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(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Warning: this is not a happy little holiday post; in fact, it’s not even a happy little everyday post. No, it’s the post that should I get it out of my head might yet lead me to be able to sleep tonight.

However, this is not about sleeping tonight. No, I keep thinking that if I can just get the dining room table cleared during the daylight hours tomorrow, somehow I’ll find a way to salvage what’s left of 2011 and get myself ready to shed this year for the possibility of 2012. If you’re like me and have ADD and you’ve been through a lot of recent loss, you might understand how something as mundane as a bunch of random items on a table or any similar space can grow to appear as a physical manifestation of the condition of your heart and mind.

Yes, a year ago today began my mother’s last month on this earth. I can’t even tell you that was a bad thing because of the Alzheimer’s that had ravaged her mind as well as her body. But it was a very hard thing to watch her go in that way, to know that her brain kept everything—from her thoughts to her vocal cords to her feet—from working as they were used to doing. And to know that as inadequate as I felt, it was my job to hold her hand on that final journey.

I understood that the start of the new year would bring the end for my mother, which was really a kindness to both her and anyone who knew her previously. That part I accepted, as much as anyone really can. One day, after three years of daily concern for her—whether or not other capable hands cared for her—she was gone.

The thing is the losses kept mounting. My uncle died six weeks later and a few days later we lost our dog whose cancer had appeared as my mother was leaving. Sherman and I have been to too many funerals for friends’ parents over the last sixteen months, none more agonizing for me than those for people who were destroyed in the same way my mother had been. Even though our other dog’s life ended at a somewhat expected time, the timing in the midst of this year was hard to accept.

Of all the things I did to soothe my soul, exercise and maintaining my body’s strength brought me the most moments of calm and peacefulness. I had no idea that the other great joy—welcoming a puppy (and another dog) into our home—would negate much of what exercise could do for me. If I had known that that fateful long road trip to bring home our pup would take away so much of my strength for so long, I would have found another way to get him here.

That I am regaining some of my former energy does not make up for the months without it. I am so discovering that I crave using my energy for more exciting activities than the “have-to’s” of this past year, including the huge task of going through the mess left behind by my parents’ lifelong possessions—especially since I did not have enough of me to go around just to get through my regular daily commitments.

In fact, just seeing the table as it is tells me how ready I am to skip catching up. If there is any way to forgo another month of mourning, sign me up. I want to be a person who can converse without feeling compelled to talk about anything negative happening in my life, including in this blog. Oh, to regain the sparkle in my eyes and the spring in my step. Next time I have a hard time falling asleep, I hope it is not because my hips hurt or because my heart aches, but because I have too much I want to do.

There’s no catching up only starting anew. I can pat myself on the back for all I have cleared off that table, but in the end I am so over all the crap that has been so much a part of this year. I’m tired of it tripping me up and reminding me of what is past—I just want it gone. On the days when it doesn’t irritate me enough, I know I have become too complacent in this boring yet painful state. If I can’t bring back to wholeness what has been lost, then it’s time to rage, rage against the dark night that is this year of loss.

This is the next-to-longest night of 2011—just one more night until light once more begins its cycle of growth.

So now that these words have eased from me enough to let me rest for the remainder of this dark night, mark my words: today’s light shall shine yet on a freshly cleaned tabletop, open with possibility for what comes next.


(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Lately I’ve been seeing stickers on cars that read “Who rescued who?” Of course, first I have to correct the grammar—“whom” I shout—but I still know what the sticker means, thanks to every dog I’ve ever had in my adult years besides Furgus, the puppy.

Just Monday our foster dachshund crossed over that Rainbow Bridge. We don’t know how old he was, but when the rescue group found him emaciated and wandering the streets three years ago, they thought he was twelve. Despite his sketchy background and his pronounced health problems, he lived a full lifespan.

We weren’t being totally altruistic when we let him come to our house—in fact, Christiana was convinced having a small dog, specifically a dachshund, was an anecdote to the sadness she felt late at night when Fordham, our love sponge of an English Springer Spaniel, had retired to his cushion for a long night’s sleep. And though Sherman and I weren’t looking for another dog—especially a small dog—we were in favor of anything positive that would help her through the night.

Besides, he wasn’t supposed to be our forever dog. According to the rescue group, we were just supposed to have him for a week or two. But the economy hit dogs and rescue groups hard—our contacts with the group became fewer and fewer, until we knew we must be his forever family—how could we break a heart again that had already been so broken?.

(c) 2010

Although he never won over the jealous Fordham, he did worm his way into the rest of our hearts, even if he could only give so much love before he seemed to need to retreat. Christiana was disappointed in that, but she understood brokenness enough to love him still.

