The Grief of Dog

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When my ninety-two-year-old mother

died (granted we had a strained

relationship), I felt sad that

things could not have been

other.

When my ninety-eight-year-old mother-

in-law died (granted we had an

un-strained relationship), I felt

very sad because it

reminded

me of the tragic death of her daughter, my

late wife, over whom I cried three-

hundred-sixty-five days straight

and a gazillion eighteen-wheeler

loads of tears in the

eighteen years

since.

When my eighty-seven-year-old mother-in-law

by my wonderful wife died, we met for

a memorial service eight states away

and enjoyed the

fellowship.

When my ninety-three-year old father-in-law

died, I watched the immediate

family

cry.

Now I sit and watch my one-hundred-fifteen-year-

old Chocolate Lab limp, cough, breathe

laboriously, sleep fitfully and I, in

anticipatory grief,

convulse.

There Were Three Tables

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There were three tables at the outdoor coffee

café in a quaint, inland seaside town.

At one sat a solitary figure reading

a New York Times and glancing

periodically in irritation at the middle table and

all the commotion coming from it and flying

just above it.  Several sat crowded around

while Richard Wagner hovered, flying just

over their heads, baton in hand, arms flailing

at the wind, his big hair whipping left

and right with each swing of the arms,

spittle falling from the froth around his

mouth, hitting the ground and just missing

an old Chocolate Lab who lie panting

next to the table. Above Wagner, flew

the Valkyries in a frenzy trying to

keep up with the baton. Swords swung madly

back and forth clashing with sparks flying

and falling on the heads of those who

sat beneath. Their singing formed a funnel

cloud that moved up and down almost touching those

at the table among them Friedrich Nietzsche

who shouted something into Niccolò

Machiavelli’s ear and the two of them

laughed heartily, but no one else could get in

on the joke because of the storm clouds,

thunder and lightning above. At the

third table sat a real Aryan who looked

a lot like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and directly

across from him Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

They sipped their espresso and watched

each other very, very closely,

never taking their eyes off of one another not

even to notice what a nice late summer’s

day it was or even the ominous

tornado funnel hovering directly

over the middle table. Just under Wagner,

the Valkyries and the tornado tunnel

of operatic voices, sat an old, nearly

bald, white-haired, jowly white man

with hang-dog eyes, droopier than those of the

lab who sat near him. He wore a short-sleeved

shirt, baggy shorts and flip-flops which

revealed two bulbous bunions. He had

wobbly, knobby titanium knees with big scars and

spindly, varicose legs and arms with skin hanging

loosely down  to his wrists. With one shaky

hand he fidgeted with his to-go cup of

coffee and with the other he checked his I-phone

for incoming calls or texts. A pouty, protruding

ball of a belly was the last sign of  a left-

behind, corpulently indulgent life.

He felt the vibration in his hand, looked at the

phone, flipped the top, held it to his ear and

Thus Spake Zarathustra, “Yeah?” As he

spoke, a hint of last night’s vodka dinner

drifted up to a frowning Wagner. The Valkyries roared

with laughter, the lightning struck, the sparks flew.

The Chocolate Lab scurried under the

table and everyone ducked for cover

including the old, white guy.

I N T I N C T U R E

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Poet Vicki VanEck Hill has been a friend of mine for many years. When I read her powerful poem INTINCTURE, I asked permission to print it.  Normally, I would say, “Enjoy!”  That’s not the right word.  Perhaps, “Experience!”

I  N  T I   N  C   T  U  R  E
“..Healing is a creative act, calling for all the hard work and dedication needed for other forms of creativity”
~Bernard Siegel, Love, Medicine, Miracles

   Should your colon rupture, avoid flu season concurrent with an ice storm,
Both elements of ER triage disaster in my case.
Combative drunks from roll-over car accidents will command the X-ray machines
Till the most combative one is held down by 4 security people,
His alcohol-anesthetized skull feels pain and I,
On a plane past pain writhe wait for him to settle down, wait my turn.

They permit my husband to use an illegal wrestling hold to settle him for the seconds
It takes for thrashing to stop long enough to x-ray Mr. Wiggle who goes to ICU so  that   after many hours,
I, too, can be x-rayed and told hastily, “Airaboveyourdiaphragm: YOU NEED SURGERY!”
These glad tidings are augmented by an offer I can’t refuse: painkillers 10 hours after lancing pain began,
Causing my later ride to hospital on hands and knees. I initialed the consents,
“Up to and including colostomy” and laughed when asked if I, word nerd, understood what that meant.

That week 16 strangers extended their arms and lay on cots until excused to waiting cookies,
Abundant liquids to restore them and prevent dizziness after donating a unit of blood.
Each then waited the requisite time paging through ruffled magazines or books they brought, or
Chatting with regular donors so that this day my life is saved:
Their garnet gifts given when, hours after surgery, my husband is forced away
As PA speakers confide tunefully, “CODE RED. CODE RED.”

He protests and at his height and width, cannot be budged by the head nurse,
Who escorts him saying, “There will be 30 people here in 30 seconds: we need the room
To save your wife.” I look past my feet and see the stricken gaze at me from the hall,
His massive ham hands hang as worn ribbons, his shock is burned into my mind’s eye.
Sepsis     Sedation   Scrub     Scrape      Sterilize      Salvage    Suture

Have brought me to this point where 60 hands now strive to keep blood within me.
Several mouths repeat the questions,
“Do you know your name?” “Do you know where you are?” “Do you know what day it is?”
Asked so often by such sober inflections I opt to add humor to the gravity:
“You act like I’m dying…same-o questions…don’t you know others?”
Heads turn in unison, pitying eyes signal, “She knows,” but only for a millisecond, then work resumes:

Needles jab into any spaghetti vein that will hold them: arms, legs, wrists, toes. I listen to numbers called out again and again: 50 over 18. Can this low number be my blood pressure?
I never knew it could be so low and one could live.
Six weeks later I enter my church’s hushed, darkened sanctuary:
It is Ash Wednesday. I walk up for communion by intinction.
The garnet droplets seep onto the consecrated body. A miracle: I live.

Lent, 1998
Written by Vicki Hill