If life were easy we wouldn’t get stuck. Or laugh. It’s all in our perspective.
Which reminds me of the bald eagles who share our beach with us. I love these birds, and I sometimes think it would fun to be one. And then I think: “raw fish.” Eww.
Yes, it’s definitely about perspective.
Do we learn from whatever comes at us, and enjoy life, or do we overwhelm ourselves with resentment and ‘what if’s’?
Perspective: Ever had an eagle yell at you? One morning about 6 I was out with my dogs, waiting for them to do their “stuff.” An adult bald eagle was perched in a nearby Madrona tree. It peered close at us, glared at my dogs, and then cocked its head to glare at me! And screech! Really, I clean up, but that day I did it facing that screechy bird! I giggled all day, and got some great work done. Does the mundane ever become hilarious? And an inspiration to shine at your work? If not, how can it be?
Watch your back: Eagles don’t always get along. They’re quite clear about what works for them, and what doesn’t. They get things done.
Do you work out misunderstandings? How? Do you stand your ground when you need to, honoring your commitment to your clients? To yourself? Your family?
Keep your eyes on the prize: Eagles are always watching. Something.
If you don’t reach for the moon, the stars, and everything in between, how do you become great? Be fully present in the moment. Be aware of your surroundings. Be grateful.
Live in the moment: Last spring I saw a bald eagle soaring above I-5 in downtown Seattle, catching the air currents, skillful, unconcerned, uninterested in all the humans stuck in traffic below it. That eagle was free and wild, not impeded by lane changes.
Are you? What inspires you to fly free? What gets you unstuck? What makes you laugh?
I’m willing to learn from my nonhuman mentors. Are you?
© 2012 Robyn M Fritz
When you live the human-animal bond, you celebrate birthdays with your multi-species family.
Even when the birthday in question is yours and you’re getting older (it happens yearly).
Okay, we were celebrating my birthday this time. But it’s in the dead of winter, after Christmas, before spring. In Seattle. Pretty much the weather sucks.
Does Grace the Cat care? Of course, she stays home.
Do the dogs care? Of course not. They’re Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, born to flirt and goof off. They have jackets and a lazy human who doesn’t like to be cold. They can routinely trump that.
So why not take the dogs for a walk in the sun on my birthday?
There are hazards. It’s Seattle. In winter. At the beach.
You expect wind at the beach. But on a sunny day you expect sun. You forget that in winter the sun only manages to get halfway up the sky, and then only stays there for 20 minutes (15 on the weekends, it’s apparently celestial labor law). And the sun, being a wienie, races through the winter days here as fast as possible, so it can hang out somewhere warm, like, well, somewhere else way far south of us.
Birthdays may warm you up, but the air, it’s colder than all get out. Why? Because we’re way far north in Seattle, almost to Canada, which is right at the North Pole. Especially in winter. Because when you’re at the beach in Seattle, you’re right in the path of that cold north wind, nothing stops it, and why is that? Because Canada ducks as it flies over, that’s why.
So, anyway, at the beach on my birthday. With the dogs. Walking the sun walk. The dogs are thrilled because the sun shining means they can see their prey better, which is all manner of completely uninteresting inedibles that smell as bad as they look and the dogs can’t sniff fast enough.
Really. Multi-species families are cute. And gross.
But it’s sunny. Except I forgot about that halfway up in the sky bit. It may be sunny, but the sun isn’t up. It doesn’t clear the West Seattle hill in the winter. We forgot that. So we’re in the shade. On a sunny day. Freezing our city slickerness right off.
The dogs don’t care. They’re on an adventure. They’re too low and too small to be real windbreaks. And, now I notice, they are standing behind me.
Survival of the fittest. They win.
“Hey,” I say to them. “Want cookies?”
Of course they do. Walk is over. Birthday cookies coming up.
Next year I’m celebrating my birthday in the summer. Every once in awhile we have one of those in Seattle.
I hope before, well, next winter.
Happy birthday me!
© 2011 Robyn M Fritz
I was thinking, what should I be grateful for this Thanksgiving? Then I saw this silly article, again, and I knew.
I’m grateful for common sense and for refusing fear.
This article, written by Joan Raymond and updated 1-25-11 at Pet Health on msnbc.com, suggests sleeping with our animals can give us diseases. Okay, it’s a good article. We have to take health seriously, including our multi-species family’s health. And we have to report on it responsibly, as Joan Raymond does. The article is not silly in the reporting but in the culture it reveals.
Reporters can’t comment on the facts or sense of their articles. That’s why they report: they give the facts and let us figure it out. We need straight objective reporting.
Those of us who comment on the straight objective reporting write about what it means to us. For me, it’s how can we re-connect people and the planet, from people to animals and the land and waters around us.
So, Raymond writes about the things that can get us if we sleep with or kiss our animals. Things like plague (from fleas), meningitis, round worms, and other horrific or just annoying things. Okay, first, really? Our animals should be healthy, just like us! They shouldn’t have these problems, so fix them already!
