A few years ago I wrote this essay about my father and I wanted to re share it here. My dad always loved my writing and often suggested I focus on it. He is one of the reasons I started this blog! Four years ago, on Oct 12 2012, my father passed away from complications of dementia. He was 87 years young. I say “young” because even until the end he maintained his child-like sense of curiosity and humor. He was gifted at finding excitement in even the most banal things. He was one of my biggest supporters, always helping me to see the silver lining and to seek the “funny” in every situation. I miss him immensely.
When I was two or three my father taught me how to ski. At first I didn’t love the sport, but I DID love my beautiful red ski boots. Once a shoe lover,always a shoe lover, I guess. I adored their candy red shell, and how it felt to walk around in them with that fun clunky gait. Ba-bam ba-bam. Those of you who have skied know the rhythm of which I speak. The sport grew on me and eventually I learned to really enjoy it. In high school, I followed in my brother’s footsteps and became a certified ski instructor. Other than my current career, this was probably the best job I ever had. It was rewarding teaching people a sport and it felt great to be part of a like minded group of amazing and fun people who remain my friends even today. I also loved the bonding between my brother and me. Over the years I went on family ski trips to Colorado, Utah, Vermont, New York State, Austria, Switzerland, and others that I’m probably forgetting. But the trips that stick out the most in my mind are the ones I took alone with my father. Whether it was a local day trip to the Cleveland Ski Club, to Peak-and-Peak (just two hours from home), or to Park City, Utah, Skiing with my dad was always very special. It gave us time to bond and have fun together. To laugh, share ideas, and also to sit in peace together on the chair lift and take in the beauty of nature. “Look Jilly, isn’t it beautiful?”, my father would say. Somehow being there in the snow, hearing only the swishing of the skis and the creaking motor of the chair, everything else in the world was quiet as if the blanket of snow was silencing the earth into a peaceful lull. I asked my dad once why he loved skiing so much and he said “because we live in Ohio and I needed to find something fun to do outside despite the winter cold.” And then in an exhilarated tone he added “Also, don’t you feel so free flying down that Mountain?!!”. My father skied until he was 85. And the two years he was stuck in the home before he passed away, there was always a Ski magazine next to him. By teaching me the art of skiing my father taught me so much more. How to see the best in something, how to find the good in a challenging situation, how to learn from your mistakes or at least laugh at them, how to see beauty where other people don’t, the importance of silence. But the greatest thing he did, I’m not even sure he was aware of. I had avoided skiing for a long time once my father became ill and especially after he passed away. This past weekend I went for the first time in five years. I was nervous and tried to make excuses not to go but my friends very supportively nudged me on. I sat on the chairlift and looked out. I saw the beauty of the blue sky. The snow covered mountains, the green pines, the frozen lakes. As I sat there, going up the mountain, I could hear the beautiful peace and quiet of the blanketed earth, the familiar sound of the lift motor, and most importantly I could hear my father say “Look Jilly, Isn’t it beautiful?” and for that brief moment he was there with me. By teaching me skiing my father gave me a gift. The gift of him.
Dad’s first selfie! This is a photo of my dad and I during a winter visit in 2011. I’m so glad he was still laughing. We had so much fun that day taking a walk around the home where he lived. He slipped on ice and fell but thankfully wasn’t hurt. Despite his illness he remembered to lift his head so he didn’t hit it.
I have had the hardest time concentrating this week. I recently found out that my beautiful baby girl, Abby the Bernese Mountain Dog aka Abby Airmail Equus Calhoun, will need to be put to rest. If I was allowed to keep her around, she would have turned 12 on August 23rd, a date that also would have marked my Mother and Father’s 64th wedding anniversary (had my father still been alive). On top of that, this craziness in France, and all the unnecessary shootings are exasperating my melancholy state of mind. The cruelty of people can be so overwhelming to a sensitive soul like mine. To add to things, we are wrapping up the final episode of season 8 at work and MSM starts a new job on Monday. Just a lot of endings are hitting at once. And I’m not good at endings. In fact, I’m terrible with them.
My HauteDog with her Givenchy tote.
My gorgeous girl.
Abby rolling her eyes. I love this photo. It looks like its straight out of an Art House film.
I’d like to focus this blog post on Abby, my devoted fur daughter who has brought so much love and joy to my life. I remember the very first day we picked her up from the airport (she was born on a farm in Oklahoma and sent to us). I opened her crate door and gazed upon the most adorable rollie-pollie curly-haired puppy I had ever seen. And she was eating her poop! This habit, I am embarrassed to admit, never ceased. I wont get into those stories even though they are funny to me, to avoid potentially offending someone who is reading this.
Baby Abby was so beyond adorable. I can picture her laying flat on her side in her Ex-pen during the training months, jerking from puppy dreams of running in fields and eating treats (and poop :P). One year, when Abby was about 3 or 4, I had invited company over for dinner. I set up a beautiful french cheese spread, about four pounds of exquisite stinky cheeses paired with fruit and crackers. When the doorbell rang, I exited the room to greet my friends. When we walked over to the cheese spread, Abby had eaten THE ENTIRE THING. ALL FOUR POUNDS of cheese! She loved to run in the yard and she adored stealing her (Shih-Tzu) tiny big sister’s toys and burying them because if Abby couldn’t have them, either could Daisy! Abby had a wonderful full life. She experienced camping in Joshua Tree, fishing in Bishop, and hiking in Orange County, Los Angeles, Ojai, and Pismo. She lived at the beach with a 180 degree view of the pacific, and inland with beautiful foothills as her backdrop.
