Finding Ways to Deal with Loss

About two weeks after Mimi passed, when I recognized my despair enough to know I had to find something to pull myself out of the hole her leaving created in my life, I called Catherine. 

At first I asked some like minded friends if they knew a local medium who might help me contact the spirit realm. Perhaps a message from Jesi would help. It had worked after she passed, when I packed a bag and drove myself to OMEGA to a week long workshop with James Van Praagh. There I was shown that Jesi had not gone, only that she was no longer visible and audible to me. I learnt to recognize that sometimes she sent me messages telling me she was still with me, or more often these days, planted a voice of wisdom in my head when I was puzzled over an issue, or sent me a dream to answer some question I had. Like when I asked her advice about Mimi’s eye operation.

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Jesi and Mimi together

 

But now I wanted to know that Mimi was with her, happy and well again in her new spirit home. I had been so immersed in grief when Mimi’s spirit passed that day in the vet’s office, I had not been able to sense Jesi’s presence… and that was the one thing I had dearly wanted for Mimi; to know she had gone from my arms into the folds of Jesi’s angel wings.

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My vision of Mimi with Jesi (acrylic paint on canvas 4/11/18)

In asking around I heard about Catherine, an animal intuitive. And after taking down her phone number and looking at the piece of paper sitting on my desk for days… thinking about whether I dared to call, I picked it up and pressed the numbers into my phone. 

“Do you communicate with animals on the ‘other side’?” I asked. 

“Oh yes,” she replied… 

I told her a few details about Mimi, as few as possible (there was still that skeptical streak in my nature) and arranged for her to visit. I wanted to be sure she really was bringing me messages from Mimi. 

As the time for my appointment with Catherine approached I hoped she was easier to communicate with in person than on the phone when, to me, she seemed hesitant and uncertain. Was I setting myself up for disappointment? 

I was still wondering about her when I greeted her outside my building. But as we walked down the corridor to my apartment and she started chattering about how, ever since my phone call, Mimi had been ‘coming through’ excited about the fact she, Catherine was going to see her me, her mama, I started to feel at ease. I had forgotten that often those with the gift of connecting with Spirit can seem ungrounded and flighty. 

Catherine was perfect, exactly how I realized an intuitive should be.

“She’s in the light you know” Catherine announced, as we were making our way to my door. I remember being surprised by her announcement. Already? I thought.

When Catherine and I entered my apartment I pointed out Mimi’s bed, and showed her a couple of photos I had taken Mimi in my apartment in the days before she passed. I handed her one. She held it tight between her thumb and fingers. She was already absorbed in listening not only to me, but to a message I could not hear. 

“Mimi wants you to know she is feeling much better,” she said. “She had stomach problems didn’t she? Well, she’s feeling much better now!”

I was astounded. Mimi had been ill at the end of her life with a build up of toxins from kidney failure. The vet had told me she would have been very nauseous. That is why she had stopped eating… I had never understood that properly until that last morning in the vet’s office. 

“She had something wrong with her eyes, didn’t she. She’s showing me she can see again now.” 

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Mimi was blind due to cataracts. I hadn’t told Catherine any of this. “She was sick for a while, wasn’t she?”

“Yes,” I replied, thinking back to the summer of 2016 when I first learnt Mimi had congestion in her lungs… though I was never sure what her actual diagnosis was…” 

“And the vet couldn’t really diagnose what was going on…” Catherine mirrored my thoughts.

I nodded, remembering the echocardiogram, the suspicion of a tumor in her heart, how large it looked on the x ray, and how it displaced her trachea. Perhaps this had been causing some of the coughing but the vet queried the possibility of there being something else. … I had never really known, …never really knew… until the last month when I was given a clear diagnosis, when they told me heart failure …

I had begun by then, after years of thinking I would lose Mimi any day, to wonder if she would live forever… 

But the words heart failure were definitive …

“Did you change the medicine at the end?” Catherine’s voice broke into my thoughts. “She didn’t like it. … It stopped working anyway.” It was strange the way Catherine spoke, asking a question and then knowing the response without me speaking. Funny though, my suspicion had been that that medicine had stopped working too.

“She was older than you thought,” Catherine had moved on. 

I was a little confused. How could Mimi have been older than the 18 years that I had come to believe her age had been? 

Perhaps she meant when I first adopted her from the animal rescue…. when I was led to believe she was 9. …only five years and a half years earlier.

But since 2016 when the vet first told me she thought Mimi was much older, probably somewhere around 16 years, I had taken that as her real age. Was Catherine just confirming that was correct. I assumed so. But I didn’t have time to ponder, Catherine had continued to speak…

She was talking in Mimi’s ‘voice’ now…

“The people before you didn’t know how to take care of me properly. They didn’t look after me well,” she was saying.  “That’s why my eyes got so bad. I hated you putting that ointment in my eyes. But afterwards they always felt better.” 

I thought of the three times a day when I would sit down in front of Mimi with the two tubes of ointment and two small treats, one to follow each application, to treat her severely dry eyes. How she squirmed, trying to avoid me and how I had to position myself ‘just right’ to be able to get them in, especially the first one, which when I squeezed the tube sometimes wrapped itself completely around the applicator tip. I hated doing it too, but her eyes didn’t get gluey if I applied it. If I missed doses they got crusty and red. I hated seeing them like that. It must have been so uncomfortable for her. How sweet of Mimi to acknowledge my care of her. 

“Some people looked at me before you got me,” Mimi was telling Catherine. “A family. But I knew you were interested so I acted scared of the children. That made them not want me. I was looked over by others too.” 

I remembered how when I began work as a volunteer at ARL Boston, just after Mimi had been surrendered by her previous owner, that I spent all my time with her. I took her on walks. I took her upstairs where we hung out and played together. She was shy at first, but soon she warmed up. When I had to take her back to her kennel she would whine and bark for me to come back.

“I was stronger than people thought though,” Mimi told Catherine. “I had two litters of puppies. Some didn’t make it …”

I knew Mimi had had a litter of puppies…I didn’t know she had two. I wasn’t surprised about the news that some hadn’t survived though. She was so thin and scrawny and badly nourished when I got her, her hair was all greasy. How could she ever have nourished unborn pups?

I was becoming impatient. Although I was interested in filling in the gaps of knowledge about Mimi, what I really wanted to know was where was she now. I interrupted…

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“Is she with anyone now?” I asked. “Is she with Jesi?”

“Jesi?” Catherine repeated.

“My daughter,” I explained.

Catherine paused. I could feel her concentrating. 

“There’s an older woman… Oh. Wait.” Catherine paused for a minute before continuing but she was not talking to me any more. “Jesi, is that you?” Catherine turned her head slightly upward. “May we speak?”

Then Catherine was silent for a couple of minutes.

“She’s very chatty isn’t she. She’s telling me how she took a while to warm up to Mimi.” I remembered that. I was a little taken aback when Jesi wasn’t so enamored with Mimi the day we met her as I was. I never could figure out why.

“Jesi is caring for her now. They have lunch together and are together at night. But Mimi visits you at night also. She comes in the light.”

“Jesi is not a boy?” Catherine was asking a question.

“No, she is my daughter,” I repeated. “She passed away from leukemia when she was 16. Just over three years ago. Jesi would have been turning 20 four days after Mimi passed.”

“Hmm. She feels like ….”

I interrupted. “Jesi loved doing boy stuff though.”

“Oh that’s what I am getting then” Catherine continued. “She was a tom-boy.” 

I remembered how Jesi loved playing wiffle ball with Chris. And how she knew everything about all the local sports teams. Especially the Patriots and the Redsox. Even her Make a Wish trip was focused around sports. We went to Hawaii to see the ProBowl!

“She’s a bit bossy.” Catherine laughed. “She’s telling me off for thinking she was a boy! …She was sick for a long time too?”

“Yes. The leukemia came when she was 12. She went into remission and then it returned when she was 15 and she passed away nine months later after her 16th birthday.”

Catherine chatted on with Jesi for what seemed like ages, seeming to be really enjoying it, but I felt myself getting little restless wanting to hear more about Mimi. 

“Jesi liked pink too,” Catherine was addressing me now. “Didn’t she dye her hair pink or something at one point?” 

“Maybe a pink streak I think?” A glimmer of a memory was returning. 

“Pink was Mimi’s favorite color too,” Catherine added, returning to talk about Mimi. “She liked the music you played her too. Oh, and she wants you to listen to it more.” I always left the classical music station on for Mimi when I was out during the day. I was glad she appreciated it. Sometimes when I was driving around for my job and it was playing in the car I would remember that Mimi and I were listening to the same music! 

Then I told Catherine a little story about Mimi peeing out on my patio and how a bulb had rooted itself were she had made a habit of peeing and the yellow flower that appeared. “Mimi’s magical pee!” Mimi was telling her!  

Suddenly Catherine looked up and completely changed the topic.

“Now I realize it wasn’t Mimi who has been chatting to me since you called last week. …It was Jesi.”

I was silent. Taken by surprise my this piece of information. However once I started thinking about it, it really wasn’t surprising at all. It was so totally Jesi…

Catherine gave me a few more details about Jesi. But when she told me I should eat chocolate because Jesi liked it and she could taste it through my enjoying it I had to tell her I suffered from migraines and as it was a trigger I never touched it. She paused and then responded

“Jesi says she probably caused some of those too!” We both laughed at that.

The time of my meeting was drawing to a close and I still felt I had to share one concern with Catherine. 

“At the end,” I hesitated. “I really wanted to be able to hold Mimi Catherine. I wanted her to know I was with her right up to the moment she passed. But the vet needed her to be on the table. I had been holding her,” I told her. “And I know she was already unconscious with the anesthetic… ” Catherine interrupted. 

“Mimi’s spirit had already passed,” she assured me. “Her spirit had already left her. The vet was very good, she knows that.”

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Mimi’s Garden

 

I’m glad I bought up my concern before Catherine left that day over two months ago. It was on my mind then, and a number of times since, when the image of Mimi has come back to me as I last saw her in the vet’s office that day. I have felt a pang of sadness about the uncertainty of not knowing what Mimi felt in those last moments.

