Feeling Stress from The Stress Test

Feeling Stress from The Stress Test

 How frail the human heart must be – a mirrored pool of thought.

                                                                                                 –Sylvia Plath

This all began a couple of weeks ago when I experienced sudden, rapid heartbeat.  It was 10:00 pm and I had just gone to bed.  It was like a switch turning on.  An hour later, my heart was still trying to jump out of my chest so my husband took me to the hospital emergency room.  Five hours and several administrations of intravenous drugs later, I was diagnosed with AFIB – atrial fibrillation.  Two days later, I saw a cardiologist for the first time in my life. 

Despite my personal inexperience, up to this point, with heart disease, I have seen it in both my husband and my mother.  And that’s not unusual.  Maybe you, too, have some sort of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).  According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 83.6 million American adults (>1 in 3) have one or more types of CVD.  Of these, 42.2 million are estimated to be over 60 years of age.  For the 60-79 year-old age group, the following have CVD:  70.2% of men; 70.9% of women.  In 2009, the leading causes of death in women over 65 were diseases of the heart (1), cancer (2), and stroke (3).  In older men, they are diseases of the heart (1), cancer (2), and Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease or CLRD (3).

Are you stressed yet?

My cardiologist decided to schedule me for both a Echocardiogram and a Stress Test.  I explained that I had a chemical stress test five years ago because I was unable to complete the treadmill stress test.  (Yes, I’ve been too much of a couch potato, or computer potato, as the case really is…)  I also told the good doctor that I had a terrible reaction to the chemical stress test.  In fact, I thought I was going to die.   He didn’t seem impressed.

So, with that dismissal, I resigned myself to having to endure another chemical stress test.  Yesterday, Jim, Chucky, (my Welsh Terrier) and I arrived early for my stress test appointment.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the stress test, it is a general term for one of potentially eight different types of tests.  Knowing specifically which type of stress test you are having could have major implications on what it will cost. It could be as little as $200 or as much as $5,000—depending on the test.  My stress test, the chemical scan, is on the expensive end of the spectrum.  In the chemical scan, the patient is injected with radioactive dye and that dye is then picked up by a sensor and translated into an image.  There are two types of radioactive isotopes that are typically used: Technetium (often called Cardiolite) and Thallium.

The first major stress on the day of the appointment occurred when the nurse told me that the process would last 3-4 hours.  WHAT?  I ran out to the car, where Jim and Chucky were both sitting in the front seat, enjoying “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry, Jim’s favorite song.  Jim was in such a groove that he didn’t react when I told him that I wouldn’t be through for several hours.  Okay…back to the examination room.

The test consisted of four general steps:  1) resting images of the heart are taken, 2) the stress-producing medication is given intravenously, as per protocol, 3) a snack is provided to the patient, and 4) post-test images of the heart are taken.  The problem for me came during step 2, just after the administered medication/isotope was scanned.  In other words, the actual 4-minute test wasn’t too bad.  But just afterward I felt extremely flushed, nauseous, faint, and frightened – exactly the same way I felt when I took the test five years ago.  And, like the last time, I had a room full of nurses, technicians, and doctors, who treated my reaction as an emergency – complete with staff barking orders and physically moving me into a prone position.  They later told me my blood pressure went down to 80 over 60.  At that moment I thought I was a goner.  Talk about stress!

Obviously, I recovered and I’m fine now.  The nurse informed me that my reaction wasn’t too unusual.  Maybe not but it really bothers me that apparently my adverse reaction is acceptable and the patient isn’t fully informed about its potential before the stress test.

After the test, I went out to the parking lot, only to discover the hood up on our car.  Jim had drained the car battery from leaving the lights on and listening to the radio for almost four hours.  Yes, he feels rather stupid now!  Fortunately, we are members of AAA and after about 20 minutes, the tow truck arrived and gave us a jump.  Amazingly, the mechanic didn’t lecture Jim, enabling my embarrassed husband’s ego to stay relatively intact.