Abby hiking Carmel c2011.
Beach bound Abby.
My Travelin’ Trio.
Berners are incredibly affectionate and Abby is no exception. In fact, she really is basically pure love. One of her favorite things is being with her people. She sits on our feet and sleeps or grabs our hands and insists we pet her. If we stop for a beat she tosses and turns and pushes our hand back for more petting. She loves to lick our faces (hopefully not after poop eating) or stare right at us, with her face an inch away from ours, and burp “I love you”. She adores cuddling on the sofa during our favorite TV shows or movies. At night she used to prefer sleeping on a cool surface, usually by a door so she could protect her pack. For some reason as she aged, and this is one of my favorites, she crawls into bed at night, lays next to me, and sighs.
When Abby was four, along came her brother Stanley. Stanley has been like a remora shark to Abby. He follows her everywhere. I’m very worried for him now. What will he do without his sweet sister?
Stanley just adores his big sister. He follows her everywhere.
When Abby came into my life I was married. I had a lot to offer her- a father, a yard, a house with a dog door, time, money, and, of course, love. A ton of love. When my marriage ended my whole life shattered. Everything I knew had suddenly and drastically changed. Everything I dreamt for the future could no longer occur because the players in my game of life had changed. I was on my own, ungrounded, and feeling like a failure. As I worked on rebuilding my life I did okay with the pups and always appreciated and reciprocated their support. Eventually, due to finances, working a zillion hours a week, and not being able to afford a house with a yard (or an apartment that allowed dogs over 20lbs), I chose to re-home them for what I thought would be a temporary three to six months. I did this, despite being the person that ALWAY got on a soap box about how giving up your pets is basically synonymous with murder and how only losers and A-holes do it. I could rationalize my choice because I had every intention of bringing them home soon. I wasn’t giving them away, I was temporarily fostering them so they were in a better place while I was getting re-situated. Despite rationalization, re-homing them even temporarily was heart breaking. I had sold my home in OC with thoughts of buying in LA not knowing I was fooling myself because there was NO WAY I could afford a home up here at that time (in a safe neighborhood). I am happy that for the past year my fur kids have had a great home with a family that loves them, a small yard and a dog park close by that they visit often. They are very happy and healthy. It’s a three-hour round trip commute to where they are now but I’ve been going every other month to visit. And I pay for all their medical expenses, grooming, and food. I still love them. They are still mine in my heart. But I am also sad because I haven’t been able to be with them on a daily basis. It has been extremely difficult.
In December, due to a degenerative neurological issue in her spine, Abby began to lose the use of her rear left leg. This progressed to both rear legs. Now Abby’s pain has gotten worse, pain meds are no longer working, her back legs are no longer functioning at all, she soils herself daily, and she can’t move- I am beyond devastated. I am having ethical issues regarding putting her down, but I also know it will take the pain away from her and can kind of wrap my head around why its more humane to put her to rest. It hurts that I will never be able to bring her home. I like to think she IS home. In her new home with her new mom and dad. But its hard to accept that. She’s eleven. She was basically eleven when they got her. She’s my dog and I’ve missed her every day I haven’t been with her this year, but at least previously I could get in a car and go see her or have the foster parents send a photo. I am SO grateful that MSM surprised us this past Christmas with a five-day trip to Carmel, where I got to snuggle with Miss Abby and Stanley. We cuddled, and played, and hiked, and ran on the beach. It was so amazing and beautiful and I can not express the amount of gratitude I feel for having those last few successive days as a family with her. Of course I’ve visited her often since then, including a full weekend last month, but that time in December was the best because it was extended and it was when she was mostly healthy.
My beautiful beast.
Abby Chillaxin at the door.
I love you my sweet Abby girl. May you rest peacefully in heaven, eat all the stinky cheese you desire, run in the grassy fields, and bury your big sister’s toys. I hope Daisy is there for you and will help you through. My heart will always be with you. It’s so hard to let go.
My game plan for dealing with all these endings:
A yogi once said, of his broken gem collection, “Those things were for my joy, not for my misery.” I have been learning meditation, and I think I need to take the day on Saturday to meditate on this. My good friend Dave told me, regarding dealing with a passing pet; “Nothing and no one lasts forever. Rather than focusing on the loss, focus on how grateful you are for the time you had with the pet, and all the good things about her”
Do not attempt to push away the sadness, ride through it. To ease the pain I will pamper myself with a massage and/or mani/pedi.
I will focus on present happiness with a ballet class and/or a walk on the beach with MSM.
I will honor Abby’s life with a ceremonial dinner and toast.
I will have an Annual wine and Stinky Cheese pairing party in honor of Abby.
Loss is always a reminder that life is too short. I need to take this time to take a chance and do some things that I’m normally too afraid to do. Its time to focus on career growth, where I want to go, and who I want to be. So often out of the pain of loss comes a new beginning that usually leads to something good. Can you think of something you currently love that you can trace back as ultimately starting from a loss? I bet your answer is “yes.”