Another Legacy 1.24

Kiki sitting at the desk

In late autumn, a new sadness enters the home. Moira Fyres has died. The grief hits Ira hardest, maybe because she hadn’t been friends with Moira as long as Case had, or maybe because she doesn’t have as many projects, interests, and activities as Case and Kiki do to distract her.

She goes back to bed after Case leaves for work and Kiki goes to school, and her mid-morning naps dissolve into crying beneath the covers.

Ira crying under the covers

“I can’t get my mind around it,” she confesses to Aadhya. “She was just here the other day. We were becoming friends. Now, we’ll never be better friends. She seemed so full of energy. So alive.”

Ira and Aadhya talking

“They say it was an aneurism,” Aadhya says.

“I know. So sudden,” Ira replies. “Did you know that she was Case’s first friend?”

Ira and Aadhya talking

“I thought I was,” Aadhya says.

“Oh, maybe you were. Maybe I heard wrong and he meant one of his first friends.”

“Probably,” Aadhya adds. “We all used to hang out together.”

Ira

“I just don’t know why it’s hitting me so hard,” Ira says.

“Don’t bother trying to figure it out. Grief never makes sense. I mean, look at me. I should be all broke up, right? Or what about Case? You’d think he’d be really sad. Maybe he is, and he’s just not showing it.”

“I think he’s too busy,” Ira says. “He has work. He’s all wrapped up in the adoption process. I’m just here all day, with my thoughts. It gets to me.”

Aadhya, carrying the blank canvas, follows Ira out to the easel.

“Painting will help you feel better,” Aadhya explains.

“I suppose so.” It does feel good spread the paint on the canvas, and the scent of linseed oil helps Ira relax.

Aadhya follows Ira out to the easel

Aadhya leaves before the painting is finished, and Ira is alone, first with her thoughts, and then, as she continues painting, with no thoughts, only feelings, a knife in her chest, bruises under her eyes. Grief is painful.

“Can you help me, Ira?” Kiki asks. It’s a school project.

“Oh, a volcano,” Ira says. “I made one of those when I was in first grade. Using baking soda and vinegar?”

Ira helps Kiki with her school project

“Something like that. Are you still sad, Ira?”

“Yeah. I miss my friend. I’m just so sad that I’ll never see her again. I had all these plans for what we’d do together, and, you know, I thought she could help me as I grow older, by telling me what it’s like and stuff.”

Ira helps Kiki with her school project

“You know what I do when I miss my mom and dad?” Kiki asks. Ira doesn’t say that it’s different, because her mom and dad died when she was so little that she probably doesn’t even remember them. She swallows that thought, and she just listens, instead. “I talk to them.”

“I might feel silly talking to her,” Ira says.

“Doesn’t matter,” says Kiki, “but you could also write. You could write her a letter. It will help.”

The next morning, after Kiki has gone to school and Case to work on-site, before she even cleans up the breakfast dishes, Ira sits at the kitchen table with her journal. She imagines everything she would want to say to Moira.

Ira writes in her journal

Dear Moira,

We never became best friends, but I thought, last time you visited, that we might. I thought, maybe, you would be my close woman friend, and that you were an older woman was all the better, for I would have someone to talk with about the changes my body is going through, and about the shifts in my goals and my plans and dreams as I grow older.

I envisioned us gardening together, sitting at the chess table with a pot of tea, talking over Kiki’s latest milestones, planning for ways to make life easier for Case. I thought that, if I ever did get into college, that I could lean on you for a role model and for advice.

I guess I saw you as a role model, and now you’re gone.

This feels so selfish, because this is all about me, and what I’m missing, which is my dreams of having someone to fill this gap in me. But the thing I’m really sad for is that you’re no longer here. That your life on this green world is over.

When you were here the last time, which is the first time that you and I really talked, the time when we really became friends, your eyes sparkled. You were shining from within, I don’t know if you knew that. We talked about your garden club, and you talked about how hopeful you felt, with all the changes that have happened here in Port Promise, all the changes that Case has been either responsible for or directly involved with, and you told me that you felt so proud. You felt proud to know us.

