Category Archives: loss

Goodbye Gracie Girl

On Friday afternoon, we said goodbye to our baby girl, Gracie.

When I first met my husband, I’d never had a dog, never wanted a dog, never understood what it was like to love a dog. I’d worked for not one, but two, pet companies. First, a veterinary specialty clinic where I spoke to owners who drove hours across the country for the absolute best orthopedic care for their pup. And then, for a dog daycare franchise’s home office, colocated with one of the daycare centers so I watched pet parents spend thousands of dollars a year because they couldn’t bear leaving their pup at home all day long. I knew in my heart how much people must love their dogs, but I couldn’t feel it myself.

Until about five years ago, working still at the daycare, when I first met Grace. When I walked into the kitchen, a few steps into the house, she started wagging her tail and peed all over the tile floor. In that one moment, I felt my heart soften.

After hours of watching other people with their own dogs, running into the daycare or the veterinary clinic, and still more time spent in the room with two surgical coordinators explaining next steps and estimates to our clients, shouldering the weight of many a desperate phone call about setbacks and pain, about side effects of medications, this moment finally did it. How can someone you’ve never met love you as soon as they lay eyes on you?

Jamie told me he’d been talking to Grace about me, saying how she was going to love me when she met me. I didn’t believe it. But then, I saw them together. And I watched them lay on his bed and he would. He would talk to her about me and say, “See, this is the girl I told you about.” And I realized he had. He had told her about me. She had been waiting for me and she knew, when I walked into that kitchen, that I was the girl he’d been talking about.

I hate that I have to write this in the past tense. I still want to talk about her like she’s right here, waiting at my feet because I’m sitting at the kitchen table so I must be eating, right? But she’s not.

She was a fighter. Her kidney levels first took a turn in July 2017, but she didn’t show it. Even in May, when the vet told us that she needed to go on a new diet, we didn’t believe it. The only signs were her constant need to go for a walk and her excessive thirst. Only a few weeks ago, after several failed diets and some weight loss because she was too stubborn to eat anything but her regular food and treats, did we switch her to a full-blown kidney disease treatment: pills, omega-3 supplements, kidney-specific food. And still, she wasn’t acting differently. And then, all of the sudden, she was. And there was no turning back.

I’m realizing now that unless you’ve ever lost a beloved pet, you won’t understand. I sure didn’t. But losing a pet is like a hundred micro heartbreaks every single day.

It’s the bad things you miss, even though you didn’t expect that you would. It’s expecting her to follow you into the basement to get the laundry, and having to coerce her to come bouncing back up the stairs with you. It’s expecting her to hop off the couch or clomp down the stairs when someone opens a takeout bag of Chipotle, or Chinese food, or Chick-fil-a, or anything really. It’s every thought you have that you’re used to saying out loud, like the phrases you’ve said a hundred times when she goes to nose open the bathroom trash cans, or hop up to get to the trash in the kitchen when you throw something away, or when she doesn’t want to come downstairs when it’s time for you to leave for work, or when you really need to pee before you can take her pee, right when you get home from work, so you tell her to go grab her leash. It’s expecting her to lick the dishes in the dishwasher. It’s not having to leave the light on when you go to get takeout on a Friday night. Or not having to worry about what time you get home. Or not having to put the gate on the stairs. Or wash a hundred rugs because she can’t walk on the wood floor without slipping and she can’t hold her bladder very long.

It’s the good things you miss too. Like the way she’d wait for you to give her a treat after a walk even if you already sat down in the other room, so she’d stand in the hallway staring at you, unwilling to move. Or the way she wiggles into the tinniest spots to sit next to you on the couch. Or the way she climbs over your computer keyboard when you’re trying to type. Or how she sprawls out on the bed like she owns the place. Or the way you joke that she’s well overdue on her rent payments. Or the way she wags her tail and stands on the sofa so she can see you the minute you get home from work. Or the way she always, always, always wants to play with her toys. The avocado and the two Santas and the snowman with no arms. Elmer the elephant she only got because you needed free shipping on an order for her veterinary diet. The slice of pizza bigger than her face. The many toys she tore to shreds within hours. But mostly, it’s the way she sat with you whenever you needed her, like somehow she knew, and maybe she did. Especially on those Sunday afternoons when you were alone for 8 hours, just you and her, while Jamie went to the Redskins games. She always drove you crazy wanting to walk every 30 minutes but you would’ve treasured that time a little more if you knew it would be gone so quickly.

