The Incredible Power of Kindness

So I want to tell you a little story about what happened to me the other day. I have had a sick kitty (liver cancer) and have been dreading when “the time” came. I also really had no idea how to assess when it was “time”. How does one know such a thing? Yes, we can list all the symptoms and do our best to assess the quality of life, but no matter what, it is a heart wrenching decision to make.

I found out about a pet hospice organization (who knew?) And I called them. My first experience was with the person answering the phone with a kind and empathic voice and tone. Does this seem trivial? I assure you, that in times like this, it is the furthest thing from being trivial. I was in the depth of the painful struggle of knowing that my beloved feline companion of 17 years was dying. And I felt alone and frightened and overwhelmed. A bit of background to this story – I had another kitty (both of them were 17 years old) and my experience with my other kitty(Rocky) and the end of his time was horrible. It began with taking him to an emergency 24 hour clinic in the late hours of the night, where they were overwhelmed with patients and had a 3 hour wait (and where I had to wait in my car all night long due to COVID) only to be told that it would be the humane thing to do to euthanize my kitty. I felt pressured, and wish that I had brought him home to take a bit more time. I regret that I did not do this.

I was determined to do it differently this time. So… my next experience with the pet hospice – I had a zoom interview with one of their veterinary techs who spoke with me for over an hour, was compassionate, kind, and gave me some concrete signs and symptoms to look for daily to assess my kitty’s (Rusty) quality of life. And she reassured me that they would be there, that I could call or email anytime I needed. (Another piece to the puzzle is that my regular vet of several years had left with no notice to anyone, so I didn’t even have a vet that I had been able to meet face to face to help me navigate this difficult process.)

And then one day (this past Monday) Rusty was different. He didn’t eat, had stopped eating after breakfast the day before. He was more lethargic. When I tried to put a piece of food in his mouth to see if that would interest him, he vomited. I panicked. I called the vet (at the regular clinic) terrified that Rusty would suffer and I didn’t want that. They said that they could get me in, but it would be a wait. That was ok, but I felt like they were working to schedule a “procedure”. I calmed down from my panic and called pet hospice.

And so began a totally different experience. There was a warm and compassionate voice on the other end of the call. They checked to see what their schedule was, and found that they could get me in at 1pm that same day. And so I scheduled the dreaded appointment to end Rusty’s life. To have him leave me forever. I had a few hours before the appointment, and I sat with Rusty laying his head on my leg and just resting by me. Connecting. Touching. Loving. I stroked him, talked with him, cried, thanked him for spending his life with me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted the deed done in my house – did I want that to be the last memory with him? But I did not want to take him to a sterile clinic, afraid, with people around he didn’t know, to be poked and prodded….

The hospice vet showed up exactly on time. I was so afraid and torn and sad and quite frankly a mess. He came to my door, said a warm hello, came in (after taking his shoes off at the front door, which I told him wasn’t really necessary) and walked back to the bedroom where Rusty was and where he had been more comfortable for days. And there began the kindest, most gentle and compassionate time with a vet with my kitty that I have ever experienced. He met Rusty, got a sense of how he was, and spent time simply talking with me and listening to me…..and sharing the feelings of the pain of what was happening. He validated that Rusty was indeed very ill, that his breathing was very labored and getting more uncomfortable for him, and that if it was one of us experiencing the level of breathing that he had, we would be on a ventilator. He thought that Rusty probably would die within 24 hours, and get increasingly uncomfortable as the process progressed. He empathized with me, talked about his own pets, how he and his wife had started this hospice organization because they felt that there was more than just the two options of either complete recovery or a quick move to euthanize (which this vet felt is often pushed in veterinary schools). He told me we could take the time that I needed….asked if I wanted to have him step out to his car and for me to get him when I was ready for the next step. I wanted him to stay with me.

He said that he wanted to give Rusty a sedative to help him relax as his breathing difficulty was making him uncomfortable. I agreed. Rusty, for the first time in a few days, was able to lay his head down completely…relaxing, although still with labored breathing. And I spent more time crying and talking with Rusty, petting him, loving him, crying more. After a while, I knew it was time and that we needed to do the deed. I let the vet know. He gently put a blanket over Rusty’s hind end and gave an injection (no IV necessary) and stepped back and sat down on the floor, just being with me. l kept petting Rusty, watching his breathing…..until there was one final last breath….and then no more. No more. And I cried. The vet again told me to take whatever time I need, to let him know if I wanted to be alone with Rusty….that there was no rush. No rush.

