Vacation was wonderful, it was exactly what we needed. Jake loved every minute of being at the beach house. It was relaxing and the weather was perfect.
There were two big hurdles that Jake and I overcame on this trip.
Jake took his first car ride without Melvin. The trip down there did not go well. Jake hyperventilated for five hours straight and I had to make two calls to our vet. I honestly thought we were going to have to find an emergency vet along the way. He eventually calmed down and fell asleep but the whole drive I just kept thinking, he’d have been totally fine if Melvin had been in the backseat with him. But as it was, Jake had to get through that journey, and he did. And on the way home, he slept the whole way! He found his braves and I’m so proud of him.
As for me, this was the first time returning from the beach (in as far as I can recall), that Melvin was not at home waiting for me. The whole drive home I would anticipate seeing him, even though I knew he wasn’t here. It’s funny how extreme hope can almost alter reality. Just like Jake, I had to conquer that part of our trip.
We got through.
On the drive home, I thought a lot about the current state of the void in our lives right now. Not just missing Melvin, but missing the love (received and given). It would be easy to get another dog right this very minute, just to get back on the love track. But the truth of the truth is, I still just want Melvin. I don’t want a new dog, I want my dog. And I’m not angry or sad about that (Ok I’m a little sad), I just sorta matter-of-factly, don’t see another dog here right now. And I know wholeheartedly that will change, probably in an instant. And I’m excited for that day to come. But I am equally happy to sit in the warmth of my Melvin memories and to see Jake through his first weeks of being an only dog. He is really coming into his new self, seeking affection, learning to listen, becoming brave! It’s enough to enjoy that part right now.
And just in case that last paragraph made anyone sad, let me take this moment to make you laugh. While at the beach, I was kneeling down to change Jake’s diaper. I was behind him, leaning over to be sure that little Jake was tucked in when all of a sudden, he farted…towards my open mouth! There were witnesses. It’s was pretty grossly epic. Ahhhhh, life with Jake!
GOING TO THE BEACH: Getting ready to hyperventilate Jake. (this photo was taken right after I carried him to the car and he proceeded to poop on me). Good times!
RETURNING FROM THE BEACH: ‘Totally got this’ Jake! My brave boy!
When we found out Melvin was sick right through to today, there have been so many people who have lifted me up (and held me there). From the phone calls I made first, to the ones that showed up that night, to those who checked-in on me and Melvin daily, to the ones who were there when I let him go (no words can covey my love for these two), to the ones who showed up that night (and held me through the worst, deeply raw moments) and every night since. My parents, my family, my close friends…I will never be able to thank all of them properly but I will always show up for them through all of life’s ups and downs.
All of you reading… you all inspired me and kept me going and wrote beautiful emails and messages and comments. Some of you even called and/or sent me your phone numbers in the case I needed anything. You sent cards, and gifts and love. You sponsored dogs and paid happiness forward in Melvin’s honor. Infinite love! I’m so, so blessed and so grateful for you all.
Then there were a certain four girls who I have befriended through the blog (and our love for dog items). Four girls (two of whom I have met in person and two that I have not) who reached out constantly, moving me with their thoughtfulness, their words, their deep empathy. Girls who could be my sisters. As I work on ways to thank everyone for all they did, I knew that one way to thank these four women was to try to include them in this getaway.
So I reached out to them. And we figured out how to make it happen. They are coming in from all the US time zones.
Two of them, the two I’ve met before, we’ve lost four dogs – together. It’s not a club you want to join but these are the people you want next to you. Over the past few years, we have encouraged each other forward. We’ve celebrated so much also. I love these two.
One of them, that I have never met, we live parallel lives. Her with her boy and me with Melvin. She is a game changer for fostering and rescue. I spend a lot of time in awe of her.
The other woman who I’ve never met, not only is she one of the most generous and talented people I know, she is the very first person I reached out to when I was coming up with a plan of how to pay joy forward in Melvin’s name (more on that in a few weeks). She inspires me.
All of these women, are my heroes. Caring, loving, beautiful, strong, and all crazy about dogs and rescue and joy! In a few hours they will be arriving here… and my heart feels full! Jake has no idea what he is in for, all he knows is that it’s hot here and he finds it very easy to nap.
