Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Making room ...

On Friday I went in for a breast MRI. I had hoped I would get a clear scan and that the 2 lumpectomies I've had in the past year would have removed any potential cancer or recurrence.... early Monday morning I received a call. MRI indicates a new tumor has grown in the same area of the previous lumps. Now the journey to check on whether it is or isn't cancer begins. On Friday I go in for an ultrasound and possible biopsy. Shortly after that I follow up with my surgeon. I can feel a new lump in the same area as the other two.

In the past mammograms and ultrasounds have all been negative, showing nothing. I am grateful for my surgeon who noticed a suspicious lump and insisted on removing the entire lump and surrounding tissue. Only by looking down to the cellular level were they able to find that my cells had started changing and going awry and becoming more like cancer cells. But the lumps were removed before crossing that line of cancer .... this last go around, I was still lucky ... closer to the line (borderline DCIS) but nonetheless, still on the other side.

So this go around ... will I be as "lucky?"

I've been struggling in my mind to make room for whatever is to become ... and I was reminded of this beautiful poem by Rumi, The Guest House. It will become a part of my daily meditation and prayer.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning has a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi

It feels like my "house" is being re-arranged right now .... for many different reasons. I have a new guest knocking on my door right now. At times I want to slam the door shut on this guest. One way or another these guests will make themselves at home .... it's up to me to welcome them in so we can find a place for them  and so we can live in harmony. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

God speaks to us in a language we can understand

I've been drawn to the path of animal therapy work with my dog Ahnung who officially became a registered therapy dog in December, 2009. I can never erase from my memory the first moment I saw her in October, 2008 up at Red Lake reservation in northern Minnesota. Her ears were down and pulled back, her tail down, her coat dull, her eyes spoke "I am tired and worn out." Her spirit, battered and beaten, as she nursed her litter of 8 yelping, needy puppies. Her rescuer Karen told me, "there is something special about this one."

Ahnung lived in an igloo in an outdoor kennel with her 8 puppies. She used her body to keep her puppies warm. Karen filled the igloo with straw and blankets to keep the pups and Ahnung warm ... northern Minnesota winters are harsh and unforgiving. At night time, somehow, some way Ahnung figured out how to get out her her kennel. How she managed to climb out of her kennel is still a mystery to Karen. All she knows is she would return to the shelter every morning to find Ahnung gone, and to return some time that morning in her own time (which often coincided with feeding time!). In October, 2008 my friend Laura and I had the chance to help Karen at her shelter, Red Lake Rosie's Rescue. I encourage you to check out her blog and to learn more about the amazing work she does up north for abandoned, abused and neglected animals. On that trip we met Ahnung and her pups -- I remember crawling into the igloo to pull the scrunched up puppies out of the igloo ... yelping, squiggly and squirmy. Our fingers frozen from the frigid temperatures, one by one we gave them their medicine. We squirt dewormer into their tiny mouths ... although we still wonder how much of it actually went in :)

Who knows how many litters of pups Ahnung had before she was rescued. Who knows how much suffering she endured before she fell into the angelic arms of her rescuer Karen. What we do know is that she came with 8 screaming little puppies, a positive diagnosis for heartworm, coccidia and lymes, no front teeth (she ground her teeth down to her gums in search of food) and a pellet remaining in one of her nipples. What we do know is that she arrived with a spirit so battered and beaten, all that was left was a small twinkle in her eye, and even that, one had to look deep into her eyes. I remember looking into her eyes and seeing the soul of a wise spirit and just knowing she had to come home with me. And so she did ... i returned in November, 2008 to pick her up (she had to stay for one more month to nurse her pups).

So my sweet girl has been with me now for a year and a half. In that time she has taught me so much as I have watched her spirit come to life. After 6 months, she finally learned how to play. Her brother Mister taught her how to play and she accepted his play invitation right around the time I was being told by my healing practitioners that "you have to learn  how to play to save your life."

