A Grief Observed

Soundlessly the door opened as a father and his two young sons emerged from a small side room, and into the vacuous lobby of the Animal Emergency and Trauma Center. The boys’ red blotchy cheeks, downcast eyes, and slumped shoulders telegraphed the sad story that had unfolded on the other side of that door. Their father led them over to one of the hard wooden benches that lined the walls of the waiting area where I too was sitting, and waiting. Two days earlier, my dog, Chuckles, had been admitted for a life-threatening liver infection and I was hoping to bring him home after meeting with the doctor.cristina-lavaggi-21229

The room was quiet at 7:00 o’clock in the evening, except for the television that ran incessantly like a kind of “white noise” in the background. I imagined it as a ridiculous soundtrack to all the traumas and dramas that flowed in and out of that space, like the one I was witnessing now, like my own, too. I couldn’t help but watch and listen as this father offered comfort to his sons, each in their own turn. Gently, he cradled the first boy’s face with his hands, and spoke words so softly that I could not catch them, but the sentiment could not have been more clear. With tenderness he kissed the boy on his forehead. Then to his other son he did the same.christopher-harris-57366

I sensed that he wanted to capture the significance of the moment for them, and to honor its solemnity. He did everything with such intention, as though to say, “yes, this is what grief feels like. This is how badly it hurts to lose someone you love. I cannot shield you from the pain but I can reassure you of my love. Today we are bonded by our grief, but also by our love for each other.”

roman-kraft-421410As witness to such compassion, I felt the tears welling up in my own eyes. It didn’t take much, with my own recent fear of loss so fresh and close to the surface. How tender our own grief makes us! How universal the bond! Sitting there in that waiting room, in that time, I felt a part of their story and they of mine. Just then, an attendant came around the corner and called out “Chuckles!” I jumped up to see what awaited me behind another closed-door.

“Life Has a Funny Way of Sneaking Up On You When You Think Everything’s Okay”– Alanis Morissette

One of the neat things about keeping a journal is the ability to go back in time and check in with how you were feeling at a previous point in time as recorded in your own words. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised to recall people and happy events that I have forgotten. Sometimes I can’t believe how silly and childish my reactions sound in hindsight. And sometimes I am forced to re-live excruciatingly painful memories of heartbreak, loneliness and despair.

DSCN1147A few weeks ago I was revisiting my life in July of 2015. It was a particularly awful summer full of sadness and broken dreams. One I wish I could forget. I don’t need a journal entry to remember how I was feeling back then. But I wanted to read about those experiences simply to celebrate the fact that I had survived them. I lived through all that bad stuff and made it to the other side. I didn’t do it alone. I had the help of friends and family and through it all my one constant companion, Chuckles.

No sooner had I recorded in my journal my gratefulness and relief at having that terrible summer behind me when….. I learned on July 21st that Chuckles has a brain tumor. The symptoms that led to his diagnosis began suddenly and acutely on the 19th. I went into crisis mode that evening with 3 trips to the vet in 12 hours, including one at midnight, followed by an excruciating 3 hour drive to the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine the next day.


My Handsome Boy

What began as his moaning in the night escalated into an unrelenting shrill bark that I interpreted as pain. Fearful that he was not stable enough to make it to Raleigh a friend helped me find a veterinary office along Interstate 40 in one of the most rural counties in N.C. where he was examined again. I was told to keep going, but sedation for Chuckles was not possible.

After 2 hours of waiting in admissions where I could still hear Chuckles’s distressing bark coming from the ER, a trauma doctor came out and told me that Chuckles most likely had a neurological problem and they were going to have him examined by a Neurologist. This next consult confirmed the trauma team’s suspicion that the barking, pacing, panting and Chuckles’s “fish eyed” gaze were all stemming from his disorientation, a distortion in his brain. An MRI was scheduled for the next morning.


Happier times outside NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine

The imaging revealed a tumor on Chuckles’s pituitary gland, a gland that sits at the base of the brain. For some unknown reason it had begun to bleed which caused the sudden onset of his symptoms. The hematoma around the tumor caused swelling that was putting pressure on his brain. Pressure on the pituitary also created a very rare condition called Diabetes Insipidus. He was treated with steroids for the inflammation and a synthetic hormone for the diabetes. After 4 nights in ICU Chuckles was stable enough to return home with me.

