Three years without Wonkalicious.

Jake went to be with Melvin three years ago.

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Putting it in that context has always made it hurt a little less. I was always meant to find Melvin, and so was Jake.

 

Losing Jake was so hard, something this community knows very well. Melvin was gone and Jake’s last year was so difficult. His soulmate had left him and he didn’t know why. His beautiful googly eye formed a hole from an ulcer and after emergency surgery, struggled to heal (never forget hamburger eye!). He went fully paralyzed in his hind legs.  He got MRSP. His body had a much harder time fighting infection and then cancer came knocking again, this time with two different types for Jake.

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I have conflicting feelings about his last year. He was so lost without Melvin and there were moments, where it was just me and him, that I saw how small and lonely he was without his big brother. But he and I got to have that year together, just the two of us, and I really do believe that is how it was meant to be. He got all the love, something he had never gotten from anyone, ever.

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We made the best of that year. Many moments of me holding him in my arms, dancing around the house. Trips to the beach, rolling around the hood in his stroller. Owning the front door watch post like a boss. Him doing all the meatball production and me doing all the meatball clean up.

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A lot has happened in the last three years, and in some ways, nothing has changed. I said goodbye to Jake and hello to Doug; my little family may look different, but Melvin and Jake are still part of it. Jake is still my baby, I don’t think any dog will ever need me as much as he did. Melvin is my co-pilot and Jake is Doug’s. He is the little voice that whispers inside Doug’s head, some are really good ideas and some are really, really, really bad ideas.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Every year around the time of Jake’s death, I try to find a dog in rescue who needs a cart. It started with Oliver, just before Jake died, and this week, we bought our 4th cart in memory of Jakey, paid with love, for a little nugget named Declan. Declan is about to regain his mobility, and every joyful step he takes with his new wheels, will be more of Jake’s beautiful love living on, and one more step closer to Declan finding his forever.

I am so thankful this wonky-googly-eyed ball of comedy rescued me. I’m so happy to have been chosen to watch over both Jake and Melvin and watch their love grew. They brought me more happiness than I could ever explain! If you ever ask my advice on how to navigate all of  life’s beautiful and soul crushing moments, my response is always: Be the joy. So this week, in memory of someone who’s love should live on, be the Jakey joy. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Love. Lives. On.

 

Dear Doug. Year two.

You have been here for two years.  I went to visit you at your foster’s house on 9/1/16. Jake had been gone for six weeks. I was not the best version of me when we met.

You were this low riding hippopotamus with a permanent smile. Your foster mom was telling me how you were absolutely perfect and that you hadn’t had any issues with the other dogs in your house.  That is the exact moment you got protective of me and lunged at the other bulldog. I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom and cry, because that is EXACTLY what Jake did the day I met him.

Jake was there with us.

I took you home.

I wasn’t sure I would ever love you as much as you deserved. My love was fractured and you spent all day trying to eat my feet. I was tired and wondering what I had done in bringing you home.  It’s all a bit of a blur, some of that is because I was in perpetual heat exhaustion taking you on 9,000 walks a day and hopping through the house the rest of the time, trying to save my feet.

I cried a lot of nights for the first four months you were here. The balance of why, teetered from losing Jake to trying to understand you.

I felt inadequate.

It’s been two years. It seems like much longer. Grief is no longer an open wound in me. It left beautiful battle scars, but the days of looking back or standing still, those cracks have been filled in with Doug joy.

Adopting you disrupted the theory of It’s too soon to get another dog. Now I know, It’s actually never too soon. A lot of grief’s load, is just love with nowhere to go. Love wants to be perpetually in motion.  Grief suggests a sudden stop in love. That is when the war in our hearts start. What I have found to be true, is that love, is it. It’s why we are here. It is not meant to stop. In the same way we don’t have to feel rushed, we also should embrace, It’s never too soon. If something were to happen to me, I would never want my loved ones to delay seeking joy. I would want them to run to joy and bust through that joy door with all the love they have in their hearts for me.

That is what I did when I brought you home. I said FU to too soon and hello to let love live on. 

Jake has always been your #1 fan. I know this. Jake was the scrolling power on the Facebook post when I first saw you. His googly eyes saw what my sad eyes couldn’t. He absolutely loves how disruptive you seem to me sometimes. In that way, you are so much like him.

That concern I had, about being able to love you enough… it was unfounded. I love you fiercely. I love you forever. I love you, no matter what. A love that could not be bigger or more glorious but yet every day, it is.

I love you every bit as much as your brothers. My love passes over and through each of you, infinitely.

I would not trade time with you, for time with them. I had my beautiful years with Melvin and he filled up my heart with joy and he is with me every moment of every day. I had my beautiful time with Jakey and he and I won at so much life together, he is my baby, and I know that he guides you now, the same way that Melvin guides me.

My little family is stronger and more beautiful than ever.

Doug, you have taught me so much. You and I have bent equally for one another. I have to advocate for you differently than I did your brothers. Where so many used to run up to them, a lot of people are unsure about you. If you could dial down the exuberance every once in a while, that’d be good too. If not, we’ll figure it out.

I didn’t get to see your brothers grow old, and now there is a very good chance, that I will have you for the longest. That I will have you longer than the seven years I had with Melvin. And the four years I had with Jake. I hope there are more dogs that can join our family during that time. This is a giant hint, mister. Hopefully none of them are as young as you were!

Happy Gotcha day chicken legs. You are a beautiful part of my journey of joy. I look forward to many more years of waking up with your ass in my face and you breaking world records in zoomie nation. I promise that our next house will have no shiny tile. Please don’t eat Bob. Also, if you could try to keep your limbs intact and somewhat unharmed, that’d be super.

xoxo, me.

 

 

 

Let there be light.

The days and weeks after Jake died, were absolutely the darkest of my moments. Jake was gone. Melvin was gone.

I was so lost.

I couldn’t solve anything. I’d gone from being Jake’s caretaker 24/7 to having no obvious purpose. The house had no dogs. That silence killed me a little each day. The days and weeks after Melvin died, were hard, but I felt him guiding me. Melvin is a part of me. I didn’t feel that connection to Jake after he died. He felt far and the void swallowed me.

I am not ashamed to say I had to take medication to get me through that period. It helped. It helped to give me space to breathe. Breathing is important.

