Grieving My Familiar

(Originally published on ashtreeharmony.com.) 

A few weeks ago I said goodbye to my thirteen-year-old greyhound Page, my familiar. I knew he was my familiar—I could feel it under my skin—but if you asked me what a familiar was I’m not sure I could have given you a definition.

After he passed I thought that I should do some research to better understand the relationship we had, the gifts and lessons that he had to offer, and what to look for in my next familiar. In discussing this with a wise-woman friend, she suggested that instead of researching familiars that I use what I knew of my relationship with Page to teach me what I needed to know, and then to call on his spirit to tell me anything else that I needed.

In his passing, the first thing I came to understand was that he was here to teach me about movement.

The veterinarian who was with him when he died said, “Greyhounds are meant for movement,” and it was so clear that he would never move the same way again. But as I looked at him on his last day, inert and sleeping, memories of moving with him appeared in my mind’s eye. We walked together almost every day. He often lay next to (or on me) while I practiced yoga. He wagged and swiveled around me when I danced.

Over time, as I watched his body deteriorate, it became more difficult for me to feel connected to movement. The morning after his passing I danced and there was ease to my movements, as if in his release my body was releasing, too.

My familiar had excellent boundaries.

Page loved to be scratched. Page really did like being hugged. Page rubbed his face on my legs when he wanted something, but also when he just wanted to feel close to me—to confirm that I was paying attention to him. But Page often removed himself from situations. If he was over-stimulated or tired, he’d find a bed that was far away from the activity, where he could watch but not participate.

Page also put every dog in his or her place that tried to mess with him with a quick nip or a low growl, both of which worked instantly. He didn’t take any shit from anyone. Yet, he could also tell the difference between nonsense and innocence. Once, a small child carrying a tree branch poked Page in the face. I held my breath, feeling the pain of the needles in his skin on my own skin, but he didn’t bite, didn’t growl, didn’t even pull away. Somehow he understood that this small child didn’t know better and wasn’t a threat, and so he let her be.

I hope that I come to understand a fraction of this wisdom that Page demonstrated every day.

Page understood the necessity of routine.

Many greyhounds follow a specific routine because it’s what they learned during their racing days. Page followed a routine—it seemed sometimes—for my benefit. When I was in graduate school and I was working long and late hours, Page would lose himself in playful fits 30 minutes before it was time for his dinner. Yes, I think he was probably just hungry, but it also felt like he was helping me not to take myself too seriously, because this was also the time of night when I did most of my studying.

He did this for walks as well—the fits of barking, wagging and jumping. It was like he knew that the breath of fresh air would be good for the both of us.

His habit of lying with me while I practiced yoga felt like more than just wanting to be in the same room, or interest because I was on the floor down at his level. He was reinforcing this habit the same way he reinforced all other habits with his presence.

Page was never very good at being alone.

Within weeks of our adopting Page, he figured out how to break out of his crate. When we came home we found the usual evidence of a dog with the full run of the house and little obedience training—garbage strewn about the kitchen and other “messes” to clean up. But we also found there were long bite marks on the front door knob. The marks didn’t seem to indicate chewing, but rather the marks looked like he dragged his teeth around the knob, as if he had tried to turn the knob with his mouth. He had figured out where the humans went, and he was going to follow.

Page’s separation anxiety troubled him and us his whole life. There were times when it was better, and we learned that familiarity and routine were the most helpful in keeping him calm. Even in his last few months, we found him breaking out of seemingly unbreakable baby gates. Page liked being with us, and he didn’t like to be alone.

And in this behavior, I realize that this is the final lesson he had to teach me. Now that he’s gone, at least for a while, I will have to learn how to be alone, too. I admit that I’ve already been looking for a new pet, not to replace him, but to fill our home with life. I even sent an inquiry to a shelter about a dog, but the dog had already been adopted.

Someone told me to appreciate my independence, that I might miss it when I’m caring for some new familiar who needs my attention. Sadly, I knew they were right.

My sister-in-law made a beautiful painting of Page (pictured above) that I couldn’t bring myself to hang in our home while he was still alive. The day that he died I went to the basement and brought that painting into my office to hang with me.

I understand that it was his time to go. I understand that this is an opportunity to transform and evolve, and I’m grateful for all the ways in which Page is still with me.

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(Mini) Things of the Week 3/1/17

Question of the week: After a minor kitchen incident, how does one successfully cut a mango?

Answer: Get your husband to do it for you while you grab the band-aids.

