A Perfect Unconditional Love

The following is a post from an old blog – I think I published it (on another site) back in 2008 or so.  I decided to repost it again – you’ll understand why when you get to the end.  It is particularly meaning for for me today.

A Perfect Unconditional Love

I found out today that one of my closest friends, Jan, lost a much loved member of the family – her cat, Onyx. I’m so sad for her. Onyx had been part of their household for over 15 years, and had recently been having some difficulties; he appeared to have had a series of mini-strokes, and had been losing weight. Jan struggled with how long to put off what she knew would be inevitable – the decision to have him put down – which is, as any pet owner knows, one of the most heart-rending decisions you ever have to make. Being a “cat person” most of my life, I could relate to Jan’s experience. I have had the pleasure of having a series of interesting and loveable felines share our home. There was “Stevie”, “BJ”, “Spike”, “Pirate” and most recently, “Thelma” and “Louise”. Each one that we’ve lost (Louise is still with us) has been a different experience, but always so very painful and difficult.

Cat, dog, bird, bunny, hamster, whatever – our pets become so much more than just companions. They become true members of our families; ones we cherish as much as any other member, arguably more. Our pets are reliant on us for food, water, play and companionship. But unlike the human members of our family, they can’t tell us when they’re hurting or sick. Sometimes the only way we know is by observing how they’re behaving; changes in their routines are often the first signal that something is wrong. When we get that first signal, there’s always a question of knowing when to take action, when to get them medical attention. Then, once we learn that there’s a serious problem, how do we know when enough is enough, when they’ve been helped as much as is humanely possible, when it is time to let them go? And finally, why is that decision, once we know it needs to be made, so very, very difficult for us?

I’m sure there are many opinions on this, but I think it’s because our pets love us unconditionally. Who else loves us that way? Certainly not even our closest human companions! There are always conditions, negotiations, compromises, judgments, comparisons, etc., in our human relationships. But not with pets. No matter what we do, they love us anyway, even when we don’t deserve it – like when we don’t take them for a walk, or forget to feed them, or neglect to give them a little lovin’ when we come in the door at the end of a long day. It’s a powerful and comforting feeling, knowing that there’s at least ONE living being who will forgive you pretty much anything! And as soon as you know that fact, you find yourself loving them unconditionally back.

There’s always a hook, though, isn’t there? Here’s the hook – with that perfect, unconditional love comes a huge burden of responsibility, of knowing that when the time comes (unless the decision is taken away from you by accident), you will likely be the one to have to end the relationship and their life, simply because they can’t. It’s a formidable responsibility, and one we don’t often think about until it becomes clear that circumstances are headed in that direction.

I’ve had to make this decision myself in the past, and so I know just how Jan feels. Each time I’ve been through it, I’m so heart-broken I swear I’ll never get another pet because I just can’t imagine ever having to go through this again!

Yet, after a while, I always go out and find another furry, lovable friend to share our home and our lives, to become a member of our family. After all, once you’ve experienced it, who can deny wanting – even with the burden it brings – that perfect, unconditional love? I know I can’t. And I know Jan can’t, either. For now, I know she’ll take comfort in enjoying their other two cats, but when the time comes, she’ll make the right decision about them, too. And she’ll probably swear not to get another cat…..but eventually, she’ll find another beautiful feline to add to their family and will gladly take on the responsibility of accepting their unconditional love.

We lost our beloved Louise 3 years ago.  A few months later, as predicted, we brought two new furry companions into our family – Angel & Monty.  They have brought such joy into our lives! Unfortunately, we lost Monty yesterday, after a very short, very intense illness.  It was such a shock to lose him so soon!  My heart is broken, once again…but I will always carry Monty in my heart and remember the unconditional love we shared!

A Family Legend: Big Al, Grammy, a Basketball and a Hornet’s Nest!

I got an today email from my close friend, Fred, telling me that he had once been encouraged to ask me out on a date by a mutual friend, Al. I smiled as I read the email, as I’m not sure if Al told Fred to call me because he thought we’d make a nice couple, or because he was trying to find a way out of ever seeing me again. Probably the latter.

