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A Butterfly Bush

 

The other day, when I was looking through pet blogs, as I always do, I came across a wonderful idea for how to honor Miss Butterfly: plant something beautiful with her ashes. Mom loved the idea, because she’s a gardener, and she immediately envisioned a pink Butterfly Bush as the appropriate tribute, and found the perfect spot for it, with enough sun, and drainage, and space to grow.

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My Butterfly

I had to research Butterfly Bushes, of course, and at first I was overwhelmed with articles about the negatives: how Butterfly Bushes are non-native plants, and invasive, and kill off native plants, and kill off insects, and on and on. But I persisted in my reading and found other views, and Mom was adamant that the positives outweigh the negatives.

But I’m still reluctant. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to say goodbye to Butterfly, or when. I don’t want to scatter her ashes too soon, because then I could never get them back. As if I still have her with me, because I still have her ashes. And scattering Miss Butterfly’s ashes here means that she can’t go with me if I ever choose to leave. And if the Butterfly Bush doesn’t survive well, then I won’t have the chance to replant her ashes somewhere else.

I didn’t feel this way when Dina, my black lab mix, died, at sixteen years and two months old. I’d had her for her whole life, minus the first eight weeks, and I saw her through every complicated stage of her development. I had Butterfly for less than five years, and it just wasn’t enough, even though she herself was ready to go.

I think the Butterfly Bush may be the right answer for us, because Miss B loved the backyard here. She loved running up the hill, through mounds of rotting leaves, and then racing back to our front door with her tongue hanging out and her eyes shining. This was her safe place. And she knew it from the first day, when two white butterflies greeted her with their fluttering wings.

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I know that I need to have some kind of marker, and ceremony, to say goodbye to Miss B. I know I need to make peace with the loss of my girl. But I still don’t want to say goodbye.

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The Butterfly Bush resting at home

 

If you want to see the post that inspired me:

https://doodlemum.com/2018/04/17/home-coming/

 

The Bird Came Back

 

Last Sunday, while I was answering heartfelt condolences on the death of Mom’s friend Olivia, and sharing the joy of a visit from a bird who seemed to be acting as Olivia’s familiar, the bird came back. This time she came into the apartment through the small opening next to the air-conditioner in the living room (where Mom leaves bird snacks year round, just in case). The bird visited the quilting closet again, of course, and the light fixture in the dining room, but then she became more bold and stood on the kitchen counter to eat pizza crumbs off of a plate, and walked on the living room rug, looking for any treats Cricket might have left behind (as if that would ever happen).

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Psst. Check the pink thing.

Cricket tolerated the invasion moderately well, until the bird stepped into Cricket’s food bowl to sample the kibble, and then wet her beak in Cricket’s water bowl. The bird even had the temerity to wander under Cricket’s couch! Cricket ran after the bird at that point, and was flummoxed by the whole flying thing.

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“I must guard my couch from interlopers, Mommy.”

The bird landed on top of curtain rods and lamps, checked out cookbooks, and stood on my computer chair for a good long time, looking over at me with what looked suspiciously like Cricket’s side eye expression.

bird on lamp

(This is my favorite picture – photographed by Mom and her magic camera.)

bird on cookbooks

“These had better be vegan.”

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“This chair is just right.”

At bed time, instead of remaining in the living room, or the kitchen, the bird followed me and Cricket into my bedroom, investigating the tops of my bookcases, and the notebooks on my bedside table. She even followed Cricket into Mom’s room, and stood on the blanket, about a foot away from Cricket’s tail. We were starting to wonder if we had accidentally adopted a wild bird.

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“No. Just say no to the bird.”

 

Mom did research on Carolina Wrens, through Google and bird-wise family and friends, and she found out that this is the time of year when they go house hunting, to decide where to nest in the spring. Of course, we started to worry about how much bird poop we’d be dealing with if the bird decided to bring her whole family to live in our apartment, but there was also something gratifying about even being considered for such an honor.