Maybe it was that shine in your eyes that inspired me, that made me decide then that I wanted to be like you. I’m not much, Moira, and even though I speak my mind, probably more often than I should, I really lack confidence. But somehow, you made me feel that that was OK, and that it didn’t matter, and that just being a person was enough.

Can we still be friends, even though you’re not around? Can I still write you?

I’m not sure if I feel better, but at least I don’t feel so lonely.

Wishing you peace, wherever you are,

Your friend, Ira

Ira writes in her journal

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Another Legacy 1.9

Geeta hears Grim call her name

I’d forgotten how quickly death comes when playing normal lifespan. It seems our game has just started when Geeta succumbs.

During my first legacy, the train of death tried my resilience. I was at the tail-end of a decade-long spell of grief for my dad, and Goofy Love, in many ways, became a canon of eulogies. But it helped me, too, to tell the story of the ultimate departure and the sadness of those left behind.

Geeta collapses on the floor while Case, in the background, researches a mushroom

How did I get to feel that I was immortal? It’s a trick of consciousness, that buzz of energy that fills the space within and without. Wittgenstein saved me, I read his insight: “If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.” And that was a gift my dad gave me, especially during my last visit with him, in his last few weeks. At one moment, I felt that he really saw me, as he never had before, and we shared timelessness.

I remember standing in the garden, watering the red salvia, and realizing that writing the repetition of legacy deaths had brought me to that moment.

I refused to use the word “death” then. I used “passing” or “a visit from Grim.”

People gather around Geeta

But the pandemic, and the daily totals I’ve been checking every morning for the last eight months, have brought the word “death” into my daily vocabulary.

Today, in my county, 5 new deaths were reported, bringing the total to 722. In the county to the north, 39 were reported, bringing the total to 4,119. In our state, the total is 6,885.

One of those 722 in our county, one of the first deaths, back in April, was an acquaintance of mine, a potential friend, a coworker, the librarian of one of our schools. Writing this now, I can’t believe that we have continued on. I don’t know why the world didn’t stop then. It did stop for her daughter, for her grandchildren. I keep thinking of her grandson.

One bright winter day last year, in my office, the fluorescent lights off as the sun poured in through the south window, we sat at my computer, shoulder to shoulder, and she told me, “We always leave the lights off at home during the day when my grandson comes to visit. If we don’t, he turns them off and tells me, ‘Use Jesus light, grandma!'”

So, I think of her grandson, and what does he think now, when he stands in Jesus light pouring in through the window? Does it bring to him his grandmother?

Her last name was Sims, curiously enough. I told her, that same bright day, that I played a game called Sims. She laughed, and she listened while I told her about it–I mean, she really listened, like Moira and Ira listen to Case. I had that same sentiment towards her–she got me.

We had a cultural connection, too, having both lived in the Bay Area. In fact, when she lived there, she worked for the same company my brother did. It’s a huge statewide company, but it’s likely they knew each other and had even been in meetings together.

She moved out here to go to the university, where she got a PhD in Cultural Anthropology.

Each time I helped her with her school library website, she would send me a card–an actual paper card, not an email–to thank me.

She was gracious and regal and full of light. And I can’t believe she’s gone.

I learned of her death when I was preparing the audio file of the Governing Board meeting for posting on the Board website. The superintendent, in his report, after cheerily talking about plans for remote learning, way back in the spring when all of this was new, somehow segued into mentioning that a pandemic death had taken one of ours. I couldn’t believe it when he said her name.

It still hasn’t sunk in.

Geeta has passed and people weep

I know others who’ve been affected by the pandemic, too. We all do by now. The spouse of a blogger I follow has long Covid, which is affecting neurology and cognition.

What are we doing writing legacies during a pandemic?

Similar to the eulogy my first legacy became, this legacy, perhaps, will become my sadness hotline. Playing The Sims and writing in conjunction offer a way to process. They offer escape, too–until they don’t.

Case calls the sadness hotline

And there is so much to process. Today, the person I hired to clean out my office delivered six cardboard boxes and a boombox, carrying 23 years of my career. Just like that.

When shutdown first started, I was worried about my office plants. I couldn’t get anyone to plant-sit them for me. If they die, I realized, I will not go back to the office. They died. Other people have gone back to the office. I’m not going. Maybe a year from now, or two, when there are no cases in our state or neighboring states, I’ll venture back to say goodbye to everyone.

