Poof! Gone.

I’ve never written about the day my sister died. Not in a journal, not in a workshop, not for this blog.

She jumped out of a small plane on June 10, 1972. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve. She was almost 19. I was 20.

Her death played out in my mind over and over last week. I don’t know what triggered it. The retired man I live with said I moaned in my sleep a couple of nights. It was time to write and let go of something. What?

I decided to write it as the 1st chapter of a memoir. I opened a new blank Word document and started typing.

I never really learned to type and now my hands are damaged by my arthritis so I am a two-index-finger writer. The other fingers just sort of hang there. It works for me. Usually.

I typed 4 1/2 pages. I came back from going to the bathroom, sat down at the computer and looked at a blank page.

All my writing was gone. I felt sick, but didn’t panic. I figured one of my wandering fingers had hit something. Surely I could recapture it.

And I could have, had I saved any of it.

I DIDN’T SAVE. Any of it.

I write this blog on the WordPress website and it automatically saves every so often. I don’t have to remember to save. So I never thought to save while I dug deep into the narrative of my sister’s death.

I called my daughter who knows more computer than I do. I’d already done the things she suggested. I tried everything I could find in the Word Help menu.

It was gone. Poof. Out into the universe.

I sat and stared at the blank document.

And I laughed.

Last Saturday at my women’s AA meeting we discussed acceptance. AA’s Big Book includes this paragraph:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

What if writing the story of when my sister died was enough?

What if the process mattered more than the product?

What if letting go and acceptance mattered the most?

 

 

Published in: on August 23, 2016 at 10:28 am  Comments (13)  
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“Where’re you from?”

That question always make me sigh. You see, I lived in 5 towns and 4 states by the time I was 15. My dad kept getting better jobs in new places so off we’d go. As I read recently in a book by Tracy K. Smith, we’d “throw ourselves into new schools with blind hope.”

I usually answer that question with “We moved a lot, all over the Midwest.” Sometimes that just confuses people. If I’m feeling a bit ornery, I’ll give them the line about “4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, and 2 high schools.” That usually gets a pitying “Wow.”  I find a weird satisfaction in that.

When I had kids of my own, I wanted them to have a Home to come home to. I wanted for them what the retired man I live with had growing up in Munhall, right outside Pittburgh. We couldn’t recreate the huge extended family nearby (my parents were in Ohio and my mother-in-law was in Munhall), but we could give them Home right here in NC.

For part of their childhood, their dad traveled all of NC and SC as a salesman of surgical instruments. He was gone at least a couple of nights a week for most of their elementary years. He spent so much time in Columbia, SC, that I joked about his other family in SC. (The girls still don’t think that’s funny.) It would have made sense for us to move to Columbia or Greenville, SC, but I said no. I didn’t want to uproot our kids and make them leave Home. We all paid the price for staying Home.

He made up for being gone with “quests” and many outings like the Science Center zoo on the weekends. He gave them unconditional love and doting attention. I appreciated him taking them away on Saturdays! Maybe he tried harder to be a good dad because he was gone so much.

Now the girls are gone, married with kids of their own. The retired man I live with and I have started having the The Conversation about downsizing. We moved across town into this big house when our kids were 11 and 13, 25 years ago. It has served us well, but it’s more house than we need now.

Just in the last few days, I’ve realized our house is Home to only two of us. Our kids each have a Home of their own. Our house is Mom and Dad’s house or Amma and Grandpa’s house for our daughters.

It’s okay for us to give up this house, our Home, and find a smaller, all-on-level, less-expensive-to-maintain Home. Do I look forward to the sorting and purging process? Of course not. But I do like the idea of having less stuff. It’s time.

The main challenge of aging, it seems, is to feel and accept all the change and losses along the way. Leaving Home will be a challenge and a loss for all of us.

Maybe it can be an adventure, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on June 23, 2016 at 11:13 am  Comments (3)  
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Brave Heart

Adaline, my 6-year-old granddaughter, jumped off the diving board at their neighborhood pool for the first time last Saturday, paddled to the ladder by herself, got out and said “That was awesome! Can I do it again?” And she did, many times. (Her mother was in the water close by.)

