You thought I was using hip ’60s slang for drugs; right? Wrong-o! I’m talking about my rarely fed blog. It’s been a downer, man…a real downer.

So, let’s get right to it. It’s been a difficult couple of years. Bad job. (Really bad job.) Beloved pets dying. My mom dying. For a while there, it seemed like nothing good would ever happen again. At first, I started posting about my sadness thinking it would be cathartic, thinking I’d get back to the regular stuff later, but then I’d come back later, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t post something frivolous after posting about the death of a loved one. It seemed disrespectful. It was depressing. It would have been a lie. So, I’ve stayed away.

But I’m giving you notice here and now. I’m done with that.

Well, almost.

I have one more tribute to post for now. Sadly, there may be some later at some far distant point in the future, but this tribute calls to me now. And I don’t consider it a downer, really. It just is what it is. A goodbye of sorts, a fare thee well, an I’m REALLY going to miss you kind of post. So here goes…man, I hate endings, especially when we’re talking about something that isn’t supposed to end. Boo!

When I was six years old, my mother bought me a baby chick for Easter. I adored that little thing and named him Chicken Little. He was soft and fluffy, and I loved to cuddle with him. One Sunday, we went to church, and when we got home I rushed to find him only to be shocked to find his little limp body floating in the toilet. I scooped him up and ran to Mom crying. She knew that there was nothing that could be done for him, but to make me feel better, she took him and held him in her hands over the floor furnace, and began giving him mouth to beak resuscitation.

I stood next to her, anxious and upset, as she breathed into his little beak over and over, pretending to try to bring him back to life. This went on for several minutes, and I’ll never forget the look on her face when we heard a little peep come from him. She was so surprised! She rushed us both into my bed where he and I lay under an electric blanket until he was warm and dry.

That chicken became quite a pet and a neighborhood institution. At first, everyone hated him, because he began crowing at 4am, but as time went by, he became a beloved neighborhood institution as everyone saw him riding on my bicycle handlebars everywhere I went. He lived a long and happy life.

That’s how Mom was.  Nothing was more important to her than raising resilient children, who could fend for themselves and had a good work ethic, but she would do anything to help us, even if she thought there was little chance of it doing any good. What was important was that we knew she was behind us, and it meant so much to each of us to know that we were never alone when times got rough.  Whether it was a simple pat on the back or a helping hand, her steadfast support was always there, and because of that, Marianne, Craig and I have always been able to face whatever came at us, often with strength we didn’t know we had.

As many of you know, Mom was a teacher, but what many of you may not know is what an absolutely wonderful teacher she was. In the classroom, she was strict – she didn’t allow decorum to be breached by anyone – yet her students adored her and many have remained in contact with her throughout the years. They loved her not only because she had a wry sense of humor and irony that she used often, not just because of her amazing talent as a teacher, but because she respected her students and treated them like adults. She knew what many teachers then and now don’t quite get…that when you challenge someone to go beyond their known abilities; you give them the gift of phenomenal growth.

She challenged her children in the same way.  While other children were read nursery rhymes and fairy tales, Mom read us poetry and prose by the greats – T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe and others – from the very beginning of our lives.  As a result, we grew up loving literature as much as she did, and all of us learned to read at an early age.

I can remember reading nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess at the age of five or six and feeling sorry for other kids who had to stick to only that kind of reading.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed a little Horton Hears a Who and Green Eggs and Ham as much as the next kid, but even at an early age, I wanted more, and often put down those books to read, instead, The Cask of Amontillado or The Tell-Tale Heart. Craig and Marianne were the same, and Mom let us explore whatever interests we had, whether they matched hers or not, and was always excited to listen as we talked about what we had just seen or done or read as if it were the most interesting subject on Earth.

She also made it her job to ensure we all mastered the English language. As children, we all quickly became accustomed to Mom’s “pop quizzes” as we went about our daily routines. She made a game of having us conjugate verbs, and while that might sound deathly boring, we all loved it. I’m sure, too, that I was the only six year old to know the difference between the subjective case, the objective case, the possessive case, and the nominative case of almost any noun or pronoun.  I asked Mom once why she quizzed us like she did, and she told me that besides it being fun, she wanted us to be able to hold our own in any conversation so people would respect our opinions and take us seriously. And it worked.