But thinking about it right now, I don’t want to say goodbye. There’s a walk I used to take, along the quiet, straight, residential street our office building stands on, with mesquite-lined sidewalks and wildflowers that bloom in the sidewalk cracks. I don’t want to admit that that walk isn’t part of my day anymore.

Before I got on the plane to visit my dad the last time, I told my boyfriend, “I don’t want to tell him goodbye.”

“Then maybe you don’t have to,” he said.

So I didn’t. I told him I loved him. I told him I’d see him around.

And I do–whenever I catch the flicker of light off the wing of a bird, when I look at a pine tree, when my eyes water from the bright yellow and orange of a lantana blossom.

Olive Tinker walks through the garden center

Somehow our lives have been disrupted, and our insane belief that we are somehow immune to death has been shattered.

In many ways, I don’t mind the seismic change that the pandemic brought to my life. It’s a reminder of the significance of this. It’s a daily acknowledgement of those we’ve lost, of my friend whose grandson sees her in the Jesus light that pours in through the window.

Case walks home, very sad

I’ve stayed home. I’ve been that privileged. I’ve retired. I’ve been that lucky to be able to. I’m sad, I’m afraid, I’m experiencing separation anxiety at the idea of leaving one of the main ways I’ve integrated into society. But I’m alive. And it’s not fair, that I’m alive and my librarian friend is not, that I’m able to retire and others have to choose between staying safe or having money for rent. It’s not fair, because none of this is, and the cognitive dissonance of living through this time has stretched me beyond limit, to where sometimes, the only place I can reside is timelessness.

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GloPoWriMo – Day 16

Over the Top

You’re
in the middle
of a pandemic.

Be Kind to Yourself.
Order ice cream in your next grocery delivery. Chocolate. Get honey, too. Chocolate sauce. Mix it all together. Eat it. Empty the box of your favorite puzzle, the one of the Norman Rockwell painting, not the barbershop one. The fishing one. Pour all the pieces on your kitchen table. Spend five days putting it together. Don’t start with the edges. Stay up all night playing video games. Live in Tamriel. Forget this planet, just for one night. Then eat more ice cream.

in the middle
of a pandemic

Practice Extreme Self Care.
Breathe. Breathe while you do yoga. Stand in the garden. Breathe. Gaze at the mountains. Breathe. Breathe in the shower. Breathe when you take a bath so long that the rough skin on your heels softens and the bath becomes salty with tears. Breathe. Breathe when you stand in your kitchen, olive oil in one hand, cinnamon in the other, wondering what you are doing with each. Where are you? Breathe. Breathe while you pick the dried flakes of skin on your heels, white scales piling up on the corner of the coffee table, trying not to pick until your feet bleed, breathing because for the first time in three weeks your brain feels normal even if your feet hurt when you walk the next morning.

in the middle

Grieve.

Daily Prompt:  “write a poem of over-the-top compliments,” from Na/GloPoWriMo.

Author’s note: Well, I didn’t even try to complete today’s prompt–my mind latched onto “over-the-top,” which this poem is. I considered writing a found-poem composed of Trump’s over-the-top praise for himself (I’d title it “Perfect”), but I don’t really want to feel angry this morning. The poem I wrote is inspired by this article I read last night by Marnie Hunter, published in CNN, “That uncomfortable coronavirus feeling: It could be grief.

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GloPoWriMo – Song 5

Photo of Cat Littlebird and a Bosmer in the crafting area of the Hollow City.

Lament of the Hollow City

I travelled a city
where everyone has lost
someone. The more the pity
the more the cost.

I sought my sister,
the blacksmith his brother.
She’d been there. I’d missed her.
Hollow eyes seek each other.

I faced the blacksmith,
he turned to his anvil.
“Have you anyone to be with?”
“Stay here, if you will.”

In shared defeat, I find a friend.
We can’t cure grief, but our hearts we can mend.

Daily Prompt: “write your own sad poem, but one that… achieves sadness through simplicity,” from Na/GloPoWriMo.

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NaPoWriMo 2019

Puppy Love 26

healing01

Do you ever find yourself acting on an idea whose genesis you can’t trace? Where’d that idea come from?