We have been going to a beach in South Carolina almost all my life (to either my grandparents condo, our old house and now our new house). When we go down (as a family), some of us drive and some fly. The dogs (Max, Melvin, or Jake – and my sister’s dogs) have never gone. Melvin’s allergies were too severe to spend a week with kids (who adorably drop food and should be allowed to have Oreos smashed around their fingers and mouth). While I always miss the boys when I’m there, I’m also so happy to be around the family that it all balances out.
Of course when I leave for any trip I must leave 45 pages of detailed instructions for every thing that will never happen might come up. Prepping to leave the dogs is emotionally difficult but also, the planning part alone can make me need a vacation.
This weekend, as I was preparing to take Jake with me, I realized that packing for him is WAY harder than leaving him. WAY, WAY, WAY harder. Jake has more stuff than I do. Diapers, diaper rash ointment, baby powder, bath supplies, food, medicine, medicine that he might need, medicine that he will never need but I need to have peace of mind so it’s coming, his GIANT stroller, leashes, mattress pads (plural!), puppy pads for under the mattress pads, beds, natures miracle, his life vest, his cooling jacket, treats, Kongs, toys, pumpkin, car seat…the list goes on. I now realize that had I ever decided to take the dogs, there would have been no room in the car for both of them and their stuff.
Taking Jake brings on a whole new set of challenges. The longest I have been in the car with him is 3 hours. This trip is about 7-8 hours. I’m driving down on my own and meeting folks down there so I had to come up with a plan of how to take bathroom breaks with Jake. I can leave my car running and take the key with me so he will be comfortable at 70 degrees with the AC but I have visions of people seeing Jake in the car and either wanting to steal him (don’t forget all his stuff when you grab him!) or breaking the window to save him (not realizing the car is running) (something I would totally do). There is also getting to the beach house, a house he has never been to and having to leave him to run to the grocery store. And keeping him cool. And keeping the house pee and meatball free. I’m exhausted already!
But all this stuff aside, the full car, the fact that I probably won’t get to pee for 8 hours, the fact that he will 100% go into meatball production when it’s impossible to pull over… I’m so excited to be going on this adventure with him. I planned this trip as we were losing Melvin. I knew that we needed some time in our house to mourn our guy. If we left right after we lost him, we’d both be so heartbroken to return home to not find him here. So we stayed and we worked through the pain of him not being here anymore and now we are going on at trip that signifies our new journey. We are going on a trip for me and Jake and while Melvin won’t be there visually, he is with us always. Woven into the fabric of who we are.
Our first big step forward. It’s going to be good. Stay tuned for highlights… some of the people we are bringing along, well you probably know some (or all) of them!
Jake got a new race car collar and diaper for the trip (Sirius Republic reigns supreme!). This is just ONE of Jake’s three bags.
Most of us who rescue don’t get to know what our fur-babies look like as puppies. I once bought a frame with a yellow lab photo in it because I was convinced that it was what Melvin looked like as a puppy. As for Jake, well I acquired a photo of him and his litter mate.
So I put this photo up on FB and I asked our followers to pick which one they thought was Jake:
The answer is: I’m not sure! One of these dogs is Jake, his name and birthdate are on the back of the photo. But since I can’t talk to his original owner I don’t know for sure (although my guess is below!). As for the Facebook drawing, you know we are nothing if not fair so there was ALWAYS going to be two drawings for two collar winners – from those who said left and right! Winner names are at the end of the post!
But as the person who stares at him most, and the person who has studied this photo for a ridiculously long time I will tell you that at first I was certain he was the one on the left. But now, I’m almost positive he is on the right. Here is why:
Jake is adorably special. But prior to his wonky legs issue, he was just a giant, manly, French Bulldog (with googly eyes). I mean he’s about 13 pounds bigger than the average Frenchie.
You can’t tell without blowing the photo up a little but both dogs are googly wall-eyed.
