When I was barely 22, I became a mother for the first time. The few years before, my life had been quite difficult. Between the ages of 14-20 a lot happened; my parents divorced, my sisters and I went to multiple schools, suffered multiple moves, experienced constant betrayal, parental (father) abandonment occurred and I experienced abuse, rape and assault.
One of those events could’ve been enough to throw a sheltered, entitled kid from the SF Bay Area into a life long trauma response, so maybe the list of them forced me into a state of such incredible – ‘wake up, dummy!!!’ – I actually did.
Wake up, that is.
Of late, the phrase ‘woke’ has become a big negative for some, but truly – in my own experience – waking up to our connection to everything and everyone is a good thing – as long as you consciously avoid becoming an imperious asshole. But, I digress…
Becoming a mother shocked me into what is required to give life and sustain it with the sense of complete surrender to my child’s well being, rather than my individual self. This event also changed me from a broken, traumatized human, into a fierce, curious and directed woman. In that shift, I found a deep well of spirituality I have NEVER lost. This spirituality is something which remained informative and dynamic through all the decades of my life, since then.
At the root of parenting, is compassion and humility. None of us know how to be great parents when we start, but if we remain humble and open, our children show us the way… if we so chose.
Memories of how my instincts were naturally activated when my first daughter was born rushed into my consciousness when my second born, Sarah, was completely overcome with the same instincts the moment her Gunner was born. She just went through the exact same transition I had gone through 40 years before, but my precious daughter had an enormous mine field of ‘how do I keep this child alive???!!”questions, inclusive of multiple and significant choices she & her husband had to make for Gunner to survive.
They didn’t know anything medically, but they did know Gunner AND they did know they wanted a chance for him, but ONLY if he had the possibility of having a life worth experiencing. If keeping him alive meant he would not have any of the joys of being human, but artificially hooked up to machines in order to be here… A life they DID NOT want for him.
Their love for their son was obvious from the second he was born and it was so strong, neither of them required he remain with them, while both of them were willing to do ANYTHING – if he wanted to be here. The most powerful messages they received were from their son, as each day that went by during the first week of Gunner’s life, gave them one promise after another that Gunner was fighting to be with them as much as they were fighting for him to stay alive.
Such a wondrous time; but the tears!! Oh, SO many tears and wails from our hearts due to the vast unknown in front of this little boy & the daily ups and significant downs he had. During those first weeks, his mother shared her fears and joys with me, as I was the primary person with her for the first weeks of Gunner’s life when Jacob was on Maui working.
My heart broke every time she lamented the normal joys she’d expected and couldn’t have; nursing him, cuddling with him and his papa, taking him outside to feel the sunshine, showing him off to the world, sleepless nights sitting in soft light and cooing with her perfect child… and even sadness for things she hadn’t even imagined she would miss. My heart broke with her over and over and I had to keep reminding her that he was still here and THAT ALONE, was a fucking miracle. “One step – then Another. One moment – and another” was all she could possibly do. Cry for the losses & the broken dreams… and as the tears streamed down her face, I asked her to celebrate the miracles.
She did it all.
My first night on Oahu was completely out of body and weird… Hannah and Jacob secured a pretty shitty hotel room near Waikiki Beach; the only room available on such short notice. All three of us squished into that room and went directly to sleep. As weird as it is to imagine sleeping in the same room as my daughter’s husband, I don’t think anyone blinked an eye. We were all that exhausted and frankly, sleeping hadn’t been all that easy for anyone in our family for many long nights since February 18th.
My ‘three hours ahead of this time zone’ body got me up before dawn and I decided to slip out to rustle up some coffee for everyone and do SOMETHING about the fact that I only had fluffy UGG boots to wear (remember when I mentioned earlier about my packing job?).
If you were to spend a few days with me in a metropolis, you’d see I’m not wonderful about knowing where I am. Often I’ll head in the opposite direction I’m directed to, even with GPS help. It’s curious, as I am pretty good at navigating larger areas – even vast, multi-dimensional ones, but I am utterly dreadful in cities. That morning was no different and it was so early, none of the coffee shops I had found were open yet. Giving up, I found my way to a canal and sat on a bench to call my husband. We both cried a bit, but it was SO good to hear his soothing voice that morning. Another small/huge miracle, this love I have and I believe it helped me manage my day and acclimate.