Maybe you were sitting on your couch, feeling a little sad, missing someone, perhaps, or feeling forlorn. Then, next you know, you feel an impulse blow through you.

“I need to get out!” You say. “I need some fresh air!”

Sometimes, we are the ones who whisper these ideas to you, we spirits in the After who never really leave, who always watch and wait for you to listen.

In this way, Lucas found himself following a notion to take Emery for a run along the boardwalk. Oh, yes! I explicitly whispered, “Emery! Emery wants a run! And it will do you good, too.”

healing02

By the time Lucas stopped running, he found himself wondering. What was he doing there? I rode the breeze around him. Emery barked softly.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it, pup?” he said.

Do you know that you can see us in reflected light? I shimmered over the waves, singing Lucas’s name, but only Emery listened.

healing03

“You’re not alone here, Emery,” I sang. “You’re not alone!”

healing04

Lucas let him off the leash, and Emery raced down to the dock, passing another dog, a stray.

healing05

Nougat is a boxer with a tail that’s never been bobbed and ears that have never been clipped. She’s lived on the beach for a few months in a loose pack of strays.

Lucas called over an Irish setter, who’d been following Nougat. But it wasn’t the setter that I’d brought Lucas here to see.

“Out on the dock,” I whispered. “Keep on!”

healing06

While Lucas befriended Nougat, the dog I’d led them there to meet appeared: Prissy,  a beautiful, intelligent, friendly border collie with the right spirit to bring healing to a home submerged in grief.

healing07

Prissy raised her head and sang, long and low, stirring in me all the memories of life and living in a house full of pups.

Sweet days
with sticks and balls and bones

Sweet nights
with a rug on the floor in a home

What a dog,
every dog,
what a dog

wants: a home,
a stick, a bone.

Her song got inside of us.

“You look so lonely,” Lucas said to Nougat. “Do you like living here on the beach, scrounging for food? Wouldn’t you rather come home with us?”

healing08

Of course she wanted that. It was fine with Emery, too, but it wasn’t what he had in mind.

What a dog
with a tail and ears and brown eyes

What a dog
with cute feet and just the right size

I like a dog
with long fur

Long ears
and a song

What a dog…

healing09

Nougat and I liked his song, but Nougat knew he wasn’t singing about her.

healing10

“You’ve caught another dog’s scent, then?” she asked.

healing11

He looked up the dock, where Prissy sat.

“She can sing,” he replied.

healing12

He trotted up beside her.

“Come meet Lucas,” he said.

healing13

And the moment she met him, the moment Lucas met her, we knew, this border collie had found her new home.

healing14

But what about Nougat? We can’t leave her behind!

She ran and pounced on Lucas.

“Oh!” he said. “You know the great game of Pounce? Then you belong with us!”

Of course I had my reasons in sending Lucas to the beach with Emery. I hoped he’d find a beautiful dog to bring home.

He surprised me by bringing home two.

healing15

The house was full again–six big dogs! And Lucas spent all his time filling supper dishes, bathing dirty dogs, and mopping muddy paw prints.

But through all his efforts, he smiled. He sang.

“So many dogs
So little time!

“So many paws!
Each one divine!”

There are as many ways to heal from grief as there are to grieve. But every healing happens through love.

healing16

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Puppy Love 24

nospace01

Bobie wanted to be there for the next crossing. It’s strange. Memory fades in the After perhaps more quickly than it does in the Today.

We forget how we got here, who, precisely, we were before, and only these visits, occasional or frequent, keep us connected, on our side, to those we’ve left behind.

When the Shepherd of Bones texted that it was Caleb’s time, I called Bobie to me, and we traveled back together.

nospace02

Caleb had already collapsed when we arrived.

Bobie watched from the ashen hems.

nospace03

Mochi came, too, to help her pup cross over.

nospace04

Oh, Caleb! Weren’t you just a pup? You’ll age no more, once you’re with us.

nospace05

Each time, Grim becomes more and more greedy. I fear one day, he’ll pocket the spirit-ball of light.

“Hand it,” I commanded.

We have an agreement, and if there’s anything that compels Death, it’s a contract.

