Trying to breath.  Trying to feel the ground under my feet.  Trying not to throw up.  Crying, which I don’t do.  Feeling vulnerable.  Wanting to hide.  Holding dad’s hand.

In medical first responder training we learned about “core-shunting;” when the body sends blood to what is most essential in order to survive stress like cold, blood loss, shock.  I felt that way until we left ICU, and now I just revisit the feeling a few times everyday.  Its better because she is better, but there are still unknowns.  When I lapse back into fear my chest feels heavy, my arms feel tickly, my hands can’t grasp, my legs feel empty and awkward and my feet feel pins and needley on the ground.  On day 5 I felt this way as I left the hospital because I had determined the stroke was all my fault.

Luckily, I have a few friends who are doctors.  I sent a frantic, “what if I had known” text to one of them and she responded, “it wouldn’t change the outcome.”  I sent another and he said, “its not your fault.”  Another showed up in ICU like a bald, beautiful angel in nice shoes and said, “she’s going to be ok.”  Hearing that from someone who knew her before meant everything to me.  And one more just happened to have lit a fire in his backyard, scrounged his fridge for 3 beers, and had open chairs ready before my husband and I even called him at 10pm on night 5.  He talked me down.

The night before her stroke I pulled over on the way home from choir, ready to turn around and drive to my parent’s house.  Something felt wrong.  I talked to her.  She had a cold and this had been a tough month with a chronic condition she has battled; maybe just dehydration.  She and dad agreed; we’ll call the doctor again tomorrow.  We’re going to sleep–don’t come.  I didn’t follow my instincts.  By morning she had had “a shower” of strokes.  Panic.  My feet tingle.  I could have saved her.

But we sat by the fire and he told me about medicine and how it works and how it fails sometimes.  He gave me medical reasons why spending the night in the E.R. might not have kept her from having a stroke.  He gave me human reasons for not always being able to protect the people closest to me.  And we ate some chocolate and cheese and sat by the fire in the rain and felt better.  Blood returns to feet.  Hands grasp.  Strength returns.

I haven’t always trusted my husband to be the supportive type.  I figured he would fill many, many needs but my friends would supply the shoulders I cry upon.  And they have.  They have watched my kids, called, texted, shopped, hosted, prayed, sent light beams, prayers, cards, and watched my kids more.  I love, love, love my friends.  But it was good for me to realize that I was wobbly at the hospital without my husband there.  As soon as he showed up, I was grounded.  If something good comes out of this it is knowing I can be vulnerable, and “there is still joy,” as one of my very first friend’s wrote today.  In fact, my cousin watched my littlest guy today and took him to visit his horse.  He came home dirty and smelling like hay and I loved my cousin for the joy he rendered during a week like this.

Another cousin came to see us.  She brought a flower for mom and her beautiful smile and she brought me tumeric and ginger for my nervous stomach.  She has been here before.  She has been darker places, actually.  She gave me a teary hug that felt like a blanket I could hide under for awhile, and together we made mom laugh a little.  Actually, in truth, I think mom made us laugh.  And then she was tired and slipped away again.  She felt present for a little while when her dear friend visited.  And she smiled when I told her Teddy had come with flowers and when we told her that her brothers and sisters wanted to visit.  I read her the emails and cards and prayers everyone has sent and she cried, saying she couldn’t die yet.  And I sat in disbelief looking at her crooked face and one good eye and feeling the love she eminates.  All I could do was hug her and all her wires as tightly as she has always hugged me.

But our best Red-Tent moment came a few days later.  She had a painful test involving a needle being injected into her bone to sample marrow.  If I had any doubt in her strength before we held hands for this test, it vanished as she squeezed my fingers (unfortunately/painfully donned with the rings they removed from her fingers in the E.R.)  She had to lay on her side, and I sat at her bedside inches from her face.  We locked eyes and breathed together.  I am sure it was an awful point in time for her, but for me, it was a turning point.  I found my place as her support.  I found something I could do for her.  I found my role in all of this mess, and my blood returned to my limbs and my belly and my head.  Lesson learned; if I remain in my body I can be helpful to my mom.

So, here is the update; she truly is doing a remarkable job recovering from her stroke.  She is exhausted.  Her underlying health issues remain complicated so she will be in the hospital awhile longer.  For more and more of the day everyday, she is  her funny and sparkly self.  Everyday she is strong.  When I went to visit her on Mother’s Day my oldest said, “wish her Mother’s Happy Day.”  I started to correct him and then realized he had said it on purpose.  This year, my mom and I needed to celebrate Mother’s Happy Day instead, and he knew it.  So in celebration of Mother’s Day this year I hung pictures of her at carefree, outdoor times on her hospital room walls.  I want her to remember being her, but I also want her nurses and doctors to know what she will look like when she recovers, and who she has been to all of us.  I want everyone to know that she is special;  my mom is a meteorite.