I would not have chosen to bring home a dog with a small dog bladder or an enlarged heart. I had dealt with hypothyroidism in dogs before, but not in this era of constant expensive blood tests and not with a dog with such a resistant thyroid function—he ended up taking almost as much thyroid medication as I do even though his weight was about 90% lower than mine. And, I had never even heard of the dog lice that apparently arrived with him and required expensive treatments for both him and Fordham.

And, yet, there was something about how jaunty his short-legged run was every time we returned home. He liked us; he really did, just in a very different manner than a spaniel does.

(c) 2010

When Christiana left for college, he became our responsibility—a responsibility we had never pursued. But both dogs—not just “our” dog—were our comfort in those days when we learned to live and thrive in our empty nest.

Though Fordham’s possessive behavior and big dog klutzy ways made Abel nervous, he never stopped wanting to share his company. When Fordham’s final illness became evident, even Abel seemed stressed.

For about six weeks after Fordham was gone, when Abel’s thyroid level was ideal, he seemed just a little younger and a little more relaxed. If Christiana had not brought him into our home a couple years earlier, we would have really felt the emptiness of our arms after losing my mother and Fordham one after the other. Abel settled into the stillness that was that time and took care of us.

We are essentially people who crave the chaos and over-the-top love that comes from English Springer Spaniels, but we will always be grateful to Abel for helping us through our dark spring.

When I returned from my puppy fever road trip, I saw how much Abel had aged and just how late it was for him. I prayed he would not be too stressed by the newest family members and that we still had a few more months with him.

(c) 2011

In the end, Abel was a guy who rolled with life, accepting Furgus and Sam into what was now his home—and even acting a little envious of their young limbs and ability to play together. I’m so glad that Furgus calmed down enough in Abel’s last few weeks to begin napping and sleeping with Abel, giving him a closeness he had craved with Fordham but never experienced.

(c) 2011 Sherman Lambert

Abel required a lot of care in these past four months or so, but what I want to remember is his joy on car rides as he got to sit on my lap while the big dogs were confined, the excitement he showed on our mountain camping trip, or how happy he looked when he accompanied the boys on their walks—from the seat of a converted baby umbrella stroller. He longed to be part of a pack and to the end, he was.

Crossing over was hard work for him, but he did it here—in his forever home—with us all under the same roof.

In a year of so much loss, I know who rescued whom, even though loving him also added to my losses.

(c) 2000 Trina Lambert

At least that’s what Charlie Brown said. Makes a lot of sense to me, especially now.

Sherman and I are doing OK, despite our losses, but I’ve got to tell you we’ve been through a long season of loss. What we think we need is a distraction that will last for years—something that is a sign of growth, of life in full expansion, not decline. Thank goodness it is spring, but we’d like a more specific sign and that’s why we feel we’re ready for a puppy in our home.

OK, you can never be ready for a puppy, but we think our lives are open again to all the activity associated with puppyhood.

After losing Mom and our dog Fordham, we want to live with some tangible proof that life goes on. As others lose parents and we hold our collective breaths as Sherman’s parents change, we just want to be mixed up in the joy of youth.

The thing is this time we’d rather not start out batting clean-up after someone else has broken a pup’s heart. We’ve helped work through the damage in our last two dogs, as well as in our foster dog that appears to be our forever dog, but we got them when we hadn’t spent so much energy taking care of our own emotional damage.

Now maybe it’s our own hearts that need bandages.

Though Fordham hasn’t been gone long and he can’t be replaced, I can tell it’s going to take another English Springer Spaniel to move us forward.

Abel, no matter how sweet he is, is the breed Christiana wanted. Without Fordham here, it’s so easy to figure out why Springers and not dachshunds are my breed—even with the neater home I now enjoy. You see, Abel gets and gives his love, then walks away.

Just last week this concept really hit me when a waterbed leak forced us to spend three nights sleeping on the office futon. Although we moved Abel’s bedding, he couldn’t be cajoled into spending the night in the room with us—he’s attached to his space more than he is to us. I am convinced that none of our Springers would have cared more for the specific room. Heck, Fordham pretty much went to sleep at 8:00 p.m. for years, but he wasn’t about to go to bed until the last person did—whether that bed was in our room or downstairs with Christiana.

How many times did I mutter about having dogs under my feet over the years? These days we still have a dog, but he’s rarely under our feet unless someone is in the kitchen with food—then he can’t follow us enough.

Even Chelsea, who was our most food-oriented Springer, would follow us around outside of the kitchen. In fact, one of her favorite routines (she was the kind of dog that had to circle three times before entering a door or lying down—her routines bordered on compulsions) was coming out to the living room and curling up on the rug for story time with our young twins.

