Navigating the Never

It was so good to see Robert this morning. It’s always a great time to get together to share breakfast to share conversation to share our lives. Robert is one of the Tulsa triumvirate. One of three friends I met in the seventies during my first Tulsa pilgamage, and maintain a relationship with today. Robert, Brad, and Nancy.  Three friends that were in high school when I met them in the late 70s and now are just flat-out good good friends

Robert’s the one from out of town. So we don’t get to share face-to-face that often but I’m always blessed when we do.  Conversations about what we’re doing, what we’ve done, and what we might do. He’s always busy when he returns to Tulsa so our time together is precious and compacted and usually over coffee at a Starbucks but this morning it was at his hotel over the morning breakfast bar.

Robert and I are frequent conversants on Facebook and occasional conversations are made by the phone. Whatever time it is, it is treasure when we get together and get to spend time face-to-face.  Even when we occasionally annoy one another, our time is treasured.  And so it was this morning at the Hampton Inn South in Tulsa Oklahoma. 90 minutes of one-on-one time. And our first visit since I lost my beloved dog Tank Fulton. Robert has lost his longtime companion dog Bob named for Bob Newhart several years back. So he was familiar with the loss of a close fur friend Bob, been his dog since he was a Schoolboy.

We talked about my loss and I shared with him that I now understood what it meant when a person has and irreplaceable dog.   I was happy to have my other dogs but it’s true you can’t replace a dog that has been 13 year companion.

On a lighter side we talked about creative projects He was involved in.  Robert is an actor and has appeared in many movies you have seen and I have seen along with many national commercials. A successful character actor, a writer,  a confidante and so much more.

Coincidentally on this Sunday morning in the hotel breakfast area the television was tuned to CBS Sunday Morning. There were stories on the backdrop of the wall as we chatted, really none of them caught my eye nor my attention.  And then the story started about Art Garfunkel. Yes the Art Garfunkel of Simon & Garfunkel Fame.  The Art Garfunkel of my favorite pop Folk rock Duo the 60s and 70s..

The television was on low-volume so it really didn’t interrupt our conversation but I must admit it provided a distraction for that moment that I just didn’t see coming. A cutaway to Simon & Garfunkel performing one of my favorite songs “Old Friends”..

This was our song. Not Robert’s and my song. But this was the song of my dog journey with Tank Fulton.  It became our song one foggy morning at a dog park in Georgetown, Texas…. 2010.

Shared on this blog in 2013.

https://casacaninetulsa.com/2013/12/20/tank-my-friend/

Old friends sat on a park bench like bookends… Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly…..

And just like that the grief Came Upon me. It was at that moment I knew. No matter what else happened in my life. No matter how many other dogs I spend my life with and loving, Tank could never be replaced.

I would never look into his eyes. I would never smell him again. I would never hold him again. He would never lick my face. I was overcome by the realization of never.

tankeye - Edited

It was at that moment that I realized that grief is my conveyance for navigating the Never.

Through my tears I said it out loud to my friend Robert. A person who cares for me and was ready to listen. And this is what I said.

Tank is irreplaceable.  Because no matter what happens in the rest of my life, the likelihood of me having a daily relationship with somebody for 13 years again is unlikely. Even if it were to start today.  And Tank was my everyday guy for 13 years.   Fred and Shelly have been with me for 4 years, check back in 9 years.  And regardless of when the next great companion comes along… on 2 legs or 4, there will never be the connection I had with my wife who died and who was the rescuer of Tank. I will never ever get to live in that connection again. And so today and every day going forward will just be different. Not bad, not sad, not horrible, not filled with regret or tragedy.  Just different.  And currently there are limited ways to visit this moment in time.

Today I learned how to navigate the Never.

Grief will be a vehicle for that Journey.

At least it was today.

Analog or Digital

I am really sorry that my dog Tank is dead.  I really do miss him

tanktongue

 

I watched it happen.  It happened in my lifetime.  It is so commonplace now.  It was a conversion experience.  It is a conversion experience.

One day all the photo film in the store disappeared.

One day are the vinyl 45rpm records in the jukeboxes around the world were missing.