For me, once someone dies, I can feel that they are no longer there. I was so grateful to have had the time that morning with him to just cuddle and try and comfort him as much as I could. So I said that I didn’t need to sit with Rusty ….that he could begin the next step, which was to take him out to his car. He so very gently wrapped my sweet Rusty in the soft blue blanket that he had brought in, I petted Rusty one last time, and we walked out to the vet’s car. He was so respectful, laid Rusty’s body on the passenger seat, and asked if I needed him to stay with me for a while (I live alone and had not wanted to call anyone to come be with me). I loved that he offered to stay with me for a while if I needed that. But I needed to be alone and begin the next part of this painful grieving process.

He had also told me earlier that the company that would handle the cremation was a lovely family company that would be respectful during the whole procedure, and would scatter his ashes in the Sierras. (This is where Rocky’s ashes were scattered, so I had told Rusty to go find Rocky and for both of them to wait for me when it was my time.) Rusty’s health began to decline after Rocky died. I believe that his deep grief and loss contributed to how quickly this illness came on. I had taken both kitties to the vet just the week before Rocky became ill, and was told that they looked great.

I am in deep grief. And I am deeply grateful for how this was done, how gentle, how I was able to keep Rusty at home, how we took time, how I felt that someone was present for me and for Rusty during his last moments….truly present. How kindness and compassion and empathy are the most super powers of them all. They make all the difference. Not only in death, but in life. This life is a difficult journey at times. We don’t need to add any more pain to it. May we all learn to be kinder to each other along the way.

Coming To Our Senses

I recently read a great post about losing our sense of smell as we age….and how to keep things alive. It made me stop and think……

I have a bit of an unusual circumstance, having lost my sense of smell (which also then effects my ability to taste) in my early 40’s after some sinus surgery. I miss the scent of roses, the intoxication of the scent of a gardenia, the enticing aromas of favorite foods cooking, the taste of delicious foods – even garlic (can you imagine an Italian not being able to taste garlic?? Garlic has been in my blood since the womb…!) We really don’t truly appreciate things until we lose them. And I also now label foods in the fridge, and tell people around me that if they decide to start running out of whatever room we are in because of a toxic smell, to please knock on my door and let me know……We can take the simplest things for granted, yes? It’s also come in useful, in my career as a social worker, to be the one asked to interview clients that, shall we say, may be hygiene challenged? A sense of humor is vital in this life. And, I find, especially important as we age.

My vision is not as great as it was – and yet I seem to see more. I, having recently retired, am so much more aware of the beauty of nature around me. I take such delight in watching the birds take a bath in the mornings in my tiny bird bath out back. I look around at others when I go for a walk and see those who may want to connect with a glance, those who are preoccupied with a conversation on their phone, those who in whose eyes I can see and feel the fear brought on by this time of pandemic.

My hearing is not as great. And yet I can hear more, because I try to listen more. I take the time, not being in such a hurry to get to whatever the next thing on my list is or was, to stop and hear what someone may be really saying… like the grocery clerk who has worked 12 days straight trying to keep the shelves stocked and people supplied.

My sense of touch is heightened these days, it seems….most likely from social distancing, living alone, and realizing how precious touch is. I hold tightly to my kitty, who now is ill and will leave me in a matter of time. That touch and soft fur have brought such comfort for the past 17 years.

I feel like older people are seen as gray in many ways….having lost spark, senses, passion, color…..but this does not seem to be the case at all with me. I feel more intensely, feel more sensitive to all around me, and feel more alive than ever. Perhaps life feels sweeter as the time ahead of us grows shorter. And perhaps I can share that sweetness with others, and remind us all that as long as we are still alive, we have gifts to share, passions to embrace, and life to live.

Saying goodbye to a pet…..Staying present to life…..