There's a deep connection between us ... six months ago as I struggled with health issues she started to develop these lumps on her ear. Doctors couldn't explain what they were .. a pathologist said "cells are just dying and we don't know why." Meanwhile, I was walking a parallel path as doctors struggled to find the cause for my weight loss, inability to digest fats and fatigue. At about the same time again, Ahnung's lumps disappeared and they found the cause for my problems to be my pancreas.

Ahnung has also led me to working with at-risk youth in our therapy work ... she is guiding me there so I can heal the wounds of my childhood ... losing my Papa when I was 4, losing my mom emotionally at the same time, and years later, sexual abuse by a trusted family friend and Catholic deacon. It's amazing how much we are shaped by our early years of life and our experiences. She is teaching me how to free myself of secrets and that we can rise above pain, suffering and abuse. I look at her and I see how much she has been through and endured ... and as I hug her and hold her all I feel is pure, unadulterated love. As we volunteer as an animal therapy team at schools and hospice, I watch her "just know" which kid or adult needs her the most, and I watch her sit quietly next to a youth in a classroom who has shut the world out. And she just sits there, asking for nothing and simply giving her presence and love. And minutes later, I watch the young man extend his arm down to pet her. I am reminded of the line from the movie Avatar, "I see you."

Thank you Ahnung for teaching me to see. And thank you for seeing me.

If you would like to follow along in Ahnung's adventures be sure to check out her blog and if you'd like, you can also follow her on facebook ... yes, she even has her own fan page :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Walking the line

It's been a year now since my first lumpectomy. I often flash back to the moment my mom was told "you have cancer." Twice, she was told that. First with breast cancer, then second, with colon cancer. She's survived it both. Now she has alzheimer's and to be honest, it has been the hardest of all diagnoses.

Then there was my father. Healthy and young. His symptoms were symptoms often disregarded and brushed off by many (like my father) - weight loss and stomach cramps. He didn't complain and didn't want to go to the doctor, until it was "too late." My mom said he started turning yellow - jaundice. I lost my Papa to liver disease when I was 4 years old - he was 39 yrs old.

I have in me the DNA of both my mother and my father. For a year now I have walked the line where doctors have essentially said "i'm on the edge" of cells turning to cancer. After my first lumpectomy it was simply one site of abnormal cells (atypical ductal hyperplasia). My second lumpectomy 6 months later after another mass grew in my left breast was now two sites with atypical cells, but this time, the pathologists said it was borderline DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). At the same I was also struggling with stomach pain, fatigue and weight loss. I lost 34 pounds in a year without trying. After numerous procedures and tests, my GI diagnosed me with pancreatic insufficiency in March of this year. What he does know is that my pancreas no longer produces lipase, an enzyme that digests fats. What he is unable to tell me is why. "It's good we know what is causing your weight loss and that the pancreatic enzymes help. It's not so good we don't know why," my doctor says. He wants to monitor me closely so for now I have to see him every 6 months. I take pancreatic enzymes at meal time so that my body is able to digest food. My weight has stabilized, although the stomach pain has returned which I believe is due to the stress of worrying and caring for my mom, who has alzheimer's.

I chose the route of "close surveillance" after my first and second lumpectomies. My options were: double mastectomy, tamoxifen or close surveillance. After a lot of thought, careful consideration, inner reflection and heart to heart talks with my partner I chose close surveillance. In my mind, I hadn't crossed the line yet ... I also believed that despite being high risk, the doctors were telling me that it was not 100% that the atypical cells will turn to full blown cancer. After my second lumpectomy I was also still struggling with the stomach issues and my doctor hadn't yet narrowed the problem down to my pancreas, which to be honest, was a larger concern to me, and continues to be a larger concern. In my gut I felt like there's something larger going on in my body and a double mastectomy wasn't the answer. And as my surgeon said ... "close surveillance is a reasonable choice for now. We will monitor you closely and you can also make a different choice down the road."

