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The Last Time…

A last reminder

“Call Dad @ 3PM on Monday”

“Call Dad @ 7am on Wednesday”

Those notes to myself are still stuck to the wall above my bed, tucked into the top of one of my favourite pictures of one of my favourite “people”.

“Call Dad @ 3PM on Monday” Monday, September 2, 2013. The next day, he was going to be prepping for his surgery on Wednesday and didn’t think he’d want to talk to anyone. So we had a long chat — about nothing, about everything — this one last time.

“Call Dad @ 7am on Wednesday” Wednesday, September 4, 2013. A quick call after I got home from work on the day of his surgery, to wish him well, to tell him I loved him before he headed off with my brother to the hospital.

Two-and-a-half weeks in the hospital, during which I fought other callers, visitors, pain, and drugs for time to talk with him. Our conversations were short and sad and so very heartbreaking. Then a week at home, where I still fought other callers, visitors, pain, and drugs for time to talk with him. (I went home at the end of September, to look after him while we waited for home health care to kick in, but he passed away only a couple of short weeks later, at 9AM on October 16, 2013. )

Today would have been his 77th birthday. And not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had more time to talk to him, about nothing, about everything.

You don’t ever think that the last time is the Last Time. For anything.

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Shaken, not stirred

Haven’t felt a significant earthquake myself here in Ottawa since the one I wrote about in June 2010.

Was trying to get a nap in after working all night and felt this vibration go through the springs of my mattress, like a huge truck convoy going past the house. When it went on too long, I decided to get up and check online. Twitter for the win!

According to the Earthquakes Canada site, they’d initially said it was a 4.8 near Braeside, ON, but now they’re reporting it as a 5.1 magnitude quake 21 km NE of Shawville, QC, at 09:43. The page for it is at http://www.earthquakescanada.nrcan.gc.ca/recent_eq/2013/20130517.1343/index-eng.php.

The USGS page for the event is at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/usb000gxna#summary.

Be sure and report it if you felt it at both places. (Both pages offer questionnaires to fill out for just that thing.)

Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely

When I was recovering from my pulmonary embolism in early 2000, I slept sitting up in a cushioned rocker chair. As always, Maci slept with me, in this case on a pillow tucked between the side of the chair and my chest so that he wouldn’t be lying with his full weight directly on my chest. (It became our standard way of sleeping right up until shortly before his passing.) During that recovery phase, I played one song almost exclusively on my Walkman: The Backstreet Boys’ “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely“. At the time, there was something about the “hard to breathe” part in the first verse that caught my attention, since I couldn’t.

Show me the meaning of being lonely
Is this the feeling I need to walk with
Tell me why I can’t be there where you are
There’s something missing in my heart

In the years after that, my singing of this chorus became one of the things that would bring Maci to me from wherever he was in the apartment (“Viva Forever” by the Spice Girls was another) and so it is inextricably tied up with my memories of him. The words are so much more poignant now that they were back then.

It’s been three years now since my mother started to wrap up her time in this world and two years since my beloved boy started to wrap up his: I miss you both more than I can possibly describe, every day, and I’m still wondering why I can’t be there where you are.

A very good place to start

“So…you mentioned ‘epic’ in your last post. Care to elaborate?”

Oh, yeah.

I should probably explain that.

And why I know this time is different.

(I know…how many times have I said that. I have journals and diaries going back decades that attest to my high failure rate at making any lasting changes in any aspect of my life. So why is it different now?)

After my last Maci-related posts here, I drifted in apathy and sadness and nothingness. Slept a lot. Ate more. Wallowed endlessly. Got further out of control in pretty much every aspect of my life.

Cut to November 9.

That was the day that I decided I needed a new start — an extreme new start.

[I grew up in a household full of wonderful clutter. The difference between that home and mine is that my mother was neat and tidy by nature (where I’m messy and lazy) and so our houses were always charming and homey in their clutter. And my mother was a serial collector — giving away the contents of one collection when another was started — rather than a hoarder.

