Troo Love

I’m a dog person. I love a leg-slap by a happy tail. I love wiggly butts waiting for me at the door. I love joyful barks and big ol’ toothy grins and the uninhibited affection that only dogs can offer.

I’ve always been a dog person. And that’s exactly why I struggled with Roo, the Chihuahua-ish mix that Todd adopted right before we started dating.

At first glance, you’d probably say Roo was a dog. Although we all agreed, she looked more like the lovechild of Dobby from Harry Potter and Yoda. She had ears that stuck out from the sides of her head, oversized bulging eyes, a pink nose, and a tongue that seemed far too long for her mouth.

Despite her perplexing appearance, Roo was in fact a dog. A very, very peculiar dog.

She never barked. Or learned a single trick. She looked irritated and incredulous when scolded. She hated the cold. And the rain. And the outdoors. She didn’t care much for food. Or chew toys. Or other dogs.

What Roo did care for was sleep. She slept with us in bed—under the covers—every night. And she growled if you happened to nudge her while shifting your position.

While our two pit bulls pounced on our faces at 6:00 a.m., Roo preferred to stay tucked beneath the blankets, snoozing the day away. We’d have to pull the covers off her and coax her out of bed when it was time for us to go to work.

Roo also differed from other dogs in the things she liked: going to the vet, bath time, and wearing cable-knit sweaters. If we could have heard her voice, Todd and I imagined Roo sounded something like an old, crotchety British professor.

She loved to play, but only in 15 second increments—and only on her terms. She loved our other two pups, as long as they were quiet, still, and keeping her warm. She loved being held, but of course, she hated being picked up.

It never failed that as I tried to sit down on the couch, Roo’d hop into my lap before I could even get settled. I’d be trapped awkwardly holding her 22-pound physique asking Todd to pass me my glass of wine so as not to disturb her.

Roo also had a funny way of greeting me when I’d get home each day. She would prance up to me, struggling to squeeze in among our two bigger pups. She’d curl her lips around her teeth in what most people would clearly call a snarl, but I knew it was just her strange, excited hello.

Weekend mornings were Roo’s time to shine. After we’d let the other pups out to play in the yard, Roo would crawl her way to the top of the bed, roll over on her back between Todd and me, and bask in belly rubs. Then she’d give the sweetest little kisses for as long as our faces were within her tongue’s impressive reach.

The people who met Roo either loved her instantly or didn’t get her at all. I hate to admit that for a long time, I was the latter. I was a dog person. And Roo didn’t act like a dog.

But my hesitation didn’t affect how she treated me. When Todd and I moved in together two years ago, she adopted me as her owner with full confidence. Todd hates to admit it, but she loved me the most—and without ever wanting anything in return.

It took me a while to figure out, but Roo’s unconditional love made her more of a dog than tail-chasing or squirrel-hunting ever could.

I’m a dog person. Roo was my dog. And last week, we had to say goodbye.

I’ve never had a pet that’s so completely irreplaceable, and I doubt I ever will. My little Roo-Bug was dearly loved and will be greatly missed.

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another silent night

four years is an eternity.

four years is an instant.

while most days are easy,

today is impossible.

and so i remember her—

always with love

and sometimes with peace.

Andrew-Cebulka-9463
“Our Lady of Guadalupe,” one of my mother’s paintings 

Honoring Mom

“Do you want to take a photo to honor your mother?”

That’s the question my thoughtful, compassionate photographer asked me on my wedding day.

The dress was on. Hair and makeup, done. Chandelier earrings dangling by my cheeks.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything at all.

Todd had decided to take a portrait holding his mother’s cowboy hat across his chest. Perhaps I wanted to do something like that?

“Maybe in front of one of her paintings?” the photographer offered.

I stared at my hands. I tried to focus.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t put plenty of thought into how to honor my mom at my wedding. I’d considered empty chairs and photographs. Special songs and moments of silence.

None of it felt right. None of it felt like her. Or me. So, I’d let it go.

“That’s okay,” I replied. “I don’t think I need to do that.”

Now I look back at the pictures from that day, and I know I was right. In shot after shot after shot, my face shows nothing except unbridled joy.

And that’s how I honor her.

By being happy. By finding the best partner for me. By living life fully. And always, always, always overflowing with love.

 

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Fresh Ink for Old Wounds

“My mother is dead.”

I don’t say it to make people uncomfortable. Or to get attention or pity. I say it because it’s true.

My mother is dead. And she has been for three and half years.

When people who could be my mother’s age find out my mom is dead, the first question they ask is how it happened.

“Pneumonia,” I’ll explain.

They look incredulous. “People still die from pneumonia?” (Even if they don’t say it, I can tell that’s what they’re thinking.)

I’ll nod in response. Yes, yes they do.

The next thing they want to know is how old she was when she died.

“56,” I’ll say. “About to turn 57.”

They wrestle those facts together and arrive at the same inevitable conclusion: It could have been them.

I got my first tattoo right after I graduated from high school. A peach on my right hip.

