One Week Later

Today marks one week since my grandmother, Queen Margaret as we teasingly called her, passed away. While the woman was 93, had a heart the size of a football, was on oxygen twenty four hours a day, and her bones creaked her death still took me by surprise. I don’t know that one can ever really be ready for death.

As I said in a previous post, she had been slowing down. That’s part of the aging process though. She had started falling. That was out of character for her. No one could give us an explanation. So we sought explanations. Tripped on the oxygen hose maybe. Once she had been sitting too close to the edge of her seat and just slid off. The last fall, the last day she was at home was because her knee gave out. Or so she told me.

When I called 9-1-1 that evening I truly in my heart thought it was a precaution. It was not the end. She was very sore from her earlier fall and having sat on the floor for two hours while I was out. She was warm, clammy, and shaking. Well she had a bladder infection, she was overly tired, I had so many logical reasons for her condition. I reasoned away until I was comfortable.

I was further comforted when EMS didn’t seem overly concerned. They said we didn’t have to hurry to the hospital. She was stable. No lights. No sirens. All good signs. Almost made me feel silly for calling. But she was sore I told myself. And the shaking. And the clamminess. Those were not normal. Yes, to be sure, she had to be checked out. Plus she would panic and have a hard time breathing. Which was not entirely unusual but with everything else was cause for concern.

In the waiting room at the ER, I was trying to figure out how long until they were going to admit her. Trying to decide if I would still have time to meet up with my girlfriends for our usual Tuesday night drinks. I knew she was being admitted because the nurses and doctors told us so. Her heart was in afib but none of them seemed that concerned either. They were giving her meds to correct the irregular rhythm and she was starting to feel better. My reason and logic came back strong. As soon as she gets a good night’s sleep and straighten out her pulse she’ll be right as rain.

When I went to see her on Wednesday and she was hallucinating… I was scared. Reason won again though. She hadn’t really slept well since Sunday night. She was on morphine for the pain. Of course she was hallucinating. Sleep deprivation does crazy things to people. It’s why they use it to break down cult members or terrorist interrogations. I was confident when I left and she was laying there peacefully that she would get a good night’s sleep. She would be on the mend Thursday. I had the day off and I was going to spend a good chunk of it up there with her.

I was not prepared for the phone call. Early morning phone calls are never good. It was my Uncle John. Also not a good sign. He’s gram’s power of attorney. He said the hospital had called him and told him that Gram wasn’t breathing so good. He soon broke down into tears. I jumped out of bed, let my dogs out, fed them, threw on some clothes and headed to the hospital.

She was so small in that bed. The mask taking up most of her face. The nurse told me she could go either way. Gram always bounced back. They said as her c02 levels came down she would wake up and be alert. Or should. That was the scary word. However, when the lung doctor came in we learned the reality of it. Had they not put her on the mask, she would have passed away during the night. The mask was the only thing keeping her alive. How did she go from being all together on Tuesday to dying on Thursday? I couldn’t rectify that in my mind. I still can’t in some ways. Other than to say, as trite as it is, it was her time. We knew then we had to let her go. To keep her on the mask when her body was tired and was done fighting was not fair to her. She wouldn’t want that. So we let her go. One thing that really stood out to us when we were in her room with her, knowing she would be slipping away from us soon, was an announcement over the PA. They were paging, “Frankie.” Not doctor. Not mister. Not any other name. Nor did they give a reason. My papa’s name was Frankie. While some may chalk it up to being a weird coincidence at best, it was a comfort to us. Like he was there in some way to take his wife home.

We were there for her last breath. Even then, we knew it was coming, it didn’t seem possible. My gram was larger than life. She was so much bigger than her 4’6″ frame. The idea that she would leave us was hard to wrap my brain around. She earned it. She raised her kids, her nieces and nephews, her great nieces and nephews, her grandkids, and half the neighborhood. She was an amazing woman who will live forever through our memories.

At some point soon I’m sure I’ll write down a few Queen Margaret stories. For now, I’m rehashing them in my head and laughing out loud at the thought of some of her antics. Reminiscing about her with family and friends. Missing her like crazy. And still trying to accept the fact she is gone.

