Joy.

I get asked a lot about choosing joy. How I choose it over grief, or anger, or uncertainty.  The answer to that is, it is not always easy, but it has become who I am.

I have human moments. I start crying in the car for no reason (ok, fine, when the boys send me songs) and I have to pull over for other’s safety. I get sad and even mad that Melvin and Jake are not here anymore. Work stresses me out. People annoy me. Sometimes, it seems like the day/week is against me.

Choosing joy is not always a done deal. Eventually though, Melvin pops into my mind and love and joy rush over me and well… I have no option but to do as he taught me.

  • Jake and Melvin are not here anymore. But they were here. And were here is way more incredible than never here. And I feel them and I see them in all the beautiful things.
    • My heartbeat, is joy.
  • Doug does things that frustrate me. He is absolutely not the yin to my yang. He sometimes manages to push all my buttons, at once. But the moment I feel the frustration creeping in, I start laughing. Because Doug is, quite literally, powered by joy. He was delivered to my life when I prayed to still be a joy seeker after Jake died. I said the words please help me to continue on this joy journey and the universe said: here you go. Joy powers this one, whenever you are running low on joy, just look at him.
    • Joy still lives here.
  • Sometimes the wrong memories get served up. A moment of frustration with Jake, me wondering if Melvin’s cancer could have been cured had we found out earlier. A day after Melvin died when I was broken and not the best mom for Jake. Life sometimes tries to come at me from all the wrong directions. I do not entertain any of those moments. I did my best, I refuse to be torn down, not after all we’ve been through. So when those moments try to sneak in, I say nope. I go towards the joy. I go towards the moments that mattered, the moments that we won.
    • Joy owns my past.
  • Work stresses me out. Some days I feel like I’m drowning. But there is never a moment that joy doesn’t remind me that this job, that I happen to LOVE, this job has allowed me to give the boys everything they have ever needed. When cancer struck, I didn’t have to worry about whether I could give them the best care possible.
    • Joy is always just around the corner.

Let’s be honest folks, joy does not win (right away) every time. That would be odd and impossible. Sometimes, the grief is way stronger than the joy. Sometimes, the transition from angry to joy filled takes a few days.  I choose joy when I can and I accept that some days it’s going to be harder than other days.

I just don’t see myself ever giving up on the chase. Joy for me, translates a lot of the time, to thankfulness.  I have yet to arrive at a day where I am not thankful for something.

This joy journey all started with Melvin. From day one, Melvin dragged me, forward. I kicked and screamed and he just kept dragging me. One day he stopped for a break, and I had a moment of reflection and I looked back and realized, he’d gotten me through. Where I might have been happier to linger in a sad or difficult situation, he had shown me how to persevere. He changed me. From that point on, every time I looked at him, I felt joy wash over me and I knew with all that I was, that he and I were meant to continue chasing that emotion. He was the original joy for me. The joy catalyst. The one creature in this life that absolutely, every time, no matter what – moved forward with joy in his heart.

I’m just another way that his love lives on. Even saying those words, is joy to me.

We are coming up on the third anniversary of his death. I get haunted by flashbacks of our life three  years ago. But our life is not defined by our end, in fact I’d argue, the end is separate. The end will always come, but the middle, the middle is all ours. What we make of the middle, is what defines who we are. We don’t get to choose our beginning or our end, but we can own the shit out of the time in-between.

Our middle, is joy.

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Letters from Heaven. Letter three.

Hey Doug, it’s me, Jake.  How’s it hanging homey?

Your legs seem to be doing better. Only one dog can own wonkalicious and that is me, brother.  You’re going to have to get your own nickname. I was thinking you could own zoomiezombie!

I have been sending you some high fives from Heaven.  You try to chase birds, in flight!  Dude, you are awesome! You run, while they fly, and then you ram into the fence.  Hahahahahaha – oh brother, I really wish I was there with you, we would destroy those birds.

I also really, really, really appreciate how viciously you bark at Bob #2.  I mean s/he runs when you ram up against the window at her/him.  You and I both know that you would crap yourself if s/he ever saw you without the protection of the window. But good for you brother, you make me proud.

We noticed that you are finally not a spaz in the big bed.  That bed has a really beautiful history of naps with her (she called them migraines but they were naps), we were starting to think you were going to darken our legacy, but you finally calmed the F down.