So tomorrow morning, I go in for an MRI. In a week or two the results will come in and I will have a better sense of the direction my cells have chosen to go. I lost Papa when I was 4 years old. I'm 45 yrs old now, soon to be 46 and to this day I miss him like a 4 year old misses her father. I still long to be held by him ... I felt safe and protected in the arms of my Papa - a calm, loving, presence.  I carry Papa in my heart, always. He has been with me growing up and all my life, just in a different form.

As I go in for my MRI tomorrow I pray for strength and courage to be okay with whatever is meant to be. I can't control the outcome. All I have is this moment. I also know that I always have my Papa with me. In my darkest moments, he is holding me up and carrying me. And when he knows I need more support I believe he sends me angels, like my partner and Ahnung, and Missy and Mister too :)

" .... How you stand here is important. How you listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe."
[From "Being a Person" by William Stafford]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ahnung's 5 minute adventure!

So yesterday was an exciting day on many levels. We got to go on a home visit for Julius (aka 'son of ahnung') up in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. I've blogged before about a dog, Julius, that was rescued from the same area up at the Red Lake reservation in northern Minnesota where Ahnung is from .... I have every reason to believe that Julius is Ahnung's son. I share more about it on a previous blog post.

Yesterday afternoon I picked up Julius from his foster home in Eagan .... I brought Ahnung with me as Julius' new mom said she would love to meet Ahnung. And my friend Danielle of Canine Coach was also coming (as Julius' new dad is her brother!) and she was going to bring Ahnung's buddy Sharpie. Party time for the dogs!! :)

Julius immediately hit it off with Sharpie. We were out in a more cabin-like atmosphere with lots of wooded areas, space and no cars. Sharpie is used to being off leash. Julius is what we call a "stick around" dog and wasn't going to go anywhere ...or as Danielle said later, a "pack dog" as he was either hanging out with Ahnung or Sharpie. Well ... my sweet girl Ahnung ... I know this about her as I learned this when I first met her up at Red Lake reservation. Her rescuer Karen initially kept her in an outdoor kennel. The photo on the right is of Ahnung when I first met her in October, 2008 after she was dumped and rescued with her litter of 8 pups. She lived in an igloo in an outdoor kennel nursing her pups. Well, at night time she somehow figured out how to escape and climb this 8 ft kennel ... every morning when Karen would come down to the shelter to feed the dogs Ahnung would not be in the kennel and would be roaming around outside. Karen had a calm acceptance about it ... like she just understood Ahnung ... she had her own way and had a free spirit about her and Karen just knew to let her be ... she would tell me, "she'll be back. She'll come back when she's ready." And every morning she always did.

In November, 2008 when I returned to Red Lake to pick her up and bring her to the cities and into Pet Haven's foster program we were planning on leaving early the next morning. Well, Ahnung has escaped her kennel again the night before and was out roaming the reservation .... she hadn't come back for breakfast so I started to worry. Not Karen. She just kept calling out her name and calmly said, "i'll drive around and find her." Karen drove around for 10 minutes and came back empty-handed. She continued to help pack up my car with kennels as I was transporting dogs and cats back to the cities for other rescues and again, calmly said, "she'll be back." She was right, again. Ahnung came strolling back 30 minutes later.

Well, yesterday .... Ahnung decided to take off into the woods. We lost sight of her and started to call out her name. We put Julius and Sharpie in the house so we could go out and start looking for her. Danielle was getting ready to hop in her car to drive around. Part of me didn't panic ... you would think I would've had a heart attack, but I guess I could hear Karen's voice "she'll come back". With every passing minute though, the larger fear inside of me started to kick in .... "up at her reservation, that was her home. She knows the reservation. She doesn't know Lake Elmo. This is her first time here. She won't know how to find her way back, ...... " Then Susan (Julius' new mom) calls out to me as i'm running in the woods "she's back". Lo and behold, my sweet girl, comes sauntering up the driveway as my friend Laura pulls in -- her tongue is hanging out on the side but I swear, she has this biggest grin and smile on her face like she's saying "oh, that was so much fun. I miss roaming around in the woods!"