Yes, it was a stressful day – partly by design, partly by mistake and partly by….what?  I’m eager to hear what my cardiologist says about my adverse reaction to the chemical stress test.  I wonder if he will be a flippant as he was before the incident.  Since yesterday, I’ve read a couple of articles about the possible risk of heart attack and death with the use of the drugs typically used in chemical stress tests.  New recommendations from the FDA in 2013 advise doctors to screen all chemical stress-test candidates for their suitability to receive Lexiscan or Adenoscan, the drugs typically administered.  Doctors should not use “these drugs in patients with signs or symptoms of unstable angina or cardiovascular instability, as these patients may be at greater risk for serious cardiovascular adverse reactions,” according to the FDA.  I would have appreciated this warning from someone prior to my experience.

The biggest lesson learned for me is to follow my instincts, when I have concerns or questions.  If I had probed further as to why my cardiologist didn’t seem concerned about my previous experience with a chemical stress test, perhaps I might have been armed with the information I needed to make a more informed choice.  After all, our health is our most precious gift, perhaps even more so now that we are over 60.  Here are some questions to ask:

What are the risks of this procedure?

 Was my previous adverse reaction potentially dangerous?  Why or why not?

 Are there any FDA warnings about this procedure?

 Do I have other options?

Your health is yours alone.  Be mindful of it every moment of every day.

Housebuilder Seen: Reincarnation Unveiled

Housebuilder Seen:  Reincarnation Unveiled  

by C.S. Roman

 

Through countless births in the cycle of existence
I have run, not finding
although seeking the builder of this house;
and again and again I faced the suffering of new birth.
Oh housebuilder! Now you are seen.

You shall not build a house again for me.
All your beams are broken,
the ridgepole is shattered.
The mind has become freed from conditioning:
the end of craving has been reached.”

― Gautama Buddha

        Some months ago, I shared with you that my late husband, Chris, wrote a manuscript for a modern day fable, titled Housebuilder Seen.  Over the last six months, I researched and  edited the manuscript to get it in shape,  not only to read but also, perhaps, to convert it into a TV script.  Upon the advice of someone “in the know”,  I developed a summary document that is more likely to be read and considered by a TV producer.  Since Chris would have turned 66 last week, I want to share some of the story of Housebuilder Seen with you on in this blog post.  This is for you, Chris!

 The Story Synopsis

The story follows the incredible mystical experiences of Eric Hill, as told in retrospect by his older brother, Sam.  From the time Eric was an adolescent, until his death in 1993 at age 33, Eric was able to stop his heart at will through meditation and revisit his past lives.  Upon his return from each “trip,” Eric teaches a growing number of “disciples”, who learn from Eric’s deepening wisdom and actions.  As Eric grows up, he begins to apply what he has learned in his past lives to influence his community in positive ways, e.g. building housing for and healing the sick and dying.   His activities earn him both suspicion and astonishment from those affected.

As Eric gets older, his spiritual abilities grow to where he is able to enter others’ thoughts – creating new opportunities to solve crimes and engage with mystical beings.   Throughout the story, Sam shares what it is like living with his gifted brother and how that affects his own spiritual development.  The story culminates with Eric’s death and a surprise – an old note left behind for Sam, telling him who and where his next life is.  Sam packs his bags!

The Proposed TV Pilot

The story begins in a middle school classroom, Mrs. Rupert is teaching a health lesson that includes presenting an oscilloscope to let her students see their own heartbeat.  After a few rather disappointing student experiences, it was Eric Hill’s turn.

          “Eric took the chair, and after being wired, closed his eyes and leaned back.  The display of heart rhythm became very slow, and after 15 seconds, it stopped.  Mrs. Rupert thought the wire had come loose, and she checked both ends.  When she told Eric to open his eyes, he didn’t respond.  Then she saw that Eric wasn’t breathing.  She reached over and touched his temple.  There was no pulse and his skin was cold.

