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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Our household is ready for a little calm; however, that is not yet in the plans.

Ironically, our dog, Fordham, has been acting oddly since our kids returned to college the second week in January. His changed actions also coincided with my mother’s decline and our increased attention toward her care during her final days. In the hubbub following her death and because of his winter coat, we didn’t really notice his leg was swelling to go along with the now-familiar limp—he often injured the leg and just carried on in his “deal-with-it” way.

By the time we figured out this lameness was something different, it became evident we were likely facing losing him. A couple weeks ago Sherman and I went together to see our veterinarian/friend, Dr. Phil, and discovered Fordham has bone cancer—and that most treatments are not likely to extend his life much.

The good news is we got to bring him home with us while treating him with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication—to see if we could gain a few weeks or months.

The medications have helped him to be happier—he moves himself around when they are working well, although he always needs help to get up and down the stairs to go outside.

Still, I’m reminded that he, like my mother, loved to move as much as possible. He never met a door he didn’t want to go through—either direction. I have been so grateful for our doggie door over the years, as has Fordham! Let’s just say on cold days when I kept the door shut, Fordham kept me busy doing butler duty.

Now I wait for the bark that tells me he wants to go in or out. Even he has conceded that the stairs, even with the ramp Sherman built for him and Abel last month, are not his friends. Otherwise, he moves himself as he chooses.

The tougher part will be figuring out when we’re just doing this for ourselves versus for him. I think we will know—English Springer Spaniels are so good at radiating happiness that surely we won’t be able to miss when he has lost his spark.

In the meanwhile we spoil him.

And, boy, does he eat that up. Reminds me that once we went to a picnic held by the English Springer Rescue of the Rockies, the organization from which we adopted our old pup, and the visiting doggie psychic met him and pronounced he liked to be “the lord of the castle” or something to that effect.

Now, he is this castle’s king. Sherman puts treats in his food, so much so that Fordham seems a bit disgusted that the rest of the bowl is filled with his longtime standby premium dog food. But a little later in the day, he’s happy to finish off what remains. He lies contentedly for electrical massage treatments. And, when he barks, we come running.

To think, just over a month ago we were pretty unhappy with his love of his own voice—now we relish hearing it. That sound means he still cares, although about what, we’re not always able to determine. For all we know he doesn’t want anything but our attention.

And he’s figured out we’re pretty happy to give it to him, even when we can tell he’s just yanking our chains.

We expected to lose my mom when we did—after all, she had been in decline from her Alzheimer’s for several years and had entered hospice for kidney failure a few months earlier. We didn’t, however, expect to lose Fordham, a guy who has been pretty good at helping us get through a lot of tough times, around the same time.

Yes, we knew his joints were bad enough that he probably wouldn’t be around for his full lifespan—still, we thought we had at least until this summer or even the following season of cold.

It seems we were wrong. For now, we’re going to help this woman’s (and Sherman’s) best friend up and down those stairs as often as he’d like that help. Here’s to Fordham: king for however long he gets.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert


(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

This is number 24—that’s right, 24 Valentine’s Days with my sweetheart. However, I don’t think this will be our most romantic one yet. We’re mostly looking forward to a quiet dinner at home, reading aloud to one another, and getting some good sleep.

It’s not so much that we’re too old or that we’ve grown tired of one another. Oh no, we’re just plain tired from the last few weeks . . . or longer.

But the activities we’ve been doing lately are what love is really about. You see, love, the verb, is an emotion turned into action.

My mother loved me from my earliest days and so it came to me to love her through her last days, as well as to try to do justice to that mother love through how I said goodbye to her in a formal ceremony.

The thing is, though, I could never have had the strength to do all the things I needed to do for her over the last few years without Sherman’s support, through the tasks he did for either her or me, during the times he just walked beside me with her, or when he held me up when I thought I could not carry on.

You see, I knew nothing of that type of love that first Valentine’s Day. I thought it was something that he cleaned his house for me as well as grilled me steaks—barefoot outside on a snowy night—and gave me chocolate—a whole lot of chocolate, actually. He was cute, funny, and thoughtful—could he be my knight in shining armor coming to my emotional rescue?

How little I knew of the real meaning behind “Grow old along with me!”

By now I’ve seen enough of old age to know that, at least on the surface, the best is not always yet to be.