She also tried diving a couple of times and, of course, belly flopped. We adults all flinched, but she thought that was awesome, too.

Do you remember that feeling of accomplishment when you tried something new and did it? Maybe riding a bike or roller skating? Hitting a baseball or kicking a soccer goal for the first time? Playing a song on the piano or the the violin?

When was the last time you tried something new? When was the last time you were that excited and proud of yourself?

When was the last time you tried something new, belly flopped, and still thought it was fun?

At what point in life do we begin to censor ourselves? To protect ourselves from embarrassment or judgment? To care more about what other people think than about the thrill of just trying?

Who decides what is success and what is failure?

I don’t have all those answers.

What I do know is that as I’ve gotten older, I care less about what other people think and more about figuring out what feels right for me.

I was the “good girl,” the responsible kid, the rule-follower most of my life. I was teacher’s pet in 5th grade. (Please teachers, don’t ever do that to a kid.) I started to move out of that role in my 40’s and 50’s. I developed a smart-ass sense of humor that not everyone gets to hear. I found a faith that gives me confidence to be my real self. I try new things that feel a bit risky.

When I decided to stop coloring my gray hair in my 50’s, I felt daring and different in a good way. Then a few years later, I got purple and red glasses. They go with my hair. I like to to shake things up occasionally, do the unexpected.

My next challenge to myself is starting a writing group at the local day center for the homeless. I’m nervous, but excited. My friend, Shana, who works there, says I’ll be fine. What I know now that I didn’t 20 years ago is if I’m not fine, I can stop. It’s a volunteer job, my choice.

There is freedom in knowing I have choices in my life. I can take care of myself and be available for others, too.

I like being older these days. I like being a “wise elder” with younger people. After church yesterday, a young dad told me he still uses a suggestion I made at a Parents of Teens workshop a couple of years ago. That feels wonderful!

I hope Adaline always remembers that glow of accomplishment, especially when hard things come along, like multiplication and fractions and fickle friends. If she can jump off a diving board into water where she can’t touch the bottom at 6 years old, she can do anything!

I want to be like Adaline when I grow up.

 

 

 

Published in: on June 6, 2016 at 3:12 pm  Comments (7)  
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April 4, 1968 and Me

On March 5, 1968, my family moved from Centerville, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio (the North), to Raleigh, North Carolina (the South). I was not happy. I felt like I was moving to a foreign country. In 10 days, I’d be 16 and my main concerns were how was I going to get a NC drivers license and what should I wear to my first day of being a sophomore at Broughton High School.

15-year-old girls are ego-centric. It’s normal.

On April 4, 1968, at about 6:00 pm, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. When I talk about that day, I always say Raleigh went up in flames.

Today is the 48th anniversary of that shooting. I decided to do some research about what actually happened in Raleigh then. Using Google, I found a history of the Raleigh Fire Department decade by decade. Here’s some of what I learned:

Martin Luther King was shot about 6:00 pm on a Thursday. That night students from Shaw University, a black college, gathered downtown, joined by many others. They threw Molotov cocktails (the fire department called them fire bombs) and buildings burned. Somebody threw one through a window of the Playboy Club (Raleigh had a Playboy Club??) and someone inside threw it back out.

A curfew was declared for that Friday night from 1:00am-6:00am. That curfew continued for days. 500-700 National Guard troops were called in. By midday Monday, April 8, fire officials reported 40 fires had been set and responded to.

I’m sure I knew about all this turmoil and rage.  I did know it was a big deal that Dr. King had been shot. I was raised by two liberal parents who watched the news every night and encouraged us to join them. We talked about the civil rights movement and I saw the beatings and water hoses on Walter Cronkite’s newscasts. I was appropriately horrified.

Remember I said 15-year-old girls are ego-centric? I was focused on how to fit in in a new high school and a new culture where people thought I talked funny and French was taught with a southern accent that totally confused me. Prejudice and bigotry were miles away from the world I lived in then, literally and figuratively.