I was class of 2004’s valedictorian and president. The peach made me feel less bookworm, more badass.

I planned on keeping the new ink hidden from my parents, but I never could keep a secret from my mom. I walked straight into her bedroom as soon as I returned from Psycho Tattoo and whispered, “Can I tell you a secret?”

Her eyes lit up. She nodded.

I pulled my blue jean skirt down just enough to reveal the peach.

A smile spread across her face. “Can I get one too?” she fired back in equally hushed tones.

We were conspirators. Always.

Sometimes I post about how much I miss my mom on Facebook. Usually around Christmas or Mother’s Day. Sometimes around her birthday.

People often offer words of comfort in response: “She’s with you every day.” “She’s there, just not physically!” “She’s always in your heart.” “She lives on in you.”

When I got a quote to have my hair and make-up done for my wedding in November, there was a $600 minimum charge for an on-site stylist. The salon owner suggested I have my mother’s hair and make-up done to help reach the threshold.

And that’s how I know that the supportive people on Facebook are wrong.

My mother is not with me every day. And she won’t be there on my wedding day.

The photographer won’t take a photo of us as she zips up the back of my dress. She won’t laugh nervously as she meets my fiancé’s family for the first time. And she certainly won’t help me reach the minimum balance on my hair and make-up bill.

“She’s with you” is a nice thing to say, a nice way to cope. But I had my mother with me for 27 years, and I can tell the difference.

When people see my tattoos, they sometimes tell me, “I love tattoos on other people, but I don’t think I could ever get one.”

“Why not?” I’ll ask.

They explain, “I don’t think I could pick something that I’d be okay with forever.”

I’ll nod and pretend I understand, but really, I know nothing lasts forever.

My mother died five days before Christmas. She was in a coma before my sister and I ever arrived at the hospital in Tennessee.

I used to come up with positive spins on the grief, like “We had 27 years together, and all of them were great” or “It’s better she went quickly instead of watching her suffer.”

The truth is 27 years were not enough. The truth is I’m jealous of everyone who gets to say goodbye before losing someone they love.

The truth is if I had the choice between more time with my mom and closure at the end, I don’t know which I would choose.

The truth is it doesn’t really matter anyway. No one gets that choice.

When I was young, my mother once asked me if something were to happen to her, would I want her to come back as a shooting star or a budding rose.

I didn’t answer. I thought it was a stupid question.

My most recent tattoo is on my left forearm. It’s the largest and boldest and most colorful of them all. And it’s the only one I see every day—a pair of budding turquoise roses.

It reminds me of her, but not because of the question she asked when I was young. It reminds me how she let me be me. How she taught me to trust myself. How she helped me bloom.

And despite what all my wonderful Facebook friends may say, I realize my mom won’t be sitting behind me on the first row when I say forever to the man of my dreams this November.

But I find peace in knowing I’ll be wearing her love on my arm. On that day and always.

To the ones who said, “It gets better”

Sympathy Card Curly Girl Designs

When I lost her–my mother, my gypsy, my patron saint of love and kindness–the echoes first began.

“It gets better. Just wait. It’ll get better.”

I hated every person who offered me those words. For their guilty eyes and soft voices. For their pity. For filling my head with false promises of tranquility, impossible visions of peace.

How could it possibly get better?

Every day that passes I’m 24 hours more removed from the last time she held me in her arms. The last time she stroked my hair. The last time she spoke three infinitely more soothing words.

“I love you.”

Every day that passes my vision of her fades just slightly more. Her image fuzzes around the edges. Pixelates. Unnoticed from one day to the next. But combined, she’s becoming a blur.

I claw through my memories trying to find one of her laugh. One of her hum. One of her silly smiles. I feel victorious when a forgotten detail surfaces—in photograph or video or voicemail or dream.

But I know I have no ownership over those stolen moments. I know I’ll lose those details too.

Give it another day.

With each changing season, the things she’s given me age. Shirts, shoes, sunglasses, jewelry, watches, purses and more. I won’t leave the house without one of those priceless gifts. At least one thing. Maybe the Tiffany earrings she and my sister went in on together for my college graduation. Or the Tom’s sunglasses she gave me our last Christmas together.

Our last Christmas.

But those objects, those items, those physical incarnations of her love and generosity—they are not immune to the mighty arms of time either. Jewelry is lost. Shoes wear down. Sunglasses break. Every day I have less of her to weave into my wardrobe. To wear her love like a blanket on my skin.

How could it possibly get better?

My dreams—the ones where she’s still alive—they’re treasures. I experience her just as she was. I wake up surrounded in the warmth of her. And long to drift back to the place where she lives in my subconscious.

But every day that passes, I have them less and less.

It can’t ever get better.

Now as I wind through my second full year without her, I know the words I’ve hated for so long are true.

It’s getting better.

I wouldn’t call it peace, but time has given me something I didn’t know it could. As I try to balance holding on and letting go and moving forward while desperately clinging to the past, as I fight to forget nothing and even as I continuously fail, time still offers a comfort.

A new echo caressing my ears. Of “This is okay.” Of “This is what is.”