Here’s the problem with this reporting: it’s all filler material. No common sense. Just fear. You wade all the way through this article and find out that what they’re trying to scare us about never really happens.
People get hurt and killed in cars every day. You can sprain your ankle getting out of bed. You can choke on a cherry.
So do you avoid cars, getting up, or eating cherries?
No. You get smart. You say, no, I’m not going to be afraid of that. But I am going to be careful and pay attention.
So here’s what I’m paying attention to at Thanksgiving. Here’s what I’m grateful for:
- I live in a country where we can disagree and still be safe, even though there are plenty of people who would like to change that.
- A dear friend sent me a link to an inflammatory documentary on purebred dogs, thinking that my dogs being purebreds was the reason they had some health issues. She cared. It made me think about our assumptions, which I will address in future articles. Mainly: shelters and rescue organizations make a lot of money creating fear and prejudice, when they should be encouraging people to find their heart’s match in a dog or cat. Think, people, think! Talk to each other. Love. Be lucky that your friends care enough about you and your family to say something.
- People who were users and not friends have left my life, providing openings for wonderful new adventures, wiser choices, and real friendships. Awesome!
- Wonderful stores like East West Bookshop in Seattle and Vashon Intuitive Arts on Vashon Island have made me and my crystal partner, Fallon, welcome. We’ve met many wonderful people. And other venues are welcoming us.
- My jade tree, Raymond, was dying, but community came together and saved him. A 200-pound houseplant given to me by my father is going into his fifth decade. Yes!
- My great-grandparents had the vision to settle in North Dakota and pass a piece of it on to their descendants.
- Finally, at long last, some smart medical practitioners have figured it out!
- I’m grateful that my writing has touched lives, and that my book, Bridging Species: Thoughts and Tales About Our Lives with Dogs, was recognized with the prestigious Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.
- My multi-species family is proof that the human-animal bond is alive and well and sleeping cozily together at night, 10 years now and counting!
This Thanksgiving we are grateful that we are all here, together, so we can write and talk about what makes sense, what doesn’t, and how we can create love from fear, starting with sleeping sensibly with our animals.
We celebrate Thanksgiving at our house: yes, that means the animals get to eat, too (and no, not stupidly).
We celebrate something everyday at our house, even if it’s just the joy of greeting each other in the morning and at night: in bed.
We celebrate birthdays. We celebrate the day each animal joined the family. We celebrate season changes, holidays, mistakes, triumphs, a good meal, a bad meal being over with, gas in the car, sun and rain, cozy flannel sheets on a winter’s night, friendship and family.
And we celebrate reporters who remind us that they’re sometimes stuck with silly assignments, and can still keep a straight face.
We celebrate Thanksgiving. We invite the whole world to celebrate with us.
© 2011 Robyn M Fritz
Cooking is a skill I apparently lost with menopause—and only miss when I’m hungry.
I used to be a great cook. When I say this to friends they always pause, clearly deciding between laughing at what they presumed to be a joke or at what I’d cook, which wouldn’t be. It doesn’t stop me from offering to cook for them. I watch their eyes widen in surprise, and I’m thoroughly delighted when they say something like they just want to spend time with me.
And show up with Thai food. This is called ‘everybody scores.’
I do cook. Just ask my dogs, Murphy and Alki. They think I’m a great cook and take food cues from me: as a team we have wide-ranging tastes and low standards. If it comes out of the fridge if must be good, or else why would it be in there? The cookie jar is a given. We’ll eat our veggies, but never stop hoping for brownies. Or anything with peanut butter.
That’s how I know the dogs and I are related.
Grace the Cat, I’m not so sure about. She’s so smug about being right about everything that she takes convincing. Plus she’s fastidious and skeptical. As it turns out, these are all qualities that I need to rely on, since my cooking skills headed south with my boobs.
I learned this accidentally at the weekly Farmers’ Market in West Seattle. Almost every week I load up on great foods, all the vegetables and fruits you could want, and then some. Problem is, I’ve discovered things I didn’t know existed, and most often can’t figure out how to cook. The farmers are kind and patient, but it’s clear they think I’m an idiot and are just too polite to say so.
Take, for example, pea shoots. I love pea shoots. I have no idea what they are, except pea shoots, but we love them at our house, all of us, even the cat. We’re even doing a video starring pea shoots. Now, the dogs always come running when I come through the door with food, but if I say, “Pea shoots!” then Grace the Cat leaps up from her normal out cold snooze and races to hold down the kitchen counter while supervising grocery unloading.
You hold up a pea shoot and she perks up, meowing. No obstacle is too great as she promptly hunts it down: grocery bags, stuff on the counter, nothing stops her. If I offer pea shoots to the dogs (who are politely waiting on the floor only because they can’t reach the counter), Grace the Cat backflips onto the floor and bulldozes right through them. You’d think that for her, a pea shoot is, well, the fashionable cat’s mouse.
So you can imagine my surprise the day I decided to cook that week’s bounty of pea shoots.
I yanked them out of the fridge with a dramatic flourish and waved them at Grace the Cat. “Pea shoots for dinner,” I announced, grinning at her.
