Tuesday, September 1, 2015

THE GIFTS

The blessings I have received from caring for and loving rescue dogs, as well as people, have been presented to me as an offering and a gift.  I am a  better person filled with love, patience, and purpose. A person who understands that being driven to help other beings originated from the wounded and broken heart of a little girl who never felt or knew love.

From my dogs I now know a comfort and love that I had never felt from anything or anyone else in my life. I feel quite certain that this is odd to some of you.  And this I understand and respect. But it is so in my case.  

While I write, I am surrounded by Rainie, Kelsie and Remy. The peace and love they exude is palpable. I find that I can breathe easier. I feel the tension leave my shoulders.  I find my jaws relax, as I watch them inhale and exhale so quietly.  They sometimes change position, reminding me to do the same.  I am consistently amazed as they offer this unique kind of meditation.

A friend wrote and told me dogs remain faithful and that their gazes have a steady loving accepting effect on me.  She said that I am the companion of Kelsie, the human whose hand steadies Rainie, and whose heart sustains Gracie, Remy and Hope. Upon  deeper reflection, I ask could it be the other way around?

Five innocent angels all needing my love, attention, calm and receptive presence.  I must focus and stand firm!

In the midst of a life filled with chaos, tension and struggle, I have learned to ask myself where calm and peace lie for me.  The answer is easy.  All I have to do is look down beside me. 

I don't have to dream of what love is further.  I see it. It surrounds me.  I feel it, just as I can see colors and light and shapes in clouds and in the tide coming in and out and never ceasing, with a calming and receptive presence.
 
In this place I can focus and stand firm and rejoice in the purpose of my life. 




Saturday, August 22, 2015

LETTING PAIN GO

THERE’S ALWAYS A REASON

On the eve of Gracie's 12th birthday I find myself reflecting back. 

When I was a very young child I felt something was missing. The answer came I learned later.  I had missed being loved. I knew I was different and that something wasn’t the same as other children.  I was allowed few, if any friends. I dreamed my dolls, at least the ones I was allowed to play with, were my friends.  I would talk to them, tell them my deepest secrets, and hold them close when no one else was there for me, which was most all of the time.

Today, I find my head filled and cluttered much like a pot, basket,  or jar, with words that define my work and my life, lost hopes and dreams, and dreams I never knew I had that have come true and those that most likely never will.

In writing Gracie's book, I pull from a place in my memory of my first dog, Blackie. I was about three or four years old and had repeated a bad word my father had said.  My mother, seething and ranting with anger, took a bar of soap and ‘washed’ out my mouth.  Not understanding any of it, I ran sobbing out the back door and into the yard. As I sat on the back steps, my cocker spaniel, Blackie, ran to me.  He jumped into my lap and laid his head on my shoulder. I held him and cried for what seemed like forever. It was the first time I had felt someone, or something, loved me. I could never have imagined that that moment would have led me to a lifetime of devotion to all things dog!
 
Looking back decades, I remember that moment feeling a comfort and love that I had never felt from anything or anyone before.

From that day until today, dogs have understood and been there and balanced me when I didn’t think I could take another step. They have taught me phenomenal lessons about life, pain, sorrow, healing, grief, but most of all about unconditional love.  I have never known or felt that feeling before from anyone. I sometimes feel ill equipped to even write or attempt to explain it.

What I do feel equipped to write about is, quite literally, a lifetime of pet therapy and how lives are changed, moments of grief softened, smiles brought to faces that had seconds before been vacant.  Spilling out into my writing now, it is easy to see why I sincerely see the reason I was placed on this earth.  There is a place deep inside of me where I feel the same, or similar emotions, as do my patients.  I have wanted them more than anything on earth, for a while with Gracie, to feel the comfort, acceptance, and grace I felt when Blackie taught me what love is all about simply by his presence. I don’t have to dream of love any more. I see it.  I feel it just as I can see colors and light and shapes in clouds and the tide coming in and out and never ceasing.

