death

Pour One Out for Prince

I was in the middle of celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, when I received a flurry of text messages with the news that Prince, the 57 year old entertainment icon, has died.

Put on something purple, put on his Greatest Hits, dim the lights and pour yourself a glass of whatever it is you need to handle this loss.

We’ll miss you, you weird little enigma of a man. You were larger than life, and a true artist and original.  Your music was part of the soundtrack to my childhood and for millions of other people your songs are tied to some of our fondest memories.

Nothing compares 2 you…

Nugget of Joy

Bad news makes headlines. I was taught in university, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Somehow Facebook has become inundated with people sharing articles of tragedies and ominous warnings about people and products… posts asking you to “Share if you love your mom/son/daughter/husband/god/cat/dog/grandma”

Click bait is everywhere.

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I came across this video today on Facebook and it made me smile. It was nice for once to have something sweet and inspiring appear on my newsfeed that didn’t include puppies. Although I would have enjoyed at LEAST one puppy.

Here’s a small nugget of joy for you, about a resilient little boy working through his grief.

All My Friends Are Dead!

Not really. Well, not yet! This got off to a weird start. Let me back this hearse up and explain.

I’ve always had a hard time accepting my own mortality, so of course, I’ve spent hours crying in anticipation of the death of my loved ones and ultimately, myself (don’t worry, I’m medicated). I think it’s because people are having babies, BLAME THE BABIES. Something about watching my friends gestate and bring little pink humans into existence makes my brain put The Circle of Life on repeat. I won’t go into anymore detail. I’ll save that for my memoir (available on microchip in 2030!).

Anyways, this past weekend I was talking to my friend Kate about how I’ve been wrestling with the idea of death and dying, and to my surprise she voiced her own concerns about kicking the bucket. With celery sticks in hand, we talked about meaning, existence, the afterlife and religion. There was a brief reprieve for talk about Real Housewives and eyebrows, but for the most part, the more we hacked into our veggie tray of negative calories, the deeper our subject matter became.

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I was surprised when Kate told me that she needed to give a list of funeral demands to one of our mutual friends incase of her untimely demise.

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Losing a pet and adopting again

One of my favourite blogs, Professional Dreamer, recently published a heartbreaking post about the loss of her beloved dog, Beth. It was so honest and filled with raw grief, it immediately took me back to 2005 when I lost my first pet, Zeus. There’s a sense of innocence that dies with your childhood pet that makes the grieving process that much harder. For me, I naively believed Zeus would live forever, and was filled with anger when I had to put her down.

When I was three years old, I fell down a neighbour’s stairs, hitting my head on a metal support beam in their basement and fractured my skull. In the hospital, my parents asked me what they could do to make me feel better. I know it sounds crazy because I was only a little tot, but I remember asking for a puppy. Weeks later, wearing my protective hockey helmet (part of the recovery process. I looked super cool!) we went to a local breeder to pick out the perfect addition to our family. The story goes (and it’s one of my favourite stories), a little white fluff ball left her mother and the rest of her litter and made her way over to me. When the breeder took the little runt back to her mother, she promptly crawled back to me. Everyone agreed: She chose us. It was meant to be.

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Me (top) with my Sister (right) and the Zeuster

For 15 years, Zeus (affectionately called Zeusie because she was female) was my best friend and the friendliest dog. Whenever we had visitors, she would howl to say hello, and then run into the kitchen, grab a tea-towel from the oven handle and greet you, leaving her gift at your feet. I wrote Zeusie valentines day cards, gave her Christmas presents, celebrated her birthday and fell asleep next to her on the living room floor. We were buds.  A blood clot in her foot when she was 15 lead to the amputation of part of her paw. The vet said there was little chance she would recover and the best thing to do was put her down, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It cost thousands of dollars, but she miraculously recovered, wearing baby socks on her sore paw.

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Tea towel totin’ pup!

We had three more great years together before her aching hips, and inability to walk lead our family to make the tough decision to put her to sleep. It was and still is the worst day of my life. I refused to go home to our empty house for two weeks, crying day and night at my grandparent’s house for the loss of my pup. I asked questions like, “Where did she go? How does someone just stop being? What’s the point of all of this?” Existential and dramatic? Yes, but it was my first experience with death and I loved her so much.

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Awkward teenage years and still best buds

I vowed to never have another pet, specifically another dog, but the emptiness in the house was too much to handle. It was too quiet and I missed having an animal to cuddle with. Months later, on what would have been Zeusie’s birthday, my mom took me to the SPCA to adopt a cat. We were standing in the lobby, looking at a little orange kitten when a woman walked up to us and said, “That kitten hissed and scratched my daughter. Don’t get her.”

Excuse you, lady. Don’t ever tell me what to do!

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Honey is judging you while writing the great Canadian novel

I put the kitten in my arms and she immediately purred and fell asleep. It was fate. We signed the papers and just like that, I had another pet. I won’t lie. At first I felt guilty. I cried all the way home from a mix of joy and sadness. From the minute we brought Honey home, the dynamic in the house changed. We would laugh at her exploring the house, trying to nurse my finger tips, and getting stuck in closets and under bed frames. I became an obsessive, crazy cat lady. It’s been 10 years and I’m loving every minute of it.

Years later, I adopted Penny, my little Shorkie terrier. This time there were no feelings of guilt, no sadness or hesitation. I knew I could love and take care of a pup in need, so I ate my words and became a dog owner again.