I just didn’t feel personally touched by any of it. I was a walking, talking, oblivious example of white privilege (defined and explained in this link). There were only a couple of black kids in my high school when I graduated and I didn’t know them.

I lived in an upper middle class neighborhood in north Raleigh, near North Hills Shopping Center and North Hills Swim and Tennis Club. Most families had at least one parent who had graduated from college. Our dads wore suits and ties to work. Many came to Raleigh to be part of the new Research Triangle Park, still one of the most prominent high-tech research and development centers in the US. My friends and I were white baby boomers benefiting from our parents’ post-war drive and ambition.

I read a book recently, suggested by my pastor, Julie Peeples, who is leading many in our community in an examination of white privilege and race issues. The book is called Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. The author, who is white, describes the book this way:

Waking Up White is the book I wish someone had handed me decades ago. My hope is that by sharing my sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, I offer a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance. As I unpack my own long-held beliefs about colorblindness, being a good person, and wanting to help people of color, I reveal how each of these well-intentioned mindsets actually perpetuated my ill-conceived ideas about race. I also explain why and how I’ve changed the way I talk about racism, work in racially mixed groups, and understand the racial justice movement as a whole.

– See more at: http://debbyirving.com/the-book/#sthash.njgYIyS2.dpuf

Liberal parents or not, Caucasian or not, good intentions or not, I guarantee this book will open your eyes and jolt your thinking. You need to read it.

 

Published in: on April 4, 2016 at 1:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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An Attempt To Break Through Writer’s Block

1.Around the first of this year, I told a few people that I wanted to write a memoir. They were very encouraging. I bought a book about writing memoirs and read and studied and underlined carefully.

I haven’t written anything since.

Writer’s block is a real thing. I think mine is fueled by fear. Fear of messing up. Fear of not doing it right. Fear of the immensity of such a project. I still have another book to study.

I know the cure for writer’s block is to write. So I’m writing.

2. I took one of those quizzes that pop up on Facebook about whether my right brain or left brain was dominant. It said my left brain was, the side that’s orderly and logical. As I look around my office and consider my lack of discipline with exercise and writing, I feel more right-brain-ish. I’d LIKE to be orderly and organized. I used to be. I rarely am these days. I blame it on late-onset ADD.

3. Kids are like acorns. Little acorns grow into big trees. Little kids grown into big human beings. Both need water, dirt and sunshine.

4. From an article in the journal Emotion by researchers at UC Berkley:

AWE is a natural anti-inflammatory.Those who experienced more amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride had the lowest levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, specifically levels of interleukin-6.

So, my rheumatoid arthritis, caused by inflammation, would be better if I spent more time beside the ocean or with my grandchildren. Okay!

5. I have a small stink bug issue. Here’s a link to a picture and some information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_marmorated_stink_bug.

It says in the article, someone had 26,000 in their house! (Who counted??) That’s why I said I have a small problem.

Stink bugs completely freak me out. I think they know that. I only see them once or twice a week, in my office and our bedroom, both upstairs. I’ll walk through a room and there one will be. I don’t see it come. It’s just there. The other morning, during my quiet time, one landed on the arm of my chair with a little buzz! I jumped and almost spilled my tea.

I generally am a kind and compassionate person to all living things. Not stink bugs. I flush them. The retired man I live with is appalled by that. He picks them up and opens a window and lets them out. So they can come back and find me again.

6. Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good. I keep having to learn that.

7. Did you know you can use wadded-up balls of aluminum foil in your dryer to get rid of static electricity? I read that in a list of housekeeping hacks on Facebook. One piece of useful information in a 30-minute pilgrimage down a path of wasted time. Sigh.

8. I have an ottoman in my office with a removable top. I recently remembered that I threw a pile of papers in there to quickly tidy up when someone was coming over at least a year ago. I think I should just dump them in the recycling can without going through them. Obviously, I don’t need them. I haven’t done that yet. See #2 above.

9.During one of our snow/ice times, I saw this in the list of school closings:

Ed-Choo-Ka-Tion Station

Really.