 

When Mom woke up in the middle of the night (she and Cricket are big fans of the late night snack), she was sure that the bird had left, but then she saw a pile of feathers on the radiator in the living room. She was afraid that the bird had died, but it turned out that this was just the bird’s sleeping pose, puffing her wings out to act as a blanket, and stuffing her head down to mute the outside noise.

carolina wren sleeping

Ssh. It’s nap time.

By the next morning the bird was gone. We were able to clean up all of the lingering bird poop, which is surprisingly tenacious stuff, but there was also a sense of loss, and then hope, that maybe the bird will return again. Maybe this will become a weekly Sunday visit! Cricket would not be thrilled with a bird in the house on a regular basis, but, for me, it was nice to have another pet again. I think Miss Butterfly would have approved.

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“Birdie!”

(Most of the pictures in this post were taken by Naomi Mankowitz. Any pictures that look less than perfect were taken by me.)

Olivia

 

According to the New York Times, Olivia Cole died a week ago Friday, on January 19th, which was only a few days after the last time my Mom had spoken to her on the phone. At first, we weren’t sure the news was real; maybe someone had confused her with her mother, who died this fall. But her mother had a different last name, and lived in NY, while Olivia lived in Mexico, and the news stories had that detail right. And then we saw a quote from her agent, and too many more details that made it all sound true.

Olivia was dead.

Olivia is dead.

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Olivia and her Mom

It still seemed so unlikely, though. She was just in New York in December, traipsing across the city by foot, despite her rheumatoid arthritis, because she didn’t like spending money on taxis. She even refused to take a cab when she had to be at the airport at five o’clock in the morning, and instead chose to wear most of the clothes, so she wouldn’t have to carry them, and take the subway at three o’clock AM, in the middle of winter.

Mom was worried about that trip back to Mexico, with twenty four hours in transit, and called Olivia a number of times to check if she’d made it home safely. Olivia had a landline, but no cell phone, or email, or even a computer, so when Mom didn’t hear back, so she emailed Olivia’s neighbor in San Miguel and finally heard that Olivia had made it home safely. It still took a few weeks for Olivia herself to call, though. She didn’t like to use her phone for international calls, so she would borrow her friend’s computer-based phone system, on Mondays, to make her calls. She called on MLK day, and the two old friends talked about the need to take care of oneself, and about the foundation Olivia wanted to build, to help finance early education for children of color.

Olivia was one of my mom’s lifelong friends, from their years in the drama club at Hunter High School, and she would pop in and out of our lives every few years, sending tickets to plays she was in, and visiting when she came to New York to see her Mom. The first time I met her in person was when I was eleven, when she played Mama in A Raisin in the Sun at the Roundabout theatre in Manhattan. Seeing Olivia on stage was just like seeing her in real life: she was a character. She was larger than life. She was stubborn and opinionated and fiercely intellectual, delving into the Shakespearean canon for life lessons in even the most obscure of areas. She loved acting, and reading, and opining, but she didn’t like fame, or compromise.

Then Mom received the email, this Thursday, from a high school friend, with the attached announcement of Olivia’s death in the New York Times. The article said that she’d died of a heart attack in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she’d lived for the past thirty years. Mom called to me from the living room, sounding odd, and the only word I understood was “Olivia” and I thought, that’s weird, Olivia wouldn’t call on a Thursday. When I reached her and she repeated “Olivia’s dead?” as a question, I was sure it was a mistake. Yes, Olivia was 75, and had rheumatoid arthritis, and no sense of her own limits, but she took good care of her health and went to all of her doctors on her most recent visit to New York. She hadn’t mentioned any heart issues to my Mom, but then again, she wouldn’t. She was full of plans for the future, and still full of piss and vinegar, never changing, and never really aging.

 

Norah Olivia and me

Three old friends on a recent visit

Since we were still not quite believing the news. Mom emailed Olivia’s neighbor in San Miguel for confirmation. The email came back, yes, Olivia was found on her porch, sitting upright in a chair, reading an old article about Barack Obama. Friends hadn’t heard from her in a couple of days and decided to check on her, and they found her there on the porch. The comfort for the people who knew her is that this is exactly how Olivia would have wanted to go: reading and thinking and full of hope for the future.