The Encyclopedia changed its name to Wikipedia.

What is a newspaper?

One day all the land line phones in my house disappeared.

For all intent and purposes, these things are gone.

What’s next?  Cars without drivers?  Really?

This is not a lament about the good old days.  It is a realization that in my lifetime I have seen, we have seen, some serious “deaths” to thing that were once just so common.

After college, in the mid-1970s, I worked in a radio station.  Reel to reel tape machines, Carts (cartridge tapes), 2 turntables and thousands of LP Vinyl albums.  I was an on air personality and produced radio shows and feature pieces.  Working with tape, a splicing block, and a razor blade and splicing tape.  It was such fun, and visceral.  I could feel the words and music.  Listening through headphones to build and edit a “perfect” interview.  Cueing up the music to hit a seemless musical sequay from one composition to the next.  I did not even know that I was working in an analog format.  I was just working and creating.

I am not sure when I became aware of how the digital age began in my life.  Nor when I started to experience digital  It had to be in the 80s.  Was it when I graduated from the cellular bag phone to my first Motorola Razr.  Was it when my job converted our order entry systems from a MSI transmission system to my first Toshiba laptop with a 128k processor.  I really don’t know, or more accurately I don’t remember.  Whenever it was, I remember I did not understand it.  It made absolutely no sense to me that I was communicating with a binary system of only 2 digits.  How can a “0” and a “1” do all of that work?

I still don’t understand it.  I don’t understand how a 1 and 0 can make a picture or be a song, but I do believe it.

dig·i·tal
ˈdijidl/
adjective
adjective: digital
  1. 1.
    (of signals or data) expressed as series of the digits 0 and 1, typically represented by values of a physical quantity such as voltage or magnetic polarization.
    • relating to, using, or storing data or information in the form of digital signals.
      “digital TV”
    • involving or relating to the use of computer technology.
      “the digital revolution”

I do however understand analog.

At least I think I do.  I understand the touch experience and physical quantities.

an-a-log

1:of, relating to, or being a mechanism in which data is represented by continuously variable physical quantities.
Did I mention my dog of 14 years, Tank Fulton, died last month?  Did I mention I miss him?
His absence is palpable.  He was a cornucopia of touches and smells.  He was soft, and warm, and fit perfectly by my side when we slept.  And I miss him.
I do believe that Tank is in a better place,  I know that Tank is without pain, and can run free.  I even believe I will see him again.   Whether you believe it or not, well that is your issue.
But I still miss him.  I miss him at night when he would snuggle next to me.  I have replacement units.  But I don’t have Tank Fulton.
thebed
You see.
Tank was analog.
And now he is dead and gone.
Grief is not just a theater of the mind.
Every night, grief is analog.

Sleepless

It’s been about 4 weeks. 4 weeks since he died. 4 weeks since my life changed. I tried to prepare for it. I’d already gotten replacement units. I actually was prepared for it. I was prepared for Tank to die. After all dogs die. Everything dies. But this is not about everything.  It probably isn’t even about Tank… It is probably about me.tanksleep

I started sleeping on, by, around, and next to Tank around 2004.  He wasn’t even my dog yet… He was soft, and smelled like a hound, and funny and comfortable and caring.  He was not a therapy dog, but he would become my therapy dog.

What I have learned?

I don’t mean to be self depricating…. but I truly am a mess.  I have been a fairly miserable partner in most of my relationships.  I start strong, but finish flat.  Nearly every meaningful “in love” with a woman type relationship has ended poorly.  I have some long time friendships and am grateful for them.  I did not get married until I was 54.  I was a widower by age 59.  My second marriage lasted only 10 months.  I really thought when I was growing up that I would make a spectacular partner.  That was not, and is not the case.

I have spent the last decade, since Michelle’s death, researching and revisiting old relationships.  I have been motivated to ask for forgiveness.  Some of the relationships are from the 60’s.  Half a century of knowing I needed to apologize for being an ass. Almost no one who reads this will understand.  Well maybe there will be a few accidental visitors.  I know who you are.  I think I have found all of you.  All but Katy.       I so wish I could find you.  By the way, marriage number 2 was to a woman who was among the long ago relationships which was rekindled on Facebook.  I was certain it would be a storybook ending.  All it had was an ending.

