Tag Archives: compassion



It is a rainy, chilly Monday morning. I have to drive downtown to see my dentist. I’m killing time before I leave, playing 8 Ball Pool on Facebook.

My opponent is DarkFeelings, and his avatar looks slightly like a Smurf. I’m guessing DarkFeelings is a male, because this game is the realm of mostly young or youngish men, rock star or gangsta wannabes.

I wonder what they think about my avatar: a meme of Gromit with a caption that says, “Knitting: It makes everything better.”

Nevertheless, I sympathize with DarkFeelings. I have some Dark Feelings of my own.

See, I was left off a Cool Girls List.

In times past I have been a Cool Girl, times when I immersed myself in a culture (or subculture) which eventually consumed me.

Right now, I am not a Cool Girl. In fact, I’m practically invisible. Since my dad’s death four months ago, I have been rebuilding social stamina. I’m not there yet.

But being left off this latest list felt a lot like adolescence, when I was always too something. Too outspoken. Too nonconformist. Too alpha female (whatever that is).

The truth is, I like those things about myself. It’s when I’m ashamed of them that there’s a problem.

DarkFeelings scratches the cue ball and I run out the game, leaving him with five on the table. I offer to play again but the Smurfy avatar vanishes.

My next opponent has a name I cannot decipher, because it is in Russian. It could be Kevin but it could also be Katie. (There are a few women on here.) This player’s avatar is a photo of two young boys holding hands. It’s possible I’m playing one of the boys’ parents.

But on Facebook one just never knows.

Between shots I ponder the old, familiar feeling of shame, a straitjacket from my throat to my ribs. While Kevin/Katie lines up the next shot, I Google “cool girl.” One result takes me to an article, which I passive-aggressively publish to my Facebook page. It theorizes that coolness is borne of practice, a kind of covert conformity to a very subtle standard.

I do not try to guess the identity of the next 8 Ball player. Drawing conclusions from the wispiest knowledge set me up to step off Monday’s curb into a funk. Making assumptions about what I am and ought to be is just no way to get rid of Dark Feelings.

Instead I discuss it with my Higher Power. And I recall that Jesus Christ was a Cool Girl — until He wasn’t; that is, when He was too outspoken, too nonconformist, too alpha male (whatever that is).

I recall also that He was always hanging out with people who would never have made the Cool Girls List.

Then I pick up my knitting.




Last night my daughter called. There doesn’t seem to be a flat rock in the middle of our lives where we can just sit in the sun and be still for a while.

“It’s an icky place to be,” I said.

“It’s icky,” she replied.

I woke this morning with a familiar flutter in my chest, about two degrees of stress away from a panic attack. It sort of feels like too much caffeine, only I haven’t had any yet.

Last Sunday afternoon my brother called. Mom was afraid and had called the police. Dad was angry and combative.  About six hours later he was admitted to a hospital room.

On Monday Dad’s nurse called me to come get Mom. About five hours later she was admitted to a room around the corner from Dad.

They both have some form of dementia. It doesn’t matter which kind, they’re impaired. Their bodies have outlived their minds and that just doesn’t seem fair.

On Wednesday I went to their house to remove anything that burglars might want and to bag up what might need laundering. I filled the hatch of my car with boxes of files, anything that looked like an important document. I left the four leaf bags full of laundry on the living room floor. I put two leaf bags full of ruined bedding in the trash.

On Thursday I went back and removed boxes of photos, more documents, stacks of mail, folios of papers: my dad’s military records, my mom’s notebooks.

I went home and began looking for the money. A memory care facility for both of them is going to be expensive.

By Saturday afternoon I had it all sorted. I had discarded enough paper to fill the garbage cart: junk mail, magazines, empty envelopes. Mom’s carefully collected recipes are on the kitchen table. Boxes of cancelled checks and insurance policies and medical records litter the living room floor.

My parents never owned a computer. My dad has an Underwood typewriter that uses a ribbon. Among his stuff I found a box of typewriter erasers and brushes and several packs of carbon paper.