She was only gone for 5 minutes ... for me it was like an eternity. I guess i'm grateful she decided not to freak me out for too long. She probably heard the panic in my voice as I was calling out her name. As Danielle, who's a dog trainer, tells me "she knows her recall ... she just responds in her own time." I know that nothing can keep her back, not even an 8 ft kennel could stop a 60+ pound dog who had just had a litter of pups! There is a free spirit and a wisdom that Ahnung carries ... i live in the city so what comes with that is having her always be on leash. I don't think my girl is street smart (I did have another rescued dog, Shadow, that was very street and city smart) --- my girl is country and wood smart. Yesterday she had a chance to roam freely for 5 minutes. I could tell she was beyond happy. I just need to remember what her wise rescuer always said, "she'll be back."

Ahnung ... thanks for coming back :)

And Julius, congrats on your new family! You have a rockin' family and we hope that we can continue to be a part of it. I know I want to, and I am sure Ahnung does too ... you are, after all, the "son of ahnung."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Live the questions

Last night I started an 8 week class at The Loft with Elizabeth Andrew: Writing about Transformation / Transforming your Writing. Several years ago I took my first class at The Loft ... what an incredible resource we have here in the Twin Cities for writers. I have taken several classes with Elizabeth and her book On the Threshold is one of my favorites.

I have stepped away from writing for some time now and I am excited to return to it. Yes, I have been blogging but to really delve deeper into memories, ideas and to give time and space to not only what's in my heart but also the craft of writing ... well, that is something I took a little break. It's time to return.
"An intimate conversation between oneself and a great mystery. When authors raise ruthless questions, grapple with awe and suffering, joy and doubt, paradox and unity in the context of their life’s story, they write spiritual memoir." 
- Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

I've contemplated writing a spiritual memoir .. maybe it's time to take my first steps. Writing has always been healing for me. It's given me an outlet .... I don't believe my journey is unique. I believe we share pieces of our journeys with each other. Our lives are connected and intertwined .. I have found comfort in the words and writing of others: Elizabeth Andrew, Jane Goodall, Pema Chodron ... and as kid, I found comfort and escape in reading the Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew series. I remember my 4th grade teacher, Miss Jensen, where I went to school in Thailand - Bangkok Patana School ... I looked forward to her class especially when she would read from C.S. Lewis' book, The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe. It took me away to another world, another existence. When she would read to us, i felt like she took my hand and walked me right into the wardrobe ...

My mom's recent diagnosis of Alzheimer has taken down a new path, a new journey. It has opened up more doors from my past. Rather than running from it, maybe I can consider this as a new adventure ....

From Elizabeth's book Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir, she writes about the qualities of spiritual memoir:
  1. Reaching into the mystery: Every spiritual memoir reaches into the mystery, attempting to place a human life into a broader, sacred context.  Our task as writers is to not shy from the unknown, but to interact with it-to stretch our hand forward into the abyss. This is the second distinguishing attribute of spiritual memoir: The writing itself becomes a means for spiritual growth....Those who write spiritual memoir write to find out what we believe, or, more fundamentally, what we know to be sacred and true. 
  2. Surprise for the WriterWhen writers are open to learning and growing through the writing process, that sense of discovery infuses itself into our words. Personal growth isn't a selfish reason for writing; it's essential for making effective stories. Robert Frost puts it this way: "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." The reader latches onto our experience of vulnerability and risk, following our growth like a lead-rope.
  3. Live the Questions:  What makes a good memoir is the search, not the resolution. It's no coincidence that Rainer Maria Rilke gave similar advice to a young poet who was erring "in words when they are meant to mean most delicate and almost inexpressible things":

    Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

    (Letters to a Young Poet 35)

    If we are able to reside within our questions; if we allow our memories to speak their mysteries, then the great Mystery breathes life into our story. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fire in my belly

I woke up at 12:30 this morning with stomach pain, again, along with a cough that's lingering. It's been about a week now (maybe longer) where stomach pain has returned .... cramping and a burning sensation -- like a fire in my belly. I've also had slight pain in my chest, a tightness and almost a feeling of suffocation ... and a few days ago, the fire moved up to my throat. A couple summers ago, I had this persistent cough that would not go away.  It feels the same again ... a sore throat, pain when I cough and like mucus is suffocating my lungs. No question: my body is fighting something.