When my mother died, my attitude towards “stuff” began to change. You can’t take it with you, and if I were to die, there was nothing I owned that anyone would struggle to (or want to) keep — at best, things to be sold off to get rid of them; at worst, they would just be tossed out. If it wasn’t making me happy to have it around me, then why keep it? My attachment to my “stuff” was weakening, but the situation I was in was overwhelming.]

Trying to fix things while staying put where I was wasn’t working for me. It was long past time for a change.

“Portable” became my new mantra.

I put in my notice on my apartment and found a room to rent in someone else’s house. Rented a small storage unit and a mail box.

I threw away most of my belongings, and I do mean “most”, including almost all of the books that I’d been desperately holding onto for decades, every piece of furniture I owned, my television, and most of my computer equipment. (I know — it seems a waste to have thrown out so many functional and usable items, but ultimately that excuse has been keeping me from decluttering properly for years and if I held onto things now long enough to sell or give them away, I’d never be free. It had to be a quick and clean break and that meant throwing things away while I could.)

I couldn’t manage to do it all myself — not because I was holding onto things, but because I wasn’t in the best shape or health and trying to do this huge a job on my own while working 12-hour shifts was hard. So I hired the 1-800-Got-Junk guys. Unfortunately, one completely-packed-to-the-rafters truckload and many personal trips to the dumpsters later and my apartment still looked like a squat. That’s when I realized that I’d never finish it if I stayed, so I cut and ran before the new year. One of these days I’ll get a bill from the landlord for the final clean up. And that’s a small price for the sense of relief that doing a runner brought.

So now I live in a rented room in a house with dogs and a small yard. My phone and my Internet are mobile and contract-free. My electronics are all portable. The only furniture I own is a new twin mattress set. Everything else that is here with me is in a half dozen plastic storage containers. My small storage unit is severely underutilized and contains pretty much only those items that I wanted to keep but didn’t need with me: my mother’s paintings, my technical writing and other reference books, photos, my guitar, some tarot/oracle card decks, and some papers I didn’t have time to sort through. If I were to lose it all tomorrow, I’d be disappointed but not heartbroken, and that’s very liberating.

I live closer to where I work so I’ve virtually eliminated my taxi addiction and I’m walking more. I’m working on cleaning up my finances and my health. I’m coming out of my hermitage and beginning to actually interact with the Real World in ways I’ve avoided for over a decade. I’ve returned to the spiritual quest I paused years ago. And I’m working out what phase II is going to look like.

I am still very much a work-in-progress. I don’t know where this is going, but I’m no longer afraid and no longer hiding. And that’s a very good place to start an epic journey.

We interrupt this interruption…

I need to live with nothing fixed
Don’t tell me what’s gonna happen next
I’m alright, I like the way this feels
Leave behind all the things I miss
The next stop isn’t where you think it is
‘Cos tonight I’m riding off the rails […]

The end is where you hope you never say
“I coulda done it better”
I’m gonna keep what counts
and throw away what doesn’t really matter
And I wanna die on the highest high

(McFly, “The End”)

I started writing this blog back in August 2006 as I was heading into a full-blown mid-life crisis. The years since then have been rocky — ups and downs and sideways turns and rolls that never quite amounted to anything I’d hoped for. The expected mid-life crisis certainly never really materialized.

This is the year.

I don’t know the shape of my future, but I know it looks unlike anything I ever imagined.

It’s going to be epic.

The cremains of the day

Forgive me if I’m wallowing a little today.

I finally decided to open the box containing Maci’s “ashes” to extract a small amount of them to place into a simple urn pendant that I’ve had for several weeks. It was far more emotional than I thought it would be.

At the time that I had to make the decision to euthanize Maci, there was no room in my head for anything except the most basic of decisions. First, the Big Decision. (No, no more suffering; let him go.) Do you want some time to say goodbye? (No, I want you to wake him up so I can take him home and never let him go again, but that’s not really one of my choices, is it.) Do you want his ashes returned? (Of course. Duh.) Yes, please. Would you like a wooden box or a ceramic urn? (Oh, god, a ceramic urn is going to lead to me Dust Bustering Maci up off the carpet at some point in the near future.) Wooden. Most definitely wooden. Nameplate? What? Yeah, whatever. Do you want to take the carrier home? (Oh, god, no. No, I don’t. I have to leave, before I give into the urge to run back in, scoop him up, and spirit him away.)