Big Al, as my mother used to call him, was witness to an event at my home that has lived on as one of our “family legends”. You know what I mean by family legend – one of those stories that gets repeated over and over again, usually because it is hilarious, involves an outstanding feat or accomplishment, or highlights some outrageous antics by those involved. This had all three, and then some.

Let me set the stage for this story with some background/context. Big Al was gorgeous – a real hunk! – and every girl in the county dreamed about dating him. He was tall, extremely handsome, and a real charmer. He went to a neighboring high school, making him that much more mysterious and desirable to my teenage heart. He went through girlfriends like most people change their clothes, but that didn’t stop any of us from swooning over him whenever he came around. I met Al when he was dating one of my classmates; I never thought he’d remember my name, much less ask me for a date. Much to my surprise, after he broke up with my friend he called and asked me out. I was thrilled!

On our first date, he took me to the movies. On the way to the theatre and back, I discovered that he wasn’t much of a conversationalist. No matter – I was too star-struck to care. We went on a few more dates, and I began to become a little less enchanted with him. He wasn’t, at least from my perspective, very bright and had fairly narrow interests (himself, sports, and trying to get past “first base” with me). On the other hand, I was the envy of every girl in my high school, so I stuck with him, basking in my newfound popularity. Everyone wanted to hear about Big Al, and I was only too happy to brag about my relationship with him (never mind that I was greatly exaggerating).

After a while, I began to ponder how to get out of the relationship without having all my envious friends at school thinking I’d taken complete and utter leave of my senses. Then fate – in the form of my grandmother, a basketball, and angry hornets – intervened and saved me the trouble.

Two other bits of background/context: First, my family lived out in the country, and it wasn’t uncommon for hornets to find cracks and crevices in the house and/or garage in which to build their nests. One such nest had been formed in the peak of the house – two stories up. Over the summer months, the nest grew larger and larger; my mother forbade any of us from doing anything about it, claiming that dad would eventually take care of it. Second, my grandmother was a fairly buxom woman, given to wearing those old fashioned, zip of the front, cotton dresses (you’ll see why that’s important soon!).

Now for the story. One day, Big Al stopped to visit. We were standing in the driveway talking (I was contemplating how to break up with him), when another car pulled in – my grandparents had come for a visit, too. I introduced Big Al to them, and Grammy (my grandmother), exclaimed, “Aren’t you a big, handsome guy!” Suddenly, I was enchanted again; all thoughts of break up banished in the glow of being proud of dating such an attractive guy! But fate had other ideas…..

My little brother, John (aged 8 or 9), came bounding out of the house – he couldn’t wait to tell Grammy about the hornet’s nest! Grammy, who had a well-deserved reputation for indulging in the antics of small children (sometimes even instigating them herself), was duly impressed with the size of the nest. She said, “Come on, John! Let’s knock that thing down!” John, fully cognizant of the potential wrath of his mother, warned Grammy that we had all been forbidden to go anywhere near the nest. That didn’t deter Grammy! No siree – she grabbed the first thing at hand, which happened to be a basketball, and began repeatedly throwing it up at the house, trying to hit the nest.

OK – you know where this is going, right???

Thunk, bzzzzzz………thunk, buzzzzz……….thunk, BUZZZZZZZ……..

Sure enough, Grammy finally tossed the ball high enough to clip the hornet’s nest and knocked down a substantial chunk of it, along with the agitated hornets inside, who immediately swarmed her (John had the good sense to stand well back of the basketball tossing, and escaped the swarm). Some of the hornets flew down inside her dress, stinging her repeatedly.

Grammy came shrieking around the corner of the house, running and unzipping her dress as she went. Underneath her dress, she had on a bra (does the term “over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder” mean anything to you?), a girdle and a slip. The dress dropped and got tangled in her feet, at which point my mom came running out of the house to the rescue. They couldn’t get the slip off quickly, so they tried to squash any live hornets still inside the slip by smacking them with their hands, only succeeding in more stings (to both of them).

