Homer: Epilogue

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Last night we said goodbye to our beloved Homer.

People often say “Rest In Peace” when a loved one dies but that’s not how I’m thinking of Homer.  He’s at peace but he got enough of resting in his last couple of weeks.  So instead of Resting in Peace I’m sure he is Frolicking In Joy, chasing baseballs and snitching tacos off the counters of heaven, delighted at the return to vigorous activity.

We had many great moments with Homer, some of the most poignant ones within the past week. I know he felt loved by my almost constant presence, by sitting outside together, by sitting in the hospital together, by me sleeping beside him the last two nights.

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Here is Homer, resting against me as I read the hundreds of beautiful stories people posted about their own beloved pets in response to my Loving Homer blog piece.  Story after story of love and pain and healing enough to do it all over again. Picture after picture of adorable dogs and horses and cats.  Reading the stories was so soothing to my raw heart, knowing how many people have felt exactly like I feel, and have not regretted it for a moment. Social media can be criticized for being a time suck or often superficial but one of its great uses is connection.  To find other people in a similar situation, to feel not alone in your experience, to feel close to and understood by other people, this is technology at its best.

Homer got extraordinary care, IV’s of fluid, medications to combat his GI bleed, three infusions of blood, three generous dogs and their owners (two of whom work at the hospital) doing their best to keep him going.

In the end, it wasn’t enough.

Who am I to decide how long a good life is?  Maybe he lived the exact right amount of time.  Maybe this was a perfect life for him, rescued from Taiwan, four years with a family who loved him.  Somehow we all get an idea of what is enough of a life.  But who is to say long is better?  Maybe a well lived shorter life can be perfect.

Each person in our family dealt differently with saying goodbye to Homer. There is not one right way to deal with a pet at the end of life and my husband and I wanted to make sure our children each did what was comfortable for him/herself.

Eventually it was just me sitting with Homer for that final step in the journey.

I sat with Homer’s head in my lap as Dr. Nurre injected first the anesthesia to make him sleepy, then the euthanasia meds.  He slid his stethoscope under Homers chest and we sat in silence, tears running down my face, until he softly said, “his heart has stopped.”

And then I sat alone with Homer until I knew it was really just the form of Homer left, knew that Homer’s soul was not in this body anymore.  I’m typing this through blurry eyes because I am still crying.

But I know this. Homer doesn’t have to be here for my love to go on. He was here and he was loved and that doesn’t have to end. Even though he is not actually lying beside me while I type anymore, I will never stop loving Homer.

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Frolic In Joy, sweet Homer
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Loving Homer

 

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I just stress-ate a cold McDonald’s hashbrown.  I wasn’t hungry and it didn’t help with the stress but then again, it didn’t taste awful either. I’m headed to the Vet hospital to visit my dog Homer who has been admitted because the chemo that so quickly shrunk his massive tumor has wiped him out and he is not eating or drinking or even moving around very well.  When a ten year old Golden Retriever is too sick to retrieve it is time for lots of loving care and that is exactly what Homer is getting.

I am worried and I am sad, thinking about whether Homer is in the home stretch.  But I am also feeling a sense of amazement and love because I’ve been spending a lot of time at an extraordinary place, East Bay Veterinarian Specialist and Emergency, and have witnessed love in all its rawness.

On the first day I arrived with Homer, I looked around the waiting room and saw a mix of people and pets.  Dogs and cats and young people and old people and prim ladies and tattooed teenagers.

The owners of hurt pets are chatty, they connect with each other, recognizing fellow tribe members.  “What’s his name?” “What’s going on with him?” Easy trading of stories and sympathy.  People sitting in this waiting room are all there because they care about their animal and can recognize other people who feel the same way.

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This room is where love lives.  (I took this picture when it was mostly empty to protect people’s privacy.)

Everyone in this waiting room has a pet who is hurting in some way and everyone here has opened their heart, made themselves vulnerable to pain.  Because, unless your pet is a tortoise, your pet is going to die before you.  These people know this and yet they have opened their hearts anyway.  These are the brave ones, the ones who are sharing their hearts knowing those hearts will be broken.  These are the people who are brave enough to LOVE.  I look around and I realize, this whole room is filled with love.  This room is filled with people who have said, screw it, I’m putting my heart out there onto this little being who can’t even talk to me but who I feel so connected with I’m going to empty my bank account to get another month with him.

[The only other time I felt this kind of easy connection was the first time I went to a writers’ convention and was stunned to find so many other cranky creative introverts all forced out of our holes by the common bond of this agonized path called writing.]

My daughter, watching me cry about our dog who might be at the end of his life, said, “is it worth it?”  And she meant that in a completely honest and curious way.  She was aware that after losing our last dog, Beau, she didn’t quiet open her heart as much to Homer.  She was sad, a combination of empathy for my sadness and a regret that she didn’t love this dog more.  Her question was actually quite profound.

