“And I see the leaves turn a bit in the air and the breeze coming in feels like the whole world is a pet that is breathing on me and I think, ‘Well, I am so sensitive and I am very fragile but so is everything else, and living with a dangerous amount of sensitivity is sort of what I have to do sometimes, and it is so very much better than living with no gusto at all. And I’d rather live with a tender heart, because that is the key to feeling the beat of all of the other hearts.'”
~Jenny Slate, Little Weirds
Greetings from the House of the Broken-Hearted. It’s taken me a few days to get to this post, with yet another chapter of sorrowful news. I am so used to writing about dogs. Their antics and full presence in my life has always been a more public thing here in this space of sharing. But the cat, well, the cat somehow occupied a quieter, more private, place in my heart. How to even begin to write about the gentle and constant presence of a quasi-domesticated creature who has shared our home for nearly 16 years? Yet with a few days to ruminate, and scroll through old photos, I knew I owed at least a blog post in honor of Ian Small.
It seems Iris and River were holding up the train for this old cat who, much to our sadness, opted to join the rest of the ginger-flavored crew onto the Next Great Adventure late last week. With age had come blindness and confusion, weight loss and miscalculations around the litter box situation. We had been navigating all of this for a good long while. When I took Ian into the vet well over a week ago, hopeful for a simple fix, she said, “Whenever you are ready, it’s time.”
I came home to sit with it for another week, to give a chance for goodbyes and a few more nights’ snuggling. But eventually, he peacefully joined the others. The vet reckons that the big dogs with their big physical presence and their tight routines, had actually aided in Ian’s adjusting to losing his sight a while back and with them gone from his world, he felt a bit lost.
We all feel a little bit lost here lately.
Ian was a tiny kitten who grew into a huge ginger bear. The kind of cat who hugged back.
In his prime, he didn’t know a stranger and welcomed all with curiosity and a sweet demeanor.
As he got older, napping was really his most sincere occupation, which he took quite seriously.
This is of course when he wasn’t studying the activities at the bird feeders outside.
It was a difficult decision to give Ian a peaceful passing. One wonders if the time is ever right. But in the end, he left us quickly and painlessly and I feel confident it was the right decision, as bereft as I was to have to go through with it. And there had been so much suffering here lately. I was not going to prolong it for our beloved cat.
It’s really strange to be in the house right now. So much change. So much loss. A mass exodus of what had been a true life’s blood of the household. It will be an adjustment I am sure. And I am soul-weary.
Travel beckons now. I am nowhere near ready. But I have in my heart lessons from some four-legged friends on how to be fully present at all times, how to relish in the sensuous delights of occupying a physical body, how to play and make friends and live in a state of beautiful curiosity.
And for all of this, I am deeply grateful. Rest easy sweet Ian Small. May there be tuna and catnip upon your arrival in the Land Beyond. You’ve earned it.
“My fashion philosophy is, if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty.” – Elayne Boosler
My grandparents had been married for 64 years when they died less than three days apart from one another. Something about this closeness in the timing of their passing brought us a small semblance of comfort in a time of great chaos and grief. I look to that phenomenon to help us through the latest news here in this dark winter of doom (as honestly, it’s beginning to feel like lately).
Alas, this morning our dear old dog, our Wild Iris Rose, finally succumbed to her recent illness and is now at home in the stars with River, the accidental and constant companion of her lifetime. I think dogs are more like people than most folks give them credit for. Iris especially, with her wise eyes and knowing look.
“I love my dog as much as I love you
But you may fade, my dog will always come through”
Perhaps she simply couldn’t be on this plane without River. I do not know, as this is the depth of mystery, this ‘why’ of everything. I have always thought Iris knew more about the ‘why’ of everything, and perhaps now she does.
So much of the content in this lowly old blog has been devoted to the dogs in my life over the years. The puppies came along shortly after I began this online diarizing, and they fit right into it all with their antics and photogenic, sketchable qualities.
