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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Thoughtfulness.

There are no words to thank everyone who has reached out, sent messages, sent cards, sent flowers and gifts and held space for us. I can only say, it means everything to me.

Several of you have made donations in Jake’s name.  I am so thankful for each and every one. Love lives on through your kind and generous gestures.

I wanted to share some of the gifts I have received…

My friend Virginia had pencil sketchings of Melvin and Jake done.  The detail is incredible.  I got Melvin’s shortly after he left me and she gave me Jake’s while he was still here but nearing the end.  I have them hanging in my kitchen, a reminder of where my heart is.

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A few days after Jake died, I received a package from a reader (Michelle) that I have never met, although we have a mutual friend in common. She made this. She made this for us. Our motto, hand-done by her with love.  I sat on the floor sobbing when I got it, because I was reminded that we are so blessed to have you all.

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I received this from our dear family friend, Mary. It arrived the exact moment I needed a pick-me-up.  And it lifted my heart and brought me so much joy.

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My sister-in-love got me these. When I wear them, they loop together just like the boys did when there were snuggling.  The pendents rest close to my heart, right where the boys are now. IMG_9952

 

Jen over at Sirius Republic had a print made that has a photo of the boys  and across it is printed ‘love lives on’.  She also handmade this heart for me, it’s a visual of my heart. I squeezed it so hard, I’m shocked I didn’t damage it or myself. IMG_0004

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Emily, over at Our Waldo Bungie, had this drawing done of the boys.  The first thing I thought when I saw it was -‘my superheroes’! I am going to have it framed with their Super Melvin and Super Jake collars.

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I got these from my friends Tayler and Melissa.  The rainbow bracelet represents my life and love with Jake and that fact that he is waiting for me, with a piece of my heart,  at the rainbow bridge.  The white bracelet represents Jake’s life and the mark our love left on my heart. The 22 white beads represent 22 dogs who were fed a meal in Jake’s memory. IMG_9987

This community and blog, this space heals me. You bring me joy. Thank you.  Yes, you, thank all of you for everything.

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

 

Flashback Friday – the letter to Melvin’s first family.

I’m going to do Flashback Fridays every now and then as Facebook reminds me of a post from the past that I think is worth re-sharing. This post was from a few years ago, it was a letter to Melvin’s first family, who knew him as Riley.

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A thank you note, to Melvin’s first family.
Posted on August 12, 2014

 

I was torn when I got Melvin, I was happy he was mine but upset that his owners let his health deteriorate It took me a little while to just feel grateful. This letter might have been different if I’d written it when I first got him. With time comes clarity.

Dear previous family of then Riley,

Thank you for deciding to not be dog owners. It’s because of you that my heart is full and my life is happy.

I was told of your frustration with owning Riley, that everyday you’d let him out in a fence-less yard before you left for work and that he’d wander off. You’d probably met some wonderfully well-behaved dogs in your life and you likely assumed Riley would hang out and wait for you while you were gone. Let’s be honest, Riley was not wonderfully well-behaved back then. He was a need-a-fence kinda dog. (To this day his recall is only mediocre). I’m just so thankful he was never hit by a car. They told me how frustrated you were that animal control had picked him up so many times and that on that last time, when they called you said: Keep him. Those two words, changed my life forever. When he left you and came to me he had mange and giardia and massive yeast infections, not to mention his horrible allergies. I want you to know that he’s so much better now, I don’t think you’d even recognize him!

I know that someone, somewhere did something to him with hangers. If that was you, I hope that heavy regret has set in. I pray that whoever it was, if they ever consider getting another dog, that the universe puts a hanger in their path and they’re reminded that they are not dog people. I want to assure you, his current life is free from punishment, what is required from him is only what he has to offer. Some days it’s exuberance, some days it’s sleep. Today it’s regurgitation. It’s all good.

I didn’t like you at first.  But I know now that you and I were meant to unite.  I’m eternally grateful you didn’t allow the vet to put him down. I’m sure many would have seen ‘the worlds most allergic dog’ as a hopeless case. I’m thankful you said  – maybe someone else can help him.  I imagine defeat was hard to admit. Or maybe you celebrated his departure. Either way, that’s okay.

Here’s the truth:  I understand.  I know how much money his medications cost.  I know how expensive his food can be.  I know, that just when I think we’ve spent all we can on tests, more are needed.  He is not the dog for everyone and you didn’t know that when you went and picked him from the litter.  I will probably never be able to retire, but I was able to make that choice freely when I took him.  I really do understand.

His name is Melvin now. He is healthy.  He is happy.  He is my heart.  He knows true love. He personifies joy.  He and I were meant to be together which means you were meant to have him first. I rescue dogs, that means that they each have previous owners, a past that I have zero control over.

