Reflections on Life and Death

Life and death. We tend not to think about them until they are thrust upon us. And yet…they are in our sphere every moment of every day. This week we spent a lot of time at the hospital and hospice. And because of our experiences there, this post has been more than a challenge to share what it meant in an adequate way. This is in fact, the third draft and I’m still not convinced it’s conveyed well enough yet.

While volunteering over the past 4+ years, we’ve had many encounters where we’ve seen the impact of a death on those actually there. We’ve been in a room when a patient passed away, a mere 90 seconds after Sam allowed a relative to place the hand of the patient on his front paws. We have visited hospice moments following a patient’s passing and have tried to provide compassionate support for the family and staff. I’ve reflected in past posts how stark I found the fact that some people, despite being surrounding by the most caring staff, too often die with no relatives nearby. I’ve lamented that others have had their loved ones glued to an electronic device rather than being part of a ritual that we all will go through. It’s been confounding and troubling at the same time.

Yet this visit, things played out differently. We arrived slightly before our shift began and knew the hushed convening of people at the front desk signaled something had ‘happened.’ A group of long faced relatives stood outside the closest room with a large man dressed in a dark suit. The nurses behind the desk all softly smiled at the sight of Sam and his tail wagged wildly but something was clearly different. And then it began to unfold.

Lutheran has an amazingly compassionate staff who provide comfort, dignity and support for those spending the final stage of life with loved ones in familiar surroundings. With each patient’s passing, they conduct a beautiful ceremony with a Tibetan singing bowl as the body is removed and carried out to the transporting hearse. We had never experienced this somber spiritually touching ceremony before but that was about to change. This video will give you an idea of the sound (although there is no running water or crickets but I think you can get the picture and feel the peacefulness).

This week our interactions were quite intense as we witnessed the honoring of a life who passed with family and friends nearby, just the way it should be. Sam sat very erect next to me somehow sensing the reverence required despite being among some of his favorite nurses. Any other time, he’d be moving from one to the other engaging them and relishing the ear scratches but when the bowl started its melodic tone, he was still as a statue. The tones were soothing and continued rhythmically until the body and the family walked down the long hallway to the exit where the hearse was parked outside. I was so moved and it took both Sam and I several long minutes to gain our composure for what was to be yet another remarkable encounter.

Today’s visit was met with lots of hushed quiet voices, more so than usual. It’s understandable. Everyone there knows when a patient dies and they all honor the dead with quiet deference. And yet life goes on in areas throughout the facility. Housekeeping continues to clean, patients are tended to, reports filed. Care provided. We received the usual comments about Sam’s calmness and sweet nature, his freshly trimmed haircut. We were told to visit with a fellow in a room down the hall from the patient who had passed away. As I walked by, an older woman sat reading a book, glancing up and smiling broadly. She gestured for us to come in and tried to rouse her friend. Sadly, “Earl” did not open his eyes despite pleas from his friend, “Valerie.” Next to his chest was a large stuffed cat, the kind of stuffed toy that makes noises when there was movement nearby. “Meow, meow.” Sam did the classic dog head-tilt which made Valerie chuckle and I introduced us as she apologized, saying, “Oh, that silly cat. I don’t know why he has it…he raised show dogs for years. Guess he just wanted to create some racket when he first came in a week ago.” While he may have been more animated a week ago, it was clear Earl was not the same man today. A frail small man lay in the bed, his eyes semi-closed, breathing deeply. She laughed about Earl’s sense of humor and I sat down next to her as she talked while Sam sat between her knees. She gently petted him, staring deep into her eyes and he moved even closer. I could tell we’d be there a while as Sam sorting out and addressed her ‘needs.’ Never mind Earl. It was all about ministering to Valerie in Sam’s mind. We talked about how they met, how long they had known each other and their days in the world of dog shows. Earl had had a black standard poodle up until recently who had been the apple of his eye. She chatted as if we were old friends and as I listened to her tales about Earl. Sam stayed focused on her face and she just kept repeating how wonderful he was. After quite some time, he slide down in front of her and curled up between her legs. We weren’t going anywhere soon. And so we continued to chat. She shared her thoughts about the book she was reading and was delightedly to learn the author was also one of my favorite mystery writers, Donna Leon. Many of her novels have been transformed into the PBS series, Brunetti, about an Italian police commissioner in Venice. After a long visit, she said how much she wished Earl could see Sam and expressed regret that Earl didn’t get a chance to say hello to Sam. We wished her well, finished up at hospice and then made our way over the main hospital for even more moving and intense visits with many people. Sam was on his best behavior and totally crashed when we arrived home hours later. We were both fully spent after a day sharing stories about the living and paying homage to the dead.