Let me start with a brief summary of my morning yesterday and how I realized that I needed to stay home as I was a danger to myself and others. My day started off with grocery shopping, which is where I discovered that I had somehow lost my debit card. Panic sets in…..and I immediately rush around managing to knock a bottle of ketchup on the floor at the checkout line. I drove home, intent on searching my house and car to see if I could find the card. Backing up into my driveway, still panicking, I managed to scratch and dent my neighbor’s car. Some day this may be funny, but it was not yesterday.

I took myself into the house, talked myself down, called the bank to order a new card, and wrote a note to place on my neighbor’s windshield to confess my deed. I thought I would make myself a bit of breakfast and calm down, to discover that my toaster died. Ok, that was enough. I knew better than to leave the house or touch anything else for fear of what might happen next. And so I sat quietly and checked in with myself. Of course, I realized, the stress of what I was, and am, dealing with, effects everything. And I need to be hyper vigilant and careful. Because…..(in addition to the trauma that we are all dealing with for some time now —pandemic, politics, all of it…….) I have my own additional personal trauma…..

My kitty, who is over 17 years old, has liver cancer and is in the process of dying. He is still eating some, cuddling, sleeping beside me, and still very much engages with me. How does one say goodbye to a being that has taught me a different, deeper kind of love? I have no children, and no partner currently, so my kitties have been my family and my lifeline during this pandemic. I had two kitties for the past 17 years and this past June I lost one of them just two weeks after I retired. And my other kitty has never really recovered from that loss of his dear companion. And now I am facing yet another loss, and it hurts beyond what my words can describe.

I had a zoom appointment with a nurse from a pet hospice. She talked with me about doing daily assessments of my kitty’s quality of life, and gave me a “Pain Scale for Cats” to be able to help with this assessment. I am trying, but it is so hard to assess in a concrete and rational way what his quality of life is (except, of course, to try and stay aware of pain, as I don’t want him to suffer). I talk with him and ask him to please let me know, so that I can help in the best way possible. But, truly, I hate the thought (and the feeling) of losing him. He is my companion. He lives with me and offers me comfort and touch and softness in this challenging time. He has been with me through so many different struggles and other losses in my life. He has been loyal and loving and there….truly there…for me. How do I let go of this loving being? How do I deal with the ache of not having him here with me?

It brings home to me how all of us are here for a temporary time…until it is our time to go. It makes mortality, which is already more and more present in my awareness as I continue aging, such a reality. It makes me appreciate each moment so much more, both with my dear kitty and with myself and my own life.

It is a challenge to stay present with the pain of this impending loss….to not try and escape or numb it somehow. And it is also a gift to be able to cherish him as much as possible until it is time for him to go. There is such an exquisitely poignant quality to this time, time with my kitty and also including this time of aging myself.

I cherish this kitty of mine. I cherish this life of mine…with all of its challenges and ups and downs. It is such a gift to be alive and to be able to feel these things, even the things that hurt. This is one of the gifts (and costs) of being human and being alive and of loving. And so I will love when I can and for as long as I can. I am still alive and able to love. This being human ride that we are all on is not easy…….worth it, but so not easy….. And I can hold love in my heart for those here and for those gone and for those who are on their way, as are we all. i am honored that you have shared a few moments of your precious time reading my words and connecting with me….it is one of the joys of this life…..real and authentic connection.

The richness within….the eternity of Self

It’s Saturday morning reflection time again……It has been a challenging week in some ways, and also a very full and rich week.

I believe in Divine Guidance and timing. So, I love to write and I also love to paint. I have not painted for some time, and out of the blue, a young woman asked for a particular painting from me (a purple cow!) and I have begun to paint this fun purple cow! And it humbles me and fills me with some awe and wonder that this feels like the Universe giving me a gentle nudge to begin painting again. As the Universe has also helped guide me to write more, to start this blog (and I am such a beginner at it, but not letting that stop me!), and to also begin voice lessons. All of these are ways of finding, claiming and expressing my voice in so many different ways. We speak with our voices, and with so much more. I am grateful. And I am also grateful and in wonder that those parts of me that I remember from very long ago (drawing, writing) are still there. No matter what life has thrown at us, that core and inner part is still there. It is just waiting…..until we can invite it to come out again and show itself. Having recently retired (the end of May), I am blessed to have more time now to re-acquaint myself with me. All of me. As if to say to myself….welcome back, I have missed you. I am so glad that you waited and are still there. Let me hear what you have to tell me. I am listening. I am here.