Of course we never do really know…not until our time comes, but I don’t believe it is any different for animal spirits than human ones. Only I don’t know how quite to communicate with the animal ones to tell them and reassure them. And for some reason I cannot fathom, for me and Mimi, it has bee more important than I can remember it ever having been with any of my previous doggies before. Perhaps because of the connection to Jesi … Perhaps because of Jesi …

There’s one thing though…

I’m grateful to have found Catherine who could help me through it.

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A collage I made after Mimi passed

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Posted in Art as Therapy, Dealing with Loss, Grief, Messages from the Spirit world, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Letting go and letting Mimi go to Jesi

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Mimi and me in 2012, three days after we ‘rescued’ her.

Every morning my heart breaks. Every morning I wonder. Will I have to force the medicine in? Too many days of pills hidden in clumps of baby food and she wont eat the beef in beef broth I serve up on my finger any more. I change to peanut butter. “All dogs like peanut butter” I boast to a friend. 

And Mimi used to, only now she keeps her mouth firmly closed.  She sits in my lap and quakes. Tiny shivers as if she is cold. I hold her tight to my body trying to make them stop but they only grow more and more determined until they overtake us both. I stroke her slowly and gently down the length of her body, the way I learnt in doggie massage class. Does she feel my love through my hands as I deliver Reiki? I learnt it long ago but have not used it for years. Maybe since Jesi lay ill in her hospital bed.

The medicine goes down…eventually. I try not to feel anxious about her taking it as I know she will pick up on my feelings and it will not help. Three pills for her heart twice a day. I am waiting for them to arrive in a compounded liquid form so I can syringe them in. I chose cheddar cheese flavor as we haven’t tried anything in cheese lately so I think she might like something new….at least initially.

Then there are the pills for nausea and pills to stimulate her appetite, as she has stopped eating in the morning. This worries me. The missing breakfast happened about a week ago. We were staying at a friend’s house, minding her three cats and dog. Oh, it’s just being out of our normal routine, I told myself, but when we returned home it didn’t change. Then I took her to the groomers for her monthly grooming and she lay on the table, not even enough energy to resist the clip and the comb.

“Do you see a difference?” I asked Julie, who has been grooming Mimi for the five and a half years Mimi and I have been together. 

“Oh yes. She’s more lethargic today.”

“I gave her less Trazadone.”

“Less?” I heard the inflection in her voice, the surprise…unmistakable. 

When Julie gives her to me and I sit her on the counter so I can pay she flattens her sweet soft body against it, her head resting on it, not even acknowledging my presence. I stoke her back and tickle under her chin while I chat. 

I do not make the usual four week follow-up appointment.

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The shaking does not go away. Every time I pick her up it starts. At first I think it is because she dreads me holding her. She knows I give her medicines. Then I ask Chris. “No, she shakes when I pick her up too.” 

I watch her sleeping. When she sleeps deeply she seems to be still, but there are even times when in her bed I can make out the vaguest quivering of her fine white and grey hair. Is she scared of something? Or cold? What is it? 

I want it to go away so I hold on to her tighter. One bitterly cold night when she comes in from peeing, despite the pink sweater I had got accustomed to leaving her in and the quilted winter coat and hood over it, she shakes so much her teeth chatter. I crouch down on the floor behind her covering her both with a blanket and my body, hugging her tight until the chattering goes away. “I love you so much, Mimi” I repeat those words over and over as I snuggle my face into her fur, caressing it as I whisper to her. I want her to remember my love forever. I want to take all her suffering away.  

The most wonderful gift is when one afternoon the two of us together fall asleep while I am sitting in my comfy chair, the light streaming into the living room of my small apartment. I am holding Mimi, bundled up like a baby in my arms. Somehow, perhaps like a mother intuitively knows not to drop her baby, though I am deeply asleep, I hold Mimi tight. And the shaking and shivering vanish.

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I want to remember that feeling forever now that Mimi has gone to be with Jesi…

 

It came too quickly in the end. I knew it was coming. I knew on the Saturday before ….. But that afternoon she barked at me, telling me not to leave her in the car while I ran errands. She was her old doggie self again. So I decided to take her to PETCO. She led me around the store sniffing at everything. And when we got home she ate a full bowl of chicken for dinner. I took a photo and sent it to Chris. I was so overjoyed.

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That was the last meal she ate.

Now the picture hangs above where Mimi’s dish used to sit. Somehow she feels closer to me when I look at it and remember…

The next morning she had diarrhea. I cleaned the carpet, my heart full of fear as to what was causing it. She would not eat or drink, and was not peeing despite the Lasix. 

I spent the day with her, anxious, hoping for some miraculous turnaround. I took her for an afternoon walk in the sunshine. She pottered along the asphalt, her little head down sniffing at the dirt and grass. I loved to watch the way she navigated with her nose. Then she squatted and had more diarrhea. She walked a few steps and stopped for a very long time. I picked her up and carried her inside. My heart screwing tighter and tighter like a piece of paper winding itself up inside my chest. 

I didn’t want to go to the ER but I knew she was not well. I didn’t want her to be whisked away from me and taken into the back while I sat there in the waiting room with the incoherent babble of the TV trying to drown out my anguish. Too many dogs ended their lives that way. 

What I needed for Mimi was to have her with me where she could be safe and loved. I called Melinda who had been supporting me through Mimi’s illness. We decided I should stay stay in. We spent the rest of the afternoon cuddling, Mimi and I sitting together in my cosy arm chair. Mimi didn’t object. She lay sleeping in my arms.

Perhaps she would feel better in the morning.

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But morning came and I sat her in my lap to give her meds. She didn’t struggle. She was limp. I had booked a vet appointment for the afternoon. We needed to go sooner. She hadn’t peed or been drinking. I was worried about dehydration.

We were in the car within half an hour.     

 

I had known Mimi would not live to see the year out. I don’t even think I needed a voice from above to tell me that. I had been surprised she had been with me through all of 2017. In fact, since I first learnt that she had inflammatory disease in her lungs in the middle of 2016 I had been expecting her to leave me any day…

It was then the vet told me she was older than they first thought. More like 16, not 12…  You say she is 16 years ??? I had never had a Shih Tzu before who had lived to be older that eleven. And Mimi was my fifth Shih Tzu.

Mimi had given me more years of her life than I had ever imagined. Yet I had also never imagined that I would lose my daughter and the connection between them would make my bond with her so much greater… 

The vet did additional blood tests and her kidney values, BUN and Creatinine were so high she was in danger of life threatening complications. “There is nothing more we can do” she said. 

We discussed timing and whether it was safe to have a last night together.

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That afternoon, I called Chris and asked him to take Mimi to Alan’s so he could say his good bye’s. When Alan lifted her up on the couch, Mimi scruffed her little paws and nudged her little face into the pillows, just like she always had done. She barked to go outside and sit on the porch, just like she used to. “She seemed fine.” Alan said. Was I doing the right thing? I wondered. I took her to see my friends who had been minding her on Monday’s while I go into the animal rescue to work with homeless dogs. When Larry, her chief caregiver got home, she got up from her little bed and sniffed her way over to the door to greet him, her little tail wagging. I picked her up and cuddled her into my sweater while we chatted.

I took her back to Melinda’s house so we could have a cup of tea. On the way I called Mimi’s petsitter. Missy had cared for Mimi (and before her, my previous dog, Elliot) in her home ever since Mimi came into our family. Missy had seen so many of her little “charges” come and go, and I know she loved Mimi. Her knock at the door around 5 pm told me what I had seen the countless times she said goodbye to Mimi carrying her downstairs to my car after I returned from vacations. Only this time she hugged and whispered into Mimi’s soft grey and white hair while she held her in Melinda’s kitchen. So many times recently I had wondered when Missy placed Mimi in her bed in my car whether this would be the last time.

Later I took Mimi home. Melinda was going to be at the vet clinic the following day. I had asked Chris to come too.

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On our last night together Mimi sat in my lap and ate baby food and rice from my finger. Later in the evening after giving her medications in a syringe she took more. But for most of the evening we just sat in my comfy chair, Mimi lying across my belly while I stroked her back with long slow strokes; trying to remember the feel of her soft hair, the smell of her, the sound of her snuffling as she breathed a restful sleep. Tomorrow her sleep would be restful but without breath. 

No one prepares for loss, and I was beginning to realize that in losing her I was grieving the loss of Jesi all over again, perhaps allowing myself to grieve it in a way I had never, as a mum, been free to feel it to before. 

 

It has been a long winter… but the sun shone on Tuesday March 20, the official first day of Spring. I know because it was that date Mimi left. In the morning I played her my CD of Birdsong in the Australian Bush. We played this CD every morning. It would be lovely to do a final walk together I thought to myself after it finished. A few minutes later Mimi was standing at the front door asking to go out! Had she read my mind?

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Mimi loved the walks around our apartment complex. And I loved to watch her sniff her way along, guided by her nose now that her eyes had failed her. She would walk a couple of steps, her little head slightly tilted toward the ground, stop and sniff at the grass, ground or a flower, and then shuffle on. I took out my phone and shot some video. Another occupant of the complex walked past and asked how I was. “Fine Lisa,” I replied, not looking up. I didn’t trust myself. Mimi was taking her time, entranced by sniffing at a plastic ball half buried in the dirt. I didn’t move her on. I stood there, my heart caving into my belly and tears swelling my eyes. When we crossed the road Mimi wanted to go to the left. That would have meant a long walk. I turned her to the right, unsure she would make the distance. We continued along, stopping to sniff enjoying this last time.…

On the way back into our building we met Bernie, one of the two Maintenance workers at the complex. I told him about Mimi. “If there’s anything I can do, Liz,” he petted Mimi as I held her. I took Mimi back inside.

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When we left that day I placed Mimi in her bed next to me in the car. I drove with one hand on her back and one hand on the steering wheel. I sat with her in the sunny waiting room at the vet clinic, cuddling her while she dozed in my lap. I left her in Chris’s lap when I went a few blocks to walk a dog I had been walking twice a week since December. When I returned she picked  her little head up from where it had been resting on Chris’s arm and watched me enter and sit down next to her again. We waited to be called.

