Life, Love, Memory, Personal Development

What Remains

We traveled familiar roads on a cool and overcast December morning.

Familiar turns and landmarks rolled past, but the mobile home parks and three-story mansions with blinking Christmas lights, the schools and bank branches displaying their vacation times or holiday hours, the farmland that gave way to even more sprawling farmland all seemed little more than a blur as we drove on, the memories close behind as we caught up to what we’d lost.

In the backseat, Grandma shared stories of people I’d never met and murmured recollections of the way things were. In the front, I shared glances and knowing smiles with Dad as we got lost in our own thoughts, our own reminiscence.

We pulled into the long driveway of Fort Indiantown Gap and drove past section after section of fallen soldiers and retired heroes, their resting places celebrated with wreaths and flowers and holiday bows.

“Are you ok?” I quietly asked Dad as our eyes scanned the section numbers for the one we all knew too well.

“Yeah,” he said in a way that I knew he was.

We parked on the side of the drive and stepped out into the cold that seemed to cling to the air; a group of bicyclists and other mourning families congregating near their own loved ones. We walked among the headstones claiming love and loss — World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korea…Beloved Husband, father, brother, son.

May you rest in peace.

Grandpa’s was easy to spot. Two summers ago, I’d found peace in this spot, when peace seemed to only slip through my grasp as I tried to hold on tighter. I’d been lost then, the last time I had visited this place. I’d been lost and alone and searching for something I couldn’t name…

Self. Happiness. Love. Understanding.

Faith.

It was a time when I’d wondered if I would ever believe in love again…To believe that love would matter, to believe that love was worthwhile when all the prayers were left unanswered, when hope seemed to waver, and when goodbyes seemed nothing but permanent, punctuated by a never-ending heartache and wishes for the impossible.

Once upon a time, I feared the inevitable and wished for the impossible. I thought that, somehow, if I held on, maybe it would hurt less. I thought, maybe, by keeping the memories alive, I would somehow still feel close to them. I didn’t want to forget them — I didn’t want to believe that a life could be so fragile and so fickle, that someone could be so easily forgotten.

Once upon a time, I had to say goodbye.

But it wasn’t until this December morning that I finally began to understand what that meant…

We stood in silence for a moment, trying to shake the cold as a few flurries fell from the sky; I put my arm around my dad and pressed my head against his shoulder, watching as Grandma placed a Christmas wreath against the headstone, this simple gesture saying, “you’re still remembered, you’re always loved.”

We hurried back to the warmth of the car, silent prayers in our hearts and smiles on our faces as we started the long drive back home, laughing and teasing each other as only family can and creating another memory to keep in the secret spaces of the heart.

* * * * *

Hours later, the windshield wipers on my friend’s car worked in steady rhythm to clear the soft snow that fell from the evening’s winter sky. As passing headlights and streetlamps illuminated the car, I couldn’t help but peak beneath the bandage on my left wrist, happiness bubbling into laughter as we joked and I leaned back against the headrest, almost in disbelief at the events of the night.

It had all been planned, but I didn’t realize how profound it all felt until this moment. As my eyes traced the symbol that was now a permanent fixture of who I am, I understood what a turning point this was.

 

Years in the wanting, my first tattoo. A heart with the infinity symbol.

 

It’s been the last piece in this journey as I get back to who I am, who I’m proud to be. It’s the reminder that time heals in so many forms, that to hold on, you have to let go, that life will be filled with hellos and goodbyes and nothing can keep the heart from hurting, but that just means the loving was strong.

It’s having faith in the knowledge that, in this life, there is love and there is loss, but in the end, love is what remains.

Love is what will always remain.

 

Love Infinity...
Life, Love, Memory

Gather Up Your Tears, Love

There’s a boy here in town who says he’ll love me forever,
who would have thought forever could be severed…

Gather up your tears, keep ’em in your pocket
save them for a time when you’re really gonna need them.
– The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”

 

He wrote me recently, a brief, quick note saying that his grandmother had found a picture of us from high-school prom, a memory that made him write three words that tore right into me: “I miss you.”

