Nightly laundry

Sometimes I wonder if all I’m doing is collecting guests for my funeral. Which sounds macabre but if I don’t expect to see a return on my life’s work in terms of money, fame, or power, what is the alternative? I really do actively try to help people better their lives. I imagine all the people I’ve kept close over the years and I think about the times where my happiness has come second to theirs and I think, ‘if I died tomorrow, would they show up?’

I’m not a martyr. I just think back to the friends and ex boyfriends and family whose happiness I helped guide. My ex boyfriend for example will lead a tremendously happier life because of all the things he learned from me and through me. He learned a lot about himself and his values and his goals in life. He came out of it a better person and so did I. There are a lot of times I think to myself, ‘I’d be at theirs’.

There’s a song by WHY? that has a line that when I first heard it a few years ago, shook me. “Yours is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere”. Recently at an orientation for work, we watched a TEDtalk about the impact your actions can have on other people. It was really inspirational but it emphasized the value of expressing your gratitude when someone has helped you change for the better in some way. It could be any minute action, it could even be inaction. What rings true each time is the ripples it affected on a person’s lifetime.

My brother’s dad died when I was a teenager. I remember being so sad for my brother because my mom was in jail and his dad died young. He lost both parents that day and I still wonder how much happier he might be if he didn’t know that kind of loss.

But the thing I remember most about the funeral was how many people showed up to mourn him. The church wasn’t small and there were hundreds of people there. They stood in rows against the walls, people crowded in from outside. There were countless stories about his life and the impact his actions had on the world around him and I can’t help but think about all the people at his funeral. I don’t know if this makes me a narcissist or selfish but it’s not like I’m going out of my way to accumulate guests. I really do just want to help people at the end of the day. I’m not seeking recognition beyond knowing that because I tried everything I could, someone out there is going to find their own happiness too. But also sometimes, it’s nice to know if what I’m doing has any real value at all for anyone but myself. This isn’t about self doubt because I know that what I do does help people. I guess it’s just a passing thought as I do laundry on a Sunday night.

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My morals have ruined me

I’ve gotten it into my head lately that I want to write children’s stories. Not typical children’s stories but ones like The Giving Tree and Stone Soup. Stories that I’ve remembered from childhood, almost clear as the day I read them. I couldn’t tell you what they said verbatim, but I can see their pictures and words in my head if I try to recall them. I think that says a lot.

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I made a series of books recently that dealt with my mom and her recent return home. It’s been weird. Lots of swirling emotions going on. I still don’t have a clear thing to write about it yet BUT I do have a semi funny anecdote about the ways in which my mother manipulated me into being a horribly moral person. I say that with a smile. I love that I’m this way but it also plays into my paranoia and anxiety about getting into trouble (incarcerated parent issues) so that sort of compounds itself in unpleasant ways at times.

As I’m doing my research into “stories that teach children moral lessons”, I’ve stumbled upon something quite interesting. Several websites will direct you to moralistic reading lists for children. Except there’s one clear similarity in my mind amongst every list I’ve perused tonight: I’ve read all of them.

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At first, the lists included a few familiar tales and then I kept searching. What I’ve found is a website that lists almost identically, the stories and books I read as a child. Even really obscure ones. Knowing my mother, she did this either completely intentionally or entirely on accident. I’m going to ask her tomorrow at lunch. I think she did it on purpose, but there’s some part of me that wonders too. Sometimes, there’s books that we just all want kids to read like Dr. Seuss or The Giving Tree because the stories are so sweet and innately good. They’re simple and the images aren’t too complicated. But I also wonder if that’s because we loved them and they shaped us growing up but we aren’t aware of it, or if we look back and know that we’re intentionally shaping these children and their values/morals by giving them these treasured classics? I know that in a school setting, teachers are probably doing it intentionally. At home though, are our parents?

I’m going to the library soon. I know that 9/10 of these books will be there and I don’t need to buy my research on children’s books. But jeez louise! I’d wondered why I was always so honest, brave, unafraid, and accepting. When I was growing up, reading was held in the  highest regard. My mom would sit with us as we watched tv, reading her paperback mystery novels and painting her nails. I can’t remember her sitting in that chair without a book in her hand. When she’d yelled at me or gotten mad at something I’d done, she’d send me to my room and I distinctly remember a few times where I’d purposely place an opened book across my stomach and pretend to have fallen asleep reading it. It was almost like I wanted to shove it in her face that I was a good daughter and she’d been wrong for punishing me. I think I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, I just forgot how young it started.

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Charlotte I think I’ve posted this with you in mind before

For the love of a tree,

she went out on a limb.

For the love of the sea,

she rocked the boat.

For the love of the earth,

she dug deeper.

For the love of community,

she mended fences.

For the love of the stars,

she let her light shine.

For the love of spirit,

she nurtured her soul.

For the love of a good time,

she sowed seeds of happiness.