Hopefully I can continue to rot out my thoughts about our visit even more and share our experience from West Pines which was truly amazing. I am still trying to wrap my head around the intensity and how to share them adequately so that they do in fact convey the incredible privilege we have visiting with the most vulnerable and the needy. 

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

Tongue Out Tuesday

It’s not a full tongue out, I’m just practicing to get ready for my week at the hospital so if you don’t hear from us, you’ll know why. Today’s gonna be a hot one but I’m looking forward to seeing my friends at the hospital and hospice. Stay cool and look for us in a few days. 

Live, Love, Bark! ❤︎

Monday Musings

Is it really Monday again? Seems like Friday was here a second ago and poof…now it’s Monday. Guess extensive gardening in nice weather speeds up time. While the dogs ‘snoopervised,’ the garden got spiffed up nicely. Now if only I could find the BENGAY® and Icy Hot for the aching back! Did you do anything fun over your weekend?

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

Fab Friday

When I woke up this morning, I said to myself, “Self, today is Friday and that my friend, is what you’ve been waiting for all week.” Here’s hoping your Friday leads to a pawsome weekend! Got any special plans?

Lie, love, bark! ❤︎

#TBT ~ June 22, 2017

It’s Throwback Thursday time. Sam here. Mom was going through some photos the other day for another project she was working on and came across this photo and turned to me and shook her head. She actually had the nerve to say out loud, “remember that day you were supposed to be watching the Ninja Elsa when she vandalized munched that brand new skein of yarn?!” Wait…what? Do I look like a freaking babysitter? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Woman, how’s about you just not being so wrapped up in crafting next time. Besides, I kept looking at you-can I help it if you didn’t pay attention to my silent eye daggers? Do I look like Lassie barking my fool head off about Timmy falling down the well? You need to get with it and ‘hear’ me better.

The week is rushing toward our best friend, Friday. Hope everyone is either staying cool or dry from the rain that skipped us. Whichever…hope all is well in your world.

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

Wish You Were Here Wednesday ~ June 21, 2017

Today is the official first day of Summer, the longest day of the year. And it’s been pizza oven hot. So…it made me think I’d like to revisit a place that had a ‘cool vibe’ to it and one that I happened to have visited before.

 

Excuse the hair-humidity does me in.

Let’s hop on our magic carpet ride to the fabulous 111-acre botanical park known as Insel Mainau on the Bodensee, the largest lake in the German-speaking world, (aka Lake Constance), located on the border where Germany, Switzerland and Austria meet. Insel Mainau is known as the “Island of Flowers.” It was a lovely day with perfect conditions for taking in all the incredible sights on the island still owned by the Lennart Bernadotte family. The more than 150 year old Arboretum with its giant Sequoias welcomes you to relax and enjoy an amazing place. Mainau contains around a million tulips, Rhododendrons, roses, perennials and dahlias that bloom in clever beds throughout the gardens. Palms and citrus plants also lend a Mediterranean flair to the island in summer. 

 

We hung out for a short time prior to boarding our ferry in Meersburg checking out some of the sights, one of which looms high over this Baroque town. Poetess Annette von Droste-Hülshoff used the Old Castle in Meersburg from 1841 until her death in 1848. More than 30 rooms are available to tour year round but we came for the spectacular gardens and did not go through the castle.