As far as I can tell, and I am not a tongue expert so who knows, but Jake’s tongue is not (currently) forked
The biggest indication that Jake is likely the dog on the right is the center white marking above their noses. Even though Jake’s face has scrunched down over the years, his center marking is much more in line with the dog on the right.
But then again, who knows! I just know that one of them is Jake and that is more than enough to make me squeal with delight! The left guess winner is Morgan Rivera and the right guess winner is Patty Smith DeFee! Collar winners, you can either PM me your email address on Facebook or you can email it to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get your Sirius Republic gift certs over to you!
From the time I was 15 to the time I was 30, I lost 16 friends (to death). Most were close friends. There were car accidents, freak accidents, and illnesses. The first few friends I lost I thought ‘why me’. I was young, I didn’t realize that death occurs to the person who died, it’s just the living who have to deal with it. In losing those friends (and additionally grandparents and aunts and uncles), I have had a fairly good education in grief. I have learned to show-up when someone dies. I don’t always have the right thing to say, I don’t always say anything at all, I just show up. And in doing that, it has lead many to believe I have some magic way of dealing with grief. I don’t think that is the case at all. Grief is strange and confusing. In the past few weeks, folks have emailed and called and asked me how I gain perspective during loss. The answer is, I don’t know. I just do the best I can and when I say ‘I show up’ I mean that I not only show up for others, but I also show up for myself.
I was asked to write about grief and what it means for me right now. Here is my take.
I was told once that you shouldn’t carry grief, it’s too heavy and burdensome to hold. Instead, let grief walk next to you. For a while, it will (unfortunately) always be there. It will sometimes take the lead, even when you don’t want it to. But eventually you will look over and it will have fallen behind. Then it might catch up, but fall behind again. Then one day, one miraculous day, you will only see it if you squint, back near your horizon.
I have found three things to be be true about that idea: 1. it’s pretty good advice 2. it takes work 3. the timeline for that varies wildly from person to person to event. If grief is the price we pay for love (and I believe it is), you have to accept that there is no escaping it. When I lost Max, I tried to carry the grief. It was so heavy and so all-consuming, I felt I wouldn’t survive. I was sad, but I was even more overcome with a feeling that it would just never end. With Melvin, I’m sad, but I’m stronger. I don’t know why. Even from the day we found out about the cancer, there was a voice that said, you will get through this. I fought a lot with that voice, I told it to shut the F up. But then I realized that Melvin spent years showing me that no matter what life throws at us, keep moving forward. In a way, he helped to prepare me for this loss.
We have to go through grief, we can’t go around it. Most days, grief owns us, we don’t have a ton of control over raw emotion. For me, I’m processing the whole losing Melvin thing in flashes. There is his life prior to March. That part is lovely. There is his birthday on March 2nd, it was just a day (we rarely know it will be a last birthday), but it is the last date on the calendar that I can make sense of. Then there is the day after his birthday, that’s the day we found out. I can hear the words cancer and dying, but then my thought process changes. Or stops. Or moves so fast I can’t think clearly. Forty days connect the line from the day we found out to the day we said good-bye. Memories of those days vary – from my recall of how overwhelmed I felt to how much love we shared. From the visual of him losing weight and having some physical symptoms to him being joyful and exuberant. From me being terrified about him collapsing to me just loving him. From Melvin and Jake, to me and Melvin, all in the most random order. Most days I can’t even let myself get far enough to make sense of it. And that’s OK. When my mind is ready, it will smooth it all out. I’m probably not supposed to remember it all. There is no way I could forget Melvin but there is also no way I could recall every single moment. I believe the ones I need will stay with me and I accept the reality that, some will fade. Also, I back up my photos on like 40,00 devices, so there is that!
I will admit that I still cry myself to sleep some nights, but I will also tell you with absolute certaintiy that I am OK. I have not had a moment where I think I won’t get through it. I’ve tried not to focus too much on it’s been one week or two weeks, because personally, that doesn’t help me. For example, today is one month since I’ve hugged him. One month can seem like a nanosecond and forever, at the same exact time.