I took Caleb’s warm spirit. “Soon,” I whispered, “we’ll roam free! We will show you clouds and sunlight and flocks of light-birds to chase!”

nospace06

I rushed back with Bobie, Mochi, and Caleb’s spirit, releasing it in the moonlight. The old sire, the old dame, and the old pup romped and pounced through the nimbus, and I returned to see if the grieving needed help.

Mr. Bones was watching ice-skating on TV.

“Still here?”

“Can’t get enough,” he said.

nospace07

Out back, Crackers was the first of the mourners.

“Good dog, Crackers,” I said. “You’ll be joining your litter-brother soon. Don’t worry. It will be a quick crossing, and we’ll all be there to greet you. See those sparks of clouds? That’s them, chasing light-birds!”

But that’s not how to cheer a grieving dog.

nospace08

Emery joined us.

nospace09

He sat with Crackers, leaning into him, and spoke in the soft way he has, telling him about time and seasons and space and room.

Together, they walked slowly back to Lucas, surrounded now with all the members of the household.

“I know it seems too soon,” he said to Dustin. “But it’s not really, is it? Didn’t your pa have a great life?”

nospace10

“My brother’s getting older, too,” he said to Crackers. “And my oldest brother, he’s already passed over. It happens to all of us, and everyone we know.”

nospace11

It didn’t seem to cheer them up.

But then, Miss Molly barked, “I’m hungry!”

Dustin barked, “Swim! Swim? Swim!”

And Emery lowered his head and softly whispered again about time and space and moonlight and crickets.

nospace12

“Crickets?” asked Lucas. They listened. The crickets sang. “It’s a nice sound, eh, pups?”

Dustin nosed Lucas’s pocket, where he kept the brush, and Lucas bent down to brush the wiry coat of the white dog.

Chloe remembered her tail, which seemed irresistible at that moment. Miss Molly wondered if Crackers were up for chase.

And Emery, he sighed and smiled. “Life. Space. All one.”

nospace13

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Puppy Love 22

griefanddishes01

I’ve observed a few things to help with the grief felt by those left behind. Doing the dishes is one of them.

griefanddishes02

Does keening help? Lucas seems to think so. But I fear it’s more the animal response to searing pain and not always even palliative. It’s the body’s way of marking the passing.

griefanddishes03

Tears help, though. That’s what Tanvi tells me.  They cleanse and heal.

griefanddishes04

Grieving together helps.

griefanddishes05

When it doesn’t break a family apart, which it can as often as not, it brings a family together.

griefanddishes06

Pa! You OK, Pa? You play pounce? Emery asked Dustin.

griefanddishes07

I think not, pup. The pounce has left me.

griefanddishes08

We each bear our pain in our own ways, and sometimes, those ways find mirrors in the ones we love the most.

griefanddishes09

If I have sharp knife poke me, then so do Ma and Pa.

griefanddishes10

And if this poke now, maybe it not poke later.

griefanddishes11

Ma, you still know how to smile?

griefanddishes12

Of course, Moon Dog. And I still know how to snuggle, too.

griefanddishes13

Do you think we continue to learn once we’ve left this realm? We do. We learn from you every day. It why we look back, so we can see what lasts, after we’ve left.

griefanddishes14

It’s love that lasts, and love that draws us back, and love, too, that lets us go again, when we feel the need to roam.

griefanddishes15

When the sun set on the sad day, Lucas pulled out his violin. He remembered how Mochi always cowered when he played. He didn’t play that badly, did he? He always thought she was teasing him, and he’d play for her again. He knew, wherever she was, she’d hear.

griefanddishes17

Twister came racing. Was Lucas OK? It sounded like cats were being strangled!

griefanddishes16

Ah! It was just the terrible music, as bad as ever, too much for this music-lover to stand, even if he was the performer! How was he ever to get any better if he played worse than he could listen to, himself?

griefanddishes18

I let him practice, while I chipped in with the chores. Always so much to be done in a houseful of dogs!

griefanddishes20

But now that Otter and Mochi were with me, there was a bit more room in the house. And that hooded grump said he’d be back soon for Crackers and Caleb. What could we do with all this space that would soon open up?