I might’ve only gotten 5 of her 13 years, but every day my heart grew with her. They don’t make ’em all like Grace. She was something fierce, something special, someone you simply can’t replace. I don’t know that I could even try. I just hope she keeps showing up for us, in the smallest places, in the smallest ways.

A Man of Habit

My grandfather was a man of habit. He walked the same three miles every day. He always stopped at my aunt’s house to see his grandsons. He worked at the New York Shipping Association Pension Fund for 40 years. When he retired as Executive Director, he settled on a once-a-week transition. On Wednesdays, he took the train into Manhattan and rode the elevator up to his office in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. By all intents and purposes, he should’ve been at home that day. Maybe bouncing a baby on his lap or waving at the neighbors who knew him as Walking Joe. He shouldn’t have been in New York at all. But he switched his routine, and he went to work.

He walked home that day, soot-covered and forever shaken. It took him hours. He made it back, but he was never the same.

We started recounting the story with my brother-in-law recently, and I thought about how hard it must be to believe someone when they say, “You woulda loved him.” We inflate people we love when we eulogize them. The person you’re telling always thinks, “Yeah, yeah, sure they were great.” And you want to grab their shoulder, catch them right in the eye, and say, “No.” You want to say, “Sometimes, they aren’t. But this one? This one was great.”

It’s like wringing out a wet dish towel, trying to make it dry. You can twist and squeeze, twist and squeeze, but there will always be that little bit of water left, until you let it fall flat and dry on its own. Until you succumb to the reality that you might never be able to show them. Sometimes I think we try too hard to explain how much someone means, because we can’t bear but to try.

I think about his diehard love of the Mets. I try to imagine him at Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The way he never took off the shiny Mets varsity jacket. I think of the day he took me on the ferry to Shea. The weekends spent at the Poconos. The songs he sang us, made up and out of tune. How he could fall asleep standing up, leaning on the half-wall between the kitchen and family room. How he ate apples with a knife and brushed the salt off his sourdough pretzels. How he couldn’t swim so he’d stand in the shallow end of the pool with a baby in his arms.

I go back from time to time and read what I’ve written about my grandfather over the years. Because I can’t bear not to. Because the good parts, they deserve to be remembered. Because even though that day got the best of him, and he turned away from his family and lifelong friends until the day that he died, suddenly, we got the best of him first. For a time, we did.

I could run myself ragged thinking about the calendar. If September 11, 2001 had been a Monday or a Thursday or a Friday. Would he have met my husband? Would they have spent hours together, talking about everything and nothing? About the agony of postseason baseball. And the buzz of the stock exchange. And the comfort of a good book.

His story may never have a better ending. But the middle, the part I remember most, was just magic.

All The Things She Would Have Been

cissy

Each time I cross a monumental threshold, I think of them. Of her, mostly. Of the way she stood in my parent’s hall bathroom, the vent fan blasting.

It was the last stop before the garage and the car door. The last stop before whatever destination came next­—a dance recital or a Friday night dinner or a Christmas mass.

She’d stand there, brush brush brushing my sister’s hair, freeing the knots. Kels hated it, yelling and protesting the whole time, but I know now that was love—pressing onward when you knew someone needed you, even if they couldn’t see it clearly themselves.

She would have been 75 today—one of those years you think about spending on the front porch, iced tea in hand, granddaughter by your side.

She would have been a fiery 75-year-old, freckles dotting her face and her arms and her legs.