Things here are great. We miss her, a lot. We send her signals that we are there with her and she catches every single one. She is so smart. Melvin and her talk all the time. He says it is his joy and purpose, on earth and in Heaven, to be her guardian angel.  I love her too, but I keep pretty busy making sure this place stays bumpin! I greet all the new dogs like I own the place!

We added a few to our gang recently, Sally – I know how much you love her brother, she’s here and she’s doing great. She is my spirit animal. She and I will probably get married. She is just impossible not to love.  Massey is here, I used to fence fight him but come to find out, he’s a cool, chill dude. He’s running (he is so fast) and jumping and keeping an eye on his family. Guinness is here now. That dude is so awesome, like I secretly watch him so I can learn his moves. He’s still pretty focused on letting his mom know he’s ok and that he’s with his sisters. I have a feeling he and I will get leather gang vests at some point (Sally will totally get one too). Diamond just arrived. Corbin leapt over like six hundred dogs to meet her! She lived the longest of all of us and she said that despite all her years, all she recalls is the love over the last few years with her mom.

Hey Doug, that time of year is coming up, the dates when she found out that Melvin and I had cancer.  Those dates still haunt her a little.  She tries really hard to forget them, but she can’t, because they are linked to us. So on February 9th and March 3rd – be extra saucy or snuggly. Keep her mind focused on joy. We are counting you.  Don’t let me down bro.

We still have bets on you. You are such a wild card.  I think you will still turn out like me. Weird legs, troublemaker, badass.  But Melvin thinks you will be soulful, like him and Max (boring!).  Either way, we made a really great choice in sending you to her. We can tell you love her like we love her. And it’s ok that she loves you every bit as much as she loves us. Love is supposed to live on. We only want her happy and safe.

Ok brother, I gotta go, my peeps need me to start this day with some Jakey funk!  Keep chasing the birds, I’ll be right next to you, hoping you catch one!

Love,

Your hero mentor brother, Jakey.

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A few of my favorite things.

Christmas brought with it some awesome additions for the mudroom.  I actually took all the photos down in there and rearranged them to include some of the new stuff.  Here are a few of my favorite gifts:

Just in case there is any confusion who the treats are for. IMG_8126

New here are the ‘You, me, & the dog’ and the oh-so-perfect ‘Hello/goodbye’ gifts. IMG_8127

I got the super fun ‘make your own sign’ for my birthday and the other two pieces for Christmas. IMG_8129

This awesome leash hook! IMG_8131

This true statement – luckily Doug loves everyone. IMG_8133

I also got the bottom two in this photo.  Be still my heart.  The photo above them is a gift I got after Melvin died. It’s the outline of his body (nubbin tail and all) filled in with words I would say – both about him and to him.  IMG_8134

Thankful. Grateful. Blessed.

There are so many things I am thankful for.

I’m thankful for beautiful sunsets sent by angels. For surgeons who know their shit. I’m thankful for Peanut Butter City and a dog who can now run zoomies again. For sushi and salt and vodka. I’m thankful for my family, for friendship and beautiful moments realized.

I’m thankful for rescue, vets. vet techs and tranquilizers. For leashes that hold up, for healthy treat options and for photographs. I’m thankful for Instagram stories, Facebook and blogging. I’m thankful for you. For this community, for constant support and understanding.

I’m really thankful for laughter and love. And random acts of kindness.

I’m thankful for good hair days, handbags, boots and cold-snuggly nights. I’m thankful for the kids in my life.  I’m thankful for all the dogs, and a cat named Bob.

I’m thankful for memories, for giving hearts, and that love lives on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo credit: Bev Hollis54342NNhol112204-R4-057-Edit

Photo credit: Bridgette E. PhotographyBT4A9990

Photo credit: Kate Juliet Photography kate_juliet_photography_pets_melvin_022836v2-2

That’s the way love goes.

I have some friends who have lost dogs recently and find themselves in a heavy-hearted conundrum. One that I know very well. No dogs in the house and uncertainty about ever being able to love a dog again. Then there is the ever awesome (not) feeling of guilt that they are in some way, moving on, or away from, the one they lost.

The number one question I get about grief and moving forward with Doug is: Did you love Doug right away.

The answer is, no. Love and grief are a strange combination.

Max was the dog that showed me the way. Without him, there would never have been a Melvin, a Jake or a Doug. He was the beginning, the catalyst, the original.