I am also facing yet another challenge and lesson in life. I have had two kitties that are my family for 17 years. Last June (two weeks after I retired) I lost one of them. Too soon, too pressured by the vet (that will be another post) and such a deep and painful ache. And now my other kitty has masses that are growing in his liver, and we watch and assess. So today, I have a zoom appointment for a “quality of life” assessment with a pet hospice/palliative care group. I never even knew that this was something that existed. We will talk about my dear kitty and his symptoms and how he is doing. I do not want to rush this, but also don’t want him to suffer. This process is painful. And I am grateful for each day that I have with him. I am grateful that he was with me for Thanksgiving. In this time of COVID and isolation and no hugs, I hold him close for comfort…for both of us. It is hard to face his decline and it will be devastating to have him die when it is time.

Indeed, it is painful to face my own mortality (having recently worked on my own Advance Directive for what i do and don’t want done at my own time to leave). Isn’t it interesting … to feel closer to death and yet more alive than ever? To appreciate each moment more (even the painful ones) in the growing recognition that the number of moments we each have is limited and finite. To cry from grief and gratitude at the wonder of it all. To be alive…..and painting purple cows….

Moments of Grace….

I stand here on this early Saturday morning reflecting on life…..

These are challenging times for our country and for the world. I pray that we find our way through this soon.

In the meantime, how, I wonder, do we make the best of our precious time on this earth during these particular circumstances?

I find that I cherish more and more each moment of grace. The chance encounter at the grocery store where eye contact has to speak more than it ever has, given that the rest of our face is covered with a mask. And so we look, learn to smile with our eyes. And learn to enunciate more clearly speaking through our mask so that others can hear.

Some of my moment of grace this week :

Going to a nighttime (socially distanced) holiday event at the zoo where I volunteer. Taking a friend with me and both of us turning back into the excited 10 year old little girls that we once were when we look at all the beautiful huge lantern animals that created such a magical scene before us.

Going to the art supply store and connecting with the woman ringing up my purchases. i thought I recognized her accent and asked her if she was Italian (being a daughter of immigrant Italian parents myself). A delightful brief connection in that moment because I reached out (I can sometimes be shy, although much less so as I age, thank God) and she reached back. A shared smile and shared common ground.

Going to the grocery store and helping the clerk figure out what chestnuts are and telling her about roasting them and how they taste…..bringing back memories of my childhood to savor.

Having a voice lesson (yes, I am taking voice lessons now that I am retired….just because it sounds like fun…!) and having a lovely connection with my teacher (via zoom) and learning something new…feeling myself stretching into a new arena….with someone to guide me who takes me seriously…

Telling friends about my blog (did I mention my shyness) and having such sweet responses to that. If I want to talk about my voice being heard and encourage others to have theirs heard, I better put some action behind that!

Connecting with friends and ex’s – and realize that once there has been love, it never leaves. It may change form and expression, but it is always there. I am so grateful for that.

Taking care of my aging, ill kitty. He has liver cancer. And I am so cherishing (although at times with such pain and sadness) each moment with him and being grateful that I get to spend time with him still….until it is time. I tell him to let me know when it is time to go…..and the vet and I are working together to assess his comfort level. He lost his kitty companion (they have both been with me for 17 years) in June, and I don’t think that he ever was able to recover from that. We both still grieve.

Losses, pain, challenges, fears, anxieties – all part of life. And so are joy, excitement. connection, love, peace in solitude, creativity, gratitude. Although some may feel better than others, they are all moments of grace…..grace in this brief life we have been given. I am grateful for this moment of grace to be able to share some of my thoughts and feelings with you all. Thank you.

The Companionship of Grief

So I am dealing once again with another loss. Grief truly is a more constant companion as I age. I have lost friends, lovers, family, and pets.