I believe so much of all of this is emotional. Physical disease and symptoms manifesting and finding a way to give voice to emotions buried alive - suffocated. It's time again for me to have a breast MRI. Will my cells have progressed to full blown cancer? And in a month, I'm due to have my pancreas checked again ... with every meal I now have to take pancreatic enzymes. Doctors can't explain what caused my pancreas to stop functioning.

These past couple of months have been hard on me, and on my siblings and family as we deal with my mother recently diagnosed with alzheimers. It has brought up so much for me as I have struggled to be a good daughter and to do the right thing.

Writing is healing for me. So in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep and I was finding ways to soothe the burn in my stomach and my throat, I sat down and started writing in my journal ...

There's a fire raging.
   Anger. Grief. Loss.
Down to the cellular level.

Papa: you died when I was 4. I was there. I was in your hospital room that Friday afternoon in 1968 when you spirit soared to heaven.

And Mama: she clung desperately to you and her spirit went with you that day leaving only a physical shell - an empty shell fueled by promises, by obligation, and yes, love too. But a love so beaten, so fragmented it left a 4 year old trying desperately to pick up the pieces and to fix something she didn't understand.

At 4 I had my first life lesson: death - it takes two forms.
At 4, I became an orphan.

There's a fire raging in my belly.
  Unexpressed emotions feeding disease.

There's a fire raging in my lungs.
  A child's voice screaming to be heard.
A child - tired, lost, afraid.
An adult - physical body: battered and beaten down. Yes, a survivor, but a lost survivor.

How do I let this fire out?
How do I stop the scorching?
How do I give this 4 year old child, a voice?

How do I teach this little girl to live, to play?
How do I rewire words she was told - "a sign of an educated person is self control" - and let her know that it's not only okay, but good for her to cry?
How do I help her feel safe and let her know that only through her tears will she put the fire out?
How do I comfort this little girl, whose adult now has to be a mother, to a little girl whose mother died emotionally the same day her father died?

A new fire has emerged and has ignited a much deeper fire.

The fire is spreading
  from my breasts, to my pancreas, and now my lungs and my throat.

Around me, and within me, I hear:
"Tears are the only way through this fire."

Question is ... Can I learn to walk this new path before it's too late?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Beyond Forgetting

I am one of many who have begun walking the journey ... aging parents and loved ones who have alzheimer/dementia - a difficult, heart-wrenching journey. It's amazing how many lives it touches. I have found comfort in words and in writing ... and in my search to learn more I found this book "Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease.

It gives me comfort to know i'm not alone. Yet I remain haunted by the fear that consumes my mom .... she is on her way back to the Philippines. She has been begging us to bring her back home. I pray we have made the right decision.

"Beyond Forgetting is a unique collection of poetry and short prose about Alzheimer's disease written by 100 contemporary writers--doctors, nurses, social workers, hospice workers, daughters, sons, wives, and husbands--whose lives have been touched by the disease. Through the transformative power of poetry, their words enable the reader to move "beyond forgetting," beyond the stereotypical portrayal of Alzheimer's disease to honor and affirm the dignity of those afflicted .... "
and Holly Hughes in the preface shares:

"My mother died of Alzheimer's disease at dusk on the last day of April in 2001. At 75, she was still in good physical health--she had danced a polka just a few weeks before--so her death from this disease seemed all the more tragic. For my family, her illness had been a slow process of subtraction, as we lost her one brain cell, one synapse at a time. She had been an articulate, vivacious woman, and we had to watch her lose not just her memory but all that went with it--intelligence, judgment, dignity--all that we believe makes us conscious human beings. As the disease took away more and more of the person I'd known as my mother, I had to look hard to see what was left. I tried to be with her where she was, but she drifted out of reach of reason, of our accepted ways of being in the world. How could I stay beside her in this journey? Words may have failed her, but I still had them. As with any grief that feels unspeakable, I turned to poetry.

