The Long Goodbye

I was eight years old when my aunt Joan brought home her Calico kitten, Tabby, to live with her. Joan never married or had kids but her love of animals was legendary in our family. Our fur babies knew Joan was the one to cling to at family gatherings; a taste of whipped cream here, a morsel of hot dog there. We all knew her little Tabby would be spoiled rotten. We were half right.
To say Joan and Tabby had a love/hate relationship would be an understatement. Tabby was quite the huntress, bringing in mice and birds as an offering for her beloved roomie. Unfortunately, most of them were alive when she brought them in the house and I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I told you how many times my mom received a phone call from her shrieking sister while she ran around the house with a broom trying to oust the tiny beasts from her kitchen.
Tabby was a feisty thing, as you’d imagine; most Calicos are. Our family called her “hiss and spit” as an endearment. No, really. It was an endearment. Aunt Joan absolutely adored that cat. Tabby certainly had longevity. She began getting sick when she was seventeen and Joan made the difficult decision to euthanize her when she was eighteen. Joan was devastated. She wasn’t the same person after Tabby died. She was more reclusive and teared up easily when she was around our cats, especially, our Calico, Sara. To put things in perspective; Joan and Tabby had an eighteen year relationship. It was just the two of them against the world. It’s no wonder she was so affected by Tabby’s passing.
We are a nation of animal lovers. Each day I see evidence of this when I’m sitting on my front porch watching neighbors walking their dogs or stopping to pet the horse in the pasture across the street. This winter was unusually brutal in my neck of the woods and when I was able to get my car out of the driveway and plod through the snow I saw many a car drive by with the windows rolled down for their dogs to hang their heads out into the crisp, chill air. That my friends, is love. There has only been one time as an adult that I didn’t have a fur baby in my home. We didn’t have a pet when we moved into our house 22 years ago but it was only for a few months. We got Sara from the Humane Society when she was six weeks old. She was tiny. She also became very sick. She had to visit the vet on several occasions and ended up staying there for nearly a week on antibiotics before she was well enough to come home. Each visit I tried to prepare my four year old for the possibility that Sara may not make it. This is not easy, as many of you well know. However, not only did she recover completely, she was as ornery as ever. We acquired our amazing Rotty/Lab mix, Jake, not long after we adopted Sara and that little stinker backed our 120 lb, dog into a corner, hissing and spitting, like Tabby. Jake folded like paper around her.
We had quite the menagerie at our house for many years. We had Jake, Sara, and our little tuxedo cat, Birddog, who helped us raise our kids. Yes, our cat’s name was Birddog. What can I say, it fit him to a T. Birddog was being fostered by my cousin who worked at the Humane Society. He took in the animals that may not have had a chance at adoption because of their various disabilities. Birddog was a preemie. His mom began losing her litter after arriving at the shelter and all of the babies died but him. He was a little miracle.
Birddog and Jake were fast friends; they played together, snuggled together, and were brothers together. It wasn’t unusual to see Birddog curled up on Jake’s dog bed with him in the evenings. Jake was the best friend you could have. He was a big dog with a barrel chest and a fierce look about him but he was a gentle giant with kids. He was a loyal companion and we loved him like family. Because he was family. We lost him when he was fourteen years old. Old age, the vet said. I’m going to confess right here that I did not take it well. It felt like I had lost a relative. I mourned so hard that I began seeking pet bereavement groups online. It wasn’t until I read the book “Marley and Me” that I realized I wasn’t alone in my grief. There were others who were hurting like I was. We lost our Sara to renal failure when she was nineteen years old. Even though we knew her time was short, we still weren’t prepared for the enormity of our grief. It took years before we were able to get a new dog (Lola). My husband didn’t want another dog like Jake because, “there will never be another dog like Jake.”  We lost our little buddy, Birddog, on Friday. He lived to be sixteen years old. He had been sick for some time and the vet suggested he had cancer. We dutifully gave him his meds, which he hated, and loved on him as much as we could. Birddog was special; he didn’t behave like a cat and we’re pretty sure he thought he was a dog. He wagged his tail like a dog, hated cat treats and catnip, and was more comfortable around dogs than cats. We had a mouse in the house once and he ran from it. When our kitty, Gracie Mayhem, showed up under my daughter’s car one November morning we decided to keep her until her owners could claim her, which didn’t happen. Birddog and Gracie were best friends from the start. She watched over him like a mother, even cleaning his little face while he was sleeping. It was normal to see them spooning on the recliner at night. Birddog was everyone’s buddy. He’d run to the door to greet people and sit on their laps. He didn’t care if you didn’t like cats. Allergic? Aw, too bad! People loved this boy. He would greet you in the morning with, not a meow, but a “woo”. Perhaps, this was why his original name was Roo. Every day of this little guy’s life was filled with love and kisses. He was more than a pet; aren’t they all?
Much like the movie, Marley and Me, there is a time when you look your elderly or sick fur baby in the eye and say, “You’ll tell me when you’re ready, eh buddy?” Each one of our babies let us know when they’d had enough. We can never be prepared for the goodbye. I think when our fur babies turn a certain age it’s always in the back of our minds; it’s coming. It was no different with Birddog. We knew he was sick. We knew he was unhappy. We knew it was time. It didn’t matter; we weren’t prepared for the overwhelming grief that comes with his passing. As for myself, I’ve had a lump in my throat for three days now. I burst into tears for no reason, I see Birddog’s little ghost everywhere he slept. I’ve thrown the meds he hated away, washed his food dish, and gave our other fur babies extra snuggles; they seem to be hurting, too.
Clearly our babies are not just pets. They are not just loyal companions, protectors, or a tool to teach our children responsibility. They are family. Each day someone, somewhere is touched by the death of a loved one and it doesn’t seem to matter if they are man or beast. The love is the same.