The vet was soft spoken and spoke slowly. He explained that Mimi’s poor little body was not able to eliminate all the toxins that were building up now that her kidney’s had failed. This was the reason she had had diarrhea, was not wanting to eat or drink. She was feeling generally lousy. He explained what might happen if we left this unchecked. Again he explained there was no cure. I knew beyond doubt that it was time to say good bye. I never wanted Mimi to suffer and this was the most loving thing I could do for her.

The vet explained the process and as Mimi lay resting in Chris’s lap he administered an anesthetic. Then he gave us space to be with her until it took effect. We shifted Mimi to my lap…

Then the vet returned and we said our final goodbyes…

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Chris and I had driven separately to the vet’s clinic that day. When he left … I’m not really sure where he went. He disappeared for some hours … I caught up with him later that evening. When I left I went back to Melinda’s house for a ‘cuppa’ and a nap. Eventually I had to go home.

 

I still remember standing on the porch steps at Alan’s house that warm September night in 2014 when the shiny black car with the two suited gentlemen drove up the street. They were carrying Jesi in a dark blue satin wrap in the back of their hearse. I still remember when Alan turned to me and said, “How can you be so strong?”

 

I remember turning off the road into my apartment complex that night in March. Slowing as I neared the door to our building where I used to stop to offload bags, before parking so I could walk or carry Mimi inside. I slowed my car, blinked away the tears, and moved onward to my parking space. I opened my apartment door in silence, walking into the silent empty space. The little bed where Mimi slept in its place… still in its place almost six weeks later, where I can see it from the door. I turned the radio on. Mimi used to love listening to classical music. I listened alone.

Or so I wonder…

     

Posted in A Story about Losing Man's (or Woman's) Best Friend, Loss and Grief, Loving and Caring about Animals, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Caring for our Pets from the Spirit Realm.

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Mimi at seventeen

At seventeen Mimi, the little Shih Tzu that Jesi welcomed into our family on December 20 2012 has lived longer than Jesi ever did.
Somehow there seems no justice in this…. yet somehow I believe Jesi has something to do with Mimi’s extraordinarily long life, especially given the medical issues she is facing.

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Jesi welcoming Miss Mimi to our family on December 20 2012

My vet shaking her head in awe, exclaims “she’s like an every ready bunny” when I meet her in the hall of the animal rescue where I adopted Mimi over five years ago; where the vet works and where I volunteer each week. The vet seems to have finally accepted Mimi’s miraculous existence as I update her periodically, “She sure has an appetite at the moment.” She nods and replies with a smile when I continue “She just keeps toddling along.”
Mimi’s life is lived in a fine balance though…I hand feed her, and every few weeks we make a trip to the pet store to try out new cuisine. I have to read her body language when it comes to eating, or getting her meds down. She might lick her lips and I think… “Great, this will go down,” and then when I move my hand closer she backs off and wanders off into the next room. I am left on the floor surrounded by dishes of sardines, tuna and chicken in gravy and jars of baby food. The pills have to go down early in the feeding process as I know even when I get her interested she will give up and walk away when she is done, and that is usually before the dish is empty. Timing her anti anxiety medication in baby food or peanut butter two hours before I go out is also daily ‘must do’ as Mimi has separation anxiety and when it comes to my leaving her alone, I have to sneak around the apartment without alerting her to my departure. Often she accompanies me and sleeps in her bed in the car (weather and errands permitting) just for the company.

Not only are there the oral meds, there are also two eye ointments that need to be applied to both eyes three times a day. Mimi has severely dry eyes. And she has a growth on her right upper eye lid.
It’s been there longer than I can remember. When it first appeared the vet was able to ligate it near its base and it fell off. After a while it grew back but the stump below the eyelid grew thick, like the trunk of a tree. When I took her to the vet a couple of months ago, weighed down with guilt, (I had been so concerned about keeping Mimi warm through the bitter December and January weather due to her lung disease, I had neglected to keep her eye clean), her eye had oozed so much the hair under her lid was matted together.
Mimi’s major disease as far as I knew it at the time was chronic bronchial congestion, tracheal collapse and she suffered from some heart issues thought I was uncertain what. She coughs every time she comes in contact with the cold air, or wakes up, or drinks, or scurries up the hall to the exit of our apartment building, or any time she moves at a pace more than a potter.
I just hadn’t been attending to her eye.
“That needs surgical removal” the vet declared when she saw Mimi cuddled in my lap in the examination room.
“As long as you know the risks …” she had said, looking directly at me later in the consultation.

I knew what she was referring to…

By the time we left the vet that day Mimi’s eye was looking much cleaner. I had a tube of steroid ointment to apply twice a day for ten days to try and shrink the lesion. I was also equipped with a new promise to myself to clean her eye every day and never let her hair get that matted again. But I knew the discharge meant that the lesion was irritating her eye. Perhaps something more permanent was needed so Mimi would be comfortable? The vet said she would look into it. I didn’t even dare to ask what she meant.

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A couple of weeks later the vet called to tell my that the veterinary ophthalmic surgeon she had consulted had suggested ‘debulking’ the lesion. By then I had started Mimi on more eye meds to try and ease the discomfort and her eye seemed to weep less, and not always get so bloodshot. I was also becoming obsessed by checking and rechecking it multiple times a day. I’m sure if Mimi hadn’t been so well natured she would have told me in doggy language ‘get out of my face’ but she would tolerate my constant head attempts at snuggles which invariably ended in my peering into her eyes in turn while steadying her head between my hands.

But ‘debulking’ didn’t sound as major as doing a wedge incision, taking a piece of the eyelid with the lesion out, which was what I had expected with a surgical procedure.

Should I get it done for once and for all? But how could I know whether Mimi’s lungs would withstand the sedation and anesthesia. And how uncomfortable was she anyway?

I know I will lose her one day, “But I don’t want to lose her on the table” I had said to the vet during the consultation weeks earlier. I had tried to hide the tears that were struggling to escape the corners of my eyes but I knew she saw.
If only I knew the right thing to do…

That is when I decided to ask Jesi’s advice.

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I hadn’t been sleeping well for over a month. I would often wake up before dawn. My mind would immediately begin racing like a horse bolting from a stable. I would lie awake listening to my breathing, or repeating a mantra to try to fall back to sleep. I decided to ask Jesi for a dream to give me a sign as to how I should proceed with Mimi. Would she survive surgery or was it too much of a risk? Yet I hardly ever remembered my dreams. So how could I expect to get a message?

I was stunned when for three consecutive nights I had the most palpable dreams I have ever experienced. I could feel them long after I woke up. They were the type of dream where you are both aware you are asleep and dreaming and also aware as you come out of them, that you are somehow a distinct and different wakeful soul from that of your dream state self. I believe they re called “lucid dreams.”

 

In my first dream Jesi and I are driving along Lincoln Street, past the field where she plays soccer. The road winds around like a serpentine, the soccer field on one side and on the other a steep hill rising up from the flat, driveways leading off to houses perched above. I am on the way to my dentist’s office to pick up Mimi who has spent the day there for veterinary treatment. [Interestingly, in my waking life I had a bad experience at the dentist a couple of weeks earlier.] It is dark and the air is thick with fog, as if it has warmed and is rising like steam off the icy ground. Like the fog, it is eerily dark and still. As we drive I come upon dog after dog, frozen as if it died in the midst of play. They are poised like statues in the middle of the road. These dogs all-struck-down. At first I think at they are hit by cars. Later, not able to get one particular image out of my head, a dog with a ball poised on its nose, I wonder if they are dogs who died while undergoing surgery…
Jesi and I are horrified at what we see. We exchange thoughts, it is as though we are in the spirit world where one can communicate that way. She prefers to stay with these suffering dogs, while I go on to the dentist to pick up Mimi. It is then I wake up knowing this to be a dream.
Jesi has vanished.

 

The following night, as I turned off my light, once more I asked Jesi for a dream. This time I asked her to confirm the message she had sent the previous night. Although I was 99% sure of my decision, I knew Jesi would answer my prayers in respect of Mimi. Jesi was with me the day we both met Mimi at the rescue. Jesi was the first family member I introduced Mimi to after I finalized her adoption. I still remember how her face lit up when Jesi saw her sitting in the back seat of the van when I picked her up after school. “Is she ours? To keep?” I haven’t felt so sure of Jesi’s support from the other side in relation to anything so much as this since she passed away over three years ago.

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Jesi with Mimi on September 11, 2013… exactly one year before she passed into Spirit.

 

As dark as my first dream, my second dream is bright. Everything about it is light, the sun shining with a soft white glow, the breeze blowing gently. I live in a farmhouse. I am mama to two baby chickens. I am feeding them grain. They cluck around following me adoringly. I have to take my tractor and drive down a dirt road into the country, but first I make sure they are safe and have food and shelter. I clearly remember letting them look in the fridge! When I leave I feel a lightness in my heart that they will be ok.

 

The morning after that dream I told the vet to cancel Mimi’s surgery.

 

I was surprised when the following night I had yet another dream. I know I wanted it, but I didn’t really feel I deserved a third message from Jesi and so didn’t ask in earnest. I just put in a wish for a dream. And what I got felt so real…

I almost feel the cold air on my face while I hike up the mountain, almost hear the howls of the wild dogs in the distance. I look around but there is no sign of the dogs. As I continue climbing the path gets steeper yet my strength increases and I climb faster and faster. I ‘attack’ the mountain with increasing vigor until I reach the top. It reminds me (even while I am inside the dream) of how I used to love hill running.
At the top, I suddenly find myself in my car, and Mimi riding shotgun (as she does) beside me. We are poised ready to drive down the other side of the mountain, through a cemetery. Mimi edges over to half sit on my lap, causing me to lose control of my braking foot. Despite feeling around for the brake I can’t find it. All I can do is to navigate through the headstones and around the raised cement markers as the car speeds down the hill. All I think is that with my seatbelt I will survive but Mimi is not belted in and if I crash, she will not. I manage to steer the car onto a road alongside the cemetery gates until it slows down…and I wake up knowing it is a dream…instinctively knowing what it means…

Mimi’s decline will be somewhat rocky, just as her health has declined in the past two years, yet her final decline will not be sudden…

 

Every day with Mimi is a new adventure and I never stop worrying about her health. Over the last week her cough worsened. It developed into a looser more congested sound, and became more frequent. But she still had an amazing appetite. A sardine and a pouch of Tiki Aloa Chicken and Salmon with sweet potato kale and pumpkin for breakfast which she eats from my fingers while sitting in my lap, diced boiled chicken for dinner, finger fulls of beef broth baby food for supper…
She still had the energy to scamper down the hallway, at least until she ran out of breath and started to wheeze and cough. She could still give me the run around in the apartment when I was trying to catch her to clean her eyes or squirm when I did. And she knew to sleep by the door if she sensed I was going out without her.