            Mrs. Rupert screamed and fell from her chair, whereupon Eric blinked, gasped for air, and started rubbing his arms.  The class was in chaos, the principal was summoned, and several minutes later Mrs. Rupert and her class had regained their composure.  Mrs. Rupert glared toward Eric; now back in his seat, as if this was all his fault. She put her equipment away, told the class to study for the next day’s nutrition test, and went to the principal’s office to file a report.  She never mentioned the incident again.“ (Roman,  2016)

Why an Audience Might Like This Story

“Part of the uniquely human dilemma is that we all struggle to find meaning in our lives.  We try different jobs, different relationships, different places – these pursuits are often exciting and challenging, but ultimately leave us still hungry.  This is a modern day fable about a 12-year old boy who discovers that he has a mystical gift – a gift that transforms his life and the lives of his family and friends.  By stopping his heart at will during meditation, he is able to revisit his past lives – lives that offer the opportunity to pass on a deep wisdom upon his return to the present reality.  His story is for anyone yearning for life’s meaning.” (Roman,  2016)

The Author

In many ways, the story of Housebuilder Seen, particularly the thoughts of Sam, the narrator, paralleled Chris’ own spiritual development.   He penned an addendum at the end of the manuscript in which he shared his struggle with the meaning of his own life.

  “…I spent time puzzling over whether my life had a purpose.  Was there a reason behind my birth, my life, my certain death?  Or was I merely the inevitable consequence of millions of prior events?  My genes, my upbringing, my childhood traumas – all have contributed to the wiring of my brain and my perception of the world.  What if it’s all nothing but wiring?  What if there is no one behind the wiring – no self actually doing the perceiving?  What if the sense I have of myself is a hoax?  Like a robot, am I just an assemblage of parts?  And like a robot that believed foolishly that it had a soul, do I deceive myself with thoughts of “I am”?  Such possibilities depressed me, and I decided, for my own good, they must be wrong.  But what was right?” (Roman,  2016)

        I think we all can relate to Chris’ self-doubts.  While Housebuilder Seen falls into the genre of “mystical fable,” it is the story of us all.  And it is the story of my brilliant, creative, fascinating, late husband, Christopher Scott Roman.  I honor his memory.

A Warm Sofa: Book Clubs and Retirement

A Warm Sofa:  Book Clubs and Retirement

 “The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.”

–Rene Descarte

 

One of my retirement goals is to read, read, and read some more!  So, I was thrilled when I was invited to join a local book club after I moved to my new community a few years ago.  Now, I’m a member of two book clubs, one in which we read a variety of books and the other for reading books written by and about women.

Why are book clubs so popular among people over sixty?  According to Molly Kavanaugh, a blogger at a continuing care retirement community, books clubs meet many of the needs we older adults have:

  • Book clubs offer opportunities for socializing and meeting new people from all walks of life, who share your love of reading. In my book club, we are all over sixty and come from many different backgrounds and have varied interests.  It is low key, informal, and supportive.  It’s a fun community where we can be ourselves and enjoy each other.  When I joined, I didn’t know more than a handful of people in my community and I was eager to make new friends.  After almost three years in my book club, I consider these interesting women to be my friends. A few have become close friends. One lesson learned:  don’t expect instant closeness and don’t try to force it.  Just relax and enjoy the moments of being together.  Be mindful!
  • Book clubs are a great way to expand your knowledge.  During most of my adult life, I haven’t had much time for pleasure reading.  I read every management text book and self-help book that made the New York Times best seller list to help me in my teaching and coaching work.  But, fiction or mysteries?  I could count them on one hand.  The variety of books we read in my book club has opened new vistas for learning and enjoyment for me.  The stimulating conversation also has a positive impact on our brains.  We delve into deep discussions about emotional, spiritual, and philosophical themes explored in literature.  And we relate these themes to our own life experience and self-reflection.  It’s a good way to regularly exercise our brains.
  • Through books, you can travel and experience other cultures, as well as learn from book club members of different backgrounds.   When I read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Nzar Afisi, for my women-to-women book club, I knew nothing about Iranian culture, other than what I saw on the nightly news.  Not only was the book enlightening but it was a wake-up call about how a totalitarian theocracy can overthrow a government and undermine the rights that women take for granted. Now I’m reading The Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which describes a dystopian future of a similar nature in the United States.  Reading these two books has really opened my eyes!
  • One of the best lessons you can learn from books is something that teaches you more about yourself.  I think the most beneficial response to each book I’ve read has been the opportunity to learn more about myself and the world around me.  Ann Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, a novel about family secrets, misunderstandings, and perceived slights, made me think about my own family and how I hold onto old hurts and find it so difficult to forgive the perpetrators.  Another lesson learned – it is probably unwise to turn your book club into a therapy group.  Most people aren’t skilled enough to handle that well.
  • Participating in book club discussions does wonders for your communication skills.  Given the political events of the last year, learning to listen to different points of view and different ways of expression is something that many of us, including me, need to practice.   Recently, my book club read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.  We quickly discovered that some of use loved the book while others didn’t like it at all.  Our collective ability to “discuss and disagree” without resorting to emotional arguments is a refreshing change from the heated political arguments many of us have experienced.  By the way, my book club has a rule to not discuss politics.  It’s a good idea to have ground rules regarding how to handle difficult topics, as well as group dynamics.  For example, I highly recommend ground rules around listening with respect and not dominating discussion.