Of acceptance.

She’s not here. I’ll never not miss her. I’ll never not wish I had more time. I’ll never not want even one more day by her side. I’ll never stop trying to remember more pieces of her. I’ll never stop mourning them as they fade too far away into the darkness of my fragile, fallible, feeble human mind.

But still—even still—it’s better.

And I’m grateful to everyone who told me so.

And even more grateful that they were right.  

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Image Source: CurlyGirlDesign.com, maker of the best greeting cards in the whole beautiful world.

when christmas comes

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(Because some feelings will only be processed in writing)
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I tell myself I’ll be just fine,

When Christmas comes to pass.

I’ll wear a smile above my scarf—

With mulled wine in my glass.

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I’ll play the songs I love the most,

But there’s one I’ll dread to hear.

The one with words I know too well:

“It won’t be the same this year.”

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I’ll wrap the presents up in bows,

String lights around the tree.

I’ll hang the stockings in a row,

Place the nativity.

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But as the day looms closer still,

My thoughts will linger on.

It was 12/16 I got the call,

And in five days, you were gone.

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My toenails, they were sparkly green

At your funeral last year.

I looked down with misplaced shame

At their burst of Christmas cheer.

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Now coldness taps the windows.

Winter looms in sight.

And I’m not sure how I’ll manage

On this year’s Silent Night.

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If you were here beside me—

Avoiding all that’s Mary and bright—

You’d whisper words like magic,

And make everything all right.

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Since you’re gone, I’ll just imagine

Those words that set me free:

“When you celebrate the memories,

You still celebrate with me.”

be patient with the process

I can say without a doubt in my mind that December 21, 2013, the day between my mom’s death and her funeral, was one of the hardest of my life.

My sister and I zombied through Pulaski, Tennessee, with red eyes and runny noses doing all the things that immediate family members do when someone dies. We ordered flower arrangements. We visited the funeral home. We reviewed the drafted obituary. We picked out songs for the memorial service. We worked on a eulogy.

But the most difficult thing we did that day was visit her home. It wast difficult because Mom’s adorable house, situated at the bottom of a hill on West Jefferson Street, was perfect. It was a sanctuary. A reflection of the essence of her. Except the essence of her was gone.

Mom had remarried that spring and my sister and I went to her house that day in hopes of getting some of her things that held sentimental value and comfort and memories for us. To me, the most important of those things were her paintings.

Mom started painting about 10 years ago–mostly of angels or Madonnas. I loved her whimsical, vibrant style. 

redtennisshoes

When we arrived to her sunroom-converted art studio, we found a handful paintings stacked in the corner. I flipped through and recognized a few from her Etsy shop. But there was a particular one I loved that was missing.

I asked her husband–Tom–if he knew anywhere else that painting might be, and he suggested the small storage shed on the side of the house.

And that’s where we found it.

Not just the painting I was hoping for but dozens of them. Stacks and stacks of her work–most of which I’d never seen before.

We brought them all in the house and began revealing one after the other, lining them along the walls so we could take them in. So we could bask in them.

paintings

They were magical. They were beautiful. They were her.

In addition to painting, Mom was a writer. And many of her paintings included words. Sometimes names of the Madonna or angel she was painting–Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other times just uplifting messages, whatever she felt inspired to say.

And as my heart swelled looking at those paintings born from her hands–the hands that raised me, the hands that molded me into everything I am–it was as if they were speaking to me.

A butterfly blinking the words “Joy is everywhere.”

joy

A beautiful angel offering up “Transformation.”

transform

A pink and purple tree, saying simply “Love grows.”

love

A skull surrounded by roses soothing, “I honour what is lost & found.”

lostandfound

A wavy-haired woman suggesting that “Grace makes us whole.”

grace

It was like she had put those messages there for us. To ease our pain. To hold us as we cried. To echo in our heads as we mourned the loss of her.

The largest painting, nearly four times the size of the others, was of an anatomical heart, pierced with several spears and bursting with flames.

heart_far

And written in Mom’s familiar handwriting in the top corner were these words:

“In sorrow’s stillness, a tear comes that prisms light, a sigh comes forth

and something that was broken breathes.”

I don’t know what Mom was thinking when she painted those words. Or who she had in mind. Or what angel guided her hand. But those words were exactly what I needed to hear.

Now nearly eight months have gone by. I’m past the phase where I forget she’s gone and am constantly t-boned by that devastating realization. I’m past the phase where I cry all the time. I’m past the phase where I can’t sleep at night, where I can’t sit still, where I can’t let my mind wander.

Instead, I’m in the phase where I just miss her. And I wish she was still around. To be my goofy mom and my sweet friend. Some days I can’t think about anything except her. And she’s all I can ever seem to write about, no matter how long I spend trying to think of another topic. And I get scared when I can’t remember exactly how her voice sounds or what her different facial expressions look like or all her amusing catchphrases.

Some days I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of my grief.

And on those days, I know if she was here, she’d remind me of the words I found on another one of her paintings last December.

bepatient

And of course, I know she’d be right.