I retired at the end of May and two weeks later lost one of my two 17 year old kitties. This hit me and my remaining kitty very hard. I tried my best to comfort my remaining kitty (as well as myself). There is something quite unique about the loss of an animal companion (I intend to write more about this at some point). And this week I found out that my kitty who is still with me now has liver cancer and the prognosis is not good. I feel such a deep ache inside that cannot ever be adequately described with words. With my kitty that I lost in June, I feel that I allowed the vet to talk me into putting him down too quickly. It was the perfect storm – a weekend night (so I was at the emergency vet and not my regular vet) . I could not go into the clinic due to COVID. The clinic was swamped, so I waited outside in my car all night long, to be told that my kitty was very sick and it was time to let him go. I believe that he was sick, but I also think that I could have brought him home and done it differently. I regret that. I now have my other kitty who I can see slowly declining. The vet and I talked about my just continuing to watch him to assess if he gets uncomfortable and then to talk about when it is time to let him go. That’s something else I will write more about – how do we make such a decision…? When do we allow a natural death? When do we hasten death?

So I have the gift of spending a bit more precious time with my sweet fur companion. Pets have taught me a deeper kind of love than I had known (I have no children). They have come into my heart in a way that no one else can. I am in grief, and in gratitude for the time we have spent together. I dread losing him before the holidays, but tell him to just let me know when it is time. I don’t want him to suffer. I will miss him so deeply.

This is one of the challenges that we take on when we bring a pet into our home and our lives. One that I do not regret, although this is such a painful process to go through. I live alone so the loss will feel so very intense as my house will feel empty. Will I get another kitty? I don’t know yet – I need to grieve this loss first, and then decide if I want to sign up for this process once again. I am thinking that I may…..I love living with pets and coming home to them waiting for me. I love sleeping with their warm furry bodies next to me. This ache is becoming so familiar…the ache of loss, the ache of death.

Indeed, I am working on getting my own affairs in order….working on my Advance Directive and what my wishes are for when my time comes. It’s so strange to be making plans about my own death. And yet I know it is important, so that my wishes are hopefully followed.

Each loss, each goodbye, each ending – all make me realize more and more how precious each moment is. How I need to fully live while I still can. And appreciate it all. I think that the grief carves out room in our hearts to really open. It hurts to open that deeply. And yet…I believe that it hurts more to stay closed and shut down. So, here I am …..in grief, and feeling the ache of love. And grateful for the experience and for being able to feel all the feelings. It is part of this ride of life that we are on.

Hair today, gone tomorrow…!

So this aging thing is quite the challenge. My latest discovery – my hair is thinning and coming out more. I had this happen once before, where the amount of hair coming out was very noticeable. I checked it out with the doctor….no real answers except that it can be part of aging. Yay….not.

So, I like to think of myself as having some depth….but it turns out that I can be quite upset about the surface ‘trivial” things as well. I do not mean to minimize the feelings around hair loss, but in the grand scheme of things…..not so huge, right? Except that at this moment, it is. I feel the pain of yet another sign of things breaking down, changing, fading, sagging, wrinkling, and now thinning (not that my body is thinning, of course….!)

So, what is this about? It is about yet another loss, yet another grieving for part of me that has been one of my strengths. Yet another piece gone of what I used to feel was attractive about me. Yet another part of what feels like sensuality. Yet another part of youth to say goodbye to and grieve. I used to be self conscious of how I looked from the back because of my perceived size, but now add to that the thinning hair and my scalp showing through at the back of my head. How silly I can be. And yet, this is real for me. I believe it adds to all the losses that do come with aging. I have lost many friends, ex-partners, family, my career (having recently retired – but that will be another post..), pets (I lost one of my two 17 year old kitties in June and my remaining kitty has two masses in his liver that we are monitoring), sense of purpose and structure that my career as a social worker gave me (not to mention all the losses with the pandemic), relationships (I am old enough now to choose being alone rather than being in a relationship that does not meet enough of my needs), some friends (I am more picky these days with who I spend precious time with as I realize more and more how precious each moment is). And I redefine who I am, what my purpose and passions are now, and how to navigate this stage of life…..with an ever increasing awareness of death.

