|Beckett, Hudson, and Crow, April 2002|
I've had a lot of reasons lately to reflect on loved ones present, past, and future. One of the primary reasons is Crow's age. Watching her grow older, adjusting to her shifts, I can't help but reflect.
Back on April 2, she turned 14. I came home from work, and grabbed my camera, heading out back with the dogs, intending to document the occasion with some nice head shots and still portraits.
|Crow's 14th birthday portrait - a dead gallop|
Here's what Crow thought of that idea. She galloped. She cantered. She raced laps around the yard, because "Mom's home!" And I realized, she'd been doing that most of her life, and, unlike me, she wasn't feeling particularly limited by what the calendar indicated. I followed her around the yard, and attempted a couple of times to get her to sit and stay and look pretty in the sunlight. She played deaf (which is fair, since she is,) and did a great job of ignoring me. I got a couple of shots of her, but nothing approaching the portrait I'd envisioned. After initially feeling a little frustrated, I finally gave in to her joy and, laughing, admitted she had a better idea; a portrait of a 14 year old German Shepherd expressing happiness at a full gallop was going to be a fine picture to have, and a wonderful way to remember her. Not every GSD who reaches this age is able to walk across the floor unassisted, and here I'd been, trying to slow her down to take her picture.
|Finally, slowing down and coming in for a talk|
She finally did slow down to a trot, and came in to perform the next part of the daily greeting ritual. She pushes her way through my legs, and weaves back and forth through them. As she did so, I had to adjust my balance to keep my right hip from going out. Ha! Who's old and decrepit, Ma? Point taken, old friend. Weave away. But be careful to give me some warning, please.
|Crow and Hudson's grandma, Carson|
Now it's late August. The summer was long and hot. Some time in June, Crow began to refuse her meals. I upped her pain medication, and for a short while that seemed to address the problem. Then I began having to add flavor enhancers, and ultimately, to have to spoon feed her every meal. I thought it was a one way street from there, having been put through the same sort of geriatric inappetence with other dogs in their dotage. I was willing, though once again my own aging body had some things to say about both crouching down or leaning over for as long as it took to feed her. In the last week or so, Crow has rebounded unexpectedly, and is currently eating all of her meals with gusto and enthusiasm. I don't know how much longer she'll stay with me. Certainly not forever, but maybe another couple of years. Both her mother, Otter, and her grandmother, Carson lived to be older than Crow is now. Or, she could go tomorrow. When it's time, it will be time. Ultimately, though it's a cliche, it's completely true that all we have is today. Of all my dogs, Crow has been the one who's been most adamant on that point from the very beginning. And so, we proceed, day by day, maybe a little more aware each time we part that it might be the final time, but never focusing on that. In this moment, she is fine. At this time, we are together. It is all I can ask of this day.
|Otter - the last time we were together|
I didn't live with Crow's mother, but she was very special to me. The last time I saw Otter, I knelt down to greet her, and she came into my arms. Such a dear soul. Such a treasured friendship. For the last year or so of her life, I made certain that each time I went to the farm, I took the time to let her know what she meant to me. There was really no reason to think that the last time I saw her would be the last. She'd toddled up to the barn on her own power, at her own speed, and, as she had all her life, she'd chosen her own path. That she chose to come to me, to greet me and welcome me back to the farm, was a gift. And because it turned out to be the last time, it remains a moment I treasure. When I think of Otter, though, I remember more than those final moments. I remember her first litter, when she was just a young dog herself. And I remember her inviting me in to kneel at the box while she showed me her second litter, how she nosed in and licked my hands and face while I cradled for the very first time the tiny, dark puppy who was Crow . I remember what a funny girl she was, and her quiet, considered conversations with cats. I remember the night she volunteered to accompany me back to my room, so I wouldn't have to spend the night alone, even though it meant leaving her own home to do so. When I remember Otter, it is not a snapshot, but a movie, a series of frames that flow smoothly, one into the other, and tell the story of a life. I know that this will be so for Crow, too, once she is gone, and that our moments together now are the single frames of the story we share.
I have a long list of beloved friends and family who have died, something which we all inevitably compile. They are with me all the time, sometimes nothing more than a quiet backdrop of memories, sheer curtains stirred by the repeating currents of life; sometimes loudly clanging cymbals, clamoring for a nod when something we shared becomes relevant again in the moment, when something that shaped me or taught me demands to be acknowledged in the here and now. In the final week of my mother's life, no one was with me more powerfully than Beckett, my greyhound who had died 7 years earlier. It was his illness and his courage that taught me what it is possible to survive, and how we survive it by taking it head on, one step at a time, fully present and available to the moment and all its potential, unwilling to turn our face away, whether from life or from death. These were the cymbals, ringing the lessons learned side by side with Beckett, lessons which had been mined and refined into the strength I called upon at my mother's bedside.
The future will surely bring me more heartache and loss. It's a part of the deal, after all. Both of my dogs are, as they say, "getting up there." Well, heck, so am I. We take it one moment at a time, grateful to witness joy, however expressed. If my 14 year old Crow can say it with a gallop, I will hear it. If all that's left are whispers, I'll hear those, too. When I find myself in my own future, I know one thing: there will always be teachers, friends, and companions. There surely will be a German Shepherd to travel with, maybe a Greyhound to watch sailing across a field, a rat on my shoulder, or a bird to talk to me. Or, maybe there will be nothing more than curtains, stirring in the currents of my life. I will take what comes and be happy for what's been. Of one thing I am sure: having had all this love, having shared all these lives, I will never be alone.