Missing Grams

Fair warning:

Not my most eloquent post. This post is fueled by grief and wine and the need to get things out. It is a dose of therapy for me…

I’ve been missing in action for a little while now. I guess its time to get back in the saddle as they say. In the past month I have lost my great aunt, at the age of ninety-eight and a half and my grandmother, at the age of ninety-three (and three quarters but she never seemed interested in fractions of ages. She would just round up to the nearest hundred). While it is comforting to know that both of these amazing, incredible, beautiful women lived such long, fulfilling lives, losing them sucks!

My great aunt seemed to be the picture of good health. In fact her doctor had recently told her that she would live to be a hundred. The blessing with her passing is that she went peacefully in her sleep. No struggle, no suffering, no panic, no fear. Just quietly slipped out of this life and onto the next. I say a prayer of thanks almost daily for that.

When we found out that my great aunt had passed, my grandma’s only living sibling, we knew the loss would be hard on grams. There was talk about not telling her or delaying the news perhaps. Right or wrong, I told her. Ultimately I know it was right to tell her but I suppose there is a part of me that is questioning everything right now. Loss will do that to you. Or at least, it does to me.  If I hadn’t told her. If I had spent more time with her helping her grieve. In the end, I know that none of that would have mattered. It was her time.

Gram had been slowing down a lot the past month and a half. I’ve lived with her for a year and some odd months. This summer has been kind of hard on her. Her knees, which have always ached her, seemed to be a daily pain now. Her breathing, while always hampered by COPD and CHF was getting worse. She was tired, more tired than usual, and slept more often. Still, we tried our best to reason it away. She had stayed up late. Too much company. Bladder infection. Humid air. Whatever straws we could grasp at, well, grasp we did.

Then came the falling.  My grandmother was not one of those little old ladies who fell constantly. She was fairly mobile until the past month. In August she had started falling. It was disconcerting for sure. She couldn’t give us an explanation half of the time. We’d ask how she fell and she’d say in that haughty tone of her’s, “Well how do you fall? You just fall.” One Sunday night my parents and I took her into the ER as a precaution. Everything checked out fine and she was released the same night. Last week we called 911 for her and I honestly thought it was just a precaution. Check her out, maybe something was acting up but she would be ok. She’d be home in a few days.

When we got the ER it turned out her heart was in AFib. Gotta love smart phones I started googling very quickly. I was relieved to learn it was the most common irregular heartbeat. She was alert and as they got her pulse to start coming down and leveling out she seemed to be feeling better. She told us when we left her that night she was scared. We told her she was fine, get some sleep.

Wednesday was spent mostly hallucinating. She’d come in and out of her hallucinations. Sometimes she would have a totally lucid conversation with people. Other times she was pointing at nothing and telling us “there was something wrong with that dog over there. I think it’s made of cardboard.”

I took our dogs up to visit her Wednesday night. Dane reacted immediately with fear when I put him on her bed. I know that animals sense things but I blew it off. A little bit later I put him back on the bed with her and he sat calmly as she pet him.

Thursday morning I get a phone call at eight minutes after seven. It was my uncle. The hospital had called him to tell him that gram was not breathing so well. They put her on a bipap but that would be the extent of what they could do for her based on her advance directive.

Living the closest to the hospital I was, of course, the first person there. That time alone with her was challenging. She looked so small in her hospital bed. Despite her claims of being six feet tall, her little four foot six inch frame seemed smaller than normal. The mask took up her whole face. A doctor came in but didn’t make much sense. He didn’t have a lot of personality either. I spoke to her night nurse who was much more helpful. My cousin called me mid-breakdown so she could barely make out what I was saying. As soon as she could she told me she was on her way. Somewhere in between all of that a few other hospital staff members came in. A priest came in and gave her last rights but didn’t talk to me.

My aunt and uncle arrived next. Another doctor came in to see us. He was helpful and compassionate. He explained things gently. He told us that had we not done the bipap she would have passed away during the night. He wouldn’t tell us what to do but when my uncle asked what would happen if we removed the mask he told us she would pass within minutes to hours at most. We knew that she wouldn’t want her life prolonged any. If it was her time, it was her time. Once the doctor knew where we stood it was agreed we’d wait for the rest of the family to get up there and say goodbye before doing anything.