There is still some spunk left in my little old lady. I notice these things and it is these small things I rejoice in noticing. I know Jesi is watching them too. Only half an hour ago I was sitting on my kitchen floor near Mimi, her dish of boiled chicken still untouched. She came up and sniffed it, licked her lips and moved away. I waited, too tired to move, knowing she would return. When she did I offered her a piece. She refused. But she didn’t walk away. She stood doing the shakes…when she does these minute shiver shakes throughout her whole body. She is not cold. There is no physical reason for them. They are for my benefit!
Yet it is true, Mimi’s had a tough few days, she is on some new meds for her heart and blood pressure and I know she feels different, but I also know she is a great actress. So I sit there trying not to giggle, speaking kind soothing words to her, adding “Jesi I hope you are watching this,” as Mimi’s little head gets closer and closer to her bowl and gradually she starts snuffling the chicken down until the bowl is empty.
I know Jesi is, and I know Jesi is laughing just as much as I am inside…but really…
Why shouldn’t Mimi get some TLC just like we all want when we are not feeling well? At the age of seventeen she deserves it!

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When it is time for Mimi to go, it is these memories I want to cherish, and the fact that I am sending her to the most compassionate animal loving angel I know…
Straight from my arms into the folds of Jesi’s wings where She will care for Mimi once more.

 

 

Posted in Believing in Angels, Dogs and Love, Loss of a Daughter, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Anniversaries … Going on Without Her

For Kari it started in the summer, looming like the forecast of an oncoming hurricane, still distant but with 100% certainty of landfall. On a specific date: the location, her heart.
For me, I only became aware of it in the three or four weeks preceding its landfall. It arrived like a twister, dipping into my psyche in the grey light of morning and quickly taking flight having ravaged my calm. I woke up an angry self, shaking fists at the ticking clock and cursing the hands of time Jesi had been gone.

Three years…three years… so many anniversaries, birth days, death days, holi days… I am already having difficulty recalling where and how we have spent them all. And this next one? How to manage it, to best fit each of our family members individual needs.
Kari reminds me that months ago I had suggested focusing it on something Jesi loved. Making it a celebration of her life. I had thought of a family horseback ride. Perhaps last years remembrance weekend together, Saturday’s muted grey day, the hike around World’s End, standing, peering out over the water of Boston Harbor and beyond… were we all secretly wanting some apparition to appear, some sign from beyond the horizon? … happening upon the landscape art and losing ourselves in that mirror maze, reflecting perhaps too much of our inner selves that we could not bear to face. Were we all still struggling with understanding the complexity of, the futility of life that could be snatched away like that, a young girl with so much to offer the world: ended?
And then on the anniversary day itself, our visit to Walden Pond, the massive thunderstorm that swept across the pond like a curtain as we stood sheltering under the trees. And fifteen minutes later the sun appearing and the clouds parting, revealing soft pastels and sun sparkling on water.

But Alan is highly allergic to horses he later tells me. So the horseback riding idea fizzled, though somewhere inside me I still have the need to be near a horse…

Then Kari said she did not want to be in Boston. Nor did she want to be surrounded by grief, rising and engulfing her like a storm surge. It already did. Anyway, she would just have returned to college and a rigorous semester workload and the unsettling storm of emotions of being together with family like that would leave too much debris.
So on the weekend when the sunshine state succumbed to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose lurked somewhere in the Caribbean, a whirl of memories hovered over me reminding me of the tumult of grief. Chris and Alan and I made our way to Cleveland and Oberlin armed with ideas to distract, yet also quietly acknowledge those aspects of life that Jesi loved.
And secretly I wonder now whether the secret to getting through these times is more to focus on moving forward than standing still and looking out over the horizon like we did last year at World’s End.

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The sun shines cool with a gusting wind in Cleveland as I sit staring out over Lake Eerie. Chris is watching a volleyball game on a sand court behind us. Alan looking out over the city, behind us. It is Friday afternoon and Kari is finishing her classes at Oberlin before she heads into Cleveland to pick us up. I am mesmerized by the water, steel grey swirls with white caps. Chris turns around as the game finishes and asks about the lake, whether ships ever sink and Alan responds with the story of the Robert E Lee in the days when liquor was prohibited in the United States and illegally shipped from Canada, the border being somewhere in the middle of the lake…. I stare into the depth of the water, listening the tale.
Perhaps it is that water is somehow special to me, perhaps it is all the time I spend in Walden and the connection I feel with Jesi there for that image of the swirling waves and white caps stays with me.

That evening we discover a benefit concert where the Red Cross is raising money for Hurricane Harvey relief is to be performed by the members of the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Institute of Music, Credo Music and Oberlin Orchestra. We are sitting in the front. The concert begins with the Star Spangled Banner. The audience stands. Towards the end of the program I see that Barber’s Adagio for Strings is to be performed.
Hardly have the first stands of music sounded before I feel a shift inside me. It is as though I have fallen from a rock ledge. I am poised, held by a whisper, on the brink of tragedy. The swirling grey waters appear before me. Walden, Lake Erie, the Caribbean where Hurricane Irma now threatens her brutal force. I am submerged under the weight of it. Yet those are not my tragedies. Jesi is dying. Inside my body everything whirls and spins. I am losing my grip. I know it is too late. The music reaches up into the heavens and Jesi is gone. I am back in her bedroom three years ago with Alan and Chris and Kari and Jesi has gone into the light. Tears dribble from my eyes, a dam which holds them tight. I will myself back into the performance hall and reach for Kari’s hand and squeeze it. I know she understands. She turns to look at me and smiles faintly. I think about an essay she read to me earlier, an assignment for one of her classes when describes the twin relationship as the essence of her being. That which came before her and which will endure after all else, “outliv(ing) any separation that death might bring” (she wrote), “as her eternal truth.” **

The following day we visit Cleveland Zoo. Just inside the entrance Alan finds the map painted on a large wooden board. “Hey, they have an Australian section,” he calls out excitedly. I am positive Jesi had a hand in steering us to the zoo. Animals and Jesi are synonymous in my mind.
The kiddie train passed in front of us as we waited to enter the Australian Adventure. On a cyclone fence a large wooden board with a map of Australia had painted on it the words ‘Dog Proof Fence’.

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“Dog proof fence,” I read excitedly. “I’ve never heard of the dog proof fence.” I crossed the tracks and went up to the board to trace the line drawn across south eastern Australia. Then I posed for a photo and read about how it kept the dingoes out so they didn’t kill the farmer’s cattle and sheep.
We wandered off to begin our adventure. I began to feel a little let down. The dingoes were hiding in the shadows and would not be coaxed out. Across from the dingo enclosure was a petting zoo with goats and Shetland ponies. That didn’t feel unique to Australia to me? A large sign boasted camels (granted, they had been imported into the outback and used for transport across the desert due to their ability to store water in their bodies for days) but there were none to be found. Then we happened upon the homestead nestled in amongst the trees…

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These turn on the century type dwellings still abide in the suburbs of Sydney and in the Blue Mountain township where I used to live. The verandah, encircling the entire home, with its low iron roof makes shade from the scorching heat. There was a hat and coat peg at the entrance and a genuine Drizabone stockman’s coat hanging on one of the pegs. “Hey, I have one just like that, I shouted with glee picking up the Drizabone, the layered leather coat the stockmen wear on horseback to keep them dry while they herd sheep in torrential downpours.” It was as heavy as a lead X ray apron. “All they need is an Ekubra” I added. *** (the stockman’s wide brimmed hat)
I had no doubt in my mind that Jesi had steered us in this direction. She knew how much my homeland meant to me. …We had had a secret plan, perhaps not so secret but more like a dream as I look back on it now, that together she and I would vacation there once she got free of her treatment after the bone marrow transplant. Many times I had imagined that trip back to the Blue Mountains with her, doing some real bush walking, exploring Aboriginal caves and painting and learning bush craft. In 2013 on our family trip we had done a short bush walk together to Birdwood Gully in the Blue Mountains and Jesi had adamantly stated “I have to come back here”. She never did have the opportunity. But she would do everything she could to bring Australia to me. I knew that. We opened the door and went inside.

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Inside was a large open plan homestead. The kitchen, though not familiar to me, was to Alan. “We had a fridge just like that when I was a kid,” he told Kari and Chris. I was busy investigating the cupboards and shelves. They had done a pretty good job collecting stuff. Vegemite of course, pavlova magic, milo, a tin of billy tea, Arnotts biscuits. There was the library to explore yet. I wondered if there were copies of the children’s story books I used read to the kids… but I couldn’t find anything I knew. But there was a pretend gum tree with an oversized stuffed koala perched in it in the middle of the lounge area.

We left the house to see the real animals… kangaroos, wallabies, a black swan who was busy building a nest and trying to dissuade zoo visitors from coming to near the fence that protected him from us (the male builds the nest), an emu who we could not find, an aviary of lorikeets, a lonely cockatoo, a building housing a Koala encounter …
We were on our way out of the Australian Adventure when I suddenly remembered I had four Minties. These are a traditional Australian mint chew lolly (translate, candy) that everyone in Australia knows for the slogan At times like these, you need Mintes. Each wax Mintie wrapper has a different cartoon joke on it. Jesi loved them and used to collect them. Funny, but now I seem to have adopted that habit myself. I had shoved a few in my bag from a supply Alan had bought me after he went to Australia in May. They were still soft, juicy and delectably chewy. I raced over to everyone and placed one in the palm of their hands. Hmm, I wonder how I remembered about them exactly then!

