Life Lessons - The Saddest of News

I haven't written in months. I simply couldn't. I have wanted to bring this blog current, and have started many times, but...stopped. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know if I should, or could continue.

You see, I went to Idaho in April to write and to let Maia live out her last weeks and months smelling mountain air and watching deer cross the field. On June 6th, I helped Maia pass, at home. She let me know it was time. She lived nobly and died gently, of old age. A little of me died with her, but her passing wasn't unexpected. Slowly, with each new day, my grief lessened and I focused on honoring her with my memories. Meadow grieved as hard as I did. Meadow had not known life without her big sister Maia. We helped each other survive.

Then - unexpectedly and unbelievably - on July 10th I learned Meadow had advanced bone cancer. The diagnosis explained a persistent limp. All I could do was make her comfortable and spoil her utterly with every imaginable treat. On July 22nd, I helped Meadow pass, also at home, joining her sister. I was devastated. Cancer took Meadow much too soon. I still can hardly process it and tears are falling as I type these words.

With Meadow's passing I was suddenly back to square one with grief. Grief squared. I focused on leaving offerings of the girls' ashes in the forest, in places we'd played and loved, places where I had photos of them in happier, healthier times. Finn has helped me through it, reminding me there is much living to do, new memories to create while letting the old ones sustain us. Yet I couldn't write here about the girls. Dog Lessons was about life and suddenly I was overwhelmed with death and grief.

The girls inspired this blog and now, both of them are gone. What would I write about?

Then today I noticed someone sent me a comment to Dog Lessons in late July. A total stranger, he'd stumbled upon Dog Lessons after doing an internet search for Blanchard Mountain, of all things. (I once took Finn running there.) He said he spent two hours reading about my pups. His kind comment prompted me to start writing again.

But first, because it's all I can do for now, I will share the tributes I wrote for each beautiful girl, on the day of their passing. During those awful, difficult days, the only balm I could offer my own soul was to think about the wonderful lives we'd shared and put some memories about each of them on paper. I shared these tributes with friends and posted them on my Facebook page. The condolences I received were heartwarming and helped tremendously.

April 9, 1999 – June 6, 2013

Today - a mild sunny afternoon with gentle Idaho mountain breezes bringing bird song through the window – I gave my best friend the last gift of love I could: freedom from suffering and pain. Her spirit now runs again, free of old age and cancer.

There is no death. Only a change of worlds.
-Chief Seattle

Maia was my teacher: showing me how to be brave, kind, joyful, curious and adventurous; to live with integrity and grace; to trust and love unconditionally; and to end one’s days peacefully with acceptance and dignity.

Maia was my guide: when running and walking forest trails, she showed me the wildlife – deer, elk, moose, bear, coyote, fox, cougar, and most memorably, a wolf. Without her alerts, I would have missed most of it; I learned to see through her eyes, ears and nose. Maia knew safe from unsafe and always had my back. She taught me to be goofy and silly and not care who sees, to appreciate the sheer delight of playing in the snow.

Maia broadened and enriched my world: exploring forest trails together without fear of getting lost (I swear she was born with a GPS in her brain); drawing people to us as we strolled through the neighborhood (“What a gorgeous dog!”); inspiring me to create Maian Meadows Dog Camp and become a writer for The Bark magazine; convincing me with her generous heart to bring Meadow and Finn into our lives.

Most of all, for fourteen wonderful years Maia has been my constant companion, loving me uncritically and forgiving me my every mistake. Holding her as her heart slowed and she took her last breath, telling her I love her, was more grief than I thought I could bear, but I owed her no less after her lifetime’s devotion to me.

Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
-Dr. Seuss

I am so lucky to have had her in my life.

June 6, 2013

May 19, 2001 – July 22, 2013

This morning – just after sunrise in the cool mountain air – I gave Meadow the same gift I so recently gave Maia: a loving, gentle goodbye so she can be free from the pain of bone cancer.  A passing so unexpected and much too soon. She was courageous – and sweet – ‘till her last breath.

"... what we have enjoyed, we can never lose ... all that we love deeply becomes a part of us."
            Helen Keller

My only consolation is that the girls are once again side by side as they were throughout their lives. Memories of their love for me, for each other and for life lived well and full of adventures will allow my heart to slowly mend while Finn remains by my side.

Meadow was our goofball, comic relief, and spirit-lifter. She was sweetly silly, a jester with a keen sense of humor bringing laughter and frivolity. She loved rolling on her back and kicking up her heels, especially in the snow. She delighted in cutting trail switchbacks, just for grins. She graciously accepted the haircuts I gave her – “She’s a Malanoodle!” She slept with her tongue peeking out.

Meadow always had our backs. On forest trails, she brought up the rear, allowing me and Maia to enjoy our surroundings without fear or looking over our shoulders. She protected Maia from mean dogs, skunks and raccoons, and me from mean people. Her keen sense of smell allowed her to find the scattered bones of wildlife, treasure she delighted to showing off. Her favorite smell: elk. 

Meadow was uncommonly tender. A fluffy gentle giant, stunningly beautiful, she was a Malamute goodwill ambassador. She loved greeting strangers, especially babies in strollers and the elderly. Running in the Payette Forest I once found her in a play bow in front of a stern cow shielding her calf. She cautiously and oh-so-gently tasted the tail nubbin of a llama. On trail rides, she let my horse sniff her fluffy tail, gently nudging her if she stopped in the trail ahead of him. She groomed Maia’s ears, a bonding ritual they both enjoyed. She released any creature she caught unharmed.

Meadow was empathic. She nuzzled crying babies. She brought a teddy bear to a distraught victim of domestic violence (and always kept her own teddy bear nearby). She licked tears from my cheeks. She always let Maia win. She slept beside my bed. She showed me who to trust.

Meadow and Maia – the girls – enriched my life in countless, amazing ways. What a journey they took me on, opening my eyes and my heart to a bigger world. So many adventures! Beyond my cherished memories, their most enduring legacy will be the dog camp they inspired me to create and name after them - Maian Meadows Dog Camp – a place where I and others delight in the unconditional love and uncompromising bond that only our canines give us. With that legacy, they gave me the family I will lean on as I learn to navigate the world without them beside me.

I can hardly grasp saying goodbye to Meadow so soon after Maia. Perhaps they needed to be together to keep watch over me and Finn, as a team. I always said Meadow bonded first to Maia, then to me; I know she missed Maia terribly. I will always think of them running eagerly together down single track forest trails, tails high over their backs, ears, noses and eyes alert for wildlife, looking at me with shining eyes saying, “Let’s go! There’s so much to explore!”

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”  Mary Oliver

I shall carry Meadow – alongside Maia – in my heart forever. I am a lucky woman.

July 22, 2013

I love and miss you, girls. So, so much.

I will end this post by adding one more photo - a double rainbow seen from my Idaho house on June 29, after Maia passed but before I learned of Meadow's diagnosis. 

When I took the photo and saved it to my computer, I titled it "Maia's thank you rainbows" because I had started making offerings of Maia's ashes on various mountains trails where she, Meadow and I had spent so many happy hours, helping her spirit run free. Eventually, I would return to add Meadow's ashes to each offering place. Perhaps the rainbow was Maia's way of warning me - as she so frequently warned me in life of things to be wary of, like bear - that I would soon also be saying goodbye to Meadow.

It does make me happy to think of them together again, like those rainbows.

Dog Lessons will continue. Life goes on.

Rebecca Wallick1 Comment