Melvin was a massive growth spurt for my heart. It is unlikely I will ever love another dog in the same way I loved Melvin. Our connection is spiritual and I am fine with that part of me belonging only to him. He changed me. But as with all loves, they grow and move and are meant to live on.

Melvin love, brought Jake home.

Jake is my baby. My love for him is different from my love for Melvin or Max. It is no more or less, just unique to Jake.  I felt that way when Melvin was here and after Melvin died. I doubt I will ever love a dog the way I loved Jake. That is exactly how it was meant to be.

Jake love, brought Doug home.

When I got Doug, my heart was still living in the Melvin and Jake era. I was still figuring out where my little family went. He didn’t fit in perfectly but at the same time, he didn’t have to find his place because there were no dogs here. I never felt guilty about bringing Doug home (but I certainly had felt that about dogs I met after Jake but before Doug).  I also never felt passionate about Doug’s arrival. In a lot of ways he solved the empty house problem which is not the most loving reason to get a dog.  Then again, I got Melvin because Max was dying so maybe life knows what it’s doing after all.

For most of Doug’s first year, I missed Jake.  If I wore some sort of emotional gauge, that is what would register as #1. Grief owns you until it doesn’t.

Last night after Doug was a madman and ran and jumped and did all the things he is not supposed to do post surgery I snuggled with my little guy. I have felt love for him for a long time now, it sorta just snuck up on me a few months into him joining the family. I know that sounds sad, I loved him enough to bring him home and keep him during the times he tried to eat my feet but I was not struck with an overwhelming YOU ARE THE ONE, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH right away with him.  I liked him a whole lot. I just didn’t have control over where my love had scattered after losing Melvin and Jake.

Last night, I realized, in a rather quiet, a-ha moment, that I LOVE him. Fiercely. Every bit as much as his brothers and in a completely different way that is also exactly the same. For anyone and everyone who has loved and lost and then loved again, you know what I mean. It’s not a guilty, replacement love. It is brand new love from the same loving heart.

I believe with all that I am that love lives on. That our hearts love, and when we lose the one we love, that loves stays theirs but our capacity to love widens to welcome the next love home. The chapters of our lives move on. What other choice do we have? Love is not meant to be tucked away in its pages, love needs air and light and new places to land.

The world needs love to live on, more than ever.

I know that if Doug could talk the first thing he would do is to thank Max, Melvin and Jake for sending my love back out into the universe.  I know with all that I am that Melvin, the owner of my heart, wants me to rain love down on as many dogs as I can fit into this lifetime and that anything else would be unacceptable to him.

Melvin’s song as you all know is Photograph.  Jake’s song is Superman. Every time I look at Doug, this song plays in my head.

Go out and spread some love today. Or better yet, do that every day.

#loveliveson

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Our Yellow Brick Home collection.

Recently, we got some bittersweet news. Our friends over at Yellow Brick Home are stepping back from doing pet portraits (I had to stop when I was reading it to hyperventilate) to make more time for the newest project they are cooking up, a baby girl! Ugh, it’s so hard to stay upset when it’s for such a good reason!

I am not sure I can put into words the feelings I have for the YBH paintings of my boys. Despite having tens of thousands of photographs of them, our YBH paintings are among the treasures I would rush in to save during a disaster. It’s not just that they are one-of-a-kind; they are one of my kind. My boys. I commissioned each one during a very definitive phase of our lives.

Melvin & Jake was ordered the moment I realized that my little odd couple were becoming soul mates. My very first, little family.

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Melvin’s was ordered just before his 10th birthday, to capture how soulful his Eeyore face had become. I found out he was dying while Kim was painting it and it arrived one week before we said good-bye. holupka-melvin-scan[1]

Jake’s was ordered just after Melvin died. During his intense grief, Jake’s eyes took on the most delicate vulnerability and I wanted Kim to capture it. Little did I know how poetic the timing was; his eye ruptured just a few weeks after the painting arrived.

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I had just ordered Doug’s (in the hopes no sadness would surround the timing of it) when YBH announced they were stepping back from the pet portraits. I just recently received it. My collection is complete!

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Some would say it’s all just paint on wood, but it’s infinitely so much more than that. Kim understands the connection between pet and person. There is an emotion in each stroke, the same way true love is painted into our hearts.

Farewell (for now) Yellow Brick Home.  Thank you for the treasures!

xoxo

Tracey, Melvin-man, Googly Eyes and Crazy Doug

Dear Jake.

I love you. You are one of the greatest gifts of my life.