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We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the zoo and on Sunday afternoon before Chris Alan and I flew back to Boston, together with Kari we visited another place the Jesi would have loved. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Jesi was a Beatles fan. Abbey Road, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, Let it Be. Jesi was a Beatles fan because Alan was a Beatles fan and exposed the kids to all sorts of rock and roll music. So naturally, Kari and Chris were too. I grew up listening to Here Comes the Sun and one of my fondest memories waking up from a nap in the family car were the golden rays of afternoon sun stretching out over the peaks of the Kosciusko Mountain Range in south east Australia on a skiing trip . But there was also John Lennon’s Imagine and the complexities of the lyrics and messages woven into the etherial chords of Revolution No. 9. Chris was fascinated by what The Beatles knew and were trying to tell us.
But I also wanted to see the Taylor Swift exhibit. I couldn’t let go of the fact that Jesi had met Taylor just over a month before she passed away. And I don’t know how many times since, when Taylor had released albums or been mentioned in the news I had thought of that meeting. A part of me tinged with guilt that I didn’t protect Jesi well enough. The staff of the hospital suggested Jesi not use her oxygen for the visit. So Jesi didn’t. She dressed in her prettiest hospital johnnie. She smiled, but it was a weak, pale smile. She hardly had the energy to joke or to talk. I stepped up to do the talking, concerned for her. I knew she was struggling but I said nothing.
Now I wanted to look Taylor in the eyes and say, Do you remember that young girl. Do you know she doesn’t exist on earth anymore. You were the last famous person she ever met. She didn’t make it. She was one of those kids that cancer took away from us. Can you help the rest of them???
But of course I am looking at her discarded clothes and her microphone, decked in silver sequins with the album name 1989 written down the side. Jesi wasn’t born then, I think.

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The visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame comes to an end, as does our weekend. Yet it is not yet September 11. Chris, Alan and I board our flight back to Boston leaving Kari in the hands of her friends. Kari has built up a network of amazingly supportive friends and assures us that besides her classes she has plans, support and a lot of work for the following day. I wonder what I will do, except for knowing I will go into the animal rescue and work with the dogs, something I do more and more all the time. Something I believe Jesi set me firmly on the path to pursue. It’s like that bumper sticker I often see which reads Who rescued who? I’ve asked Chris what he will be doing, given he is in Boston and most of his friends aren’t. He is not sure, but he assures me he is ok. Alan… ,I have not enquired… What ultimately happens is Chris and Alan go out to dinner. They invite me but as I am collecting Mimi from the pet sitter, the timing doesn’t work. I’m ok with dog cuddles…Jesi speaks to me through Mimi.

But I do surprise myself when, getting ready to go to the rescue the following morning instead of heading down Route 2 to Boston, I head in the opposite direction to Walden Pond. I am not dressed to swim. In my back pocket I am carrying Jesi’s prayer card and my phone. It is a beautiful morning. My lips are a zipped purse.
I lean against the wall on the beach where we, who continue to swim past the finish of the season leave our gear. A bag slouches next to me. I am silent inside and out. I look across the pond and my eyes come to rest on the spot where I last remember Jesi sitting on a rock. It is at the near end of Red Cross Beach. She is thin in her short shorts and tee shirt. Her skin is blotched, badly marked from the fungal infection she is recovering from. But her smile is so large that no one would see anything of the scars she wears. Nor would they know what she faces. She does not hide, but protects her bald head from the early May sun with a baseball cap. Large sunglasses protect her eyes. She munches on an apple.

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Now on September 11 three years later the beach is deserted. I wander over in the direction of the rock and am dismayed to find I can’t locate it. So much has changed. So much has changed…
I try to remember where the rock might have been. I turn to look at the water, wanting the eyes back that looked out from that Mothers Day afternoon at the angle of the pond from where she. I look up and down the beach and back at the clump of long grasses and white river stones piled in front of me. Suddenly I have an idea. I take Jesi’s prayer card out of my back pocket and wedge it in among the grasses, enough so I can see her angel face, but also enough so it is not too visible. I stand back to check its location and readjust it a couple of times. Then, still hesitant that Jesi will be safe, I leave her to look out over the pond for the day. I will return for her in the evening light.

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When I do return to swim I look over toward where I left Jesi knowing she is watching over me. It is late and the sun is falling behind the hills by the time I make my way, wrapped in a towel, over to the place where I left her. My eyes scour the grasses. I have not imagined the exuberance I feel when I first get a glimpse of her peeking out over the pond. It is not only as though I have had some enormous secret, but also there emerges an incredible sense of the connection that I have with Jesi ballooning around me to fill the dusky void of the sunset three years after she passed away. I stand in silence allowing myself to be engulfed by this, wishing for the feeling to last, knowing that like all messages from Jesi, it is fleeting and not to be held onto.
And so it passes. And so I pick up the prayer card, grateful for what I have just experienced, and move back along the beach to make my way home.

Posted in Anniversary of Death of Child, Divorced Family coping with Loss of a Teenager, Loss and Grief and Healing, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Around and Around of Grief

I’m angry. Its early morning and I open my eyes to a foggy grayness that I sometimes sense inside my head. But not today. Today I wake up instantly alert… and angry. I feel the anger in my ribs as they grip tight around my heart.
It’s three weeks short of the third anniversary of Jesi’s death and I am furious at time. How dare it keep moving onward, further and further away from her. How dare it take me with it.
But I don’t have time to be angry. I need to get up and move further into the day. So I take a reprieve from my angry self and race around my apartment collecting my belongings to leave for the weekend to care for a Scottish Terrier in Cambridge.

The following day I am driving past Mt Auburn Cemetery. It is a gloriously sunny morning; the air infused with a soft balmy feeling rather than the blinding white of summer. A gentle breeze rolls in through the open window of my car. I suddenly find myself visualizing Jesi’s coffin and her sweet sixteen self just as I last saw her resting peacefully in it. Sadness swallows me and absorbs the journey I am on to a meet another dog trainer. How can this have happened? How could I have borne the pain of losing her? Accompanying her coffin to the cemetery, helping push it off its roller bed into the crematorium fire. My finger pushing down on that switch knowing it would ignite the flames that would engulf her body. I could never ever do that again. How could I ever have had the strength to have done it then? Chosing to be with her until her physical body was no longer and she was fully transformed into spirit.
The remainder of my drive is ambushed. My car drives on. I am living a different world, a different time.

This is the beginning of the darkest month, I later write in my journal. August 20. It was on August 23 three years ago that Jesi’s mind began to leave us. Her brain cruelly sabotaged by alien cells rendering her unreachable to us. She knew something was happening to her. That final night with me, she reached for my hand, our arms entwined and circled, skin touching through the bandage board attaching her to her IV therapy. Our fingers making patterns on skin. Mine on hers, gently, so gently. Her long slender fingers, nails painted blue ever so softly on mine. It was her good bye to me and I never even knew it.
I have replayed that night in my mind a thousand times since to feel her with me again and each time I come up with an empty hand, a handful of dreams and the knowledge that Jesi is gone forever from my touch.
That’s what Kari screamed at the top of her lungs when Jesi drew her final breath.
J-E-S-I I-i-i-s-s G-O-N-E.

And we have been living it ever since.

A text comes in on my phone and saves me. The other trainer has arrived and is waiting for me. Back to the work of working with dogs.

But the darkest month won’t let go.

I leave my Scottish Terrier a second time that afternoon. This time dressed to attend a formal event. It is only when I join the line at the that it dawns on me that I should have chosen more muted colors, not the pastel blue with floral print dress that I am standing in. I consider going back to my car to at least find my grey jacket to throw on top, but do not want to lose my place. The line extends outside the funeral home and onto the street.
The last time I remember a line this long extending outside a funeral home was just over three years ago when well meaning friends kept whispering in my ear, asking that I be mindful when greeting the hundreds of guests that had come to pay respects to Jesi that there were probably over a hundred of people still waiting to see us.
When I agreed to come today it had not dawned on me what it would feel like to be standing here, alone, almost three years after losing Jesi. It had not dawned on me that inside my blue dress I would feel my skin shrinking into my bones and my heart collapsing into my lungs and my legs weakening at the knee joints. I consoled myself by repeating in my head that I no longer cared that my dress was pastel blue. That it was good enough I was standing there in it at all.

But of course I would never have contemplated not coming. Not for this particular teacher who had been so kind to Jesi, who had gone out of her way to give so much when Jesi had been sick.
I would have come knowing it would have felt this way in any case.

So I stand in the line feeling conspicuous and alone with these memories increasingly flood my mind.

 

A woman in black approaches and for a moment glances at me before she stops on the step above me. “You’re Mrs Watson?” she looks directly at my face.
“Yes,” I manage to respond.
“We were hoping you would come.” I notice a slight hesitation as she says this. But she goes on. “We met once, at the PMC for N. I’m Mrs X.”
“Oh yes.” I did vaguely remember a conversation and this woman’s face is taking on a familiar shape in my mind. It was the year Jesi was in hospital waiting for her transplant that Kari and I went to the PMC kids ride in Bedford on her behalf. She and the other boy from her school were joint pedal partners.
“How are you?”
“Fine,” I force the word out, desperately trying to make myself feel strong and willing my voice not to betray me. Yet I might not have bothered. I hardly have time to mutter the words before she has turned her back to me so she is facing the young woman standing above me. This woman is noticeably younger than both of us and her eyes are watering. She hugs her and starts talking. I lower my gaze and stare at the lines in the sidewalk.