Just last week I thought we’d found a way to resolve both our desire to start out as a pup’s forever family and our consciences. I wasn’t expecting it, but discovered there were available rescue pups almost ready to leave their mother. However, we are not the only people who made that discovery, it seems, and, alas, although we have gone through the phone interview and veterinarian recommendation, we still await the home inspection.

The impatient child in me wants to stamp my feet and say, “It’s not fair!” I didn’t request a puppy now because I knew there were puppies—I requested a puppy only after making it through the last three years and then losing my dog just as I had more time to give him again. If we were the kind of people who would abandon a dog, specifically an energetic English Springer Spaniel, we would have done so already because both Chelsea and Fordham were not for Springer-lite people. Trust me, we also had to learn (and erect!) a few tricks in order to keep them safely in the yard.

The adult in me reminds that child we just need to take our turn and be patient with the process—the right pup is or will be out there. The dog we get will be the one that is meant to join our family.

So for now, we continue making the property pup-friendly again and figuring out how to puppy-proof our possessions. We have to look beyond our mostly easy current set-up with the elderly dachshund (however, even “nervous” spaniel bladder habits are no match for many a dachshund’s attitude bladder habits—that clean-up could be a lot easier, even with a puppy!) and prepare for the future.

In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer (Albert Camus), but I’m sure that summer would feel warmer with a puppy playing beside my feet.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

In honor of Fordham “McKook” Lambert (aka Whiskey, Kane, and Frisco) December 23, 1999 – March 6, 2011

I can tell the difference already—the house is cleaner. The floors aren’t all covered in hair, dirt, and pine needles just minutes after having been swept. And it’s quiet here—way too quiet. Turns out I must like chaos after all.

No, chaos wasn’t Fordham’s name, but it very well could have been.

When I met Sherman, I didn’t know anything about English Springer Spaniels—I’d grown up with a Pekingese dog—and, ironically, I still loved dogs!

Yet the first time I came to visit Sherman at his house, I couldn’t take my eyes off his dog, Duncan, who barely took his eyes off Sherman. That dog thought Sherman was God. I can promise you that you receive no such adoration from a Pekingese.

Sherman will tell you I married him for his dog, but that’s not quite true. Still . . . if Duncan thought so highly of him, how could I not? Soon after we got married I convinced Sherman that Duncan was lonely and needed another similar friend.

Youth is rash and soon we came home with Chelsea, an English Springer Spaniel, we had found through a listing on a grocery store bulletin board. She and Duncan were not alike at all. Chelsea came with a lot of baggage from being chained up to her doghouse. She was not properly socialized, that is for sure. Still we trained her and she learned to trust and we to love.

Add a couple babies to the mix and our house became even more chaotic.

(c) 2000 Trina Lambert

The children grew and first Duncan died and then Chelsea four years later. Despite the easier lifestyle without indoor/outdoor dogs, we headed straight back into chaos when we agreed to adopt a seven-month-old English Springer puppy.

What we didn’t know was that he was as big then as our other dogs had been as adults. However, we were aware that he had already worn-out the welcome mat at three homes and had three names, none of which he claimed.

If we thought we had known chaos before, we were sadly mistaken. When we announced his new name to our long-time neighbor, she asked if the name meant, “As in you can’t afford him?” Wasn’t that the truth! Fordham hated to be bored and so we had a variety of textures and types of toys for him. We went to a behaviorist for advice. We kept a crate on each level of the house for sanity’s sake.

When the rescue group said he needed someone in the home during the day, they weren’t kidding. Since I was a writer, I thought we were a perfect match. What I underestimated was the amount of trouble one pup could get into as soon as I slipped into one of those writing reveries where time disappears. Really, it only took him a couple of minutes to go from actively chewing on a toy to ripping the couch ruffle or nibbling on the piano leg.

School started a few weeks after Fordham arrived. Every morning he and I would take the kids to school, but if I even thought about hitting the keyboard for a few minutes before our training walk, the guy would come in and throw a big paw across the keys. Yes, I was starting to understand why the behaviorist told me I shouldn’t do anything for him without making him do something for me first—this dog thought he was born to be the Alpha of our household.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Refuting that concept would have been easier to do without the actions of our eight-year-old twins—or the “Great Undoers” as we called them. Despite our visit with the behaviorist, they just wanted to play with him and he with them.

To say we were exhausted in those first months is an understatement. I couldn’t believe I had gotten to a calmer parenting point in my life only to take in a much more destructive baby. And yet, there is no way I was going to be one more person who failed him. For several months, if we put him in the car at a non-routine time, he would cringe as if we were taking him away for good—we were his forever family—it was just going to take some time.

Just like your own children, puppies know how to endear themselves to you just when you think you cannot take their behavior any longer. Those first weeks he would cry a little when we sent him to bed in his crate. He’d look at me with those should-have-been-illegal-puppy-dog-eyes and I would sing to him. Lullabies I knew, but also things like “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” and “Amazing Grace.” Grace he definitely needed.