True to his words, when it came down to it, Gram passed within minutes. I’m thankful it was peaceful and she was surrounded by family. I know that while she has left this earth, she is still surrounded by family. She joins her husband, two of her children, all of her siblings, and many other friends and family. I miss her like crazy. She was such a large personality in a little body. So funny. So feisty. I still can’t believe she is gone.

Knowing that my grams and her sister are gone… Just sucks.

Day Off/ Quiet Thoughts

So here I am, a beautiful September day, sitting on my patio enjoying what’s left of the nice weather. Gram is in the kitchen still reading her newspaper, which I can hear rustle as she flips through it.

I’ve never been one for reading the paper myself. I hated getting the ink on my hands as a kid, or attempting to refold it only to have it become a wrinkled, off kilter mess. I envy the people who have a passion for reading the paper. It’s a cherished morning ritual for many. I used to even think it was a sign of adulthood. Drink coffee, read the paper, go about the day.

While I may have never developed an affinity for reading the morning paper, I do stay informed by reading news online. The digital world is more my style for that. My fingers stay cleaner and I don’t have to worry about refolding anything.

There is a peacefulness to my days off that I love. I was able to sleep in, chat with my friend who is in Prague. Be here for some home maintenance issues, and now relax while my dogs lounge about. I think a nice long walk is in my near future.

Fighting Fall (and Failing)

It’s September and as much as I am fighting it, fall is fighting its way in. Its not that I don’t like fall. In fact, I love fall. Its the thing that comes after fall that I am hoping to avoid. I know its futile. Winter always comes after fall. Still, every year, around this time I imagine that it will forget Michigan somehow. I don’t think I will be so lucky. Although with the way things are going with global warming I stand a chance of getting my wish. I am scared of what the cost will be. I would prefer winter forget us simply by magic and not mankind destroying everything  it touches. I digress, that is another subject for another day. Back to fall.

Darkness is creeping up just a little bit earlier every evening. Right now that is the most inconvenient part of fall. I love sunlight though I am far from a sun-worshipper. I just enjoy a gorgeous blue sky with white, fluffy clouds, and the warmth of the sun on my shoulders as I walk. I love walking my dogs and chihuahuas are not fans of winter any more than I am.

I try to focus on the bright side. Hoodie weather. Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks. The delicious crisp in the air. The chilly mornings awakening my senses.Cider mills! Cider mill donuts! Warm spiced cider. Leaves that will soon be crunching under my boots. Scarves. Dark, rich nail polish shades.

But… I already miss the warm, slightly muggy air of a summer night. Most depressing is the knowledge of the bleak, gray, dark, cold months ahead. As I look out my window to see that the day has slipped away and night has crept in, I know that as much as I am fighting fall… I’m failing.

My Return (and Departure) From Academia.

Last year I had this brilliant idea that I was going to go back to college. I decided I was going to learn web design. I know nothing about it but it seemed like a good thing to learn. It wouldn’t be the first time I have dove headfirst into a subject that I was totally unfamiliar with. I like learning and I’m confident in my ability to learn.

The plan behind this venture was that one day I could work from home. The idea of rolling out of bed, pouring a cup of coffee, sitting down at my kitchen table and starting “work,” is so appealing to me. Web design seemed like a way to make that happen.

At the time I hatched this plan I had a couple different things going on for me.

  1. I was finally feeling ready to attempt the world of academia again.
  2. I was feeling a little less than satisfied with my job and wanted a way out one day.
  3. Working in my pajamas is tempting. (Did I mention that one already?)

The flaws in my plan? Web design is not my passion and I’ve already figured out that if I am not passionate about something its not really going to be worth my effort. I took one class (which was intro to computer basics) and have yet to sign up for another. Not to mention I never had my transcripts transferred which makes it really hard to earn a degree unless I want to start over which is not something I want to do. Lastly, like all things in life worth doing, ya gotta have some hustle. I don’t want to hustle clients to design webpages for. If I wanted to work hard to build a clientele then I could go back to doing hair.