Even with all the complexities having multiple dogs brings to a household, I wouldn’t trade any of it. Even these final, messy weeks. Dogs remind us of our own innate physicality and, of course, our mortality. They are constant reminders of the following:
We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously.
Time is of the essence. The moment is now.
To be joyful is a gift, and it’s ours for the taking at any moment.
Love with abandon.
When you rest, just give into it, like it’s your job.
Give your keen attention to anything you find interesting.
Take a walk. Everyday. Twice if possible.
Love your fellow beings. Even when you find them to be curiosities quite unlike yourself.
“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born”.
“But then I looked in your eyes
And I was no more a failure
You looked so wacky and wise
And I said, lord I’m happy
’cause I’m just a walkin’ my dog
Singin’ my song
It’s just me and my dog
Catchin’ some sun
We can’t go wrong
’cause I don’t care ’bout your hatin’ and your doubt
And I don’t care what the politicians spout
If you need a companion
Well just go right to the pound
And find yourself a hound
And make that doggie proud
’cause that’s what it’s all about”
You can imagine the quiet state of things around here. I honestly don’t know quite what to do with myself. So here I am, writing, which strangely, is what I do in times of crisis. There is a nap of escape in my future. I’ll take Charlie with me, and maybe the cat too (but that’s up to him). Beyond that, I am doing my best to simply make space for this grief. A grief that feels bigger than a couple of good dogs gone too soon. I’m giving it space, and hoping it doesn’t move in permanently in a darker, blacker form.
“The bond with a true dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth will ever be.”
Here’s to you, my wild Iris Rose. Long may you run.
PS~ As heartbroken as I am, I want to just say thank you to the vets and techs at Cincinnati Animal Medical Center. They have seen us through many a beloved pet and this time was no different. They treat us like family and I know they grieve along with us. If you are local to the Cincinnati area, I can’t recommend them enough.
We are returned to Ohio. Our journey to Ireland, at an end for the time being, we sift through laundry, piles of post, lists of things we ought to be doing to return us to “real life” and “normality”. Yet, these notions are unreal in themselves, for every journey changes us, and this one especially. I will write of a lovely day spent by the sea admiring the magic of moving water and sky, and of meeting musical legends large and small along the way. I will even write of the enchanting spell the west of County Kerry might cast. For there is so much more to tell you…..
But for now, we are on the cusp of Samhain and the veil between life and death is thin. Especially for our family. You see, while we were away in Ireland, my mother-in-law passed away peacefully. My husband had arrived with news that hospice services had been engaged for her and that her time was nigh, though no one knew just how long she might linger with us. In the long run it was all sooner than we had expected, but isn’t that the way of things? We are never ready, even if we have prepared for an age. He had just seen her days before leaving to meet me, and I had visited her just days before leaving for Ireland myself a few weeks prior. I am glad I made the time.
We were now so far from home, and there was some flurried discussion of shifting flight plans and making our way back to Ohio sooner than later. We opted out of this change and chose to sit with all of it for our few remaining days of travel in Ireland.
Ireland is a place of great depth. Depth in the beauty of its landscape. Depth of history and story. It is actually a rather appropriate place to consider the loss of a loved one.
One can’t move in Ireland for the archeological treasures to be found dotting the landscape. We visited many in the coming days. Newgrange being the first. It is a “passage tomb”, thought to be a place of ritual and ceremony.
It contained the remains of ancient ones, known now only to the mists of time before written history.
Ancient people built these great structures to be in tune with the heavens. They were at one with the seasons and the turning of the wheel of the year. Newgrange is known for bringing the sun into the deepest part of the inner sanctum of the tomb at the winter solstice. One can only imagine the level of engineering prowess this must have taken.
Their care in collection of materials from around the country, and the artful manipulation of stones and designs must have taken them generations.
Amidst the day to day tending to the feeding and sheltering of themselves, these people still took the time and effort to create these tombs honoring the passage of loved ones to another realm. Death was important to them.