I had to go to my internship soon after the death was confirmed, but Mom’s high school classmates stepped in, sending messages on their class listserv, offering memories and kindness and compassion. These New York girls grew up knowing that all that mattered was how smart you were, not the color of your skin, or which neighborhood you lived in; and a woman could become anything she wanted to be: a lawyer, a doctor, a mother, a teacher, a writer, or an actress.

There’s a sweet coda to this story. We had a visit from a bird last weekend, two days after Olivia’s death, though we didn’t know that at the time. The bird stayed in the apartment for a while, resting in the quilting closet, and on the vitamin bottles on the entertainment center, and then in the light fixture in the dining room. The bird seemed to want to stay with us, fluttering from place to place indoors, even though the window in mom’s room was wide open. Looking back at that visit, after the news of Olivia’s death, Mom is convinced it was Olivia, saying goodbye. Because that would be a very Olivia thing to do.

 

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The Yellow Warbler

 

Last week, I met a little green and yellow bird. She was standing on the front stoop of our building, with her mouth open, stunned. She must have flown into the glass door and lost herself for a minute. Mom noticed her on the way into the house, and, thinking this was a baby bird and I would want to meet her, she came upstairs to tell me about our visitor. I padded downstairs in my pajamas and socks and sat down next to the little bird on the Welcome mat. On closer inspection, the bird seemed to be an adult bird, just small in stature, and very shocked. At first, I even thought she might be a fake bird, someone’s idea of an ornament for the season, made of cloth and wood, but then she fluttered her feathers, just a little. I reached out to touch her, trying hard not to scare her, and she let me rub her head and neck with my thumb. That seemed to release the muscles in her neck just enough for her to close her mouth and tilt her head towards me. But she was still moving in slow motion and staring into space. Mom suggested picking her up, so I gently wrapped my fingers around her folded wings, feeling her rapid heartbeat against my palm, and held her loosely in my hand. She stretched one leg, and then the other, stepped up onto my fingers, and then pooped into the palm of my hand. And then she flew away.

warbler

(from google images)

I’ve been told that having a bird poop in my hand is supposed to bring me good luck, but it was the few moments I was able to spend with that little bird that felt magical to me. The way she allowed me to be her in-between place, her respite, between trauma and flight.

Mom, of course, googled and found out that the little bird was a female Yellow Warbler, with her yellow throat and belly, her green overcoat, and her long skinny feet.

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(from google images)

And I realized that my short moment with the little warbler felt like a sped up version of my years with Butterfly. Because, it turned out, I was Butterfly’s respite too, between her first eight years in the puppy mill, and her flight into a new world. The little miracle of the bird’s visit, and the big miracle of my time with Butterfly, were both incredible gifts, and I am trying to believe that I deserved them.

butterfy with hair stand up

The Dailiness of Things

 

For my vacation (I had about ten days off between the end of my internship and the beginning of fall classes), I scheduled all of the doctor/dentist/haircut and groomer appointments I could, for me and for Cricket.

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“Mommy, I don’t need to go to the groomer.”

First, Cricket had to go to the vet to get the hair pulled from her ears. Poodles, and part poodles like Cricket, need to have the hair in their ears removed because they are at risk of ear infections, and Cricket had been rubbing her ears on the floor a lot more than usual lately. The vet, in his inimitable way, raised an eyebrow at me when he showed me the amount of hair he’d cranked out of her first ear. I told him that Cricket’s sister had been sick and we’d been preoccupied and waited too long, and he answered, fair enough, and then proceeded to Cricket’s other ear.

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Look at that beautiful ear!

The poor vet tech had scratches down her arm because Cricket kept trying to climb higher and higher to escape the torture. When the vet finished applying the medicated lotion to soothe her poor ears, Cricket practically flew across the room and into my arms.

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“I barely survived.”

I went to my dentist and doctor appointments, and gave Cricket’s ears a few days to recover, before she had to go off to the groomer.

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“Nope.”

