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.
Why are your eyes so leaky?
In two weeks, it’s the two-year anniversary of finding out Melvin was dying. Calendars suck.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every thought of them both, inspires me to always give more than I take.
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.
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:
If you’d like to get your very own, you can learn more about them here. Tell them Oh Melvin sent you!
Doug has been here for a little over a week now. His energy could provide power to New York City. I’m exhausted! He is exuberant, mischievous and a complete love bug.
A lot of my photos of him look like this:
I’d be lying if I said he was easy. As a reminder, I went from Jake, who was paralyzed and loved to nap to Doug, whose idea of a good time is pretending like he’s a backpack (on my back) when I’m trying to sit on the couch and rest my weary bones. So some of the challenge is me and what I’m used to.
He be cray, but I love him.
He’s doing great with housebreaking, he’s only had one accident. It wasn’t really even an accident because he had already been out and he seemed pretty purposeful in his actions. Dude does not realize that I know intentional peeing when I see it.
We have gotten our walk schedule down. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to get a young dog during an East Coast heat wave. For the past 10 days I have felt perpetually sweaty and my Apple watch alerts me everyday that I have met my exercise goal, by noon. His energy has been a challenge, a little due in part to the fact that I work from home and when I say work I mean I REALLY DO WORK. The challenge is, I’m here, so he wants me to play. We are slowly working out together time and independent time. We take our first walk in the morning after he eats. We take a 2nd walk around lunchtime, our 3rd walk late afternoon and our last walk after dinner. In between each walk I will take him into the backyard and play Jolly Ball or fetch with him. Sometimes he just runs zoomies on his own and I stand out there asleep with my eyes open. The rest of the day he plays in the house and even sometimes takes load off and rests.
We started back with our trainer. I cried when I was waiting for her to arrive. She has only ever trained Jake. In fact, our first session for Doug was paid for by a left over session from Jakey. It just felt odd for her to be here and for Jake to be gone. I am coming up on two months without Jake, I still have many more of these types of moments to go through. But Doug did great on training day one and we have practiced our homework of touch and sit every day.
For the most part, Doug is a lot like Melvin. A lot. The early-years-Melvin that used to leap off the back of the couch and fly into the glass french doors (that were closed) to try to chase squirrels. I recall having to call upon a lot of patience for that Melvin, the same way I am calling upon it now for the Dougster.
Doug is young. He doesn’t know any rules, or any commands and doesn’t know what is expected of him. When I say words to him that the boys used to know, he just runs zoomies at the sound of my voice. He went from being a stray, to being in a shelter, to being in foster to me. It’s easy to get frustrated when he mouths my feet with each step that I take (trust me, I walk into the bathroom, shut the door and count to ten a lot. Sometimes I count to 50). Or to curse when he jumps on my back while I’m resting my bones on the couch (instead I take some deep breaths and I stand up and wait it out). Instead of yelling or correcting his every move, I look at a photo of Melvin and I recall our journey from wildebeest to soulful boy. From crazy to sweet. I recall what’s possible. Then I look at Doug and I know that he does what he does, out of pure joy for life. A life that I am responsible for guiding. He just has to learn to focus his joy on good, not my feet.
I still wake up and wish that Jake were here too. I wish Melvin and Jake were both here to help me guide Doug. But they are not, so I will lead him. Doug keeps me in the here and now, the here and now where I have to stay very hydrated!
This is the song I sang to Jake during his battle with cancer. I’d pick him up and dance around the house. I’m pretty sure he hated it but he must have felt I needed those moments so he gave in and for the most part, didn’t pee on me.
Now, sometimes when I’m missing Jake hard, I ask him to come sit with me. Almost every time, this song plays shortly thereafter.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Jake is ‘Dog of the Month’ at our local and most favorite pet supply store, Happy Hound!
And this. These two are sorta the whole of everything. #loveliveson
The only thing I know for certain right now, is that losing Jake is not at all like losing Melvin. The difference is not about emotions, those are exactly the same, but my navigation through the loss and the day is completely different.
Sadness and missing them aside, when I lost Melvin, I had a strange sense of hope. I felt a lot of purpose. I felt him guide me. Jake was here when I lost Melvin. We survived it together. With the loss of Jake, I am trying all the things I tried last year, they are not as successful this go around. I am paying things forward (his things) and while it makes me so, so happy to do it, it makes me miss him so much more. Probably because I’m donating his things and wishing they were still needed by us.