For the love of God,

she drew down the moon.

For the love of nature,

she made compost.

For the love of a good meal,

she gave thanks.

For the love of family,

she reconciled differences.

For the love of creativity,

she entertained new possibilities.

For the love of her enemies,

she suspended judgment.

For the love of herself,

she acknowledged her own worth.

And the world was richer for her.

Charlotte Tall Mountain (July 1, 1941 to May 6, 2006) was an artist and poet of an Iroquois Native American heritage.

I put your ashes in my room

I think in some ways I’ve come to understand the distress of a mother who loses one of her children. By that I mean also, a mother who has other children to care for.

I took a psychology class last semester and during our first lecture, my professor went on to do a short “meet and greet” in which she discussed her background and her family. It was at this point that she disclosed that she had lost her first child when he was 9 months old and she said he would be 5 now. She showed us photos of her twins who are about 3. She told us that every class she teaches, comes from a place of love. She lives her life in the shadow of her late son’s memory. I remember how that brought tears to my eyes.

Lou was not my favorite out of our pack but she definitely became my favorite. She was always the one who wanted her space and really didn’t give/receive affection the way that I was used to. Because she was sick, she’d gotten so cuddly and loving in the last few months of her life. It was a gift I wasn’t aware of until after she’d gone. I’d totally forgotten she preferred her space. For some reason, I kept remembering it as if I’d intentionally left her out. I felt guilt and horror that I’d done that to my little baby.

Before her death, I can say with total honesty that a part of my heart was fused with my dog Mookee. Her needs, her wishes, her happiness felt like it was literally a part of my own. I would look at her sleeping and I could feel warmth radiating all over my body. Whenever she got sick, I ended up feeling a little under the weather too. I’m sure it was all stress related but we had a hugely unhealthy dependency on one another. Lou’s cancer got to the point where I could no longer be that unhealthy dog mom. I became so closely linked to Lou and I rarely left her side. We had a 24/7 care schedule worked out towards the end after her first stroke. I simply did not leave the house.

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And then Lou died.

I can’t explain the mixture of grief and relief I felt. Mostly, I felt guilt and agony but there were moments where I would forget to grieve and then chastise myself because I wasn’t honoring her memory long enough. ‘How dare you enjoy this movie Ashlee. You aren’t thinking about her’ or I would get excited about finally being able to go to the grocery store and become inundated with the memory of her and wish that I was not actually there but back beside her, comforting her. I became angry with my beloved Mookee that she was so needy and wanted my love and affection. I was angry at Moo for not being Lou.

As much as I tried at first, I could not muster the same love and devotion I once felt for Mookee. It was like a balloon popped in my heart and I could not fill it up again. Even today, I still feel like I’m somehow putting on a show, acting out the parts I used to play.

It’s a little bit better now. Some time has passed. But that attachment is still lacking. I don’t know if it’s temporary or what but I do know, Lou’s passing ripped a hole in my heart. I still chastise myself for not thinking about her more. Sometimes days will go by before I remember her little face. Other days, I hear words coming out of my mouth and I’m transported back to the same times I said those things to her. It’s both constant and infrequent. I have no regrets, I did everything I could but I still miss the feeling of her ears under my palms, the sound of her nose grunts, and the look of total trust and adoration in her eyes. Mookee is never satisfied, she always wants something. I hope in time I can wrestle out this conflict. I really miss who I was before.

The craziest part is that it hasn’t even been a month since she passed. Just shy. It feels like a lifetime ago already and some part of my thinks it’s because the dog I knew died last year when her disease started catching up to her. I’ve been grieving for so long and I didn’t even realize it.

That’s the hardest part about sickness. Watching the sick. I understand now why people want their loved ones to leave them to die in peace when they get sick. All the good memories are gone. I only remember her sick. I can’t picture her walking normally anymore. I can’t remember her playing. Thank god for videos and pictures because without them, I fear I’d only ever see her deathbed in my head.

 

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I need dogs

Ever since my dogs started aging, my pops has made it his mission to recant the tales of his own furry friends. Mostly, he talks about how the heartbreak was eventually too much for him to handle and so, has never found it in his heart to make room for more pets. The duration of the stories change each time he goes through them. First, it took him six months to recover then it was six weeks. It may seem like a huge difference but I don’t think he’s wrong either way.

It’s been 10 days. The time that has passed already feels like a lifetime. We still haven’t even gotten her ashes back yet. The vet said they made a clay paw print at the crematory.

Seemingly insignificant things bring me to tears. We saw the new Avengers movie and when Vision is telling Wanda it’s okay to do what has to be done “I’m so sorry it had to be you”, I broke. I was a wet mess in that theater. My dad turned to me, confused that I would be so emotionally affected by this movie. In my defense, I cried for the last twenty minutes of Guardians of the Galaxy. Groot’s sacrifice to save his friends totally decimated me.