It was all over so quickly and in such a haze. In hindsight, I’d wished I’d asked for a clipping of hair, or a paw print. Something recognizable of him. But it was too late when I thought of that. Hell, there are a lot of things I wish I’d done that day that I can’t go back and do over.

I was touched, when I picked up his remains a few weeks later, to discover that the crematorium thought of what a grieving pet owner would want without even being asked. The box itself was placed in a lovely black velvet bag embroidered with the words “Until We Meet Again at the Rainbow Bridge”, and then placed in a white “Thinking of you” gift bag with blue tissue paper.

"Gift" bags from crematorium

The velvet bag also contained a little card with Maci’s name on the front. Inside the card was a paw print and a little bag of clipped hair fastened to the card with a heart-shaped pin.

It all made a potentially difficult moment so much easier than it could have been.

Several days after I picked up the package, I opened up the bottom of the box for the first time. I’d never seen cremains before. All I knew is what I’d seen on TV shows and in movies, where you see some hapless person knock over the urn containing Aunt Martha’s ashes and they scatter all over the floor. They always look like cigarette ashes — grey and fine — and so that’s what I was expecting. I didn’t expect (though I probably should have if I had really thought about the process) them to look like large-grained sand, like the sand you put at the bottom of an aquarium. Only a few non-white speckles, no ash at all. Just the ground up remains of the bones and other hard elements of the body. Everything else, it would seem, pretty much vaporizes.

I don’t look at them too closely, though, in case there is still something there that is recognizable. I’m not sure I could handle that right now.

Such a small amount of remains to mark the huge hole in my life left by his absence. Should be…more.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

(W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”, 1938)

 

Maci's pendant urn

Filling the hole

In the minutes/hours/days after Maci’s death, I went on a grief-fueled shopping binge. Anything remotely spiritual, cat-related, grief-related, or (better yet) cat-grief–and-spirituality-related brought out an urge to spend, spend, spend. Over the course of two days, I’d spent several hundred dollars on things I wouldn’t likely never have bought otherwise, including making a number of small, spur-of-the-moment donations. The only thing that really stopped me from spending more is a lack of money.

I’d done something similar when my mother died, buying things that I’d hoped might help me to come to grips with the emotions I was feeling…I still haven’t finished reading most of the books I ordered during that period. (Hell, I haven’t even *started* reading most of them.)

Most of the things I ordered this time around won’t arrive for several weeks, but I’m already over the initial rush of gut-wrenching emotion that prompted their purchases. It’s the ultimate in binge buying. The act of shopping filled the aching void in my heart, made me feel like I was actually doing something at a time when I was feeling particularly helpless. (In the weeks before this, I’d been on a smaller buying spree, ordering things that might help me get Maci to eat more. Those items are now arriving in my mailbox and I’m finding myself now trying to figure out where I can donate them.)

The whole situation has me thinking about the issue of hoarding in general. Hoarding is the current topic du jour on TV, the new train wreck for all of us voyeurs. And most people cannot comprehend how a person gets to that point in their lives. I can. While I’m not (quite) at a point where I would be featured on one of those shows, I do live in constant clutter. Before this, the clutter made me kind of depressed. Now, it’s comforting in the sense that it muffles the emptiness that is Maci’s physical absence. It, like the binge shopping, fills the gaping hole in your heart. Of course, it’s a stop-gap measure that causes its own problems in turn that can be even worse than the grief, but at the time you’re not thinking about the future, just about stopping the pain or anxiety.

It’s done what I needed it to do, but I think it’s time to release the clutter, release the bubble I’ve wrapped around myself over the last few decades.

I have much to do, and time’s a wasting.