I hopped on the computer and bookmarked a few pages. “Adoption Success Stories”–and no, this wasn’t the Cat and Dog Adoption Center. Let’s not call it a suggestion. Let’s just say that if a certain someone is thinking along certain lines, he should be able to find the information he needs quickly and easily. And if he isn’t thinking about certain lines, maybe this page will get him to do so.

griefanddishes19

While I put my scheme into place, Emery checked in with the rest of the family.

Granddam? Twister wondered, as he burst out from under the couch. You got pounce?

She did! Her pounce had returned, and she leapt straight up! All four feet off the floor!

We fly!

griefanddishes21

You are the flyingest, Moon Dog, said Chloe.

griefanddishes22

Yes, some things help. Doing the dishes and puppies are two of them. And maybe, just possibly, my wild-hair of a scheme might help, too, one of these days!

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Puppy Love 21

mochibye01

We’d been expecting it. And I was sure to be there. But it didn’t make it easier. The visits of the hooded one were always hard to bear.

She’d been the best mom to Crackers.

mochibye02

And to Caleb, too.

mochibye03

She’d taught Dustin well, and she welcomed Chloe into the family.

mochibye04

Mochi’s acquaintance with the hooded one went way back, to her first day here, when he came for Majora, Nibbler, and Babe, all three taken on the same day. And now, he was here for her.

mochibye05

With a start like that, it’s no wonder she had great depth of feeling.

puppy501

She was no bigger than Lucas’s hand when she first arrived!

puppy435

She knew Tanvi, though–and how happy they would be to be reunited in the After!

puppy403

After Tanvi let, she consoled Lucas, becoming his next best friend.

puppy604

She was always there, watching over her pups, encouraging Otter.

puppy803

She and Otter were such good friends.

puppy622

Well, they’ll be together now, too, so they can play on the breeze, like we all do.

mochibye06

“Looks like I’ll be here pretty frequently, then,” the Shepherd said, consulting his log.

“You don’t have to stick to the schedule,” I told him.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Some things can’t be fudged.”

Emery was at his hem, trying to grasp his cloak, growling like the fearless Twister he is.

mochibye07

“I’m not exactly corporeal, you know,” the Gray Bones mumbled.

mochibye08

It was too much for the pup.

mochibye09

It was too much for all of us.

Bones prolonged the show.

mochibye10

And then, the flash of light! The quickening of my own spark!

mochibye11

Stay! Stay! I will deliver you to Tanvi!

mochibye12

With reluctance, the hooded one handed over her spark.

mochibye13

“I always leave empty-handed,” he grumbled. “Hardly seems fair!”

mochibye14

“A bargain is a bargain!” I reminded him.

“If ever there’s a time when you’re not here!” He warned.

But there won’t be. I will be here each and every time, and the spark will be delivered to me for the short journey home.

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Captain’s Christmas: Chapter Six

cc85

Gran’s laughter echoed across the straight, calling to Sarah. She flew over the dark water, looking for her.

“I’m here, Sarah Two-Pockets! I always will be!”

cc83

They flew up to the sky, twirling, laughing, until Gran said, “It’s time for you to go now. I will always be…”

cc82

Sarah opened her eyes. She felt warm and happy. What was it that Gran would always be?

Never mind, Sarah thought. The dream must be a good sign.

In the kitchen, she discovered that it really was Christmas–Jacob had hung wreaths and lights, and a stack of brightly wrapped presents waited beside the breakfast table.

She felt too jolly to notice Jacob’s somber mood as he gazed into his tea.

cc123

He dished up special Christmas breakfast French toast. It smelled sweet like vanilla and nutmeg.

“Can I have extra butter?” she asked.

He added an extra pat.

“Your mom is coming in a week,” he said, when they sat at the table. “She’ll be here for New Year’s.”

“Is Gran well, then?” Sarah asked.

cc120

“No,” he said. “She passed on early this morning.”

“But she was in my dream,” Sarah said.

cc118

Jacob listened as she told about the laughter, the soaring over the water, the feeling that Gran was there, with her, though she couldn’t see her.

“She said she would always be,” said Sarah, “but I don’t know what. Why would I dream of her, Great Uncle Jacob? And what will she always be?”

He sat quietly for a good few moments.