The challenges Mom put before us helped us grow in ways that would have otherwise been impossible. Because of her faith in us and our faith that, if we failed, she would always be there to buoy us, we have never been afraid to take chances in life. The need to succeed has been important, but the cost of failure has never been Earth shattering.  Instead, we have been able to take each failure as a learning experience to strengthen our bid for success the next time around. We have Mom to thank for that.

When Mom left us on Monday, one of my first rational thoughts was how much I’ll miss sitting in her living room with her at family gatherings, reading poetry to one another.  No one could read a poem with more feeling and meaning than Mom, and no one more appreciated hearing one read well. A few months ago, Mom’s sister Dora Fay passed away, and Marianne and I took her to Mangum for the funeral.  After the long drive home, even though we were all exhausted, we stayed for a while and pulled out the books and started reading some of our favorite poems to one another. Before long, we were all in tears, filled with the emotion that the poems wrought from us, but also with the emotion engendered by the act itself.

This was a ritual that has remained with our family throughout our lives, and one that we all cherish, so the tears flowed easily. I think party because we knew in our hearts that we wouldn’t be together much longer. Of course, we had no idea how quickly that end would come. Mom was in such good health and mind that we thought she’d be with us for years to come.  So, of course it made me sad to think we’d never sit with family again to share good poetry.

Then it hit me that, because of Mom, that tradition would never really end. Our own children have also grown up at her knee loving good literature, and we have sat together in our own homes reading to one another and sharing tears and joy at the beauty and meaning in those well etched words.  Now, with her passing, those events will be even more meaningful, because we will know in our hearts that this, too, is a gift from Mom that can never be taken away, even though she is no longer in the room with us.

When our father died when we were very young, Mom helped us cope by often reading us a poem by one of her favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Milay. I think it’s fitting that I end by sharing that poem with you today. It’s called Lament, and while it’s written about a father, but it will always remind us of our mother.

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why. 
Mom…we love you dearly and miss you more with each passing day.

There are few things in life that offer a greater reward than caring for an innocent being whose greatest joy is giving you love in return.  I have written about my dog, Bryn, in these pages before.  She is, by far, the sweetest dog I’ve ever known but one that has had to struggle through life from the very beginning.

When I first held her, she was a week old, and I bottle fed her from the time she was a week and a half old, because, as the runt of the litter, she was not able to get past her other 11 siblings to eat.  I fell immediately in love with her.  The look in her sweet little eyes when I fed her was so trusting, and we formed an unbreakable bond.

We found out at her five week checkup that she had a serious heart defect. An extra artery made her heart beat way too fast, and Dr. Marshall, our wonderful veteranarian, told us that she probably wouldn’t live past eight, and she’d always be smaller than her genes intended. In the five years we’ve had the pleasure of caring for her, though, she’s proved us all wrong. She’s been healthy and energetic, her heart problem has mostly fixed itself and she grew to 63 pounds.

Yesterday, though, it was obvious that she didn’t feel good. She was listless and hardly moved. We got her to eat and drink, but she threw up within 15 minutes without even trying to move first. It got all over me, and she looked up at me as if to say, “I’m sorry…I couldn’t help myself,” but she didn’t move an inch.  I knew then that it was something serious.

I took her to the vet this morning when they first opened, and by then, her eyes, ears and gums were jaundiced. The look in Dr. Marshall’s eyes told me it wasn’t good. He said she looks like she has liver disease or bileary disease.  We took her outside to pee, and it was dark brown, it was so filled with bile. He took blood — a difficult task with her being so dehydrated — and sent us home. Not a good sign, since I thought they’d want to put her on fluids right away. He’s off this afternoon, but he’s going into the office long enough to get a diagnosis from the blood test and call me. Whatever it is, her chances are not good.

I love all my pets, but Bryn is my special girl.  The thought of losing her after five short years is unbearable. She’s lying at my feet now, looking up at me with such love and sadness, as if she knows what’s going on. Our other dog, Max, is just outside, crying for her with such desperation that I can hardly bear to listen.

In a month where I have had nothing but bad luck — a job layoff, a flat tire, my rear car window smashed out by someone for fun, my medical insurance being cancelled by accident — nothing compares to this. I hope and pray that we can save her, but I fear we cannot. Why do things like this have to happen?  She’s such a good girl…such a great dog and such a good friend. :(

Edit: Bryn passed away this afternoon at 5pm after we discovered that her entire belly was full of a horrible tumor. We are devastated. We were so honored to have been allowed to share this wonderful soul’s life, and I will never forget our last moments with her.  She licked us both, wagged her tail and passed away while we held her.  I’m so glad she didn’t have to go through that alone and that she was surrounded by love as she gave us love to the very end.

