It is a journey.
It is a journey.
This morning we had our corgi, King, put down, put to sleep, euthanized. So many pretty words to say something so hard and so simple. We had our dying corgi killed.
Late one night ten years ago our 19 year old cat had a stroke. We immediately took her to an all-night veterinary clinic to be “put to sleep”. She was so old and she was so frightened and she could not stay upright. Her eyes radiated panic. I made a very quick and decisive and easy decision.
Josiah, who was the age Jubilee is now, 10, insisted on coming and on watching. We TOLD him we were having Frankie “put to sleep.” He was shocked and traumatized when, at the clinic he realized what “put to sleep” meant. The look on his face and his desperate plea, “You mean she is dead?” still rattles my soul. We made no vague illusions with Jubilee. Josiah felt deceived and we intended no deceit. Some things cannot be softened by pretty words. With Jubilee we were quite clear.
The decision with King was not as clear. His decline was slow and his ability to adapt was stunning. Feeding had been a problem for a months. I was very creative concocting tempting foods and, when I held the bowl for him, he would eat the new cuisine for a day or maybe two and then stop eating again. I cooked more for King in the last two months than I have cooked for my family in the last year!
Friday, the 26th of June Jubilee, Roy, Peter, and I took a road trip to see the eldest child, Ruth, her husband, my friends, our friends, and NYC. Between the time we left in the morning and David coming home after work, King had a stroke. He could not stand, he was panting and drooling and David called very upset thinking he would have to “put him down” that night, but King rallied. We decided to keep him comfortable and let his life run its natural course. King proved to be a fighter.
For 11 days he refused to eat and would take just a little water. He listed heavily to the right and could not stand up. He figured out how to move up and down the hall by leaning against the wall and dragging his back end along. (I think the left back leg still had some get up and go, but he listed so heavily to the right that it did not do him much good.) Every day we called to see if King was “still with us.” Every day we were amazed to hear he was still alive.
The day we returned, Tuesday July 6th, he started eating, sort of. He deigned to drink Ensure protein drinks. We started very slowly, but his digestive tract was NOT in agreement with his renewed appetite. He became more and more distressed and on Thursday night we decided- no, I decided – it was time to make preparations. Saturday and Sunday the kids and David would be at a big swim meet and I did not want to be home alone trying to dig a grave under our fig tree.
In a feminist fail, I asked David if he would dig a grave for King. David, remembering how much it helped Josiah to dig the grave for our first dog, Wolf: digging and crying, digging and crying, digging and crying- invited Jubilee to join him. When Peter came home from coaching he helped, too. While they dug, I picked imperfect pears.
Thursday night was hard. King, only able to move forward, kept getting himself stuck in corners which required several midnight reorientations. David also got up with him several times when he was agitated, scared, and panting- an indication of pain or distress. I finally made a barricade using my 33 year old Singer sewing machine to fill the most obnoxious niche enabling King to keep moving forward without getting wedged into the cracks. We hoped he would “pass” naturally, but the distress level in the house, his and ours, was palpable.
Euthanasia. Such a slippery slope. Yes, we don’t want our animals to suffer, but there is also the pull to avoid our own suffering. We “put them out of their misery” when they are our animals, and yet we deny our fellow human beings the same courtesy. We have to be careful to put them out of their misery and not just be putting them out of our OWN misery. We all know the legends about putting the elder member of the tribe on a sled and hauling them out to the woods to be left to die. Compassion. Self-preservation. Such a slippery slope.
(My sporadically affectionate cat is sitting next to me. I wonder if she knows. “Storm, do you know?)
When I was ready to make the decision to have King “put to sleep”, “put down” I imposed mightily on our horse vet. Dr. Alton and his team of wonderful, caring veterinarians and assistants has been there for us through some hairy situations. (Literally hairy. A huge hairball wedged into Big Red’s second colon and required surgery.) Dr. Alton’s predecessor, Dr. Howell, helped us the week before Christmas, 2010, put down Ribbons, another elderly and sickly cat. He was at the barn looking after horses when I asked him to “put down” Ribbons who was having his first good day in several weeks. He agreed. He and his assistant took Ribbons into the back of the barn and held him and stroked him and “put him to sleep.” I wanted that for King.
Thursday I had texted Dr. Alton and talked to him on the phone. He graciously agreed to help us. Friday morning I texted Dr. Alton that we were coming and asked if he would meet us outside. “You bet.”