Thirty nine days after Jake died (and exactly two years ago today). I saw this post:

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I had tried to meet dogs. They all made me cry. I scrolled past the post.

I had hyperventilated after meeting dogs. They weren’t Jake. I’m not ready. I scrolled back up to look at the post again.

I kept reaching for Jakey. I decided to just accept the emptiness in the house. It was too soon. I scrolled past the post again.

The dogs I had met were all wrong. A few hours later I checked that post to see how many likes it had. Scrolled back down again. Back up to count likes.

Next thing I know someone had commented. It was me. Well that’s strange, I didn’t remember doing that. Oh wait, now I’m sending them an email telling them the story of Jake and how I know without question this dog, whose name will never stay Hooty, this dog is part of my journey. Pleading with them to consider me, to let me give this dog a forever. I sent them a link to this blog to show my commitment to dogs.

Crazy grief filled dog lady, line 2.

At the same time, an angel of ours, who had adopted from this rescue group before, sent a message on our behalf. Likely negating some of the crazy, and pumping up some of the normal.

The rescue wrote back that they would not post him as adoptable until I was able to meet him.

We decided that Thursday, September 1st seemed like a good day to meet.

I slept better that night.  I felt Jakey inch a little closer to my heart.

To be continued…

The Decade of Melvin.

I rescued Melvin ten years ago. Of course he rescued me ten years, and one week ago (when I drove to Delaware to meet him). I don’t know how it is possible that it is only ten years, because I cannot really recall a time before, or without, Melvin.

Melvin made me believe in fate.  I believe the universe delivered a master plan in us.

Yes, Melvin won in his life with me. He got the vet care he needed. We waged an assault on his allergies. He had the healthiest life he could have, with me. I love him with my whole heart. But the winner of our union will always be, me.

He changed me. He taught me to chase joy. Jake came, because of Melvin. Because we were joy junkies and we needed that little peanut so we could all be more joyful together. I have so much patience for Doug, because Melvin taught me to be understanding of all dogs. To accept that it is not where we’ve been or where we are going, it’s where we are right now.

I worried when he died that he wasn’t able to impart his wisdom on more dogs. Had I know cancer would strike so quickly, I would have brought more dogs into our house so they could soak up Melvin vibes. But now with Doug, I realize that I am his link to all that. I am the connection from Doug to Melvin and Jake. And there are so many things about Doug that remind me of his brothers. My love is the link to them all.

There will be more decades of Melvin, because I carry him in my heart. His love, and life, and light, will always shine brightly in me. Melvin magic lives on.

A few years ago, I wrote a letter to Melvin’s first family. You can find it here.

I have said this before, I have hard time being anything but happy about Melvin. I didn’t spend a ton of time being angry at his life before me. I made a huge effort to not be angry when I was grieving his loss. Melvin personified (dogified?) joy every moment he was alive. I mean his tail got amputated and he came out of that surgery, on the stretcher, wagging his nubbin. He was ALL JOY, all the time. I worked really hard after he died, to not let anger become a part of our story.  There is a peace that has always washed over me when I see Melvin’s face. I hope that stays with me forever.

Ten years of Melvin in my heart. I’m blessed.

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Merry and Happy.

The holidays can be lovely, joy filled, and happy.  They can also be challenging, lonely, and heartbreaking.

I always say that best part about any holiday is who you share your couch with.  Sometimes, the couch is full.  Inevitably, someone is missing.

We understand.

This will be our third Christmas without Melvin, and the second without Jake. There are a few tears when I put their ornaments on the tree, but at this point, I’m mostly just grateful that they are both in my heart and that every beat is a chance for me to seek and spread joy in their memory.  Despite their physical absence, I’m blessed to still have a full couch.

Love lives on. But it is not always an easy journey.

We wish you all much love and much laughter this holiday season. To anyone who is dreading the holidays or too sad to celebrate, we send you love and hugs. We’ll hold a spot for you, just in case.

xoxo, Tracey & Doug

PS: If you are wondering what Doug thinks of Christmas, just check out his expression on our card.  It’s the ho-ho-ho version of  F-you.

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I gotcha, Doug.

Dear Doug,

A year ago I was broken. I was overwhelmed with grief and I was paralyzed under the weight of there being no dogs here. Jakey had not been gone that long and the void in my heart and in the house was crushing me. I’d met dogs and all of them made me have breakdowns. None of them were the dog I wanted.

The dog(s) I wanted had died.

So I gave up. My exact words were: it will just have to be shitty until it isn’t.

Then I saw you. I was scrolling on Facebook and I saw you and went past you and then scrolled back up and then back down and then back up. What was it about you? I didn’t think: you’re not Jake. I didn’t say: it feels too soon. In you, I saw the love-child of my delicious duo. More so, I saw a tomorrow that you could be in. I brought you home (one year ago today) and there were no breakdowns, at least none that were grief driven.

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In the first weeks that followed, my feet bled.  This is not some sort of poetic rhetoric, they literally bled because you were insane and tried to eat my feet with every step I took.  Every step.  I remember running and hiding in the bathroom.  I googled steel toed shoes.  Steel toed footwear in the heat of summer = not cute. During those torturous weeks, you made me miss Jake more.  I won’t lie, I did not love you. I regularly asked myself and you out loud, what was I thinking?

In addition to my bloody stumps, you had more energy than all the dogs combined times infinity. We walked non stop and still you were wound up and running zoomies. Still trying to leave me footless. How was I going to walk you with no feet?

I cried. A lot. About you. You were not at all what I wanted.

But then it was October. Then November. And we’d worked on you chewing toys and not feet and although I was still sad about Jake, I was not as unsure about you. December came and I still cried myself to sleep missing Jake, but I woke up smiling that you were here.

You saw me through almost all the firsts I had to go through without Jake. You were fairly insensitive about my sadness, in fact most times when I would cry you would jump on my back and chew my hair.

In hindsight,  you were everything that I needed.

I didn’t need a hug. That was Melvin’s job. Melvin’s collars were too big for you. I didn’t need you to make me laugh, Jake had that covered.  Jake’s jackets were too small for you. What I needed was a disruption to the structure of grief. I needed to go a little crazy.  Who better to show me that than you? You are my boy in the middle. Sandwiched between your brothers. Sort of like that circle on the top of your head.IMG_1852

You crept slowly into my heart.