I started watching Grey’s Anatomy again the other day and remembered something very vital about myself. Maybe I’m still high off of volunteering at a blood bank or maybe my hormones are out of whack but I don’t think either of those are true. Watching shows like Grey’s or movies like Guardians of the Galaxy remind me why I love living. They remind me to have hope in the world and accept that bad things will also bring good things. The cycle must continue and we should laugh. Laugh a lot.

I’m still recovering from my baby’s passing but I looked at my dog today and thought for the first time in a long time “god, I love dogs”. He just looked at me with these big round eyes and sort of asked ‘what’d I do?’ And it made me laugh and I instantly felt surrounded by love. I don’t know how my dad could be so blinded by his anguish that he would close himself up like that to all the goodness that dogs bring even if they steal away parts of our hearts we’ll never get back.

I wouldn’t trade my heartbreak for anything.

Rest now, baby girl

Little Lou passed today. She ruptured something internally because of the cancer and there was nothing more we could do for her. I stayed up with her all night until my sister got home and we took her to the vet. It all happened so fast. It was so sad. She’s cried maybe a handful of times in our 10 years together. Last night, she cried a lot.

Just 7 hours ago I was still holding my little baby. I miss her so much already. Her presence is everywhere. I did the math wrong, we had her for about 10 years. 10 years she gave us, just love.

I think she sent me a dream. My sister sent me a video of me and Lou at the beach. I remember thinking in the dream, ‘See! We went to the beach, I forgot about that. We did take her places. She did feel happy.’ We were swimming in the ocean, the water was clear and warm and inviting. It was all peaceful. Lou kept getting swept up in the current and I kept saying “Lulu! What are you doing little girl?” and laughing and catching her. Finally I picked her up, she kept sliding out of my arms and rolling around my body but I smiled in the video and started walking back to shore. My legs were still knee deep in the beautiful water (that really looked more like a pool than the ocean) by the time I woke up.

From that, I realize that she felt safe with me always. She trusted me and she loved me and she was never scared because I was with her the whole time. She wasn’t afraid to die because she was in pain and it was her time. She knew I did everything I could and she didn’t feel like I cheated her out of a good life. She was happy and she loved, all the while knowing she was loved.

We aren’t a trio of little dogs anymore. We’re two.

Little Lou

My dog is dying.

That concept is really hard for me.

I know a lot of people who say their dogs are like their children and while I believe them, these dogs have been through a lot with me. For many years, they gave me the will to live. Sounds dramatic but it’s really not an understatement.

My little one is dying and that’s harder for me to grapple with than my mom’s release in less than two months. I know my little Loulou’s absence will hit me harder than my mom’s presence.

She’s got late stage breast cancer because when we found her (she was a stray), she was already so old we thought any surgery would be a risky undertaking. Plus I’ve read up on it and even if we had fixed her, she still would’ve had a high risk of cancer because she was part of a puppy mill and then abandoned on the street. After the first heat, it’s all statistics from there.

I feel guilty because she’s sort of the black sheep of the family. We have 4 dogs and 2 cats. The 2 cats and the biggest dog have their place with my parents. My sister has her little pup and I had mine. Then came Lou.

My uncle Mike named her after his crazy ex-wife and his daughter (my cousin) brought her home. My sister and I took her in the day we asked, “has she eaten today?” and he responded by throwing a raw steak on the floor. That was it.

I have the hardest part of the job now. She’s gifted me with 8 years of her life and love and now I’m her caretaker. Things wouldn’t be so stressful except one of her tumors became infected a couple months ago and she’s been in a lot of pain. Even through the pain, she was still her chipper, sweet self. As of last week, she’s had 7 seizure/strokes (the vet doesn’t differentiate, it’s the same medications either way).

Now she can’t walk or stand. Which means I hand-feed her with a spoon, take her to the bathroom, give her water on a plate, and ultimately do everything for her. I haven’t thought twice about it. Anything she needs, I’m there. I can tell she’s so depressed and it breaks my heart.

I made a clay impression of her paw. I got it shipped overnight when she had her first stroke. I wasn’t sure how long she’d make it. My sister wants to do an ink print so that we can get tattoos together. I’m onboard.

I started this post because I wanted to mention the realization that came to me about pain being universal, regardless of the issues motivating it. This experience has been excruciating and while it won’t last as long as my mom’s incarceration, it has reiterated that idea that we are all human, we all feel the same things. The spite and resentment I used to feel because of my teenage classmates threatening suicide -over what I believed were tremendously silly things to be upset over- has long since dissipated. But I think now, I question it a little more. Was I really that judgmental? I know I was angry. I’m really not that angry anymore.

I am grateful though that the stuff with my mom happened first and then all the “normal people” problems came afterwards. I mentioned in class what was happening with my dog and I had this bizarre “moment” with a girl who I thought sort of hated me. People really do want to connect to one another. Be it for egoistic reasons or not, they do and that lifted me up a lot.

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