What she was really asking was, “is love worth it?”

And through my tears I said, “for me, absolutely.”

But I also told her it is a question that each person has to answer for him/herself.  It is not something anyone else can answer for you.

Only you know the stretchiness of your heart, how much pain it can take.

But pet owners, these brave people, sitting around the waiting room with their three legged dogs and angry shaved down cats, they’ve answered that question.

These are my people, willing to cry as we mop up the pee of an incontinent dog, willing to get blood on the car seats as we drive to the vet, willing to empty the bank account, willing to weave that dog into our heart knowing it will unravel that heart when it when it goes.

And when the treatments have all been given and the beloved pet is gone and our trampled hearts have somehow smushed themselves back into a sort of heart shape, we do it all over again.

Willingly.

We sign up all over for a new dog, knowing we will watch the same play, the same ending, the same unraveling of our heart.

Because the gift of loving that deeply is worth it.  That wagging tail when you walk in the door, that head on your knee on a mundane TV watching Thursday night, that jingle of  dog tags in a dark middle of the night that reminds you that you are not alone.

And isn’t that what love is for?  Knowing you are not alone.

It is perhaps a larger question, love.  Not just love of a pet but love generally.  Who among us truly opens his heart to love?  Who is brave enough to open it knowing it will be stepped on and yet knowing it is really the only reason we are here.  To take the chance and connect.

We are not here to tiptoe carefully to the grave.  We are here to open our hearts, to love and be hurt and love again and nothing makes that more apparent than loving a pet.

I’ve been at the hospital five days in a row, both in the waiting room and then back in the treatment area and here is just a sample of what I’ve seen.

A couple with two young boys and big chocolate lab blew in the door.  The boys were small enough that their baseball uniforms were baggy and their hats too big.  One of the boys had a bright green cast on his arm.  The dog had apparently just eaten rat poison and the tech immediately took the leash and headed back into the treatment area.  The mom turned around, harried but laughing and, looking at the boy with the casted arm said, “we are an accident prone family!”  That family, like so many of us, had enough love for kids and their dog. There is always enough love.

I watched an older man come in and say to the receptionist, “I’m here to pick up Missy.” The young woman behind the desk said, “of course,” very sweetly and then walked around from behind the desk/counter and handed him a small wooden box with a design or picture of some sort on top.  He took it in both hands and kind of bowed his head towards it and said, “oh, it’s pretty.”  And she nodded, “yes,” and then he turned and walked out slowly, with great dignity, with the ashes of his pet.

And I thought of the young family, who seemed at the beginning of it all (the lab looked just out of puppyhood) and the older man, whose pet was at the end of it all, and it was the whole circle of life, right in front of me.  It made my place in that circle seemed okay, just part of what life is.

Then there is the staff member whose own dog donated blood for my dog’s blood transfusion. She tells me this as she expertly loads up another syringe to be pushed into the IV Homer is getting. Homer now has a bit of Hank in him and the tears that seem permanently at the edge of my eye start falling, again. I’m overwhelmed with the generosity of a dog owner who would give her own dog’s blood to a hurting animal. I never even knew this was a thing, blood donation from other dogs.

And the nurse/tech who came in and cheerfully cleaned Homer’s behind when he couldn’t control his poop.  In such a friendly way she told me how great it is that they have waterless shampoo, as she carefully cleaned each bit of poop out of Homer’s fluffy tail (and then they wrapped his tail so it wouldn’t be a poop collector, and shaved around his behind to make it easier to keep clean.  So thoughtful this group).

And the nurse/tech who brought a selection of foods to see if we could tempt Homer to eat (he didn’t), and then offered me water, coffee, Kleenex, and Purell (the Purell battled with the Kleenex for most favored status, lots of crying, but sitting on the floor with an oozing, pooping dog, also lots of germs).

Eventually Homer is kept in the x-ray room, off the big central treatment area and as I sit with him I have a chance to observe the goings on.  I am so struck by the loving professionalism of the entire crew (and there seem to be so many of them!  At least 15 on a shift that I could count).  They are relentlessly kind and upbeat. As they expertly take off casts and clean out wounds they use calm and friendly tones. They aren’t just calming the animals, they are calming me too.

I’m still worried and sad but it feels like a place I can be worried and sad in.  Other people are taking care of Homer, my job is to sit with him and let him know he is loved and not alone.  To rub his head and tell him we have loved every minute of his time with us. To thank him for his companionship, the way he moved room to room with me every day when I went about my work at home.  After the kids are off to school I head upstairs to write at the computer and Homer would plop himself beside me and stay there until the end of my work was signaled by the turning off of the lamps.  Only when he heard the clicks would he stretch himself and get up and follow me to the next home work location.  At night Homer would insert himself into even the smallest spot on the couch, nudging his way between anyone sitting there, confident he belonged right in the middle of the family.