So why all these relationship ramblings?

My life is filled with regrets.  I don’t believe people that say they have a life with no regrets.  That makes no sense to me.  How can a person not regret hurting someone, or disappointing a partner, or betraying a confidant?  Seriously, NO Regrets.  Then I don’t believe you.  I am thankful for the path my life has taken.  I have learned from my bad decisions… at least from some of them.  I have a better life because I have had regrets.  I don’t live in regret, I live in victory over the bad decisions.  But a bad decision…. is still a bad decision.  I have grown….but I regret that I hurt someone else on my blessed journey. A journey in which things “fit into a pattern for good.”  But not all things are good.

What is the purpose?

For me, there is purpose in the midst of this journey.   Well I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, and for all their shortcomings….. and mine.  I learned this in my middle school years at Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo.  Thank you Rev. Ted Nissen.   The first question in the Shorter Westminster Catachism.  Most of you will not know this question.  But if you Google “what is the chief end of man?”  You will learn what I “know.”  This line is from Wikipedia…. “The most famous of the questions (known to a great many Presbyterian children) is the first: Q. What is the chief end of man? A.Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

And through this sieve is poured the results of my decisions.  If I understand who God is then this is a glorious time in my life.  Every day is glorious.  At least when I recognize my purpose.

What does it have to do with me now?

Well my today is a sum total of my decisions yesterday.  Life experience is a mathematical equation of sorts.  Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.  A series of events that create form and substance.    Very rarely is my string of life events just a march in forward progress.  The graph of life is a reality.  The ups, the downs, “the two steps forward and……….!”  See you could finish that phrase without me.  Because your life is a graph also.  You also have taken “one step back.”

What does this have to do with my dog Tank?

metank

Tank was a forward march dog.  He never complained.  He was half hound… so he could be a bit hornery if I decided to leave the dog park before he wanted to go.  And in his early days if I let him off leash in an unfenced area, he might disappear for up to 90 minutes (but obviously he always came back).  And there were occasions that he was not allowed to sleep in a stranger’s house and hence we did not share a bed.  But mostly Tank was just a kind, loving, lean in to a new human, hump a new pooch, tolerate a puppy, train a foster, love me without condition, snuggle with me at night kind of dog.  We could just sit quietly for hours.  In his younger days he would chase a ball for hours… always to bring it back to my hand.  He was a good boy.  He was what I want to be.  A caring loving, move forward kind of friend and companion.

tanklean

Tank was a dog without regrets, or so it seemed.  He glorified life and those around him.  Yes I am biased.  But those who were blessed to know him, know he was unique among the dog world.  He was just one of those dogs.  If you needed a hug, he would just give you a hug.  He did however hope you would scratch his butt or his ears.

And now he is gone.  No new pictures. No more kisses.  No visits to the dog park.  No sharing my bed. I had no idea just how critical Tank was to my well being.  I know now.

tanksleep

For since he left

My nights are

Sleepless.

 

 

 

 

Breathless

“Today is a good day to die”

And so it was, September 25, 2017.

I don’t mean to be morbid or unfeeling.  I am far from unfeeling, but it is a day I planned on since June 16, 2013.  The day I adopted Fred.  My number 2 dog. Fred, the Basset/Beagle… the Bagle.  Adopted because I loved him from the moment I saw his picture on the internet.  I had to have a second dog.

Fredday

I had to have a second dog because too many of my friends like Ann and Steve had shared that when they lost their dog, the pain was so great they knew they could not replace their lost companion.  But because of one Canine spirit I had to get a second pooch.  One dog had brought me so much joy that I knew I could not let pain prevent me from living each day without a fur baby.  And so many of you know who this great spirit is and was.  Tank Fulton… the dog I can never replace…

tankrock

September 25, 2017, a good day to die.