In Hawaii, there are these touristy shops selling everything a traveler may require called the ABCStore. They tend to be on every other corner, open early and late so I bought a pair of slippers (or ‘flip-flops’ as mainlanders refer to them) with the word, ALOHA, written on the sole with tropical flowers on a black background. They were $4.99, ridiculously ugly and totally sucked to walk in, but I honestly didn’t have the time to get something better. After I acquired those babies, I found some great coffee and bought three big cups to share with my Hannah and Papa Jacob. Once I found my way back to the hotel, the day launched quickly – and without food – while my feet began to blister from my new slippers. We had to get back to the hospital AND move into another hotel, where we would be staying for another week or so.
The first week of Gunner’s life was topsy turvy, all over the place. As I settled into life in a hotel, in a city, surrounded by millions of humans, my daughter stayed with her baby – day in and day out – ignoring her own physical pain, which was nothing compared to the pain of losing him at any moment. Her feet were swollen (she lamented they felt like floppy boobs), the incision hurt, her back was on fire and her heart felt like it was literally bleeding. Every day was a gift, while they brought little in the way of certainty for Gunner’s long term survival. He seemed to be handling life without a small intestine, but the prognosis was grim due to the severity of his condition.
Usually, this sort of situation occurs in premies, but after they are born not in utero and it’s often due to a birth defect or when the intestine hasn’t developed enough. What occurred was Gunner’s intestine twisted up (a ‘volvulus’) a few days before Sarah started labor. This situation caused the blood flow to his developing intestine to stop, which created ‘necrotizing enterocolitis’. Completely rare in utero and often not detected in already born babies, who typically die of sepsis because the symptoms are throwing up and diarrhea, both of which can be considered ‘normal’ behavior for an infant. In the cases where the parents aren’t seeing the symptoms for what they are, the baby will die from sepsis very quickly.
In most ways, Sarah and Jacob’s journey into birth was a boon to Gunner’s survival. Had she not given birth as early as she did, the dead cells of his intestine would most certainly have caused him to die prior to birth and possibly impacted Sarah’s health as well. At the end of her pregnancy she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, causing baby to get bigger, faster. This was also a good thing as Gunner was very well developed at birth, even though he was many weeks from being fully gestated.
Still, his situation was presenting to the doctors as ‘unsurvivable’ and those first days of his life were incredibly difficult. On one hand everyone was elated that he was still alive. On the other, his tenuous hold on life was significant, especially according to the specialists. They didn’t mince their words about his situation and his parents were constantly thrown around emotionally with the grim reality that their boy may not ever live anything close to normal, would be unable to take food in by his mouth, may never swim in the ocean, play with other kids or ever be without a backpack full of intravenous food 24/7.
Sarah and Jacob had to listen to all these dire prognoses from knowledgable and experienced experts AND kept making decisions considering what they were being told with their knowledge of their boy and HIS desire to live and thrive. To say they were incredible, is quite an understatement. They showed us all what an obvious exercise is faith looks like.
Aunty Hannah & Gunner in his first days of life. Snuggling.
During the first surgery Gunner had, the surgeon removed all of his small intestine and sewed what was left (called ‘stomas’) to the outside of his body. Generally, the surgery conducted where the two stomas are connected inside the gut doesn’t happen for a few months, or 6-9 weeks post birth. In this case, the lead surgeon told us, during an impromptu visit outside the hospital, that he kept thinking about Gunner and feeling like he should reconnect what was left of Gunner’s intestine right away. He considered it a way to take advantage of the natural growth little babies do between gestational weeks 35-40.
Even though Gunner was no longer in utero, this growth could occur, or at least this is what the surgeon kept thinking about. Maybe doing this surgery now would help Gunner develop a bit more small intestine… and wasn’t it worth a try?
As the quiet grandmother, providing solace, meals and running errands for the family, I simply watched Gunner’s father urge the doctors to ‘think outside the box’ for his son. While Sarah was keeping Gunner alive through presence and touch, she was also racked with fear about his situation and wasn’t always capable of the same process as her husband; mentally. Jacob listened and respected the specialists, but also challenged them to do things specifically for his son, not what was ‘normally’ done.