I didn’t love all the walks, but the fresh air healed me. I was not excited about how much training you needed, but it helped pass time that would have otherwise been spent wishing Jake was still laying on the couch next to me. I didn’t love that you were such a terror, but every night I went to bed, I was almost too exhausted to be sad.

You were not the dog I wanted at first. But no dog was.  Today, I know with certainty that we were meant to be. Not just because you are addicted to surgery and I love going broke, but because when you look at me, my heart squeals. You are so much like Melvin, and so much like Jake, and nothing like them at all.  Even though you never met them, I still feel like you are brothers, that you are connected to them, and I do not think I would have felt that way with any other dog but you.

Your story is the opposite of mine.  You never had a family to lose. You never had someone committed to your health or well-being. You never had a home, or beds or peanut butter. If there is one thing I know, it’s that the universe will send me the dogs that others would not be able to go the distance with. I will travel this crazy life with you and your wonky Barbie legs, always.

I know you know you’re home.

Thank you for joining me on this journey of joy.  You are a strong force in this army. You bring the joy AND the funk.

You own my heart. Sure, some days I am still worried you will chew it up like one of your beds or swing it around like one of your Jolly Balls, but as all unconditional loves go, I’m willing to take that risk.

Happy Gotcha Day, bud.  I love you.  Forever.

 

 

One year.

Tuesday will mark the one year anniversary of losing Jake. Of all the days I have had to face after losing both Melvin and Jake, this one is by far the most difficult for me.

I don’t want it to be one year because I don’t want it to even be one minute. Most days, I barely accept that he’s gone. I still lose my breath during moments of missing him. I have theories on why this has been so hard on me, but the reality is that the theories don’t really matter.  Losing Jake has been the hardest thing I’ve gone through. It is what it is.

I know that some of you are thinking, even harder than losing Melvin?

Yes. Much harder.

Some of that is likely due to losing both boys back-to-back with Jake being second.  Some of that is that I had Jake during the year after losing Melvin. Some of that is Doug is not a healer, he’s a spaz who barely senses emotion (I still love him).  Mostly though, and I never thought I would be someone who would say these words but I say them with complete conviction: Melvin imprinted on me. I felt intense grief when he died, but then he reached out and played a role in my healing process.  He is a part of who I am. A part I can feel, call upon, and count on.  I will never be able to explain it, I’m only just grateful that it happened. He and I are one.

It is not the same with Jake. And it wouldn’t be fair of me to ask that the universe make it the same.  Each loss is different. Losing Jake left a wide void. I have not figured out how to mend it yet.

When I hit the one year mark of losing Melvin, I recall it being easier to celebrate all the beautiful moments we’d had, and sure, I was sad that he was not here (and always will be) but I was infinitely stronger to face life without Melvin than I have been to face days without Jake. I went through every photo I ever took of Melvin and made a few videos to share with you all. I was unable to do the same for Jake. I don’t feel guilty about this, I know he doesn’t care. I fully accept my limitations where grieving him is concerned.

I have two posts coming next week to pay tribute to my love for Jake. But I can tell you with all that I am, that I hope Tuesday will be a day that fades in and then fades away. I want the calendar to stop reminding me that he’s gone.

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For those of you who are new to the blog, here is the post that explains Jakey’s last days with me.

And here is my one year post after Melvin died.

Two years.

Melvin died two years ago this week. I’m not sure how that is even possible since I was so sure I wouldn’t make it through losing him, let alone exist without him.

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Melvin changed me, profoundly. He changed the structure of my existence, he guided me to my purpose.

I have said this before. Melvin was a part of me in life and now in death. He is the goodness in me, the joy, the laughter and the reason love lives on. Losing him broke me, but then, he healed me. I carry him in my heart. I feel closer to him now than I ever have. I am grateful for that every day .

As we approach the anniversary of losing him, it makes me miss Jake even more.

You read that right.

When I lost Melvin and went through the grief and then found out Jake was dying, I sorta just thought, here we go again.  In a, grief will repeat itself sort of way.

Grief is not a protocol. It’s a living, breathing, organic, emotional, extension of us. I persevered Melvin grief, I remember what it felt like to start to emerge from it. With Jake grief, I usually don’t feel like dealing with it much at all. I want to overcome it and I don’t ignore its impact but it’s more of a one day it will be over sort of way. Truth be told, I’m a bit apathetic about this grief journey.

I think some of that has to do with who I spent each journey with. Jake and I lost Melvin together. Jake sat a lot so we sat a lot together and we worked through our sad moments as a team. Doug didn’t lose Jake, so he goes on his merry way and I go along with him and sometimes I try to bypass grief on my very, very, oh so very long walks with Doug. Grief doesn’t work that way; there is no going around it. Grief will chase you and tackle you and say hey, I’m the boss of you, get back here.

Grief is an asshole.

Jake died nine months ago this week.

Jake is most certainly a part of me too. Jake taught me to see the beautiful in the broken, he taught me that struggle is not the end, in many ways, it’s just the beginning. But spiritually, Jake is not necessarily the parts of me that I derive strength from. He’s more like my weakness. In a beautiful way, not in a way that I would change.

Jake is my baby.

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I have come to accept that my hands will always reach for him. The need to nurture him, lives on as much as the love does. It is a constant, and perhaps, eternal ache.  It just is what it is. I think some thoughts of Jake will always trigger that lump in my throat. I’m not sure why. It’s ok though, each and every time, my soulful connection to Melvin helps ease the Jake sadness.

They are still a team, even in death.

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Don’t fret, memories of Jake bring me joy.  I laugh out loud watching videos of him, even videos of him towards the end. For every struggle, we found a solution. In Melvin and Jake’s life, we won, way before cancer showed up. I think at the end of my life, that is what I will be most proud of.

As we come up on the two year anniversary of losing Melvin, I’m grateful for the unbreakable connection I have with him. And, I’m so happy that if I can’t have Jake here, that Melvin holds him close for me.

This post, is a post I go back to regularly.  I wrote it a week after Melvin died and it is, everything to me. It’s a reminder of how strong my connection to Melvin has always been. And this post was written one year ago. A testament to love living on.

I miss my boys, but the honor of loving them is worth every ounce of grief.

We won.

 

 

Oh Melvin, Yo Jake.