   So I’ll let a few tears slip by when I think of what we lost. Each day will get a little better; but not today.  Today it’s okay to miss someone and to remember the unbreakable bond we had for a little while. 

In loving memory of all who left us before we were ready. Thank you for giving us the privilege of caring for you. Always in our hearts.

Love is a Battlefield

As a fairly young but kind of old chick (49) I have lived through my share of tainted love, survived the teen angst years and ran screaming through my twenties, skidding all the way into my thirties.  I’ve had my heart stomped on, hung out to dry, and fed to me more times than I’d care to admit. I’m no expert on love or relationships, if there is such a thing, but I’ve gleaned some great insight from these eye-opening experiences and I’d like to share them with you.

Lately, I’ve noticed an upswing in the phenomenon I’ll call “the revolving door” among women (and a few guys if I have to be honest).  In laymen terms, this means that ladies are desperately trying to find a man to take care of them and when a relationship (if there was one) ends they’re back on the hunt to find a replacement without coming up for air.  This must stop.  Aside from being brutal on the heart, it’s easy to become bitter and jaded, thus, making us vulnerable to guys who may not have our best interest at heart. If your intention is to be in a committed union this might be the blog for you. Ready for some hard truths?

  1. You don’t need a man to make you happy. Sure, they’re handy to have around, especially when there are big, hairy spiders to slay and you need a tire change.  The truth is, you can learn how to change a tire from YouTube videos. Hell, call me and I’ll show you how to do it. If you rely on another human being to fulfill your needs you are doing it wrong.  You need to be comfortable in your own skin, with your own company, before you can appreciate what you have to offer others. If you have to depend on the company of others to make you feel good about yourself, you need a therapist, not a dude. It’s your job to make you happy. 
  2. Sex and love are two different things, and mean something different to men and women. You do not have to sleep with someone to get them to like you. If you’re doing this already, stop. There is no mystery when you give it up after the first date. No judgements here, just solid advice. We have become a society of casual hook-ups and women are paying dearly for it.  Here’s some trivia for you: The more sexual partners a woman has in her lifetime increases her chances of developing cervical cancer.  Think about that. Protect yourself and stop throwing your body at guys to get their attention.  If you really want a guy to like you give him a chance to get to know you. If he doesn’t want to get to know you, move on. RESPECT yourself. You’re worth it and you won’t regret it.
  3. Meeting people on the internet is completely alien to us old folks. I met my husband the old fashioned way; in a bar, where my mom told me not to meet people.  Back in the day, people met face to face not browser to browser. I’ve seen some weird shit go down when people began “dating” someone they’ve never met. Have you ever seen MTV’s “Catfish”? Watch a few episodes. That’s all the education you’ll need about the subject. If you feel like you have to meet guys online then do your research.   You cannot be too careful. Notice the bold italics? They’re there for a reason. Google the hell out of anyone you’re really into and learn how to sniff out a liar. Do an image search. Look up their criminal records.  Behind a computer screen people can pretend to be anyone they want. Remember the “Catfish” episode when some poor soul thought he was dating Katy Perry? Some people are master manipulators.  Take care of you.