Gradually, the practice of writing gave me entry into another world, a world larger than the small room where my mother's life ended. Writing poems made it possible to see that even in the darkest stretches, there were still moments of grace: her delight in seeing the scarlet flash of a cardinal at the feeder; rare glimmers of recognition in her blue eyes; funny conversations as the letters of her alphabet piled up. The losses may have been beyond imagining, but so were the unexpected gifts. Because she no longer had a past or future, she showed us how to live in the present.

Writing poems became a way to witness honestly while reminding me to dwell in the present alongside my mother. In our culture, we often talk about dementia only in the abstract, as a label, not in all its bittersweet concreteness. Many of us grew up hearing about relatives who, approaching the end of their lives, were "not quite there," "a little off," "touched." Now, because it is touching so many lives, Alzheimer's disease forces us to acknowledge it. .....

In her essay, "Poetry and Uncertainty," Jane Hirshfield writes of the role of poetry in allowing us to enter into the unknown: "Poetry comes into being as a response to a kind of fracture of knowing and sureness: from not understanding, yet still meeting what arrives." The writers in this collection have done just that, meeting what arrives with courage and tenderness. Hirshfield also suggests how poetry might provide solace: "In entering the imaginative, metaphoric, or narrative expression of another, even if it is the expression of pain, longing or fear, you find yourself less lonely, accompanied in this life."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Open Wounds: The end is a mystery ...

Two summers ago I took a trip up to Ely, Minnesota and had the opportunity to "hang out" with the wolves at the International Wolf Center. I took these photos of one of the gray wolves who spontaneously just took off ... I stumbled upon this image today. It reminds me of how I've been feeling lately. It's as if my life is passing me by ... often, it all feels like a blur.

I wrote about Open Heart yesterday. Today, the words that come to mind are Open Wounds. How many of us carry with us wounds from our childhood, losses and tragic experiences that have shaped and molded us into the adults we are today? How many of us spend our lives shutting out the pain, burying it and hoping it never surfaces again ... unaware that pain will find a way to seep out of our body, our essence, our being ... somehow, someway.

How many of us come to finally embrace life, and all it presents to us ... good and bad?

Truth is, it's been hard for me lately .... to open up my heart means to open up old wounds. And what is it about the ties we have with our parents that somehow reach deep into our core, our belly of existence - of life? I'm in my mid 40s yet it feels like I am returning to the womb of my mother. I am witnessing unexpressed emotions of my mother taking shape -- one moment there's an ugly monster; another moment, complete utter desperation - a sad, lost child. One moment, I feel compassion; the next - sadness; then even anger. My emotions have been on a roller coaster.

How do I find peace in hurtful words that are like salt poured onto open wounds, and not thrash in pain? How do I embrace the burn and let the healing begin? How do I separate myself, my emotions from my mother? Is that even possible? Is the umbilical cord ever truly severed? How do I not take things personally, when in my heart and in my gut, it feels personal and has peeled back the bandaid that has covered old wounds ... open wounds exposed to the harsh elements, to stinging words that scorch my body. How do I move through this, with grace, love and compassion .. even anger at the injustice of it all ... and trust that healing will take place, naturally, organically. And that in the end, all wounds heal if we acknowledge their truth, their pain, their reality.

My mother calls to Papa now ... begging him to raise from his grave and "talk to your kids. Wake them up!" I talk to Papa every day too. A different conversation. Actually, no words. Just simple longing for him to carry me once again, and to hold me and to protect me. To guide me. To comfort my mom. And yes, to comfort me, and my siblings.