Moments with Gracie are treasures beyond words. They are gifts I will cherish forever.  For they are real and filled with love,  No pretenses, no falseness, only a feeling that there is nowhere and no one I would rather be with, as I write and sit with her by my side.  I inhale her fragrance, her bravery and her love.  I want never to forget these moments for what they truly are ~ moments of clarity about what really matters to me and what doesn’t. I have carried around pain, anger and longing, disappointment and regret for too long.


With Gracie I have learned there is no other choice but to be brave.  As a complete stranger said, “Gracie has determination beyond the world.” Her warriors and patients have given her her eyesight back…and she now  sees with her heart. And she has taught me to cherish my life moment by moment. And it is this I hope to share in her book with others. BECAUSE OF GRACIE is in the rewrite stage.  It has to be top priority until it is completed.

Ernest Hemingway said, "There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."  This is where I have found the answers, and where I have found grace and peace and a lifelong mission fulfilled. For when I began to follow my heart, the world conspired to help me ~ because of Gracie. 

What has been so powerful in Gracie's influence?  Time with her drowns out pain in her patients and her momma, as often those of us flattened by life begin to inflate just a bit in her presence. A paw extended can bring clarity to an ordinary moment. She has been an extraordinary dog, serving extraordinary people. 

As for me the day she came into my life, I was challenged to live with forgiveness.  Perhaps this is what forgiveness looks like in the ordinary moments and encounters of my life.  From Gracie and our warriors, I have learned what it is like to weep, what makes us fall and stumble and then somehow rise and go on.

Happy 12th Birthday little one.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

AN ANGEL IN OUR MIDST

Throughout Gracie's life, there has never been a single doubt that whenever she has been present something quite extraordinary and beautiful has taken place.  Whether with a stranger or friend, young or old, lives change, messages are whispered, and the fine art of living in the moment becomes a special occasion of inexplicable importance.

Gracie for over eleven years, without provocation or vision, has provided answers to pain, suffering, fear, anger, angst, loss, celebration and jubilation.  She has been an angel, a prayer that walks into difficult and sometimes unfathomable and deeply painful situations, providing answers to endless questions, for what have seemed to be no explanation.  Twenty seconds with Gracie is sometimes all she needs to find that breakthrough.  In that moment and place in time nothing else seems to matter.  She mystically exposes an opportunity and provides an opening for suffering to exit and for light and laughter and even an unexpected clarity and peace to enter.  She is and has her entire life been a gift to hundreds and hundreds of individuals, who have needed her more than they could have ever imagined.

I have no answers as to why.  I only know that when a little boy, the son of a wounded warrior, gazed into Gracie's sightless eyes for what seemed like forever and then looked up at me in wonder and said, "Look she has snowflakes in her eyes," my perception of life assumed a different meaning.  

There sometimes are no easy answers as to why we are on this earth and what our sacred mission is.  I have been blessed, as I know what my mission is as I have held Gracie's leash and watched the miraculous and the inexplicable occur.  Gracie has been in the right place at the right time for those who have needed her the most.

On the eve of her 12th birthday, I reflect back over our lives together and all of the miraculous moments I have been blessed to witness and be a part of.  This year I have seen her through the removal of her remaining eye and two critical spinal surgeries.  She still marches on, although a bit wobbly, and teaches me that each single moment on this earth has been and is a tremendous gift and blessing to be faced with joy.

What I previously deemed as having extraordinary importance has taken a back seat to simply being with Gracie and exploring the inexplicable, the beautiful, the mysterious, and watching moments of grace unfold.

Unpredictable tales of love surround her, as I page through hundreds of photographs that provide a visual narrative. Memories surface and her stores beg to be told.  For within these snapshots, questions are answered and the 'why' and the 'how' hold no meaning. That they happened is sufficient.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

THERE'S ALWAYS A REASON

For a couple of months I have begun laboriously working on Gracie's book ~ GRACIE, LOVE IS BLIND.  I began writing it 11 years ago.  The middle of last year I decided it was time to pull all the scraps of paper with notes that had been written following, or during her work with the wounded warriors and critically ill patients.  All of this currently is in piles and piles throughout my office.  And so I began.  Putting her life in chronological order was and still is not easy.  Sorting through all the pieces of Gracie's life has been a tremendous journey.  The book is no where near completion.
 