I’m not sure who was more incensed, the hornets or my mom, but it was a sure bet that they were all MAD. AS. HELL. – with my mom swearing like a pirate and the hornets loudly buzzing their collective displeasure!

Grammy, on the other hand, was standing there in her underthings, dress pooled around her ankles, giggling like a loon, in spite of multiple stings. I was laughing so hard I had to sit down, right in the middle of the driveway! Big Al just stood there, with his mouth hanging open – he was either shocked or appalled, I was never really sure which.  Shortly after the chaos settled down (with the surviving hornets retreating to what was left of their nest, and Grammy being thoroughly swabbed with Calamine lotion), Big Al said goodbye drove off into the sunset.

He never came back. Go figure.

But the situation saved me from having to break up with him, further establishing his reputation as a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em kind of guy. It also gave me a plausible excuse to tell my friends why he wasn’t my boyfriend anymore. It’s much easier to blame your bonkers grandmother than to admit you valued brains over hunky good looks (which my adolescent friends would never have understood!), or that the hunk dumped you.

In subsequent years, my family often fondly reminisced about this family legend. And whenever I dated someone my dad found questionable, he’d find a way to share the story, inevitably convincing my would-be suitor that I came from a long line of looney-tunes, thus usually ending the relationship. It’s a wonder I ever found a guy willing to overlook the clear streak of insanity in the family!

So thanks, Fred, for the memory and the smile it put on my face today. In retrospect, perhaps Big Al wasn’t the friend you thought he was – maybe he was trying to pull a prank on you by connecting you with the girl with the crazy grandmother!

We put the “fun” in dysfunctional”

You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.  Sigh…… My family is at it……AGAIN! Or maybe I should say STILL!

OK – I know that in any group (friends, colleagues, families, etc.) there is bound to be conflict. It happens. And usually it can be resolved. But when neither party is willing to give an inch, to compromise, not much can be done. Compound that with some nasty tempers and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Well, my family has all those ingredients and then some. The current warring parties have been at it for over 10 years. It is astounding to me that they (both sides!) want to cling to their anger, to their sense of self-righteousness, to their need to be vindicated. It seems that these folks, and their respective spouses, could care less about the impact on the rest of the family.

And there is, indeed, an impact on the family. There always is in these situations, for a couple of reasons. First, we’re often told to “just stay out of it – it’s none of your business”. Seriously??? How can it be none of our business when the result is having to tip-toe around the issue, never knowing how to go about having a family gathering without upsetting or offending someone, or how to engage in a simple conversation without slipping up and accidentally mentioning the other, or having to lie or tell half truths about our involvement with each side?

And speaking of sides, the second reason is that we’re sometimes not just asked, but expected to take sides! How unfair is that?!? We find ourselves in the position of knowing that no matter what we do, we’re going to lose someone we love, all because of a situation (mess/disaster) not of our making.

Third, it’s so very difficult to watch people you love engaging in something SO destructive and not just carrying around anger and hurt, but seemingly nurturing it! I can’t imagine what a heavy burden that is – it can’t be healthy! It’s so puzzling to imagine why someone would want to do that without trying to find a resolution through compromise. It just boggles my mind….

The latest skirmish in this decade-old saga unfortunately involves family members who tried to find a way to make some peace, to help the warring parties overcome the past, acknowledge mistakes, and to begin to heal. To our utter astonishment, both sides have flatly turned us down. The message is basically, “This is how it is, we don’t care what you think or how you feel, and you’re going to just have to learn to live with it”. Again I say, “Seriously???” WE did not make this mess, but WE have to live with it??

My husband & I often joke about which side of the family currently has what we call the “FUN” trophy (i.e., we put the “fun” in dysfunctional!). We’ve often hypothetically traded it back and forth – sometimes his family has it, and sometimes mine does. This time it seems to be firmly back in my family.  My husband says he thinks I should guild it and nail it permanently to the imaginary pedestal we have!  He may be right…..

The Sisterhood – A Little Love in Our Hearts

Over the past couple of years, a number of wonderful women have “reappeared” in my life.  We were high school classmates, graduating in 1973.  After that, we went our separate ways, building very different lives, forming new families and friendships, living in various places across the U.S. and internationally.  We saw each other at the occasional class reunion, and always remained friends, some of us closer to each other than others.