You can donate my things, but not to other dogs. You know how I feel about other dogs.
I know that having no dogs in the house is a 25-foot wall roadblock to my grieving process; it gets in my way every time. I’ll have moments, normal grieving moments, when I’ll think about Jake and tears come and then a funny memory will pop into my head and I’ll start to laugh. If only I could have that little moment. Instead, right as I’m having my teary-laugh, this loud, scary, bully of a voice screams – THERE ARE NO DOGS HERE, YOUR LITTLE FAMILY IS GONE. That voice is ruining my life. I know in my heart that it is way too soon to think about getting another dog but I also know that trying could alleviate the empty house issue and that even if it’s hard, it might make grieving easier. I’d be rescuing someone who also lost their family.
So, I went to an adoption event this past weekend. Let me explain me and adoption events to you…it’s not my thing. I don’t make life decisions that quickly. I need to meet a dog then go home and think, and think some more and plan and make some checklists. So I knew it would not be a fit for that very reason. That’s mostly why I went, to just get out there and test the meeting waters.
I cried after leaving the event. For two impossible and opposing reasons. It was way too soon to be looking for a dog and it feels way to long since a dog has been here. I cried because no matter what I try, nothing feels right. Jake not being here breaks me and there being no dogs here takes a lot of the air away. Grieving Jake and dealing with the empty house has been… a bit complicated.
I will find my way.
It’s been three weeks. I miss him. After losing Melvin, Jake made me laugh every day. I miss my little comedian. Melvin traveled through life spreading love and joy; Jake scooted along spreading love and comic relief. If you are having visions of me sitting around crying all day, there is no need for worry. I go about my day, I’m keeping busy, I’m honoring Jake in as many ways as possible. When a sad moment hits, I close my eyes to calm down and I have a vision, pretty much the same vision every time. It’s of a line of dogs that have touched my life. Not just my dogs, but dogs that impacted my life in some way too — my heavenly dog army. They are all sitting in a straight line in a field of grass, facing me. In front of the line of them sits Melvin and Max. And in front of my first two angels sits Jake. And they sit, still as can be. I know they are coming together for me and Jake. Jake is so close in this vision, I can almost touch him. He can almost reach me. And almost, at this point, is everything.
I know that everything will work out. I know that this home will not be empty forever and I know that the grieving process for Jake, while complicated is somehow just as it’s supposed to be. For all the beautiful love, I will carry all the heavy grief. I will continue paying love forward in Jake and Melvin’s memory and I will keep going to meet dogs that in no way could ever be Jake or Melvin. One day, one of them will say to me, I am not them I’m just me. And that will be the one.
A look back to my little bug, using his good eye to conduct neighborhood watch.
Losing Jake is hard in obvious ways and different in unexpected ways. It’s always different for each loss, but as hard as it was to lose Melvin, losing Jake comes with a swell of other losses and disruptions.
There is the expected part where I am incredibly sad, I miss him so much and I still need to be taking care of him. This part…it’s the given. The price we pay for true love. I say ‘I love you, Jakey’ out loud, all day, because it’s everything that I feel.
Then there is this house. When I lost Max and Melvin, while taking up their things was hard, I still had water bowls and beds to leave out. Each time, there was still a dog. Jake has SO MUCH more stuff than just beds and bowls and toys. This home is set up for him. There are yoga mats running the width and length of this house. The mudroom is a makeshift vet treatment room. There are washable pee pads, diapers and diaper inserts, everywhere. And for one dog, there are more beds than I can count on two hands and just as many waterproof mattress covers. I have slowly started gathering things up but with each thing I pick up there are emotions to work through. First, picking up the things that made his life easier feels like saying, ‘these things are in the way’. Jake was never in my way and those solutions brought us both so much joy. No one wants to have to clean-up joy! Secondly, picking up his things is a reminder that there are no dogs here.
There is no ‘our’ or ‘we’. It’s just me.
The moment Melvin died, I immediately felt him in a new way. I felt him become a part of me. I missed him and the ache was palpable but he wrapped himself around me and I carried him forward with me. I never I thought I’d say these words about anyone but…he imprinted on me.
I don’t feel Jake all that much (yet). I worry that his googly eyes got confused at the end and maybe he imprinted on the couch instead of me.
I think I know why Jake feels so far away.