I tell you all of this because for the past couple of months, I have felt an incredible urgency about completion of the manuscript.  I couldn't then and can't now explain it.  Perhaps because I was afraid I would lose her before it was completed.  Or perhaps because I feared I couldn't  put words together that would define the brilliant light she has been in so many lives, not the least of which has been mine.  Or perhaps  it was as simple as how do you define love?  
I still don't have a clear reason behind these feelings, but today I sit in a silent agony, for tomorrow my littlest angel goes into surgery for the second time in a week for the second herniated discs in her neck. I don't want to go into specifics, for quite frankly right now it is too raw. 

I am praying, people across the country are praying, and people across the world are praying.  I ask myself time and time again what is it about this wee angel that has brought so many people together to pray for her life to be saved.  People from Japan, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and the list goes on, are writing and apologizing for their lack of skills in English.  But the message is loud and clear. They all love Gracie and her amazing mission on this earth.  A little dog that was born with little and deteriorating vision, has lost an eye, and has fought her own battles with additional health issues. She is now 11 1/2 years old.  One week and two days ago her back legs stopped working.  Two days later her front legs went out.  During a complicated surgery, she began to bleed profusely and the second of the two discs was not able to be operated on. Tomorrow is basically her last chance.

Needless to say her book has been put on hold for the time being.

My recent thoughts about Gracie and reviewing her life are varied. People want to cheer on the underdog, and all of us can in one way or another relate to that. We do not want something so innocent suffering.  It causes us to suffer. For her entire life from 7 1/2 weeks, when I stopped her from being euthanized, she has had the will to survive.  The will to survive in the midst of chaos and desolation.  She has been a rose, a tulip, in the snow. 

Looking back, quite literally all of Gracie's moments are treasures to me. She has made me more keenly aware of other moments in my own life.  This I look at as an unbelievable gift. 

In her book, I will be able to share with the world the joy that is Gracie. Gracie's lifelong mission has been one of providing hope and perseverance through all of her many challenges.  And this she has done with grace. And again I ask why have people worldwide have found such inspiration and love in this little angel.

I believe she has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration on how to treat other people.  She gives of herself without reservation or judgment, despite her own issues, with blind faith.  And isn't that how we should all be?  She loves without fear.  Blind, she will bump into something, shake it off and keep on going.

Everyday of her life she has given so much love.  And everyday that I have had her, I have made abundantly certain that she knows just how much she is loved. Her face, demeanor, and spirit speaks  an international language of love and perseverance.  Her scars are evident.  Scars people relate to both physically and emotionally.  But in her, they witness the overcoming of these differences.  With Gracie there is a picture of trust.  Her scars are a lesson to all of us, that no matter what the stumbling blocks, we must keep on going. 

So I will now revisit Gracie's past and future, if we are so blessed, with a different focus and perspective.  A healing story is anticipated, an awakening story, as I unravel the threads of her life that have bound her to so many, many loving caring people across this planet.

Tonight I ask for prayers for Gracie, the surgeon, and surgical team tomorrow, and I ask for healing for this little angel on earth who has been a healing force for so many, to include her momma.  I ask for saving grace.
 
"But eyes are blind.  You have to look with the heart."
~ The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 
 
 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A STRANGER HELD ME TODAY

This morning I went to the Emergency Animal Hospital where my little Gracie has been for almost a week. I have gone every day to see her.  She is not improving.  She is in pain. She is attached to tubes and monitors and on pain meds and IV fluids.

 
Two days from now a decision will need to be made.  Do we face another surgery so she has a chance at walking once again, or do we end her life?
 
Ending her life. Three words full of  agony. I have had her for eleven and a half years.  And now I am to make this decision after I speak with her surgeon on this coming early Monday morning.  I will learn if surgery is not possible due to her fragile condition or if surgery is possible and success is unknown.  And of course there is the positive side that surgery could be done and be successful.
 