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Penny & Me, 2012

The death of a pet is devastating. No matter how many you’ve lost, it never gets easier. You can listen to ‘The Circle of Life’ on the Lion King soundtrack as many times as you want, but it still breaks your heart when they go. Sometimes I see Zeusie’s collar and I still get emotional that she’s no longer here. Sometimes I even look at Honey and Penny and think about the day they’ll be gone too. The thing that keeps me going is the thought that I’m so lucky to have their unconditional love in my life. The only thing I can do is make their time on earth the happiest it can possibly be, and when that time comes, I’ll do the same for another animal in need.

Everyone is different, and I don’t mean to suggest everyone go out and adopt another animal right away. This is simply my story of grief and opening my heart again to another pet (or pets).

My thoughts go out to Sian and her family on the loss of Beth. Take the time to mourn but be sure to remember the good times and how much she enriched your life. Big hugs your way.

xo

When Nani says it’s time to go

Yesterday I went to visit my Nani (grandmother) and Nonno (grandfather). Everything was going well, until this happened:

Me: What’s new with you lately?

Nani: I’ve been thinking of pulling a Robin Williams.

 

Let me back this depressing train up.

My grandparents are adorable little Italians (they barely clear5″3) who’ve been married for 63 years. They’re sassy as hell but they are the most generous people you’ll ever meet.

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On Boxing Day 2013 my Nani fell in the middle of the night, breaking her nose and arm in several places. While she was in the hospital, the home she shared with my grandfather for almost 60 years was sold. My Nonno moved into a retirement home, and after three months in the hospital, my Nani joined him. She never had the chance to see her home again and say goodbye; something she talks about constantly.

It’s been seven months since my grandparents moved into their new digs. My Nonno seems happy- he loves the buffet and chatting up the ladies, but my Nani is a different story. She hasn’t really left her room (except for the buffet) and hasn’t participated in any of events or movie nights. I’ve noticed she’s much more nostalgic, forgets things easily and is sleeping more than usual. Yes, yes, I know she’s 83 years old, but there’s been a noticeable change in her behaviour.

My Nani and I have always been very close. She’s my home girl. My road dog. Part of my ride or die crew. My #1 broad. I used to visit her twice a week, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve been slacking in the favourite grandchild department. Like her, I’ve found the change of venue incredibly difficult. I’ve had nightmares almost nightly about their old house. I can’t even drive past their old street. My Nani and Nonnos’ house was my sanctuary, my refuge. It’s just so hard to believe I’ll never be there again.

I’m incredibly grateful that I have all four of my grandparents still with me. Grateful and terrified. I know there are so many people (many of my friends) who have lost their grandparents or parents and would give anything to have more time with them. My shrink says (yes, I’m one of those people quoting their shrink – how New York of me!) that I have “anticipatory grief” because I get caught up in the thought that one day they won’t be here with me. It’s gotten so bad that during family events and holidays I’m holed up in the bathroom hyperventilating because my mind is racing. Is this the last birthday they’re here for? Is this the last Christmas?

Having an Italian grandmother means I’m used to some level of morbidity and  disappointment with the fact that I’m not married with children. She’s been talking about dying for as long as I can remember. The difference is that now the things she’s saying things that are really sinking in. Things like, “Who’s going to take care of you when I’m gone?” , “‘I’ll never know what kind of mother you’ll be. What your kids will look like.” (Sweet Oprah Winfrey, I’m getting misty eyed just thinking about it).

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After she made her off colour and let’s face it, too soon comment about Robin Williams, I tried my best to keep it together.  “Why would you ever say something like that?” I asked her. “You can’t mean that. Take it back.”

Normally we’d laugh things off and I’d threaten elderly abuse. This time she just looked at me and told me how much pain she was in. She said her whole body hurt from the moment she woke up, to the time she went to sleep. She said I couldn’t possibly  understand what it’s like to have no friends left, to want to call someone but remember at the last second that they’re gone. She told me that it’s getting harder for her to pretend that she still wants to be here. She said she’s ready to go.

I wanted to be angry, but she was so sad I didn’t know what to do.  What was I supposed to say?

I looked around the sitting room of the retirement home. Everyone looked so small and alone. My instinct is to feel like a child, to want to be taken care of by my grandparents. What do you do when the people who used to care for you can’t care for themselves?  “You can’t leave me until I’m 40.” I said to my her. “I already made a deal with Satan.”

My Nani looked at me wide eyed. “You sold your soul to the devil? Elizabeth Regina, that’s terrible.”

“I didn’t sell mine. I sold yours. Looks like you’re not going anywhere for a while.”

“You bitch,” she said laughing. “What would I do without you?”

It hit me then that she needs me as much as I need her. I felt close to her again, like we were back at her old house sitting playing cards. It felt so easy, so familiar.  We sat for a little while longer until it was time for me to go. We said our goodbyes said our “I love you’s” and I promised to be back later this week. If that was our last visit together, I would be OK with it. I hope it’s not, but at least she would know how much I love her. All the things I’ve wanted to say to her have been said and our time together is just icing on the cake.

And everyone knows the icing is the best part.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I apologize for my grandmother’s insensitive remarks about Robin Williams and suicide. It is not something to be taken lightly.

If you or anyone you know is expressing suicidal thoughts please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)