10. I want a heated toilet seat. Our upstairs bathroom is cold in the middle of the night. I googled “heated toilet seats.” Prices ranged from $52.66 to $1,578.00. Wayfair has one that includes a nightlight in the rim and three temperature settings. It needs a standard electrical outlet, which in our older house is on the other side of the bathroom. Maybe there’s a battery-operated one. By the time I investigate all the brands and bells and whistles, it’ll be spring. I live in NC. We have short winters. I think this is a “want” not a “need.”

And Want vs. Need is a big topic for another day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on February 23, 2016 at 10:43 am  Comments (2)  
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What’s Inside My Hula Hoop?

I learned some things over Christmas this year. or I should probably say I re-learned some things.

  1. Be careful what you ask for. You might get it. My goal as a parent was to raise independent, self-sufficient women who could take care of themselves and also love well. I’ve succeeded.
  2. I control only what’s inside my hula hoop. (Think about the image…) I don’t like not being in control of stuff. I’m not proud of this–I’ve worked hard on this issue.
  3. I’m not needed like I used to be. I’m probably needed differently, but I haven’t figured that part out yet.
  4. Hurt lurks behind anger and manipulation.

Here’s the story.

Christmas vacation, for our family, for too many years, involved many hours on highways to get to my parents in Ohio and the mother of the retired man I live with (and his large extended family) in Pittsburgh. We’d be gone from whenever the kids finished school until the day before New Year’s Eve.

It was grueling, for different reasons at each place, and often involved driving in bad weather. We didn’t have Nabis or iPads or iPods or in-car DVD players. We played 20 questions, looked for license plates from different states and sang lots of Christmas carols. It got some easier when they became readers. (They didn’t get carsick reading in the backseat like I used to.)

We ended that craziness after my parents moved to NC and we drove over the WV mountains on ice coming home from Pittsburgh. We just flew his mom and sister to us after that. By then our girls were in high school and not so concerned about Santa finding us.

We were never at our own house during those traveling years for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. (Santa knew to come to our house early. He’s flexible like that.) So, at some point as marriage and grandchildren came into our kids’ lives, we (well, more that retired guy I live with than I) started suggesting the importance of Christmas morning in their own homes.

This year, sometime in December, our strong, independent daughters who have apparently learned to take care of themselves and their families told us they would be having Christmas Eve and morning in their own homes and then we would all gather for lunch and to give our gifts to the grandchildren at one of their homes.

I was the loving, supportive, mature, “good” mom I can sometimes be and said, “Well, okay, sure. That’s probably a good idea.”

I was not prepared.

I was alone.

On Christmas Eve.

The retired man I live with has a part-time retail job, so he worked until late-afternoon that day. We’d made no plans so we had a regular dinner, watched the news and some tv and then went to bed like any other evening. And had a quiet, boring Christmas morning. It all felt empty.

I woke up Christmas morning with a complete scheme to manipulate everyone next year back to the way I wanted things to be. It was a brilliant plan (I do have health issues, you know) and it would probably work. I shared it with that retired guy I live with. The shocked look on his face did make me a little self-conscious.

I still shared it over the next couple of days with a few friends who had the sense to listen, smile, and say nothing. Eventually I could hear the anger rumbling inside. I shared about it at a women’s AA meeting. I realized and admitted I was refusing to accept my powerlessness over other people. I was trying to fix things outside my hula hoop. And manipulation wouldn’t give me power. It made me wicked.

I’ve given up on my plan, even though I know it would work.

A new word came to me on Christmas Day. I have become “peripheral” (see below) to my children’s lives. I believe that is right and good and as it should be. It gives me hope that they will be okay when someday I’m not around.

I don’t have to like it.

I do have to accept it.

And now I will focus on my own life and what to do with this new year of 2016. I have more to do, within my hula hoop, I’m sure!

Maybe I’ll write a book.

(Scanners, printers, and speakers are peripheral devices for a computer because they aren’t central to the working of the computer itself.)

 

Published in: on January 4, 2016 at 4:33 pm  Comments (3)  
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I Thank You, God, For The Wonder of My Being (a psalm)

My God,

All those years it didn’t show and no one had to know.