Where do I go from here? First off, the joy and satisfaction has returned to my job. I am enjoying myself on a daily basis again. Being able to enjoy what you do makes life that much more pleasant. Secondly I am writing again (which is my passion or at least one of them) and it gives me a sense of accomplishment. Third, I have found an amazing dog trainer that has helped me to work miracles with my 11 year old (former) killer chihuahua Dane. It is an exciting and rewarding adventure that we are on right now, one I will be sure to blog about soon.

At this point I feel like I have so many positive things going for me that I am pretty darn happy with where my life is. I also know that there are a few things (like blogging, writing, dog training) that I want to focus my energies on. I don’t know that college classes would satisfy me the way these other subjects do. I’m not saying no to college, I’m just saying, not right now. Right now, I have passions I am exploring, a good job, and a crazy grandmother to keep me busy. A woman has to have a life too.

How We’ve Jacked Up The Educational System

I’m just going to say it: our educational system sucks. I don’t know that it was really a secret but in case one wasn’t sure, I’m announcing it here. Now, before any one gets up in arms I am not blaming the teachers. I’m blaming the whole damn system. What is wrong with us?

To start with parents are not parents anymore. That is issue number one. People just pop kids out like its nothing. They forget (or just don’t know) they have to raise these kids as well. Simply reproducing is not enough. If you don’t wanna do the time, don’t do the crime. Kids are not an accessory nor are they simply a check on the checklist of a successful life. Being a parent means teaching your children right from wrong, instilling manners, teaching them respect for themselves and others, teaching them the importance of education. It also means backing up your child’s teachers.

Does that happen? Few and far between. Nowadays parents want to see their children as their friends, their angels, or maybe the saddest of all they just don’t care period. They don’t demand that their children show respect for people in authority (the parents included), they don’t work with them to teach them at home. They don’t help them when they are struggling because to be honest, they don’t even know their child is struggling.

Now, on the off chance they have figured out that their child is struggling the automatic response? Blame it on the teacher. It’s always easier to make it someone else’s fault. Who really likes looking in the mirror and truly examining their own faults? Hell, I don’t even like looking too closely at my pores, so why would anyone want to look at the deep ugliness inside of them?

Then after basically failing as parents, they ship their kids off to school and expect the teachers to both teach and parent. Sounds like a winning plan right? So these kids that are not getting the stability, discipline, love, and support they need at home are sent to school where they are expected to learn in an overcrowded classroom. I mean we pay teachers so much they should be able to balance 30+ personalities and learning styles (and sometimes language barriers) all at once right? Oh wait, we pay the people that are educating our youth crap.

So here we are at the school. Classes are overfilled, teachers are overworked, and under paid. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge to deal with, we don’t encourage teaching anymore. Teachers have to basically teach the kids to pass tests. Tests that are used to grade the teachers and schools and districts to determine how much tax money they get. They don’t have the time to properly diagnose learning disabilities or other issues. Even if they do, chances are the parents are going to go ballistic and say the teacher is full of shit rather than taking a good long look at their kid and the situation they are in and making strides to fix it.

The kids that catch on quickly are being held back for the ones that need more time. More time that the teacher really doesn’t have because they are forced to push through the material whether or not the kids are keeping up. We’re really setting them up for success aren’t we?

Before you know it the school year is over and then we give the kids a two and half month break. By the time school resumes they have forgotten at least half of what they have learned the year before. So now time is spent catching up in order to pass the tests that determine how much money the schools will get. Vicious cycle.

Granted there are amazing teachers out there, children that learn, real parents rather than breeders, and schools that are doing a fantastic job. There are also amazing parents with great children and crappy teachers. All generalizations will have exceptions.

Ultimately I think the solution falls on all of us. Parents need to stand up and be parents and demand more. They need to partner with their child’s educators to create the best learning environment possible. We should also switch to year round school so that we don’t have this big gap where kids’ brains go dormant. And all of us, every last one of us, has to stand up and say enough is enough. We need to start getting back to basics and the most basic thing we can do is start employing our common sense.

Bringing Frankie Home

Frankie came into my life in a totally different manner than Dane did.  He was a little better planned for than Dane, he is a rescue. Last year I moved in with my grandmother. I thought since she was in her 90’s it was not the best plan to let her live alone any longer. So Dane and I moved in.