While Jake most definitely knew I loved him and we felt love with no words…so much of Jake’s and my love was also through touch and action. He felt my love, literally by feeling me taking care of him. I channeled so much of my love through nurturing. My hands were on him caring for him. Love felt when lifting him, carrying him, holding him up. He’d look up at me with a single glance (and a single eye), and I’d reach down, knowing exactly what he needed, to help him maneuver. Now, my hands feel idle much of the day. I know that part of not feeling him is that, I literally can no longer reach out to help him. I don’t lean over or kneel down 50 times a day. My apple watch is probably worried I’m dead based on the drop in activity.
I never thought I’d miss meatballs.
The other thing is, and this one might not be one that everyone will understand and I may not do a great job of explaining it but even if you don’t get it, it’s the perfect example of how odd grief can be. When Max died, I could picture his old-dog body healed and him running again. I’d known Max his whole life. When Melvin died (he’d only had cancer for 40 days), he looked exactly the same on earth as I thought of him at the Rainbow Bridge. The only difference was, he was cancer and allergy free, easy to see. Jake is different. I was not Jake’s mom during his healthier years. The majority of time I knew Jake, he had progressive mobility issues. I was wonky-legged-paralyzed-Jake’s mom. I saw those issues as challenges and together, we made a life where Jake lived his own version of normal and I thought we’d have many, many more years together so I had let go of ‘upright Jake’. I always wanted more for Jake, but I never wanted more than Jake. When someone says ‘Jake’s not suffering anymore’ or ‘Jake is running in heaven’…it is everything I always wanted for him, but I also feel…disconnected. I still see, my Jake. When I have visions of Jake now, he’s usually laying with Melvin or sitting next to him. Although he’s happy, I can’t (yet) bridge my mind to zooming Jake. I can easily see him with no diaper rash (yay), I can even see him with no hamburger eye (oh those gorgeous googly eyes). I think this is just another reason why I don’t feel him as much yet (in the way I felt and saw Melvin). Grief has a way of making random shit more difficult than it needs to be and this is just a strange grief barrier I need to break through.
Maybe, maybe I’m just looking for him in the wrong places. I have faith it will work out.
This past week I have felt Melvin more than usual. I know he is letting me know he’s got our boy. It’s funny how roles can flip. Now I’m the one who is somewhat paralyzed at moments. I’m the one with separation anxiety. I’m the one with wide-eyes, looking to be lifted up. The boys moved forward every day, no matter what.
That legacy will live on in me.
As for no dogs being here, well that will feel lame until there are dogs here again. I had to come to terms with Jake not wanting other dogs. I committed to that for him so it’s not easy to turn that switch and say ‘ok Jake’s gone, there can be other dogs now’. I am still the impassioned leader of Team Jake. This week, I’ve slowly started looking at rescue sites again. As always, there are dogs that make my heart thump. I know that rescue is my calling. I hear it.
I just wish Jake was still here. It’s only been two weeks.
There have been so many beautiful people; my family, my friends, you…who have been there, here, wherever you are…sharing stories of how Jake inspired you, that you miss him also, reminders that we made a difference. To say I am blessed, is to say love lives on.
I have been re-reading my post that talks about how ‘the one love’ should move forward (click here to read). Trying to remind myself of who I am. Up until this moment right now, I have never lost a dog and not had a dog and faced how to go about moving forward with a new dog. I have always gotten a dog before losing a dog. There has always been a dog! So that post about ‘the one love’ was written by the old me. It’s still me, but since writing it there has been a lot of loss and there has been a wonky-legged-googly-eyed-I-hate-any-dogs-that-are-not-Melvin dog. So when I read that post now, I tend to laugh because up until Jake, all the dogs I have had wanted me to love again. Melvin and Max loved love. They wanted me to always be paying our love forward. Jake…well Jake loved being loved. But sharing was not his thing. Some with Melvin but definitely after Melvin, he did not share his neighborhood, his yard, his toys, his food, me or hisMelvin’s our home. Something tells me Jake is in heaven being reminded that the F-word is absolutely not permitted…
‘Uh, F no mom. Step away from the rescue sites. We did fine without dogs when I was there and you can totally do this no dog thing without me. If you see someone with a F-ing dog, look away, you do not want what they have. We talked about this, NO DOGS IN MY HOUSE! That one-love crap, that ended with me!‘
Of course that is all said in his Barry White bark voice while he continues to flip and flail long after he’s done saying it and there are probably heavenly meatballs (made of glitter). Jake behaving exactly like he did every time I tried to bring a dog home to him. And in true form, Melvin is just laying next to him, calm as can be, rolling his eyes over the idea that Jake uses up so much energy on such silly things. And Max is thinking…there is no way we are related.