She stared right through them at me. Unrelenting disapproval. Stern outright disbelief.
“What’s your problem?” I asked. “You love pea shoots!”
She didn’t move. Just glared. I stuck them under her nose. She continued to glare at me as she strategically moved her head back.
I looked at the pea shoots. “Well, they do look different this week.” Yes, kind of like an entire species different, but I wasn’t going to say that.
Grace the Cat looked at me like I was an idiot. She is no fool. She knows when something is a pea shoot. And when it is not. Still they had to be eaten.
I tried the dogs next. They examined the suspect pea shoots with long, strained faces and then looked at me like I’d done something embarrassing and disappointing to their tummies.
“Lot you know,” I sniffed. “I admit they look a little weird.” I hesitated, but I’m thrifty and I’d bought them so I’d eat them.
Unless I could pawn them off on the cat. I waved them at her again. Nope.
I cooked those suckers for two dinners. Both were miserable: the suspect pea shoots were lank, bitter, limp, and tough, like spinach gone off the deep end. I sighed and ate it. Both nights the dogs and cat completely avoided me. I thought about how they just didn’t like pea shoots anymore, and about how right they were. They’d known something about that batch that I didn’t.
That weekend at the Farmers’ Market I stopped at my favorite greens vendor. Spring, you know, time for good things.
I stared down at duplicates of the pea shoots I’d suffered through. “What is that stuff?” I asked. “I thought it was pea shoots.”
“Mizuna,” she said, patiently. I think she flinches when she see me coming, but she’s always nice, and I always buy. Not sure what, apparently.
“Mi what ah?” I asked.
“Mizuna. It’s a green.”
“Well, I know that,” I said. It was green. Now, how to ‘fess up with the least embarrassment. “Should you cook it?” I asked innocently.
Shocked, she said in a strained voice, “Oh, don’t do that. Cooking makes it limp. And bitter.”
I giggled. For once the bad food wasn’t my cooking. It was mi what ah. I knew I shouldn’t have cooked it, but I’m not much of a predator, and I just didn’t know if it would fight back harder if I tried to eat it raw.
“I noticed that,” I said. “I sort of accidentally cooked it.”
She was shocked, like nobody could be that dumb. She was also disappointed in me. Like Grace the Cat in her stoic cat way.
“Oh, you shouldn’t do that,” the farmer said.
Good words to hear before I’d suffered through two miserable dinners.
Thing is, I wouldn’t have had to hear them if I’d just paid attention to my kids. The dogs, that goofy cat, they knew.
So now I’m a reformed shopper at the West Seattle Farmers’ Market. The vendors tend to explain things to me as they’re putting them in my bag: this is pea shoots, this is spinach, whatever. People in line shake their heads and sigh. But at least I get home safely. With food we kind of know how to eat.
Food that gets vetted by Grace the Cat.
Which is why I’m sticking to things the cat likes. Pea sprouts (certified by the farmer). Meat. Blueberry muffins. Cheese doodles. Salad. Corn bread, even though mine is more skanky than home on the range.
Because I guess I hit menopause and I’m not so home on the range. But there’s this cool grass I grow on the deck for the kids. They love it, so it must be good. Don’t have to cook it. Cool.
© 2011 Robyn M Fritz
Here I’d been thinking I was just a bit off. And, as usual, not regretting it a bit.
When I think about being a bit off, I understand that I’m more off than normal. At least that’s what some people tell me, because I’m making a living in partnership with a crystal ball (literally). I did, however, think that I might just be the only person out there who bought a home, and a car, for my animal family.
Thanks to Yvonne DiVita over at BlogPaws I discovered a funky website called Daily Infographic. Where I discovered, in ”20 Facts about Pet Ownership,” that I am in the minority but not all alone out there, doing whatever makes sense for my multi-species family.
See Item 7: “16% of dog owners and 14% of cat owners say they bought a home or a car with a pet in mind.” That includes me.
Even back when I didn’t have an animal family.
Back in 1998 I decided I wanted a dog again in my life, after grieving for my beloved English Cocker, Maggie, for 12 years. My landlord wouldn’t allow pets, so I bought a condo. A few months later an irrepressible, goofy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Murphy Brown, came home to live with me.
Thirteen years later we’re both still here, aging together. We’ve been joined by another Cavalier, my goofy boy, Alki, and Grace the Cat.
The condo wasn’t the only thing I bought. By the time Grace the Cat came along 8 years ago it was clear we had car issues. The fancy Audi I’d bought to drive long distances to visit my nephews was impractical. I needed a family car: something easy to get into and out of with two dogs and a cat in tow.
The Audi went and a Toyota Matrix came. It’s a whole lot easier to get around in. Especially with the animals in tow.
And the condo? I love our condo. My multi-species family loves it. I planned for it to be a place where kids and dogs could come and go while enjoying the beach in our salty, sandy Seattle beach neighborhood. It worked really well for that. What I didn’t count on was the most obvious of all—my animals would age.