The first few days back home were rough. He was extremely disoriented outside, like an Alzheimer’s patient. Gradually he has become more like himself but still I see the evidence of something wrong. He does not want to go for walks, he has some weakness in his back legs and is losing muscle mass. Overall Chuckles just seems “dull.” 

On Monday, I will take him back to the Vet School for a consult with Radiation Oncology to learn their recommendations for treatment. I am told that dogs tolerate radiation well and that the treatment yields good success rates. They will discuss with me the various options for administering radiation, and of course, discuss his prognosis with and without treatment.


Chuckles’s fan club in the NCSU Vet School Pharmacytreatment.

Ever since I got home I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything including my cd project. It has been difficult to pick up where I left off on the afternoon of July 19th. Now that the shock and the immediate stress have passed I’m entering into the grief process. But I’m learning to be kind and patient with myself knowing that my enthusiasm for my writing and my music will return given time.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me through this difficult time.









My Nazi Legacy Trailer | Video | Independent Lens | PBS

On Monday night I watched a video on my local PBS station that was both fascinating and depressing. You know the kind. The images replay through your mind as you drift off to sleep and linger the next morning like a kind of cloudy malaise.  I don’t mean to suggest that the film is full of gruesome death camp photos, but that the subject matter’s stark and disturbing reality weighs heavily on the human psyche.

For me, there is even a personal connection. Although my family is not even a little bit Jewish, my paternal grandfather’s brother died in Dachau concentration camp. He was a Czech border guard who refused a Nazi officer’s command to shoot people escaping across the border. He was sent to Dachau as punishment and he never came out.

From the PBS Website: “My Nazi Legacy explores the relationship between two men, each the sons of high-ranking Nazi officials, and internationally renowned British human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, whose family perished in the Holocaust. Sands met Niklas Frank and Horst van Wachter while researching his book East West Street, and as the three travel together on an emotional journey through Europe and the past, the film explores how each of them cope with their own devastating family history.”



Chasing Love Groundhog Day Style

There is something unnerving about recognizing an aspect of yourself portrayed in a movie character. But it can be very enlightening too. I know because this happened to me recently while watching “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

In the film, Murray plays Phil, a love lorn weatherman who is reliving the same day, February 2nd, over and over while in Punxsutawney reporting on their annual Groundhog Day festival. Rita, played by McDowell, is Phil’s t.v. producer, working with him on location, and the object of his affection. With the repetition of days, Phil experiences the passage of time and he falls desperately in love with Rita. She however, lives in the “real time” of a 24 hour February 2nd. Phil realizes that he has only that one day in which to win her affection.photo-1449495169669-7b118f960251

With repeated chances to get it right, Phil becomes more adept at courting Rita and he has some success. Unfortunately, his success spurs his enthusiasm resulting in an over-eagerness that is a turn off to Rita. His actions create the exact opposite of his intentions. It is not until he stops trying so hard to win Rita, and focuses instead on becoming a better person, that he achieves the desired result. She falls for him.

Before the end of the movie, I had my “Aha” moment. I saw a reflection of my own behavior in Phil’s zealous determination. Since being single for more years than I’d care to admit, I have had ample time and an ample number of relationships to know exactly who I’m looking for and what I want. Recently I met That Someone. Like Phil, I rushed in full tilt never asking if my enthusiasm might be sabotaging my success.

If you are a resourceful person like me, it may seem counter-intuitive to not go after what you want with everything you’ve got. But in one of those ironic truisms of life, that is precisely what is called for.

In the 1992 preface to his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, Viktor Frankl, shares what is his repeated admonishment to his students:

“Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

It has been my experience that the same principle applies to love, as so clearly demonstrated in the movie. The more you want it, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you, as poor Phil discovered. When he dedicated himself to the greater good of being a better human being, the love he sought ensued as a by-product. Of course, Groundhog Day has a happy ending, it is a movie after all!photo-1451444635319-e5e247fbb88d

As for me, the object of my affection left saying he couldn’t state exactly why he knew it wouldn’t work out, just that it wouldn’t. I did not get multiple chances to get it right. And I am left to wonder if my behavior drove him away, at least in part. Relationships are complicated, I know nothing is that simple. But as to Frankl’s advice to let go and not care about it, focus on it, and yes obsess about it- well, I’m sorry to say I haven’t figured out how to do any of that.

Dear Reader, have you ever chased something only to have it elude you?