So long, Rosie

Rosie, 1995

The first time I met her, I hated her. I was waiting at the veterinarian’s office with my very sick cat, Sam, who was about to be euthanized. Rosie and her sister were tiny kittens playing in a cage in the corner, up for adoption. They’d been abandoned outside of a KMart. Only a few days old, some kind soul rescued them and nurtured them up to adoption age. They were tiny. And cute. And so abundantly alive.  I resented it their liveliness on the day Sam’s life would end. Especially since Rosie was a brown tabby, just like Sam.

That was on a Friday. By Monday  I was calling the vet to see if the kittens were still available. That’s how Maxie and Rosie came to live with me.

Rosie was destined to be a perpetual second banana. With Maxie, there was no doubt who the alpha cat was. Maxie was sweet and loving but in a curmudgeonly sort of way. She had the mouth of a sailor and little patience. Rosie just stayed back and let everything roll off of her. Several years later when  I rescued a stray kitten who’d wandered into my yard, Maxie was all bluster. Rosie let the kitten play around her and play at her until her long-suffering soul had enough and she gave the kitten one swipe of the paw. That was all and that was enough.

In her old age she had to suffer the indignity of dogs, particularly Oakley who liked to check on her by sticking her entire long nose up under Rosie’s body. Rosie gave an irritated meow, but otherwise took it in stride. When Maxie developed a fast growing malignant tumor, I took Rosie with me to the vet. Her carrier on the table, she watched carefully and solemnly as her sister slipped away. She seemed to take it in and never looked for Max or asked about her again.

For over three years Rosie was a diabetic. She quickly adapted to this new routine of twice daily insulin injections, only complaining when I got sloppy and careless with her shot. One day I came home from a trip and found her in a coma. The emergency vets performed a miracle in getting her back from the threshold of death’s door but she lost a good portion of her eyesight. She never complained and it never seemed to bother her. She just kept on keeping on.

Maxie and Rosie

The one place in which she took a backseat to no one was her hunting. One summer in our old house I kept count of how many voles she’d killed (voles look like moles but are about the size of mice.) At least sixteen voles bit the dust that summer. Each time she’d proudly leave her gift at the front door. Occasionally I’d catch Max picking up the dead vole and proudly bringing it around again, as if she’d killed it.

I came home last night and prepared for bed. When I was ready to give Rosie her nightly shot, she wasn’t in her bed. I finally found her in another room, peaceful and still. She lived to be seventeen.

My pastor tells me that the one question he gets asked more than any other is if our pets will be with us in heaven. I do not have the definitive answer, but  I cannot imagine anywhere being all that heavenly if our four-legged (and two-winged!) family members are not allowed to join us.

If we are open, we may learn many lessons from our pets. Oakley teaches me that you can be fierce and protective and loving at the same time. Ralphie teaches me about all out joy. Maxie taught me about asking for what you need (okay, demanding.) And Rosie taught me that it is indeed possible to have a Buddha cat – not holding on to anything, being in the moment, finding contentment.

So long, Rosie.

And thanks.

Nothing more than feelings

Through the graces of Twitter,  I recently read this fine article for caregivers by Wendy Lustbader in the Huffington Post. I particularly liked this quote:

You can’t take away someone’s loneliness. No matter how many times caregivers phone, visit, or take their loved one on outings, there will always be the time in-between contacts for the person to feel the sadness of separation from lifelong friends and the loss of once cherished activities. These are consequences of frailty or illness that caregivers cannot rectify. It helps to recognize the unavoidable fact that the hours of companionship they provide for their relative go quickly and the empty hours still pass slowly.

It’s a challenge for caregivers but not just caregivers. Many people struggle with wanting to take away another person’s pain, grief or struggle. After all, we love them. We don’t want them to feel badly. We want them to have lives of joy, no matter what their age and physical condition.