It’s at a time when I’m facing my own nostalgia — missing not my ex-boyfriend, and not us, but those moments, those feelings, those memories that have made me grow up with fond ideas of love, making me believe that, in its strength, anything is possible, that you’re never alone, making me feel lucky that I found it once and certain I’ll find it again.

When now I wonder if I will find it again…

It’s a time when my armor is down, my heart open for the wounding, a time when I wonder if I’ll ever be able to make those memories with another or if I’ll have to settle for this contentment, when happiness feels just out of reach and maybe never truly within my grasp, though there are moments, though there are smiles.

My neighbor recently went through his own breakup, and as I sit on the porch and he leans on his fence, he talks and I listen. Because that’s what I do…that’s why I’m here, right? And my heart breaks, because I know that pain of trying to fix things and realizing how  all can fall apart so easily, questioning if you deserve even a small taste of what love is, not understanding how you can feel so much and how that can’t be returned. And that’s who I am, isn’t it?

He misses her, my neighbor says, and my heart goes out to him and I nod. I know. And as he goes back inside, I pull out my phone and read over the message again, a message I can’t bring myself to delete.

And I think, yes, I miss being missed.

I miss having someone there to comfort me during thunderstorms…or even during my own internal storms. I miss having someone to laugh with across the dinner table, someone to cook dinner for. I miss the spontaneity that comes from being a part of something.

I miss being a part of something.

And while I can take care of myself — while I’ve proven that to myself time and again — I can’t help but miss being taken care of, can’t help thinking, “I don’t want to have to take care of myself anymore.” But no, it’s not only that…I miss having someone want to take care of me. Someone to listen in earnest to all of these emotions shooting through my heart; someone to wordlessly wrap their arms around me and pull me against them, so I can hear their heartbeat, so that it calms my own; someone to brush my hair away from my face, to cup my cheek in their hand as the tears threaten to fall as they tell me that it will all be alright.

It will all be alright, they’ll say. They’re not going anywhere.

And for the first time in a long time, I’ll let myself believe that it’s real, that it’s true.

I can’t help wanting to feel safe, when everything feels so uncertain.  I can’t help wanting to feel needed, wanted, when I feel so helplessly forgotten. I can’t help thinking that I’ve just started loving myself again, so when will it be possible to believe that someone can love me, too?

And I can’t help thinking that of everything in this life, the one thing that eludes me — the one thing I long for the most — is something I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for, something that I’m a little bit afraid of because I’ve spent so much time convincing myself that, while I may want love, I don’t need it.

Maybe it’s a weakness to want to feel like I’m someone special to someone special, when it takes just a visit or a phone call — or a simple, three-line message that says someone was thinking of you…

Someone was missing you.

Maybe it’s wrong to think I don’t have love in my life when love surrounds me every single day, a love that I’m so grateful for, a love I would never wish to replace.

And maybe I’m so selfish to want something more.

But I want something more.

I was something more. And tonight, I’m reminded that I had someone who loved me once; I had someone I loved.

Tonight, I’m reminded that I meant something once; I meant enough to be missed.

Tonight…I miss what’s missing.

 

Life, Love, Memory, Personal Development

You Will Not Be Alone

(Now Comes The Night)

And when the day has all but ended
And our echo starts to fade
No, you will not be alone then
And you will not be afraid
No, you will not be afraid…

My memories of her aren’t as strong as I wish they could be, but I remember enough to miss her everyday — every single day — and to wish that she were here now, to wish that I could have really had the chance to know her and love her as I could have loved her then, as I love her now.

What I’m left with are scattered memories and overheard stories, moments suspended in time. And yet, she has had such a huge impact on my life…I wish that she could know that. I wish that she could see me now and know that part of who I am is because of her.