The human-animal bond is a strange and wonderful thing. Trying to live a thoughtful life is tough enough alone. Adding animals to the mix can be devastating. I wouldn’t trade it for a life without them, but I can’t sugarcoat it.
That’s where we’ve become our own strange statistic. Not surprising, really, considering the things we’ve shared, from past lives to a cherry addiction.
And a new, tough thing. Murphy and I share a gruesome arthritis: our futures our written in our spines.
It means we need a home where we don’t have stairs. I can do them okay for now, but it’s hard to carry things. Like groceries and handicapped dogs. As I watch Murphy gamely do the stairs, and Alki begin to hurt as well, I see time running out.
It means we’ll have to leave the home I bought for us to live in.
I love our home. My work means that I talk with all life. Our home, Frank, is a real living being, an active presence in our lives and our work. But we’ll have to leave him behind.
People say: “Really? You’d give up your home for a 13-year-old dog?”
To which I say, “Well, wouldn’t you?”
© 2011 Robyn M Fritz
My mom wore Tweety socks. She thought they were hilarious. She’d sit in her chair and raise her feet in the air, wiggling them at the world. Giggling.
Made me laugh, too.
Annoyed my brother. In fact, he was offended and objected to her wearing Tweety socks. They weren’t age appropriate.
Really? What is age appropriate? Braids? Beards? Hats in church? Cleavage? Shorts?
I asked my brother why he was so irate about the socks. Mom was a grandmother, too old for Tweety socks.
My mom was 68.
She had a collection of strange socks. She also had red hair (acquired when she was six months pregnant with me and bored) and expensive tastes, running to Ferragamo shoes, fast cars, and … Tweety socks.
When she died, at 68, I wanted certain things to remember her by, that had sentimental value, that made me smile. I took her socks. Even though I’ve since cleaned out many of the things I got from her, I kept her Tweety socks.
I found them in my drawer last week. They made me smile.
Truth is, my mom and I didn’t always get along. It wasn’t just the normal mother-daughter thing.
It was cultural.
My mom was adamant that women were inferior to men. She’d shake her finger in my face and yell it at me. Her insistence that neither of us were as good as a man because we were women still shocks me.
It wasn’t intellect. Or job. Or honesty or responsibility or respectability. It was being female. God and society told her so. That made it true.
I rebelled against that from Day 1. They slapped me in uniforms in Catholic school, and I stuck gaudy jewelry on them and hiked the skirts up. They insisted on hats in church and I wore a used handkerchief. I was a brat when I wasn’t giving in. I rebelled.
And I’m still rebelling. But that’s a topic for another day, the one that goes on about things like young women who claim they’re not feminists and take their husbands’ name when they get married. Excuse me: call yourselves whatever you want, except by your husbands’ name: culturally, intellectually, emotionally, that means you accept that you are inferior. So do men, other women, and society. Our children.
Until that changes, nothing changes, and society, and culture, remain stifled. If you act inferior, you will be. Just like my mother said.
But back to the Tweety socks.
One day years ago I was walking through Nordstrom’s when I spotted a sweatshirt sequined with a winning poker hand. Not only was my mom a poker player (a regular winner at the local tavern), but she loved those sequined sweatshirts. I always thought they were gaudy, but she liked them, and that’s still how I remember her, wearing those gaudy sweatshirts. That day at Nordstrom’s I bought the sequined horror. The excited clerk giftwrapped it and prepared it for shipping while I tucked in a note that said, “I love you, mom.”
Mom was shocked when she got it. I guess she thought I was prepping her for something horrible, like a disease or a new husband. I’m not one for giving spontaneous presents, and especially not expensive ones. But every once in awhile you get to tell your mom that you love her as weirdly as you can. That was all.
I saw her wear it once. For me. She was clearly uncomfortable. I had to chuckle at that: I never liked the clothes she bought me, either. She’d buy things that were way not me and pink: the only pink in my house is a laundry accident (well, okay, I have two cross-dressing flamingos).
My mom was smart enough to buy things just to annoy me, but only one thing ever did (for long): her hatred of equality.
I don’t live in an unequal world, because inequality isn’t the way it really is. I know. I talk with things: with animals, with our businesses and homes, with land and weather systems. I talk with them as equals, and they talk back as equals. There are masculine and feminine presences, and none of them are worth more than the others.
Think about that. A world where everything is alive and we are all equal. Think of what we could create! Think of what our children could be.
Last week when I found mom’s Tweety socks again, I thought about her, how the socks outraged my brother, and made me and our mom laugh.
I thought about her beliefs.
And her attitude.
My mother was a product of her times. She did what they told her, believed what they insisted, never achieved what she could have, not just in a career but in her life. She was always sad.
She also sold the house out from under my dad one day when he was working.
She played poker at night at a local tavern.
And she wore whatever she wanted. Right down to her Tweety socks.
Honestly, my mom was a rebel, in her own way. Not brave enough to stand up for the big things, but aware of the differences. I like to think her ugly duckling daughter’s rebellious spirit rubbed off on her.
Or I inherited hers, and am just running with it.