This Monday is the one year anniversary of finding out Jake had cancer. I remember sitting in my car after getting the call and my eyes and chest burning from sadness and fear. I couldn’t breathe. I remember feeling so overwhelmed because I was still mourning Melvin. Jake couldn’t have cancer, they must be wrong.  I raced home to be with Jake, since more than ever, every second counted.

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In two weeks, it’s the two-year anniversary of finding out Melvin was dying. Calendars suck.

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I don’t plan to remember these dates forever. But back to back loss makes me feel like I’ve been sad for a long time. I also know how far I’ve come despite losing them both so close together.

My love for Melvin continues to grow. He is me. He is my heart, my guiding light, the goodness I try to put out into the world.  As for losing Jake, he and I still have some first to go through on our way to the year anniversary of his death this July. I still feel that burning in my chest sometimes when I think of Jake. Sadness and joy still struggle for the win when I think of him.

But then there is this, in my world, Melvin and Jake are the sun, they are the joy, and the laughter and everything that is beautiful in this life. I have learned that great loss does not slow down the trajectory of great love.

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Melvin was, and in some ways, will always be the muse for this blog. He is the reason it exists.Funny though, I have a hard time even recalling the posts I did about Melvin as an only dog. When I look back, it’s as if it was always Melvin and Jake. I guess that’s all part of  a love that was meant to be. Now that they are both gone, they are eternally one. Melvin & Jake. Jake & Melvin. My favorite odd couple. The source of so much of my joy.

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After Melvin died, I mentioned that I might change the name of the blog. There were many comments asking me not to, that it felt wrong to do that, and in the end, I kept the name.

But now, its time.

Here is where my heart is…

  • Oh Melvin the blog started six years ago with just me and Melvin, hardly anyone even read back then! I chronicled his severe allergies, his tail amputation, his joyful exuberance.
  • When Jake came along, it was easy to add him and still feel like Oh Melvin worked. Everyday that passed, they became life partners. Now that Doug is here, and knowing other dogs will come, Oh Melvin feels…like a look back. Oh Melvin doesn’t feel like it captures this new world where I am without Melvin and Jake, where I am learning to chase joy with Doug.
  • Oh Melvin is from where I’ve come, and although it will always be a part of me, I don’t say those treasured words very often anymore. And the moments when I do say them, well now those moments are more personal, they belong only to me.
  • The URL will always be ohmelvin.com because Melvin is the soul of this blog. OhMelvin.com is the road that will always lead you to me and me to you, but it’s time for the blog name itself to support a past, present and future.

Moving forward is OK. Its good. Its how life goes.

I’m not going to do a big introduction, one day soon you will stop by and the change will have occurred (it’s actually all loaded up, I just have to publish it). The photo will change too, I thought I should warn of you that also. I hope when you see it, you smile. I can tell you with certainty that Melvin and Jake are fine with it.

Just as a sidenote, I changed our Instagram name this week too (it’s now: @dougholupka.for.president).  It only seemed fair that Doug get some real estate in some of our social media presence. I’m not sure why I never changed that account name after Melvin died (but had I, it would have either been Just Jake or Wonkalicious). I think Jake was ok living under the Oh Melvin umbrella though. I think he wouldn’t have had any other way.

Change is hard, but joy will guide us.

xoxo, Tracey

 

Six months now.

Jake has been gone for six months. I’m not going to write too much because at this stage, I still miss him so much.  What I will say is that my love for him has grown infinitely and that photos now bring many more smiles than tears.

Jakey, I love you. You will always be my pea-nugget. #loveliveson

I had a dream.

I use the term dream lightly.  It was a nightmare.

I came home and the house was empty and I was calling for Melvin and Jake.  I searched the entire house and panic overtook me.  I started making calls, running around the neighborhood.  Screaming their names. It was one of the worst dream moments I’ve ever had.

People came but they wouldn’t help me look for them. Not in a mean way, they would just stand there and watch me and listen to me.  But they wouldn’t help me look.  I frantically begged them to help me but they just kept saying you won’t find them. I was crying so hard, my heart was pounding.

A man came over to me and said, go through that door, maybe you can find them in there. I tore the hinges off of that door opening it and I ran in desperate to see my boys.

I found myself in a giant maze inside a building that was the size of a city. There were hallways and staircases and ramps but no rooms. I started running and screaming Melvin and Jake’s names. At every dead-end, someone I knew was standing there and they would say, you won’t ever find them again.

I continued to run and scream their names and I hit a dead-end each time. The same words were repeated to me, that they would never be found. The dream went on for what felt like eternity. I was exhausted but I refused to give up. I would have stayed there forever, looking for them.

I woke up screaming and sweating.  Unable to breathe. I sat on the edge of the bed and then walked around to shake it off. I eventually fell back asleep.

The next morning I laid in bed thinking about the dream.  I thought about how horrible it was. How tormented and helpless I felt.

Then all of a sudden, I got it. That nightmare, is me.

That nightmare is all the feelings I carry with me. It’s who I am now that Melvin and Jake are both gone. It’s not the whole of me, but there is a part of me that feels a painful hole from having lost my little family.  My perfect little family. That city sized maze with stairways and ramps and hallways that I was running through blindly, is my grief.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that above all else, I’m grateful they were mine to love. That we found such a lovely balance is one of life’s greatest gifts of joy. The dream was not the story. The story is love.

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Losing both boys required me to start over in a lot of ways.  I am not the same person I was after I lost Melvin. I am most definitely not the same person since losing Jake. I wouldn’t say I’m better or worse, I’m just a more current version of me. I’m still figuring me, without them, out.  That Doug wasn’t part of the Melvin and Jake era doesn’t make him any less perfect. That he wasn’t in the dream doesn’t mean that he doesn’t fit. It actually is more along the lines of me not fitting. Like life continues and I have to reinsert my new self back into it and that new self is not technically new. I have memories and I often want to go backwards to how it was as much as I want to go forward and see how it will be. I think the dream is a reminder that I still have to work to do. As I continue to build on life moving forward, a new family structure will grow that can’t be and shouldn’t be painted from a memory. It should, however, be influenced by the same love.

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I have started looking for a new dog.  I spend a lot of time thinking about who that dog should be (to me and to Doug). Who that new dog is can’t be fully determined until he or she is here, which is part of the problem about even trying to envision it or wanting to be one way or another. It will be how it will be. I do happen to have faith in my ability to pick awesome dogs. I’m excited to see how the next dynamic duo plays out.