Thank you, for giving him up.  You did the right thing. If we were ever to meet you on the street, I know he would greet you with love and understanding and wiggles.

Sincerely,

Me.  His forever.

PS.  No, you cannot have him back.

MY GPS is off.

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. IMG_5971

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.

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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. IMG_9817

 

 

Meatballs from Heaven.

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 his Melvin’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.

I pity the fool that gets another dog. IMG_0835

What happened.

I’m not sure how it’s been one week already.

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.

#loveliveson #findyourjoy

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Opposite.

Melvin and Jake’s cancers are completely different and my handling of them are also, almost opposite.

Melvin was, except for the cancer, very healthy at his end.  We’d beat and cured all his issues.  The one thing we struggled with was weight loss.  He lost 10 pounds his last month despite him eating a ton. His cancer type must have been hungry.  Jake on the other hand has a ton of problems to go along with his cancer. A cancer leg that refuses to move (and is changing color) and a TERRIBLE diaper rash, to name a few. He however, is one of the very few cancer dogs that gains weight — he gained one pound last week.  Woohooo!

Then there is me.

With Melvin’s cancer, writing about it kept me grounded. It gave me strength. With Jake’s cancer, I don’t always feel compelled to put the words to web. That might just be a round two issue.

When Melvin got diagnosed I was devastated (that is no different for Jake), but after seeing two radiologists, the oncologist, our regular vet and our holistic vet (all within one week), I knew he was terminal and I knew our time was going to be very short. I went from living mode to survival mode and everyday I focused on getting Melvin to his end with all his joy intact. I have zero doubt or guilt that letting him go when we did, was absolutely the right thing to do.  It was the worst day of my life, but it was one of the most right things I ever did for him.

With Jake, sometimes in my head I operate like his decline is just the normal progression of his spine. It is a plight we’d already begrudgingly accepted so my brain thinks it’s normal. And sure, you can argue that some denial is good, but I need to start being truer to Jake’s end. His decline, is due to cancer. My inability to cure this round of diaper rash, is due to his cancer.  When strangers see him and say ‘poor little guy’ my response can’t be ‘oh, he’s fine’ all the time. He is not fine. I can say he’s happy, he’s loved, and he has the best care imaginable but truth is, Jake is struggling. I need to become less ‘ok’ with what is happening to him in the sense that this is not our original diagnosis of spinal issues and become more ‘ok’ about the fact that he has spinal cancer.  I’m still so desperate to fix him. I still think that this is our normal progression and I still google solutions for everything. Which is the opposite of how I was with Melvin.  And that is not to say I give up or I gave up. It’s just a matter of learning where to put your energy. I wanted to save Melvin every minute that he was on this earth but when he got cancer, I understood (not accepted) the end was near.  He and I cured his life and although getting a terminal cancer with no options went against everything we were and had been through, it was what it was. With Jake, he has struggled so much these past few years that we now are used to it. We have really, solved nothing with him. We ‘saved’ his eye. We have products that help. But everything he has faced, we just sorta had to seek solutions to make it ok to live with. So when he got cancer, I probably thought the opposites would continue, that with him, we’d have options and maybe for once a cure for him. I have to accept some hard truths. It’s complicated to have a special needs dog and then have them get cancer and have that cancer affect the areas they were already special in. For Jake, It’s almost like I don’t comprehend.

So our vet(s) have suggested switching to a ‘hospice’ mentality.  It’s not Jake’s time yet, but the term hospice can sometimes help the human move into the necessary mindset. It helps me process things like ‘the radiation didn’t work as well as we hoped’.  My normal response to that is ‘what do we try next’ and I am fairly unable to process the words ‘nothing’.

Thankfully there are still some things we can try to ease the diaper rash. We may not cure it (but watch me try!).

I’ve been laughing about the differences between the boys situations (ahhhh, the ability to find humor in strange places),  and I know that most of the reasons there are differences is that they are not the same and neither are/were their cancers.  I’m grateful for the most remarkable ‘Team Jake’ vets and I’m grateful for all of you who read these posts and who understand why there might be fewer posts right now.

To conclude, there is always joy to be found.  The recipient of Jake’s wheelchair (Oliver) is going on tons of adventures in his new ride and he has gone from uncertain of how to get around to owning that cart like a boss!  Heart happy.  Heart full. Love lives on, even in wheelchairs!

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UPS.

When the decision was made that Jake could no longer use his wheelchair, I had the normal reaction, put it in the corner and suppress the disappointment.

