Your support is greatly appreciated!
It’s not how long I held you in my arms
What matters is how sweet the years together
It’s not how many summertimes we had to give to fall
The early morning smiles we tearfully recall
What matters most is that we loved at all…
-Marilyn Bergman, Alan Bergman
It’s an honor to love someone so much that your heart breaks when they move on to their journey from life to death. From living to loss. It took a long time for me to understand this simple fact of living. I’m not strong or sensible when dealing with death. Each time Jeff and I went through the process of grieving, we would tell each other that we would make it through – together. But even with the person you love best by your side, grief is consuming and grabs you by the throat when you aren’t looking. Despite telling each other we’d be OK, we would find each other bursting into tears seconds later, just wanting to pull the bed blanket over our heads and hide. Among other things, loss is exhausting.
But peace does return when you adjust to what is your new ‘normal’. When we center ourselves back into living and connect with who we are once again. And within that peace we are able to look back and remember. It’s something I do an awful lot of these days. I’ve come to understand that our girls have taught us many things – including dealing with illness and eventual death. And from that comes the lesson of moving forward with love, compassion, and grace, knowing everyone’s time is limited.
Over the past twenty-seven years Jeff and I have shared our life with five dogs. Our girls. But more importantly, they shared their lives with us. Each one completely unique and left an individual imprint in our hearts and minds. With their unconditional love, I learned a great deal.
Chelsea, our Springer Spaniel, was Jeff’s companion when I met him. She taught me compromise is essential when creating a new family. Mind you, Jeff and Chelsea had their routine down together long before I arrived on the scene. I didn’t really recognize that at the time – I hadn’t had a real companion pet before and wasn’t used to animals in the house. There were many challenges. I imagined that I was intruding on their lives – a new and unwelcome presence competing for Jeff’s time and attention. For me, seeker of perfection that I was, perfection included a sterile environment. A trail of dog hair and a nose print on the windowpane sent my OCD skyrocketing! I can’t forget the look on Chelsea’s face the day I came home from work to discover she had chewed through dry wall and rubber water pipe because I’d tried to limit her living space to just a couple of rooms. I think raging frustration and annoyance was mirrored back and forth between us.
But then, without my even realizing it, those problems evaporate. You forget there ever were any. The last year of her life Jeff was traveling constantly with work, leaving me the task of giving Chelsea her daily insulin shots. She never left my side and stared at me endlessly with her beautiful big brown eyes. I’ve always had this thing about girls with beautiful, soulful eyes.
Janell, a retired racer, picked me by resting her head on my shoulder when I happened to pass by a group of rescued greyhounds. Never have I experienced gratitude at this level. Her quiet grace and loving disposition was combined with such an unassuming elegance. She won not only our hearts, but enraptured everyone she came in contact with. I recall our joy as the neighbors gathered to watch her run from yard to yard, leaping over hedges with such ease that she seemed to be lifted by wings. Then our complete devastation when she passed away so quickly from cancer after bringing her home. Janell’s time with us was short, but unforgettable.
Alexandra, ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’ taught me the power of healing through the conquering of fear. The fear of loving and attaching again. Alex was our ever-constant North Star while Jeff and I shared great change throughout thirteen years. Through career changes, and a big move from Florida to New York City she flourished. Just as New York City was perfect for Jeff and me, urban life suited Alex, the most beautiful girl in the world. And New York was more beautiful with her in it. Throughout Alex’s illness I began to look at life differently. I finally understood that it was time to live and love in the moment. Each day at a time, taking just a moment to pause and remember that this is all we are given. A day at a time. Because that was all we had. And that when we love, there doesn’t have to be a goodbye.
When she left us, Jeff and I were devastated. Exhausted, all I wanted to do was sleep. But in bed all I could focus on was missing Alex’s back against my legs. Jeff hated the empty mornings without her, and began taking a solo walk through their usual route in Battery Park. It would take me months before I could enter the park again. Jeff promised we’d get through this grief-together. This time I wasn’t sure. As the months passed, friends would gently suggest perhaps it was time to give our hearts to someone new. I would immediately feel guilty- there was no replacing the ‘Most Beautiful Girl In The World.’ Then the day before my birthday Jeff and I were sitting at a favorite restaurant remembering Alex. Laughing, loving and embracing our precious memories while expressing our shared loneliness, we took a deep breath pulled out Jeff’s IPad and Googled poodles.
When we found Alexandra’s Place we couldn’t believe our eyes. We saw a photograph of two beautiful sisters in a wicker basket, and we fell in love instantly. And in one of those small and graceful moments that the universe sometimes gives you, we discovered that these sisters were born on the same day Jeff and I met. It was as though the Universe was letting us know – Alex was giving us another gift of love. It was okay to share our hearts, home, and love again. The next day Jeff and I drove upstate to pick up our new girls Dolly and Loretta. It was a burst of love and joy and letting go. I love to remember these moments – now, I love to remember the moments of sadness and loss as much as love and joy. Never one without the other. That is the blessing. And that is the truth of life.