To all of you reinserting yourself back into life. I get it.  It’s a maze sometimes, but new chapters must be written if we want our story to continue.

As 2016 nears its end, it would be easy for me to say this was a terrible year and to want 2017 to arrive already.  The truth is, I’m OK if this year lingers a little longer. This year is the last year I had Jakey here with me. So despite his cancer, his death, the grief and even the blood clots, I want to stay here as long as possible. I’m familiar with this wind down to the end of the year. I felt the same exact way last year about Melvin.

This year is also the year of Doug! And that makes it all kinds of beautiful too. I’m very excited about the adventures Doug and I will have next year and curious as to who might join us on our journey of love and exuberance.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Chanukah! Happy everything! We hope with all of our hearts that you find your joy!

xoxo – T&D

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Where have we been?

I am not sure where to begin with this one.  It’s been quite a week.

I was having back pain and it hurt to breathe so I assumed that I pulled something.  I went to our local ER and that turned into an ambulance ride to a different hospital and that turned into being in the hospital for three days.  I had a pulmonary embolism. Before you gasp and hurt yourself, this was not my first PE. In fact, I have had many, many blood clots find their way into my lungs. I’m not sure how I’m still here but I’m grateful that is the case.

The thing that is different about this time is that I was on medication to prevent blood clots.  Yet here I was in the hospital with another PE.  My blood clotting condition had gone to new heights, not in a good way. Three things owned my worry at that point:

  1. Doug. I had left for a quick errand and now I would not be home for days. I called his tribe and they took over. His meals were made, he got walks, he got play time and I got lots of video proof that my boy was just fine. This was perhaps the best of all the medicine.
  2. That I was suddenly not safe.  That I could clot and/or perhaps die at any minute. This feeling has not gone away yet.  Its heavy and scary and I’m still working on this one.
  3. That there was a clot at all.  After you have situations like this, the event itself is less scary.  I knew it would be painful, I knew it would be some time of not feeling well but it occurred, I survived, and the doctors were taking care of it. This is not me making light of anything, it’s just a reality that I live with.

I came home to a well fed and very loved Doug. My not feeling well pretty much went unnoticed by him, he still wanted to jump on me and ride my back and eat my hair.  In some ways, although more painful than usual, it helps to have a dog that is of the everything is normal and great, let’s go!.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving, I got a migraine, because why wouldn’t I.  Then decided to decorate the Christmas tree and had to come face-to-face with all my Jakey decorations. One year ago I had to deal with Melvin’s ornaments and now dealing with Jake’s made pulling both of their decorations out of the box sting so much more. I wanted Jake to be here.  I wanted him on the couch as I decorated the tree.  He wasn’t supposed to die. So I cried and I got overwhelmed because the week had been hard enough and well to be honest, because I felt sorry for myself and I gave in that it was ok to feel defeated. Now, the tree is up. The boy’s decorations are on there. I survived a blood clot, a migraine and another painful grief moment. This week had to let go of me eventually.  Then I looked at the calendar.

Yesterday was Jake’s gotcha day.  I miss him more than I am afraid to die.

Here is the thing though, being scared and overwhelmed and sad, those are human emotions and I am going to feel those things because, well because last time I checked I am still human. But they aren’t who I am. I can’t stay there because I believe in joy. I’m committed to joy.  When the boys died I promised them that I would carry on. When I feel afraid, my first instinct is to wonder when or how I can feel brave again. When I feel beaten down I think, I’m still here, get up.  When I think of Jake and Melvin, I know it’s ok to be sad, but I desperately want to feel warmth during thoughts of them both. Joy takes work. Sometimes chasing joy is the last thing I want to do and often I have no energy to even try but then I realize, it’s the only way. Joy haunts me. When I look at the tree now, those ornaments that brought tears, bring smiles, because Melvin and Jake were here, they were right here with me and I had precious time with them and I also had a ridiculous amount of ornaments made with their names on them and that alone is both crazy and funny. I also think, poor Doug has no ornaments.  YET!

I had written Jake’s last gotcha letter before the health events. I will finish that up and post it tomorrow.  Everyday I will celebrate quietly that he came to me. He was here. That there was and always will be, great Jakey love.

And I’ll leave you with this. On the tree decorating day, after the hospital stay and the migraine and all the ornament ugly crying. I sat on the couch exhausted and Doug started jumping on me and I said out loud but calmly, I need Melvin. Five minutes later Doug allowed me to lay down and he snuggled with me on the couch as I cried and I napped, for the rest of the day.

Joy found.

Doug is my little oddball.

Yesterday, Doug went under anesthesia so that the vet could do X-rays of his mouth and leg. He is missing four teeth (which is odd at his age) and we needed to see if they were impacted. As for his leg, his body is a ball of muscle, except his rear left leg.  It’s much weaker than the other legs and he often holds it up/won’t put weight on it.

The teeth situation is that it seems Doug never had those teeth. There is no sign that he had them and lost them and there are no teeth currently up in there. This is VERY good news.  He’s been having some drooling and pain when chewing so we were very worried this was an issue (that would require a speicalist to deal with). The pain is likely that HE IS SUCH AN INSANE SUPER CHEWER.

As for his leg, there is no indication that there is a bone issue.  His hips look good, his knee looks good too. So it’s likely a soft tissue issue. When they said soft tissue my mind immediately went to Jake who had a soft tissue cancer. But then I quickly pulled myself back. Doug is not even one yet, he’s healthy, it’s a something we can do rehab on and be fine.

I am currently two to three different people at any given time. I’m Jake (and Melvin’s) mom, who is still grieving and who worries when limps present themselves. I’m Doug’s mom who is learning what is it like to have an active, relatively healthy young dog, a role I am not used to yet.  And I’m me, the person who tries to be them both without being too much of either. Stay in the middle Tracey, learn from where you have come but don’t be afraid of where you are going.

True of all of my dogs, Doug was completely out of it all night long and has the explosive poops. He’s mine, all mine.

Why is the room spinning? No really,  make it stop. Is the fire burning my butt? My butt burns too. img_1223

Thank you for all of the well wishes!  We really apprciate it! xoxo

Joy rising.

I was thinking about #loveliveson last night. How the day after Melvin died, that idea formed in my mind and got me out of bed. I didn’t know then what I know now, that it would become my purpose, who I was to become. Love living on is a force that drives me. Sometimes it’s a big gesture of effort and sometimes it is much more quiet. 100% of the time, I’m a required participant.