Nothing about Gunner’s situation was typical or ‘normal’ and I wonder whether those dialogs inspired the doctors to take unheard of or tested actions for our Gunner. Looking back, it seemed these choices have made a big difference in his survival and current condition. At least this is how I see it.
We will NEVER know the how’s or why’s of Gunner’s ability to thrive in the face of such an intense physical condition, but certainly every step of the way the medical intervention and energetic support (prayers, belief and faith) of hundreds of family and extended community members, worked together to help this little guy, who clearly wanted to live.
Mid week of Gunner’s life, it was decided to conduct a 2nd surgery on his little body to connect the two ends of his intestine. The medical team scheduled surgery #2 for that Friday. So we soldiered on…
Sarah and Jacob were a united front and we all followed suit.
One moment. One step. One hurdle at a time – then another.
The night of February 18th was a long one. Initially, I was full of elation with the arrival of my grandson, Gunner. Then I had complete, gut wrenching sorrow at the news he could not live. The bulk of that night was sleepless for me and I left my ranch early in the morning to catch a flight out to Oahu.
Although I had already booked a flight to Maui for February 23rd, I bought another ticket for the next flight out of Flagstaff without canceling the first one. No time to do that. At first, I wasn’t sure where to go; Maui or Oahu. If our little wonder boy was going to die, shouldn’t I head to Maui to be with my family there and wait for Sarah, Jacob and Gunner’s casket? Ultimately, Chelsea and Hannah, who were already on Oahu, asked me to fly there to be with them. They believed it best for me to be with Sarah as quickly as possible; she would need me.
Usually I have something to write on when I travel, but the packing I did for this trip was abysmal (to put it mildly). In addition to not bringing the right shoes, clothes or any of the items I’d already been excited about bringing to Maui for Gunner’s birth (presents, cards, scarves… crystals and sage), I neglected to bring my notebook. All I had was Diana Gabaldon’s latest book, “Go Tell The Bees That I’m Gone” (which must’ve weight 20 pounds) which I somehow thought I would be able to read. The shit we do while in shock, is shocking! Still, it did provide some beautiful empty pages for me, so I wrote to a little boy I wasn’t going to meet.
Did I mention how scared I was? The idea I would only be able touch child who was no longer alive and never see his vitality – his soul – in form really frightened me. How would I possibly keep it together for my daughter? I knew I was traumatized but also, I realized I was very, very scared.
Writing was soothing, acting as a balm for my tattered heart on the first flight out of the desert. & then again on the long flight from Arizona to Hawaii. Over the decades of my life, writing has helped me process emotions which seemed too hard to manage. For the entire time I wrote, I felt I was actually speaking with Gunner, feeling him and ‘knowing’ he was right next to me, or more honestly within me. My primary message to him was to do what was best for him and I would still love him and remember his spirit. Writing like that gave me a tangible glimmer of faith in the process we found ourselves in. Somehow we would – I would – grow from this suffering. Some way, I would.
The man sitting next to me asked me a few times, “What are you writing?” I told him I was writing a love letter to my new grandson, Gunner. Tears fell for me, but he didn’t seem troubled. He said he would pray. It was hard to keep writing through my tears, but I did.
Jacob and Sarah, Gunner’s parents just a year before they conceived our boy.
“February 19, 12:30 pm MT – Gunner, you were born yesterday and you forgot something you need here! Your body is mostly perfect, but for the small intestine. I’m talking with Source about this, in case we can somehow make the oversight of that – um, right. I know honey, it’s a long shot, but we were all so happy you were finally here – it’s really hard to say goodby already. Your Tutu (that’s me, this time) is really feeling very human and I’ve been crying because I just wanted you here – so MUCH. We all do; a whole big family of weird ones. Seems you’d fit in easily! Whatever is the very best for you, I will accept, but I AM saying – if you can stay with us and have a fair shot at being a healthy boy – I hope you can. We already love you A WHOLE LOT! …
“2:15 MT – Gunner!! I just talked with Aunty Chelsea. She told me things about you that are, quite frankly – FUCKING MIRACULOUS! Even the doctors are excited – I mean, who doesn’t LOVE miracles?! So, they told us you couldn’t survive, even for one night. But, you aren’t just surviving; you’re peeing, breathing on your own and making them (those doctors) AMAZED! Your mama, my Sarah is with you and your papa Jacob is too. They are fighting with you, kid! So, I’ve been able to stop that ache in my heart and I’m glad. Thank you for staying and doing your best … and listen; even a few days of you will be a gift. But, get this! Even though it won’t be easy – AT ALL – who knows what science will do! Five years go by and MAYBE you have a big surgery, but it could make life really possible buddy!