As I type this I am thinking that some of my readers will not know what these things are, and I can feel them Googling now.


Grammy & Grampy are both patients in the hospital. Both have dementia. She doesn’t remember why they are there, and she keeps trying to take him home. Doc says they are trying to keep the #lovebirds together. ❤️

“Have they ever been apart?” my brother asked.

“In the ’60s Dad went on active duty for two weeks,” I replied.

I took my parents some clothing during visiting hours. They were sitting in the hall with another patient, in chairs lined against the wall across from the nurses’ station.

Mom now talks of nothing else but caring for Dad. His welfare is her only need.

She asked me to help her find a place for them to live. When she began to weep, I cradled her. She rested her head on my shoulder like a little girl and quieted. Her body felt like delicate glass that might shatter at any second.

Gently prodding Dad awake, she said, “Look who’s here.”

Dad slowly brought me into focus and smiled. He was too groggy to speak, but he winked at me. To this day it thrills me when he does that.

Mom rose from her chair to wipe his lips with a corner of his blanket. She smoothed his hair and kissed him on the mouth.

“We want to keep the lovebirds together,” their doctor said.

Yes. As long as we can. #lovebirds



I wait in the silence
that echoes her leaving
the thread on the cushion
the light on the wall

I fade from the moment
and sharpen the corners
and tread on the threshold
and clumsily falter

Those places avoided
left gaping and dusky
now sit on the hour
like stones on a moth

But love idly murmurs
some word that has meaning
finds patience in waiting
while I wait for you.



You sleep on the sofa because you put the sheets in the dryer this morning before work.  Tonight you’re too tired to put them back on the bed.

You go to work with bronchitis because you used all your sick days nursing your kid through his cold.

You went to your kid’s soccer game last night instead of going to the grocery store.

So you’re drinking your coffee black this morning because you gave the rest of the milk to your kid at breakfast.

There’s a 33% chance that you spend more than half of your paycheck on rent.

You pay on average a third of your income on child care. In New York, Minnesota and Massachusetts, if your child is 3 or under, it’s more than half.

This is because you’re paid less than single dads or married men with the same education. If you were paid fairly, your income would increase by 17 percent and your poverty rate would fall by half.

You’re a single mom.

Some folks say, well, you’d be making more money if you’d opted not to have a child.

Some of these same folks want to limit your birth control options.

It’s tough for you. But your love, unlike money, can buy happiness, and it comes to you through hugs and butterfly kisses and nite-nite prayers.

I’m proud of you.



Rarely if ever have I remembered my time before recovery with wistfulness. Today was an exception.

Spotify may be the best investment I’ve made in many moons. A few keystrokes and “Layla” is streaming through my headphones.

Something about the late sun striping the bedspread in the tender angst of Friday afternoon takes me back some decades ago, when I knelt before my cheap little speakers, strained to cracking with Derek and the Dominoes.

The ache of all my hearts, the one in my mind and the one in my soul, the ones past and present, poured out as I howled away some murky loss, too deep for my own understanding. Today I marvel at how I was able to release the deep cold keening from my guts to the accompaniment of Duane Allman’s wobbly blues guitar.

I loved being that drunk. I loved the ability the wine gave me to smash through the restraints of society and discipline and shame and just wallow in my pain. I never felt more alive than when I was intimately in touch with the thing that hurt me, that walked every step with me, that never seemed to abate without the blessedness of alcohol roaring in my ears, drowning out my thoughts.

This is how I know that I am an alcoholic and that I will always be one. This is how people who are like me immediately identify with what I’ve written. Booze gives us a religious experience like no other. It puts us in touch with the God within us in no other way because it provides a visceral awareness of our own blood and the mayhem of our lives.

As a recovering alcoholic, I am mindful of the power of these thoughts. I try to refrain from glamorizing that time when I am in AA meetings, because I well remember sitting on a hard metal chair, teeth chattering from anxiety, wishing I could do it any other way.

