Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Birthdays and Spirits

On March 9, 1958, our world was graced with the birth of a baby girl in upstate New York, just outside of Albany. That little girl, who wasn't so little at 9 pounds, was my mom, Dena Cucinelli, although she was Dena Colleen Pickerall at the time. Dena would eventually move to California with her mom - my Gram - and grow up to be a beautiful woman in her own right, and would eventually have children of her own. Later in her life, Mom would meet my Dad, and fall in love and marry, and she moved back to the east coast, leaving behind her beloved Southern California and Mexican food, much to her chagrin. Within a few short years, they adopted me when I was just 8 weeks old, as Mom's birthday present to Dad. Such is the very abbreviated story of a contented life so sadly cut short.

I say that the world was graced with Mom, and perhaps that is hyperbole, but for the people who knew and loved her, we were all truly graced with her presence, her love and affection, and her genuine kindness. Mom is proof that goodness and love do in fact sustain a legacy.

I wonder sometimes, as we pass from this temporal phase to the eternal, in whatever form that may take, what happens to birthdays and do they have a significance other than to the friends and loved ones who remain. Are the dimensions of time and place even relevant when life is eclipsed? I suppose this may be too much for a Golden Retriever to comprehend, but it makes me wonder nonetheless.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

 And I have the sense to recognize
That I don't know how to let you go
Every moment marked with apparitions of your soul
I'm ever swiftly moving, trying to escape this desire
The yearning to be near you
I do what I have to do
The yearning to be near you
I do what I have to do
 - Sarah McLachlan

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Saddest Anniversary

You don't often think that an anniversary can be a sad event. Dogs don't really celebrate anniversaries, but I know my mom and dad would always celebrate their wedding anniversary, every January 24, and it was a happy event. Mom would show me the card she got from Dad and I would sniff it, and then she would set the card next to her night stand, so that she could see it when she woke up in the mornings. Those are happy anniversaries that deserve celebration. They are part of life's milestone markers that serve as reminders of the love and commitment shared by two people - through thick and thin.

And then there are anniversaries that are so sad that we even dread their passing. February 3 is one of those anniversaries for us. It is on that day, one year ago, that Mom had to leave us to set her spirit free, to be unchained by the boundaries of this temporal existence we only know as life. It is a day that reminds us of how much we lost, and how deeply we miss her. And while I sense the presence of her spirit, as does Dad on occasion, we would give away every earthly possession and more to have her back with us.

I live mostly in the moment, like most other dogs, so the days sometimes blend together. The past couple of weeks, in fact, began to serve as a reminder to me that something was different. Mostly, I have been reading the cues that Dad exhibits, even though he thinks he is camouflaging them. Sometimes I think he forgets that I'm a dog, and I have a powerful sense of intuition and awareness. I can feel his anxiety and his melancholy whenever we're together, and as the days draw nearer, it gets more intense. He tries hard to put on a brave face, but he'll never beat me in a game of poker.

Grief pursues Dad like a stalker. Though his state of mind has improved during the year, lately I have noticed set backs, more so recently. I've seen Dad recede into himself because he knows the stalker is always near, ready to inflict his mental anguish at any moment, day or night. I've seen Dad melt into a puddle of tears at the sight of a picture of Mom, or a song that he will listen to, but mostly he knows he is going to be assaulted by the stalker that is grief over and over on February 3. I also know that as much as I may try to help, there is nothing I can do to prevent his pain. I can just be there for him, like he was there for Mom in her final days. And like him, I will feel helpless, frightened, frustrated and bitter at the world for taking the most loving person in our lives from us so soon.

I hear people say that the first year is always the hardest, and that the sorrow subsides as time passes. It is a common refrain when there is no other condolence. I know that people are sincere when they say it too, but often they haven't really experienced profound loss. Because if they did, they would also know that while it is true that time and distance are nature's way of healing, the journey for the bereaved is a long and arduous one that is filled with traps and false hope.

I am reminded of sea glass whenever someone says something similar. Our life together, just the three of us, was like a beautiful piece of crystal that was shattered into nothing but shards of broken glass, with no resemblance to the beauty that it once was. Those shards are still razor sharp and cut deeply today, but if you were able to take them and toss them into the ocean, and somehow were able to retrieve them years later, you would have beautiful pieces of glass that would be frosted by the waves and the sand, and the sharp edges would be worn smooth. You could never put the crystal back together, but the pieces are still beautiful individually, like the individual memories of a beautiful person that graced us with her love and affection for a brief moment in time.

Did I say that I need you?
Oh, did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn't I'm a fool you see,..
No one knows this more than me.
As I come clean,...

Nothing you would take,..
Everything you gave.
Love you till I die,..
Meet you on the other side.

 - Pearl Jam