Tear-stained thoughts from a broken heart

Maci, my feline companion of 15 years, died on Saturday morning, just two days after my 46th birthday. He’s left an enormous hole in my heart, bigger than you would think such a little guy could leave. It was a sudden decision I had to make without prior preparation. He’d been losing weight and was little more than skin and bones, but I still never thought cancer. Maybe I was too wrapped up in grieving for my mother, and that’s something I can’t make up for.

On Wednesday, he had a brief moment where he couldn’t stand up — his back legs just wouldn’t support him — and I finally made an appointment with the vet. The back end problem went away, but he still wasn’t eating much. And he was just, well, “off”. I had reiki healing done on him on my birthday — to support him until our appointment on Saturday — and he spent pretty much the entire session in my arms or on my shoulder. It seemed odd at the time, but I think he knew by then what was going to happen to him. Me, I was firmly in denial. He was supposed to be around for at least a few more years, damn it.

On Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to go, he actually came out of the bedroom where he was sleeping, climbed up on a box of cat litter, and started nosing at his cat carrier, which was sitting on top of my laundry cart. He got into the carrier with little fuss. That should have been enough to warn me something was going on, but I brushed it off. At the clinic, he was less vocal and upset than he usually is and I had the thought that I should take him out of the carrier and hold him…but I didn’t want to stress him. I will always regret that I didn’t heed that impulse, because, looking back, I would have braved any amount of biting or scratching to have one last cuddle with him.

I’ve been reading Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book “On Grief and Grieving” lately, trying to come to grips with the ongoing grief from my mother’s death in August. I was reading the book in the examination room while we were waiting for the vet to finish up with an emergency patient. I talked to Maci — he was mostly lying quietly, though he hissed when I moved anywhere near the carrier door. (I’d brought a blanket with me for him, but that really upset him for some reason, so I tucked it into my purse, out of sight.) I told him we were going to make him feel better….and I suppose we did, though it wasn’t at all the way I’d expected us to. In hindsight, I should be thankful for that long wait in the examination room as it was the last time I got to spend with my sweet boy while he was conscious.

The vet finally came and took him into the back for his examination. After several minutes, she came and brought me into the back with her. That’s when I knew things were going badly. Maci has to be — had to be — masked in order to minimize the trauma of vet visits and he was still masked and lying on the table. The vet had me feel the mass in his intestine — it was so long, but hadn’t been there in January at our previous visit. She recommended letting him go. It was like a punch in the stomach. It wasn’t a decision I’d expected to have to make that day and it broke me to make it. I stayed there until it was over — I’ll be getting his ashes in a wooden box with a name plaque on it later — and then left. I cried at the clinic and then managed to hold it back in until I got home and into my apartment. Then I started hyperventilating and I’ve been doing that pretty much ever since. It is unbelievably empty here without him.

A heavy thread of guilt underlies my grief for Maci that doesn’t exist under the continuing grief for my mother. Guilt because I was responsible for his care and quality of life: I should have noticed how serious things were sooner, I should have had my own shit together enough to have been able to afford regular vet care, I should have been a better companion. My mother controlled her own life and environment, but I alone am responsible for what Maci ate and what his environment was like.

He’d been sick for some time, but I had lots of reasons for not taking him to the vet when it all first started: unemployment and lack of money, not believing in the seriousness of the situation, putting it all down to getting older, not wanting to stress him out more with a vet visit, my own personal emotional issues…lots of excuses, but it all comes down to a failure of my responsibilities and, for that, I don’t think there is or can be forgiveness, certainly not from me.

Right now, I’m precariously balanced on a precipice. Do I use this powerful grief as a catalyst for change and growth, to honour the memories of this most beloved creature and my mother who preceded him? Do I just fall fully into the darkness? Or do I just continue to teeter forever in this sorrowful, apathetic limbo?

I know what my answer *should* be, but it’s too soon to say how it will actually play out.

Exploiting tragedy to boost your PR

Yesterday, Microsoft was largely — and rightly IMO — condemned for a now-apologized-for tweet they made in which they said that they’d donate $1 for every retweet (up to a maximum of $100,000) to Japanese earthquake relief efforts. It definitely got them a lot of publicity, most of it not so good. It took attention away from any legitimate (and non-PR-based) help Microsoft had actually offered in the face of the disaster.