I hope my experience with book clubs motivates you to join one or start your own!  I promise it will be well worth your time.

There is no Frigate like a Book 

By EMILY DICKINSON

There is no Frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry –

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears the Human Soul –

Working Through Sadness

Working through Sadness

 “Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.”                                                                                                                                                    –Buddha

As you may remember, my beloved Titan crossed the rainbow bridge a little over a week ago.  Three days later, I drove to Northern Virginia to help my daughter get to doctors’ appointments in preparation for a “redo” neck fusion surgery.  During the same period of time, I learned that a former colleague from my university died from cancer.  And, like a nail in the coffin, I also was told that a dear friend’s husband has prostate cancer.  As I drove home from my daughter’s house a few days later, I had to fight back tears as sadness rolled over me.

“From a survival perspective, it has been said that sadness was hardwired into us to keep us safe after significant loss. It is associated with a feeling of heaviness, sleepiness, and withdrawal from activity and social connections.” (Barbara Scoville, TinyBuddha.com)  Certainly, I’ve had my share of sadness over the last few years – the deaths of both my parents, Jim’s mother, and two dogs.  But, as I told my veterinarian, it never gets easier, no matter how many times you go through the process of loss and grief.  Not a day has gone by over the last week that I haven’t either dissolved into tears or withdrawn to the bedroom and pulled the covers over my head.

Despite my bouts with sadness, I’ve soldiered on.  I taught the third session of my workshop on mindfulness and meditation; I finished reading a couple of books for my book clubs; I engaged in some internet activism, and I carried on with routine daily tasks, such as cooking, housekeeping, and exercise.  Life goes on, doesn’t it?  And yet, in the back of my mind, I wondered, like so many times before, if that heavy rock I was dragging around with me, e.g. sadness, would ever go away.

It is hard to learn from sadness when one is in the midst of it, but in my sixty-plus years, I know from experience that time really does heal.  Scoville offers the following:

What Can Be Learned from Sadness?

  • Sadness can help clarify our identity by showing us what we value.
  • If we are mindful of the visceral sensations of sadness, we become aware it is an emotion; it’s not who we are.
  • It is a signal that we are processing something we don’t want to let go We can explore our attachments from a non-judgmental stance.
  • As we become acquainted with sadness, we are able to have empathy for others, which strengthens our connections.
  • We are better able to appreciate the good times when we have something to contrast it with.
  • When we have the courage to handle sadness, we expand our capacity to handle other hard things.
  • When we honor our sadness, we find that passing through it is  expedited.   (http://tinybuddha.com/blog/7-steps-to-move-through-sadness-and-what-we-can-learn-from-it/)

A few days ago, I received a card from our veterinarian.  It was not like any sympathy card I’ve ever received.  Inside, not only had every member of the office staff signed it, but everyone wrote a personal message of compassion – many including personal memories of Titan.  The message from the doctor consisted of a full paragraph.  Although I cried when I read it, it contained a gesture of empathy that has already helped me to move forward.  I set up a place on a bookshelf for Titan’s ashes, with the card displayed on top of his beautiful redwood box.