“6:32 MT – Well Gunner, I’m crying here and there, so I wonder – How are you? Are you still with Mama & Papa while your Tutu flies like a bird to see you? I’m sitting next to people who live in Houston, TX, but they are originally from China. I told them about you (because they saw me writing this letter on my book – and crying a bit), but I couldn’t tell them too much. I guess I’m a little selfish and don’t want to share with anyone… My teacher, Vicki who I felt to reach out to when I got the news of your troubles, she and her friend Jonathon, both astrologers – like me – looked at your chart. After all the years of being an astrologer, I have never seen one like yours! They said not to get my hopes up but medical intervention could play a big part in your survival! Also, 2 hours, 16 hours & then 10 days into your life will bring new information. So… I’m almost to your island little boy and in the meantime, I’m doing what I do in the energy field and feeling grateful for your little self. I love you more than I can say.
“7:14 MT – Hey Gunner! It occurs to me how you changed me today.
One – life is too short to be unkind. Two – let the tears flow while I find grace in the losses.”
My flight arrived late, due to God knows what, but there I was in a long metal can filled with humans, for a while as we taxied to the gate. It was so late, Chelsea had already flown back to Maui. Hannah picked me up alone, and I honestly can’t remember if we cried or not, but I was SO GLAD to see my baby girl… So, so glad and I held her tight. (Must’ve cried… )
The smell of Oahu is the same as any city I’ve been to. Flying into Maui is like flying into a garden of flowers… Just that stark reality alone, felt like a harbinger of what the next few weeks would be for me. As we drove to the hospital where Sarah was, Hannah filled me in on what had occurred in the past 7 hours.
Oh my GOD!! Prayers being answered has usually been a multi year process. This was hours!!
As Hannah had left the hospital, our Gunner was being held, skin to skin with my darling Sarah!
The common desire we all have is we want peace in our lives; physically and emotionally. Because of that desire, we tend to shy away from pain and suffering, yet sometimes shit happens and you find yourself in the middle of an emotional and physical nightmare.
This was my experience a few months back. At the time, I realized how quickly the soul steps in, rallying to support you when you are shocked into a reality you can’t fathom.
As my daughter’s new boy was whisked off to another island in the Hawaiian archipelago, she was prone in a hospital bed with a huge incision across her lower abdomen and numb from the neck down. Even though she is an adult, my mother’s heart was lamenting the nature of her struggle and wished with all my being I could do SOMETHING. The only action I could take, from 3000 miles and an ocean away, was be with her energetically.
Some call it prayer, some ask for God’s intervention. Me… I called on the power of my love and all the Universal energy available to us, to do whatever they could to help her.
As Rob and I unpacked the car and I went about getting a flight for the next day to Hawaii, we were distracted with what was happening to the extreme. Given we could do nothing practical, we set about calming ourselves and putting things away, making some dinner and I googled; ‘bruised abdomen in newborn’. A futile endeavor… There was nothing.
Have you ever found yourself going in circles, unable to settle and just moving for the sake of action of some kind? That was me for hours, while my phone pinged and rang with news from 6 pm to midnight… Every step of the way, we were informed about what was happening at the hospital. They were taking Jacob on the flight. Gunner was admitted. They were prepping him for surgery. He was in surgery. We would know what the next steps would be soon. All of us thinking he would be fine, while fearing there was something more in store for us…
And then I got the worst text I’ve ever received in my life around 1:00 am which read, “SOS, he’s not going to make it”.
In our little house, in the middle of absolutely no where an old grandma got news of her newest grandson’s impending death. I threw the phone on the couch and howled like a crippled animal, then crumpled on the floor.
This couldn’t be happening. My beautiful daughter’s only desire for most of her life had been given to her. We were all elated as everything had progressed perfectly. Until that moment… Her dream of being a mother was being ripped away the same day it had been realized.