Ferry dock at Meersburg
Bird’s eye view – Courtesy: BodenSee.de website

Accessing Mainau is done either by bridge from the town of Lindau on the southern side or by ferry from Meersburg on the northern side. My previous trip I drove through Lindau but this time we took the ferry from Meersburg. But before we begin our tour, here’s a bit of historical background. Born a Swedish prince, Lennart Bernadotte designed the former summer residence of his great-grandfather, Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden, as a flower and plant paradise and made it accessible to the public. Siblings Bettina Gräfin Bernadotte and Björn Graf Bernadotte now run the foundation which manages the island and promotes conservation and protection of the environment. Rare plants, more than a million tulips, hyacinths and narcissi, a stunning collection of dahlias and 250 species of roses, highlight the gardens. The diverse collection contains over 800 varieties making this landscape interesting in all seasons. One of my favorite parts of the gardens are the massive topiaries which offer a whimsical look around the grounds.

Humans on the far left provide scale.

 

 

 

 

 

A gaggle of flowers!

 

 

 

 

That’s some rose tree!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With beautiful and astounding specimens of roses together with restful spots and secret places to linger, you’re sure to find something that impresses and appeals to your senses.


These cascading walkways take my breath away with their beautiful design. Every. time. I. visit.

I could have stayed here for days and even though I’ve been there twice now, I know I haven’t seen it all. Guess I just need to take another trip! Darn…twist my arm…please?

Lovely Meersburg with the Old Castle on upper left.
Tschüss!

Come back again for another “Wish You Were Here Wednesday.” Have you ever been to Insel Mainau?

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

 

The Privacy Issue

The issue of privacy is a big concern these days. From those strangers on Facebook you may or may not have gone to school with or former co-workers or employers stalking you sending friend requests, to Twitter trolls. And of course too many of us have had our email accounts hacked, our credit card number stolen and surreptitiously used to buy anything from concert tickets thousands of miles away to high-end electronics, just to name a few things.

Whether you live with little kids or dogs, the issue of “privacy” takes on an interesting dynamic that might not live in their lexicon. Oh sure, you can close a door on peeps, but dogs have a slightly different approach to a closed-door situation and are definitely of the opinion that doors are meant to be left open, or be opened. During cooler seasons, there’s usually a line outside the bathroom door waiting for me to return to the 4-legged members and not because ‘someone’ may need to use the facilities. “OMD…you’ve been in there for 90 seconds!! When are you coming out?? Whine, whine, scratch.”

Now that the official beginning of summer is just a day away and temperatures from coast to coast have been off sizzling so air conditioning is the norm rather than the exception. In our case, it means an evaporative air conditioner on the roof. This baby cools the whole house nicely with the added bonus of it adding much-needed humidity to the dry Denver air. The one downside to evaporative cooling is it frequently makes door jams swell. I guess there are worse First World problems, but when you have dogs, it can make for some interesting encounters, especially at the bathroom. In the winter, it’s not a problem unless noisy barks and paw stomping bother you, but these days…

While the door was closed as much as possible, it did not fit squarely in the door jam and stay closed so assorted versions of this generally happen.

Ah, poodles, God’s way of making us smile at long noses designed to push open doors for easy access. How do you deal with the issue of privacy and dogs at your place?

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

 

Monday Moanings

Can’t believe it’s Monday already. We hope all the Dad’s out there had a wagnificently Happy Father’s Day. How was your weekend?

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

Game On Dude!

Normally when it’s been ‘game on’ in the past, it means I’m trying to match wits with a certain blonde knucklehead. This time however, we’re talking about a totally different game.

I’ve tried, really I have. Living in an urban setting, there is a surprisingly diverse wildlife population. Foxes, all sorts of songbirds, a couple of mangy coyotes, an owl, a pair of hawks, some raccoons and of course, squirrels. I enjoy watching them as they adapt to city life and have managed to co-habitat easily with them. That is, except…for the squirrels which seem to be some sort of spin-off from a Hell’s Angels fur gang, minus leather jackets. Lately they’ve become even more bold.

