I Dug A Grave For My Dog Today…

The skies are grey, there is a bit of wind, and the leaves in the trees are rustling. The weather suits my mood.

 

I dug a grave for my dog today. 

 

Well, my husband began it this morning before anyone else was awake. I went out thinking I would break the ground, and found instead a shared chore. It is right beside the grave of the previous home owners’s dog Squeak, with all kinds of shades of green above and surrounding.

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He is not gone yet, my dog. The grave isn’t finished yet. But he will be gone tomorrow night, and the grave will have to be finished.

 

He is not my best friend, this dog. He is not my soul mate.

 

He is just a dog. 

 

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Just a dog. Named Chip. 

 

He came 10 years ago from my Dad. Just after our first German Shepherd had been put to sleep. He came with all the wildness of a country dog. He peed on the oldest boys’ hockey bag almost weekly. It took awhile for him to figure out what we wanted from him on a leash.

 

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He ate a bag of bread from the top of the refrigerator, and 24 mini chocolate chip muffins from the kitchen table with the kids were snoozing on the couch.

 

He got into the trash more times than I can remember.

 

He’s just a dog.

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I dug a grave for my dog today.

 

It was a strange experience. My back is hurting. There was strain in the effort. And there was something releasing in the process. I cried as I dug the grave today. The rain, the grey skies, the leaves rustling…they all helped. You cannot dig a grave quickly. Well, maybe you can, but I cannot. And there is, in that slowness, the space for mourning.

 

He’s just a dog, though. 

 

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But he has the softest ears you’ve ever felt. Like velvet. And the scruff of his neck is thick and soft. He’s let me cry a few tears in that scruff, and more than a few this week.

 

He is always happy to see us. Always happy to go on a walk. Always greets the husband with barks of exuberance that begin as soon as he hears the car coming down the street.

 

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I dug his grave today.

 

It’s almost ready. He’ll be gone tomorrow night. His tumor came in November, but the cancer spread quickly in just the last few weeks. You can hear it in his breathing. We’re giving him pizza and hamburgers and chocolate chip muffins and bread.

 

He’s still happy to see us.

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But, he’s just a dog. A dog named Chip 

 

Everyone should have such a dog. Consistent. Present. Faithful.

 

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I dug a grave for my dog today. 

 

He’s just a dog. 

 

I have one more night of him putting his muzzle in my hand to walk down the hall to bed. And waiting when I have to go back to the kitchen three times to fill waters for kids and find my book. Looking out the bedroom door and waiting to lie down until I’m really, for real, ready to go to bed. Then staying by the bed until I get up.

 

Everyone should have such a dog…and a love that teaches your heart to break. We all need the lessons in how to mourn, because there will be deeper and bigger mournings. He’s just a dog, and he’s teaching me in this.

 

 

And I will just leave you with this, from, of course, G.K. Chesterton:

 

But a man does belong to his dog, in another but an equally real sense with that in which the dog belongs to him. The two bonds of obedience and responsibility vary very much with the dogs and the men; but they are both bonds. In other words, a man does not merely love a dog; as he might (in a mystical moment) love any sparrow that perched on his windowsill or any rabbit that ran across his path. A man likes a dog; and that is a serious matter.

– A Miscellany of Men (1912)

We Haven’t Missed the Moment…

How are you doing this morning?

 

I find it a little silly, this blog that I turn to from time to time. I realize that friends read, but I think it is mostly a place for me to process my thoughts. Since it is more than a journal or something hidden, maybe I try to think a little more clearly. My grammar is still poor, but the thoughts get across. Today I need the push to think more clearly.

 

Today, I am finding that lack of connection to people heavy. And that need to process equally insistent.

 

And yet…

 

I have not journaled once during this stay-at-home order. How many days are we now? 24 days since I picked the oldest up from college. 24 days.

 

I am a journaler. I think best when i write, and yet…I have not thought very well in the last three weeks.

 

I have been distracted. 

 

How about you?

 

 

I’ve been following the numbers, but also not allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the news. Before my allergies went into overdrive, I walked with the kids through the neighborhood. We looked for bears in windows, we looked for rocks that had been decorated and spoke little messages of hope. Now I linger on FaceBook and read the stories of hope. I relish the conversations between neighbors online offering help, offering encouragement. I’ve been distracted enough to watch the Tiger King. I think even our neighborhood car burgler is adhering to the stay-at-home order because we have not seen him in three weeks. People are trying to behave.

 

We have not suffered in our house…we have been inconvenienced, but not suffered. We are accustomed to school at home, so that has not been a significant change. I am missing watching my soccer player, and Maddie only participated in one practice before everything stopped. We were coming out of Spring Break when this all began, and the rhythm of a relaxed schedule has continued. It’s almost 10 and three of the kids are still asleep.

 

And yet…

 

This is Holy Week. Lent got caught up for me in a forced austerity, at least of community, not an intentional fasting and focus.