I wonder if rebelling is what mom was doing with the Tweety socks. Why she refused to get rid of them. I wonder if that’s part of the reason why I kept them.
Protest with humor.
Nevertheless, no one ever saw her Tweety socks except the family. They were covered up in public.
Her socks were in the closet.
No one, and nothing, should be. Not even our Tweety socks.
That’s why I kept them. That’s why I care.
Here’s to mom. And equality.
© 2011 Robyn M Fritz
In Memoriam: Randall Ray Fritz, July 26, 1947 – November 1, 1961.
Years ago, I couldn’t imagine that today would ever occur.
Today, it’s been 50 years. What to make of them?
In October 1961 my grandparents came out from Montana to visit. My oldest brother, Randy, was sick, in and out of the hospital, and in those days, it was a long drive to Salem from our small Oregon home town. So far, in fact, that in September Randy moved to Salem to live with our grandparents during the week, so he could attend Catholic high school.
Just like that, Randy got sick.
I remember the last time I saw him. He was in the hospital, pale and thin beneath the covers. Alert.
I was just a kid. Naïve. Trusting. Sheltered. Optimistic. Like all kids and many adults I was uncomfortable visiting the hospital. And I didn’t know why Randy was there and couldn’t come home.
All I knew was that I had always adored my older brother, which is not the same thing as always liking him. But the sun rose and set on Randy. Even when we talked about death in school—because Catholics, at least, only talk about dying, from getting ready to die to actually doing it—I used to think that everyone could die, even my parents.
But not Randy. No, Randy would never die.
All those years ago, I didn’t know what it meant to be intuitive. I just remember what hit me in those last few moments, before we left that day. The last day I saw my brother alive.
Surrounded by family, Randy looked over at me, held out his hand, and as I reached out and held his, our eyes met. In that moment, I knew.
Randy was dying. And he knew it. In that shared moment he said goodbye.
I was too stunned to do anything but stare at him in shock.
I don’t remember when that last day was. Sometime in late October the doctors told my parents that Randy had leukemia and would die in six weeks to six months. He was gone in less than a week.
Sometime in those last days the doctors also asked my parents to allow them to use Randy as a guinea pig. Literally. They need drug trials on a promising drug that wouldn’t help Randy, but might help others in the future.
My dad was a pharmacist. He knew from drugs. My parents agreed.
That last morning my Grandma Fritz sobbed at the kitchen table while my younger brother and I played. When asked, over and over, why she was crying, she simply said she felt sorry for Randy. It didn’t make any sense to me. Nothing did.
I had no context. Why would it make sense?
Later, we were called in from playing. I was taking off my shoes when my mom walked over to me and blurted it out.
“Your brother went to heaven an hour ago.”
I stared at her in confused, stunned silence until it sunk in. I burst into tears. In some ways I have not stopped crying all these years later.
My brother’s death destroyed my family. There’s no other way to put it. My parents … when I think of them I think of impossible grief. Of two people who’d survived a world war, created a good business in a small rural community, raised their kids to be honest citizens, anticipated a future bright with promise, and lost their oldest child in a matter of days to a disease they’d never really heard of.
On November 1, 1961.
My parents never recovered. Sure, they laughed again, they raised us, they staggered on. To a degree. With pain like that you have two choices: to grieve and move on, or to block yourself emotionally. I’m not sure which is the easiest, but they chose to be blocked. Because of that, two little kids didn’t just lose a brother that day.
I think now everyone must have known that Randy was dying except the children. Everyone had time to prepare, except for my younger brother and me. I think even Randy had time to prepare. They never told him he was dying. But I know he knew. I knew that day.
The community rallied around us. Food arrived. Friends and family and strangers flocked to the funeral home. To the funeral. There were so many flowers that the smell overwhelmed me, and, after being forced to touch Randy’s cold, stiff hand as we stared at him in his coffin, the flowers choked me and I turned and raced away as fast as I could, with my uncle running behind me trying to help. He did. But I re-live that nightmare every time I walk into a florist shop. I can’t stand the smell of carnations.
So here’s another story. For several years the community had been raising money to buy land to build a Catholic high school. That school was dedicated two years later, in 1963. My brother and I graduated from it, as did my nephews.
In their shock and grief my parents sought comfort. They decided to scrimp and save and donate $5,000 to the building fund for the school chapel, built in Randy’s memory. It was still there several years ago, at my nephews’ graduation. Once I learned the truth of that chapel, I never cared about it again. My parents had given the money they thought they would spend on Randy’s college education to build that chapel—to somehow make his death mean something, to ease their sorrow, I don’t know. Some people respected them for it. Others decided that if we had that kind of money to give away, then we didn’t need their business.
I know this sounds bitter. Really, it’s ironic. It’s all part of community, isn’t it? The not so nice part that you can sometimes understand because community isn’t perfect. It’s a whole lot of work. Even when it doesn’t work.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to my brother. I carried that pain and grief for years, the fear, that many kids have, that petty jealousies somehow cause our stricken sibling to die. That took years to get over. It makes me really useful to kids who are dealing with that now, because I know exactly what they’re feeling, even if they won’t say it. But I can tell them. And their parents. I can tell them to talk to each other. To hold on.