How brief this life is – and yet so rich and full. Of everything…joy, pain, delight, grief, loss, light, dark…..and all of it is important. All of it is necessary, I believe, in order for us to fully appreciate and fully live our lives. I appreciate it more now than ever now that I am feeling closer to the end …..And so I live, embrace each moment, feel each joy and each loss, and always…always….laugh as much as I can.

So, hair goes nothing…..!

A Time to Heal – for all of us

It’s Monday morning after the election results have finally been formally projected. We will have a new president. And he (and we) will have much work to do. We are a nation divided, one group against another. This will not sustain us or move us forward. We must come together, slowly, carefully….but deliberately. I respect all of our rights to our opinions and to vote for who we choose. The choice has been made (and I am grateful for that particular choice) and it is time to get to the work of becoming Americans united again. This is where our power lies. This is who we really are deep down. A country that has formed from all different people from all nations….not perfectly, for sure…..but it is our heritage and history and dream. There is so much more power in love than hate.

It is the same with all the various divisions and groups that each of us may belong to. I am a women, aging, daughter of immigrants. To see a woman in the White House as a Vice President is something that brings tears to my eyes. She is a woman of mixed race, daughter of immigrants. She is all of us. She brings us all with her.

I see an older president. To take on this job at the age of 78 is mind boggling. And yet he does. And it is, from what I perceive, a man with a heart, soul, compassion, persistence, kindness and patience. A man who has known pain in his life and can understand and empathize. A man who, I believe, really does have the greater good as his purpose. Our country (and the world) has been starving for this. He has a hard road ahead of him, but at least he is on the road. His age brings gifts – patience, understanding, and a quiet persistent strength. He did not give up. Neither should we.

We all have much to contribute and say. Let’s begin coming to the table and listening to each other. Let this Thanksgiving be the time we come to that table as a country that needs to sit down together…all generations and colors and beliefs and genders…..we have so much more in common than those things that divide us. We can do this.

Patience….

So we are still waiting to find out the election results. I know that we are all aware of the tumultuous times that we are in, and this is another example. And so we wait…and wait….and wait – because that is all that we can do.

This makes me think of the patience that we can acquire as part of the aging process. It’s interesting for me to notice that the older that I get, the more patience that I seem to have for the important things as well as for things that I cannot control. And I notice the less patience I have with things (and perhaps some people) that do not seem to nourish my soul. But…for the important things, I have lived long enough to learn that waiting is a part of life, and also a part of wisdom. You cannot rush some things. You must wait.

And so one question becomes how do you wait? What quality do you give that time? How do you navigate the space of waiting? Can you be patient and trust that the process takes whatever time that it takes, and have trust and faith in the process? Can you remember that there are things and circumstances that you cannot control? To obsess about these results in only more stress for you, but doesn’t help the situation. How do you navigate the uncertain and in-between parts of your life? How can we learn and be gentle and kind with ourselves and others? How can we live life in the times of uncertainty? Because, and I see this more with my aging process, life is full of uncertainties. And how we handle that helps define our character as well as how we get to experience our lives. And how we learn how to connect rather than to allow tensions and uncertain times divide us from each other. We are together in this process of life. Take a deep breath. We can and will get through this…..together. This too shall pass and life will go on. May it do so peacefully, with kindness, grace and human compassion.

Monday morning musings….

It’s Monday morning….the Monday before election day. I have anxiety about the outcome and anxiety about possible reactions to whatever the outcome will be. It is a tense time for our country and for the world. Election year in the midst of a pandemic and much civil unrest as well as raging fires here in California and other environmental disasters everywhere. I believe that our country is in deep trauma. The world is experiencing deep trauma. And it will take us time to heal in every sense of that word.

We are a resilient people. We are survivors. Although divided, I believe (and want to believe) that we can come together again. That we can heal the divisions that have been encouraged. That we can rise to become what we are capable of becoming. Becoming what I see every day in small acts of kindness. Random acts of love. We have much to heal. We can do this.

As I continue on my life’s journey, I can recall how much we have healed throughout history, and I throughout my own history. We have more that connects us than divides us. We just need to remember that. Democrats, Republicans…. Black, White, Asian or Hispanic….women, men,….older, younger…. We are all human trying to do what we can with the lives that we have been given. We can do this. Together.