It seems that a very long time passes before the line moves. I begin to scan the crowd for faces I might recognize. I scan once, twice, perhaps three times, seeing no-one.
Finally the line shuffles forward and I follow the two woman in black through the open doors of the funeral home. An employee nods a greeting to me and I gratefully smile back. The similarities between Jesi’s visitation just over three years ago and this memorial are striking. In the room to my right people gather around a TV screen. I see handkerchiefs dabbing the corners of eyes and hands grasped together, knuckles clenched so the skin covering them is drawn and white. Despite my resolve I am still obsessed with clothing and scan for women not dressed in black. Here and there a colored dress or shirt is covered in a blazer. Everywhere small groups. Nowhere does one lonely person stand unprotected from their own emotions. I turn away but to my left elevated on a stand is a large poster displaying photos. I am looking at each individual photo praying there will be none of this wonderful teacher with her class or the students she cared for. I am not sure what I would do if I saw Jesi smiling at me. Thankfully I do not have to find out. As I shuffle through the room and sign my name, my scratchy black scrawl along the line which seems to jump out of the page in its unbelonging, the women in the line ahead of me are joined by a few others and they form a small group. They seem to move out of the line to chat and I want to ask them to move along as I am getting more and more unnerved, or ask if I can go on ahead. Neither feels appropriate. I wait and eventually we all shuffle into the main reception room. Inside the door, a table is set up with memorabilia. A pair of tap shoes, photos of smiling women crowded together laughing and in formation on stage. I had no idea, a voice in my head says as I look at the smiling faces picking out the familiar face of the teacher. Message jars of good feeling notes in a handwriting I remember from school projects Jesi bought home…

When I finally leave the funeral home I know it was the right thing to have come. My blue dress fades in the evening light, the faces of the women who know but don’t know me blend into the hum of muffled chatter in the rooms adjoining the reception room. It is in meeting the family that I have felt the greatest kinship. We share a sense of knowing which bonds us together in a way those who have not experienced the death of someone in their closest circle do not understand. And we know this without words. It is impossible to express the feelings, to put into words the route that the journey through loss that we have all embarked on will take, to know how long it might be and how many u turns there may be. It is as individual as each soul that has left us…
and no matter how many years pass, it continues to baffle and surprise with its tormented twists and turns.

Now, when I think about it, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at the sudden appearance of anger pushing at my heart that morning. If I look back at photos I would have realized it has been brewing. My fridge with its display of photos sporting updates of Chris and Kari, no longer nineteen and sixteen as they were when Jesi left them. They have grown even faster away from her than I with my greying hair. But the photos of Jesi. All I have is those she left me with of her sixteen year old self. Her smile even then, ages older than her sixteen years. But who would the now young woman be behind that smile?
I often wonder what type of relationship would have grown between us. We built such a unique bond during the unnatural time of her illness. It fostered an inter-dependance between us in which I learnt how to truly love and give of myself, tending to her bathing and caring for her physically as her mother and her nurse, dressing her many wounds and administering her meds and IV therapy when she was home from hospital. And what she gave to me! Insight into her courage and strength, the lightness with which she faced the most awful treatments, singing her way through total body irradiation, laughing so hard she would go into coughing fits at Kari’s jokes and musical theater acts or my attempts at puppeteering with her stuffed animal friends.

I remember leaning on my kitchen countertop one morning during Jesi’s last year and telling my therapist, “I don’t know what I will do if Jesi doesn’t make it. I don’t know if I can go on without her.”
We knew even then, before the transplant that there was a possibility… But who wants to think about that…

 

Around this time last year, when Kari’s contemporaries were all heading off to college for their freshman year, I bumped into another mother of twins in Lexington center. Her daughter was with her, her son, the twin of the tall young woman standing behind her was not. She asked me how I was and we started chatting. She told me how at the high school graduation the class president, who had been one of Jesi’s good friends, started his speech with ‘One of us is not here today, and she should be…’
I had been told the story before but I could listen to it a hundred times. How this boy, the class captain honored Jesi at the graduation as being part of the graduating class. (Kari had moved high schools after Jesi passed away so essentially our ties with the local school had ended in Jesi’s death.) We continued talking for a while, and I asked after her twins. The mother lamented about her son choosing a school in the mid west, “But at least X will be close. She is going to North Eastern. I couldn’t bear it if they were both going to be far away,” she ended. I remained silent, though there were a million responses going through my mind that if I had not vetted could have tumbled out. Then, in asking after Kari and what she was going to be studying and what Chris was doing she mentioned Jesi. “So I suppose you’ve moved on…” she said, as if the fact I had another daughter might not ever have existed. My little dog had been standing patiently at my feet while I had been talking. We were on our evening walk. I didn’t answer the mother’s comment. I didn’t forget it either. But I did move my little dog down the street away from the direction she and her daughter were heading.

Posted in Anniversary of Death of Child, Grief and Loss, Mother mourning Loss of a Daughter, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Out of the Light of Chaos

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This is what I had been waiting for.

I am standing in the kitchen my hands wrapped around a mug of coffee. It is early, or it seems so as I am still waking up. I am frustrated that the file has not downloaded on my computer, it would sound so much better playing through the speakers, nevertheless I press the icon and settle for listening to it on my i phone. Its never as good quality but I am excited to hear the result of all the work that Kari has put into writing her first piece of music for full orchestra.
I hold the phone in front of my face, staring into the screen, straining to hear whether any music is coming out of the small dark rectangle in front of me. Gradually I hear something … tiny glass-like bells, a thread gradually creeping through a dark tunnel. I put my coffee cup down on the bench behind me so I can focus more fully. The thread is evolving now. It seems to be expanding into a spaciousness, a field of light. But it is not the fluorescent light of my kitchen. That small physical space fades as I am taken on a journey inside the music, inside my mind, into an unexplored and unknown world.

I am not ready for what I am about to experience.

My eyes are watering. I feel the tension across my forehead. I almost see the wrinkles as clearly as I see what is causing them, the vision in my mind of the world I am entering inside the music Kari has created. I know where I am going. I wonder if she meant it. I am not afraid, only that she may let me down and her music fail me. That I might fall off this celestial journeytrain before I reach my destination.
No, that cannot happen. I need to find Jesi…………………..Does Kari want that too?
Now tears are streaming down my face. They just happen. I do not vet them. I do not care. My day has taken a turn I could not have imagined and I am ransomed by it. I am momentarily distracted by my hands, noticing how I have curled my fingers inside my palms and how my nails, they need to be trimmed, are digging into the skin. The music continues to flow in its path, blossoming and intertwining like flowers and vines pushing upwards, seeking and searching for light. Suddenly stars burst forth. I have reached the pinnacle. Kari did not fail me. We are standing on the horizon of time. There is a sense of calm. Jesi is not with us… yet somehow she is. We cannot turn time back… but time is immaterial. There is a knowing. And the longing I have been feeling has vanished, just as the horizon I see inside Kari’s music, as if I am standing on a beach watching the sun slowly sinking, is taking it away.

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“So Kari,” I ask like a newspaper reporter, my pen ready to write down every word she speaks, “What were you trying to create when you wrote that music?”

“The idea of light,” she begins. “The way it fades and expands into an overwhelming blinding experience… the build up of energy and how it retreats back to where it came from, so precisely and exactly.”
She pauses.
I wait.
“Except,” she continues, “except out of the thread of it; the beginning or ending arise these fragments, melodies that subtly weave their way into the music to relieve the chaos of the blinding light.”
The space between us falls silent.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have told you what I thought before I asked you what it was about,” I feel somewhat bold saying this but it seems that she had been intending exactly what I had picked in first hearing the piece. How could I suppose to know what she was writing about?

Only I was to discover I had ascribed a different storyline to it…

Perhaps because I am a mother I had gone in search of my lost child, Kari’s lost twin. Kari had called the piece Kindred. It could have been about Jesi. I needed to understand more of what she was saying on this level…

“It’s about how chaotic our relationships became when Jesi got sick,” she tells me. “Everything goes crazy in terms of trying to have a stable family lifestyle.”
My mind darts back six or seven years as though they were yesterday, only all I remember is running to and from the hospital and trying to meet the material demands of getting food into the house and on the table for Chris, then fifteen and Kari, twelve. Of trying to get them both to and from school and sports practices and music lessons without missing a pick up time. There was hardly time for dinner conversation. Often dinner was hospital take out around Jesi’s bed after a lengthy commute through traffic to “Childrens” (Hospital Boston.) I immediately understood what she was saying.
And I understood why she had dedicated her first full symphony piece to her brother too.
“Me and Chris,” she continues, “Before, we had a normal relationship. Then everything changed. He was trying to survive, I was trying to survive. We grew separate. Often we were separated. He stayed with friends. I always wanted to be with Jesi. Sometimes we converged. We did things the way we used to but mostly it was chaos, like the blinding light, dazzling and confusing. I made the music say that through it evolving into melodic fragments of contrasting material. It was a relief from the spastic chaos of the overwhelming light at the beginning. It signifyied our sometime convergence… ”
“Hang on Kari,” I had to interrupt. She was going way to fast for me. It was an epiphany that she could write her story with all these intense emotions into music so succinctly. “Slow down a minute.” I needed to process not only the music but the underlying emotions she was expressing.
“Look at the score,” she offered. “The score descriptors…”
I got up and went into the next room to get my bound copy of the score. She opened it and pointed to the words in bold print scattered throughout at the top of the pages of music. Growing Kinetic Energy… Dispersing Energy… Light Uplifted… Blossoming… Fragmented…
“Yet it ends in the light,” I add.
“Yes. The tiny bells bringing closure.
I look at Kari’s face in the muted glow of evening as we sit together at the dinner table. Her eyes are alive with the light of her music dancing inside them. She is leaning slightly forward, her hands wrapped around her knees, tanned from summer’s sun and strong from yoga classes. I’m wondering what she will accomplish next. Three years ago when Jesi passed away Kari was not composing music at all. She had not discovered this passion that is now absorbing her so entirely and which she is using to express herself so completely.
I know that Jesi is watching what her twin is accomplishing from the world beyond. I believe she is sitting on her shoulder smiling.

Maybe Jesi knows what I don’t…

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to listen to Kari’s musical compositions including Kindred

go to KariWatson.com

Posted in Kari Watson Composer, Mother Daughter Relationships, Mother's Healing Journey after Loss, Music and Emotion, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Losing her Over and Over Again

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I sit at the traffic light watching the young girl in black stretch pants and sneakers cross the road with her mom. She has hair which almost reaches down to her waist. Some would call it blonde. To me it is light brown. Jesi’s hair was the same color and when she was ten. Her hair was long to her waist too. Only her hair was straight and this girl’s hair has a few loose curls at its ends. I like the way she holds her mama’s hand, her own small hand tucked into the folded grip of her mama’s palm. She walks, her stocky little body half a step behind her mama’s. But it is her bottom and thighs, perfect in the outline of her stretch black pants that grab my attention. I see Jesi’s young body in them, that same curve of the bottom, the same healthy strong thighs. I blink, my mind wandering back years and suddenly I see Jesi joking and running ahead of me to catch up to Kari as we walk down the street together. We are going to the ice cream shop on a summer afternoon after school and there is nothing in the world that could go wrong. Or so I imagine. We are not even far from where I now sit in my car, gripping tighter and tighter to the steering wheel until my knuckles turn white as my memory cascades me into an arena I am not ready to enter. Now I watch this “Jesi” walking away from me, this young girl who reminds me so strongly of my Jesi, her strong stocky body only a year or two before cancer sabotaged it. I have been catapulted back seven years in no more than a few seconds and there was no way I could either predict it or control it.