Jacob had been waiting at the Kapiolani Children’s Hospital for news from the surgeons operating on Gunner. Once they opened his perfect little body up, the display of necrotic tissue in front of them was shocking in how extensive it was. There was no medical reason for what they saw but Gunner’s small intestine had twisted about two days before, cutting off blood flow to his intestine and killing the tissue. The damage was so extensive, the surgeon came out of the operating room to ask Gunner’s father what he wanted them to do.
They could simply put the necrotic tissue back, close him up and make him comfortable OR cut the bad stuff out and stitch the ends to the outside of his body and make him comfortable. Either way, the necrosis was so bad they believed the infection had gone further into Gunner’s system and he would not survive. This is what my son in law was told.
All at once, this perfect, much wanted, just born child, would die all in the same day. Jacob asked the surgeon to take out the dead tissue and make him comfortable…
Crying, all alone and in so much pain, Jacob called his wife to tell her the news. “Sarah, he’s not gonna make it.” Their boy would not live, but they would make him comfortable.
Then the surgeon could be heard through the phone, speaking with Jacob sitting in the waiting room, while Sarah was on the line. “The likelihood of life without his intestine is grim and anyway, usually this level of necrosis develops quickly into septic shock and we are unable to resolve that. Do you want us to keep him alive so Sarah can get here, or make him comfortable and let him die?” They offered no indication he had a chance of survival. Not one sliver of hope for these new parents.
Sarah and Jacob discussed how they didn’t want to keep him alive for their sake; to soothe their own pain if that meant he would live a horrible life. Instead, they asked the surgeons to keep him alive until Sarah was able to hold him one more time. She wanted to say goodbye to her precious, delicious boy. Decision made, they ended the call.
Then Sarah looked up to the nurse who was hovering over her and asked, “what am I supposed to do? My baby’s dying.” The nurse told her this, “You take one moment, one step, one thing at a time….“
So Sarah told her sister to help her get up and leave the hospital. She was going to get on the next plane to Oahu to be with her husband to say goodbye to Gunner. The staff at Maui Memorial said she couldn’t leave the hospital until she peed so she managed that and walked out of the hospital. Only a mere 12 hours post op, Sarah was in shock but determined. She had to get to her husband and son.
Hannah, my youngest daughter, got her out of the hospital and my youngest son, Tyler, picked them up and brought his sisters to the oldest sibling, Chelsea’s house, where everyone was waiting for news. The whole family was gathered at Chelsea’s; husbands, wives, their littles and Sarah’s siblings.
As Sarah came in, she was calm, in shock, clear as a bell, and strong as fuck, “I will keep going. I owe that to my son”. For years, Sarah struggled with addiction and our worst fear was she would relapse back into that nightmare, but her resolve indicated something different. She told them all she intended to use the memory of her son to rise above and told them all, with perfect clarity, “I can do hard things, so I will do this now.”
At some point they called me and pleaded with me to get to Oahu. Sarah would need help, as would Jacob and they thought that was the best plan, so I scrambled to get my flight arranged and finished up packing. My heart was broken, my confusion overwhelming and the sense of unreality pervaded everything. This could not be happening.
Sarah was afraid to go to sleep because she didn’t want to lose the support of the shock she was in, but given the state of her own body, she laid on the couch with Hannah, drifting in and out of sleep, murmuring this could break her husband. She thought she would lose him too.
As morning approached on Maui, preparations for getting on a plane to Oahu began. Sarah began to take things out of the suitcase she’d packed for the birth… Any thing in there which was something for a long term stay; her toothbrush, baby blanket, even clothes, were all removed. ‘I’m going to bring home a dead baby, so I don’t need this shit. Then she and her two sisters got to the airport to get on the 6:00 am flight to Oahu.
Sarah refused the wheelchair and limped down the long terminal to the gate.
On February 18th, 2022 Gunner James was born. His parents, Sarah & Jacob, had tried for 8 years to get pregnant, surviving through numerous and grueling IVF treatments that gave them several pregnancies, but the same number of miscarriages. They had one more embryo and this was their last chance.
To say he was welcomed into his parents’ lives – is a massive understatement. Yet, we (the women of our family) were scared… with no reason. We had a sinking feeling we couldn’t shake, couldn’t discuss, couldn’t fathom and yet, we had trepidation. No obvious cause, as Sarah’s pregnancy was straightforward and all the ultrasounds and tests were perfect. Aside from late in her pregnancy when she developed gestational diabetes, there were no complications.