Pain, yes, but no one can see another’s pain.

Now, some days I limp or have use my cane,

Food falls off my fork. I wear my napkin like a bib.

I ask for help and grind my teeth behind the smile.

Must I say “No, I can’t” after “Yes, I can”?

“Can we reschedule? I’m in the hospital.”

“I can’t help–my back is in spasms.”

“I can’t come–it’s a bad arthritis flare.”

My God,

I’m tired.

I’m humbled.

I’m embarrassed.

I want to be whole and healthy,

I want to walk for miles on Your green and flowering earth,

Or just to move more easily.

I want a simple boo-boo to simply heal.

Instead a hole in my elbow requires surgeons and stitches,

Bandages that won’t stay on and packing with silver

And lots of poking with the wooden end of a Q-tip.

An infection requires 3 days of IV vancomycin in room 1342

And 8 days of cleocin pills 3 times a day with lots of yogurt.

All because the dog tripped me months ago

And when I fell I banged my elbow.

I feel fragile these days.

My soul is weary.

I feel ashamed

Of illness, of frailty, of looking older than I am,

Of vulnerability, of dependence, of need, of fear.

My soul cries out to You

Help me!

And so the word “Acceptance” appears on the blackboard in my brain

As I lie in the MRI machine with my face 2 inches from the rounded wall

And my ankle is stretched in a way it doesn’t go

That makes it still hurt a week later.

And so in an article in an email,

I read about Passivity:

The less I do, the less I commit, the less I expect of myself,

The less I’ll disappoint or feel incompetent.

I know why I sit.

And so I read about Resilience:

The ability of something to return to its original form

After being pulled, stretched, pressed, bent.

 Terry reads “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou as liturgy Sunday.

“Just like the moon and the suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes spring high,

Still I rise…

Leaving nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear…”

And so I walk for 15 minutes at Bicentennial Garden

And I hear the birds and see the flowers

And look into the eyes of other walkers.

I receive the smiles and greetings of those I pass.

I gather in Your beauty,

Revel in Your gentle breeze,

Feel the muscles in my legs move

And send blessings to my malformed feet.

I move out into Your Grace.

And so I say “Yes” when my daughter says “I need you.”

I say “Yes, I can do that today.”

And so I will drive to Raleigh to be with Maggie,

The embodiment of Your joy and wonder and love.

My God, I thank you.

My Spirit thanks you.

My Soul is full of Your Grace.

 

(The title is from a chant by Isabella Bates on the CD “Sound Faith.”)

I ‘tuck.

I’m stuck.  Or as Adaline used to say, “I ‘tuck.”  I’ve been ‘tuck for weeks.  Not able to write.  Not able to plan much beyond today.  Wondering what I am supposed to be doing and how to get to the point of doing…anything.

I know that sounds like depression, but this time I felt more lost than depressed.  I asked God for some kind of sign or message.  Nothing.  Besides feeling stuck.

Slowly, the light started to go on inside my brain.  I spend a lot of my time waiting for the next disaster/crisis/time of need.  On hold. Stuck. ‘Tuck.

Last year, in 2012, I lived that way.  We quickly went from one grandchild to three.  Maggie was born in January, 90 minutes away, to Stephanie and Will, and had 2 open-heart heart surgeries by the time she was 9 months old.   Adaline turned 2 in February and welcomed (?) baby brother, Atticus, in April. With Kristin and Josh, their parents, they moved 30 minutes away a few months later.

Our daughters took turns with disaster/crisis/time of need.  I gave up hope of planning anything more than a day or two in the future.  The retired man I live with and I turned 61 and 60.  We tried to spread ourselves, like a spoonful of peanut butter on bread, as far as possible, but we got thinned out at the edges.

2013–they are all healthy and well!  Or at least living in a normal state of sleep-deprivation with joy and wonder, colds and ear infections, crawling and walking, eating solids, talking, tantrums,  toilet training, and sibling rivalry.

I still live each day with hyper-vigilance and concern.  Ok, worry.  I am stuck, waiting for trouble or need.

You know what, I don’t have to live like this anymore!