We still have these moments when we come across people who don’t know yet and look around and ask, where’s Butterfly? The groomer was one of those people. We’d made the appointment with her assistant over the phone, so she didn’t realize that Cricket would be coming in alone this time. The fact is, Butterfly was the magic ingredient that made grooming manageable for Cricket. We’d tried different groomers, and added doggy Xanax, but nothing really improved until Butterfly came along and was able to whisper into Cricket’s ear that everything would be okay. So the groomer had two things to be upset about: the loss of Butterfly, and the ratcheting up of Cricket’s bad-client status.

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I’ve always hated waiting at home while the girls were at the groomer. I hate that no-dog-in-the-house feeling. But this time, knowing that Butterfly would not be coming back to help fill the void, made the wait so much worse. And I’ve been more anxious than I should be about Cricket’s health. She’s very healthy, but I worry that she won’t wake up in the morning, or will choke on something in the backyard, or won’t come home from the groomer at all.

I know it’s an exaggerated fear because of Butterfly’s death and it will pass. And I know that I had years with Butterfly, and they didn’t pass in seconds, the way I imagine it now. But time keeps rushing past me and I keep losing things and people that I want to keep. I want the bad things to be temporary and the good things to last forever. Is that so unreasonable?

 

Cricket has gotten back into the habit of giving me the stink eye. Either that, or she’s been doing it all along and I couldn’t tell until she finally got her hair cut. She gave me the stink eye the day after her grooming ordeal, because we dared to leave her home alone for a few hours while we went for haircuts and food shopping. Either her separation anxiety has reemerged at full power, or she really hates what they did to my hair. It’s hard to know.

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Butterfly’s Last Illness

 

Four weeks ago, on a Wednesday night, Butterfly vomited white foam until she was empty. We had no idea what set it off. She’d been wheezing for a few days, instead of her regular coughing, but otherwise she was in the pink of health; especially since her hernia surgery two months before. Suddenly she was panting all night on the pillow next to my head. We were able to get her an emergency appointment at the clinic the next day and ended up seeing a doctor we’d never met before. She asked if Butterfly had eaten anything strange and we couldn’t think of anything she’d had access too, so she took an x-ray, and did blood tests, but she couldn’t find any explanation for the vomiting. She didn’t seem especially worried, though. She had the vet techs give Butterfly subcutaneous fluids and anti-nausea meds on the spot, and then sent us home with more meds in liquid form. She said, as we were leaving, that we could come back in if Butterfly vomited again, and then she sent us on our way. I was surprised. I was used to Butterfly’s previous vet, at the same clinic, who was much more thorough. I didn’t know what else should have been done, but it felt like something was missing.

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Butterfly didn’t have much of an appetite for the next few days, but she didn’t throw anything up. We managed to get her to eat two or three small pieces of chicken at a time, hiding her pills in those small pieces, because she wasn’t up to eating peanut butter. She wouldn’t even eat her chicken treats. By Monday, though, she was eating more chicken, and even ate a few pieces of kibble, unprompted. So when I heard her retching in the hallway at two am I was surprised, and when I turned on the light to clean up after her and saw a puddle of red, I was terrified. I Googled dogs-vomiting-blood and found what I expected to find – go to the hospital immediately. So I woke up Mom and wrapped Butterfly in a towel and we drove over to the emergency veterinary hospital a few towns away.

A vet tech scooped Butterfly out of my arms as soon as we arrived and took her into the back to be examined. I tried to watch the TV on the wall, but the chipper early morning news anchors got on my nerves quickly. Eventually, two doctors came out to speak with us in the waiting room, a man and a woman. They said that Butterfly was dehydrated and her blood pressure was very low, too low even to take blood for testing, so the first step was to put her on fluids and plump her back up. They asked again if she’d eaten anything strange and we tried to think of anything she could have gotten into, almost a week earlier when the vomiting started in the first place. My first and most persistent fear was that this was all aftermath of Butterfly’s hernia surgery, even though she had healed well and seemed to have bounced back beautifully. I just couldn’t make sense of a life threatening illness coming up out of nowhere. Maybe she got into some dirt, or licked a slug or a splotch of bird poop on the walkway? The female doctor smiled occasionally and took notes. The male doctor seemed to be incapable of making eye contact, but fully capable of giving us worst case scenarios about Miss B not surviving the night. When I asked my follow up questions he answered them like he was taking an oral veterinary school exam, rather than talking to a worried Mom. For the subsequent consultations throughout the night we only met with the female doctor, which was a relief.