“It happens, sometimes,” he said at last, “that when someone passes, their spirit pays a visit to all those they love the best. Your grandmother loved you dearly, Sarah, and I have a feeling that what she will always be will be beside you, with you. She will always be.”

cc119

Sarah wondered if that meant that she was not really gone. If she closed her eyes, she could feel her grandmother’s hand in hers. When she opened her eyes, she heard Gran’s voice.

“Gran loves Christmas,” Sarah said.

cc117

She wasn’t sure how to feel. Mostly, she felt that this was a different day, a special day, somehow. It had a texture to it, like someone held a blanket over the sun, and all the busy noise of life quieted down somehow.

cc116

After she washed the dishes, she heard tiny mewing. Two kittens crawled out from behind the pile of pillows on the floor.

cc128

“Look, Jacob!” she said. “It’s kittens! Where’d they come from?”

“Those are Pippa’s kittens,” Jacob said. “Walley’s the father.”

“Were they just born?”

“No,” he said. “They were born before you came.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She thought it would have been more fun to play with kittens all those days leading up to Christmas.

“Twasn’t my secret to tell!” he replied. “It’s up to the mama cat to decide when she will share her babies with us.”

“Maybe that’s why Pippa was so grumpy with me!” Sarah said.

“Could be,” said Jacob. “A mama will do anything to protect her young.”

“But they’re old enough now, aren’t they, Pippa?” Sarah pet the panther on the head, and she didn’t even growl. She purred, and her ears stayed up, and her tail hardly twitched.

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“They haven’t names yet,” said Jacob. “What would you like to call them?”

“Sweetie and Cubby,” said Sarah, “because they are sweet panther cubs!”

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She followed Cubby into the parlor.

“Do you think I could have one, Uncle Jacob?” she asked. It was Christmas, after all, and she had just lost her Gran.

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“The kittens belong here,” he said, “where they have a big conservatory to roam and lots of skylights to let in the sunshine.”

She grew very quiet.

“But I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “you choose one to belong to, and then every time you come to visit, we will all know that you are that cat’s girl.”

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She chose Cubby. Cubby seemed to trust her already.

“I do have good news for you, though,” said Jacob. “Your mom says you can take Senator Jones with you.”

The senator howled when he heard his name.

“Hear that, Big Dog?” Sarah asked. “We belong to each other now!”

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“Presents now, or presents later?” Jacob asked.

Later. The morning still had that hushed feeling to it, and Sarah didn’t think she would find excitement in unwrapping the shiny red paper. Maybe when night pressed against the windows, and the lights and candles shone, she would feel the joy Christmas usually brings.

“Let me give you this one, now,” said Jacob, handing her an unwrapped volume of Little Men.

While she read, he played carols, sometimes singing along in his gruff baritone.

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It was a different kind of Christmas, without Mom and Gran, with so many cats and kittens and Senator Jones, with Great Uncle Jacob who talked to her as if she were capable of understanding everything and as if she didn’t have a timid heart that might break at the slightest sorrow.

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She supposed that captains had to be strong, for out on the straight, sometimes the wind kicked up, and the frightened hearts jumped under deck. But captains steered onward, even when they were the only ones left, and the waves crashed over the bow.

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Jacob made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and he played more of that concert-style music while she ate.

“What’s that music called?” she shouted in to the parlor.

“Beethoven!” he shouted back.

It sounded like captain’s music, brave and bold and sometimes saucy and sometimes sorrowful and often stormy and then calm. It sounded like she felt in her heart right then, over-packed with everything: happiness, sleepiness, gratitude, even a creeping touch of excitement, sadness, homesickness, loneliness, and even joy.

How could so many feelings fit inside her heart?

She didn’t know–but the music knew, and it said to her that everything was all right, for this was life.

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In the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun, Senator Jones raced the captain through the meadows behind the conservatory.

She ran after him, hearing again her grandmother’s laughter.

“I’m coming, Big Dog!” she shouted. “I’ll be with you always! I’ll always be!”

We all have one Christmas we always remember. For Sarah, this was it. Throughout her life, whether she sat near the tree, surrounded by her children, or her children’s children, or whether she sat alone with a cup of tea, she remembered this morning, her grandmother’s laughter, her great uncle’s piano, and the boundless friendship of a good dog. With this magic, even a little girl could be brave, and bravery like this can last us through life.