It is said that the Celtic peoples of old had great esteem for the concept of death as an inherent part of life. That they honored this concept in how they thought about the cycles of the year, and their own place in it as mortal beings.
It is said that while the Celtic people of the ancient times must have certainly grieved the loss of their loved ones when they passed away, for they were only human after all, it was all understood to be The Way Of Things. The many passage tombs we were to encounter in subsequent days honors this idea and I found it all strangely comforting.
There is something about this time of year that offers us a chance to consider our own place in The Way Of Things and to remind us that we are only here but a short while in the vast depths of time.
It is crucial that we make the best of our time here. To strive to be the best incarnation of spirit we can be, to offer that back to whatever great power put us here in the first place. We cannot know the intentions of the cosmos.
Knowth, in the same general vicinity as Newgrange, was the next stop on the day we learned of Tony’s mom’s death. Our eyes danced with dizziness at the spirals spied on so much stone and at the great vastness of scale the many passage tombs provided.
Stones were to be a constant theme in the days to come as we traversed the country and took in all we could in the days we had left. I put the work of writing and painting aside and simply experienced it all with Tony, which felt like the right thing to do.
We left the east part of Ireland to head west toward the Burren, a place I was keen to see this time around.
It is a magical moonscape of sorts. Many of the roads are mere cow tracks or bóthairín and I found myself holding my breath as we occasionally met another car traveling in the opposite direction. We made our way to Poulnabrone Dolmen which is considered a “portal tomb”, which was also a means of honoring the dead. The murky, misty weather intensified the mysterious feel of the place and we fell in love with it all immediately. It was in keeping with the depth of how we felt about everything going on and seemed to be an appropriate way to spend some of our time in Ireland, considering the circumstances.
Barren though it all seemed at surface level, there was life everywhere in the cracks and crevices of stone.
On route to the Cliffs of Moher on this day, we spied the ruins of an old church. Less ancient than the pre-historic sites we’d been visiting. We parked for a look at the place. It was no less enchanting for its relative modernity.
Once again we were struck with the connectivity of life to death in this place. Graves upon graves, old and new, just next to a place where cows graze and birds flit about. There is a peace to it all.
Later that evening we spent an enjoyable and delicious meal with dear friends in Ennis. I read stories to the kids while the grown ups shared wine and cooked. There was fresh baked bread which was divine. There was time to laugh and converse and sing a bit together. It was ultimately quite healing.
There is so much more to tell of our brief time together in Ireland, and I will weave that part of the tale into this broader story on another day. I will tell of how we left Ennis far too quickly to catch the ferry back once more to my beloved County Kerry, and how we dodged raindrops to play amidst sea and sky along the Dingle peninsula where we could. And how we eventually made our way back east once more again to fly home.
Once more through the mists….
And here we are, on a gray, autumnal Ohio day. Sifting through old photos of Patricia Lynn Musick. Pat is someone who had the strength of stone and steel in her very bones. She raised my Tony and his brothers on her own with nerve that saw her through many trials in her lifetime. By the time I came to the family, she had found her first love from teen years and had married him and cared for him through his life time of health problems. She used to be a beautician and so would perm my hair for me when it was fashionable at the time, but way out of my budget. She was fierce, whether playing cards or caring for her home or working the many jobs she held to keep things together. She was proud and had a sarcastic sense of humor. She loved her grandkids and they loved her. We now have her last dog, Charlie, who needed a bit more care than Pat could give her as her own health further declined. We took her often for visits which I think Pat appreciated.
I dedicate this post to the mother of my beloved.
Pat, go bhféadfainn Dia do bhealach a lasadh. May God light your way.
I have heard it said that in 7 years, a person’s whole body – every bit of it, down to the cellular (and perhaps beyond) level – is replaced in that time by a new set of cells, ready to take on the task of the day to day life of being human. But what of the soul?