Peter and Roy came home from swim practice Friday morning and Peter played his guitar for King. King had always been a fan of music. Guitar lessons and piano lessons were his favorite days. As soon as the instruments came out King was in the middle of the action. Since King’s hearing was pretty much gone Peter sat on the floor with King and played. Some of the time with the guitar touching King’s side so he could feel the vibrations. Some of the time, just resting the instrument on his leg while King leaned against the same leg. King seemed very happy. We encouraged King to drink some water.
The ride to the other side of Granbury is just shy of half an hour. King and Jubilee rode in the back bench seat of our 20 year old Ford van. Jubilee sat on King’s right so King could list to the right against the seat back and Jubilee would stop his forward motion. He scooted forward and laid his head in her lap. King loves riding in the van and he did not seem to mind Jubilee’s tears and kisses as we drove. He kept looking up and bonking her in the face with his pointy corgi nose. The tongue, as quick as ever, would lap her drippy-from-crying nose. It was a good ride and I am thankful for the intimate time Jubilee and King had together.
We parked beneath a huge oak tree in front of the clinic and texted our doctor that , whenever it was convenient, we were here. He and a man whose name I did not get- a vet in training- came out to “do the deed.” Dr. Alton kept apologizing, “I am so sorry. I know this is hard for you.” He shared, what we instinctively knew, that this is the hardest part of his job. Truth be told, I should have been the one apologizing, it was hard on everyone present. I was asking a lot from this good man and he gave sacrificially. He is a dad with children just younger than Jubilee and I know Jubilee’s grief was tearing him up.
Isn’t it interesting how tear, liquid from the eyes, and tear, to rend apart, are spelled the same in English. Indicative of their close association or coincidence?
I brought a large rectangular plastic storage bin and King’s favorite blanket for bringing him home. Ruth and I sewed up the blanket for him several years ago when his joints started getting stiff. It was a huge fuzzy pillow sham which we filled with thick memory foam. We had removed one of the seats in the van which made a nice open place in front of the open van doors. I picked up King and moved him from the bench seat next to Jubilee and placed him on his blanket in the bin on the floor of the van. He greeted the new arrivals. King LOVED riding in the van and he LOVED meeting new people. He was overtly gregarious.
The sky was blue with a few wispy clouds and there was a breeze, a cool breeze. The equine veterinarians, angels of mercy, came out to our extravagantly painted van, shared our pain, and suggested that we not watch.
Sharing pain is a beautiful gift.
Jubilee and I climbed over a rail fence, which was a little taller than it looked, and sat on the beautiful slab, stone-hinge benches under the same oak tree as the van. Jubilee sat in my lap and cried. Ten years old is not too old to be held and holding her was comforting to me. She told me she was not ready. I told her I was not either. I did not realize that our ministers of mercy would “treat” King right there in the van. I am so grateful! It was good to share the old gnarled oak with King for “the end.”
From where we sat, with the open van doors blocking our view, we could see our veterinarian’s legs and feet beneath the door and the tops of their heads through the door windows. Dr. Alton had to leave to switch meds as King’s veins were already collapsing. King did not make any sounds and he was always quick to make verbal complaint- a trait of corgis. I took comfort in King’s silence, the katydids, the sky, the breeze, the clouds, and Jubilee’s open expression of our shared grief. Our unnamed veterinarian stayed with King while Dr. Alton fetched the new meds. We could tell that Dr. Alton’s associate was stroking King. I love our vet-in-training for staying with King and loving on him. It would have been within his right to stand and stretch or just step away from the trauma for a moment. He stayed with King and comforted him and by comforting King, comforted us.
Next week I will drive back out there and ask him his name, ask him and thank him.
A few minutes after Dr. Alton returned they were finished. Both our heroic equine veterinarians hugged us wished us well. I did not get his name, but I got a sincere hug. I went to the van, ahead of Jubilee, and found King gently wrapped in his soft lime green blanket. The little white paw prints on the material made it the perfect doggie shroud. King was still warm as I pet him through to blanket to say goodbye and determine which end was which. I peeked, his eyes were open. He did not look dead. I decided not to let Jubilee look and she was fine with that. She had held him and loved him while he was alive and it was enough.
Before we buried him she wanted to touch him. “He is so cold,” was all she said.