I sorta like the vision of spirited Heavenly Jake. It allows the hashtag #lifewithJake to live on, just like the love does.
Let me start by saying, this post is sad. And it’s happy. But it’s sad. No matter how hard I try to inject joy or humor (I gave it my all!), the answer to the question that so many of you have reached out to ask, ends with some obvious heartbreak.
I thought Jake and I would have a little more time together. I had also hoped that I’d be able to share with you when his time had come, but as I realized what was before us, my mind and heart and existence only had space for Jake. In our last few days, I gave myself fully to my boy.
You knew Jake’s health plight, oh so well. He had a crappy spine that took his hind legs down. The mobility part, was a lot. But we worked towards solutions and he learned to move forward, literally and heroically. When strangers would see Jake they would always say, ‘poor thing, he really struggles’ and I’d say, “he’s fine, he’s Jake”. And that was truth. But the secret life of a special-needs pet-parent is that you are constantly evaluating the current state of struggle and being. I was always tracking the balance of joy. Jake always just kept finding a way to move forward in his spunky little way. It was my honor to join him on his journey and share in such an incredible love.
He taught me so, so much.
Jake’s challenges did not end at his legs. If only they ended there. The universe seemed to single him out sometimes, with issues that we tried so hard to overcome and we could almost fix, but not really. He had a strain of MRSP with no compatible treatment. He developed not one, but two eye ulcers at the same time, one that formed a hole in his pupil and while emergency surgery helped keep the eye, his eyesight, his beautiful wall-eyed eyesight, suffered. So he had a hamburger eye. Yet, still he kept going. He lost control of his pee and meatballs (to be fair, this did not bother Jake!). Even though diapers helped, they also weighed him down and he battled many diaper rashes.
The spine and leg issues were enough. Add in all the other things and as his mom, I sometimes cursed the universe for unloading on my boy. But for every issue, we worked out a solution. For every single situation that made his eyes look at me with worry, I came back with something that helped it. My goal with Jake was that his balance always went towards joy. He returned my every gesture, with laughter and love.
Teamwork at it’s finest.
We even found our way after we lost Melvin. In the past year, we were each other’s everything. Our little family, was perfection.
Then came spinal cancer and the soft tissue cancer in his hind leg. The universe bearing down on him, again. A cancer that we couldn’t treat and one that would be painful. A battle we were not going to win or solve. My evaluation structure changed. I no longer had to balance the struggles, I just had to monitor the pain.
Or so I thought.
When Jake was diagnosed with cancer, he still had some upright moments in his hind legs. Not many, but he could wobbly stand to eat sometimes, or he’d do a walk-drag (a move that earned him a ‘drunk uncle’ nickname). But the cancer took his left leg down pretty quickly and then his right leg tried hard, but it too lost that fight. The odd part about this chapter was, the hind legs part was always going to happen to him. That was a plight we’d accepted after figuring out his wonky spine. So sometimes, I’d forget he had cancer or that it was actually the cancer doing the current damage. In a way, having had accepted his mobility plight before the cancer, helped us stay strong and closer to joy after he was diagnosed.
Yoga mat runways throughout the house helped a lot too. He strutted his stuff like a boss.
Over his last few weeks, Jake became less active. Some days much less, but some days were better. When we’d go out back, I’d put him down to go potty and he’d just sit at the end of the ramp and pee there. I’d pick him up and put him in the yard and try to get him to move around but he’d just sit again, looking towards the door to go inside. I’d carry him inside. If it was a mealtime potty break, I’d go in and make his breakfast or dinner. Prior to this time, if I said ‘dinner‘ he’d come ‘running’. But now, Jake would still be sitting in the mudroom. So I’d go and get him and carry him to meals. His pain management was constantly reevaluated and he was, for all we could measure, comfortable. He just wasn’t moving around on his own very much.
He was still so happy though. His face was pure love.
There was also a change in how he dragged his legs, going from dragging his legs to the side (normal and easier for him as he could use his bum to help push himself forward) to having his legs drag directly behind him (so much harder for him to pull his weight that way). He tired easily. I just loved on him harder.
