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.



 

Friday, February 6, 2015

LULU

SEVERAL YEARS AGO...SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY!  HOW I LOVED HER.
Lulu…
Someone said we are given memory so we can smell roses in December.
 I had expected it to be on the front page of the Sunday paper, condolence calls, and flowers at the front door.  But there were none, nor were her life’s accomplishments in the obituary section of the paper. 
No one’s life was better for having known her, but mine.
 She was the epitome of beauty.  When she and I took long walks, cars would stop to just look at her.  Her eyelashes framed her large eyes as she followed every move I ever made. 
She wasn’t social or exuberant and her favorite place on earth was inside the house.  It was the only place she ever really wanted to be.
Her first two years she spent confined to a cage, barely big enough for her to turn around in.  On weekends she was left alone in the dark.  She hated closed in spaces and longed for freedom.  I took her into my heart and home to find that she would take great delight in blessing my home with large branches, huge dirty footprints, and a dead rat.  The sofa cushions would become toys and were often found in the back yard.  Her beautiful white fur would decorate the shrubbery like Halloween decor.
She spent her last winter, as I had hoped she would, chasing birds and sniffing the air with contagious enthusiasm and energy.
Lulu taught me patience, tolerance and that good things come sometimes in very large packages.  She hated cameras and being left alone.  Despite her 145 pounds she was unobtrusive and preferred to stay in the background.  She was terrified of thunder and hated the long hot days of summer. 
The lid of the toilet had to be open and the kitchen countertops needed to be scrutinized for possible leftovers. Many a sandwich disappeared if I had to answer a phone call.
Lulu and I went through 4 vacuum cleaners.
She would have loved today.  Bright, cool, crisp and blue skies. 
I watched her being born and held her just minutes later on New Years Day.  I gave her her first bath.
Once I admitted her into my life, I’ll never forget her.  I sometimes sense her in the kitchen nudging the pantry door to remind me that suppertime is close.  I always felt safe with her around.  When in truth, it was more likely Lulu who felt safe with me around.
I am glad she knew no harm would ever come to her ~ ever again. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

ACCEPTANCE


ACCEPTANCE

Entering the rehabilitation gym full of people I hear someone, referring to a patient, say, “Just shoot me if I get that way.” 

Where does that mentality come from?  Is it fear, impatience, selfishness, or apathy?  I’m just not sure. The one thing I do know is that it is not from a place of love, reality, compassion or respect.  It is not all about us.  It is about the patient, the person, this real person struggling to heal, to take another breath, to look forward to seeing his grandbaby again, or to return to his or her spouse, struggling to walk or talk.  It is about many things.  These patients didn’t ask to be in this position or even this place. 

It is also about our parents or family members who sacrificed and raised us, as best they could.  It isn’t about our inconvenience; it is about what is right, honorable, and the proper thing to do.  Has caring for a family member or friend become so obtrusive to our lifestyle and precious time that we have lost something vital to our very existence? 

How terribly sad!  I think of Gracie, my therapy dog, by my side that isn’t able to see, and yet in her darkness she quite simply loves and accepts people, people she has never met before, just as they are, with all their foibles, deformities, idiosyncrasies, and tribulations. 


Why can’t we be the same?  Why is there is so little tolerance for imperfection in our society? Why is it we have been conditioned to seek only perfection? 

We are all who and what we are intended to be.

A pearl begins as a defect.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

GRACIE'S MAIDEN VOYAGE


GRACIE’S MAIDEN VOYAGE

I had intended on taking Gracie to the rehab hospital on a beautiful October Sunday morning for her first therapy dog in training adventure. She was only twelve weeks old, and I didn’t expect much. In fact, I didn't know what to expect.  But we had to start sometime and this seemed as good a time as any.  I had intentionally selected Sunday, because it would be less crowded and distractions and stimuli for her would be less. I wanted her to just walk the halls and visit with staff and perhaps family members of patients. Many of the patients had day or weekend passes, so it seemed a perfect time. 

I prayed all the way there that she wouldn’t be stressed by being sightless in a new environment with all the strange sounds and smells. Little did we know what lay ahead.

Dressed in her pumpkin bandana, Gracie entered the recreation gym and was instantly requested by a physical therapist to come into the center of a circle of twelve patients, all in wheelchairs, doing stretching exercises. They seemed bored, uninterested, and simply doing what they were told. No one smiled or spoke.  As we walked into the circle of wheelchairs, Gracie showed no fear, no trepidation, nothing but enthusiasm, as she charmed each patient one by one.  As she went from wheelchair to wheelchair, placing her front paws on the padded arm of each chair, she got pats and snuggles and stories of their dogs at home. Smiles came to faces and conversations were started. It was clear a career had begun, a career that would end in hundreds of lives being significantly changed for the better.
Next assignment on day one, Gracie was requested to visit with a patient to assist him with focusing on manual dexterity.  She was placed, at the therapists request, on a bed with a wounded warrior with a traumatic brain injury just flown in from Iraq days before.  She loved it when he laughed at her antics.  The  staff told me it was the first time he had shown any emotion at all. She snuggled into his neck, lay quite still and in her own way told him everything was going to be okay. It was then that he moved his arm to put around her and pet her. Again a huge accomplishment, as therapists looked at each other in amazement.  He whispered and asked if she could walk beside his wheelchair to the front door of the hospital, because he wanted her to meet his wife and surprise her with Gracie and the news that he moved his arm. His only arm. He asked when she would return and kissed her nose goodbye 'until next time' !

We went back into the hospital with the intention of packing up her thing and getting ready to leave.  It was then that word had spread and Gracie had a request by a nurse to visit with a despondent cancer patient. They sat together for what seemed a very long time.  Words were not exchanged, but Gracie snuggled and snuggled into this young woman's side and silent messages were sent, each to the other.  Tears ran down the face of this patient and Gracie seemed to sense it and snuggled in even closer.  This little one who normally was vivacious and more than energetic quite simply sensed what was needed and provided it.

No one could tell that she was unable to see.  On leash, she stayed right by my side and danced and twirled on her back legs, causing everyone to laugh.  This was the best medicine possible. I kept telling her what a good girl she was and how proud I was of her.  I could tell she was getting tired, and as we were leaving a patient with Parkinson’s wanted ‘kisses.’  Gracie was more than willing to oblige.  He told us all about his puppies waiting for him at home and how anxious he was to see them again, but in the meantime asked for Gracie to return to see him. 
It was as we were leaving that the young cancer patient, who was despondent just minutes before, called us to her side and whispered softly, “I have fallen in love. I love her. I love Gracie.”
Not bad for day one of a journey of a lifetime!

*****
“It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special.” ~ Thessalonians 1:4