Today, my Facebook news feed is full of people reposting a message from Explore.org, which urges people to like one of their Facebook pages and saying that they will donate $1 for every fan they get (up to a maximum of $100,000) to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.

They’re doing the same thing to capitalize on the unrest in Egypt by urging people to like another one of their Facebook pages, saying that they’ll donate $1 for every fan they get, up to $25,000, to the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals.

On the surface, that seems like a noble effort, raising awareness and encouraging people to help. However, for me the problem arises in how they’re doing it. In the comments on a post about the Dog Bless You page on Mashable, someone from Explore.org remarked, when people questioned using a disaster as a marketing device, “We want to encourage and inspire online communities to work together and take immediate action. We work with many non-profits and the more recognition we can bring to them the better!

That would be marvelous if they were actually bringing significant recognition to the non-profits they’re supporting. Rather than providing links to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation site (or its Facebook page) or to the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals site (or its Facebook page), they hinge these donations on people liking their own Facebook pages.  On each of Explore.org’s Cat/Dog Bless You Facebook pages, they only mention the sites of the actual organizations in unclickable, uncopyable text on the poster graphics, making it harder for you to visit those sites (and thus less likely that people will make the effort).

You know that Explore.org is going to make those donations to the organizations in question regardless, just like Microsoft did (and had always intended to) when it made that unfortunate tweet. You Liking their Facebook pages isn’t actually accomplishing anything that not Liking them would. If Explore.org was really all about raising awareness for those organizations, they’d have made it about increasing the number of fans for the organizations’ own Facebook pages instead of their own. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that Explore.org plans to donate to both of those organizations and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but by tying it into increasing their own fan base, they proving themselves to be not a lot different from Microsoft.

If you really want to help National Disaster Search Dog Foundation and Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals, you’ll go Like their Facebook pages (instead of or in addition to the Explore.org ones) and donate directly to them.

(Note: The lack of links to Explore.org or their Facebook pages in this post is deliberate.)

I could just cry

Today was the first day of the new job. My feet and back are killing me. I keep aggravating the torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. (It’s been a problem for months, and I’m starting to think it’s never going to heal completely.) I have had about 2 hours of sleep in the last 36 hours, I have about an hour of freelancing work to do before I can go to bed, and I have to get ready for another day of work in about 5 hours. I’m hungry and dried out because we can’t have food or liquid in the work area — in the last 24 hours, I’ve had a really mediocre slice of pizza, an O’Henry bar, two two-bite brownies, and a fraction of the water I usually drink. But I’m too tired to find something to eat.

After $500+ in vet bills last week, I’m force pilling my cat appetite stimulants in order to make him eat more and inspecting the litter box with the intensity of a gold miner, making sure everything is functioning properly. He seems to be doing better, but there are still some issues and he loses his appetite if I don’t keep pilling him.

Today, the power supply on my refurbished Dell computer (have I mentioned before just how much I hate Dell?) finally gave up the ghost and appears to have taken the motherboard out with it. (Please God let it be the motherboard and not the hard drive.)  I’m going to try to find a SATA external drive enclosure so that I can make sure the drive is functioning OK. Tried to scavenge from my old computer but old motherboard is old and doesn’t have any SATA connector. So I now have the innards from two computers spilled out on my desk, and still no functioning desktop. Still, knowing that the motherboard is fried would only be partly helpful. If the drive is OK, I’ll at least be able to retrieve some files that I hadn’t had a chance to back up. But I can’t afford to buy a new motherboard (or new computer) because I don’t get my first pay from this job until late February or early March (it’s a contractor job, where I get paid once a month, a month+ late). Which means that I’m going to have to either spend my off time at an Internet cafe in order to complete some freelance work I need to work on or I’m going to have to struggle to work on this Netbook.

If I wasn’t so tired and dehydrated, I’d cry.