By five am we were able to go home for a few hours of rest while Butterfly continued to receive intravenous fluids and wait for the internist to come on shift. Cricket was in a panic when we arrived home, and I took her out to pee immediately so that her shrieks wouldn’t wake the neighbors. As soon as she’d finished her business she raced back inside to see Grandma and attached to her side like Velcro. They were at least able to sleep for a few hours. Me, not so much.

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Later in the morning, the internist at the emergency veterinary hospital did an ultrasound and more blood tests on Butterfly, but the findings were still nonspecific. We were allowed to pick Butterfly up around noon, in order to transfer her to her clinic, where we hoped for more personalized, and much less expensive, care. The plan was for her to keep her IV catheter in place and go back on fluids as soon as we arrived at the clinic, but somehow the message got garbled between the hospital and the clinic and we had to sit in the waiting room for two hours, with my panting dog on my lap, her IV catheter bandaged and waiting for a fluid hook up, and the staff behind the desk telling us they had no idea what we were talking about and they were very very busy.

Eventually we were sent into an examination room, to wait again. The expeditor, or maybe just the nicest person on the staff, came in after a while with apologies. He brought us stools to sit on, and water to drink, and even offered coffee and chocolate if we needed it. The vet came in soon after, another doctor we’d never met before. She was a very young woman with long black hair and a piercing over her lip, and she was kind to Miss Butterfly and even laughed at my strained jokes. Butterfly was skinny and listless, and when the doctor tried to stand her on all four feet on the table, she was shaky. The doctor said that an overnight stay would be necessary, and she’d probably have to be there for a number of days, in order to stabilize her symptoms and do more diagnostic tests to see what was causing all of this.

This is when I started wishing I’d invested in a vet tech course, so I could take care of Butterfly at home – administering fluids, cleaning her IV, and doing whatever else necessary. A full-on veterinary medicine degree would seem like overkill, just to take care of my own dogs, but then again, maybe not.

We went home without Butterfly that afternoon, and worried. Cricket was upset. She would only eat really special food (aka anything but kibble) to help manage her anxiety-induced nausea. She spent most of her time attached to Grandma in one way or another, except when I took her out for a walk, during which time she kept turning back to our front door, looking for Grandma.

By the next day, we were told over the phone, by yet another doctor, that Butterfly was able to eat her dog food, and even licked the bowl clean. But she would not be coming home yet, because none of the tests were clarifying the cause of the problem. We were allowed to visit Butterfly at the clinic for a fifteen minute scratchy massage and a few kisses on her head.

We went for another visit with Butterfly on Thursday, after finding out that she still wasn’t ready to come home. This time I had to go after work (internship), still in my dress clothes, starving and exhausted (I have a tendency to skip lunch at work, which is very stupid of me), and then we had to sit on a hard bench for an hour and a half, overwhelmed by the smell of pee. For a few moments I thought I should just leave. What was the point of visiting with Butterfly for a few minutes if we couldn’t take her home? Would she even notice, or care? It was a bitter, apathetic sort of feeling, and it worsened when we finally got to the visiting room, because Butterfly was not herself. She was in self-protective mode, hiding her real self in a far corner the way she’d learned to do growing up at the puppy mill. She almost seemed like a stranger, and I found myself wondering if she even knew who I was. But once I had her in my arms, she was my baby again, and I had to clean out her one waxy ear, check her lumps and bumps, whisper to her, and sing the Jewish prayer for healing to her like a lullaby.

The latest theory was that Butterfly was on too much insulin, creating a rollercoaster reaction in her blood sugar that led to the gastro-intestinal difficulties, so they cut down her insulin to see if that would help. They also gave her anti-biotics and a B-12 shot, just in case.

We went to visit again on Friday and I finally remembered to bring Butterfly’s doggy comb with me. Her tongue was pink, and her muscle strength was much improved, and she let me comb her hair until it shined. But she still wasn’t coming home. I was starting to doubt the clinic in a way I never had before. Why were we talking to different doctors every day? Why couldn’t they figure out what was wrong? I wanted to take Butterfly home, but I also wanted her to be healthy, and those two desires seemed to be in conflict.