  4. Remember the phrase, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got?” If you’re feeling like every relationship is a repeat of the movie, “Groundhogs Day”, you need to take a time out and breathe. We’re all on this earth to learn and grow.  We cannot learn and grow if we don’t take the time to reflect on how we may have contributed to the demise of a relationship. This isn’t easy. I dated someone once for three years.  This man constantly lied to me, cheated on me with my “friends”, and denied all of it.  I finally left.  I spent a long time behaving like a victim and hating him for what he’d done to me. Then I had a revelation; my “ah-ha moment”. I had allowed this guy to hurt me for three years. I was a victim the first time I discovered his infidelity but, after I went back to him, I became a volunteer.  The real question is why did I let him treat me so badly?  Why did I feel I deserved that kind of treatment? A piece of sage advice from the brilliant Maya Angelou: When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.  It is never easy confronting the truth when it means having to evaluate how we are culpable in difficult situations, but we must do it in order to grow. It’s called growing pains for a reason.
  5. As much as I love my husband, whom I’ve been with for 18 years, it isn’t his job to make me happy or to take care of all of my needs. I covered this in the first paragraph of this blog but it bears repeating. He’s been beside me through funerals, weddings, births, and we’ve lived through some of the worst things a couple can go through. We stopped relying on our friends, who didn’t know how to support us, but leaned on each other. We have each other’s backs.  We argue, we nitpick, we get on each other’s nerves but we are tight.   We learned how to work together because our first marriages were nightmares.  We didn’t repeat past mistakes.  One of the most important things I’ve learned was that it’s not my husband’s job to make me okay with myself.  It’s not his job to fix my awful childhood, my messed up parents, or my insecurities.  That’s my job.  His job is to listen if I need to talk.  His job is to wrap me in a bear hug if I need one. His job is to make me laugh if I’m having a crappy day, but it’s not his job to fix me.  Again, that’s my (and maybe my therapist’s) job. Men aren’t meant to carry the world on their shoulders. Sometimes, it’s the man that needs propping up. And that’s your job.
  6. For single moms: Please, please, please do not force your children to meet every man you date. Ideally, they should only be meeting when you’ve both decided to be in an exclusive, committed relationship.  Do not parade every man you meet in front of your kids.  And, for Pete’s sake, do not allow men to sleep over when your kids are home. Do you know how awkward it is for kids to wake up to a strange man in the kitchen? I do. Your number one priority must be the safety and well-being of your babies. Hopefully, you’ve done your homework and checked your sweetie’s criminal history long before you introduced him to your little ones.  Reality check: Some men only date single moms to gain access to their children to do awful things to them. YES, THIS REALLY HAPPENS! You can never be too careful! 
  7. Finally, love yourself enough to know who is worthy of your time and affection. Be picky. Walk away from anyone who hurts you, lies to you, and doesn’t make an effort to be with you. Be yourself. Jump in with no expectations and no judgements. Have fun and keep it light.  Take care of yourself and don’t put any pressure on yourself or anyone else to perform a certain way. Never compare your relationships to anyone else’s; each one is as unique as a snowflake.   Always trust your instincts and keep that third eye open; its God talking to you.

 

-In Peace

 

I’ll Fly Away

Standing in the doorway of my daughter’s room I take a long look around.  Piles of clothes litter the floor, makeup is strewn atop her vanity; a thin dusting of face powder and eye shadow lie undisturbed on the surface.  “What a mess”, I think to myself.  I wonder to myself how long it’ll take for me to get this room in shape for new paint and curtains.  I begin to cry. Again. The second time today and it’s only 10:00 a.m.  I feel the sadness wash over me and try to steel myself against it.  The sorrow is intense and I feel it deep in my bones.