How do you make this decision? How do you end the life of some beautiful little soul that is imbedded in your heart and has been since she was seven weeks old?  'Heart Dog'...they call it.
 
Gracie saved my life once upon a time.  And truth be know, several times. She has been an anchor for wounded warriors who could not face a tomorrow.  Now when I need her the most to hold me up, sustain me, look at me from her sightless eyes and tell me everything will be alright, she can't. 
 
How do I count the hours until the conversation with the vet?  How can I take another step, another breath?
 
How do I know if I will ever hold her close to my heart and hear her breathing in my ear?
 
How do I stop the tears?
 
Will I ever hear music again?
 
Will I find laughter ever again?
 
I want to hear her bark to go outside and search for squirrels, and lie in a sunbeam, and race to the fence to bark at the dogs next door. I want to see her standing by her feeding spot, twirling and whirling for breakfast and dinner.  I want to feel her next to me on the bed, as she coos in contentment. But most of all, I want her to live.
 
Eight days ago she was perfect.  Today she cannot walk and is fighting for her life.
 
Today I sat by her cage at the specialty hospital and laid my hand on the top of her head.  I gently rubbed her ears, the spot she likes the best.  I whispered to her and I softly sang a prayer to her and I told her I loved her more than anything on earth. I sat there for two hours. I didn't want to ever leave.  I was afraid. 
 
The doctor and the nurses and the receptionist and everyone saw my face covered in tears.  They all said they were sorry.  Said, as if it is over and there is no hope.  "The doctor will evaluate her on Monday to see if she can withstand surgery."  This was of no comfort.  If she cannot withstand surgery, there will be no other choice and the music will end in my life.
 
There was no one else in the lobby except one man about my age who had pulled into the parking lot at the same time I did.  We exchanged a few words.  He saw the sadness in my eyes, and I saw it in his.  His dog has cancer in his leg.  We were called to the back to visit our babies.  He came out a little before I did and sat and waited for me.
 
As I came down the long hallway with tears and fears streaming down my face, this stranger, this complete stranger put his arms around me and held me, as I sobbed into his shirt.  He said he was sorry.  He asked if I was okay to drive and if no one had come with me.  I told him I was indeed alone. He wanted to know if there was anyone he could call to come be with me and make sure I got home safely.  I told him no there was no one.
 
He walked me to my car and told me he would be praying for Gracie.  Being alone and afraid is what my life has been like forever.  But for a moment the warmth, safety, understanding, and genuine caring of this stranger, holding a woman he had never met, provided me comfort and the ability to realize that someone else on this earth cares in the same way I do. Our souls touched in a shared fear for our beloved and cherished dogs.  As he said "there is no greater love."  That I know for a fact.
 
Thank you God for this stranger and the depth of his compassion and caring.  I know we were brought together for a reason.
 
 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

THORNS TO DEFEND US AGAINST THE WORLD

We all have thorns to defend us against the world!  Yet it is more than apparent that time and time again Gracie has walked into places, spaces, and faces and the thorns seem to disappear.  They are replaced by memories of moments when life was easier. Times when laughter was the norm and memories of peaceful, happy times return and bring untold treasure back to lives. Fears and complications vanish and suddenly people find they are in a place where nothing else is important but Gracie's gift she so generously gives. In her presence, many have learned how to breathe again.  In the exhalation the stress and depression and lost of joy seems to vanish.
 
As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said in The Little Prince, "The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen." For many of us, our wounds are not visible and we keep them tightly secured inside. But for those whose wounds are visible it is a little harder.  Are they judged? Are they shunned?  This is where Gracie's journey begins.
 
They are so many lessons to be learned from this little dog.  She has had little to no vision her entire life, yet has found joy in simply being alive.  She has one eye removed and was a trooper.  She has had chronic health issues and adjusts and adapts and keeps her joy of life flowing. Dan Zadra said "Surround yourself with people who believe you can." I would include Gracie in this. It is her mission on this earth to bring light and laughter and love to everyone she meets. 
 