READING

“The Rise of Roxane Gay” by Molly McArdle, February 22, 2017 on Brooklyn

“Against Readability” by Ben Roth, February 21, 2017 on The Millions

Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen 

WATCHING

The Indiana Jones Triology: I had only seen the third movie as a kid, so I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Temple of Doom for the first time this week. Gotta say, I don’t feel like I was missing much. Yes, these movies are supposed to be set in the 30s, but the gender and racial stereotyping was a bit much.

Happy Birthday, Page:

Things of the Week: Post Thanksgiving Edition

A greyhound won the National Dog Show:

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via GIPHY

Thanksgiving Miracle: Our greyhounds are cuddling.

Commercials: I’ve noticed that commercials this holiday season have a particularly tenderhearted quality about them. It’s nice.

I Got Gilmored: Yes, I’m a fan. Yes, I’ve been bingeing seasons 1-7 for the last several months. Yes, I bought a box of Pop-Tarts to toast Gilmore Girls: A year in the Life. Yes, I might have squealed when I heard the opening music and saw the beloved gazebo. No, I did not expect the #lastfourwords.

Swimming in uncertainty about whether or not we’ll return to Stars Hollow, I’ve been reading as many think pieces as I can to hold on to that Gilmore feeling. Here are a few I particularly liked or was amused by:

“Turns Out, Rory Gilmore Is Not a Good Journalist” by Megan Garber, November 28, 2016, on The Atlantic 

“Watched All of the ‘Gilmore Girls’ Revival? Let’s Talk About It” by Margaret Lyons, November 29, 2016, on The New York Times

“A Play-by-Play of the Only Thing That Matters in the New ‘Gilmore Girls’: Logan Huntzberger”  by Kara Brown, November 28, 2016, on The Muse/Jezebel 

Reading (too many things at once): With the semester coming to a close and lots of papers to grade, I find that I keep collecting books to read without finishing them, assuming the next one will satisfy something in me that the previous one didn’t:

You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thích Nhất Hạnh

 How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

(These three books are all an attempt to remedy semester stress)

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

(Recommended to me by a friend because I had never read anything by Anne Carson. I’m reading this with the hope that it will make me feel smart. Instead, it makes me feel like endeavoring is pointless. So now I pull it out and read it when I feel like I’m trying too hard at something).

Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology Edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

(Reading this one slowly, a story at a time. Have been pulling it out when I need something to put reality in perspective.)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

(Picked this up because I wanted to get lost in beautiful sentences. So far so good.)

New Addition to the Brain Injury Glossary: gravel brain – when it feels like there are pebbles sitting on top of my frontal lobe, small but still heavy, with spaces between them that allow brief moments of lucidity to shine through.

Things of the Week 7/27/16

On Gender Roles: Why Men Want to Marry Melanias and Raise Ivankas” by Jill Filipovic, July 21, 2016 on The New York Times

Walking: saw a frog, a fox, was greeted by wet golden retrievers, listened to cicadas, took photos of rusted cars used as a levee, obtained multiple mosquito bites

A trip to the zoo: my adult self and child self negotiated the complicated realities that are Zoos this weekend. As an adult, I wished freedom on the bald eagles, the long horned sheep, the lynx, while as a child I marveled at the tigers.

Played: a domino game with my nieces. They clobbered me.

Feeling Patriotic: First Lady Michelle Obama’s Speech at the Democratic National Convention

Whoops: Nova had to get a few stitches after a little tumble. Fortunately, he’s taking it well.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: when performing complicated movements with more than one body part (like dancing), sometimes my limbs move out of sync, usually some moving faster than the others. If I watch myself in front of a mirror, it’s like watching a video shot with the slo-mo setting on my iPhone.

 

Front Page: Introducing, My Dog

After the run today, Adventure Junkie and I witnessed something unusual. Cruising behind an 80’s Oldmoldsbile Cutlass, we watched two chihuahuas yap out the passenger window. Then, one of them jumped out! The little dog had seen a big dog behind a fence and propelled himself out the window in order to yap from a shorter distance. Suddenly, I was glad that my dog can’t fit through our car window.

Meet Page, the greyhound.

greyhound, faun, dog, pet,

Page weighs 82 pounds, measures 64 inches from the tip of the nose to the tip of his tail, and at almost 3 feet tall can easily lay his head on our dining room table. Often, he’s mistaken for a great dane and children have been known to call him “Marmaduke.” Continue reading “Front Page: Introducing, My Dog”

Author Exercise

Since moving to Billings, Montana a few months ago I’ve been given the gift of a new daily routine (aka unemployment). After cranking on my Masters thesis/novel every morning, I’m left with idle time and five extra pounds around my middle as I  wait for my savings to run out. You could call this an opportunity and I’ve decided to try a low-cost experiment. Jogging. Continue reading “Author Exercise”