Who runs the world? Moms.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms! To the hockey moms, the dog moms, the new moms, the grand-moms.  To the male moms, the single moms, the families with more than one mom moms. To the cheer moms, the carpool moms, the dance moms. To the moms that gave birth and to the moms who open their doors to children in need. To the working moms, the stay-at-home moms and the do-whatever-is-necessary moms. To the worry-they-have-no-idea-what-they-are-doing moms. To the moms of one and the moms of many. To the moms setting a better example for their kids, than what was set for them. To the moms preparing to become moms.

To the moms who have lost a child. I won’t pretend to have the words.

To those who have lost their moms. I wish you strength as memories sneak or flood in.

Moms rule this universe. A mom created your beating heart and then (hopefully) filled it with love and confidence and joy and understanding.

To my mom, you taught me the meaning of true, unconditional love. It’s the foundation of my beautiful life.

To Max, Melvin, Jake, Bob(s) and Doug, being your mom, is my everything. You are my joy.

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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