Normally, through these changes, we’d be at the vet or have the vet to us. But I knew what the decline was about. And like so many things in Jake’s life, I couldn’t fix it. I could only try to make it easier on him. So I carried him a lot more, knowing him so very well and knowing where he liked to be at each hour of every day. When Jake was in my arms, he’d kiss me constantly, as if kisses were the gas pedal that kept me going. And they were.
I’d carry Jake to the end of eternity and back again.
Jake had also been having some very minor seizures. We were not sure why. Part of me thought maybe it was his medication. During his last two weeks he’d also started having little spasms when he was laying down. At first it was two to three a minute. Towards the end, it was 20-30. They were like these zingers, it almost seemed like he had the hiccups. But he didn’t have the hiccups. They seemed to bother me more than they bothered him.
Yet though it all, my bug still knew so much joy.
Then there was the terrible infection that stemmed from his most recent diaper rash. And all our usual tricks that battled diaper rash before, failed. Cancer was being a real jerk. The thought that a diaper area infection would take my ninja warrior down seemed so unacceptable so I fought that rash harder than I think I have ever fought anything. We battled it hours and hours a day. I set a time limit on the infection, if it continued to win, I could not let him continue battle it. It would have infected the joy.
But you know what, as of that last Saturday night, the infection turned a corner, and it was on the mend! And I high-fived the shit out of Jake and we did a ‘we won dance’ and it had been a long time since we got to do a ‘we won dance’ and we went to bed Saturday night renewed in our fight! The time I had given us to beat the infection had not run out.
Time is funny. It doesn’t care who you are or what you want or how hard you fought or how many things you faced down or how much you danced. It doesn’t care that your little guy worked harder to travel through life than most will ever have to.
Time didn’t care that Jake was only eight.
On Sunday morning, the day after our we beat the infection parade, Jake woke up, toppled over and had a seizure. This was not a minor seizure like the others, it was major and it was terrible. His body went so rigid that at first I thought he was having a heart attack. I held him in my arms and I told him that he was going to be ok and that if he saw Melvin he should run towards him with all that he had. I told him over and over and over that I loved him. During the seizure, he pooped (this is normal for a seizure but I think Jake was sending me a ‘I love you, too’). As his body started to relax, he stared up at me…with love and then kisses. And in that moment, in that tiny, giant moment with my little warrior, we were the only two living creatures on earth. In that moment, we won at love.
I called the vets. We briefly discussed the reasons it could have happened. A conversation that didn’t really require words.
Jake was not himself on Sunday. I know some of that was the seizure. But as he and I traveled through the day, and as I started to paint the picture of our last few weeks and months…I knew.
I know Jake. I know his body better than anyone. I know the exact moment during that day that he let me know he was tired. Tired of challenges. Tired of having to overcome. Aware that his ability to travel though our life together, was becoming too much.
If Jake had a wonky spine and seizures, well I’d clear the calendar and we’d be a regular at the neurologist. If he had the worst diaper rash and wonky legs, we’d tackle it. If he had MRSP and a wonky spine and eye ulcer surgery with months of a cone, well we call that 2015.
Sometimes you can’t outrun reality. Even when you can’t really run at all and your mom is carrying you and she is running as fast as she can. Jake had cancer and all the other crap that the universe dumped on him and now seizures were invading our precious space and I knew, in a way that only I could know, that his joy would only be reigning supreme for a few more days.
I couldn’t let him go through anything more, except love.
The day I let Melvin go, he was not having a bleed. It was an ordinary day with my extraordinary boys, he woke up with joy in his heart. He ate, he walked out back on his own and he snuggled with me and Jake. His tumors hadn’t ruptured yet. There was no collapse. There was only joy.
I wanted the same for Jake. His life had known such struggle, 100% more struggle than I ever wanted him to have known, and yet my little superman choose love and perseverance every single time. Jake’s end was coming and I would rather die myself than have him feel one more ounce of struggle or confusion as to what was happening now. So Jake had a beautiful Monday. His village came over and loved on him and he gave them the sweetest, gentlest kisses. He had the best meal he could have ever imagined. He and I went on a stroller walk, right down memory lane. To all the places he and Melvin used to walk, on all eight of their legs. We went out back and reminisced about all the things he ate in our yard. We did his last neighborhood watch at the front door.