I wish…

Oh, there’s so much I wish

My grandmother was the strongest and gentlest woman I’ve ever known, but I didn’t realize that until years after her passing. The woman I knew had always been fragile through age and illness, and while, as children she helped to take care of us, there came a point when the roles reversed, when it was us who made sure she didn’t hide bologna sandwiches in her dresser drawers instead of eating them, when we put on the hockey game in her room and stayed to keep company, when we visited the nursing home when she couldn’t come home from the hospital after falling.

When her memory began to fade.

When she began to fade
.

And when we faded from her.

We watched as she confused my brothers for her brothers, as she confused me for my mom. We held her hand as she cried for her mother; we held each other and cried when she no longer recognized us.

Even now, years later, the heartache leaves me breathless — the pain still fresh, the love still strong, and the overwhelming sorrow unlike anything I’ve ever known…Not even watching my grandfather turn from the strong, hearty man to one weakened by illness, not even being there as my three beloved dogs died within a year and a half from each other. Not even those heartaches can do it justice, though heartaches they still remain.

Maybe it’s because I’ve made peace with everything but this. Maybe it’s because I had a chance with Grandpa…A chance to love him not because I had to, as a child is supposed to, but to love him as an adult chooses.

And when we sat with him in hospice, my brother and I alone and standing beside his bed, when I reached for his weakened, wrinkled hand and told him I loved him, when I heard his whispered, “I love you, too,” I knew that he heard me. He knew we were there — and maybe he didn’t feel so forgotten, maybe he didn’t feel so alone.

Maybe it’s why, despite my dad’s tear-filled protests and well-meaning, I refused to listen and hopped in the backseat anyway when we had to drive the dogs to the vet, expected yet unprepared each time, when I held their head in my lap, stroking their fur as they raised their eyes to my tearstained and reddened cheeks, as if repeating back to me that it was all OK, as if echoing that they knew how much they were loved, as if knowing we were there and they weren’t alone.

When the fog has finally lifted
From my cold and tired brow
No, I will not leave you crying
And I will not let you down.

No, I will not let you down…

My grandma was alone. Mom and I had visited her in the nursing home that afternoon — I was in the car with Mom when she received the call that Grandma wasn’t doing well, and though she tried to fight me, I’m her and dad’s daughter and know how to play the stubborn game, too. I wasn’t about to leave her, not now, not when we’d already been through too much, not when this was her own mother, and not when I feared the same scenario that only seems inevitable…

Not when I fear losing my mom — my very best friend — someday, too.

We said our goodbyes without saying goodbye.

We left the nursing home knowing it would be for the last time, but neither of us willing to voice it.

I was in bed when the phone rang that night. My brothers and parents and I gathered in the living room, the darkness outside contrasting the warm glow of the overhead track lights inside.

My mom and dad shared memories of the woman she was — the woman before my grandmother. Stories of how she was a trendsetter and New York City career-woman, stories of how she bought a house on her own for her father and brothers and sisters and their families to move into; stories of how she married my late grandfather despite a fierce independence.

Stories I had heard a thousand times before…

Stories I’ll give anything to hear over and over again.

If only to have her here again for those few minutes it takes to tell them.

If only to tell her thank you for loving me, thank you for guiding me.

Thank you.

Now comes the night
Feel it fading away
And the soul underneath
Is it all that remains
So just slide over here
Leave your fear in the fray…

These past few weeks, I’ve been fighting for a sense of identity, trying to understand who I am and what that encompasses, all the while longing desperately for others to understand me as I really am, too.

And today, I realized why:

I don’t want to be forgotten.

And I don’t want to ever forget.

Let us hold to each other
Until the end of our days…

Maybe this is why I hold on so dearly to everything that I love, why I’m so desperately afraid to move on, move forward. Because goodbye may mean so long, for now, but it still means saying goodbye.

And I don’t want them to forget. I don’t ever want them to forget how much I love them, how much I’ve always loved them, I just didn’t have the words for it then, when I was so young, I didn’t know…

I don’t want to ever not know; I don’t want to have to say goodbye without taking the time for them, without knowing them, without loving them as they deserve to be loved, without showing them and telling them how much I love them now, how I’ll love them always.

I know how precious a memory is now. I know how fleeting a moment and how fragile this life can be.

