What Greater Gift Than Love? Grief and Honoring

 
 

I’m so sad. More than I ever expected. I have never professed to be the animal lover of our family. But I have gotten especially close to Scout, our tiger kitty, in the past several years. He’s been my cuddler and nudger out of bed. Today, we had to have him put down. He was 16 years old and was the best companion our family could have asked for. He was dropped off at the end of our driveway shortly after his birth with a very bad eye infection. We got him healthy and he’s been that up until a couple of years ago. You are going to be so missed, Scouty. Thank you for loving us so much.

 
 
 
As it’s been the past two blog posts writing responses to the five prompts from A Chronic Voice’s Linkup Party for People with Chronic Illnesses, July 2020 has found me completely changing what I was going to write about because something else is heavy on my heart. 
 
The past couple of weeks have been ones of loss for my family.  First, my Uncle Bill who was a surrogate father and now our Scout, our silly tiger kitty for the last 16 years. Today, I write from grief that comes from deep within. 
 

 

BOTHERING

Every morning as if he could tell time, Scout would hesitantly (at first) nudge his wet nose into my ear, purring like a little motor. The morning routine was started.  I then, rolled over, pulling the covers closer to covering my face, but often leaving one arm out above my head, hand dangling.  He’d get a bit more persistent, butting my hand over and over with the top of his head. 

 
As of late, that isn’t enough to get me fully awake. I roll over again.  So now, he knew he had to get tough. Scout would leave my head and walk over to my nightstand, knocking one item off at a time. First, he would paw my little statue of the Eiffel Tower I had actually bought on Kel and my 25th anniversary trip to Paris. I would hear the metal slide, slide, slide until it plunked to the carpeted floor below. He would then come back to my head, purring into my ear to see if I was going to get up. I had begun to ignore this first attempt, so he would go back to bat the next item to the floor.
 
Kelley and I feigned being bothered by this morning wake-up, but really it was nice knowing we were needed and not forgotten. 
 

 

DEMANDING

It was my 40th birthday, and the kids were outside playing with the balloons from my party. There was a tiny little orange dot at the end of the driveway. The cars zoomed down our street not even noticing that a kitten lay helpless in the gravel. Andrew and Chelsea, 15 and 13, were outside with the neighbor kids when they heard a tiny mew demanding to be heard. They walked nearer to the end of the drive, with the feeling that there was something that needed their help. When they reached the orange fuzzball, they found Scout, eye glued shut from infection.

“He can’t be more than two weeks old,” my husband said as Chelsea cuddled the shivering kitten in her arms.

“Can we keep him?” Andrew asked, the longing in his blue eyes. He knew that we traveled too much to have a dog, but he was hoping that we’d allow them to keep the kitten. Kelley looked over at me with a Well, what do ya think? look, and I shrugged. “I guess…, but you guys are going to have to take care of him.”

 

 


NOURISHING

As Scout grew, he became more and more a person. His wacky personality was a favorite of conversation. He got a bit chubby, loving to eat like he did. However, he was also very energetic and athletic. A few times a day, he’d stampede through the house like an orange streak, zipping up the stairs then back, skidding across the kitchen floor. He’d chase his own wily tale as is the snake-like thing eluded his every move.

One of his most incredible feats is when jump to the highest banister in the house, defying death as he hefted his belly up onto the balance beam. Our three-story home had an open banister from the top bedroom level to the living room. Scout made like a drunken, clown on that highwire beam above. It was amazing that he never fell!

In addition, Scout nourished each of my children’s hearts. He gave love to each of them. Scout made sure to sleep with each kid equally during the night. He’d cuddle one and then leave to cuddle the next. Chelsea and Andrew each felt that he loved them best of all.

 
My husband and son brought home Willow,
a black long hair kitty, a few weeks after we
found Scout.  The two have been together ever
since.  Willow is going to need a lot of extra
loving with his cuddle buddy gone.

 

TOLERATING

I’ve never been a “pet person”. My little sister loved animals much better than humans, she still does. Me, while I may appreciate them now and again, an animal just isn’t going to win my heart. So, for me, having an extra being to care for was just one more responsibility to this full-time working mom’s life. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Scout, it was more that I saw him as a chore on my to-do list.  And so, for many years, I was just tolerating the extra work of scooping out his litterbox, cleaning up the hairballs, or filling his food and water dish.  I didn’t really consider myself one of his companions or he mine.

The years went by; Andrew and Chelsea got busy with their adult lives. Little Scout wasn’t on their minds as they moved out to college and the lives beyond our home. Kelley and I filled the food and water dishes. Kelley changed the kitty litter. Scout began to lay on Kelley’s legs every night as he sat watching the TV. 