I don’t know when it happened, but we all got used to one another—even though we had to maintain constant vigilance to stay ahead of his hijinks. No invisible fencing for him—who cares about a little pain when there’s a squirrel involved? He had clever ways of leaving the yard and we had to devise even more clever ways of keeping him in.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

This guy was a character—one we dubbed as president of the Kooks of America club. The only people who didn’t love him were neat freaks (so what if he was a championship slobber-flinger?) and people who didn’t appreciate a klutzy dog accidentally running into their knees.

Age and joint problems caused him to slow down, but never to lose his personality. When we introduced Abel, an older foster (supposed—he’s still here) dachshund, into our house two years ago, Fordham was somewhat offended. And, until his last days, he did his best to flop down on the guy or push him out of his little doggie bed while leaving his own larger cushion vacant. Abel liked him anyway and, I suspect, he liked Abel back, but just didn’t want to share anyone or anything with him.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I’ll tell you for selfish reasons I expected to have Fordham around to comfort me after my mom passed. He has always been my confidante—in fact, he was our only dog who seemed to come to me when I was upset and who was willing to remain with me the whole time. He was also our best dog when any of us was sick—he was content to stay with whomever was stuck on the couch or in bed. As much as he took in upkeep, he gave more back.

I’ve learned that no two dogs are alike regardless of the similarities within a breed. Despite the chaos, I couldn’t have afforded not saying “yes” to taking in Fordham.

I couldn’t help falling in love with him . . .

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t know how soon. Our remaining guinea pig Jade died this afternoon. Although she had already reached the just barely elderly five year old milestone when Zippy, her mate and sparring partner, died in August at six and a half, at the time, Jade was perfectly healthy.

It’s just she’d never been alone. And as much as we had tried, she had never really warmed up to people. Without Zippy, she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t even make any noise—Zippy had done all the loud begging for food. Oh, she’d run out to make sure we thought about feeding her, but as soon as we opened the cage, she’d run inside her igloo. When she wanted more water, she just rattled the bottle against the cage..

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

As lonely as she was, she wasn’t about to change her ways so late in her life. Jade was just Jade. Always independent, not willing to be submissive to anyone, even if she had to wait for Zippy to age in order to gain more status in their two guinea pig pecking order.

Christiana’s first guinea pig, Chocolate, was incredibly cuddly and so easy to love. At the time, I thought everyone ought to have a guinea pig—even lonely old people. When Zippy joined up with Chocolate we all realized that not every guinea pig was as affectionate as Chocolate was. Still, when Chocolate died much too young, we all missed her.

Christiana was so sad. I knew it was a little too early to get her another guinea pig, but just a few weeks after she lost Chocolate, she really wanted to bring home another one. Unlike when we looked to find Chocolate and Zippy, we really had several choices of female guinea pigs. We both know now that we picked Jade because she was the softest guinea pig in the store.

Jade was beautiful, but so ornery. She never really could settle into being held much. I know that Christiana’s feelings were hurt and she soon realized she had chosen another guinea pig too soon in the mourning process.

But little Jade loved challenging Zippy. She didn’t intimidate easily, even when Zippy would stalk around in that stiff-legged way guinea pig sows do to show who is boss. Zippy and Jade became a team, even if they weren’t particularly connected with us.

And so the years passed. As Zippy neared the end, she even began to snuggle into Jade—and Jade let her. These were the girls who fought for the igloo and for every bite of food. But in the end, they belonged to one another.

Just not to us.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

No wonder Jade seemed so bewildered after Zippy passed on. We moved her into a smaller cage, but still she spent most of her time in her igloo, mostly only coming out to rattle the bottle or to snatch an item of food.

It’s been six months without Zippy. I guess that was six months too long for Jade.

Although I knew Jade was fading, I was surprised when I found her so still this afternoon. I hadn’t known she was getting ready to leave. Yet, she hardly responded when I stroked her and talked to her. The offered spinach got no reaction. In fact, I could tell she had very little time left. I just didn’t expect her to be gone within half an hour or so.

Yet once I saw her looking so miserable I had told her she could go. Unlike Zippy, she didn’t seem to need to be told twice. It was too late by the time Christiana got home.

I’d like to think Jade’s already chasing Zippy around. They’re young, shiny, beautiful—, and full of P&V.

Here’s hoping the cold earth is ready to receive our last little piggy girl. When the roses bloom in June, we always think of Chocolate—it’s fitting that Zippy and Jade will see their first spring under the rose bush, together.

Rest in peace, Jade, aka “Smarty Jones”—the one who did it her way.

Jade, 2004

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