When we asked one of the secretaries at the front desk why everything was such a mess, we were told that the clinic was in transition, with some doctors leaving, other doctors arriving and many doctors on vacation. They had new students rotating through, and the office staff was in transition, and they were building a new wing for the cats. None of that information made me feel better, still having to leave without my baby. The apartment was so quiet without Butterfly. She was supposed to be the quiet one; Cricket was the barker. But we were all so anxious and distracted, there wasn’t much playing or joy, or even barking, going on. I almost felt like we were practicing for when we wouldn’t have Butterfly home at all anymore. But I couldn’t think that.

We were finally able to take Butterfly home on Saturday afternoon. By then she’d been away from home for almost five days. Butterfly sat on my lap in the car, but she still seemed distant and not quite herself. I was worried that I’d been wrong to leave her in the clinic for so long, retraumatizing her with memories of her life at the puppy mill. But when we got home and her paws hit the walkway at the back of our building, she lifted her tail, smiled, and began to jog towards our front door. She was herself again and ecstatic to be home.

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She raced towards the food bowls as soon as she got inside the apartment and ate a handful of kibble, which she threw up on my bed ten minutes later. I was instantly worried that we’d have to take her back to the clinic, and I really didn’t want to do it. She hated being there. And I hated her being there. She was still lively and energetic and looking everywhere for food, so I tried not to think about any possible complications and fed her one kibble at a time, by hand, and gave her all of her meds in their proper order and crossed my fingers.

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With each day, she seemed happier and healthier, and able to tolerate more kibble at each small meal. Her bark was as bit off, kind of high and squeaky, maybe from damage to her throat from all of the vomiting. I went to work on Tuesday morning, confident that Miss Butterfly was on the mend and had overcome whatever had set off the vomiting in the first place. Even her blood sugar seemed to have stabilized, with four blood tests in a row landing in the same range, instead of the ups and downs we’d been used to for years.

Her smiling face greeted me as I came in the door that afternoon and she put up with all of the medications and kibble by kibble feeding with good humor. On our way out for the last walk of the night she coughed a little bit. We’d stopped giving her the medicine for her cough, because she hadn’t been coughing in the hospital or at the clinic and they took it off her list of medications, so I made a note to myself to check with the vet to see if we should add it back in, or wait for her follow up appointment on Saturday. It was such a relief to have her home and acting like her usual self, pausing ever few steps on her walk to listen to the katydids or a low flying plane, and then jogging to catch up with her sister. She was still a little skinny and easily tired, but otherwise she was recovering beautifully.

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We went through our usual bedtime routine, with scratchies for Butterfly and an extended period of digging at the end of my bed for Cricket, and then Cricket was off to Mom’s room and Butterfly ambled down her doggy steps to survey her territory and find the perfect sleeping spot.

And then, at six thirty in the morning, Mom brought Butterfly into my room, because she’d heard her making strange noises. Within a shockingly short period of time, stretched out on my bed, Butterfly died. There was nothing I could do, no medicine I could give her, no magical spell to say or song to sing. She was just gone.

I still wake up every morning wondering where she is. The grief still hits me in waves, the bargaining, the denial, the anger, at the doctors but mostly at myself. The reality is that we did everything we knew how to do to keep her alive, and so did her doctors, but she still died. I didn’t have the power to save her, and that’s what sticks with me most, the powerlessness. It’s so hard to accept that there was nothing I could do for her in the last moments of her life, except to be there and witness her last breath.

In Jewish custom, the first stage of morning is a seven day period of intense visiting and sitting with the grief, called Shiva. We made it through that process with the help of the blog and messages of comfort and kindness from strangers and friends and family. The second stage of mourning is called Shloshim and is thirty days of still remaining somewhat separate, but beginning to integrate the loss into everyday life. This is the stage I’m in now. I’m not sure thirty days will be enough, though. It’s going to take a while to accept that all of this is real.

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Cricket and Platypus.