But for me, truly, it took a dog, and a dog’s well-lived life, to let the grief go. It took creating a family of my own, and seeing family beyond humans, to heal that grief.
It took expanding community to include all life, and working to build it. It took the ongoing work of creating a community with all life—that’s what I do, however I can, in fits and starts.
And healing took a goddess, but that’s another story.
Here’s the thing about grief.
Grief teaches us about all things. From grief we learn hatred. I learned to hate god. On the day we buried Randy I decided that a god who would allow my brother to die was not a god I could respect, or love, or acknowledge. Despite years of being a devout Catholic, and finally being brave enough to leave, I’ve held on to that. Call me stubborn. And consistent. And … whatever works for you.
Grief teaches us fear. If we can lose someone we love, then why risk it? Close the door and hide.
Grief teaches us compassion. Again, you can choose to block life, like my parents did, or you can choose to move on, which is what I did, eventually. Compassion helps our hearts to cry while allowing others to cry with us. Compassion gives us the freedom to reach beyond the hurt to build community. Like my parents did with that chapel.
Grief teaches us love. If I had not been hardened by grief I would not have melted with love. If I had not defied my old community, the one of faith and religion and limitations and petty jealousies and extraordinary generosity and everyday comradeship, I would not have my new community. It means everything to me.
Without grief I would not now be a citizen of the world. I would not now be an intuitive who can talk with all beings, from animals to businesses to homes, to the land and waters and weather around us. I would not now be able to offer compassion to all life.
I would not now have the crystal Fallon as my partner.
There were many things I had to re-learn in the lives that led us back to each other: Fallon, the citrine Lemurian quartz who was rejected around the world, and the lonely lost girl whose invincible adored brother died.
I had to learn the alchemy of grief.
Alchemy is magic. Transformation. The changing of one thing to another.
Given a chance, grief becomes love.
That’s what I finally learned today. The day I realized that it’s been 50 years since my brother died.
Today I learned the alchemy of grief.
So here, 50 years later, I can finally say the tears have stopped. I have moved on. It’s done now. It has been. It’s just time to say it.
Yes, today I finally get to say goodbye to my brother.
Randy, thank you for taking a drug that couldn’t save you, but is now saving so many lives. Thank you for making methotrexate possible. They use it for rheumatoid arthritis now, and at one time it helped our dad as it is now helping a dear friend; it also helped a college student I knew years ago recover from the leukemia that killed you.
Randy, thank you for being my brother.
Randy, thank you for whatever it was we learned together.
Randy, thank you for saying goodbye to me.
© 2011 Robyn M Fritz
My mom loved Southwest art. My dad loved my mom. I loved them. When the eagle kachina dropped into our lives, I was greedily snatching as much time with them as I could, building memories.
One day my dad called and said he’d found an art piece for mom. “Not like yours,” he said wryly.
“Oh, bummer,” I said.
We both giggled, remembering the day years before when I’d announced that I’d bought my first art piece. “Does it have horses?” he’d asked. Of course it did.
“So what is it, Indian stuff?” I asked now, referring to mom’s penchant for all things Southwest, right down to their interior décor.
“Of course,” he said. “But it’s big, so when you come down for Christmas will you take me to get it?”
“Absolutely.” I was touched, my parents never asked for much.
A Family’s Last Holiday
So at Christmas that year, I drove dad downtown to pick up his gift for mom. We got it safely home and unwrapped it together, while Dad told me the story of how they found it. Dad was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, so it fell to me to giftwrap it, ironic, since he had taught me the art of giftwrapping when I worked for him in his business.
We didn’t quite know what to make of this art piece: about two feet wide and tall, it was a copper sculpture, partly painted turquoise, with a curious mixture of human and really big bird. We knew it was the artist’s representation of native American art and spirituality, but that was it: we were appreciative, but ignorant, barbarians.
Eagle Kachina, the tag said. Expensive and hard to wrap, I thought, and not my taste.
But it was clearly my mom’s. Christmas Eve she ripped off my lumpy wrapping and spent the next week dragging Mr. Eagle Guy, as we called it, around the house, trying to decide where to hang it.
I reveled in that Christmas. I got to help my dad give a gift to my mom. I got to listen to my mom babble about it. And I got to share a small family moment with my parents, a moment where we celebrated and had fun together, glorying in the family bond. In community.
As it turned out, it was also the last Christmas I shared with my parents. My dad died in June, and my mom 10 months later.
The Eagle Kachina Comes Home … Sort Of
When we closed up their home, my brother and I sorted out who got what. I insisted on taking Mr. Eagle Man, not because I really liked it, but because it was a concrete reminder of a wonderful last holiday with my parents, at a time when illness and disability dulled all three of us.
No question the piece came home to live with me.
Years went by. Years when I moved the piece around the house. It was beautiful, yes, but not my taste.
It also didn’t belong in my home.