But nothing else worked, and until I could touch the God within me through grace and mercy, I would recite the words and say the prayers and hope like hell no one talked about how glorious it was to be potted like a plant by means of some chemical.

I go tonight to be with those like me. Many of us are artists, writers, chefs, creators of lovely things, and we are giving of our loveliness to raise money for people who are also trying to do it our way, finding God within themselves. There will be alcohol there. That’s a big puzzle for some.

The truth is, we find that the harder we try to obliterate the fact of alcohol, the more likely we are to drink. I personally have found that shaking hands with my demons and calling them by name is more likely to keep us in a civilized partnership.

And interestingly, in spite of my nostalgia for the past, I have no desire to drink today. The price is simply too high, and the extremes of emotion as consequence of it are exhausting. Most of that deep cold keening has faded and crumbled, and in its place is the quiet knowledge that I know where I’m going, even when I don’t.

Watching Pablo .aug16

Pablo's first portrait - by his new mom.

Pablo’s first portrait – by his new mom.

My post will be short today. Most of my observations simply seem too brutal to record.

Rachel had the day off yesterday and I signed up for extra work, so she had the bulk of Pablo’s care. In my trips up and down the stairs, I could see evidence of her determined attempts to get Pablo to eat or drink. It has been odd, seeing bowls of lamb, beef, egg, kibble all about the house, untouched.

Last night after work I went to a movie with a dear friend, who has been reading my blog daily. She told me how much she appreciated my writing, the wonder of being so present and available to Pablo.

I was a little surprised but very happy; I actually began these posts because I had nowhere to go with my sadness, except to write about it. The people who are in sympathy with me were doing their best to be about the business of their day. I expect we will come together with it all very soon.

I am leaving shortly to check Elijah out of school early and take him to his mom’s place of work. I was struck with the timing of it, how easy Pablo made it for us by hanging on until Friday, so Elijah could have the weekend to process and be near his mom.

In the meantime, I am trying to be about the business of my day, and to stay in the present moment. And that is enough for now.

Watching Pablo .aug15


August 15, 2013

The ingredients of life, of actually living and breathing, are remarkable when that life begins to ebb.  Daily I read anecdotes about the determination of ordinary individuals.  But watching Pablo has been nothing less than astonishing.

The morning is downright brisk.  It is, after all, August, and 60 degrees is chilly in our part of the summertime world.

Elijah has to be at school at the godless hour of 7 am, so last night his mom nudged him upstairs pretty early.  I lingered on the sofa to finish a row of knitting.

I noticed Pablo teetering at the foot of the stairs, looking up at the activity on the landing. My heart stung for a minute: Pablo sleeps upstairs at night.

As I was mulling over whether or not to get him up those stairs and how best to do that, I saw Pablo manage the first step, and then the next.  I walked over to stand behind him and marveled as he made the long climb to the top to Elijah’s dark room.

“Pablo!” Elijah cheered.

Rachel, kneeling by his bed, cried, “You made it!”

She kissed her son good night and bustled about, making certain that Pablo’s food and water were available in the hall and then she took herself to bed.  I knew she was exhausted; I doubt she’s slept much since we left the vet’s office.

I went to my room to wind down.  About 11 pm I heard Pablo coughing.  I found him in the living room, facing the side porch door at an odd angle.  It’s not a door we use much, and I wondered if he thought it was the front door.

I spoke to him and he walked toward me.  I let him out for a pee and settled myself on the sofa for the rest of the night.  I knew he wouldn’t try to go back up the stairs.

Pablo began his ritual of endlessly pacing to and fro.  As I coaxed him to lie down. I remembered times on that very sofa when he would plop his big head on my knee, eyes dancing, whole body wagging, begging for attention.

I remembered his colossal farts that would cause me to shove him away with my toe and sometimes drive me from the room. I remembered him pulling on the leash on walks and standing over Daisy, Rachel’s first dog.  I would loop those memories until I stopped weeping, until he finally settled near me and I drifted off to sleep.