Staying mindful, e.g. being in the here-and-now, helps us to work through sadness.  Here are a few tips, adapted from those of Barbara Scoville:

  • Identify the source of your sadness. When I blog about what makes me sad, the act of naming the source prevents me from keeping it a secret.  Sharing the “secret” source of my sadness unburdens me and makes me feel “lighter.”
  • Practice self-compassion. Loss and change are very real.  As adults over sixty, most of us have encountered both in our lives.  I allow myself to feel sad and I stay present with it as it occurs.  If I start to become angry at my “misfortune” or begin to criticize myself for my reactions, I note that and return to the present moment.  Being mindful means to unconditionally accept that everything changes; all life is impermanent.  Acceptance allows me to manage life change more effectively.
  •  Paint a survivor’s picture. I find meaning in picturing myself being mindful and joyful again.  This picture starts with experiencing a moment of happiness, noting it, and allowing the feeling to persist as long as I can.  This morning, along with my cup of coffee, I played “fetch” with Chuck, my ball-obsessed Welsh Terrier. Instead of wondering how long it would take him to get tired, I just observed his unmitigated joy at finding and returning his squeaky ball to me.  Dogs are masters at mindfulness and I surrendered myself to the happiness of participating in his joy.

I hope you enjoy this poem:

Hurt and Pain by Lora (January 2011)

http://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/hurt-and-pain

Hurt and pain.

There’s much to gain.

Peace and love.

It’s all the same.

Confusion and doubt.

We’re not without.

We weep, we cry.

We plead, we try.

We laugh, we smile.

Only to be hurt

By one last trial.

Life is a lesson,

So learn it well.

Maybe, one day,

You can tell its tale.

Life is Suffering. Really?

Life is Suffering.  Really?

“The emotional storms unfold differently when they are cradled in awareness.”

                                                                                                                 –Jon Kabat Zinn

I’ve encountered more than enough suffering in the last couple of weeks.  At the top of the list is my daughter, Katrina.  She had neck fusion surgery three years ago and it has completely collapsed.  The donor bone fractured, the screws stripped, and bone spurs have grown dangerously close to her spine.  As if this wasn’t enough, she has experienced unpredictable seizures and fainting spells.  Before her surgeon will redo her neck fusion, he wants to determine what is causing the seizures.  So, I drove back to Northern Virginia this week in order to take her to appointments for various diagnostic tests.

You can just imagine the pain Katrina is enduring.  She can’t work and she can’t drive.  She spends most of her time sitting with a neck brace and a cold pack on her shoulder.  She is in constant pain and understandably, she is depressed and grumpy.  It is heart breaking for me and her partner, Scott, to see her suffering. I watched Scott scurrying from one care-taking task to another, stopping only long enough to ask, “How are you feeling now, honey?”  or “What can I get you, sweetie?”  He is a never-ending fountain of comfort and compassion.  But, of course, Scott is suffering, too.  His stress, exhaustion, and fear are right there on his face.  As for me, I feel scared and helpless.  I want to be helpful and strong for Katrina but what I really want is for someone to hug me and say, “She will be fine and you will be fine.”  My conclusion is that the Buddha was right – Life is Suffering.

At least, as a new Buddhist, that’s what I thought the Buddha said.  I’ve seen that phrase mentioned over and over again in articles and books.  When people ask me what Buddhism is all about, I refer to that phase, “Life is suffering.”  Yet, as many people have observed, it is a very negative and discouraging idea.  It’s understandable that someone looking for spiritual inspiration would not find it in Buddhism, if Buddhism is really based on the concept that life is suffering.

So, I started looking for further insight into what the Buddha meant when he said, “Life is suffering.”  I’m glad I did because it turns out that the Buddha said something slightly different, with profound implications for how to deal with suffering.  Suffering is not actually the best word in translation from the Buddha’s original wording. The original word in Sanskrit is Dukkha, which does not have an accurate translation in English, hence our distortion of the meaning and the typically incomplete translation to “suffering.” Buddhist teachings break dukkha down into three forms:

  1. Suffering or pain (dukkha-dukkha)
  2. Conditioned states (samkhara-dukkha)
  3. Impermanence or change (viparinama-dukkha)

Let’s look at each of these one at a time.