 How do I know what is the right thing to do, the right choice to make? Is there such a thing as "right"?

Today I am filled with questions.

I remember this white wolf. Our eyes met and life came to a standstill ... if only for a moment. There's a wisdom I yearn for that i see in the spirit of animals ...

To stand still. To pause. To breathe.

To stop running.

While I was in Ely I compiled the images I took of the wolves and created a video ... the images played to the music of Sting, "The Book of my Life." It seems like the book of my life is forever changing ... a verse from the song goes like this ... and it speaks the truth for me.

"Though the pages are numbered /I can't see where they lead
For the end is a mystery no-one can read
In the book of my life ... "

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Open Heart

As I sat quietly in my room this morning, I felt a flurry of emotions --- emotions I have struggled to push away. My brain kicks in, takes over - "stay in control." For almost a week now I have once again struggled with extreme fatigue. By early evening I am exhausted; by around 6:30 or 7 pm I am falling asleep. My partner and I had a drumming event we attended last night ... I knew that I would be out late and had to take an afternoon nap, yet I still felt wiped out. My body feels drained.

I always fight my tears. My partner is the exact opposite: Open Heart. She tells me, it's okay to cry; it's good to cry. I'm afraid to cry. I think i'm afraid that I will no longer be able to stop the tears and the pain will bury me alive. I have been seeing this incredible energy healer for 4 months now. She often asks me "where is your body carrying the pain? where is your body holding your emotions?" My acupuncturist asks me the same thing ... she confirms for me that my body holds so much in "my gut". As I closed my eyes this morning, I could actually see grief, loss, pain ... a fire in my gut. A knowing came to me ... no wonder my pancreas has shut down. My pancreas has been fighting so hard for years to carry my grief, my pain, my loss. No wonder I have pre cancer cells in my breast. My heart is screaming to be set free. I feel fire in my belly.

Yet how do I set my heart free. How do I break free from the chains that have taught me how to survive? I know that Ahnung ( my sweet therapy dog) and all my previous and current animals are doing just that ... teaching me to open my heart up. I know that God sent me my partner who has the biggest heart.

I feel pulled this morning to return to St. Joan and to attend the morning mass. I will listen to this pull. I will listen for God's whispers ...

Staying in control is exactly what is causing cells in my body to lose control. I must let go. I must trust in God and in what is simply meant to be, whatever that is.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ahnung meets Julius (aka "son of Ahnung")

My sweet girl Ahnung was a rescued dog originally from the Red Lake reservation in northern Minnesota. A survivor of a gun shot wound to her nipple, heartworm, abandoned with a litter of 8 puppies, lymes, coccidia and no front teeth (she had ground her teeth down to her gums in search of food) ... she came into my life in October 2008 on my first trip up north where I met this most amazing woman Karen Good, founder of Red Lake Rosie's Rescue. I remember how she talked to me about this special dog she had taken in ... she had named her "Mama" (a temporary name for all dogs who are abandoned or found with a litter of pups). "There's something special about her Marilou." My partner jokes with me about what I saw in her ... if you look at the photo of her taken in October, 2008 she looks beaten down and haggard and her coat dull and dry. Yet, there was something about the way she looked at me; there was something in her eyes; there was something in her wise, resilient spirit that screamed at my soul. I promised Karen I would return for "Mama". The following month, I did and I named her Ahnung (ah-NUNG, which means star in ojibway) because she was my north star. You can read more about Ahnung's story on her original blog post.

I officially adopted Ahnung on January 3, 2009. There is an incredible bond between us -- a bond I still struggle to find words for ... and in December, 2009 she officially became a registered therapy dog through Delta Society. Together we volunteer at The Lab (a program of St. Paul Public schools) working with at-risk youth and just recently went through training at Allina and are now officially hospice volunteers, as together we become friends and provide comfort to a new friend who is approaching her time of transition to a new way of existence.