Tank’s final week began on Tuesday, September 18.  I called it visiting day.  I had seen Tank begin to slow down, though his energy would ebb and flow…  He had lost his appetite…

I noticed it for real the month before when we went to Kansas City to visit Annie, and Lynn, and my sister Barb.  But Tank was a trooper.. and he did well on the drive up and back, but he would never eat a great big meal again… even when I fixed him steak. But I digress… or maybe I just am remembering.

I rarely kennelled Tank.  Not it 13 years.  And when I had to leave him since my move to Tulsa… which I rarely did, I entrusted his care to two people.  Tank loved Nancy and Beth.  and so we went visiting.  It was a contrast in styles… he had love for both, but his energy waned as the day lengthened… Nancy first, who saw a boy ready to take on another day, and then Beth who saw an exhausted boy ready to visit the rainbow bridge. I listened to them both… it is why I went visiting.  Their love for Tank was known and their opinions are trusted.

And the week passed.

Off to the dog park to visit friends… but sadly we often missed our favorites… Tank would tire quickly.  I am most sorry that we missed our special friends there and their furry companions… But we tried, we really tried…

Most of the week we just spent together, resting… the park… well the backyard of Casa Canine was park enough for Tank.

Tank was a dog of great spirit and compassion.  And he had eyes that were filled with compassion and life.  That is until they were no longer filled with life.  And so it was on September 25, 2017

It was a good day to die

The night of September 24, 2017.  Tank was restless, pacing the house.  I fell asleep knowing he would come to bed… Tank always came to bed, or at the very least the bedside ottoman at the foot of my bed.  We rarely slept apart.

September 25, 2017.

Tank was missing.  No where in the house.  I have a doggy door.  So I went to look outside.  Tank was in the corner of the side yard, nearly under my window.  I do now know how long he had been standing there.  But the moment I saw him, I knew. Everyone said I would know.  There is no script.  But I knew.

gooddaytodie

Today is a good day to die.

So I made THE appointment and late morning we loaded up to take our final road trip.  The park, the drive around, ice cream and hot dogs from QuikTrip (he ate neither), and time alone together in the air conditioned car just remembering.

And by the end of our conversation, Tank’s gums were turning blue.  He had been gasping for air for too long.  It was time.  It was a good day………. to die.

bluegums

And it truly was time.  We arrived at the vet.  It was a peaceful and quiet room.  We sat together.  Then he was taken to get prepped for his moment… to be brought back to out quiet room… but when the injection site was prepared, Tank collapsed.  He could not stand another moment… He had given me his all for his final week.

And so as he lay on the table, I carressed and held him.  I whispered in his ear.  I told him I loved him.  I knew he was moments from being  with Michelle, the woman who rescued him, the woman who married me and died way too young in 2009.  And then Tank was

Breathless.

breathless

At a loss for words…

People Die

Dogs Die

Living things Die

I saw my Father for the last time in October, 1990, I believe.  I shared some of my growing up pains and sufferings.  I spoke to him in a small way about his.  It was the first conversation of that kind I can recall.. I was 40, He was 70.  Three months later he fell, hit his head, and died within 48 hours, thousands of miles away.  At his memorial service I saw members of his family, including his mother–my grandmother, who I did not even know was still alive.  Along with his siblings who I had not seen in decades.  Uncle John.  Aunt Betty.

And when they die, I will no longer stare at the dead person and say anything to them, and get a response.  Whatever it is you want to say or do or express… do it before they die.  I had no idea that when I walked out of the house in 2009, I would return to find my wife dead, drowned in the bathtub.  I never spoke to Michelle again.  But I did speak with her family and friend.

I knew my Mother was about to die when I saw her last in 2013.  I said what I said.  I was clumsy and loving.   And when she passed I joined with family members in a celebration of her unbelievable life.

I love my life.  I am a believer that I am involved in an eternal process.  It is my hope that you might also understand your eternal options.  But for now this is about me and my life in the flesh, and what I do on “this side of eternity” as my Mom might say.  “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  But now, for this time, it is a moment for the living.  And I believe that there are important things to do… maybe not for you.  But I want to do something that I deem to be important.

But I am going to die… don’t know when.  Pretty sure I will finish writing this…..but I do have a couple of projects and errands to run first.