Joy can’t spread on its own.

Grief can tend to make a lot of things grey and dark. Being open to joy takes work.  I sometimes have to dig deep to see the colors of a day fill in. I have to be open to seeing Melvin and Jake’s love, growing and blooming in unexpected places. While I may wake up on any given day with a strong ache of loss, the universe will almost always serve me up something beautiful to balance it. It’s not always obvious, but it’s always there. Like a note from a reader saying my grief experience is helping her deal with the loss of her dog. Or unexpectedly seeing a video of Oliver running around in the wheelchair that we donated to him. Sometimes, love living on is as easy as sunshine or a quiet moment that lets a memory of the boys take over. Love lives on in every sunset too. Last night there was a frost warning here, love exploded through that alert because for many, many years the first frost signaled the end of allergy season for Melvin.  That alert was joy reminding me from where I came.

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Love living on requires me to take action. To donate Jake’s things. To take in a foster, to donate to a cause, to be there for someone in need.  Some days, love living on is through patience for Doug.

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Love living on requires me to hold onto the fact that they were here, we persevered, love won; in the same moment it requires me to be present. If I had been the one to go, Jake and Melvin would have spread my love like a wildfire.

This is life’s beautiful work.

Of course, the boys live on through my efforts with Melvin and Jake’s Project Joy too. I was more public with how we reached out with Melvin’s Project Joy efforts.  Since adding Jake to that cause, I have been a little more quiet about the ways we are helping.  Melvin was loud and proud and exuberant. So were our efforts in his memory.  Jake was more reserved. Our last year together was he and I leaning on each other, so for the last few months, my giving has been more quiet, like Jake and I were. But every single thing I do in his memory, sends loud joy outward and inward.

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Every thought of them both, inspires me to always give more than I take.

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When I get up each morning, there is a nanosecond where I keep my eyes closed and pretend Melvin and Jake are still here with me.

  • I have gotten up 562 times since Melvin died. Since that very first morning, I felt him with me.  I will never be able to explain it but he has never really left me.
  • I have risen 100 times since Jake died.  There is still sadness in those moments. Less air. There is still more healing needed, more joy to spread to be sure that mending continues.
  • I have woken up to Doug, 55 times. That makes me have a smile explosion.

Three different boys, two different losses, one beautiful love. I rise up every day to make sure that love lives on and grows and that I do my part to fuel our joy train.

This song lifts me, inspires me, calms me and brings me joy. This song is my battle cry.

 

 

 

Doug can be chill. True story.

Doug is boundless energy and exuberance.  I tell everyone that he is powered by joy.  Sure that results in a lot of walks and sessions out back to wear him out, but there are far worse things than being powered by joy.

Additionally, even though he is the most active dog I have ever had, he is equally the most chill upon arrival. Active and chill don’t usually go hand-in-hand and for Doug they certainly do not go together at the same time. When I am home, he be cray, but when I leave, he is totally chill. When I first got Melvin and Jake, they both had separation anxiety. If I was outside, Melvin would follow me from window to window frantically so that his body could be as close to mine as possible.  If I came home to grab something quickly, and then left again, Jake would flip and flail and shoot out meatballs. Eventually they would both relax and it got much better over time.

From day one, when I leave Doug, he lays down. If I come home and then leave again. He wiggles with delight that I’m home and the moment I leave, he lays down. Chill, chill, chill.  In fact the moment I say gotta go bye-byes, he runs and hops in his crate in the mudroom.  That is where I have been putting him when I leave, mostly cause we are still finishing up potty training. And because he chews my pillows.

It’s true, I find pillows to be delicious. img_0777

The mudroom is perfect for him. We had no reason to change-up our routine. Until we did have a reason. The mudroom is going to be out of commission for a little while and I needed to (sorta quickly) figure out how to keep Doug doing great when I left.  I thought about moving his crate to another room but honestly, I think we are at the point where he can have free roam, at least over the main floor, while I’m gone.  As long as he is comfortable with that freedom.

So yesterday, I left him in the house, un-crated and outside of the mudroom, and I watched him on the Dropcam the whole time. HE DID GREAT! He roamed around for a little while, checked the window a few times to be sure I wasn’t hiding and then after about ten minutes, he hopped on Melvin’s chair and went to sleep. I left him again last night and he did the same, only this time he took a snooze on the couch. He also did some redecorating.

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I like to joke about how crazy Doug is, AND HE IS CRAZY, but sometimes I forget to share with you how incredibly smart and awesome he is too. He knows that when I turn the security alarm on, its time to go upstairs.  He goes right to his bed.  He knows that I push snooze every morning and he does not get up until he sees that I am really rising. He knows potty and walk and dinner. He knows sit, touch and down. He continues to do great with other dogs. He knows how our day goes and he’s learning to be more independent.  Sometimes I open the back door (there is a screen he can go through in and out of the house) and he goes outside and plays and then naps on the patio and then will come in and check on me.  When he’s not Zoomie Doug, he’s Really Laid Back Doug.

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I love him. I have met him where he is and I love him for all his crazy and his good. In the same way I trusted him to be left out and about, he trusts that I’m coming back. He meets me where I’m at sometimes too. Jake has been gone for three months (today), and it feels like three months (like three rotten months).  Doug has been here for six weeks and it feels like much, much longer. It feels beautiful, like he’s been mine forever.  It feels like Doug must have been here when Jake was here. Grief and time and sadness and joy regularly collide.

It can be difficult and great simultaneously.

There can be tears and laughter at the same time.

There can be unexpected reasons why the mudroom is suddenly being re-purposed…

 

 

 

Two months and new urns.

This weekend it will be two months since I lost Jake.

I miss him. Pretty much all the minutes and all the hours and all days. The ache is constant, but it’s no longer overwhelming.

I miss the meatballs, oh how i miss the meatballs. Why do I miss the meatballs? I miss the diaper changes, his face, his paws, his eyes. I miss his strange smell. I miss all his noises. I miss him needing me. I miss his glance. I miss him in my arms, kissing my face. I miss cooking for him. I miss our evenings on the couch. I miss waking up to his wiggly, wonky body.

I miss the all of him and the all of us.

I still get up in the middle of the night to check on him. Doug’s snoring, which is not nearly as loud as Jake’s snoring, reminds me that Jake is gone and Doug is here. I smile for the here-and-now and go back to sleep.