I think we tend to be way too hard on ourselves during the grieving process. The one emotion I refuse to let myself embrace is guilt. Grief is hard enough on its own. Some moments I’m sad, but the sadness transitions to other emotions: like hope (that I’ll be ready for a new dog one day), fear (that I will be overly cautious about symptoms that could be cancer and not just live in the moment), humor (about how hard it is for me to feed only one dog correctly!), joy (that Melvin’s love still wraps around me), excitement (that Jake is starting to blossom). Sometimes it loops back to sad. Sometimes it lands on joy. There is no room in this journey for me to feel bad about what I feel.
At the end of the day, I just try to be kind to myself. I am only human. I don’t ask, why am I crying, I just let myself cry. I don’t feel bad for having fun or looking for dogs on rescue sites (it’s what I do, I stalk all the dogs!), life is still occurring, it’s ok to ease back into it. I don’t ask when will the sadness ease, I just believe that it will. But most of all, I take every opportunity to laugh. I believe in joy!
Guys, where is my brother? I looked for him for days. He was here, and then he fell asleep and they let me come up and see him and it looked like him but it didn’t smell like him. They took him away, I just sorta thought he would eventually come back.
The house is quiet and I’m a little afraid because everything looks different when I’m not following Melvin. I feel small. For the last few weeks I’ve just wanted to be close to doors, in case Melvin comes back home. She spends a lot of time in the office during the day but I found it hard to be in there without Melvin. I mean, what’s the point? But in the last couple of days, I have come to check on her and it seems to make her happy. I mean, even though I love Melvin (SO MUCH), I love her so much too. When I go check on her, she stops what she is doing and gets on the floor with me. Now I’m trying out taking a few naps in the office with her. It’s not so bad.
I will give it to her, she does not give up easily. Even during moments when I go far away from the office, she yells out ‘I love you, Jakie’. I guess it’s just me and her now. We go on different walks than we used to, that’s pretty fun. And some lady comes over and she makes some click noises and gives me treats. Treats are good. Apparently I’m a ‘terrible watch dog’, Is that good? I have no idea what that means. I think it has something to do with the fact that someone can come in the house and I don’t even notice for a long time. What the…? It’s not my job to greet people. I’m not the butler.
She says we are going to be OK. I believe her. She is a very honest person. When she says dinner, boom food shows up. When she says potty, boom the door opens. When she says walk, I climb into my buggy! See that folks, I’m learning words!
We are going to beach next week. She says I will hate the beach because it’s so hot but that I’ll love the beach because awesome people are meeting us there and I am the only dog going so that means I get all the treats and all the attention! Yipppppeeeeee! For the trip she bought some bright orange contraption with a handle on it. She said it’s so I don’t drown but I think it’s so she can turn me into her new purse. Anyway, I’ll be sure to take some selfies of me in my speedo. I’m a sexy beast and the beach is going to love me and my hot body.
For now, here I am in the office making all her dreams come true.
I have heard a term used before that I don’t fully understand. “Annual vet visit”. What is this singular visit in one year that you speak of? HOW IS THAT EVEN A THING?
Max went to vet about 20 times a year. He had some thyroid issues, arthritis and sensitive digestive system. He also had some funky anal glands.
Jake goes to the vet more than Max did. In addition to his legs, Jake gets a lot of skin infections, he is prone to nail injury (I don’t know why) and he gets stuff like feathers and frog legs stuck in his throat. In the two years I’ve had Jake, he’s had an MRI, a spinal tap, teeth pulled, nasal passage widening and four ER vet visits.
While I have not officially counted, I am fairly certain that Melvin went to the vet HUNDREDS of times. Best I can estimate it was more than 400 but less than 500. There were his allergies, that took up at least half of those appointments. Skin infections, ear infections, yeast infections, giardia, mange, colitis. He had diarrhea at least 200 times. He threw up fairly regularly, was nauseous more days than not and got monthly medicated baths. He went to the ER at least 30 times. He aspirated acorn throw-up into his lung lobe and almost needed an emergency lobectomy. He had a tail amputation (that refused to heal) and he too had an MRI and spinal tap. He had seizures. He had countless x-rays, several CT scans, and many, many, many ultrasounds. He had a mystery tick disease. He took ~20 pills a day (prior to the cancer)(some were supplements for the arthritis and pre/probiotics for his wacky stomach).
