Grief Releases & Poodle Puppy Entertains

Preoccupied with what to have for lunch today, I went into the kitchen, and I was overcome again with the observation that the many good times with my husband Alan were spent planning and enjoying meals. He was quite a cook. He had mastered many Chinese and Thai dishes, which he then taught me. Our most used cook books are Joyce Chen Cook Book and Nancy McCermott’s Real Thai. We most enjoyed curried dishes, Egg Foo Yung, and Lobster Sauce with Black Beans and Garlic. These dishes I still make and enjoy serving guests, when I am fortunate to have any. Occasionally a friend drops by or my son from the military visits me with his beautiful young wife. Mostly it is just me and the young dog. Daily I observe that the memories I am experiencing of Alan are accompanied by joy, and not a feeling of loss.

I had picked up a book on grieving, because I wanted to understand my best experience of this process. It’s a prosy, philosophical book titled Good Grief: Healing Through the Shadow of Loss by Deborah Morris Coryell. I read one section a day and take away a message from it, to relate to my own process. So far I have walked through the idea of no longer being Alan’s wife or belonging to any body. I learned of a marvelous Jewish custom of sitting Shiva for seven days, but this knowledge came to me months after Alan passed.

Ms. Coryell introduces the idea that grief is the container to hold all that we are feeling. She speaks of human beings possessing a “core grief” that begins with the breaking of the umbilical cord disconnecting us from our mother. From here there are griefs playing out in large and small ways every day of our lives. With attention to these losses, we can live with more resilience and a deeper capacity to withstand those things which happen to us throughout life.

Many people are aware of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We can utilize the definition to identify and structure the emotions we are experiencing. Before Alan passed, I was in denial of the onset of his dementia. Ours was a kind of late summer, early winter romance with sixteen years between us. I grieved daily all the way through his journey with pneumonia, recovery, and then stay in a nursing home. I knew the inevitable ending, and I missed the sharp keen-ness of his mind and ready insights into the many things we had in common. In myself, there has not been a clear progression from one stage into the next, but an overlap as I visit and revisit aspects of projection and blame. Depression is an old friend, and acceptance has been part of the process all along. I conclude that grief has its own seasons. No one else’s journey through grief will be exactly like our own.

My choice of puppy bears an interesting story. I visited with my shaman, Cathy, to get insight into my personal healing after Alan’s passing. The more personal aspects will remain private, but she did told me a black dog who had been with me in the past was coming back into my life. I said, “I had not one black dog, but two. The first was a black Coonhound, Labrador Retriever mix. The second was a Doberman.” Cathy looked inward for a moment, then said, “They were the same.” I was not planning to get another dog, but memories of these animals returned to me.

The first dog was named Black, and the second Teddy. I didn’t complete the soul contract with either dog. Regarding Black, I had a dream that he was running away from me and would not answer my call. I had been away from home at the time, and learned he had been hit by a car. The story with Teddy ended circumstantial to the birth of my son. Postpartum depression and not getting much sleep meant I could not give my animals the time they needed or deserved. At that time I had several horses and a couple of cats. My first marriage ended soon after, as did my life on the farm, and I pushed much of the goodness of those years into repressed memory in my struggle to live.

Black used to roam free on the farm, and his specialty was catching woodchucks. He was quite a hunter. He would pause, his attention totally focused on what only he could see, then charge, his soft long ears flying in the wind of his running. He had a white cross on his chest from his Lab heritage, and he always made me smile. With Teddy, I had ambitions of Schutzhund training, but that was defeated by my own scattered lifestyle. I had horses to care for, had returned to college, started a small business, and then my son came along. I felt a deep soul connection to both dogs, but was not able in myself to bring them to the level of advanced training I envisioned.

I want to speak to this a little bit. American society seems to demand we “be all that we can be.” It is a facet of our culture that we divide ourselves so finely multitasking that we, or I at least, lacked the focus to devote the best of myself to any one thing. The lost focus is that of our attention. Now that I am in the crone phase of my life, my child is grown, my husband has passed, and I am now able to regain a more focused attention on those things that I care deeply about. I am not likely to have horses again, and this puppy gives me an opportunity to focus my attention on something I deeply care about. One pet, one simple goal of continuing our education. With my horses in the past, I was always interested in dressage, which is the haute ecole, or “high school” levels of training. There is a clear parallel with training dogs, and my goal for Loki is Canine Companion Certification, with the potential as Therapy Dog, and maybe working as Agility Dog. The process should be fun for both of us, not work.

How I came across Loki holds its own story. The prediction by Cathy I have already told you about. My own intuition drove it home: I started seeing a black poodle puppy riding shotgun with me in the car. A couple months passed as I dealt with the demands of life brought up by the death of a spouse, but soon the image became more forceful. I sought out poodles on the internet and found a breeder (Hillside Standard Poodles of Rome, NY) close to home, with a few upcoming litters listed online. I like to meet the parents before I commit to a purchase; lifelong experience has taught me that temperament is quite inheritable. Arrangements were made, I travelled to see the animals that were available.

The one black poodle ready for a new home wanted nothing to do with me, but Rachael Saan had a recent litter with three black puppies. Their parents were very sweet and lived with the family. One very calm male puppy stood out, and I signed the contract. When I went to pick him up at eight weeks, Loki was already my constant shadow. His eyes met mine and we looked deep into each other’s soul. One of the things about dogs is that the species considers it impolite to stare at each other, so this communication between the puppy and I, I considered very poignant.

Loki and I have had two months together. Two months of daily bonding. I notice many personality traits that the other two dogs had. I have no greater answer for those who may question the transmigration of souls. It is the kind of thing for which there is no scientific proof, but the stories and inner journeys of those who have had similar experiences combine to form proof of a sort. Loki has passed his Puppy Kindergarten class, and we have started on the next level up with Dr. Karen Garelick, a retired veterinarian become dog trainer with many successes in Therapy Dog and Agility. I anticipate a very contented future with this young puppy.


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