But that wheelchair kept calling out ‘someone needs me, do the right thing’.  So I reached out to Jake’s rescue and I asked if there were any alumni they knew of that REALLY needed a cart.  They had someone in mind and I reached to that little-big cow dog’s mom.  When she asked me how much I wanted for the cart, I explained that we really wanted to her guy to have it. The only thing we asked in return is that they pay it forward one day.

So last week I loaded it up with instruction (when that cart came I had zero idea how to get Jake in it so that instruction step was crucial) and I carried it out the door and put it in my car.  I stopped at UPS, grabbed the cart and walked in.

That is the exact moment that all the oxygen left the world. I was standing in UPS, there was no oxygen and I started hyperventilating, bawling and then out of nowhere came a honking sound from my body. I panicked (or perhaps terrified myself), turned to run out, ran into the man standing behind me (the wheelchair rammed into him) and somehow made it out the door with a bunch of voices yelling behind me ‘ma’am, are you ok?’

Oh sure, I always honk like a donkey, things are great.  Instead I yelled back, ‘I have nothing to mail’.  (HAHAHAHAH, I have nothing to mail, classic response. That totally makes the situation more normal.)

I got into my car, drove to a side street and parked. What the hell had just happened? I made a few calls to people who could talk me back into some realm of sanity.

I looked over at the wheelchair.

Sending the cart made Jake’s cancer too real for a moment. 

It’s OK to be human. Just breathe.

I did a few other errands. At one point I realized that UPS probably had security cameras so I just prayed that I was not currently trending on You Tube. I eventually went back and mailed the wheelchair. The people at UPS could not have been nicer, they took one look at the notes and said ‘seems like this cart is being sent with a lot of love’. It most certainly is. Love will live on in that cart.

The wheelchair is on its way to Oliver and he is going to rock the hell out of that cart and his mom will hopefully breathe some relief when she sees him take off in it. There is something really special that happens when your mobility challenged dog gets his wheels and is suddenly no longer hindered at all.  Jake and Oliver have similar spinal issues and they just happen to be the two biggest Frenchies in the world so the size should be perfect.

We had a great weekend, Jake is snoring in the next room and luckily for him he has a great replacement wheelchair, her name is Tracey. All is good here.

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Why did you honk like a donkey at UPS? I’m embarrassed. IMG_9050

Hey, brother.

Dear Melvin…I miss you. I mean like, I really miss you, not just your butt. She said it was a year ago that we said goodbye, I don’t understand the concept of time but it feels more like seven years, am I right?

I looked for you, for weeks.  I would howl in case you were lost and needed to hear my sweet Barry White voice to find your way back.  She and I were really sad.  I couldn’t even be around her because she reminded me of you.  I think she felt the same way about me. Eventually I had to stop being alone and start being there for her, just like you told me I would need to be. I try to love her as much as you love her, I think it’s working. She laughs a lot more now.

Lately, she has started saying, ‘you can’t go see your brother yet…’.  Wait, what? Is going to see you an option?  Truth is, I see you all the time. Like every time a sunspot shows up.  Or when I’m outside and the breeze blows my beautiful hairs around, it’s you.

She tried to bring me other brothers. She is funny.  I sent them packing.  I know, I know, you believe in ‘give peace a chance’ and no one appreciates that about you more than me. It’s why I am still alive.  But you know me, I shoot first and ask one question later: “Are you Melvin? No? Then GET OUT!”. I pledge allegiance to the brotherhood of Melvin and Jake.

You are my true love. You made me feel like Super Jake. You always loved me just as a I was. Losing you hurt real bad. I’m going to try to stay with her for a little while longer, she needs to soak in some more Jake awesomeness, but something tells me I may see you soon.  It’s going to be the most epic reunion ever! When I see you, I will run so fast with all my legs and I will jump straight into you! You might want to get protective padding.

It’s you and me and her. She says she wouldn’t change a single thing and I agree. We love you and miss you but are way more better for having had you here with us.  We will always be, three. Well, maybe four if you include your delicious butt.

I will take care of her and you know she will take care of me.

Be on the lookout for me.

I love you.

Jake

PS: We decided to only show the last part of the video, the part about all the love.  There is music so be sure you have sound, music makes everything better!  

Song credit is State of Grace by Taylor Swift, we hope she does not sue us!   

 

 

 

 

 

One year.

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of losing Melvin.  One time around the sun without him, which is poetic way of measuring it since he still shines so brightly in our lives.

I miss him. The all of me misses the all of him. It’s a permanent ache. There are moments that stop me in my tracks and the weight of the loss sits on me and I cry.  But that does not happen every day anymore.  Not even every week.  It just happens now and then, as I’m sure it will for the remainder of my life.