I woke to the sound of Elijah coming downstairs, dressed for school. I walked into the kitchen to see his mom dressed for work.  She must have picked up a shift; ordinarily she doesn’t work on Thursdays.

I went upstairs, checked messages and made coffee.  After my first cup I came down to check on things.

Pablo was at the front door, looking outside at Vincent, who was looking back at him.  The three of us slowly greeted the morning on the porch.

The yard was alive with sound:  street traffic, leaves swishing around in the breeze, the skitter of Vincent’s claws up the crape myrtle in pursuit of an imaginary squirrel.

Pablo in the light.

Pablo in the light.

Pablo’s legs are so shaky he stumbles over twigs in the grass.  But his expression is more alert than I’ve seen in days.  This is the first time he has been outdoors for longer than five minutes in a long while.

I’ve inexplicably become patient in 48 hours.  I sit as I once did behind a camera, waiting for the image to arrive in my viewfinder.  I’m calling on all the pet whispering in my lexicon — I don’t want to rush him, but I don’t want him to feel he must remain outside to watch over me.

I follow him at a distance, noticing life, new growth on the lilac I planted in June, liriope suddenly in bloom, a bluejay feather in the grass, fresh critter tunnels in the dirt.

I am still in my nightgown.  I step inside to grab a throw from the couch, a notebook and a pen.  My laptop, phone and coffee cup are upstairs, but I do not want to leave Pablo to go get them.

I pull a rocker to the edge of the porch and sit down to write.  Pablo slowly sinks into a patch of Bermuda.  His head follows the vehicles as they transit the street.  I can see his sides heaving as he draws in the cool fresh air.  His entire body lurches forward with each breath.  But he is no longer gasping.

Vincent has grown tired of looking for moles and wants to go back inside.  My nose is cold and I need to check with my editors.  I pause in my journal to look at Pablo.  He turns his head and looks toward me.  There is relief and peace in his face.  I pull my wrap a little closer.  Vincent sits down at my feet.

We can stay here a while longer.




The last time we saw Pablo was at the vet’s office.  Rachel and I took him; Elijah stayed behind with his father. The clinic doctors and staff are tender souls and gave us all the time we needed. 

Pablo’s spirit seemed to whisper out of his body.  Today it lingers near the door of Rachel’s house, in eternal vigilance over the kind woman who rescued him from a bitter existence and loved him every moment of her life. 

This record is a tribute to that love.


The CatWirks, © 2013, “Watching Pablo”

Watching Pablo .aug14


August 14, 2013

There are times when it just feels like a movie or a book; reality takes on the nature of popular fiction.

Yesterday time and rhythm were sort of reinvented.  I’m not a person who naturally sits and waits quietly; I’m almost always multitasking.  But the last 24 hours I have tended to focus deeply on the one thing in front of me.

Yesterday it was watching Pablo.

Shortly before Rachel left for work around 2, I realized that Pablo had been on his feet for hours, slowly walking from room to room, panting heavily.  When he lies down, the pressure against his diaphragm is too great, so it’s easier for him to breathe standing up.

He’d lost his breakfast along with the medicine Rachel gave him. He’d had no water, or very little.

I went into the living room and sat on the sofa, not far from where he was standing in the middle of the rug.  Speaking to him quietly, and sometimes silently, I encouraged him to lie down.

The longer he stood, the harder I cried.  About the time I began to calm down, he sat and then lay down in his familiar sentry position.  He reminded me of Rachel as a baby, just simply not willing to give it up and go to sleep.  His head would loll nearly to his front legs, and then bob up again.  He was on the job as best he could be, listening for intruders or the sound of his people moving about the house.

Not long after Rachel left, I thought it might be a good idea for Elijah to come by after school.  He wasn’t due home for another 24 hours and that might be too late.  I sent her a text.

She called me and we had a brief conversation.  Perhaps it was hearing her voice on my phone; perhaps it was the mention of Elijah’s name; perhaps it was coincidence, but Pablo rallied brightly and went to the front door.