After one month without Jake, he felt so far away from me. It felt like he’d been gone forever. At two months I can start to admit that while he was loved and happy, his body was not built to last. Now, he’s a part of me. Now, two months feels like, two months. It’s not that long from a sadness perspective but its long enough for some healing to begin.

I’m still processing the last year.

We lost Melvin.

We had the hardest year of both of our lives.

I lost Jake.

It’s OK. Love is hard and beautiful and wild and complicated. I carry the heartache. I cry the tears. But I also find great comfort in them being together again. My angel dogs.

Three days after Jake died, I ordered him and Melvin matching urns. Jake’s arrived on time, about three weeks after the order was placed. It’s lovely and everything that I wanted. Melvin’s did not arrive. I called the post office and they set out on a search for it. They had been having some ‘troubles’ and a lot of packages had ‘gone missing’.  I asked them who would open a box and realize it was an urn and still keep it?  They did not have an answer.

Melvin’s original urn never came. The tracking still says delayed in transit. There is a beautiful hero in this story though. The very awesome owner of Vitrified Studios made me another one. She is amazing in all the ways we like people to be amazing!  Melvin’s urn arrived last night.  My boys are together at the bridge, together in my heart and now together here:

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If you’d like to get your very own, you can learn more about them here. Tell them Oh Melvin sent you!

We are only human.

I cannot tell you how many times I step in to console someone who has lost a pet and who feels they didn’t do enough. Didn’t see the signs. Didn’t make the right choices. And every time they ask me, why are you not second guessing everything about Melvin and Jake? My answer is the same no matter who asks…

…because I’m only human. I did the best I could. So did you. 

I lost two dogs to cancer. They were diagnosed less than one year apart.

I cannot say with absolute certainty that I did every thing I could do for them both so that they didn’t get cancer.  They both had really great care. The best food, excellent veterinary care and options. Whatever they needed, they got. If love alone could have protected them from cancer, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

I didn’t expose them to known radiation. I didn’t treat the lawn with poisonous chemicals. I didn’t let them drink from an unknown water source. I also didn’t wake up on any single day of their life and say, today I am going to be sure they are not exposed to carcinogens.

They were both rescues. I got one at three and one at five. The three year old lived to be ten and the five year old lived to be eight. They were both purebreds, a lab and a French Bulldog. They had regular vaccinations. During summer months, I did flea and tick treatments on both. They were both on medications for other health issues. If you want to know if I think any of the things in this paragraph led to them having cancer, I will say with absolute certainty that, I don’t know.

Traveling down the road of did I do something to contribute to their cancer, did I not do something that led to it…those paths, lead to nowhere for me. I love Melvin and Jake more than I love myself. I woke up everyday with one goal, to love them better than I did the day before.

I could not control the cancer. I could only control the love.

It was out of my hands that two different cancers found two different boys in one household. I could not control that Melvin had no treatment options or that Jake’s option didn’t work. I could not control that Melvin had 40 days or that Jake had five months. I could not control that both situations, broke me.

I will always wish that they lived longer, but time was never a guarantee. I am learning to celebrate that they were here.

There were a few brief moments during Jake’s cancer where the thought of his last year picked at me a little. His last year, was undeniably his worst year. I did all that I could to make it bearable. We’d lost Melvin and we were not the best versions of ourselves. He got health knockdown after knockdown and then just when we were turning a corner and getting back up, we got his cancer diagnosis. When thoughts of doubt about his last year try to creep into my mind, I stop what I am doing and say no. No! I stand convicted that we did the best we could. Both of us, he and I, even during the hardest of days, we did our best because every day, there was love.

For us, cancer is a chapter, cancer is not the story.

We have to be kinder to ourselves during loss. There are so many incredible parents who lose a pet and then turn on themselves and suggest they didn’t do enough. They missed a sign. They second guess it all. At the beginning and end of every day, we are human. We don’t have magic eyes that see cancer when it starts to form (if only!). There is not a manual called: “Do exactly this when your pet gets cancer”. Instead, we do the best we can with all the love in our hearts.

You did enough. You were guided by love. You did the parts that you could do, beautifully.

I would OBVIOUSLY much rather cancer not exist. I would much rather Melvin and Jake were both at my feet right now. I loved them unconditionally before cancer. I loved them beautifully during cancer. I loved them enough to let them go and my life’s purpose is to be sure that their love lives on, forever. Part of that is donating to cancer research in their memory, so that one day, maybe we can control cancer.

Jake’s name has been added to our project joy. #loveliveson

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Hey Doug!

I met 20 dogs over the past seven weeks.  Every single time, while I loved the dog (I love them all!), I’d come home and have a terrible breakdown because that dog, wasn’t Jake. The house was empty, but I wanted Jake. I wanted my boy back.

I kept trying. I kept having breakdowns. Why was I torturing myself? I finally decided to take a break. The moment I decided to do that, a weight was lifted. I knew I would find a dog when I found a dog and it would just have to be ok that there were no dogs here.

That decision, lightened me. My smile started coming back. I found my laughter. I cried when I missed Jake but there were no torturous breakdowns. I needed time to realize that there is no situation that could present itself, even the next dog, where I wouldn’t still want to have Jake back. I accepted that another dog would come and that there could be sadness over the loss and joy over the gain. It didn’t have to be one or the other.

I could breathe again.

A little over a week ago, I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw this:

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I froze, in the warmest way. I saw Melvin in this dog. I saw Jake in this dog. This dog was their love child. My boys sent me this dog, I knew this to be certain. I applied for him immediately. I emailed them to say I must meet him. He was meant to be mine.

There were no breakdowns.

I had a home visit, didn’t cry once.

I bought him stuff (before meeting him), still calm.

Then last Thursday, my friend Virginia and I drove to meet him.

He came rounding the corner in his foster mom’s house and I felt Melvin and Jake. I felt them in his exuberance, in his clumsiness, in his joy.  I also, just saw him, as his own being. This new, beautiful change my life was about to take.

The moment I saw his face in the first photo, I saw a Doug. Face-to-face, he was still Doug to me. He’d found a new name. A new home.

Doug was found as a stray in rural South Carolina. He quickly became a shelter favorite.  The shelter called Pet Connect Rescue and asked if they could take him out or SC and give him a new life in the DC area. The rescue said yes, and Hooty/Doug made his way up North, into foster and now to me.