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The lights change and I move forward through the intersection. Perhaps if I accelerate I will escape back into the present.
But it isn’t that easy. I round the corner onto Gerry’s Landing Road and over the rise onto the bridge across the River Charles. I used to drive this route to take Jesi back and forth to treatment at the Jimmy Fund or to visit her in hospital, and now no matter how many hundreds of days that have passed since, although I was not thinking about it five minutes earlier, my mind has found its way back to the times Jesi and I drove this road together. A tear escapes from the corner of my eye; then another, and another and another. I wish myself to the animal rescue where I will work with dogs. One of the only ways I have found that totally absorbs me so that my mind doesn’t wander into the dangerous gloom of grief.

 

A woman I met last year in a grief group called me recently. We hadn’t spoken since the group fell away over the holiday season. “What are you doing to deal with your grief?” she asked me quite unexpectedly during our conversation, which had to that point been filled with talk of my new apartment, her recently completed degree, her up-coming vacation. I hesitated. Grief, I thought. Grief? I don’t even name it these days. In fact when she asked that question I had to think a moment, not even aware it still owned part of my life…it seeps so imperceptibly into me. “I don’t know,” I hesitated thinking how inept my response was, that I ought to have been able to reel off some sort of list of positive actions I took every day to fend it away. Then I continued, “I talk to Jesi a lot I guess. And I get sad sometimes. Sometimes I feel her around me. I always wish she was here like she used to be. Its like the ocean waves. You know, it ebbs and flows…” I felt strangely embarrassed to have been asked this question. Like I thought my friend was ‘better’ than I was at this thing called grieving to have known to ask me. My answer just wasn’t making the grade. Then she replied, “This will be the first Mother’s Day since my mother passed.”
I immediately understood why she had asked.

 

Two days later I was walking my dog in Lexington center. I looked ahead and realized that the back entrance to the high school Jesi attended for her last years of schooling loomed ahead of me, its stone steps and columns staring expressionless in the morning air. Suddenly I pictured all the times I drove up to those stone steps and waited for Jesi to appear so I could take her to physical therapy or doctors’ appointments. She should have been leaving the school from the front side of the building like most of the students did, boarding buses to go to their afternoon sports, not going to get her blood checked for white blood cells and platelets. It made me sad to look at that school. I could not see the stream of students wandering into the center of town on their breaks. All I could see was what had never been. Jesi growing to be a senior and graduating like she wanted to. She never returned after winter break of sophomore year. Large swellings had appeared in her neck over the Christmas period. Blood tests showed her blood was crammed so full of leukemia cells again they were blocking the growth of normal cells. The leukemia had come back.

I went back into the school many times during the year she relapsed. Jesi was, of course, only in hospital or at home and would be returning heself so Alan and I would meet with her teachers and talk about how to reintegrate her back into the classroom; what classes she would do and how she could stay current so she and Kari could still graduate together. Jesi was a phenomenal student and worked hard at her studies even whilst in hospital.
But after she passed away the halls suddenly haunted me with fantasies and half imagined memories of her smiling face. Or perhaps I saw her black and white checked hat bobbing on her head as she bustled with her uneasy gait down the corridors with a hundred other kids. Not to mention the stories Kari had told me about them passing each other, smiling and waving or texting to check in on how each of their days were going.

 

Now as the school year comes to a close, I walk into the main foyer, making my way down the corridor to the office there is an uneasy hush inside my head. I am meeting one of the admin assistants to collect Jesi’s Memorial Scholarship plaque in order to have it engraved with the name of the recipient of this year’s award. The admin assistant is waiting for me, standing in front of the open doors of glass cabinet where it hangs all year. She greets me and I watch speechless as she carefully lifts the plaque out of the cabinet and holds it in her hands. I watch her turn it toward her, holding it close to her heart, run her finger along the beveled edges, gently lifting a speck of dust off the bronze header plate. I want to scream at her as she turns it over and over in her hands as though it is some precious jewel, as though it is Jesi herself she is holding. I want to scream at her because I have seen myself do the same with Jesi’s possessions, as if they could be any substitute for Jesi. I register that I am suddenly furious that I do not have the power to bring Jesi back and that this silly plaque or Jesi’s clothes or jewelry or stuffed animals are all I have as tangible reminders of who Jesi was and what she loved.
Sometimes I am nothing more than a mother fractured into tiny pieces of past memories holding them in my hands.

At the award night I stand at the podium in the high school auditorium and speak about Jesi and what she loved. Her scholarship, awarded to a senior student who has shown dedication through work and care for animals “beyond simply owning a family pet” brings to light the variety of innovative ways in which students demonstrate their passionate love of animals. One applicant volunteers at a disabled equestrian school, reminding me of the weekly horseback riding lessons Jesi took while she was rehabilitating from the severe neuropathy caused by chemotherapy. Another volunteers at the Boston Aquarium caring for sea creatures and educating the public about the part we play in keeping their environment healthy. Another works to rekindle the failing SPCA club within the school. The young lady to whom we awarded the scholarship spends her weekends training and socializing service dogs for a disabled veteran organization.
When I read her application it burns into a memory inside me….I am touched in a way I cannot describe, seeing the image of this unknown young woman who each weekend spends her leisure time with ‘her dog’ whom she ultimately knows she will be giving up “because someone needs him more than I do“.
It is the picture in my mind of her sitting next to her dog Trooper at the lily pond near her house. It is the love and care she gave to Trooper, accompanying her to soccer games, rolling around on the grass with him, just as I know Jesi would do, snuggling and cuddling into his soft body, the two of them a mass of fur and hair and limbs, feet and paws flying. I know Jesi would have done just as our applicant had done, given Trooper all the love she had to give so he would be the best companion dog he could be, and then one day, just as our award recipient had done, hugged him goodbye and sent him into someone else’s arms. Someone whose needs were greater than hers.

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Now, with June in full brew I am deep in the middle of Walden Pond, gliding in the tranquil waters. But my mind is anything but tranquil. On the walk down the ramp to the water I have been telling my friend about my dear sweet little (and old) dog Mimi. She has lung disease, heart disease, is almost blind and probably deaf. “I get the impression the vet thinks she is living on borrowed time…..” I say. Our conversation moves on but I remember it while swimming, the water abnormally cold due to the erratic spring weather and abundance of rain. I remember the day Mimi came into my life. She came into Jesi’s the very same day when Jesi accompanied me to the animal rescue and we met her together. Later, after we took Mimi home, Jesi and I would joke about whose dog she was. “She’s mine! No, she’s mine! No, she’s mine…” and we would go on until I would give in with an impish grin. Now my only comfort is knowing that when Mimi leaves me Jesi will be there to scoop her up and love and care for her. But that is not what I think about in the middle of Walden Pond. Suddenly I am immersed in grief and it dawns on me that I will not be able to cope with losing Mimi. That I will “fall apart.” That it will be losing Jesi all over again…

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My body is no longer skimming along the surface of the water. I am struggling to maintain the rhythm that has propelled me across the center of the pond. My legs are sinking and I am gasping for each breath and each arm seems to have lost the memory of how to work with the other. I look ahead to see the faint outline of the beach house. It seems a million miles away. I know I cannot afford to think about these things, not now, not in the middle of Walden. So I do what I did the many many times I swam in Walden while Jesi was still with us, when I bought my worries to the pond during the time she was in transplant, fearing she would not make it, feeling the same feelings of anguish and desperation should she be taken from us. Not knowing then how I would ever go on. Crying inside my heart and head for her to be spared. Please, please God don’t take her from me… But she was taken. Her body had had enough. She had to go. And I had to go on. Just as I do now, in the middle of Walden. Just as I have a hundred times before.

Posted in Grief and Loss, Mother Grieving a Child, Teenager who died from Leukemia: Mother's Memories, Writing about Grief | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Twin, Alone on her Birthday…

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Imagine being eighteen and dreading your birthday.

The dread arrives weeks before your birthday does. It arrives on wings edging its way through your dorm room window, sliding in a crack open against the stuffy heat of the college heating system that buffers late winter’s cold. It lounges on the closed lid of your computer, sprawled like a cat waiting for you to open it and attempt to work on your music assignments.
It wedges on your shoulder as you sit at the piano in the practice rooms of the conservatory. Your oversized manuscript beside you, your pencil fingering the keys as you tempt ideas from your lessons on counterpoint, working on a multi movement chamber series on the stages of grief.
You are too young for this, a voice inside your head screams in objection. Your shoulders slump forward. Your head is bent. Is it concentration on the progression of chords singing on the keys as you play what the pencil scribbles onto the manuscript? Is it the empty feeling inside your gut?

Your twin is gone and it is the third year you will spend the birthday you shared without her.

You run from your dorm room to the practice room… immerse yourself in music. It is the only way you know the distance yourself from the feelings. The dread of that day. The remembering which you can never forget. You run from the practice rooms back to the dorm. It is late. The night is dark and only habit shows you the way. Sometimes in the dorm your friends are chatting together. Sometimes your roommate is working. Sometimes it is so late she is asleep. You fall asleep, exhausted.
Sometimes, when your own work does not consume too many hours, you run to concert halls and hear other students perform their works. At Oberlin there are first class classical and jazz concerts every night. There you can get carried away by the music. For you, the harmonies and instrumental combinations not only soothe, but your mind is charged by analyzing the technical genius of the composition…

Your birthday falls at the end of Spring break and although going home feels special, it can also feel more lonely. Jesi should be there. Your friends… your music… won’t be around you to cushion you from the loss. How will it be, you wonder?

