This is a pretty much true.
This is it: officially the last day of my summer vacation. Some people will have zero sympathy for me because, after all, I have three months of summer vacation! True, kind of. Actually, I have three months when I do not have to leave the house, and I do make my own schedule, but in reality, I have three months of “re.” For three months, I read, realize, rearrange, rebound, recollect, reconcile, reconnect, reconsider, record, rectify, recuperate, redo, redouble, refer, refine, reflect, refresh, regroup, reinforce, rejuvenate, relax, remake, remember, remodel, renovate, repair, research, resolve, resorb, respond, restore, resume, revamp, review, reword, rework, rewrite, and did I say read?
I’m not complaining; I love my work, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, I view my summers not as “time off” but rather as a time of “work-life balance.” During the academic year, the balance is decidedly missing, which is why it feels so bitter-sweet to be entering into a new academic year.
Summer 2015 had some fine moments, including and especially time I spent reconnecting with friends and family. I spent a wonderful afternoon in the park in Billings with my bff Sarah and my honorary grandsons. During the same trip, I shared lunch with my dear, dear friend from long, long ago, Julie, and then dinner with another dear friend from just as long ago, Cinda. I had lunch with my sweet cousin Paula and my sisters, Terri and Julie. Danell met me for tea and talk one afternoon, and we ran out of time before we ran out of talk. Dinner with my parents and sisters one night rounded out a week of great (and excessive) eating and catching up with important people.
Chuck, I and our “kids,” Basco and Rosie, took our motorhome out a couple times and spent some quiet time near water, and I spent several afternoons kayaking with my bff June. Every day offered time for a 3-5 mile jaunt, and I even read a couple books for “fun.”
Summer 2015 also was a summer of loss, the death of my much-loved Basco, which followed the April loss of my deeply-loved Aunt Shirley, a loss I’ve yet to write about. Winnie the Pooh said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard;” he’s right, and I realize that without loss, I could not know the value of 13 years of a faithful, loving dog, or 53 years of the constant presence of my loving, strong, principled Aunt Shirley, or 3 months’ time to find balance and “re.”
Good-bye, summer 2015. Thanks for the memories.
Just a little more than a week ago, our sweet Basco took his last breath here at home. His death left trauma in its wake; Chuck and I were unprepared despite the fact that poor Basco had suffered from heart problems more than six years. I suppose that’s the way it works with death. We’re never really prepared. The week that has passed has softened the sharpness of the pain, and acceptance has taken its place.
So many people reached out to us during those early days. I got emails and cards in the mail and so many expressions of sympathy and understanding from my Facebook friends. That created conflicted feelings in me, too. I felt a little embarrassed about the depth of my despair, a little greedy for needing the support of others so much. Those feelings contradicted my normal sense of self-efficacy and mental toughness. So much for that…
Chuck and I have spent the last week remembering our little “Puppin,” my pet name for him. We reminisced about both the good memories and the bad. Basco cost us, on average, $150 a month: prescription dog food, heart meds, pain meds, and treats. The last few days of his life were over $500. In addition to the money, he always had a problem with house training, and for several years he wore a doggy diaper inside the house because he took to marking things. He was maddeningly OCD about certain things, and drove Chuck crazy by running in circles relentlessly as Chuck prepared his meals. Every trash can in the house had to be secured because he loved to chew up paper of any kind—and he watched for opportunities when we were careless, enjoying the game. He stole gum and chocolate out of my book bag repeatedly and then would poop out shiny tinfoil particles.
We remembered all these and more, and we both concluded we would do it again and more. Despite how high maintenance Basco was, he also had his loving side. Every morning without fail, when I emerged from the bedroom, Basco came to me and gave me one soft lick on the calf, a “good morning kiss.” Every day when I returned after being away for a while, he howled energetically for me; he did this two days before he died even when he wasn’t feeling his best. He was a snuggler, a lover, and a furever friend, no questions asked.
Last Friday, Chuck brought Basco home. Our vet arranged his cremation through All Paws Great and Small, a crematory for pets in Bozeman. Our good friend from Clyde Park had made a beautiful wooden urn for us a few weeks ago, which we sent with his body. Upon return, we got his paw print in ceramic, a lock of his fur, a certificate of cremation (certifying that it is our Basco we got back), and his ashes in a plastic bag inside the urn. All of that came in a paper sack with his name on it. Chuck bought him flowers, on the way home, and the card says, “To my friend…Basco, we miss you so,” and now we have him home with us forever. From the bottom of my overly sentimental heart, I thank you all for your words of encouragement, the cards, the messages, and the general good wishes, and I’ll leave you with the words of the great veterinarian and writer James Herriot: “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
On Friday, July 31, 2015, my beloved dog, Captain Basco, died at home at 9:15 a.m. Since that moment, when I held him as he died and watched the light leave his eyes, I’ve been thrown into something that feels like an existential crisis. I dare not leave the house, except to walk or run, for fear that any slight trigger will remind me painfully of our loss and turn me into an uncontrollable, sobbing mess. Furthermore, I want to stay close to my husband, Chuck, for whom the loss is even more excruciating. Basco and Rosie, our female Chihuahua/Jack Russel mix, defined every moment of Chuck’s life: literally. Basco usually woke us between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. with a loud, “get the hell up and feed me” howl. From there, Chuck’s days were punctuated by meds for Basco in the morning, treats for both dogs at noon, meds at dinner time, and treats and meds before bed. Basco had to be assisted with steps higher than three inches and tottered everywhere he went, which wasn’t far. Basco needed Chuck and gave him purpose, especially during the school year when I’m gone most of the week.
Some people won’t understand this: “It’s a damn dog,” they’ll say. “Get over it already.” They will never understand. Others absolutely do understand, and for them, we don’t even have to explain. My sister, Julie, was so upset she couldn’t eat her lunch on Friday, and both my sisters tried to send flowers, ones that never came due to an irresponsible florist. Our good friend, Ron, still has his “Charlie” in the freezer, after he died a couple years ago. Seems odd, to me, but I will never second guess the grief of losing a companion animal. Other pet-loving friends just nod and say, “I know. It’s the worst.”
Thinking about why this is so painful, I realized that our animals are different from our human relationships for three reasons: they can’t talk and tell us what is happening; they spend all their time with us, every moment that we allow it; and they need us in a way that no one else does, offering unconditional love despite any reason we might not deserve it, and for most of us, there are many times we have not earned that devotion.
What does all this have to do with Facebook? As I’ve tried to work through my grief—surprised as anyone by the magnitude and viciousness—I realized that I waste a lot of time, much of it through social media. While I love that I can stay virtually close to distant friends and relatives, I resent that I am subjected to constant marketing, that I have to wade through all forms of political garbage and urban legends (that some poor fools believe), and that I let myself get distracted by inane quizzes or celebrity news or other vacuous junk. My time should be more valued and more thoughtfully disbursed; I should read more books, write more of anything, study more pedagogy, play more, and spend more time with live humans and animals.
I value my Facebook friends because they are my real friends. Not one to “friend” every acquaintance I know or friends of friends, my FB friends are also my real-life friends though many of them I will rarely or ever see. This is a real loss, one I really regret, but it’s time for me to take a break from social media and live more in the moment and less in virtual reality. I hope that friends will keep in touch through email or phone. I will, hopefully, write more on my blog, and I can be contacted through that by leaving comments.