I write often about grief.  For years I had NO idea what that meant.  I did not grieve when someone died… I mean I might get sad.  But grief.  I had no idea.  And I guess I thought it was a sign of weakness, or unnecessary, or—hell I don’t know.  I just know I thought it was probably a more serious sad.  And I would get sad about stuff, but rarely did I get my “third degree black belt” in emotionally challenged and prolonged sadness.  Not when my Dad died, or wife, or Mom.  And certainly not when a friend or someone else’s family member passed.

Death would come…I would at some point have to say something to some family member and I would comment “sorry for your loss.”  I do not judge that statement by the way.  But for me it was a band-aid.  A covering for my absence of feeling,  I could move on.  Sorry…for your loss.

I don’t know when this happened exactly.  I am good at remembering details.  I rarely am able to connect them to a timeline.  It happened sometime in the last couple of years… it happened after I moved to Tulsa and Casa Canine.

As many of you know, I am a believer.  I read the Bible.  I am not much of a preacher.  But I hope I a much of an exampler… (spell check does not like that word–sorry for your loss spell check, I am using it).

I believe I am created in the image of God… I believe we all are.  I believe if you want a picture of God I should get about 10,000 of us in a room and use a long selfie-stick to snap a picture.

So one day I see that God was grieved… What??   “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland! 41Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.”  God was not saddened… He was grieved.  And I am in His image.  And so I began a journey.  A journey in search of my lost grief.  If grief is good enough for God… well you get the drift..

I continue to search.  Grief is a life force.  I have written of this before.  It is Holy Ground.  I am just beginning to understand.  I am so grateful for this element.  And I will share more through the days.  And omg, I have experienced grief in my life now.

And sharing in grief is so important.  For me, and for those grieving.  So during my time of reflection and meditation, I asked for wisdom and words.  Words that mean something to the delivered as well at to that person I deliver to.  “Sorry for you loss” would cut it no more. But I did NOT want to be at a loss for words……

I wanted to do something important.  I want to say something I believe.  So many of my friends will see this phrase I share after I hear of a loss.

“I sorrow in your sorrow, I grieve with your grief, and when appropriate, I will smile with your remembrance.”

I am thankful I am a man of constant sorrow… I rejoice in this life.  May your grief ultimately bring you richness and peace.

A toe in the pool, a paw on the grass, and tears of a clown

It is so fricken hard for me to write.  When I write I have to share my feelings.  I can’t write fiction.  I can’t tell made up stories easily.  So when I write it is going to come from the heart, it will not be planned.  It will be “worn on my sleeve worthy.”  Writing will be cathartic, and painful, and glorious, and revealing, and confusing, and sometimes just flat out a pain in the ass… because it so often comes from a pain in the heart.  I hate to write….. no I love to write.

Have you ever been surprised by what you have become..  I certainly am surprised by both my changes AND my stay the sames over the past few years…

My biggest “change”.  It’s raining Dogs and Cats.  Came to Tulsa 2 1/2 years ago with Tank.  Tank was going to be it… the “remnant” from the passing of my wife.  One day I would be dogless, or so I thought.

tanksong5

 

But now there are three, Fred and Shelly have stories to tell, and someday I will give them voice.. oh yeah and the 16 foster dogs… 14 are gone now, all to new forever homes, but 2 new ones came here about a week ago… Morey and Annie.   You are no longer at the mercy of a Dog Hoarder and just 2 of 50.   Welcome to Casa Canine.

11143170_10205241351011969_840250887933462675_n

Oh and the 3 feral cats, Survivor, Thor, and Jimbo.  All waiting for daily meals.  All captured and neutered.  And really not Feral any longer.  Yet another topic for later days

Hey, I just thought of something.  It’s almost summer.  I use to love to go to the swimming pool as I was growing up in Kansas City.  Ward Parkway Country Club.  It was really just a big pool,  very big, with diving boards, and platforms, and Olympic sized swim lanes, and high school girls in bikinis, and lifeguards, and snack shop and high school girls in bikinis.  I grew of in the time of “she wore and itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini”  It was a time when NO one had a heated pool, so the water would warm to the sun during the day. But in the morning, when the pool first opened for the day, it was toe in the water time.   Brrrrr.  And then you would back away from the edge… and 3-4 quick steps (don’t run at the pool) forward and splash, woosh, submerged and surround for the chilly moment, eyes open under water, looking to the sky, breaking above the water line, gasping for some air… and relax.  The water was great.  The day had begun.  It would last for hours.  Toe in the water, regardless of the temperature, there was always a splash entry.  Oh, and the girls in bikinis.