Things like this happen. However they end up with us, the objects in our life don’t always fit. Sometimes we change, or they do, and it’s time for them to move on. The trick is to recognize that and to figure out what happens next.
Truth is, the eagle kachina never fit in my home. These days I work as a professional intuitive, which means I talk with things, from animals to businesses, homes, nature, and, yes, objects, including this piece. Back then I only knew that the piece was sentimental but just plain felt odd to me. It didn’t belong with me. Finally acknowledging that, I thanked it for its service to my family, and asked it to start looking for a new home, while also promising that I would not simply discard it. It was beautiful, full of family memories, and also represented an artist’s vision of a sacred object. It needed to call, and be called, home. Wherever home was.
It stayed with me for a long time, because no matter what I did, I couldn’t find out anything about the piece or the artist, or how to properly, well, rehome it. Not surprising, I guess, because it had been years, and the artist might have moved on, literally and artistically.
The Search for Home
Years went by.
One day, my new friend Tara came by. I was showing her my small condo, and she took one look at the eagle kachina and said, “When you’re ready to sell that, let me know.”
She told me that she collects Southwest art, and she thought my piece would fit well with a large metal sculpture that she’d purchased several years before. She’s a real estate agent and a Reiki master with an easy strong intuition, so when she said she wanted the piece, I just smiled.
She suggested that the store she’d bought her large piece from would know how to value it. So I emailed Hogan Trading Company with a picture and a question.
They promptly emailed back: not only could they put a value on it, they represented the artist, Dale J. Anderson. I spent a few minutes exploring his art at their website. Intriguing. After years wondering, all it took to find the artist was a new, visiting friend.
Strange small world. Awesome universe.
More time went by, because truth is, even when special pieces have to go, a part of you still clings to them. The kachina had to go. Talking with the piece, I knew that it belonged with Tara. The kachina and I both needed time to separate from each other: it was as if we’d both been waiting for its new home to show up before we could really say goodbye to each other. There had to be a new community before the old one could end.
Finally, I told Tara to come get it. Even though she’d only seen it once, briefly, months before, she promptly agreed.
I carefully wrapped it and Tara took it home.
Not long after, she called. The eagle kachina fit perfectly in her home: its beauty and its energy felt great. She was thrilled because it went so well with the treasured, large sculpture she’d invested so much in.
The odd extra touch: when she unwrapped it, she discovered the two pieces were by the same artist.
The eagle kachina really was home.
Treasures of Community
Truth is, I could have kept the piece in the family, or put it up for auction, or done any number of things with it. But the only thing I felt right about was honoring my parents’ love and family bond by finding another family that would fit this piece. It needed a community, and I couldn’t let it go without that.
Its home now is with Tara. For me, the circle is complete. I’ve been lucky enough to meet new people in a new community, and the eagle kachina has bridged both of them. It’s home now. And so am I.
© 2011 Robyn M Fritz
When my youngest dog, Alki, became deaf, I had to figure out how I could make him comfortable with his handicap. How to make us all comfortable: Alki, my nearly 10-year-old Cavalier; his 12-year-old Cavalier sister, Murphy; Grace the Cat; me; and friends, family, and visiting clients.
We’re familiar with handicaps at our house: of the four of us, only Grace the Cat is not dealing with some kind of disability (although, in the middle of the night, I sometimes think her touchy tummy qualifies).
The trick is to balance empathy and compassion, fairness and firmness, for all family members. Sure, the newly handicapped family member takes center stage. However, everyone is affected, so paying attention to everyone’s needs short-circuits jealousies and misunderstandings and provides space for healthy change for everyone.
My multi-species family did the practical things, as described in Part 1 of this article. It’s what we added to the mix that mattered: the socio-cultural things that define how we survive, and thrive, in adversity.
Alki becoming deaf was a shock. Yes, like all living beings, he’d had some problems, but as we dealt with Alki’s deafness I was surprised how it pushed my buttons. Somehow I relied on Alki to be the ‘easy’ one, because he was so sunny and sturdy, Murphy had so many health problems, Grace the Cat had a rough start, and I’ve been handicapped for too many years to count.
I knew better, but I still never expected things to change for Alki. Once I got used to his Velcro personality it stuck to me so well that the physical and emotional teamwork that developed feels as natural as breathing. I didn’t want it to change. Or end.
I loved having his constant attendance. He loved always being there. Now we both mourned the loss of his hearing and had to work our way through it to both honor and deepen our human-animal bond. Sure, we did the practical things, but we also did the cultural ones.
Six Socio-cultural Comforts
- Acceptance. I made it clear to Alki that his handicap didn’t change how I felt about him, only how we managed daily life. Then I proved it all day long.
- Grace and humor. Meet everything, obstacle or otherwise, with grace and humor. I repeat: grace and humor.
- Kindness and reassurance. Everybody has to adapt to a handicap. Alki and Murphy and Grace the Cat learned new ways of respecting and living with each other. So did I. Alki knows that I am physically handicapped and always in pain, and he worried about me having to get up and go to him. I simply made it clear that I would rather get up and walk to him than live without him.