It’s been nearly a week since my youngest daughter, Skai, decided it was time to move out.  Her original plan was to move in February but by the end of December she was chomping at the bit to spread those wings.  I wasn’t quite prepared and I’m feeling the ache of her absence so profoundly. So many thoughts and feelings interject my daily routine and I find myself wondering if I’d prepared her for life, for the real world in all its glory and harshness.  Hell, I don’t think I’m prepared and I’m nearly 50!  It’s funny; my husband and I used to tease the kids about kicking them out when they turned 18 but the reality is that only one of them moved out for good after high school. One would migrate to other states and return briefly to regroup before the next adventure.  She recently married and is living a good life in Guadalajara. Her little sister has no desire to move too far away, thank goodness. I don’t know how parents handle having their kids scattered all over the country but I know they do.

The Empty Nest Syndrome is described as feelings of emptiness (rhymes with empty nest! HA!) and depression that parents and caregivers may feel after children come of age and leave their childhood home. Women seem to experience this more than men. Women may also be going through other changes, such as menopause, which could exacerbate their feelings of sadness. Men, too, can be affected by Empty Nest Syndrome but are often less likely to talk about their feelings, as I discovered in conversations with my husband, who admitted that he deeply missed his daughter when she moved to Washington.  Just as I felt with my oldest daughter, Shay, it is the little things he misses, such as going fishing or just watching football with her. I had no idea he felt this way.

To be clear, I do want my kids to be self-sufficient and independent. I want them to be functioning members of society and to go after their dreams, grab the world by the lapel and shake the cage; to get as much out of life as they possibly can.  Thinking about those things makes me excited for their journeys, their opportunities.  As a mother I think our first instinct is to protect them and shield them from their mistakes and, in essence, the world.  When Shay was 18 a much-younger friend of mine told me the best thing I could do for her to become a responsible, capable adult was to let her live on her own.  She told me she’d learn very quickly how to sink or swim in the world if she were able to rely solely on herself.  She was right.  Although she faltered a bit at times she has been on her own for a while, living in big cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles with no help from anyone, including me.  I admire her for her nomadic nature and for being brave enough to pick up and move to a new place without knowing a soul. She not only survives but flourishes in new surroundings.  She is nothing like me and I’m grateful for that.

A new wrinkle surfaced when I spoke to Skai the other night. Our conversation didn’t go as well as I’d intended it to.  I found myself criticizing her care of her gerbil, of all things.  I struggled not to cry as I spoke with her but soon she was apologizing for my tears and that, my friends, is not okay.  She has no reason to apologize as she didn’t do anything wrong and she’s not responsible for my happiness.  As soon as I’d hung up the phone I realized that my role as mom is forever changed and maybe that’s where the truth/pain lies.  What are the boundaries now that she’s on her own? Can I ask her if she’s wearing her seat belt, if she’s paid her car insurance?   I’ve been a mom for 26 years.  Nearly all of my adult life I’ve been hovering over my kids and poking my nose in their business. That’s a no-no now. Does she need me anymore?  Is there still room for me in her life?  For the time being, I suppose I’ll have to feel my way around and try not to fall back into the sadness, because frankly, I don’t like myself when I’m moping. I’ll try to distract myself with creating a guest room out of her old room, something we’ve never had before.SPACE!  Maybe I’ll learn a new skill (where did I put that crochet hook?) or paint the kitchen… again. Maybe I’ll write.

There is a bright side to all of this, I promise.  Did you think I’d leave you wallowing in darkness and gloom? Many people find that having an empty nest brings new opportunities and freedom to explore things they’ve never done before.  You may now be able to start checking things off your bucket list! You can learn new things; take a community education class or learn a new trade. Some people go back to school. You’ll have more one on one time with your spouse or significant other (assuming you like them!)  You can travel or explore local exploits, or find something you’re passionate about and volunteer to help others.  The list is long and mighty, dear friends.  Just because we’re older certainly doesn’t mean we’re done living. We can still shake the cages!

If you’re feeling the blue effects of an empty nest please don’t hesitate to reach out to others who’ve gone through it or are currently experiencing the same thing.  If you’re depressed to the point that you’re having difficulty functioning, a good therapist may be able to help.  This situation isn’t unique and nearly all parents go through this.  You don’t have to suffer alone. It’s important to stay in touch with your kids through phone calls, text, email, and Skype, among other things. This will help reassure you that your kids are fine and are doing well. You may find that they still need your advice and guidance. Remember, we’re all in this together and we’re all rooting for you. We’re learning a new normal and it takes time. Be good to yourself and stay strong!

Kim