Did I mention that it rained all day and into the night in Tulsa last evening.  Well it did.  And I learned something.  Don’t feed your dogs on a rainy day.  I might have been able to avoid the houseful of presents left my by overfed dogs had I not had two in the house breaking stages, but Morey and Annie do NOT like to get their paws wet.   So last night I did “push” my dogs to the sheltered back porch, walked them out to the back yard where they walked like they were fire walking on a bed of hot coals. Then I left them unattended and spent some time on the computer.   When I opened the porch door they were all quite ready to come in. I really did not notice that none of their backs was very wet.   And apparently there was a “who’s poo is bigger contest” last night when I wasn’t looking.  4 piles, 2 new dogs, 2 smirking dogs, and one who was apparently constipated or did not know the contest rules.  So this morning when I let them out… out I went too.  I was going to get my paws wet along with them until they made a commitment to the wet lawn.  Mission accomplished, splashdown.

So why all this prelude to what I wanted truly right about.  Well I needed to slip the pen slowly into the inkwell.  Today is a day of grief.  No I have known all week that this in the two year anniversary of my mother’s passing.  Thought I would make it through without much consequence.  I have now one in Tulsa to share my heart with… I have great friends, but just a simple post on facebook would trigger the appropriate greetings and salutations.  I would move on.  No splash needed.  I took a picture of a rose in my backyard and “moved on”

rose

And then it happened.  It always happens when it does.  My beloved friend Jennine called from New Mexico.  Happens 2-3 times a year.  Just a loving hello.  I thought she probably saw the flower post and she was calling to be supportive.  She indeed saw the post, but that was not the purpose of her call.  She called to let me know she was taking her beloved 14 year old Giselle, a Dalmation/Pit mix, to the Rainbow Bridge.  I love Jennine.  I love the beautiful and sweet Giselle.  And after a moment of strength and encouragement we hung up.  And I posted this picture of her dog with mine… I mentioned Tank earlier.   Well this was taken on my last visit to New Mexico… little Maggie watching Tank and Giselle wrestling.  I did not know this would be my farewell.

gtm

 

And so it is with waves of grief…  The special moments with something so visceral.  I know a wrenching and retching of my body, my heart and mind.  I know I am alive.  And I stand, and I sit, and I rock, and I weep.  I cry out to God.  I look to the corners of my room to see if anyone has entered to put their hand on my shoulder, to touch the tears.  And then it is over.

And I have a story to tell.  And I write.  It has been too long.

Splashdown.

Did I mention girls in bikinis?

Grief and the empty spot

I arise early and walk to the beach

I am at peace
For this moment
So much peace.

and I look East to the Sun
to the West to the point the Horizon disappears
Up to the cloudy Blue and forever
and down to the sand.

I am at peace

And there, half exposed, a shell
Beautiful, spiral, smooth inside
narrow tip at one end
a conical spiral to an opening at the other
The exterior pitted with scars
This shell was the ship of a traveler
and I pause
Consider the journey
It is an empty home

P1480586 P1480591

And I am filled with grief
Grief fills the empty spot
that was once filled with life.
If I hold the shell to my ear
I can hear the ocean
But I can’t hear the stories that were a part
of those travels.
Your shell is here, but you are gone

What caused your disappearance?
And grief fills the empty spot
I did not even know you
I just found your house empty.

Rising up within me,
Like a wave crashing
Like the wave that brought your shell to me
Grief pounds ashore
And fills the empty spot

I brought you to my home.

I arose early this morning

There is no one in your room.

And grief fills the empty spot.