 
Little by little that lovey fella became my buddy, too. When I was down and out, laying in bed and feeling lonely due to a Fibro Flare, Scout was always nearby.  His warmth often eased the pain in my gut as this was a favorite place for him to lay.  
 
In the past year, as I began to get stronger, pour Scout was getting thinner and thinner. We tried special food and medicine, feeding him both morning and night.  But, after we got back from our four-day trip this past week, we knew he couldn’t keep going on as he had been.
 
 
My aunt and uncle had just come
home to Michigan from quarantining in Arizona, 
so I made this video for him of 
me playing Take Me Home, Country Roads.

 

 

TELECOMMUTING

The last time I saw my Uncle Bill was two days before he passed.  He was lying in a hospital bed in a facility that cares for the elderly.  His mind and body were giving away to dementia.  He had stopped eating.  He kept his eyes closed.  
 
I arranged a Skype call with the activities director.  She brought in her iPad.  Seeing his drawn features and closed eyes, I knew it would be my last time to see him.  I had practiced most of the quarantine on the old wooden ukulele my aunt had given me.  It had been his.  He told us, kids, the story of when he would go and play the old tunes for his mom and the other residents.  Even when his mom didn’t know him anymore, he said she recognized the songs.  And so, I played Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver.  It was hard for me to make it through without crying.  Uncle Bill never looked at me, but he did grab at the iPad and pulled it closer to him.  All I can imagine is that he wanted to let me know he heard.  I told him I loved him.  And then I asked the nurse to make sure to play some upbeat music.  He loved music. 
 

Grieving and Honoring

And so I grieve.  But, I do know that I loved both my uncle and my Scouty well.  And, I know that they loved me.  This is what it means to live FULLY.  So, I will allow myself to feel the pain of losing them both during these last weeks.  I honor our connection through my memories.  I will continue to practice the ukulele; it sits in the corner of my living room. Uncle Bill, his smile, and music will remain a big piece of my life. I will think of Scout every time I begin to wake, honoring him by living each day with uncompromising love and honesty. 
 
Those of us who live with chronic illness know what it means to mourn loss.  Those of us who have dared to love, know what the ache when we lose those we’ve let into our lives. “We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world–the company of those who have known suffering.”-Helen Keller
 
 
 

The format for this post is thanks to A Chronic Voice link-up. This month, the topics were searching, hoping, traumatizing, honoring, and responding. Each writer takes the given topics and gives them their own spin. Check out these wonderful writers at July 2020 Linkup(scroll past the prompts to find the linked up posts).

 

Thank you for visiting my blog today. 

 

 

 

Thank you for visiting my blog today.  I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.  However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned.  Thank you for your understanding.

Sharing is caring-as my granddaughter tells me:)

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Only Love Can Do This: Healing the Chronic Illness of a Country


I write today filled with sadness at the state of my country. I had in no way planned to write on this topic (albeit, I did plan to write on the Chronic Voice Link-Up prompts this week). But there’s nothing else in my mind and heart at the moment. I ask that you don’t stop reading because it’s not a post focused on chronic illness. I really believe it is. It’s a post about the chronic illness of a country. And just like the warning signs which my body has given me that something is awry at the core of my being and has to be addressed before it fully takes me over, so too are the glaring ominous events of this past week signs that our country is rotting from the inside out. 


As people with chronic illnesses, our surroundings greatly affect us whether it be the weather, the physical structures’ amenities or lack thereof, or the emotional atmosphere. I know that emotional stress is my biggest symptom contributor with physical overexertion a close second. Reading and viewing the events of these last couple of weeks puts my system on high alert status. As a mom, grandma, and retired teacher, my heart aches for the loss of a young dad, father, brother, and son. As a middle-class white woman, I feel shame that I am a part of the ongoing problem, anger at the utter heinousness of the crime committed by those sworn to protect our citizens-all of them, and despair that this is still such a deep-seated issue in my country that touts its inclusiveness.

SEARCHING

Anyone with a chronic illness is searching: for a cure, for relief, for a way to have purpose, for meaning. A big part of my search has been finding ways to accept my life as is pain and all. When I went through a 10-week pain therapy boot camp last summer (see post), I went through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy counseling. My counselor recommended a few books: Wherever You Go There You Are by John Kabat Zinn (see post), The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, and The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams written about the week of discussion he had with the Dali Lama and Desmonde Tuti.

I picked it up, finally, after purchasing it last year. I’ve struggled to read print in a book and have been mostly listening to books via Audible or Libby. I’m really enjoying the book, but these past few days the words are speaking to me in a different way. The weight of the murder of George Floyd on May 25th and the recent protests have come to bear on everything I’m doing and thinking.