I know that I’m not ready to say goodbye again.

I know that someday I’ll have to.

No, you will not be forgotten
No, you will not be alone.
Rob Thomas, “Now Comes The Night”

 

Life, Memory

A House To A Home

It has tacky flower-power wallpaper and warping metal floors and a plastic balcony door, but for all of its flaws, a memory resides here, in this dollhouse that captured my imagination a few years before I discovered that Barbie had a pink Dream House, and years, still, before my dad and I started building a beautiful, wooden Victorian that I asked him to paint a plain blue simply because it reminded me of home…

 

(prior home to the Sylvanian family)

 


Yesterday, Mom told me that she and Dad were beginning to clear out the crawlspace, readying our childhood toys for sale if we didn’t want them. If it was a take it or sell it philosophy, then this memory wasn’t for sale.

Not now.

No, not just yet…

 

 

I can’t tell you why it seemed to matter so much. After all, the  metal is rusting, the paper is curling, and the chimney and half of the furniture is missing…Not to mention the original inhabitants had probably been sold off at a garage sale long ago, and when Barbie did get her Dream House, this one was relegated to a corner of the basement where, I had discovered, my brothers occasionally used it as a G.I. Joe fortress.

 

 

But maybe that’s the thing about memory…

Maybe that’s the thing about growing up.

Maybe the older you get, the more you want to have something to hold onto.

 

 

It’s funny how now, over twenty years later, I can still remember where everything goes, how easy is to reassemble everything back in its place, as if it was never stored away, as if it was only this morning that I was sitting on that blue oval rug in the basement, blocking out my small world so that it became even smaller: just me and a house and my imagination.

To everything a place.

And everything in its space.

 

 

I still remember that the china closet fits perfectly beneath the stairs.

 

 

And I recall trying to rearrange this room half a dozen different ways before always reverting it back to the original floor plan.

But I didn’t remember the books.

Funny how there are always books.

Funny how so much can change, how you can change, and how so much time can pass, yet one object can take you back
in a heartbeat.

 

(I also remember it being bigger…)


Tomorrow, I’ll take it down to the basement knowing that I’ll forget all about it, as I had for all these years.
But every now and then, as I venture downstairs to empty the dehumidifier or bring up the Christmas decorations, I’ll spy it sitting in a corner.

(And I’ll smile wistfully.)

And I’ll remember when.

 

(remember then?)

 

And then I’ll hear Riley running through the house, the tap of his nails on the wood floors awakening me from my nostalgia.

And I’ll think, how strange it is, to go from playing house to owning a house.

How strange to go from imagining a life to living it.

How beautiful to go from just living a life to loving it.

 


(twenty years later — the real deal)


And as I climb the stairs to find Riley and whatever trouble he’s getting into, I’ll shut the basement light, and that dollhouse will remain forgotten in darkness until I shed light on it again.

I think, in a few years. I’ll get rid of it in a few years…

But right now, I just want to have this something to hold onto.

I just want this memory to remain.

 

Just a little while longer…

 

 Update: I sent my dad an email with a link to this post and all the pictures of the dollhouse this morning; he wrote back saying that he’s never emailing me again at work because it made him tear up. Which made me tear up.

And then I realized this:

Maybe the reason I’m so prone to nostalgia, why I cling to my memories, is because all of those memories seem to be rooted in family.

And there is nothing more important to me than family. The memories can fade, the toys can be sold or stored away, but this one fact will always remain the same, the one thing that I’ll always hold onto. The one thing that I will never concede.

Life, Memory, Personal Development

Early Morning Reminiscence

Last week, I hosted a giveaway for a copy of the book, “A Dog’s Purpose.” First, a huge thanks to Brianne and Lauren for sharing their stories — since there were only two of you who entered as of closing yesterday and I absolutely hate disappointing people, I’m sending you both copies of the book.

Why…Why did such a simple book strike such a nerve with me? How could something that was meant to be an entertaining read be much more profound than that, sparking memories and drawing forth my own experiences?