Dane’s transition took some time but we did it. Frankie’s story starts six months after Dane and I moved in with grams. By that time I knew Dane had adequately adjusted to life at grams house. However, despite the fact he had acclimated he was lonely. At my parents home, Dane had two other dogs to keep him company. At grams he was the one and only.  So began the quest to find him a companion.

Now, although Dane is a chihuahua (and one I happen to adore) I have developed a deep love for pit bulls. I had been saying for years that my next dog would be a pit. So of course when the idea of bringing a second dog into our lives came about I wanted a pit. What I wanted and what would be best for Dane were two different things. So began the search for another small dog.

I had always heard that chihuahuas were cliquish and seem to prefer the company of other chihuahuas above any other breed of dog. Still, I had one yappy, angry, killer chihuahua already. Adding another to the mix didn’t seem like the most appealing idea ever. I also love Boston Terriers, Shi Tzus, Maltese, etc. (Ok, in all reality I love DOGS!)

At this point I thought I found the perfect compromise. A Boston Terrier/Pit mix. Absolutely adorable! Her name was Penny, she was a gray little pup with a white stripe down her face. It was love. She was going to be at an adoption event the next day, which happened to be my birthday. It had to be a sign!

My parents beat me to the event and were walking Penny around when I got there. She was such a calm dog for being a puppy. She was bigger than I expected but completely mellow and wonderful. She melted in my arms. As much as I wanted her I was torn. Was this really the right thing to do? There were a couple of chihuahua puppies there and something drew me to them.

After half an hour I committed to Penny. I filled out the adoption application and found myself in a queue for adoption interviews. I didn’t know what I got myself into. Turns out Penny would not be coming home with me. The interview went well but we still had to schedule a home visit. Since when was it so difficult to adopt a dog in need of a home? Not to mention, IF I was allowed to adopt Penny I would have to commit to not one but TWO rounds of obedience training. I was starting to see why people get their dogs from pet stores as I had with Dane. Pay the money and go seemed so much easier.

During the adoption interview I felt sick. I got hot, sweaty, and my stomach hurt. Hello inner voice screaming, “THIS IS WRONG!!!” Having learned she was a chow hound, would get up on the kitchen chairs to eat anything left on the kitchen table (which is where we kept Gram’s pills), knowing she would get considerably larger than Dane, and the fact that I really didn’t have time for a puppy I knew I had to decline. With visions of her chewing through Gram’s oxygen hose in my head I let them know I couldn’t adopt Penny. I was heartbroken for a dog I met for a matter of minutes.

I was debating if the idea of a second dog was really in anyone’s best interests. Of course it would benefit the dog whose life I’d be saving but was it the right thing for Dane, for me, for Gram at this time? It was a raging debate that was keeping me awake at night and occupying the back of my mind no matter what I was doing.

Still, I perused petfinder.com in my spare time. Even my mom was busy searching for a friend for Dane. Finally I decided to go to another adoption event at the local pet-store. I was going to see Aurora, a three year old chocolate and tan chihuahua. Ever since I brought Dane into my life I’ve loved chocolate and tan chihuahuas. I thought this would be the perfect fit.

Again, my parents beat me there. Aurora was a sweetheart and had already won my dad over. She was beautiful. I didn’t have that uneasiness this time around. I happily filled out the paperwork and looked forward to our interview. I thought this particular rescue did same day adoption so I was eager to bring Aurora home. The interview went well but I was crestfallen when I learned we still had to go through a home visit. I was in shock. I already had one chihuahua, our interview went well. As much as I LOVE dogs, I felt like their requirements were a little overboard.

The next day a guy from the rescue, the same one who had done my interview, called to schedule our home visit. We worked out a day and time. I asked him if it would be all right if we walked Dane and Aurora together outside before he brought her into the home during our visit. He said that was the perfect  way to introduce two dogs and if anyone wanted to do it any other way, run and do not adopt from them.

A last minute change in plans. The woman who was fostering Aurora ended up being the person doing our home visit, which evidently we failed. She was a half hour late which irked me. Then she attempted to walk immediately into my home with Aurora, which set Dane off, which set Aurora off. She did agree to my request to walk the dogs together but our walk consisted of them both growling at each other and then Aurora taking a dump on my neighbor’s lawn.