While lunching with the Dalai Lama, Tutu begins to talk about the basest human longing, to be happy. He says, “Everyone wants a happy life-and our individual happy life depends on a happy humanity. So we have to think about humanity, discover a sense of oneness of all seven billion human beings.”

Again and again, the question I wrestle with is why do we draw these lines of hurtful division? What can one individual do against a systemic racism and prejudice that the great minds of our times and history have not been able to dismantle?

HOPING


I have to have hope; the alternative is too unthinkable. However, the fatigue of discouragement comes from knowing this narrative hasn’t changed and since just before the presidential election of 2016, has become more jagged and divisive than ever with the encouragement of our current governmental administration. It is palpable like weights pulling me down. And while I feel like this, I also feel guilty for this because who am I to feel down? I am not having to worry about my son returning home in a coffin after a simple trip to the store. 


One of my friends posted this about white privilege: “You may have had a very difficult life story, but white privilege is when those difficulties are not because of your skin color.” I would go on to add that the color of my skin has actually pulled me out of many of my difficult circumstances (see related post) allowing me to have a life that, yes, I have worked for, but my work was celebrated and strengthened because of my race.

The hope I have is found is in the heart I see in my own children and my granddaughter. Listening to President Obama talk yesterday along with other intelligent, young, black activists who have already been working towards bringing about change, he says, “…I see what is happening with young people across the country. With talent, voice, and sophistication that they are displaying. It makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country is going to get better.”

Here’s the link to 

TRAUMATIZING

By now most US citizens, if not the world, have seen the traumatizing video of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer while other officers looked on without intervening. As for me, I couldn’t bear to watch it. What impacted me was the public talk by his brother and then another by his wife with his six-year-old daughter lovingly caressing her mom’s long hair as his she spoke through her tears.

This little girl, so so innocent, had to be told that her daddy died because he “couldn’t breathe”. I can’t imagine this mama having to tell her daughter this. I can’t imagine this little one’s life going forward as she becomes more and more aware of what actually happened.

HONORING


This past winter, I visited a health facility in Chicago (my daughter was attending a conference there), so I was allowed a guest pass to hang out for the day. Besides walking the track and swimming, I wanted to use my time to write. I went into the “senior” room because it had a place I could sit and had electrical outlets for my laptop. Besides not being one-of-the-gang that obviously had been gathering there daily, I was the only white person in the room. I sat at an empty table and plugged in to begin writing. I noticed some quite talking and glances my way. I realized later that I had taken a table that a certain group of women used after their Zumba class.

I couldn’t connect to the WiFi, so I approached one of the women talking at the next table who had her laptop up and working, leaving my things taking up a chair and spot at the Zumba group’s table. I asked the tech-savvy, older black woman if she could help me log on. As she, proceeded to welcome me and then helped me to find out the problem I was having, she indicated that the women were wanting their usual table. I could tell she wasn’t a part of the group and that she thought their predicament was a bit funny. Immediately, turning a bit red, I went and gathered my things and headed towards the door. But this tech-savvy woman invited me to sit with her and her friend. Soon into our conversation, we discovered that we were both retired teachers and spent the next hour or so talking. We had so much in common! And the little group of Zumba friends, checking with me that I didn’t still claim the table, went on to have their daily talk over coffee and bottles of water.

Later that night, I began to think about the uncomfortable feeling I had had in a place where the only thing that was different about me was the color of my skin. I also thought about how that “fish out of water” feeling left me as I totally connected with a kindred spirit despite our difference of melatonin.

To honor that special meeting, I decided to write the poem below. I understand that staying to those who are similar to us is comforting. It’s part of our biologics that we do so. While it’s needed when we’re infants (to attach us to our protective parents), it is not as we grow older. Yet, this segregation that we choose continues. This seclusion leads us then to develop fear. If that fear is not checked, it will lead to anger and hate.

While stepping out to connect with those who are different from what we see in the mirror is a bit scary and uncomfortable, it brings about an understanding that will heal our society. And if we do this, we will be blessed with a richness and vitality that only that type of connection can give. We lose so much by staying in our own ponds.


RESPONDING


So, what can I do from my little dot on the global map? There have been many wonderful resources posted this past week, so I will only include a few. But I encourage anyone who has read this all the way through, to really do a self-check to see, as one friend wrote, “where you are in your anti-racism work”  and then, go forth and do something to heal this nation.

Pink heart on peach background

The format for this post is thanks to A Chronic Voice link-up. This month, the topics were searching, hoping, traumatizing, honoring, and responding. Each writer takes the given topics and gives them their own spin. Check out these wonderful writers at June 2020 Linkup (scroll past the prompts to find the linked up posts).

Thank you for visiting my blog today.

I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.

However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes

I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow 
through as planned.

Thank you for your understanding.