What living with her for almost 12 years has given me is having been blessed to watch her at work with her wounded warriors and to realize the strength in the words of Emily Dickinson when she wrote, "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else."  I see this in Gracie.  I have never seen it in another person or creature.
 
What an amazing gift and blessing she has been and remains to be to this world.  These messages we should all pay attention to.  For in them is brilliance and light.  If Gracie could talk, she would tell us to get on with this business of living in the same way she does.  By sharing, by caring, and by opening our sightless eyes and minds to what really matters.  What makes the day worth living and what puts its mark on this world.  Love and joy at simply being given this one breathtaking gift of just being alive.
 
Lewis B. Smedes wrote, "We get control of our lives, ultimately not by willpower, but by surrender.  The final secret lies in amazing grace."
 
Gracie was aptly named. For she is grace personified.
 
 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT BEING PERFECT

What is fear anyway?  How do you handle it?  What do you do with it? How do you make it stop? Or do you hold it close and tuck it inside a teardrop?

Right now I am afraid.  Afraid for my little 11 1/2 year old blind PBGV who is having an MRI and then immediate surgery after.  Hundreds and hundreds from around the world love her, adore her, and are praying for her.  She has been in my heart since she was 7 weeks old and within hours of being euthanized, because she wasn't perfect. Born with an eye issue, she wasn't able to be sold or bred so the only other answer was to eliminate her.  What compassion and love of life.

I stepped in and said 'No', she is mine.  And 'she will be a soldier's angel'.  And that she has been, for nine years.  She has also been my angel time after time after time.  In turmoil, I have turned to her.  In happiness, I have turned to her and in sadness I shed tears into her neck. I have scratched her neck and snuggled her neck and slipped bandanas around her neck and loved smelling the special Gracie fragrance found only in her neck.

And it is her neck, that has held all of my tears and joys, that is the issue at this time. As I write this, she is just coming out of the MRI and going into immediate surgery to decompress discs 6/7 and 2/3 in her neck. Three days ago her front and back legs just went out. Herniated disks. I don't mind admitting I am scared.  She is older and anesthesia frightens me ~ always has, whether people or pets. And I am not in favor of  being out of control. But I 100% trust her doctors. They are special, extraordinary, caring, compassionate human beings.
 
So today I trust.  I trust the doctors and a higher power to bring her through this and back to me. Gracie has been the soldier's angel for a decade.  Now retired she is my angel.  With all of her issues, blindness, removal of an eye, chronic urinary tract infections, and more, I melt like jelly just looking at her. To me, she is a light like none other. I treasure her and cherish her.
 
On the way to the specialty hospital this morning, I remembered the hundreds of times she and I drove to a rehabilitation hospital to work with patients. I remembered the hundreds of warriors she helped come back to reality from war.  I remembered her racing around my house as a puppy with a torn lavender filled eye pillow, flinging it all over the house so joyfully.  I remember her carrying the sofa pillows to the back yard. I remember her finding a lost turtle in the garden and sitting barking by its side till I came to the rescue. But most of all I remember loving her like nothing else in my life.
 
She brought me through a personal hell.  She made me smile when I didn't think I would ever smile again. She has taught me what unconditional love and acceptance is all about.  But most of all she taught me to never give up no matter what, to love deeply and sincerely, to cherish the little things and the extraordinary moments that come and go before we know it. And she has taught me acceptance of disabilities and to keep on keepin' on through  pain to the other side! And her everyday lesson could be summed up in these words....."what is the big deal about being perfect?"

This morning I sang her favorite song to her, trying to choke back tears, as I drove her to the hospital. "Jesus loves me this I know. For the bible tells me so.  Little ones to him belong.  They are weak but he is strong."  

The phone should ring shortly.  I should be patient.  I should be strong.  But truth is the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes are winning. Aren't I supposed to be the strong one?  Dealing with wounded warriors with multiple amputations and burn survivors should have made me strong.  

Maybe it did, in just a different way.  Oh to hold her close once again.