As Sarah’s mother, I knew her desire to be a mother began when she was still a child herself. To see her go through so much difficulty getting pregnant tore me apart, but I had to manage that on my own. We are very different sorts of humans. I am an intuitive healer and astrologer and my daughter is pragmatic, practical and self proclaimed rule follower (when it makes sense).
We love each other deeply, but often didn’t fully understand each other. We struggled relating about her desire to have a family because I had been TOO fertile in comparison. If I had any issues with fertility, it was the opposite of her challenges making me unable to perceive just how difficult her journey was. That and other factors troubled our exchange as mother and daughter, but we respected each other, she helped me wrap my heart around her situation, we talked things through – ALWAYS – and our love was a gentle wave we have always ridden together. There is room for differences, but only when everyone involved creates space and remains kind inside it.
A few years ago, I had a clear understanding about one reason WHY they couldn’t get pregnant; which wasn’t scientific, but energetic. To both their credit, Sarah and Jacob understood what I ultimately shared with them and how to overcome it (which they followed), while they continued to use medicine and test tubes to create their child. With an abundance of courage, they implanted the last 3 saved embryos they had left… and Gunner’s first cells began to grow within her body. In 16 weeks, they announced to the world they were expecting a child!
At the turn of 2022, I made plans to fly to Maui in early March to spend time with Sarah while she was still pregnant and I would then be close by for the birth.When February rolled around, my husband and I made plans to drive to Tehachapi; about 6 hours drive from our ranch in AZ. After two years of being cooped up – as COVID forced all of us to do – it was our maiden voyage into civilization together. We were excited for our road trip and took our time driving there.
During our drive we got out for a walk with our Salukis, out in the deep wilds of Southern California, when I ‘saw’ something trying to hurt my grandson; punching him in his tummy. It felt like this ‘thing’ wanted to kill our boy, so I turned to my husband and told him as much. We both immediately & automatically sent protective love and it seemed as though my system worked on getting whatever this was, away from my beloveds.
In truth, I’d hoped I was just seeing things.
Two days later, we were driving home and Sarah called, saying she felt weird. She just wasn’t sure what was happening that day and promised to keep me close. Eventually it was clear she was in labor.
There was still over a month before Gunner’s due date which was concerning, but we were alsoexcited. As the day progressed, the calls kept coming in from Sarah. Something wasn’t right and they kept having to relax their ideals for the birth, surrendering to more and more intervention. Then, after hours of labor, the contractions began to put Gunner into distress, so it was decided to do a C-section… THE OPPOSITE of what they wanted, but they both felt it was best for their baby. Still, this little man, born so early was a big 6 pound boy with a healthy pair of lungs on him!! Everything seemed fine. He was strong and he was BORN!!
Within minutes though, the doctors noticed significant bruising on his lower abdomen… which may be a minor issue, but not wanting to take any chances, they whisked him out of his mother’s arms and into x-ray.
Sarah reflected on the one perfect moment she had when she heard his first cry; a split second of joy and knowing her dreams were coming true, engulfed her heart. She cried bitter, sorrowful tears, as she told me this recollection, but also remembered how soothing and magical it was to hold him for the first time. Gunner’s first cry gave her the briefest of seconds where she knew all was well. She thought to herself, “He’s here… everything will be fine!!”
But there was a huge problem…
Within a few hours, it was decided that Gunner needed to be airlifted to Oahu where the hospitals were better equipped to diagnose what was going on and manage it, if it was serious.
Jacob remained near Gunner, while Sarah was prone, just out of surgery and still numb from the neck down. The realization that her child would be taken away from her and FLOWN to another island and they wouldn’t take anyone else on the helicopter was a staggering proposition to them both. Their tiny human would be taken from the only voices he would recognize … and things just kept happening.
For several hours, the hospital worked to get a flight for Gunner. Once they were situated and at the last minute, the transport team offered to bring Jacob with them. Such an enormous relief!Sarah couldn’t move, but Gunner would have his papa with him.
One miracle and another, peppered in with one trauma followed by another. We were all on the roller coaster of our lives, especially my daughter and her husband.