The drive home was teary. We took turns crying and we cried together. Jubilee called her Dad and her big brother, Forrest. Telling her story to her Dad and to Forrest helped her process. Listening helped me process. Jubilee could not get through to Ruth, her big sister, and that was very distressing for her. She was unable to reach Ruth until almost bedtime.
Because she needed to process and share her grief and was unable to reach Ruth, Jubilee started texting friends. First Melissa and her daughter, Rivers. Melissa is one of my dear friends and River’s is Jubilee’s oldest and dearest friend. Next Jubilee texted Teri. I love that we share friends. Jubilee, 10, and Ruth, 26, both consider Melissa and Teri as their own friends and they are correct. I love inter-generational relationships. They are so important when I screw up or my children feel like they can’t talk to me but still have a trusted adult to talk to. I am so thankful for generous, caring friends who love me and love mine.
Once home I placed King in the basement and Jubilee took a bath and I started writing. Roy and Peter came home from working at the barn a couple hours later and we buried King under the fig tree with its almost ripe fruit. King fit perfectly into the grave David, Jubilee and Peter had dug the night before. Peter gently picked King up from the bin, careful not to disturb his fuzzy shroud, and placed him gently into the ground. Watching my 16 year old son, the youngest boy, take on this heavy responsibility reminded me that soon he will be more man than boy. He will be a good man. I took a shovel and began covering him up. After a minute Roy took my shovel and finished. Peter pried up a large natural stone slab and placed it over King’s grave. We want to make it, if not impossible, very difficult for scavengers to dig him up.
The breeze was still cool.
The katydids were still trilling.
The clouds still wispy.
Our hearts: heavy.
We walked up the incline to the house and ate lunch.
Life goes on.
We search our memories for mercies and joys and ways to be thankful
for what has passed and what is to come.
Begun on Friday, July 10th, 2015 by Gwen Meharg. Completed on the next day. Saturday, July 11th, 2015, Josiah Odell Meharg’s 20th birthday.
(I have had two computer viruses since I began writing this and Storm, my sporadically affectionate cat, has joined me again. She is stretched out sleeping and looking out the window. I reach over and stroke her and tell her, sincerely, that she is a good girl. She isn’t doing ANYTHING. Just laying next to me and I automatically deem her a “good girl.” Maybe I need to talk to myself and my kids that way more often. Laying around enjoying the sun? Good girl! Taking a nap instead of doing algebra? Good boy! Hmmm, maybe not.)
David, Peter and Jubilee are outside digging a place, a grave, for King under the fig tree. We spied three ripening figs. David and the kids are going to be at a two day meet this weekend. In a feminist fail and told them I did not want to dig a grave while they were away. King is still with us but he had another stroke or seizure in the wee hours of the morning.
His days are short and he is JUST a dog, but sometimes JUST DOGS bring a tenderness to the heart that allows unfinished mourning to flow.
We passed the fourth anniversary of the death of my niece in May. This weekend a cousin is finishing packing up her son’s home after his untimely death. Another friend just finished the trial over the wrongful death of her son. It is coming up on the anniversary of one of the death of one of my dearest friends 16 years ago. Another friend lost both her parents, who were also my friends, in less than a year. Summer stirs hearts and katydids drone on and on their song of sorrows.
Yes, King is JUST a dog, but he has also been a good friend and a faithful listener. We have cried several times today. We cried for his impending death. We cried for my sister. We cried for my cousin. We cried for friends and their losses. We cried for our own losses.
Life is hard. So are the pears. But life is also sweet. The pears, just barely. Life is beautiful when we release the illusion of perfection and embrace our scars.
making a way
searching for truth
I am an artist and art is often the grid I use for examining life and faith. Art embraces and capitalizes upon the use of dichotomies. I looked up the definition (thank you Bing) and I was surprised to find TWO definitions. Good art requires the full utilization of BOTH definitions.
1. a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different. Synonyms: contrast, difference, polarity,conflict, gulf, chasm, division, separation, split, contrariety
2. repeated branching into two equal parts.
The first definition included the either/or sentence fragment: “a rigid dichotomy between science and mysticism.”
The second definition does not. I have created my own both/and sentence fragment: “a rigid dichotomy of science and mysticism.”
It behooves us (behoove was fun to use in a blog post!) to consider a large portion of life as befitting (goes nicely with behoove don’t you think?) the second definition, a branching of equal parts.