Here is what I know so far…

  • A lot of things in the house are new to him.  Like garage doors opening. And refrigerator ice maker noises. And mirrors.
  • He was neutered mid-August and the vet estimated him to be 1-2 years old. I worried a lot about 1-2 years old because that was by far the youngest dog I have ever considered. But he was already mine so 1-2 would have to be ok.  Imagine my surprise when I took him to my vet and she said… he is not a day over eight months. My eyes were crazier than Jake’s at that moment!
  • Doug is a puppy. He mouths EVERYTHING. When I try to walk, he tries to put my feet in his mouth. We go on 7,489 walks a day and somehow he still has energy.
  • He has not had a single accident in the house.
  • He puts himself to bed at 7:30pm, and I go get him to keep him up for fear that he will want to wake up at 4am.
  • He has yet to meet a person or dog he does not like.
  • At any moment, he could explode from joy.
  • He is not the dog I thought I wanted.  As it turns out, he is everything that I need.

Especially if what I needed was exhaustion! No seriously, how long are they puppies?

We start obedience training on Wednesday! Amen to training!

As for what breed he is, he’s listed as an English Bulldog mix. I ordered a DNA kit so we’ll def do a contest at some point for guesses.

I can only confirm he’s happy.

As am I.

Don’t be fooled by these photos, he only rests about 14 min a day.

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Change is hard.

The other day I was looking at pictures and I saw a photo of one of Jake’s MRSP spots and I thought about how I hadn’t checked on his spots in a while.  I realized he wasn’t here before I stood up to check on him.

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I still get up throughout the day to change his diaper though.

There has been a lot of change. It’s hard to face it all at once and it’s a lot to face piece by piece.  Sometimes I get anxious and overwhelmed. It’s usually in these moments that I feel Melvin the most, reminding me to wiggle my way through.

Just wiggle woman! DSC_0379

The ‘on this day’ reminders in Facebook screw with my perception of time.  I will see a memory pop up and I feel like that memory happened more recently than losing Jake. Grief isn’t always logical. To be honest, I don’t really have that many memories of Jake right now, I just have a vision of my little bug, not a specific moment in time. I don’t really struggle or worry about this part too much.  I know that the memories will slowly return and fall into a beautiful timeline of our life together.

I remember the love, nothing could erase that.

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In the struggle between sadness and no dogs here, well… I want Jake to be here. It’s the phase of grief where I still want my old life back. I have tried to meet other dogs. Oh how I’ve tried!  Each time I have a messy, painful breakdown. Sometimes this happens on the way home, sometimes it happens a few hours later, sometimes it happens in Home Goods. Usually I laugh after these moments pass, it’s like I’m channeling Jake through my reaction. I know there will come a dog that will be the dog. I know this with all that I am. The boys will guide me and that next dog and I will begin again, writing the next beautiful chapter of this amazing life. A chapter that allows my memories to fall into a safe place. Memories that bring more smiles than tears as I make new memories moving forward on the path of life. In grief you have to learn to carry your past in a way that doesn’t obstruct your view moving forward. It’s hard, but it’s the only way.

The sadness, it’s getting better.  I’m feeling stronger.  I smile more. There is laughter. Jake is slowly sneaking his way into my day. I feel him. He’s a part of me now. There are moments, when it’s just him and me again. At any mention of the word poop or meatballs, I smile.

I’m learning to live without Jake, without Melvin and Jake,  as I hold them both tightly in my heart. Carrying on can be hard work. Facing change is overwhelming. I just remind myself who fuels my heart and I keep on carrying on for them, for us, and for me.

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OK.

I’ve been honest with you. Losing Jake has been heavy and complicated. I thought I was ready to face it and I thought my grief journey with Jake would more closely align with my grief journey with Melvin.

I was wrong. It happens.

At some point last week, after a really sad night, I sat down and thought about all the parts that are harder, all the part that are holding me down, all the parts that make me unable to breathe. And so much of this, and grief in general, is about what I can’t control. In short, I can’t control that Jake is gone. I can’t control that he has been gone for one month and that this past month feels like a hurtful forever. Even before he died, I couldn’t control so much about his health. So I guess I’ve been out of control (but not in a Girls Gone Wild way), for a while. I thought about how I could get back on track.  Instead of thinking of all the things I was crying about, all the things that were out of my control, I instead made a list of the things I can affect. A list of all the things I can champion. It is exactly how I lived life with Melvin and Jake, not focusing on the things that we couldn’t fix, but focusing on all the ways we could shine. It is exactly how I need to continue to be, even in their absence.

No one said seeking joy is easy.

I tried to focus on, not on what is different about losing Jake and Melvin, but instead, what is the same. I tried to focus on the successes, on the things that could lift me up and remind me that it was OK and will be OK. And I thought for a long time and I came up with three things that were then and that are still now.

  1. “Love lives on” for me, was born the moment Melvin died. I honestly believe that it was my purpose last year to make sure that Melvin-love lived on and it’s my life’s work now to add Jake-love to that mix.
  2. Love and joy, are who I am. What guides me has not changed.  Part of it is perhaps lost in the grief shuffle right now, but it was the whole of me before and I still feel it at my core now. I just have to get out of my own way.
  3. Most importantly, the common denominator between last year and this year, is me. Sure, I could argue that is the hard part, but I survived losing Melvin. I went on to see Jake through last year, the worst health year of his life. I did that. I’ve been selling myself pretty short by focussing on all the things I can’t handle this past month. I got through last year. I’ll get through this year too.

So I added a new mantra to my day. Love lives on. Check. Go find your joy. Check, check. And now, I have to ‘make the not OK, OK‘. Part of that means that not everything will be OK…and that’s just how it is, but I don’t have to let those moments own me. I can acknowledge them and let them be for now. There are things I can make OK.  A new OK. A different OK.  OK is a town you pass through on the way to New Normal.

My GPS may be working again. I’ll keep you posted. Until then, here are a few things that brought me joy this past week…

My view into the washing machine last night. It was OK to wash them, they needed cleaned. IMG_0011

 

Jake is ‘Dog of the Month’ at our local and most favorite pet supply store, Happy Hound! IMG_0002

 

And this.  These two are sorta the whole of everything.  #lovelivesonIMG_9970