I’ve returned from some magical travels to a more equatorial part of the world with my beloved, and have landed amidst the mud and mire of early spring back home. Normally a joyful season for most folk, what with the coming of green things and the promise of new fawns in the bulging bellies of the local mama deer, early spring has, in fact, proved challenging for us over the years. This year marks the 7th anniversary of Esme’s death which was a sea change in the lives of both of my children, in our own lives as parents, and in the collective life of an entire close-knit community. Not to mention, her dear family. Everything is now measured against this tragic event. And in March, we are called back to the season to take stock, re-visit ourselves and our losses and re-calibrate our lives to a certain extent.
And so we did.
Es’s weeping cherry tree in Spring Grove Cemetery is thriving. Under the now formidable presence of the tree, little offerings of love and memory are present….
We were glad to see them.
Madeleine and I drove around the cemetery just to take in the beauty and the years of memorials present there. It’s breathtaking, the number of stories held by this place. Just the names and birthdates alone get you thinking, ‘ Why did this person die so young?’ Or maybe even, ‘wow, that guy sure lived a long and hearty life for the time!’. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to any of it.
There really doesn’t.
It was strange that M. was home for Esme’s anniversary as it was only to mark the passing of another family friend, the loving mama of a dance friend of her’s. Lucinda, a wonderfully witty, thoroughly engaging fellow dance mom I’d known over the years, passed away from cancer, leaving behind a kid just a year younger than my own, amongst many others she loved and whom cherished her.
We are all heartbroken.
And so from memories of one to memorializing another, March seems to be funeral season. We are all glad we have each other.
Amidst all of this funeriality, I was called upon to play some music with friends at the wake of someone dear to them. And so we did.
It was fascinating to me to see the effect of the presence live music has in the environment of grief. Music, especially live music, seems to punctuate the moments of celebration of a long life well lived, while simultaneously allowing for the pauses for tearful acknowledgement of great loss to a tune perhaps more in the minor key, or slowed down enough to capture the depth of that loss. I was honored to play a small part in all of it.
And today, M and I attended Lucinda’s funeral. And then made our way back up to Columbus to plant her back at school where she belongs.
Like I said, it’s been a heavy season.
But every edge has two sides. Alongside the grief in recent days, was a fair amount of hope-full worry in our family, which has thankfully come to a bright and beautiful homecoming.
Our nephew, wee Frank came to us on Monday, just over a week ago. He arrived early, amidst some worry as to The State Of Things regarding how he was faring. Sure enough he had a bit of a struggle for a number of days as he caught his breath from his early oncoming. Eventually, thanks to the tremendously brave parenting and caregiving he was fortunate to receive, Frank went home to get to know his siblings. Things, for perhaps just one wild moment, seemed completely right with the world…. (though in this shot, Big Brother Harry might not be so sure. I’ve heard he’s come ’round in the mean time. )
This is the crazy balance of it all. Walking the knife’s edge of life’s beauty and heartbreak. Making time for all of this Big Life Stuff, while trying to fit the work of Making a Living, or perhaps even Getting a Little Art Made, into the grooves of life’s floorboards.
Even though I didn’t feel quite up to it with these recent heavy days, I met up with some fellow sketchers to challenge the blustery breeze of Esme’s day with some drawing downtown. Christina had invited a few of us to join her while WCET filmed her segment for a show on her work. I can’t wait to see it, and of course share it with you, as her work is fabulous. Sketching is a strong part of her work and we all enjoy sketching together. In spite of the chill, we all managed a sketch of Music Hall, as well as some lively conversation…
Why is it always a lesson? That making the time and effort for some music and some art, are the things that make sense of a difficult season? Perhaps because I am only human and by that I mean, I have still much to learn. This is the development of the Soul.
It is March. I have many hours to make up at the Shop and many, many more hours to make up to my own solitude and writing and sketching of new ideas. In times like these when life comes at us reckless, I wonder, how do they do it? The successful ones. Those produced, published, and promoted.
Perhaps they just stomp the work into the floorboards of life, between the moments of birth and grief. I have heard that music happens between the notes. Perhaps I am onto something…