In one part of the book, the dog grows old and weak and is taken to a veterinary office where his family decides to ease his suffering and put him down, though they wait anxiously for their son to return from college so they can all be there, knowing how much the dog meant to the boy.

That’s summarizing it very, very lightly.

When I read that, memories of my own experiences flooded back to me — memories of stroking Hercules’ fur, telling him we loved him as he lay his head down, like he always did, like he was only going to sleep; memories of holding Sampson — my Sammy — hugging him and kissing him and thanking him for loving me as he found his peace.

Memories of Lucy.

These dogs…How do you explain to someone who hasn’t loved a dog that these dogs are more than just animals? They become a part of your family, a part of your heart in a way that nothing else can; they’ve taught me some of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever needed to learn…

That there can be peace in the passing; that time is meant to be savored and enjoyed; that love is everything —everything — and that it can come from anywhere, anything.

And that love, once felt, is never, ever forgotten.

* * *

I’m sick today with some kind of cough/fever/flu thing that’s been going around, so I’m going to cheat a bit here and post an essay I had written for a class in college. It was the hardest piece of writing I’d ever written at that point, but it was also my catharsis. So why am I posting it? I don’t know exactly, I can’t really say…It feels personal and heavy and too long to recount here on a  blog.

But it’s a memory. My memory. It’s an experience that changed me for better and for worse…Or, perhaps, more accurately, for worse and then for better.

It took me years to come to terms with Lucy’s passing, not just because I missed her so much, but I think, too, because I wasn’t expecting it, because I so naively, so fiercely believed that a miracle just had to happen, and because I lost all faith when it didn’t.

It’s been years since I’ve even opened this document, but I realize that in these years I’ve learned so much, gained so much — including a renewal of faith, including an understanding of what it means to say goodbye

Including Riley.

Early Morning Reminiscence

Lucy

I’m caught somewhere in that state between sleep and consciousness where everything is just a mess of early-morning haze and flitting images.  The outside streetlight casts a gray tint on the bookshelves in the bedroom, the only light, save for the steady green blinking of the computer’s standby button.

I roll onto my stomach and bunch up my pillow, trying to get just comfortable enough so that I can easily fall back asleep. Resting my head back down, I heave a sigh, readying myself to fall back asleep, but in the next instant I’m wide awake. I stare down at the surface of my left hand where, just a moment before, I could swear I felt the faint hint of pressure and moisture.

I must still be dreaming, I think as I glance around the room, because these things are impossible. It must have been the cat…But, no, Mikey had scurried away the moment the bed shifted in my attempt to get comfortable. It only takes a moment, but in that moment there’s a flash of recognition, an image so vivid that I know it can’t be anything else. I know that the contact on my hand wasn’t a dream or my imagination or something impossible: it was a tender reminder, a kiss from Lucy.

Lucy was the unexpected final addition to our family’s trio of dogs. We already had Hercules and Sampson, two Labrador and Golden Retriever mixes who still acted like puppies at four years old, and back then we couldn’t imagine taking care of a third dog; now, it’s hard to imagine life without her. The day Lucy came home, Mom had called us from a flea market, asking how we would feel about another dog. My brothers and I were skeptical — three dogs was a lot of responsibility, and I worried that the boys would feel left out while we were fawning over a new puppy.

We decided to make it a family decision and agreed to first see the dog that Mom was gushing about. We really should have known better: when my brothers and I opened the garage door to leave, there was Mom, still seated on the passenger side of the van, holding a tiny black puppy in her arms. She later told us that the connection she felt to Lucy was so strong that she was unable to let her go, even for a little while.

Lucy instantly became our little girl, our source of amusement and affection. Fiercely protective, she would lead the chorus of barks whenever someone neared the house, and the very sight of a rabbit brought out the hound we believed was mixed in with her unknown pedigree, her leg instinctively raised in a hunter’s stance. She was always eager to welcome me home, whether I was away all day throughout high school or gone for longer periods of time in college, and she led the others in a race to the back door, greeting me with a howl and a tail that wagged so fast that her behind couldn’t help but move side to side with it.