- Compassion. Everyone needs compassion, not just the handicapped animal. Take time to love and accept each other. Make sure everybody gets it.
- Emotions. Put yourself in the animal’s place. How would you feel if you were suddenly handicapped? What would you need from your family? Act accordingly. Animals are emotional beings just as we are, so pay attention to their needs and concerns. So what could I do for Alki? This isn’t New Age pablum: a frightened, hurt animal can be dangerous, so you absolutely must know your animal’s personality. Is it shy, passive-aggressive, high strung, sensitive? Does the animal act as if it feels threatened or unsafe? Alki’s body language even at rest was clue enough: he was tense, on guard, curled in a scared tight ball. He was not himself. You see that a few times and you act. It’s dangerous and cruel to let unhappiness like that continue.
- Love love love. Never stop telling every multi-species family member, including the handicapped ones, that you love them, and never stop proving it. Dealing with a handicap is time-consuming, frustrating, and upsetting, but if life were perfect, wouldn’t you be bored? You can choose a throwaway culture and abandon a handicapped animal, or you can help everyone adapt and grow.
We adapted to Alki’s handicap. I sighed away the sadness when it rose. Things happen in life, and this happened to all of us.
What really pained me was that Alki couldn’t fully adjust to his deafness. He adapted, but he was often uneasy, uncertain, and frightened. I knew I was missing something, but what?
The breakthrough was as ordinary as everyday life.
In our daily family rituals I have one-on-one morning and evening times with each animal. One night, I spent a long session with Alki. I hugged and petted him, and made sure he was looking at me as I told him how much I loved and respected him, that he would always be family, that we would deal with his deafness as best we could. That he was my son, we were family, and his deafness didn’t matter.
I assured him, over and over, that the only thing that changed was his ability to hear. Then I intuitively talked with him, showing him that we could still communicate even if he couldn’t hear me speak out loud. I gave him a long massage, something he loves. And I used a form of energy work, which I call dimensional healing, that arrived in our household about five years ago after I specifically asked for a form of energy that would work for my multi-species family.
That night I made my love and acceptance visible to Alki. He gradually relaxed. I felt better. Murphy and Grace the Cat fell asleep. I went for a drink of water and when I came back Alki was in an excited crouch on the bed. As our eyes met his sparkled and he thumped his tail hard, excited. The sad, perplexed dog was gone, and my beloved Alki was back. Breakthrough! Yes, a long time coming, but it did come!
Alki made huge progress after that—sure, he still needed extra care, but his sunny, optimistic, adventurous personality returned. He finally understood that, no matter what, he is my son and an equal family member, and that trumps everything.
Alki was deaf, yes, but he could hear what mattered—that he was loved and accepted. Then came the day when he proved that he could take that understanding back out into community.
We were out alone together, a block from home, when a stray dog ran up to us. Now Alki had been uncertain with dogs since his mauling and the deafness, so I fended the other dog off, while thinking it might be one of the dogs in our neighborhood.
I was surprised that Alki stood quietly beside me, instead of barking or shying away. The dog moved a few feet away and stopped to stare at us. We stared back. Alki and I exchanged a long look, then he visibly braced himself, just like humans do when we suck up uncertainty and move on. Calmly stepping toward the dog, Alki cocked his head at it, clearly inviting it to join us.
The three of us slowly made it down the street. Each time the dog started to wander off, I’d call it or Alki would turn and cock his head, and the dog would follow us. Eventually the dog and its people were reunited.
By the time we got in our own door that day I was bursting with proud mama-ness. I hugged and praised Alki for his kindness and bravery. He had not only faced his fear but put it aside to help another dog get home again. He had learned to live with a disability and go back out into community.
Alki has been fine ever since. Deaf, yes. Reassured by his family’s love, adjusting to changed circumstances, yes, my boy is home. It’s not the same home it was before he became deaf: somehow, it’s better.
Why? Because on the deepest level that counts Alki can hear again. Deafness is a condition, a handicap, yes, but it’s also a choice. Do we withdraw, do we hide, or do we adjust and find a new pattern to life? Like all things in life, we choose fear or we choose love.
We were afraid for awhile, but ultimately we chose love in our multi-species family. Alki chose love.
Love is what made my deaf dog hear again. Love and what comes with love: patience, grumpiness, acceptance, compassion, hard work, common sense, frustration, grief, and an adventurous open spirit that may stagger but never gives up.
The mindset that comes from love is what we use to nurture our families, multi-species or not, in the traumas and triumphs of daily life. It’s what we use to create communities where we learn and grow from our difficulties and celebrate our triumphs. With animals we call it the human-animal bond; in truth, it’s community.
Love helped Alki adapt. It didn’t make it easier, but it did make it bearable. He’s still my little boy who shouldn’t suffer, whose sunny disposition should be rewarded by endless health and youth. Bodies fade, but love doesn’t give up for anything.
Love did it.
Love made my deaf dog hear again.
(c) 2011 by Robyn M Fritz