Three years ago, that last birthday you spent together… Jesi was home from hospital between her initial chemotherapy treatment after the cancer returned, gaining strength before she was to return for a bone marrow transplant. Together you celebrated with a pizza party. A small group of school friends splashing ingredients onto the dough you rolled into odd shaped pizzas. Jesi was not well but she laughed it off.

“I guess no pizza for me tonight,” I remember her saying.

You stood next to her at the kitchen bench, your arm around her, a plate of cup cakes and an enormous bowl of fruit in its midst. I remember the happy birthday candle too. I found it in a bucket full of an odd assortment of stuff in an ethnic shop. A plastic flower when lit, the petals unfolded and rotated slowly, shooting silver sparkles out from the flame while it sung “Happy Birthday to You.”

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This year, I tried to make up for the absence…but how ever could I? Yet you did a wonderful job. You invited your closest friends over, just a handful, friends from college who happen to live near by. You bought party hats and paints and birdhouses to decorate. You ate vegan Thai food and we made vegan cake. We stood around the other side of the kitchen counter and sang to you. And your friends gave you some of the most lovingly handmade gifts ever!

And for all of this, Chris also came home from college to help celebrate your birthday.

Posted in birthdays and grieving, loss of one twin, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Turning Hallmark Traditions into something Special with Spirit…Lessons from the other side.

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I didn’t look up when I spoke. The words sort of tumbled out from I don’t know where. “Why don’t you make him one anyway,” I said. My voice was soft, sort of questioning.
“Where would I send it?” she replied.
“I don’t know. Don’t you have an altar. A memorial. Maybe a place where you keep his special things?” I asked.
Then I glanced at her, slightly lifting my head to the right, to where she was sitting next to me at the table, working on her cards. A litter of pink and silver hearts and stickers. Then I saw it. A single tear had formed at the corner of her eye. It was sitting on her eyelid, suspended. I quickly turned away.
“Maybe it’s not the right thing then,” I added. I turned back to my own work. What right had I, I thought. I hardly knew this woman. We had only met that afternoon. We had been chatting while we were making Valentines Cards and over lunch at a mutual friend’s house but I didn’t know her personally. I didn’t even know who the “he” was she had referred to, or who he was to her. I only knew he had passed on a day when the world had shifted politically and that day would ever have his imprint on it.

Like Jesi. Like 9/11 did for me. So I had blurted out what I did to cope with losing my sweet sixteen year old. But the woman sitting beside me didn’t know anything about that. And I didn’t say anything about it either. I just continued making my cards.

But when Valentines Day came around for the third time since Jesi left her body, her card sat on my altar and I know, although I didn’t have any special sense or message from her on the day itself, that she was aware of my love for her.

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Less than three weeks ago I felt her presence strongly in my room just near the altar. It was the first night I spent in my new apartment and I was in that place between wakefulness and sleep. I sensed her dance into the room, light and full of joy. She hovered above me in the space between my bed and her altar. I knew why she had come. She was telling me she was overjoyed for my moving into a place of my own, a small apartment in the woods.
I know not to expect Spirit to visit at my will. I am learning to trust in Jesi’s presence despite not always being able to control or sense it as I might like to. That is the task I have been given and I am embracing it.
Perhaps that has something to do with my blurting out what I did around the crafting table that afternoon…

Posted in remembering and memorials, Spiritual Beliefs, Writing about Loss of a daughter | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Holiday Traditions and Memories.

In the spirit world time does not exist. Everything happens simultaneously. The striking of midnight, signifying the changing of the years, is inconsequential.
So as I sit here thinking about how with each year passing I move further and further away from the time I spent with Jesi on this earth I know that in some respects, time is irrelevant. One day I will join with her again in the spirit world and it will be as if it were yesterday we last met.

Yet we develop rituals, traditions to mark time. And since Jesi has passed to a timeless dimension our family has adopted a number of new ways of ‘celebrating’ or remembering the time she spent with us on earth.
At first I chided myself for all the new and exciting events we planned.
…That first Christmas when we made that extra special attempt to be merry. We drove into Boston’s North End to eat Italian food at Strega before walking down to the harbor and Faneuil Hall and Quincy Markets to look at the Christmas tree and lights. We carried Jesi in our hearts and placed her prayer card on the table as we ate. We never forget she is absent. We are always aware she is present. Never quite enough. … Why didn’t we ever do this when Jesi was with us? I questioned. …There was one easy answer. Alan and I are divorced and divorced families don’t usually do that sort of thing. Even if they celebrate holidays together, they don’t go out to dine, to shows, on vacations.
But the real reason we were making that extra effort was because we were trying to fill the hole that Jesi left in our lives.

Since Jesi passed and even before, when she was ill, we started doing all sorts of those ‘don’t do’s’. I used to feel weird about them. But now I’ve stopped questioning all those things. I’ve also let go of some of the sadness that Jesi is not here to enjoy them with us physically. She is free in the spirit world. Her ‘life’ there is better than I could imagine. And sometimes when I am anxious or alone I remember that I have an angel, a special guardian on the other side watching over me. She watches over all of us. I know that. And that is a rare gift we have.

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Outside Strega, North End

Christmas 2016 we carried on our new found tradition with one addition. My sister and her family from Australia traveled to Boston to experience their first winter Christmas and joined us at Strega. Again we placed Jesi’s prayer card in the center of the table. The crescendo of voices and conversation rose above it. Four young adults joking, four older adults laughing. No one spoke of Jesi until after the meal when Kari approached me and confided she missed her. Jesi had been in my thoughts too. Sometimes in is difficult for company, with the passage of earth time, to remember. Not a day goes past that I don’t think of Jesi and I suspect I am not the only one in that boat though.
When we left to walk to Quincy Market I looked up into the dark starry sky and wondered…Was Jesi there too? Which star was she hiding behind? Did she know I was thinking about her? Did she know how much I still miss seeing her?
….Sometimes I really want to just see her again despite the fact I can still visualize her and imagine the way she walked, laughed and joked around. She possessed such powerful energy even her clothes carry the memory of her inside them.

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Jesi joined us for Christmas Dinner!

New Year 2017 we spent in Stowe Vermont. For many years TRAPP Family Lodge has been a tradition. I remember Jesi telling me the story of when she took her fifty-three inch teddy bear to TRAPP and the bell boy, taking the luggage to their room (this was in the years after Alan and I were divorced; before Jesi got leukemia and I was not part of the vacation) had to carry the enormous bear over his shoulder through the hallways, up to the Maria suite where they were staying. I always picture this scene and think of Jesi when I think about TRAPP.

We did not stay at TRAPP this year but we did visit the Lodge and walk through the hallways and lounges, looking at all the Sound of Music memorabilia hanging on the walls. I thought of the times I had been to TRAPP with Jesi. 2010 when Jesi had just been discharged from Rehab Hospital. We were at TRAPP and Chris and Alan had helped her practice walking up stairs. The neuropathy, a side effect of the chemotherapy she was having, had caused her to lose the strength in her arms and legs for nine months. I remembered our visit in 2012 when Jesi had been determined she would wear suede boots with tall thin heels. I visualized her struggling down the stairs to go to dinner in the restaurant one night. I felt sad as I walked up those same stairs this visit, though I did not share my thoughts with anyone. But Jesi had looked beautiful, dressed in an elegant crimson dress and those boots to match. And she had laughed and been happy regardless.

Jesi’s presence oozes out of all the places she has been. Sometime too much for me to bear.
But here I am, showing my Australian family the places she loved, memories of her percolating, unspoken inside me.


We gave our Aussie family other glimpses of our history too. Kari showed her cousin how to make a snow angel after the almost foot of snow fell over the space of a day and a night. We went cross country skiing (those younger of us) or snowshoeing from TRAPP Lodge, hiking up to Maria’s Chapel where last year I left a note to Jesi wedged between wooden beams supporting the roof. This visit I took my snowshoes off and rang the bell outside the chapel when we arrived. Then I stepped quietly into the small stone church. I placed one of Jesi’s prayer cards below the cross, having no idea how long it would remain there. Someone had cleared the altar of all other ornaments and only two pieces of bark remained. I stood for a moment in silent prayer before turning and glancing up toward the roof. A number of small white scraps of paper, neatly folded, were wedged between the wooden supports. I did not investigate whether mine was one of them before walking back out into the snow and latching the door behind me.

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Looking back into Maria’s Chapel

Jesi came to New Year’s Eve dinner with us too. Her prayer card sitting in the middle of the round table in the restaurant we ate in. She probably spent the night laughing with her siblings and cousins, darting from shoulder to shoulder, glass to glass I imagine. After dinner we all returned to the house we had rented and watched the fireworks at midnight. We have watched those same fireworks many times with Jesi from the balcony at TRAPP Lodge. They are lit from a field below the lodge for the guests who gather to celebrate the New Year.

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Finally, on our return trip to Boston, we stopped in to visit Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. I was hardly in the door before I began thinking about Jesi. She loved cows (not to mention ice cream!!!). As I followed the rest of the tour group up the stairs, the walls painted into green fields with cows grazing peacefully, I was grateful for the visit we had made when Jesi and Kari were toddlers. I imagined how excited Jesi had been then, almost visualizing her little girl self dancing and jumping about, her eyes glowing with delight. I wished she was with us now. She probably was, just that I couldn’t see her face shining with delight this time. She was probably jumping and dancing about all the same though.

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Jesi disguising herself as a cow … She amused herself while in hospital making art out of her photos !

 

Now, as January enters its second week, the Australian family has left for California, continuing their holiday on their way back home. Kari is in Oslo, studying music for three weeks and the house is quiet(er) again. Sometimes it feels lonely without the fullness of bodies and kids. (Chris is just back from an overnight with friends so there is the potential for friends to tumble in!) But I can always depend on Jesi. She may not be here in ‘body’ but she is in Spirit. And she is with my Australian family in California, and Kari in Norway. Watching over us all and keeping us safe.

Posted in Celebrating the Holidays after Loss of a Child, Divorced Family Celebrating Together, Love and Loss, Memories and Revisiting Places after Losing a Child, Mother's Healing Journey after Loss, Writing about Grief | Tagged , | Leave a comment