Gunner James being transported to hospital in Oahu
From 11 am, HI time on, the phone was always buzzing. Our big family were all communicating via text and calls, while the local Maui Ohana were busy gathering up stuff for the little family, while one sister stayed with Sarah in the hospital. Rob and I arrived home and we never stopped praying. Things felt really otherworldly for me, as though time was standing still and rushing by all at once.
Once home, we settled into our normal evening routine & I pulled out my suitcase so I could get ready to go meet my new grandson, only to have our lives and hearts completely shattered.
Not sure where to start this. My heart is so heavy, yet in a way I was prepared for this day. How does one prepare for the unthinkable? Time & awareness were my tools for this preparation. We knew our Red dog was suffering and we were fighting for his life to continue, yet it didn’t. He died on Earth Day.
It’s taken me a few days to settle into this reality, even though I was right there when he died. Just me and a few strangers were witness to his simply falling over and dying.
Death is so final in this physical reality. The core of physical life depends on the heart to pump and the breath of life to course through the little body, or the heart of that life leaves. The soul ascends into non-physical and all that’s left is the shell of the body. A beloved body, but it’s no longer alive.
Just a few years ago, our other Saluki, Mahina died suddenly. Her heart stopped while she was sleeping. My husband woke up with her in his arms, but she was gone. Her warm little body had gone cold. We thought that was enough suffering for one family, until we stumbled onto more when we found out that Red’s heart was double the size it should be this past February. We did all the medical and nutritional protocols to keep him alive, but we had only two more months with him. Still, we felt like he was going to survive for a while longer, even though the prognosis was grim. Dogs are experts at hiding their maladies. Unlike us humans who revel in our weaknesses and wear them like a badge of honor, animals do the opposite.
It’s normal to go through the “could’a, should’a, would’a” scenario of his last moments. For me it’s been, “If I’d only turned left and gone home, but no… I had to stop and walk him around at the Ghost Ranch.” Or, if he’d just stayed home and I remained on the road with our little Madeline, who had gone into heat. His instincts would naturally force a boy into a frenzy of love for her & put unwarranted strain on his already compromised thumper.
But, no… it was his time to go.
My consolation prize is that he went out smiling. He was looking up at me, expectant and loving… walking around the little museum at that ranch where Georgia O’Keefe had lived years ago. He wanted to hump me and I snuggled him, rather than allow for that activity. Took his head in my hands and kissed him between the eyes, then turned away for a moment and he fell over, right there and died. I held him in those moments, disbelieving what was obvious, hoping he’d return and it was just a seizure he was having. Still, in those suspended moments, I knew it was his death I was witnessing. That image is etched in my heart and haunts me now.
Rob & Red, a few days after our Mahina died
Just moments before, he was warm and vital, being my boy, my boy dog. He had this way of prancing next to you, while he looked up at your face. He had just done that with me outside the museum. So full of life and even though we both knew he was compromised, he was totally happy.
When Mahina died, Red’s heart took a terrible hit. She was his girl, his companion, his everything. Much like Rob and his relationship with Mahina. Our ranch is named after her; Mahina O’hana U’i, or “Beautiful Moon Family” … Now, maybe I should name it the Red Moon Family… but I digress. Red is now with her, running after celestial hares. Running like the wind.
Over the past several months, his ability to be himself disappeared. His days were spent lolling on the bed, struggling to breathe some days. He was often listless and quiet; not himself. Not the strong, capable athlete he’d always been, but we fought for him to live with daily medicine, herbs, special food, (literally shoved down his throat) and plenty of filtered water… And of course, constant love. One or the other of us would just hang out with him, while he rested.
Obviously — for the long term, that wasn’t a way for him to live. Our efforts gave Red and both of us, just a few more weeks together. God, we soaked it up! Every walk was meaningful. Every good day was celebrated. Every time he seemed more himself, we were joyous and so hopeful that he would live a few more years.
“I have found that it is the small everyday deed of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” ~ Gandalf (J.R.R. Tolkien ~ The Hobbit)”
If you listen, you can hear the sun rise. First there’s a sound like a breath, then a pure, sustained bell tone that fills the air for a moment… then it’s gone. Me, I’d never heard that sound before, until the day I did and it was a day like other days, other than I was asking for help — silently asking.