  1. Suffering or Pain (Dukkha-dukkha). Ordinary suffering, as defined by the English word, is one form of dukkha. This includes physical, emotional and mental pain.
  1. Conditioned States (Samkhara-dukkha). Refers to our thoughts and emotions that we create to accompany our negative experiences. For example, we may take on the role of the victim, or a monologue of self-righteousness thereby further limiting our own perspective and indirectly increasing our suffering in the long run.  Essentially, this suffering comes from fighting against the law of impermanence: nothing lasts forever.
  1. Impermanence or Change (Viparinama-dukkha). Anything that is not permanent, that is subject to change, is dukkha. Thus, happiness is dukkha, because it is not permanent. Great success, which fades with the passing of time, is dukkha. Even the purest state of bliss experienced in spiritual practice is dukkha.  This doesn’t mean that happiness, success, and bliss are bad, or that it’s wrong to enjoy them. If you feel happy, then enjoy feeling happy. Just don’t cling to it. (http://buddhism.about.com/od/thefournobletruths/a/dukkhaexplain.htm)

From a mindfulness perspective, this 3-part explanation of dukkha helps me to distinguish between pain and suffering.  It is important to differentiate pain and suffering because however unavoidable pain is, we have choices when it comes to suffering.  The biggest difficulty in working with pain is not the pain itself; it is how we react to it. With mindfulness, we can learn to see how our mental reactions to pain function and how we can avoid being so caught in them.  ( http://www.mindful.org/suffering-is-optional/)

Meditation can be very helpful for dealing with different types of pain, including physical pain, emotional pain and environmental stress.  It allows us to take a break from rumination (conditioned states) by actively redirecting our thoughts, and provides practice in choosing thoughts, which can help eliminate some emotional stress in the long term.   Below is a meditation script designed for Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) that may be helpful for dealing with emotional pain.

A Basic Mindfulness Meditation Script for Social Anxiety Disorder

(https://www.verywell.com/a-basic-mindfulness-meditation-script-for-sad-3024820)

This script is based on basic meditations, and those for coping with anxiety. Choose a quiet place and time to practice your meditation. You might also wish to set a timer to signal the end of your meditation; anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes is a typical length for practice.

Begin your meditation by choosing a position. Sit in a chair with an alert but comfortable posture, back straight, hands resting in your lap and feet flat on the floor.

Make sure that you’re balanced and not straining. Loosen any tight clothing and close your eyes.

Gradually notice the stillness of your body. Relax your stomach, chest and shoulders, and begin to focus on your breath.

Breathe in deeply through the nose, allowing the air to flow down to your diaphragm, and then release.

Repeat the breath, allowing the air to gently flow through. Notice a sense of calm as you breathe out. Release tension and stress as you gradually find a comfortable rhythm for your breathing.

As you breathe in and out, notice any thoughts or feelings that you have.

You might start to worry about the future or think about the past — it’s normal for your mind to wander. Some feelings and thoughts might be very distressing, but do your best to observe and not judge.

Make a note of the thought or feeling and what it is: maybe you worried about an upcoming social event or thought about a conversation that didn’t go so well.

If a negative thought or feeling grabs your attention, make a note of it and then return to focusing on your breath. It’s natural for your mind to wander to your social and performance fears, but try not to be critical of yourself.

Notice the thought or feeling, but don’t follow it, and don’t let your mind pursue it. Recognize that it’s simply a thought: it’s what your mind does. You can notice it and then let it go.

Picture yourself at the beach, lying on the warm sand.

A refreshing breeze blows in and you feel relaxed. Imagine your thoughts and feelings are like the wind blowing or the waves rolling, and continue with your breathing, letting everything become the wind and the waves.

Feel how the waves come and go. Remain calm, and let your thoughts move and change. Breathe.

Intentionally bring to mind a situation that you fear. Imagine yourself talking to strangers or giving a speech.

Sit with the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that this situation brings, and simply let them be, without resisting.

Relax and let the thoughts and feelings gradually dissolve. Resistance will make the distress stay, while acceptance will allow the negativity to dissipate.

Remember that you will always experience some anxiety; it’s impossible for it to completely disappear. Instead of resisting, learn to welcome your thoughts and feelings, accept them, and then feel how they float away.

When you do find yourself in a moment of happiness during your day, grab hold of it, keeping the feeling in your awareness.