Then he and I tuned out the entire world and we snuggled. We snuggled so hard and so perfectly. I breathed him in. He kissed away my tears. I told him all the things I wanted to tell him and he looked into my eyes and told me all the things he needed me to know.
We could not have loved each other more. We got each other through the roughest year of our two lives. We chased joy, and we caught it.
I let Jake go at home. In his favorite spot.
I know that as his vision of me faded, Melvin appeared. I know that Jake leapt into Melvin’s face with an unimaginable joy and I know Melvin shared gleefully in that glorious moment. Jake moved forward, cancer free and struggle free, eyes wide and his second leap was likely straight towards Melvin’s butt. There is a part of me that finds such peace in that even as the whole of me grieves. The heartache and sadness I feel, is worth every ounce to know that Jake and Melvin knew my love and that they are reunited in sweet, joyful, odd-couple joy. To know that they have each other, for forever this time.
I have always said that on Christmas, what is under the tree, is never as remarkable as who is on the couch. The people and dogs on the couch, they are my gifts.
Our Christmas was delightful, although the couch was a lot empty without Melvin. I’ve been trudging through the holiday season trying to think of anything but him. I’m in that odd place that is…grey? safe? Where I can handle the reality but I keep memories at arms reach. I know I can’t keep the two separate forever. I’m working on bridging that gap, but it’s hard to force myself to sit down to look at photos and videos. I can be very stubborn. I got a Christmas gift that is a reminder to keep working on that. My SIL (sister-in-love) got two of my core beliefs made into prints and framed. The moment I opened them, I knew exactly where they would go. Also, I think it goes without saying that my heart filled with joy and I started crying!
The year is ending, a new one will begin. While I don’t want to stay in any year, we are meant to move forward, this year feels harder to move out of. It was the worst of all the years (this from someone who almost died twice in 2007), but it’s also the last year that Melvin was here. And that makes it a spectacular year in so many ways! He was only here for four months of 2015, but his beautiful spirit has filled each and every day with his everlasting presence in my heart. Something I’m so thankful for!
Keep chasing joy. Love lives on.
So, I shall bid farewell to 2015, knowing that moments of it are now a part of the core of who I am. A year of love and grief and joy and heartache. And I will say hello to 2016, a year that has nothing but opportunity for more happy and love. And I thank YOU, for being a part of all our years, no matter what they bring.
Happy New Year!! We hope that you make some beautiful, soul-rocking memories, that you opt to give before you get, and that you find your joy!
After Melvin died, I tried to think back if there were warning signs. Not so much to torture myself, but it all happened so fast that I felt signs must have been there. Melvin had a lot go wrong health wise, especially in his last six months, but he always had odd things going on. I sort of knew in my heart when it started and I recalled that I had blogged about it. I didn’t go back and look for the post, knowing it was there was enough and to be honest, I knew I couldn’t handle it at the time.
Melvin had started moaning when he shifted positions laying down. Most ‘older’ creatures do this when they adjust during sleep or when falling asleep and finding a good position. But my gut told me it was more. He had also been sleeping in a new position that struck me as odd because it didn’t seem like his usual ‘get as comfortable as possible when sleeping’ approach. When I told the vet that he had been sleeping in a new position they said ‘but he’s sleeping, right?’. Yes. But this new position means something, I just know it.
Mom alway knows.
They went with an arthritis in his knees diagnosis that day. Which was also, probably true. In hindsight, I know the cancer had by started by then, I know that his moaning was the tumor in his liver. I know the new sleeping position was to accommodate that tumor. And I now know that the ultrasound we did at that point, was not as comprehensive as it would have been at a specialist. I also know, that even if I had known back then, he’d still be gone. His cancer was terminal from the moment it started.
I have been using Facebook’s ‘on this day’ to slowly reconnect with old blog post and for the most part, I love this feature. I get to be reminded of past posts and moments with the boys. Facebook reminded me this weekend of that post from a year ago, when I had a gut feeling Melvin had cancer. I cried a little when I read it. Maybe it was that I had joked some about it in the post but probably because I recall how I felt, and I did feel wholeheartedly that something was wrong. Rereading that post started off as a rip in my heart but then it ended in odd joy. Because if there is one thing in life I knew, it was my Melvin. My connection to him was pure and true. I still stand so proud of that.
I’m thankful we didn’t ‘know’ earlier. It happened as it was supposed to and I have no regrets.