Could be that the sudden shift in my life had prompted it, or maybe it was just time to wake up. I’ll never know, but will always recall that sensation of grace… and I’m grateful for it right now.
It started when I lost my job. My kids were all raised and we were ready for a change, but fear battered my heart anyway. Looking back, it was the panic that caught me up short and shoved me to my knees. After years of being aligned to simple, daily rituals of honoring the unseen, I began to relate with IT, like a lover.
The little things that had always filled my days, started to become more poignant. The touch of my lover’s eyes on me, my granddaughter’s hand reaching out to me with her sunny grin. My son’s hug when I walked into his home, while his wife offered me her love, attended by her beautiful smile. Their littlest boy, squirming around on that self-made scoot of his — one leg bent on the floor, the other foot planted flat and pulling him forward. These moments were repeatedly in my life, but I started seeing them & savoring this new sensation that urged me to — “feel that”. It felt like I started to get punctuation marks in a life that had previously been run on sentences and readied me for what I’m living right now
When you raise children, life is a constant blur. There’s little time for sleep, much less self-reflection. But, once they’re grown and moved on, you are left with only yourself. It’s the one job where you know you’ve done well when the object of your life’s focus, leaves you.
Such a brave thing, being a good mother. There are no perks to the job, much less pay or pension, but we keep on doing it. Populating the world with our offspring, filling them with our ceaseless love and attention, and shouldering the blame if they become messed up adults. But it offers a great deal to the construction of a deeply rooted person. Mothering does. The job prepares you for heartache and joy and makes life meaningful.
Full of these ponderings, my current condition and my past endeavors, I started up the car and made my way out the gate and down the dirt road towards civilization. When we first moved here I thought how far away from anything it was and how perfect. The remote nature of it was flawless, yet difficult. We had to be more organized about things and couldn’t risk forgetting something while in town. The long drive offers me a place where little thinking occurs and the scenery and vast expanse of nature fills my eyes and anchors somewhere in my heart. Today it’s a respite from what’s happening.
There’s little time I have to spend away from home and this store holds little nourishment for me, in a practical sense. The liquor aisle, then the bakery catches none of my attention, but they are both adjacent to the wall of dairy products. The hum of the refrigerator’s motors keeping everything cold seems loud to me; I notice that as I grab some crème for tomorrow’s coffee. Then on towards the area where I can get some meat for my dogs and my heart does a lurch. My beautiful boy dog is sick and I become aware of the ache in my body; the potential that he will die sooner than I’m ready to say goodbye to him.
One day he seemed fine; just a nasty cough. Then a brief visit to his vet to find that he’s on death’s door. His heart is too big and he’s struggling to get every breath. My athletic, racing, perfect boy is no longer that way.
Now, everything is meaningful. The tilt of his head and those warm, trusting eyes looking at me with such care. He could always tell me things, but he was so quiet about the lurking danger in his chest. His hid his condition too well, but this is by design. Any animal isn’t going to show you he’s vulnerable. Now that I know, all his reserves have dropped. He’s telling me he wants to stay with us. He’s asking me to help him.
The prognosis is now guarded, where he was so close to death that day in the doctor’s office we left the office in shock. God, I was so ignorant to what he was suffering from, I asked the vet, “so this means we shouldn’t breed him?” He looked at me like I was completely mad, but I didn’t realize that he was telling me our boy may not survive the week.
Everything became laser focused in my world and the months of calibrating and concentrating now made sense. On some level, I knew there was a problem and I was prepared for this. On some deep current — I knew.
All those years of mothering rushed in to greet this outrageous turn and I stepped directly into a new life — again. This time I could direct my energy towards giving this beautiful boy a few more months, or years (if I could manage a few miracles). And so far, we are winning. When the morning sun sings her song to me, I prepare for another day of tending to my perfect, loving, trusting Saluki.
Tragedy can offer grace. The truth of something doesn’t mean we’re done. It can bring something wonderful. Presence can rush in and everything becomes precious. Kindness and love are all that keeps me from despair. That darkness that lurks right beside me is being thwarted. Not because I don’t know it’s there, but because I refuse to let it take over.
As the sun comes up, sending her melodic message of the day’s dawn, I respond. There is no dark switch in my living room, or in my heart. The light will always fill an area, so today, I choose to turn it on again…