But dig below that surface and maybe, just maybe, you start to realize that the best is really about knowing you have someone by your side that will stay there no matter what—God willing and the creek don’t rise.

So even though we haven’t had much time for traditional romance in the over three weeks since I lost my mother, Sherman has been at my side throughout the many tasks and whenever else I have needed him. His love language is “acts of service” and it has shown as I have had to work with my brother Scott on practical matters and both our families have had to prepare for our local memorial service this past weekend.

Yesterday Scott and his wife Lori, as well as Sherman and I, sent their son and our kids back to their college homes away from home. This morning I said goodbye to Scott and Lori as they drove off with their vehicle packed to the brim with items from the storage unit and all the paperwork to finish out the estate.

Today I’ve focused on regaining some order here while Sherman has returned to work.

Tonight we rest, but tomorrow . . . ? There are 364 other days a year for romance—still time for the best yet to be.

After great loss, silence often follows.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone . . . (W. H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”)

Ft. Lewis College, (c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Our mother’s clock finally stopped around 7:45, the evening of January 20, 2011. Would that we could have cut off the telephone—plus taken back the last few years of losing our mother/grandmother/aunt/sister/in-law/friend/teacher to the long goodbye of Alzheimer’s.

Of course, the relentless ticking of Time has not stopped—almost two weeks have passed since I sat down by her bed on Tuesday, January 18, and realized this would be no ordinary week, even if I didn’t know the exact moment when the hands on the clock would finish their movements. Pastor Ruthann, who had said the place where my mother would go to meet her maker is a holy one, would likely say that that was also our family’s holy week.

Our loss, God’s gain, and Mom’s return to herself—only much, much better.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Life’s blessings often come in the small moments during such times. When my exercise friend and neighbor Diana asked me how I was doing, I shared where we had arrived on our journey. Turns out she used to work as a hospice volunteer coordinator. She knew what to say: yes, it was a blessing for her to go, as her mind and body had been abandoning her spirit, but it remained a big loss. So true—she was and is my only mother.

After talking with Mom’s caregivers and her doctor, I knew my brother Scott needed to join me in the vigil. Yet, January’s weather is capricious at best and dangerous at worst. Forecast: freezing rains across the prairie, any route he could take. He was stuck finding a last minute seat on a plane.

So I sat by her side alone again on that Wednesday, waiting for his early evening arrival. I told her often her son would be with her later in the night, silently praying he would make it in time.

My laptop played music she would have liked—the sounds helped me, whether or not they could reach her. Throughout the vigil we heard songs such as Aretha Franklin’s gospel greats, both contemporary music and Mozart’s “Requiem” sung by musicians from my church, and—though stuck in her own winter—Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Above the music the oxygen concentrator hummed and the expansions and contractions of the mattress hissed. I listened for her breaths, now deep, now shallow, maintaining a pseudo-rhythm. I touched her wrists and felt the warmth.

Could she hear me? I did not know. But as I showed her caregivers the slideshow on my laptop screen, I told her stories—not just the facts, but the funny tales as well.

Our rush hour storm turned a trip to the airport into a three-hour odyssey for me—much longer than Scott spent in the air! The storm had mostly died down by the time Sherman and I brought Scott to Mom. Later that night, we left her sleeping peacefully.

Together, the next day Scott and I passed the time at her bedside. In the morning, while she was wakeful, we offered our own voices—gifted by her teaching— as we shared the songs of our youth and those she played in church. Scott—he of the perfect memory—didn’t even say anything when I inserted “la, la, la’s” or made up lyrics! After all, she was a church organist. Although the notes were hard-wired in her brain, the words were not. Music itself was her first language. In those moments of song, Mom connected with us in a way she could not otherwise.

She was stable and sleeping comfortably throughout the afternoon. Hospice had offered a volunteer to sit by her through the night—we accepted as her condition had not changed much for several hours. We expected Dee, the volunteer, to arrive sometime around 10:00 so we could go home to sleep.

When she arrived three hours earlier, we were surprised. She suggested we could get something to eat and then come back.

Scott and I returned home, where Sherman made us all dinner. With our plates almost emptied, the phone rang. Mom’s clock had stopped on the worst of her times while the best of her times had begun—she was whole once more—and home with her Father.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Yes, she was our North, South, East, and West—but how we continue to live our own lives is how we best honor her.

Consider my silence broken.

In Honor of Elda Mae (Ritter) Lange: June 25, 1930 – January 20, 2011

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