After cleaning up the mess we decided to start the yard inspection. My yard was deemed unfit for Aurora. The woman told me to talk to my dad to see if we could come up with a plan to fix the yard though, “I don’t know how you even could.”  She said we’d talk the next morning. I still haven’t heard back from her…

At this point I was so disgusted. I was ready to throw in the towel. I couldn’t imagine that it was going to work out at all for Dane to have a companion. He was doomed to be a lonely dog in a one dog household because we just weren’t fit for adoption. I was being overly dramatic for sure and pouty but I was so dejected. One day, IF I have children in my life I would like to adopt. If I was not fit to adopt a dog who would ever give me a kid?

My mom encouraged me not to give up, so on that fateful Thursday morning I sat at the kitchen table on my laptop once again reading petfinder. Though I had wanted a female dog I was not seeing any that seemed like a good fit. As my search progressed I found myself staring at this picture.

Mouse AKA Frankie

What a goofy little face but also so adorable. His name was Mouse and I had seen him up for adoption for months. He was 7 years old and had no teeth. Well, it wasn’t female and he wasn’t a pit but I thought after months of needing a home, and given his toothless state,perhaps the rescue would be so glad someone wanted him that maybe, just maybe I would be allowed to adopt him. I called the shelter he was at to inquire about their adoption policies.  I was advised to fill out their online form to start the process. After filling out the form I jumped in the car with Dane in tow to meet Mouse. (Bringing along any dogs you already had was a requirement and one I thought was more than reasonable).

I wasn’t going to bring my parents along. I didn’t want to expose them to more heartbreak. Besides it was December 23rd and I knew they had things to do to prepare for Christmas. As I was driving I caved and picked them up. What if I did get to leave with Mouse and what if the boys started fighting in the car on the way home? I decided having someone else along for the ride was wise.

When we got to the shelter they had already run a background check on me. Then they took us back to the laundry room of the facility to meet Mouse. When he was brought in I was in shock as to how small he was! After everything I had been through I considered telling them no thank you and leaving. He was just so small that I wasn’t sure I was comfortable being responsible for him. It freaked me out a little. Something in me made me stay.

They put Mouse on the ground and he met Dane. They sniffed each other and that was it. No growling, no posturing. Just curiosity and then they ignored each other. We talked for awhile as they boys occasionally checked each other out. This was the very rescue my parents had adopted Lucky from when they were first married and I knew a woman who volunteered there.

Finally the adoption counselor said the words I was too scared to ask. “Would you like to take him home today?” I couldn’t believe my ears. After having gone through so many hoops with two other rescues and being rejected by one, here someone was asking me if I wanted to take home this adorable misfit pup. “YES!”

We very quickly wrapped up the financial aspects of it. I paid his adoption fee, the rescue gave me a couple of harnesses and a sweater for him and we were on our way. Dad held him the whole way home and he snuggled into him. When we got to my parents home I took the boys in. Mouse met my parents dogs and it was as if he had always been a part of our family. Two of my three sisters came home so they got to meet him too. Of course they made many jokes about him. Here was this 4lb, toothless, half-hairless dog, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. He won them over.

I took the boys home, stopping by the vet’s office on the way to pick up heartworm meds for Mouse. When I got home I just walked them both in like it was something we had done a million times before. Gram’s caretaker was already there giving gram a haircut. They both couldn’t get over how small he was. Within hours gram had renamed him Frankie which was my Papa’s name.

That night Frankie crawled into the dog bed I had ready for him in Dane’s old crate. Dane and I got into bed. Frankie saw that and ran out of his crate to join us in bed, which is where he has slept ever since.

I can’t even begin to describe the joy, love, and laughter Frankie has brought into our lives. He was clearly the perfect companion for Dane. Besides the occasional growl when Frankie sits, lays, or walks over Dane they have never had an issue. No food aggression, no fights. They play every once in a while and Frankie wins over everyone he meets.

It was a rocky road to find Frankie but smooth sailing once I did. And I get to proudly say that I made the choice to rescue.

The boys in their favorite chair.

The boys begging at the kitchen table.

Gram and Frankie getting acquainted.