Homer is the most social dog, you can tell he believes his place is in the middle of the pack.  When we have guests and people are congregated in the kitchen, Homer splays himself out right in the middle of the floor, letting people step over or around him, not moving no matter how crowded the kitchen gets.

So I thank Homer for all his love and his quirks and tell him it is okay to rest.  His breathing gets slower and more regular, he is asleep.  And then I shift my legs (the floor is hard but the lovely tech/nurses have brought me a soft blanket to sit on) and Homer’s eyes pop open.  His puts his paw up on my leg, like a hug, like holding hands.  He leaves it there and drifts back to sleep.

In this moment life has become very simple. There is no thinking about dinner or carpool or cleaning or even writing, this moment has distilled down to me and a dog.

So I just sit, loving Homer.

The Maziar Cup

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This past Sunday I got a chance to attend the second Maziar Cup, a soccer tournament created to remember Mazi Maghsoodnia, who was lost to the earth community March 13, 2016.  It was a gorgeous day, sunny but with a breeze and a hint of cool that made it just perfect for soccer.  It was on a hill, which, being closer to the sky, was just right, somehow feeling closer to Mazi to me (I don’t know why this image of heaven being above us lingers, but it does).  There were the occasional high floating clouds, which seemed almost like otherworldly observers.  Like soccer players on the other side were hanging out up there with Mazi, like he was elbowing them, ‘look!  That was Auveen who crossed it so perfectly!’

There were athletes of every age playing with such a fierce intensity that my knees cringed at every twist and fall.  Only the young bend and don’t break, and these competitors weren’t all young.  There were young men and a little bit older men and men a little bit older than that, and women and girls, and they were all having fun, and no one gave anyone an easy time of it.

I wonder if Mazi was there watching, moving among his friends, slipping around his family, smiling and adding his kick to make a ball go just a little harder. I wonder if the breeze that kept lifting Lida’s hair was Mazi’s touch. I wonder if he stood in awe looking at his family, all of them broken hearted and thriving. I wonder if he saw how Nader has grown, and how he and the other boys not quite big enough to join in the fierce competition on the field found an unused net and started up their own half field game, taking turns in the goal.  I wonder if he saw Ollie the diabetic dog hunt down any sliver of shade, standing in the shadows of spectators as his eyes kept track of Lida.  I wonder if he heard Auveen tease Kian for taking off on his trip too soon. Did he love the shirts with his name on the back?

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Did he love the shirts with his name on the front?

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Who knows why someone is gone too early?  Maybe it’s just random.  Maybe there is a reason. Maybe all we can do is hold each other’s hands and share the memories about the one that is gone.

In the end it was a gathering of people with a common interest in an uncommon man. A man who was, so clearly, so abundantly, loved.  And isn’t that what we’d all like, in the end, when we leave? To be loved and remembered.  Like the Raymond Carver words:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Looking around at the people gathered at the Cup, at the rich network of friends and family spending their day honoring him, I have no doubt Mazi would answer, “I did.”

Mazi and the Meaning of Team

 

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Glennon Melton Doyle wrote that “compassion is not your pain in my heart.  That’s pity.  Pity helps no one. No, compassion is your pain in my heart and back out through my hands.  Feelings are just energy.  Eventually we have to make something with them.” (If you haven’t checked out Glennon’s blog do it as soon as you are done reading this http://momastery.com/blog/).

I was sitting there feeling the pain in my heart of losing Mazi Maghsoodnia and I hadn’t done anything with that.  We so often don’t. We talk to each other and repeat, over and over, ‘I can’t believe it.’  Talking is helpful, and then, as Glennon said, you need to go beyond the pain in your heart.

So when Quinn S. called me one night and asked me if I wanted to go up to the town rock and ‘paint away the pain’ (so eloquently said, Quinn) it felt like the right thing.  And then more pain came back out through my hands when I wrote a couple blog posts about the experience.  But I wasn’t the only one making something with the pain and it feels like it is time to reveal the other Sisters of the Rock.

Amy, on the far right, came up with the idea to paint the town rock in Mazi’s honor. This wouldn’t have happened without her brilliant idea.

Quinn, second from right with the devilish grin, organized the entire op, including the 7-11 run for tall-boys. This wouldn’t have happened without her desire to do something with her pain.  

Christie, in the middle, outlined the letters (beautifully big!  You can see them from way far away) and created the soccer ball (repeatedly checking a picture on her phone, while we all worried the police would see the light).