One of the things that I learned in working with the former staff of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is that we cannot take another person’s grief from them. We cannot protect someone from their feelings. Trying to do so may not be only fruitless but also disrespectful. We all have a right to our own feelings. The grief that comes with the many losses of aging and declining health is hard won. It recognizes the value of the gifts the person enjoyed, whether it was a loving life partner, a treasured home, the ability to do a favorite hobby or even to talk a walk on a nice day. To allow the grief that comes is a way of acknowledging those losses.

Our task isn’t to keep someone from grieving; it is to provide a safe space in which they can grieve. It is to support them. It is to help them with any concrete tasks of life with which we can help. And, if necessary, it’s to help them find ways and tools for expressing that grief.

Years ago pastor Charles Poole wrote a book entitled, “Hard Things Are Hard.” Indeed they are.

When a friend or loved one is going through a hard time, we do them no service to try to pretend as if we could make it be easy.  They don’t need us to take away their feelings. They need us to be able to speak truthfully about those hard things. And then to be present with them in the best way we know how.

If you are looking for a safe place in which to grieve whatever losses you’ve had, I invite you to the Life,Loss and Healing workshop in Durham, NC (March 23-25, 2012.) The workshop gives people a chance to acknowledge many different kinds of losses, to express their own feelings and to find tools for healing. If you’re interested, contact Nancy Mullins at lifelosshealing@nethere.com.

Belonging

We're gonna make it after all....

Last night  I was watching an old episode of  The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In it, she accidentally throws out the folder of obituaries the station collected to have on hand when a famous person died. She was assigned the task of replacing that folder – on her own time.

At first I couldn’t understand the drama and distress. After all, what’s Google for? Then I remembered… Mary Richards worked in a newsroom without Google, without the internet and without a single computer.

Such things come in handy. For example, today I found this article on aging well. The author looked at the qualities shared by those who reached 100 years of age. One of those qualities is belonging.

Whether belonging to a community, a religious organization, a professional group or a tight-knit family; a sense of belonging is central to aging well because you matter to others, not just to yourself. Belonging gives us a sense of purpose.

This caught my eye because it’s often an issue with which my clients wrestle. They feel disconnected. They may or may not be connected with family. But outside of that circle, they have few connections.

So here’s a few thoughts on fostering belonging.

1) You have to seek it out. It won’t come to you. Through the magic of the internet, we can have many things come to our door – food, books, clothes, etc. But to belong to a group, you have to get out there. You may even have to try several groups before you find one that has your name on it.

2) Find something you care about. It may be a faith group. Or an affordable housing group. Or a wildlife conservation group. Or a group that rescues animals. If it’s something that matters to you, you’ll have greater energy and commitment. Part of the power of a group isn’t just the connections with other people; it can be the sense of being connected with something bigger than ourselves. Part of our task as we journey through adulthood is to create meaning. What will be the legacy that we leave behind? Your legacy may be an organization that carries out a global misison. Or it may be a single life that was changed in some way because you were in it.

3) Invest. That’s right, you have to get in there and do something. Participate. Sometimes people will complain that they don’t know many people in their church. The fact is that they haven’t given themselves the chance to know other people – and for people to know them – because they haven’t invested themselves in a small group, a ministry project or any other group in the church. In order to have a return on investment you first have to make an investment.Not just in time and energy but the emotional investment of getting to know people and allowing yourself to be known.

4) Be willing to hang in for the long haul. I heard someone today say that when it came to news in this country, we have national ADD. We’re always on to the next thing. It’s hard to belong to a group if you’re always moving on to the next one. Belonging takes time. One of the functions of that time is that you become as part of that group’s story. And as a part of the story, you matter.

5) Be willing for things not to work out. I’m not really contradicting myself; sometimes the more you become involved with a group, the more you realize that it’s not for you. Sometimes people have the mindset that any step they take has to be set in concrete for the next fifty years. If they make a mistake, they’re stuck with it. Or if it doesn’t work out, it means that they are a failure. Well, that’s just rubbish. Both things. All it means is that this wasn’t the right place and right time. Move on.

How do you find a place to belong? Let me hear from you.

Life, Loss and Healing Workshop – March 23-25, 2012  Durham, NC