There is no way I could have done Melvin’s life without our vet. She was there every step. Every challenge, every mystery, every success. When something presented that she was not sure about, Melvin went up on chat boards to have other vets weigh in. This happened right down to his last week. She is the second phone call that I made in the parking lot after we got the ultrasound done that turned up the cancer. Not for her to comfort me, although she did, but to have her on the case as soon as possible. I have her cell phone number. During Melvin’s illness, I’d text her when I was overwhelmed and confused and she would gently bring me back to the medical reality. She and I, together, got Melvin to ten. And she came to the house to help me send Melvin onward. We’ve laughed together and we’ve cried together. We championed Melvin together. And now we do the same for Jake.
There are some vets who believe in traditional veterinary medicine. There are others who go holistic. Some vets meet in the middle on approaches. Our vet, well our vet was the best of them all. She just wanted Melvin to have the best life he could. She believed in our journey of joy. While I drove that joy bus, she was the compass that kept us moving in the right direction.
So while you may be one of these elusive ‘annual vet visits’ households or you might be of the ‘can’t go to the vet enough’ variety — find a vet that champions your pet’s joy. They exist and it’s amazing! And at the end, you will be so glad you have someone next to you who knows how lovely your journey was.
There have been some realizations in the past three weeks. One is that, Jake and I are out of sync. Even though we are both mourning the same thing, our needs are very different. Jake is lost during the day, whereas I am sad at night. I try to come up with new things to do with him during the day but he usually seeks out space alone. I’d love for Jake to snuggle, or hang out with me (say int the office during the day), but he doesn’t want to do either. Despite not seeking me out, he does not want me to leave the house, he is having some pretty severe separation anxiety when I go.
I think our current differences make us each miss Melvin even more. When he won’t come into the office with me, I miss Melvin. When I try to snuggle with him, he is more like a cinder block than a dog. I’m not his brother. Melvin followed and loved on me. Jake followed and loved on Melvin. I love them both, very much, but without the Melvin puzzle piece, he doesn’t seem to see the bigger picture of our family. It’s a lot like when you are in traffic behind a big truck and you have no idea what is in front of the big truck. Melvin was Jake’s big truck. I don’t think he noticed I was in front.
When our trainer (who has worked with Jake before) asked me what I wanted to achieve. Some of it was about his prey drive, which has kicked into overdrive since Melvin died. Some of it was how to get him to learn to focus on me (lack of focus combined with his prey drive is a challenge). But when I answered her out loud I said: I need you to help Jake and I communicate. Our translator died.
I was surprised I said that but it was true. I love Jake, completely and unconditionally and beautifully. There are just some dogs that would rather be with another dog than a person (Jake). There are other dogs who want to be with their person over any dog (Melvin). I know that Jake can’t go too long without another dog in the house, for one just out of sheer loneliness but also, he will slip quickly back to old, grumpy, lash-out-at-my-siblings Jake. No one wants that! Since I’m not ready yet, for now, we train and we figure out how to re-connect without our shared, soulful glue.
And I pray he learns to like snuggling! For cripes sake, I shower! This is the sleeping stance of a dog that does not want to hug:Ahhhhhh, but I love this monkey so of course I’ll keep trying!
There are currently two ways I think about Melvin, before we knew he was sick, and after. I don’t think it will always be that way. In thinking about the before, those memories are easier, I think mostly because I don’t have to associate the fear of him being sick with any of them. The memories of him after we found out about the cancer are a little jumbled. It’s odd, those days were filled with so much love yet it’s impossible to not attach the fact that I knew time was short to their memory. Anyway… I’ve started letting little moments and details of his last few weeks into my thought process.
There was one day, towards the end, that was quite possibly the most beautiful day anyone could ask for. Blue skies, just the right amount of warmth, spring smells in the air. The boys grazed, we laid on a blanket and just existed. No agenda, nowhere to go. It was perfect in every way. A day that brings a smile to my heart for sure.
Wishing you each a day like this over the weekend!!