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Puppy Love 3

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Lucas was such a good kid. Tanvi made the right decision in choosing him. He walked the dogs every day, and, unseen, I rode the breeze behind him.

Bartholomew seemed lonely, clinging to Lucas and looking up at him with sad eyes.

Get a puppy, I whispered to Lucas. I hid in the bright sunlight, but he must have heard my voice, for a few days later, he browsed the Dog Haven website and filled out the adoption application.

The next day, Mochi was dropped off.

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She was no bigger than Lucas’s hand.

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I don’t think he had any idea how intimidating he looked from puppy perspective, with his lion mane, wild eyes, and crack of a grin.

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But Mochi must have like the way he smelled, for she let him pick her up for hugs.

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I expected the day would be spent settling in the pup, helping her get to know the house and garden, the other dogs, and Majora.

But her first day brought heartbreak.

Majora collapsed.

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Bosko, Bartholomew, and Babe watched with moist eyes and drooping heads. This was their third tour through this tired routine.

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I thought we might catch a break when the Reaper’s scythe stuck in the pergola. Give it up, Shepherd! I called.

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But he swung it free.

Stay or go? I asked Majora quickly.

Stay! Stay! And, reluctantly, the Reaper handed her light to me.

“One of these days, one of them is coming with me,” he said from his black maw.

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“That’s not the deal,” I replied. “The choice is theirs, and if they choose to stay, I’m here to receive them.”

Before the sun set, my stone stood flanked with those of my two companions.

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I wished that evening, as I have wished every time, that I could offer comfort to the family left behind. It feels so final, so wrenching. If they only knew we were here, we were with them, always, until they come to join us.

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The grief proved to much for Nibbler. At nightfall, she lay down and let her light escape.

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Mochi looked away in terror.

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But Bartholomew and Babe kept their eyes on their dam’s rising light.

I looked around for Bosko. He’d wandered off. Just as well–let him roam. He’d seen enough passings for a lifetime.

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Poor Tanvi recoiled when the Shepherd returned. She seemed to be more afraid each time she saw him.

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I suppose that Death isn’t a sight that the eyes of the living become accustomed to, even when they see this dark form twice in a day.

I have nothing to fear from him, nor would Nibbler when this was done.

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Her light was so bright.

Come on, girl! Good dog!

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Begrudgingly, he handed her to me.

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I watched behind the growing line of tombstones. Soon the procession would come.

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But Babe, usually the first to come and the last to leave in the line of mourners, stopped at the garden arch.

I heard her whimper once before I saw her purple light.

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The Shepherd, who hadn’t left from the work of Nibbler, drooped tiredly around the house to the back garden.

“Just leave her,” I said. “You’ve done enough for one day.”

“She wants to be with you,” he said, “and her sire and dam.”

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But I worried it would be too much for those left behind.

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Poor Mochi! To have come to the House of Death!

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A bright spot trotted towards us, Bobie! Of all the nights to make his first appearance. I wanted to prepare him, but he came upon us before I had a chance to say a word.

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We watched her light rise.

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We saw the shadow fall.

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In a blinding blaze, we turned away.

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Babe’s spirit lit the universe.

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And then, he pulled her into the tight ball. She chose to stay, and he handed her to me.

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“She’s with us now,” I said to Bobie.

But he felt the emptiness of her form.

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My grave stands in a long line. They say death is lonely. But the After isn’t lonely.

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Loneliness is for those who’ve stayed behind.

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The old dogs, who’ve seen this happen before, and the young pups, who witness the sweep of the scythe too soon, these are the ones who crumble beneath the weight.

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Bobie sat in his old favorite place.

“So much to think about, eh, pup?” I asked him. He whimpered in reply.

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I didn’t show myself that night. I knew my color would be blue, and the feelings that I carried would make the burden heavier. I remained formless, and I watched and whispered.

Tanvi found Bobie and picked him up. He shone with the green of happiness to be near her again.

Go to Mochi, I whispered. She needs you. And you need her.

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Mochi sat at the end of the long line, lifting her head in a long, slow howl.  It was enough to break my heart ten times over.

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And in just the same way, the sight of Tanvi holding her was enough to heal all the wounds of the long, weary day.

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