She completed our family in every possible way; she was the source of endless amusement and unlimited affection…

Which is why her illness was so much more difficult to bear.

Hercules

November. The perfect time to chase the leaves and nip at the wind; however, this year Lucy was barely interested in the outside world at all. Her face had become swollen due to an abscess; my mom was terrified that it could be cancer, yet surgery healed her and soon she was back to her energetic old self, tearing through the house in search of her ball in the hopes that someone would want to play. No one could predict how the weeks that followed would turn into a dizzy mess of emotion, as fear and relief traded places almost daily.

Though I returned to school after a short break, relieved that Lucy seemed to be fully healed, worry for her quickly replaced all other concerns when I received another call from my mom a few weeks later. Lucy was sick again. Weak, lethargic, and running a high fever, my parents immediately took her to the vet, where they managed to get her fever down and extract what they thought was a swollen lymph node to have tested.  Her tail wagged once more, eager and ready to rejoin her family at home where she belonged.

When I arrived home for winter break, I was astounded at the transformation that greeted me at the door. Lucy’s tail was moving as usual, but there was no bark of joy to accompany it. Her face and eyes were sad, swollen, and bloodshot, she could barely lift her head off of the couch cushion, and she shied away from all sources of food. It seemed as if our spirited little fighter had given up, too weak to do anything else. Not knowing what else to do, wanting to comfort and be comforted, I sat beside her on the floor, stroking her velvet fur as her head rested near my own.

A soft smile tries but fails to form as I turn on my side, staring at the wall in the early hours of the gray morning. I blink furiously to hold the hot tears at bay, but they slide down my cheek anyway as I imagine Lucy at home, frantically trying to locate her ball as we ask her where her toy is or barking wildly at the squeaking rubber ducks that my mom collects. I run my hands over the fur fleece throw blanket on my bed, and I can‘t help but think that it should be her fur I‘m feeling beneath my fingertips, so soft and fine that it could have been velvet. I rub my fingers together, wanting to remember the smooth texture as I stroked her head lovingly, wondering, if I imagined it hard enough, if I could bring it back, that tactile sensation, that gentle, rhythmic pat, one last time.

But my hand is empty.

I feel only my own skin beneath my fingertips, and the realization causes my chest to heave with a muffled sob.

Our concern only grew as the start of the new week rolled around and Lucy was still refusing to eat. We decided to take her back to the vet’s office in the hopes that she could regain her strength by means of an IV, and although we felt comforted in the fact that Lucy was in safe hands, we were little relieved from the worry of her health. Being supplied with the necessary nutrients, she was lovingly and meticulously cared for all week. When she was offered bits of hamburger meat, dog biscuits, and hot dog that should have excited her, she sniffed at the food with interest and stuck her tongue out to lick the treats, but she wouldn’t, couldn’t, eat.

My parents and I visited her every evening after work, waiting anxiously for her in an empty examination room. And when the door opened and she was guided inside, her tail wagged ferociously, her eyes lighting up seeing us.  Her fever was gone, the swelling in her face had diminished, and her beautiful brown eyes were, as always, full of adoration and love. We shared grins as we hugged and petted her — our little girl was returning.

Sampson

The Christmas holiday rapidly approached, and with it came my expectations of some sort of miracle. The day before Christmas Eve, my parents and I went to visit Lucy and see about bringing her home for the holiday. We arrived to find that all of the doctors had been called in on another emergency, so we filed into an empty room to wait patiently for Lucy to be brought into us, as had been the daily routine. My parents and I were all smiles: Lucy seemed to be getting better and she would be home with us for Christmas, once again among her family and brothers, once again where she belonged.

Outside in the hallway, someone’s urgent shout for the oxygen filtered through the crack in the door. My dad and I raised our eyebrows at each other, sympathizing with the other family whose attacked dogs had been the source of the emergency. So when Dr. Nicole walked in a moment later, I kept my eyes on the hallway behind her, expecting to see the precious face and wagging tail of our little girl. But the door closed behind her, and my eyes shifted to her face, the smile on my lips failing. I glanced anxiously at both of my parents, but their eyes were fixed on the veterinarian standing solemnly before us.