Pablo and Vincent

Pablo surveying his turf,
Vincent watching his back.

I walked out front with him and he looked to the street and then the driveway.  He was clearly on alert, for what I could not tell.

We walked back into the house, and with a burst of energy, he scrambled up the stairs and went from room to room, looking for either Rachel or Elijah.  I sat down on the top stair and waited for him to give up the search.

Between us, Rachel and I had managed to get him to take a half-pill of Lasix every 30 minutes or so by crushing it, folding it into peanut butter and wrapping it in a strip of turkey breast.  But he had so little appetite that he would only accept the one small bite and refuse to eat more.

When Christian arrived with Elijah, we were still at the top of the stairs.  I had placed a small fan on the floor on the landing, so he could stand in front of it.  I know when I’ve had breathing problems in the past, that always seemed to help.  It seemed to help him, too.

The four of us went into my room. Elijah sat on the bed with me and Christian sat in The Chair.  They asked questions and I answered them.  Elijah offered suggestions and we tried some of them.  Others, like encouraging him to eat kibble, I discouraged, explaining that I didn’t think he’d keep it down.

I showed Elijah how to make a pill pocket and gave him an extra bite of turkey just in case.  I could feel Elijah’s bitter sadness when he handed me the food that Pablo had refused.

Elijah was able to get him to drink some water.  We had a bowl stationed every few feet throughout the house.

When it came time for them to leave, I walked Christian and Elijah downstairs.  Pablo stood at the top landing, sides heaving, looking down.  The two of them begged him to come down and I gently explained that he was too weak, that he’d surely come if he could.  Elijah pressed his face against his dad’s shirt and they stood together for a long moment.  I told Elijah he would see Pablo tomorrow.  At that moment, I felt that he would.

Pablo had not been downstairs for several hours and between the water and the diuretic I felt certain he needed a trip outside.  So I began to persuade him down the stairs.  But he could not manage the first step.  And I began to cry.

I pulled the rugs off the bathroom floor and told him that it was perfectly OK for him to pee on the tile.  But I knew that he would not.  Always when he was ill and had an accident in the house he was so ashamed.  And I knew he would hold it a long, long time.

So I managed to get my arms around him and together we scooted down the stairs on our butts, one step at a time, resting every few treads for him to get his breath.

When we landed he was so exhausted he could not stand.  Minutes went by and I watched and waited.  I opened the door a bit so Vincent could come in and Pablo could feel the fresh air.  Vincent is a tuxedo tabby and an entity unto herself.  She and Pablo are great companions and are so sweet together.

I guess we sat on the floor for 10 minutes or so.  Rachel had taken up the area rug because Pablo had vomited on it that morning.  So the floor was bare and he could not gain purchase enough to stand.  I tried supporting his legs to no avail.  Finally, he dragged himself to the living room using his front legs only, and was able to find enough traction to haul himself up.  We stepped outside and he finally relieved himself of minuscule amounts of urine and waste.

I had met my afternoon deadline at work and headed out to the grocery. I returned home with bags of fruit for the humans as well as a big tray of ground beef.  I began every 30 minutes or so crawling up to Pablo on my hands and knees to offer him raw meatballs.  He accepted one and two at a time, and by evening he seemed stronger.

When Rachel arrived home, the rather flat and monochromatic scene became multidimensional and vibrant.  I’d parked myself for the night on one sofa; she made her nest on the other sofa.  She tuned into Netflix and booted up “Breaking Bad.”  She’s only started watching it and is in about season 3.

I’d brought Hannah in and fed her and tucked her into her crate.  Hannah is a basset-dachshund mix not quite 2 years old.  She is dynamite covered in fur and still trying to figure out how to sit quietly with humans.

She’d fussed at me all evening, but when she saw Rachel ministering to Pablo she wailed miserably.  Rachel put her back outside and from time to time Hannah would hurl herself against the door in protest.