 

I have neglected the readings. I have glanced at the slow progression toward the Cross, but I have not participated.

 

Now. Good Friday is upon us. I’m not really ready. I missed the preparation in my soul.

 

I’ve been distracted.

 

Have you?

 

I have friends who have done well. They have pressed in to God. They have prayed, they have thought well and they have pursued. I have prayed…but I have been distracted. I have friends who have also written well about the strangeness of this time, and the difficulty to process while we are in the midst of the moment.  This is an article worth reading, from Rebecca K Reynolds.

 

Distraction can be lethal to our spiritual health. Check out this quotation from G.K. Chesterton:

 

“For, though we talk lightly of doing this or that to distract the mind, it remains really as well as verbally true that to be distracted it to be distraught. The original Latin word does not mean relaxation; it means being torn asunder as by wild horses. The original Greek word, which corresponds to it, is used in the text which says that Judas burst asunder in the midst. To think of one thing at a time is the best sort of thinking; but it is possible, in a sense, to think of two things at a time, if one of them is really subconscious and therefore really subordinate. But to deal with a second thing which by its very nature thrust itself more and more aggressively in front of the first thing is to find the very crux of psychological crucifixion. I have generally found that the refined English persons who think it idolatrous to contemplate a religious image, turn up next time full of delighted admiration of some Yogi or Esoteric Hindu who only contemplates his big toe. But at least he contemplates something, and does not have ten thousand brazen drums to encourage him to do it. He is so far a real philosopher, in spite of his philosophy. He does not try to do two incompatible things at once.”  – Chesterton from On The Prison of Jazz

 

“To deal with a second thing which by its very nature thrust itself more and more aggressively in front of the first thing”! Yes! That is the sense of my thinking right now, thank you G.K.

 

One more from Chesterton:

 

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.”

 

We have to be present to the one thing right now. This week. This pivotal moment that we remember, that we embrace, that we ponder. Boy did I need help this morning to bring my attention to check. Chesterton has helped, he has pointed out the problem…how about a little help from Buechner:

 

In our minds we are continually chattering with ourselves, and the purpose of meditation is to stop it. To begin with, maybe we try to concentrate on a single subject-the flame of a candle, the row of peas we are weeding, our own breath. When other subjects float up to distract us, we escape them by simply taking note of them and then letting them float away without thinking about them. We keep returning to the in-and-out of our breathing until there is no room left in us for anything else. To the candle flame until we ourselves start to flicker and burn. To the weeds until we become only a pair of grubby hands pulling them. In time we discover that we are no longer chattering.

If we persist, every once and so often we may find ourselves entering the suburbs of a state where we are conscious but no longerconscious of anything in particular, where we have let go of almost everything.

The end of meditation is to become empty enough to be filled with the kind of stillness the Psalmist has in mind when he says, “Be still, and know that I am God”  Buechner from Wishful Thinking

 

 

 

 Guess what? 

 

We haven’t missed it. You who are distracted as I am. You who are having a hard time staying focused on reading anything. You who are having a hard time getting out of bed, for that matter. You who long to lean in toward God, and yet the energy and the focus are difficult to find at the moment….you haven’t missed it.

 

Today is Good Friday.

 

 

 

You haven’t missed it. 

 

Press in today. Find the space physically and mentally and spiritually and meditate. Stop the chatter. Need some help?

 

Start here, with some thoughts from Malcolm Guite  and then continue to this from Steve Bell with Malcolm Guite. These will help you think on the stations of the cross, with a link to Malcolm’s sonnets on the stations and a couple songs from Steve.

 

 

Then, this….this is a fantastic resource. This is a visual resource for praying through the Stations of the Cross. This will give you the steps to focus your mind, to prepare your soul for Easter.

 

 

Finally…find an online service. We have one at my church, The Village Chapel. Use the resources and press in. Push out the distractions, at least for today. Then again for Easter. Then again the next day…

 

 

This is a strange time, and distraction may be a saving grace for at least moments in this season. But not for this moment. This moment requires discipline, and requires focus. I’m a little more prepared now…how about you?  Let’s press in and not miss this moment. This very strange Good Friday and Easter which may just be a moment to meet Jesus in a new way that awakens our spirit.

 

You haven’t missed it.

Pause.

It has been about 24 days since I last left the house. Same for the kids. That’s a long time. You would think in that time I would have paused and thought deep thoughts, or come up with some rhythm and plan for these days. You would think I would have things to say. Deep truths that have come clear in this time.

 

Not so much.

 

Here’s a bit of what 24 days in stay-at-home has looked like.

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There are no appointments. No performances. No gatherings or parties or driving the kids to and from friends’ houses. I have to say it breaks my heart not to see Sam play soccer.

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No communal worship.

 

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This is a completely unique time for us. This forced stopping. Forced pause. Forced waiting.

 

I have to admit, I am not good at being still.  But it is beginning to seep in a little.