Lucy had been on her way in to see us when she collapsed, Dr. Nicole explained, tears betraying her attempt at professionalism. She had immediately scooped Lucy up and carried her into the emergency room where all of the doctors gathered to help restart her heart.  She was now breathing only with the help of life support.

Mom choked on a sob, Dad, tears in his own eyes, reached out to comfort her, and though I tried to be strong for my parents, I reached for a tissue to wipe away the sudden onslaught of my own tears. Having loved and cared for Lucy like her own dog, Dr. Nicole guided us through the hallways to the back emergency room. The still figure of our baby girl made us gasp: Lucy was lying on a counter’s blue mat, her tongue lolling, hooked up to a machine that registered her reflexes. Those brown eyes that days earlier were full of such pure joy at the very sight of us were now open — lifeless and unblinking. Her voice soft and full of regret, Dr. Nicole asked us what we wanted to do, but there was no other choice —  our spirited little girl was already gone.

The three of us surrounded her, covered her body in our embraces, and stroked her velvet fur in rhythmic strokes as tears dropped from our cheeks to the blue-matted countertop. We whispered how much we loved her close to her ear and pressed kisses on her head as Dr. Nicole injected the pink solution that would put her to sleep. We tried to bring comfort to Lucy — and maybe ourselves — by telling her what a good girl she was, how much we loved her, and how happy she had made our lives until Dr. Nicole checked her heartbeat and told us that Lucy was finally at peace.

It was difficult to celebrate the holiday knowing that Lucy wouldn’t be there, resting at Mom’s feet as we ate dinner or sniffing curiously at the boxes as we exchanged gifts, wondering if there was a treat beneath the tree for her. I kept expecting a Christmas miracle for Lucy to get better and come home for good; foolishly, perhaps selfishly, I believed it would happen. I latched onto Sammy as soon as I walked through the door, pressing my face into his fur and not letting go until I cried myself to sleep. It was so difficult to imagine that now it was only the boys once more; I often wondered if they understood that Lucy wasn’t coming back, if they wondered where she had gone. In the days and weeks that followed, I kept expecting Lucy to follow us upstairs to bed at night, to be waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs in the morning. I tried to console myself with the thought that Lucy was still around in memory, but it never quite made up for the emptiness we felt now.

We won’t ever know if it was cancer or not, as Dr. Nicole didn’t have the heart to have an autopsy performed on Lucy.  The biopsy on what we thought was the lymph node turned out to be a salivary gland that was filled with dead cells, and previous x-rays showed us that she had been retaining water that was pressing on her heart and lungs, though even these factors failed to explain the sudden illness that took her from us so quickly. I liked to believe that she waited as long as she could to see us, to be able to hold her and feel once more the velvet fur as our hands rested lovingly on the top of her head…

To let us have our chance for goodbye…

I squeeze my eyes shut tightly, but tears still escape. It’s nearly two months later and still that final image of her lingers and evokes a fresh pain. I open my eyes and roll over so I can see her picture on the bookshelf, barely visible in the grey light of early morning. She should be at home right now, I think as I unconsciously run my fingers over the blanket. She should be taking up most of my parents’ bed, stretched out at the bottom, her foot twitching as she dreams. She should be getting more white spots as she ages, not just that little tuft on her chest, the only spot of white on her body of black. She should be waiting for me, greeting me at the door with her brothers as I visit for the weekend; she should be jumping on my bed in the morning, waking me up with kisses.

I turn on my side and snuggle in deeper among my pillows and blankets, holding my hand to my chest as the memory of the slightest bit of pressure and moisture lingers on the surface of my left.  The tears have dried and I sleepily shut my eyes, the faint trace of a smile touching my lips as I silently thank Lucy for her reminder that she’ll always be with me with a gentle kiss and a wagging behind.