Four years ago, I decided that our dog, Max, needed a buddy to keep him company during the day when we are at work. This was a big decision for me, because I’d never wanted a dog in the first place. I’m a cat person, but I’m also a big softie, so one day on the way to work when I almost ran over a puppy only to see him run in front of the two cars driving behind me, I turned around and picked him up, putting him in the backyard until I could get home and find his owner. Though I searched for weeks, I never found that owner, and six years later, he’s still with us.

Those first two years were pretty lonely for Max. We couldn’t have him inside because he was crazy about the cats and liked to chew on furniture legs, so when a friend at work told us that his golden retriever had just given birth to 12 puppies, we thought it was a great time to get a companion for Max.

That very night, we drove over to his house and picked out a cute puppy, but since they were only a week old, we had to wait five weeks before we could bring him home. About three days later, though, we got a call from our friend’s mother asking me if I’d be willing to take in one of the puppies for a short time, because her litter mates weren’t letting her eat. The runt of the litter, she was going to die unless we took her in until she got stronger.

Begrudgingly, I agreed and went to pick up the little girl, who was brindle colored and as tiny as we’d been told. When we first brought her home, she was as small as the TV remote, but she ate voraciously. I loved holding her and bottle feeding her, and she came to quickly adore me. Within a week, I began feeding her pablum, and I can still remember the way she’d stand at my feet, looking anxiously up at me as I prepared it. She loved that stuff!

Of course, I fell in love with her and kept her instead of the puppy we’d picked out. We named her Bryn, because of her brindle coloring, and she fell in love with Max and he with her. They became instantly inseparable, even sleeping together in the same doghouse.

On her first visit to the vet, we found out why she was so small. She’d been born with an extra artery coming from her heart, which caused her heart to beat about 350 times a minute - over twice as fast as a puppy’s heart should beat. Our vet, the wonderful Dr. Marshall, told us she needed open heart surgery — an operation that would cost about $3,000. He said to wait a while first, though, because sometimes these things correct themselves. He warned us that she’d never be big though, and would probably die before she was eight years old.

As the next few months went by, she continued to get bigger and bigger, and by the next year when she went in to get her yearly checkup, she was 60 pounds. Dr. Marshall giggled at her size, and he’s continued to be amazed at her health. Now, four years later, her heart condition is down to just a small murmur, and her heart beats at a nearly normal speed. It’s really amazing, and we’re so happy that she’s a healthy, lively dog.

She has boundless energy and loves to play, running around the yard at breakneck speeds. Unfortunately, that has been her downfall. A couple of weeks ago, I went out to play with her and Max and noticed she was limping. I took her to the vet that afternoon and learned that she’d torn her ACL.

Who knew dogs could do that?

Come to find out, it’s a very common injury for active dogs. She probably was running and cut to the side, and her leg didn’t. We can tell it hurts her — she’s still active, but she holds that leg up, not a good thing at all, since now she can easily blow out her other knee. So, the surgery bug has finally hit us after all, only instead of $3,000, we’ll only have to pay around $1,500.

I honestly never thought I’d spend $1,500 we can ill afford on a dog, but it’s amazing what we do out of love for our pets. And, I know…she’d do it for us, too, if she could.

We’re in the process of building a kennel for her, since she won’t be able to run and play for about two months. Once that’s complete, she’s going in to have the operation. Hopefully, Max won’t mind sleeping in the pen with her. I don’t think she’d be able to take it if we left her in there alone. We’ll have to walk her to exercise the leg, so at least they’ll get some exercise every day.

If anyone out there can give me more information about the whole process, I’d really appreciate it. I’ve read a bunch of information on the subject from posts on the Web, but I’d really like to hear from people who’ve been through the process with their dogs. I also understand that there is a less expensive version of the surgery that runs around $400, and I’d love to hear from people whose dogs had that particular surgery. Are there any downsides? Is the recovery period longer?

I appreciate any and all comments on the subject. We want to do what’s best for her, so the more information we can get, the better! Thanks in advance for filling us in!