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I have been on silent retreats before, and usually just before it is time to leave is when my mind and my soul begin to quiet. There is just so much noise. And now, that noise is spurred on by news that updates us by the moment about the spread of this virus. We hear and see not only the fear and the stress, but the resilience of people singing to each other from balconies or parading through neighborhoods to celebrate birthdays. Or just to acknowledge each other.

We have the chance, though…we have a moment to pause and to pull back and to rest.

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It has taken me 24 ish days to settle in to this, to press toward whatever this is and what God has to teach me in this season. My mind is starting to quiet.

 

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This safer-at-home business is messy. We are all stuck together and trying to finish school well, and trying to stay connected to friends and be aware of what is happening in the world. This is a totally unique time. There are so many wonderful stories coming to the surface, balancing the fear and the anxiety. There are so many good moments…and yet there are so many struggling and that will increase.

 

Easter is coming and with it the declaration that God has overcome. The declaration that all will be well. We may not be able to sing it out together in community, but we have the opportunity to speak it out in hope. The opportunity to speak life in social media and in conversation. We have the moment to turn our attention to the reality of God.

 

I have not been turning my face toward Easter. I’ve not done well with Lenten discipline. I’ve been distracted and unsettled. The other day it was 1pm and I realized none of my children were awake. There was no rhythm or intention.

 

We still have a week, though. We have time to quiet some more. We have time to be intentional and to lean in to the reality of God risen from the dead.

 

Quieting. Listening. Knowing that this is a different season and the Easter message will resonate in a whole new way. Praying for mercy for our world, for grace in this strange time, and for healing. And waiting. Waiting with a new longing for that Easter morning and the rejoicing there will be….

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The things we carry with us…

Over the last three weeks I have had at least five discussions with friends who are watching family members slip into that strange world of here and not here. They are watching their loved ones begin to forget. They are watching the agitation and the fear that begins to settle in as this person realizes they are losing their identity. Their memories. Their story. And finally their ability to communicate.

 

I have been jotting notes on this blog for over eight years now. I began it as a place to think aloud a bit about our journey with my mom’s Dementia. We were well into that journey even eight years ago. Now, as Mom is farther and farther from her ability to communicate, there is not much to update. Things do not change as much day to day anymore.

 

I began this blog partly because of a quotation from Frederick Buechner that kept nagging at me:

 

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours…it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.”

 

We need to share our stories. We need these touch points with one another, to know that we are not alone and to glean wisdom from those who are a little farther down the track than us. We need to hear that God has been present in others’ stories; it encourages us to watch for Him in our own.

 

I’ve encouraged those I know who are in the midst of this now to be patient. To remember that they do not have to use logic, and they do not have to win arguments. And we do have to repeat the answer a hundred times some days. My brothers and my Dad would be better at writing the advice. They have cared for Mom diligently, daily, these last years.

 

I am 1200 miles away, and as life has become busier here my travels home have become fewer. There is an acute awareness, however, of this missing element of my life. This void. There is a silliness to asking how Mom is when I call…she is the same as she was yesterday. As she was last month. As she was last year. But I still want to know. I still ask.

 

There were times when she changed weekly. There were times when she would call, and she would know who I was. She knew things were slipping, and there was fear in her voice, but she knew me. I found an old answering machine today, and knew that I had at least one recording of Mom still there. Her voice brought back so many memories…and that deep desire to have one more conversation.

 

 

So to those who are just starting out on this journey…it is a long one, so take a deep breath and give yourself some space. Recognize that there are so many going through the same journey.

 

Your loved one just might be mean in this season. They might lash out. They might be aggressive. Not always. But my guess is that there is a season in this where they know what is happening, and yet they don’t know where they are any more. Where there is a sense that things are familiar, but they can’t figure it out. And that has to be terrifying. So give them grace. But also have wisdom.

 

Now Mom doesn’t communicate. She doesn’t form sentences or ask questions. Sometimes she rambles a bit and you can tell there is something she is trying to say.

 

She still smiles though. And her eyes still twinkle.

 

So now, for me, 1200 miles away and keenly aware of the conversations I wish I could have with her, I have taken to something specific to keep her memory close.

 

I don’t leave the house without wearing something of hers.  (And I also can never take a normal “selfie” because I feel ridiculous…but wanted to show the necklace!)

 

 

I’m reading from her childhood Bible some. And I drink from a coffee cup that came from her.

 

Necklaces, flannel shirts, coffee cups…they remind me of this strong woman I carry with me. I carry her wisdom and her wit (although hers was quicker than mine). I carry her love of books and pens. I carry her laughter.

My daughter carries her name.

 

Buechner:

If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.

 

Keep telling yourself the stories your loved ones can’t tell anymore. Write them down. Remember. Stretch that memory, and find something that helps you hold that person close…even if they are 1200 miles away.  Stretch your own memory and think about your own story. Write it down.

 

If you live miles from home, keep asking how they are. Even if it doesn’t change.

 

Keep remembering.