Consider that orange is the opposite of blue. Yellow and purple are complimentary. Red and green sit at six and twelve on the color wheel. Things get interesting as we leave the simplicity of opposites and explore equal parts and branching. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue unless you are dealing with light when green replaces yellow. We tend towards either/or when we need to consider the complexity of both/and. It opens up so many possibilities.
Black is NOT the opposite of white. Truth is neither black nor white. Grays make color sing. Fact and fiction are more closely related than most imagine with fiction often carrying weightier truth than fact. Fear is not the opposite of faith. And each of us is unique, while all of us are created in the image of God.
Our children do not walk away from faith because of evil college professors or liberal agendas. They walk away because we have offered easy answers, sound bites, and alliterated sermons for life’s problems.
Asking the right question is as important as having the right answer. When reality confronts easy answers, foundations crumble, and the lie of “Easy” is revealed.
Do you have some easy answers from which you might need to repent?
Consider the friend who lost a child.
Consider the spouse who lost their partner.
Consider the child who lost a parent.
Consider the neighbor unable to pay their bills.
Consider the Other.
Have you offered an easy answer? Have you ever wrap an easy answer in a Bible verse?
I know you have. We all have.
Yesterday was the four year anniversary of the death of my niece, Lauren. Death is brutal. Mourning is brutal. Well meaning (mean!) people tossing around scriptures and platitudes to make themselves comfortable with your discomfort is brutal..
I have mellowed, ever so slightly, and I am a kinder person than I was 20 years ago, but toss out a scripture as if it is band-aid and kindness takes a hike.
After Lauren died several months past before I was able to paint again. This is the first painting I did after her death. It was/is different from what I was or am doing, but it was very important. This painting allowed me to move forward. I began with an old painting of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” If I gave it a title, I have forgotten. I will title it again some day, but not today.
So much of life is like this. Death and devastation stops you in your tracks. What was, is no longer. Time stops. Reality ceases to exist. And yet time moves on. There is a disconnect. It takes a while to catch up.
PS I have failed to figure out howto attach the video. I will talk to Matthew Sunflowerman Miller and he will fix it for me eventually. Until then, I am sorry. It was a beautiful morning with birds singing and a cool breeze. No indication of the devastation taking place on the other side of town and down river.
When night falls and my place at the table is empty they will realize I am gone and get up from supper to find me. The night will be glorious. Their food will get cold. The moon will be full. The grasses and spring flowers will be in their full extravagant abundance. The bluebonnets will be past their prime, the paint brushes will still be holding their glory. The buttercups and the wild array of yellow and white and purple flowers will be crowding the trails. The dew will be so thick on the yucca plants that they will glow in the flashlight beams.
o one will find me. They will search for my footprints at the edges of the streams, confident I would not cross the waters. They will peer beneath the trees and bushes in hopes of finding me curled up asleep. They will follow paths worn by deer and coyotes wondering if they might be mine. In the dark they will see eyes glowing back at them. They will hear snorts and rustling and maybe smell the hint of a skunk. Occasionally a mosquito will buzz past their ears, but not too often.
As they wander through the night they will share stories and memories and hopes. As the trails dip they will see their breath on the night air. They will be amazed at how quickly the air and the breeze warms as the trail rises. They had never noticed this subtle shift before. One of them will tell a story about temperature shifts in orange groves from a book they read entitled “Oranges” and they will all laugh that one of them read a book titled “Oranges.” They will make promises to each other to walk together under another full moon during the darkest part of the night. They will see things that are not noticeable in the light of the day. Their hearts will be soft towards each other and they will lean on each other when the trail gets rough. And, yes, they will poke at the large fire ant mounds and speak of the loss of horny-toads to the ant invasion.
They won’t find me. Slowly the understanding that I am gone, not lost, will settle over them. They will speak of how old I was and how many things I could no longer do or no longer do with the same vigor with which I embraced them before. Stories of my last weeks, the love and art and orneriness will have them laughing and crying. They will already be missing me even though it has only been a dozen hours since I disappeared. They will be relieved that I had not been incapacitated or in pain. They will speak of my life with pride and tenderness, but without pretense.
