January 18, 2022
Day Fifteen – The Last Day of Remembering
My mother and Rubin were roughly the same age when they died. My mother had celebrated her 94th birthday with us in May. At the end of August she’d suffered her stroke and died early
October. Rubin was 14 and two months shy of his 15th birthday. In dog years, he was approximately 94 years old. And while those ages feel old as I write them, Rubin and my mom were both vital and active senior citizens.
Mom swam two-three times a week, getting in a small pool with her friends to do water aerobics. She still drove and took herself on little outings to run errands or have lunch with friends. Always generous with her time, mom drove other seniors to their appointments or the grocery store and always offered assistance whenever anyone needed it. Rubin walked 4-6 miles in a day and longer if a beach trip was involved. He’d prance along the shoreline, wade in the water, and race to catch up to us sometimes even jumping over driftwood if it was in his way.
Then suddenly, mom was lying in a hospital bed and Rubin was unable to walk more than a mile on a good day. It was if they planned it, agreeing to slow down and fade out roughly the same way at the same time. After mom died, I asked Rubin to give me at least two more months before he transitioned. He gave me two and half. And just like that, I lost my mother and my dear four-footed companion.
Mom and Rubin were creatures of routine. They set a schedule – Rubin in his mind and my mother’s on a notepad. They got flustered and anxious when the routine changed without warning. Rubin grew agitated and restless if the day didn’t flow like the day before it. And in many ways, mom was the same. This was most evident when she cooked. She was a recipe follower, organizing all her ingredients ahead of time and timing each step so the meal was on the table, hot and ready to eat, as she had promised. If something went wrong with the ingredients or she accidentally skipped a step, you could feel her blood pressure rise as she tried to regroup.
I am, I suppose, my mother’s daughter and perhaps Rubin’s need for routine was born of mine. Rarely spontaneous, I like to know what’s happening, to make my plans for the day accordingly, and if anything upsets what I’ve organized in my head, I can feel the tension burn in my face, my impatience growing with every minute that is out of whack. This is why my immobilizing back pain is so frustrating. I have no patience for pain. It doesn’t fit into my schedule and yet, here it is – I’m forced to spend days flat on my back icing, heating, resting, and drugging the pain in hopes I can get back on my feet again.
It makes sense that my back would go out. To lose so much, my mother and my dog so close together, becomes a physical loss as much as it is an emotional one. To heal, I must sit with the pain, but to sit with pain feels oxymoronic. I know my mother felt the same way. She would’ve hated seeing herself lying in a hospital bed, unable to use the left side of her body. She would’ve hated the idea of not being able to move, to run errands for friends or to pick up her prescription at the pharmacy. She would’ve hated not to be able to drive her car, but most all she would have hated to be dependent on others to take care of her.
Rubin was the same. He would wither if he could not go to the beach or for long walks in the woods where he could smell the deer and the bobcats and the markings of other dogs. This is why, after days of not eating, if we even looked like we were picking up a leash he’d rise from his bed and attempt to go with us. Movement was life. For both of them, movement meant being alive; not moving lead to stagnation and stagnation lead to atrophy.
I need movement as well. I want my pain and grief to move up and out of my body and that cannot be done if I am prone on the couch for hours in the day. To move my body is part of my healing and so today, I took myself for a walk. I leashed up Oscar and headed into the woods.
This is the longest walk I’ve taken in four days after being bedridden with back spasms. Today, was the first day I felt like I could put one put in front of the other without grimacing or seizing up.
It was a slow walk, nothing athletic about it, but I was moving and in moving I could feel some purpose flow through me. And in that purpose, I could feel the whispers of healing. The last bit of the walk was up an incline — not too steep, but enough that I could feel it in my back. I stopped, stretched a bit, and watched as Oscar sniffed the trail searching for the tracks of the forest animals he would so love to hunt. After a bit, I kept walking, then stopping, stretching, and more walking until I made it home to ice and rest.
Death has left me with two holes in my life, gaping and empty. Grief, painful and consuming, is my remedy of sorts, something solid to fill in the space of those gaps. I am reluctantly learning to live with my pain, to know there will be times when I am consumed with memory of their lives and the sadness of their deaths. There will be times when I dream my mother back to life and wake in a panic that I have not called, I have not visited. There will be times when I feel the spirit of Rubin just around the corner, waiting for his walk or sense his presence just over my shoulder, watching, smiling.
I hope to find comfort even in these painful moments, to be able to pause on a long, tree-lined path in the woods and stretch myself into remembering how much they both enriched my life. And perhaps I will learn to slow down, to let go of the recipe and routine a little, just long enough to rest. And in the resting perhaps find that even the slow movement of my heart and blood is medicine enough.