What brought us back into each other’s lives on a more regular/constant basis was that one of the group, our friend Sue, was diagnosed with ALS.  We were all dismayed, and wondered what we could do to help.  That’s when one of the more creative members of our group hatched an idea to host us all – as many as could make the trip – at her home in Florida for a mini-reunion to cheer up Sue.  About a dozen of us made the trip.

While the weekend had its bumps along the way (I ask you – how can you put a dozen women together who haven’t seen each other much in nearly 40 years and not expect some difficulties?), but overall, it was a wonderful time, and it created a bond between us that has continued benefits, in many different ways.

We’ve experience the sheer joy of finding each other again, of sharing what’s happening in our lives – the good, the bad, and the occasionally down right ugly.  We’ve laughed, cried, shared home made gifts, yummy food and wine.  Oh yeah – LOTS of wine! 🙂

We’ve become a source of encouragement for each other, a collective shoulder to cry on, a place to share wonderful news, and sometimes not so wonderful news.  When one of us has a crisis (and there’s always at least one crisis at any given time!) we know we can count on each other for prayer, moral support, cards, flowers, etc.

What an extraordinary gift we’ve been given!

Over time, others who couldn’t make the trip to Florida have been invited to become part of the group that we’ve come to call “the sisterhood”.  It is a very appropriate name, as I now think of these wonderful women as my “sisters”, in every sense of the word. I love them, value them, and hope and pray for all the best for them, as I know they do for me.  We have some “sisters” who have undeniably been the glue that holds us together.  There’s sister Candy, who has taken on the formidable task of keeping us in the loop through an email distribution list.  There’s sister Jane who handles the little pot of money we have for flowers and gift baskets.  There are the creative sisters, who put thought and care into creating lovely events and gifts to share.  What an awesome group of women and I’m so grateful to have them in my life.

Recently I learned that Sue’s illness is progressing faster than any of us had anticipated.  The sisters who live nearby her try to visit, and all of us are praying for her.  I live in another country – thousands of miles away.  I’ve been wondering what I could do to try to lift her spirits and put some happiness in her heart and mind. All of the usual things I do – cards, emails, prayers – just didn’t seem enough.

Then a couple nights ago, I thought of something – it woke me up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night!  But I didn’t mind, because I had thought of something I could share with her that I’m pretty sure will lift her spirits.  I am part of a band called Kindred, and we had recently learned a song to sing a church café.  We planned for the church choir to sing along with us, and since we didn’t have a musical score to send them to learn their parts, we did the next best thing.  We threw together a very hasty recording; while not a professional recording (it’s a little rough, actually), it was just enough for the choir to learn their parts.

When I woke up last night, I realized that I could post that recording for Sue and for all my sisters.  As I mentioned, it’s not a perfect or professional recording, but it conveys what our sisterhood has been doing the last couple years – putting love in our hearts and trying to make the world a better place for each other.

So for my friend, Sue, this is for you – know that I’m filling my heart with love for you and for all my sisters!  I hope it puts a smile on your face!

Blogging…..again!

Blogging – I tried it a couple years ago, and attempted to establish a regular schedule for posting something at least once a month. My blogs were not about anything in particular; they’re just reflections on what was happening in my life, or what I observed happening to others.

After about a year of posting my reflections, I stopped blogging. I could make a lot of excuses about how busy I’ve been, but the truth is – I just got lazy.

The interesting thing is that I like to write. There’s something cathartic about writing and being able to express yourself freely about whatever is on your mind. I like being able to share my reflections – the serious, the controversial, the hilarious, the ludicrous, the traumatic. The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I stopped.

So I have resolved to begin blogging again, and I have put deadlines in my calendar (with some reminders, too!), so that I can keep myself on track. I have no idea if anyone will actually read my blogs, but if they do, I hope they will enjoy them as much as I like writing them!

Blog number 1 (I’m not counting this one) is currently “under construction”, and I will post soon. It’s a combination serious and celebratory story that I’m looking forward to sharing.