Losing him was hard but I love him more today than I did a year ago. I love him more than yesterday. The journey of grief is so strange.  Sometimes we forgot to applaud ourselves for the growth that occurs during it.

I have been working on a video, a chronological trip down photo lane of his life.  The video was therapy for me.  I started with the very fist photo I had of him and ended with the very last one taken of him (I’ll try to share it with you tomorrow if WordPress allows the large upload). I looked at every single photo and I reflected on our seven years together and a lot on the last year. A year where there are no photos of Melvin, an acceptance that there will be no more.

Here is what I have come to know…

  • Grief has a terrible job. It shows up the moment you couldn’t need it less and it’s required to stay with you until you are ready to let it go, which sometimes is never. We blame grief for a lot, when the reality is, it’s not griefs fault. Life sends grief in to collect on the debt of love. Life can be a real jerk sometimes.  Grief poured sadness down on me some days and I begged for mercy. Then it shined moments of happiness on me and made me feel more capable. Then sadness, then happiness.  Grief gets stuck on a hurtful loop some days. Grief stayed and guided me and in some ways kept me company. It did its job and a few months ago I felt grief waving goodbye. It left a part of itself with me in the form of sadness I will forever feel for Melvin’s absence. That sadness will always be a part of me, but it no longer rules me. Grief taught me that, life will be a new version of ok if I let it be. And I did and it is.
  • For the first time in my life, I did grief right.  I let it guide me. I let it make me feel whatever it was that it was going to make me feel. I didn’t apologize for it, I just went with it. The only thing I wouldn’t let grief do was to drop anger off (trust me, it tried). From the moment Melvin got cancer to today, anger has not been a part of our journey. I know it’s not that way for everyone, grief is unique, you have to follow your own path. But for me, I cannot associate anger with anything regarding Melvin.  It wasn’t always easy, but we won in life and I am a stronger, kinder, and more understanding of how life goes after losing him. I channel my inner Melvin.
  • When you lose someone, even though they are gone, the relationship continues. After death, love lives on. I can say with absolute certainty that in this past year, my relationship with Melvin has grown. There is a spiritual bond, he is a part of me in the most beautiful ways.
  • I missed spring last year,  I must have been crying.  But this year, warmth and blooms and longer days remind me of Melvin.  This is the first spring he will be completely allergy free. That makes me really happy.
  • I always wanted a bonded pair.  I had no idea how connected they would end up being. In looking at the photos I realize now, that in the beginning, it was actually Melvin who would seek Jake out.  It was Melvin who would inch closer to his brother, even at risk of Jake lunging at his face. It was Melvin who opened up the door for their beautiful love. Jake, having lived a life before of us of having very little love, took a leap of faith with Melvin, and hit jackpot. Years prior, Melvin took the same leap with me.
  • There are very few photos of Melvin and I together.  That doesn’t upset me. As I was going through the photos I realized that in 99.9% of them, I’m the photographer.  That look on his face, is him looking at me.  And that look is what I remember and that look is everything.
  • Jake and I are so alike, it took this year for me to realize it. Jake and I suffered the same great loss, and in our grief, the only thing we wanted was Melvin back.  For a while, that meant that each of us needed space from the other, to be alone. But there came a time that we realized we needed each other more. Our love is forever cemented in the  year we traveled together, learning to live without our best friend.
  • A year can feel like it passed in the blink of an eye at the same time it feels like infinite time and space.
  • You can never predict what will break you.
  • I get why people say ‘I will never get another dog’.  I say it now, just thinking about losing Jake and going through this all over again.  But the truth is, the love is always worth the grief. Always. Love is strong and wild and soul changing. Grief can’t erase it. And I know, eventually, there will be other dogs and I know that Max and Melvin and even Jake expect nothing less of me.
  • Love is why we are here.

Thank you, all of you, for standing with us this past year.  For following along and holding space for us. I love this blog, I love coming here to put my thoughts together, I love that I can share just about anything here and I love the love you give us.

A year later, we are good.  We are happy, we are joy seekers! Melvin is a part of every day and he does now what he has always done, he guides us forward and fills us with love.

We are blessed.

#lovesliveson

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Photo credit: Kate Juliet Photography

 

 

Merry, merry. Happy, happy. Joy, joy.

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!

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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!

Love, Tracey

Here is Jake’s note:

Send food. Diets are incredibly painful. Seriously, send food, I’m really suffering.

Love, Ja…(he passed out from hunger)

And here is our Christmas card!  I meant to post it earlier than AFTER CHRISTMAS!

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This one stung a little.

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.

#loveliveson

The post from a year ago, is HERE.

And here is Jake and his googly eyes,  being as adorable as ever…IMG_6475