Source filched from the web

Oh sure, we all like to think of our little Sciuridae fur-iends as impossibly cute and even entertaining. Isn’t the one above just beyond adorable? Yeah right. The ones in my neighborhood are a lot more like this one. They’ve eaten screens, chewed ginormous holes in the trash and recycle bins to scrap out that lone tiny piece of stuck cheese in the discarded pizza box and left giant holes in the compost bins. Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind it they stuck to the compost bins and enjoyed a strawberry hull or two, but crimmin-Italy…not the dang window screen…again!!

Source: another filched image from the Web

Less than two weeks ago, the most brazen of the 3 or 4 that have been terrorizing gracing the Ranch from large tree in the front yard chewed through the screen in the kitchen presumably to snack on some bananas. Must be offspring from the one from a few years ago that broke in through that same screen and devoured a package of brownies on the counter. Yesterday as we were returning from our early morning walk, we arrived to find a blur whiz past us. Naturally the Ninja huntress took off after it. She nearly caught him too. Sure gave him a scare as he double timed it up the utility pole just out of jaw’s reach.

Meanwhile, back at the scene of the crime, I realized we had caught him ‘screen-handed’ though by the time I retrieved Elsa from chasing him, the only thing left was yet another torn screen in the exact same spot as the prior 2 times. Little bastard. If it only happened a few times every 4 or 5 years, I probably wouldn’t be so cranky about it. But this was less than two weeks ago!! So I went out to the garage to see if I still had any rat traps. While I didn’t find a rat trap, I did find a couple of mouse traps and baited them with some peanut butter. Not 30 minutes later that same hoodlum snatched the glob of PB off one and triggered the other one from the window sill. Are you freaking kidding me??!!

Ok, pal…it’s game on now and I’m going full nuclear. I’m going full Bill Murray from “Caddyshack” and plan to catch that little rat bastard. Have you ever been victimized by a rogue gangster squirrel? While I consider myself a major animal and wildlife lover, this. has. got. to. stop. We’ll be visiting our friendly hardware store this morning to stock up on armament.

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

Can Grass Hurt Your Dog?

How many of us have dogs who think they’re goats? [raises hand] But now that we’ve had some scorching summer temps, some grasses can seriously harm your fur-kid. How is that possible? Grass awns.

Wait…what? Did you just make a typo. Nope. Grass awns are those sharp seed heads that often are barbed and can potentially burrow into our dogs skin, nasal passages and even enter their chest wall. The Mile High City has not received much in the way of rain so walking in yesterday’s early cool morn, I began to see a lot more of this along sidewalks. Way too early in the season.

While summertime is full of outdoor fun, it also heralds the arrival of two notable things that pose serious consequences for dogs. Dogs left in cars [don’t get me started on THAT one here-it deserves a separate post] and grass awns…aka fox tails. While researching the topic of grass awns, I found this website created by Cathy Lewis to “provide a source of information around this issue and to facilitate gathering of case history data so that we can attempt to formulate an action plan to reduce the numbers of affected dogs and save others the worry and heartache that I’ve been through with my own dogs and those of my friends.” While many of the entries mostly relate to hunting breeds, I know only too well that fox tails are very much alive and well in urban settings and can easily attach themselves to a leg or paw while walking. The result can lead to infection and extensive (read expensive) vet treatment. You can read a previous post from a couple of years ago about fox tails here.

Be careful out there-it’s a real jungle. While I’d love nothing more than to let Sam and Elsa enjoy running through swaying grass and sniffing out all the smells of summer, but with those nasty grass awns lurking-just waiting to attach their barbs to my fur-kids, I’ll be keeping an even shorter leash on them as summer progresses. Stay safe, sports fans!

Live, love, bark! ❤︎