In between scenes of meth lab mayhem on Rachel’s enormous TV, we took turns beckoning, cajoling, reassuring, pleading, soothing and sometimes feeding Pablo.  Sometime in the wee hours Rachel dragged Hannah’s crate into the garage and incarcerated her there.  Apparently some imaginary creature was trolling the back yard and Hannah was trying to alert the neighborhood.

About 6 am I began checking email to see what assignments were available at work. Christian texted me to ask after Pablo. I made coffee and made a Lasix meatball, which I handed off to Rachel.  We were both still fully clothed, so there was no need to get dressed.

It’s Rachel’s “weekend.” She has today and tomorrow off from work. Elijah comes home this afternoon and is here until Saturday morning.  I took my laptop back up to my room, brushed my teeth and settled in for my workday.

The house is quiet now.  It’s nearly noon. Everyone is napping while I type.  I am grateful for that.

Watching Pablo .aug13


It took me a while to muster the courage to walk into Rachel’s bedroom yesterday.  But I recognized the symptoms and I knew the outcome if we waited too long.

pabloprofilePablo followed me into her room.  He is a mixed breed brown dog with tan eyebrows.  He is about 14, I think, and is the best dog I have ever known, bar none.

I stood at the foot of Rachel’s bed for the longest time and could not speak.  Then Pablo began to cough, a deep, barrel-chested cough that left him panting.

“Pablo,” she said.  I nodded.

“I hope he has pneumonia,” I said.  “I’m afraid it’s his heart.”

She wept silently for a minute or so and then said, “I can take him to the vet.”

It’s a trip I know she’s been dreading.  So I told my editor I was leaving and made a bed in the back seat of my car.

Pablo weighs 50 pounds so it took both of us to help him into the car.  He was so weak he could not make it on his own.

As soon as the vet assistant heard him cough we were immediately ushered into a treatment room.  Mercifully there were two comfortable chairs.  Pablo stood the entire time. At one point I sat on the floor thinking he’d come over and sit next to me.  But he was simply too miserable to lie down.

Rachel and I pursued our ongoing conversation about relationships, trust, the difference between rejection and betrayal, and the parts of recovery we cling to, acceptance, service and Trusting the Process.

Woven into that were gentle (I hope) answers to her questions about why we were shuttled back so quickly (cough is a symptom of distemper), why a heart problem would make him cough (fluid builds up in the lungs because the heart is so weak) and what it feels like when your Coumadin levels are off (that’s another story).I was so grateful that the vet clinic had a full sized box of Kleenex in the room.  At one point Rachel just went over and got the box and put it between us because we were going through them pretty fast.

I was grateful for the intimacy of it all, the sort of miraculous energy around it. There was something remarkable about the way the vet looked directly into my eyes as he talked. It seemed that he recognized that I knew exactly what was going on and what we were facing.

I saw the color of Pablo’s blood as it filled the syringe and I knew he was in deep distress because he wasn’t getting enough oxygen.  A tech appeared to take him back for x-rays.

The room was quiet and I summoned courage once again to turn to face Rachel and say, “I need to ask you a question.”  She looked at me.

“Are you ready to put him down?”

She began to cry in earnest and said, “I want Elijah to be here.  He needs to tell him goodbye.”
The vet called us back to look at the x-rays, pointed out the fluid in the lungs and in the abdomen.

“So it’s congestive heart failure?” I asked, and he nodded.  He gave Rachel the names of two drugs he was prescribing and I said, “Lasix is a diuretic.  Is the other one a beta blocker?” And again he nodded.

Rachel asked him about life expectancy; the vet gently said it was different for every dog, and almost incidentally mentioned that it might be as long as a year.

“I want to do the drugs,” Rachel said, and I said, “Good.”

I knew even if we kept Pablo alive for another week it was worth it. There were family members to be rallied, a little breathing room in which to face the inevitable.

Fight Back


Write the feelings down on a piece of paper, fold it into an airplane and make it fly. Play music and dance. Trace the outline of your hand on the wall and color it in. Tell someone you love them. Sing. Pray. Be visible. Be alive.