Her white hair still in thick tufts along the nape of her neck, not falling to the floor, defenseless against the chemotherapy.

Her shoes on and her purse in her lap the moment any one of her grandchildren, anywhere, had something big happening—she was a front row resident, a lifetime cheerleader. She loved us good and hard—tough but deeply, deeply caring.

She would have cried when you told her you were getting married next year—to a boy who loves you just as much as she did, full and unapologetically.

She would have sat proudly in the front row, hands in her lap, tears at the corners of her eyes. She would have loved your father-in-law. His stories. His character. His beliefs about the world and his children and his own grandchildren.

She would have been beautiful that day.

You don’t think about all the days you’ll lose with her until they crop up—one by one. Graduations, first jobs, engagements, marriage, houses, children—her great grandchildren.

You don’t think about telling stories of this woman to all the people you’ll someday know and love—people who don’t even know what a bead of hope she was in this crazy messy world.

You remember her white hair, her romance novels, her chocolate desserts. You remember all the freckles, the ribbons she threaded into barrettes for you. You remember the week they told you you couldn’t come to the hospital, you had to go to school, but that the waiting would be over soon. The waiting, it would be over soon.

You remember the funeral, and you wish she could see you in your own dress.

She’ll be there. We’re lucky like that. We know she’ll be there.

When we lose people, there are some we know, without a doubt, will always scoot up front for the best seat in the house, to see us smile, start our own family, get ready to brush our own daughter’s hair.

Here or not, she’ll be there. She never wanted to miss a big moment. Couldn’t possibly stop now.

We Are All Good Enough To Fly

gym-snow

This is not my happiest hour.

I thought about that, break lights in front of me all the way home tonight. I thought about whether that was a good thing, a bad thing, or just a true thing. This is not your happiest hour, I told myself. It just isn’t.

Friday, when the better part of the East Coast shuffles off to Happy Hour, you will be thinking about a girl in a room with a green sparkling leotard on, knees dry and cracking, palms sweaty, hair curling at the roots. You will think of her standing in a room, learning for the first time that she’s lost someone she deeply cares about, and you’ll pause. Wherever you are, at 7pm on Friday night, you will remember Friday, December 12, 2003. Friday, December 12, 2003. The perfect date – 12.12.03. 1+2 = 3. 1+2 = 3. You will be obsessed with dates and times, adding and subtracting them, and so, at thirteen, the perfect date will feel a lot less perfect.

I used to think I could only ever be angry, could only ever be sad. I had to gear myself up. I had to get real mad at God every year when I scrolled through the Facebook status updates, the photographs, all of us remembering a man who meant so much to us. To a group of girls in leotards.

Then, last summer, I met somebody who made me realize that might not be true. She had lost her daughter, decades ago, and each year, she remembered her. In the middle of her three boys, there was a girl, and I imagine she was beautiful, and full of life. I imagine it hurt like hell to lose her. It’s been years and years, and she still remembers, still makes a note to reflect, to say something about it, on her daughter’s birthday and the day she died.

For a while, I wondered if we stop. If we pause, and take a trash can, and empty our past into it, sit it out on the curb, and let our new relationships be untainted by what happened years ago. But we are who we are because a girl in a dress or a man in blue wind pants and a white polo helped us be a better person, for years and years after we lost them.

I was thirteen then. I lost my faith. I cried loud at his funeral, until my lungs ran out of breath, until my eyes ran out of tears. I cried through a full pack of tissues. Because I thought something monumental was happening – something was over. And it was, but something else would forever be beginning because of it.

My dreams continued, I pushed onward because he had always believed in me, I carried his lessons with me from team to team, from job to job, I paused on dark days and thought of him, his hope for me, his patience with me, and I knew I was blessed, for a short time in such a crucial stage of my life, to know a man who gave me wings when I didn’t believe I would ever be good enough to fly. He taught me that: we are all good enough to fly, even when we don’t see it ourselves.

And with that, I know, there is time yet for my happiest hour.