They will be relieved that, while confusing, I chose to go out on my own terms. They haven’t given up on finding me yet, but the urgency of the search is gone. They are preparing for the buzzards, watching the sky for clouds and circling carrion. They will not looking forward to finding my half-eaten corpse, but they laugh in their certainty that any vulture feasting on my remains will suffer severe indigestion.
When my time comes it will be a perfect spring day. The mocking birds and the cardinals and the wrens and a lone dove will be calling back and forth. The woodpecker and the owl and the hawk will be gossiping with the turkeys and the road runner about the white haired woman who put out food when it was cold and wired her tea pots and broken stringed instruments into the trees to house their nests. The squirrels and the opossums will lament the fruit that will no longer be tossed into the bushes for their enjoyment and the butterflies will mourn the loss of kombucha mushrooms nailed to trees for their drunken nourishment.
When my time comes the only thing that will matter is that my family knows they were wildly and passionately and wholeheartedly loved. I think I will take a pillow and blanket with me when I head for the woods. I love creature comforts. When I am found, I hope they have brought shovels. They will dig hole and place me, wrapped in my blanket, there to fertilize the wild flowers. I would be good with them tossing a few stones on the top of my grave like we have done with our deceased pets. (I don’t like the idea of being dug up.)
When my time comes I hope I have the strength and good sense to take to the woods, filled with the aroma of Texas wildflowers, and lay down saying goodbye to this world and hello to the next. It will be good to see Lauren and Carolyn and my Grammies.
Our 15 year old corgi, King, disappeared yesterday, the last day of April 2015, while he was in the yard with Peter. Peter was putting on bug spray and when he finished King was gone. King stays close to his family. He is, or was, half blind and partially deaf and had trouble with kidneys and his back legs. Recently he has taken to pacing during the nights. He is dreadfully thin and we coaxed him to eat with spoons full of lard. He sleeps on a great pile of blankets to cushion his old joints. The night before he disappeared he was running through the house like a puppy. Maybe it was a last hoorah. Maybe he has just gotten lost. If he has gone off to die I say is, “Well done good and faithful dog. Well done.” I hope to follow his example.
Post Post Script
KING HAS BEEN FOUND! Twenty-two hours after his misadventure, a bicycle rider found him over three miles away from our house walking around Benbrook Lake. It is a hard trek to the lake from our house. I cannot believe he survived the night. The biker reported him to the gatekeeper for the Army Corp of Engineers property and the gatekeeper called Animal Control who picked him up. Animal Control was so kind. Jennifer helped us. She referred to King as the dog with the bad legs. We are amazed! KING is ALIVE! WELL DONE good and faithful dog. Well done! Don’t do it again!
I found a jar of Golden Graphite Gray, I added it to my painting and I think I just heard angels singing!
A tray is taped to the plant stand, a Walkers cookie tin is taped to the tray. An upside down circular tea tray rests on top of the tin to provide a stable work area for the computer.
A box that held a beautiful fan from china sits beside the cookie tin so the mouse is not so low that it aggravates the carpel tunnel symptoms. The mouse pad and mouse sit on the silk covered box from China (thank you Avice.)
Not quite perfection but dang close enough! It is easy to move from one side of the studio to the other so it is seldom in the way. Oh, the nursing stool I bought, used, 26 years ago helps with lower back issues. (Sometimes I stand on a wobble board.)
(Plus I can hide chocolate in the cookie tin and nobody will know about it because none of my kids read anything I write!)
I have always painted. For many years, only in my dreams. Those years of dream painting were not wasted, I was working colors and compositions and ideas. I was preparing for some day. “Someday” arrived when my mother-in-law found a one day watercolor class and offered to babysit. I found my heart.
Tiny fingerprints added texture. Ruth sat in my lap and I painted. Forrest rocked in the wind-up swing and I painted. Josiah snuggled in the Guatemalan sling and I painted. Roy nursed in a big pink recliner while I drew and studied composition. Peter slept on my shoulder and I painted. Jubilee, our bonus baby, was easy as her older siblings vied for their turn to hold her and I painted. I raised my children. I educated my children. I educated myself. I lived a full life. And I painted.
I believed the fable of the turtle and the hare and I, the Turtle, painted. Slow and steady would win the race. I built a body of work and then another and another. Slow and prolific wins the race. I painted Texas. I painted loved ones. I painted my orchids. I painted my faith. I painted my prayers. As I painted the paintings transformed from representational images of things to emotional representations of experience.
Today, I paint hope.