On May 9, 2013, I celebrate 26 years of sobriety.  26 years, one day at a time, of no alcohol or inappropriate drugs.  Today I am a recovering, not cured, alcoholic and I’ve learned a few things:

I am a beloved Child of God.  And therefore, I have worth.

God and AA  and Al Anon help me stay sober.

I can’t control anything except my thoughts and actions.

Everyone I cross paths with is also a beloved Child of God, doing the best they can.  They each have a Higher Power who watches over them.  That Higher Power is not and never will be me.

There’s freedom in letting go of protecting others from pain and hard stuff that I can’t stop anyway.  I learned how to deal with pain and hard stuff one step at a time, one day at a time, asking for help from God and family and friends.  I can’t stop the pain and hard stuff in my daughters’ lives.  I hate that, but they have their own lessons to learn, if I stay out of the way.

I’m writing now.  I have ideas for how to use my freed-up time.

God says, “Go for it.  They will be okay.”

So, I Was Thinking…

Of dirty, musky-smelling potatoes

and greasy, hot, salty french fries.

Of magical carrots pulled out of the dirt

and carrot-colored Cheetos.

Of oat-bread french toast with real butter churned a few miles away at Homeland Creamery

and Yo’ Drops from Plum Organics (click here).

Of bits of scrambled eggs from chickens raised by Milton and Bill

and pediatrician-sanctioned Goldfish crackers for an almost one-year-old still reluctant to eat solid food.

Of a trip to a Farmer’s Market

and a neighborhood a few miles away labeled a “food desert.”

Of Wheat Belly (click here)

and my 91-year-old Aunt Nadine from Iowa who has always eaten “meat and potatoes” meals and makes her own yogurt and can out-walk me.

Of the joy in watching a 3-year-old playing and running in the backyard with a new dog

and the impotent stupor induced by Brian Williams describing whatever new disaster or threat NBC has pictures of.

Of sturdy yellow daffodils poking up while I wear my red wool coat

and the shriveling blooms on the magnolia tree outside my office window because it’s not supposed to be below freezing in NC at the beginning of April.

Of the total unpredictability of weather

and our need to know what to expect about something.

Of triple-pane energy-efficient windows

and the smell of fresh spring air bringing tree pollen to my sinuses through the open window.

Of the fun of shopping with Kristin (with no kids) for Atticus’s 1-year-birthday-party outfit

and the helplessness of not knowing how my spinning head of vertigo ended up lying on the floor of Gymboree at Friendly Shopping Center.

Of how each moment of each day is precious

and how much that is worthy of wonder we choose not to notice.

We Loved Lucy

The retired man I live with and I fell in love with her.  We loved her enough to let her go.

Lucy had a respiratory infection at the shelter, which they had treated with an antibiotic.  She coughed some the first night, Wednesday,  so we took her to our vet the next morning.  Dr. Syska said it was pneumonia and prescribed a much stronger antibiotic.  Lucy was pretty droopy all day Thursday but would go outside and pee when we took her.  She was no better on Friday and spent most of the day with her head on my lap. She didn’t want to eat or drink any water.

Saturday morning she was worse and struggling to breathe.  We took her back to our vet, who was visibly concerned.  We decided to take her to the emergency specialty animal hospital to talk about admitting her for IV antibiotics and fluids.  We saw her lung x-ray compared to a normal one.  Both lungs were almost full of fluid.

We talked with the vet about possible outcomes, looked at each other, and I said “I think it’s time.”  Deciding to treat her in the hospital felt like agreeing to torture her, with no assurance that she would ever really be well.  The vet told us we were doing an unselfish thing.  Doing the right thing sometimes feels awful.

Lucy was lying on a fluffy, soft, blue rug on the exam table.  I wrapped my arms around her as the vet started the injection.  Her body relaxed, finally, and she was gone.  No more gasping for breath.  She was at rest.

We loved her, even if it was only 3 1/2 days.  We believe she is in heaven, happy, healthy, running and playing.  And waiting for us to come play.

Published in: on February 17, 2013 at 9:15 am  Comments (15)  
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