Count to 15 seconds, allowing your brain to start establishing and strengthening new pathways. The more you use these pathways, the deeper the grooves become. Happy thoughts will eventually fill those grooves.

Gradually, when you are ready, bring your attention slowly back to your breath. Then, move to your body and your surroundings. Move gently, open your eyes, and stretch.

My hope is that your suffering, like mine, doesn’t become who you are.  Life is not suffering.  Life is dukkha. 

Titan Crosses the Rainbow Bridge

Titan Crosses the Rainbow Bridge

“The bond with a dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth can ever be.”

–Konrad Lorenz

Today, my beloved Titan crossed the rainbow bridge.  As I have done many times before, I weep at my profound sense of loss.  And, as I have done many times before during other difficult times, I write this blog post as therapy to help myself.

Why is it so painful?

Titan’s love for me was unconditional.  He didn’t care how he appeared to others when his excitement at seeing me after a long day at work caused him to pee all over the floor.  And even if I was out of the room for 10 minutes, he’d thump his tail vigorously upon my return.  If only our human relationships were so unconditional!  Our egos and anxieties can dictate how we behave and what we expect from one another.  Titan never judged me or my imperfections.  He accepted me in ways no human ever has or probably could.

In many ways Titan was like a child to me.  He had a lot of problems in his life, including constant anxiety, early incontinence, and hip dysplasia.  Taking care of him wasn’t easy but he needed me and I needed him.  Many people don’t understand the dedication and work that goes into taking care of a dog.  To me, there was never any question that I was responsible for his well-being and happiness.  After all, I would never abandon a child and Titan meant every bit as much to me.  Losing him is just as traumatic.

Titan helped me get through some very difficult times in my life.  I adopted him soon after my first husband died and he consoled me with hugs, kisses, and companionship – and he never complained.  When my daughter moved out, Titan gave me stability and comfort.  When both of my parents died, Titan was always willing to let me hold him while I wept.  He never pulled away.

My life will change now that Titan is gone.  The first thing I did upon my return from the vet this morning was to put his bowl in the garage.  Titan loved to eat and I will miss him inhaling his food and asking for more.  His favorite activity, especially in his later years, was a walk to the community mailboxes.  He was on constant lookout for squirrels and rabbits, and I loved watching his exuberance at walking in the ditches after a good rain.  Once a lab, always a lab!  While these lost daily routines will be missed, the thing I will miss most is Titan’s unfailing love and loyalty.  No matter the time of day or night; no matter how tired he was; no matter how much pain he was in; Titan never failed an opportunity to show his love.  What a good dog!

How Can I Help Myself?

The best medicine for me as I grieve for Titan, is to hug Chucky, my Welsh Terrier.  Usually, Jim and I don’ allow our dogs into our bedroom.  But today, we let Chucky lie in bed with me as I wept over my loss.  I know that Chucky misses Titan too and we consoled one another.  There’s nothing like doggie kisses on a tear-stained cheek!  And he listens when I talk about how much I loved his big brother.

Having been through this before, I know that I need to be patient with my emotions.  Meditation will help me to acknowledge and let go of painful emotions.  So will talking with at least one person I trust with my emotions.  For me, that’s Jim, my husband, and Judy, my sister-in-law.  If you lose a pet and don’t have such a person in your life, I recommend calling your veterinarian and asking for the name of another pet owner who recently experienced a lost, or look into joining a support group specifically for pet loss.

Blogging and writing have always been helpful to me during tough times.  This post and the last one about the many dogs in my life allow me to not only share my memories but to honor them as well.  When we mourn and remember other humans, we engage in rituals, such as funerals, memorial services and anniversaries.  Having a ritual for a pet can be just as helpful in the grieving process.  I plan to plant a tree as a living tribute to Titan.

Julie Axelrod gave the following advice to those of us who are grieving a pet loss.  She said, “What would your pet do if he or she found you sad and in pain?  The answer is clear:  give you love, give your comfort, and stay with you as long as it took.  We can all take a lesson from our animal friends.”  (https://psychcentral.com/lib/grieving-the-loss-of-a-pet/).  I hope the following poem brings you peace, as it does forme.

 

“THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS”
by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.