It has been one year since I held you in my arms. I really don’t want to be marking this day on the calendar. I just want you here. Our time was cut way too short, Jakey.  I’m not sure I will ever makes sense of that. But, thoughts of you rarely make me sad. In fact, just the vision of you, brings on a flood of glorious joy.

You are my sunshine.

You were meant to be mine. There is no doubt. Your first family was to give up on you so that I could see you through your ‘special opportunities’. They were not joy warriors. They would not have been able to make sense of you like Melvin and I did.

You needed to know my love. In the process, I found more love than I ever knew existed.

You are the closest I will have ever come to having a child.  Not just because I changed your diapers and carried you, but because out of all the dogs I have had, you are the only one that relied on me completely. I doubt I will ever nurture anyone as much as I did you.

I was honored to be chosen to show you the way. But guess what little monkey, I think you guided me far more than I guided you.

Those months of intense grief that we shared after Melvin died, are forever, only ours. I would not have made it through if it were not for you. We grieved in exactly the same way and we needed space at the same time. Melvin was the Yin to your Yang but I was happy to fill in when it was just you and me. While I would have preferred you stayed here with me, I know that if given the choice between here and there, you would choose Melvin every time. Trust me. I get it. I love you even more for understanding so perfectly what Melvin love is all about.

Jakey, I love you completely, and beautifully and eternally. It’s a love that is woven through my bones.  It’s a crazy love, that even has me missing your damn meatballs sometimes.

You were not an easy puzzle to solve.  I hardly ever knew what to make of you.  I felt pretty confident, daily, that I had no idea of what you wanted or needed. You were my little cinder block. Impossible to read, unpredictable as F, and the funniest living creature that I will ever have the joy of laughing at/with/near.

I miss you. Some days, it’s still too much to put into perspective.

I’m not mad that life dealt you the hand it did.  I mean, I’d obviously prefer you lived a struggle free life, filled with joy and zoomies and peanut butter (and your odd carpet love making).  But that life may not have lead you to me. Sometimes, the road to true joy and unconditional love is paved by lessons in perseverance. That is our beautiful story, Jakey.

We earned our joy. We earned our love. I would only change that you stayed with me longer. It felt like there was not enough time with you. I will always feel that you deserved way more than eight years on this earth.  And this earth, deserved more you. There was just never enough Jakey to go around!  You brought the noise and the funk, and you were this tiny puzzle piece that when snapped into your forever spot, made our world come alive.

You made everything make sense.

Your eyes. I would give anything to stare into them (one at a time of course) again. But that is what all those photos and videos are for bud.  I can’t be a crazy dog person without admitting I have over 40,000 photos in my library. That library of memories of you and Melvin, is my most cherished possession.

There is something very soul changing about caring for a special needs dog. I remember how scared you were when your legs first gave out but Melvin rushed to you and I watched as you inhaled his love. I reached for you as your legs were swimming and you began to panic. You exhaled and melted into my arms and I knew and you knew and Melvin knew that no matter what was to come, we would always be there for you. Caring for you the last year of your life, with your eye, all the skin infections and the cancer, I learned so much from you. For all the shit that this universe dumped on you that last year, you responded with joy.

You and me, we won.

You and Melvin and me were meant to be. We are, and always will be, that little family who grew love and watched joy bloom.

Also, I know it’s  you who watches over Doug.  I know this with absolute certainty.  You are the perfect big brother for him. You guiding him makes my heart happy. I only wish you were here to torment him in person.  You would be the ultimate boss of him, bud! And, if you are taking request, calm him down any day now!

Jakey, my love for you lives on in so many beautiful ways. You changed me. I scroll my Facebook feed and I see a dog with no eyes or a dog dragging their legs and the old me would have said poor thing but Jake’s mom knows that there is nothing but opportunity in those photos. Because of you, I see the beautiful in the broken, I see opportunity for joy when faced with struggle. When the journey gets hard, I see you, and I’m reminded that all the obstacles, and all the twists and turns that occur, are part of my beautiful life unfolding. I know that you and Melvin and Max will always show me the way.

You know who doesn’t miss you?  All the neighborhood wildlife.  But they are stupid so who cares what they think.

I’m so grateful that I was chosen to love you. You are my beautiful purpose. My wonky, little-monkey. My googly-eyed, chicken nugget.

I love you. Your love lives on, in me. Forever.

xoxo

me.