Ahnung and I communicate without words. I have learned so much from her. I have come to trust her when we visit schools .... she knows which kid needs her more; she knows when to simply lay down next to a kid who has shut the world out; and she knows how to touch a battered, broken spirit and teach compassion, forgiveness, resilience through her presence and her actions.

Last week my friend Laura of Rescue Buddy Boarding where my other dog Mister spends a lot of time (due to his separation anxiety) tells me a new dog, Julius, has just arrived from the reservation into Pet Haven's foster program. "I can't wait for you to meet Julius," she says. I'm not sure why. I figure, he must be a cute dog. The next day I go to pick up Mister and meet Julius for the first time. His temperament, markings and spirit remind me of Ahnung. Laura goes on to tell me that when Julius was at the Bloomington Veterinary (the same vet that cared for Ahnung for the first 6 weeks when she had heartworm and first arrived into Pet Haven's foster program) that they thought that Julius was Ahnung ... he got the nickname "son of Ahnung." They estimate him to be about a year and a half to two years old. My guess is that Julius came from a previous litter of Ahnung (not her last). Karen Good (Ahnung's rescuer) confirmed that Julius was found in the same area of the reservation, Redby, where Ahnung was from. Julius was filled with scars and scabs from old injuries, over 200 wood ticks and what appears to be a bebe pellet in his ear. Yet despite all he has been through, like Ahnung, there is a calm, loving, wise spirit about him. The vet tech at the clinic who had cared for Ahnung when she was sick immediately fell in love with Julius. Back in 2008, he had fallen in love with Ahnung and had said, "if there is ever another dog that comes through here that is like Ahnung I want to adopt him." Well, his lucky day came last week when Julius, "son of Ahnung" walked through the clinic doors.

Yesterday, Ahnung and Julius met .... if there were any doubts in my mind about Julius being Ahnung's son, they were washed away yesterday. I have watched Ahnung meet and interact with many dogs over the past year and a half. She tends to keep her distance and has an independent way about her. She somehow knows when to approach and when to back down ... it took her 6 months to learn and accept a play invitation from her sibling Mister. And to this day, will not play with our other dog Missy. Yesterday, there was an immediate bond between the two of them. It began with the usual butt sniff, then a car ride out to Julius' potential new home. I watched the two of them prance around the swimming pool ... they followed each other around like mother and son. I watched Julius approach Ahnung and give her a kiss and in less than 30 minutes, Julius initiated a play bow to Ahnung who accepted in her refined, motherly way.

Julius captured my heart, like Ahnung did. I am happy his new dad will be the same vet tech who fell in love with Ahnung. I am happy Ahnung had a chance to meet one of her sons. There was something magical and healing about their meeting.

My hope is that Ahnung can continue to be a part of Julius' life ... we may be asking for play dates. And Ahnung would like to also mentor Julius so that one day he, too, can become a registered therapy dog :)

The following is a short video clip of photos I took from their meeting ...  included are photos of Julius with his new siblings (a senior chocolate lab and a pug!) ... and YES, he has a swimming pool of his own! Ahnung will be waiting for her invitation to the pool party when Julius is officially adopted!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

With that Moon Language

I love that my last name means moon rays ... I love the moon, and the stars and the sun. I love to imagine what's out there when i look up into the skies. It's simply too magnificent, too miraculous, too perfect for our universe to not be the creation of some being or force greater than our comprehension ... for me, that being is God.

My mom left me a message on my phone last night after I had gone to bed. I'm walking a path - new to me yet familiar to so many who have walked this path before me -- the frightening path of alzheimers. As I get ready to return my mom's call this morning I remind myself that she is scared, confused and as Hafiz so eloquently professes in his poem ... is simply saying "Love me."

With that Moon Language

Admit Something:

Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me,"
Of course you do not do this out loud; otherwise,
someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us
to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon
in each eye that is always saying,
with that sweet moon langugage,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?