Prab, second from left, filled every spot with paint, soldiered over the top and bottom making sure nothing was left uncovered.

Karen, on the far left is the one who had two people holding on to her sweatshirt as she hung over the top of the ‘M’ to get the top of the letter just right.

I’m the historian, taking the picture and struggling to put words to how the pain is coming back out through our hands. (Apologies for the blurry picture but it was late.  And dark.  And we are perhaps, like Barbara Walters, enhanced by a bit of a blur to a photo.  Plus we can deny participation if anyone tries to make trouble for us.)

Those of us with blond hair woke up to pink bangs, the red paint that stuck on our hands ending up somehow in our hair (I liked it, wished it had lasted longer).  We also woke up to blackened pillows because we used eye black to paint ‘mazi’ on one side of our faces and a heart on the other.IMG_20160319_221250234

Each time I write a blog post about Mazi my husband reminds me that I haven’t actually mentioned how we know Mazi.  So, third time’s a charm,  Mazi was my son’s Eclipse soccer coach along with Miguel Camacho (aka ‘the Soccer Whisperer’).  Mazi and Miguel were a great team.  The whisperer and the vocal cheerleader.  The loud positive and the quiet positive.

This U12 soccer team was a team that took its time coming together.  When you put kids from different towns together it takes a while to gel, and this team was no exception.  When you play soccer for an organization that, gasp, values kids playing multiple sports, it takes even longer to get to know everyone, because they weren’t all always there at practices, or even games.

Mazi and Miguel worked their magic and the team started to play well together.  And they won a few games.  And lost a few games.

It was all fun but they had never won a tournament.

And then, in August of 2015, Eclipse played in the Copper Select tournament in San Ramon against the mighty Mt. Diablo Arsenal.  In retrospect I wish had been taking notes, wish I had a more fact based description of that tournament (but then again, it was never my goal to be a sports reporter).  What I know is that the Eclipse team that weekend somehow kept winning.  What I know is that Mazi’s whole family was there to watch Nader and Mazi.  What I know is that, against the odds, the Eclipse team ended up in the FINAL GAME!

I remember hearing the whispers up and down the sideline as that final game started, Arsenal usually creamed their opponents.  They always scored a bunch.  They were unbeatable.

The game was the most intense I had ever seen our team play.  Every kick, every pass was contested by both sides.  Our kids played with a fever we had never seen.  They played like the future of the world hung in the balance, like if they lost, nuclear bombs were going to start going off in the parking lot and continue going off all over the planet.  They played like they would lose their phones and video games forever if they lost.  They were sweating, they were running until they were breathless, they were sticking a foot in where they couldn’t make a steal.  They were dogging the other team, hanging close to their defender/offender and doing whatever came to mind to win that moment.

Mt. Diablo Arsenal shot many many times on our goal and somehow, the ball never went in.  We could hear the parents on the other team exclaiming in disbelief, like a spell had been put on our goal protecting it.  The ball hit off of the cross bar, the side bar, off the tip of our goalie’s finger, off the side of our other goalie’s toe.  And our defenders seem to literally be giving pieces of themselves to every ball and defense.  Everybody watching knew there was something special going on.  No one wanted to say that, no one wanted to jinx it, but it was special.

So often in these kinds of battles parents along the sidelines start to be snipey at the other team’s parents.  But this didn’t happen. There was a grudging respect because the game was that good. We were all yelling for our team but when the other team did something good there was an appreciation for that.

The game, improbably, unbelievably, against all odds, was tied at zero at the end of regulation.  It is hard to describe what a triumph even that was.  It shouldn’t have happened.  It had never happened before against this team (and never has again, and we’ve played them multiple times).  But there it was.

And with the waning daylight they went straight to penalty kicks.

My son was the goalie who would be receiving the penalty kicks in the biggest game of his life, the biggest game of his team’s career.  Knowing he was a reluctant goalie at best, I had to fight off the urge to run across the field and snag him and take off for the parking lot at a fast run, worried what a loss might feel like to him.   And then, I saw someone standing in front of him, hands on his shoulders, leaning in and talking.  I saw my son’s head nodding.  I saw him nod again.  Even from a distance I saw his shoulders relax. It wasn’t Miguel.  It wasn’t Mazi.  It was Kian.  Mazi’s older son, a guy who knew something about being a goalie.  I would later learn that Kian gave him calm instructions.  Told him to watch the hips of the the player as he kicked, know which way the ball was going to go, know which way to dive.  Made him believe he could do it.  Made him trust himself and his team.  Kian wasn’t a coach on this team but, like a Maghsoodnia, jumped in to do what he knew to do.  Quietly, calmly, he gave my son confidence.

Parents on both sides were yelling, grabbing each other, looking to the heavens for help.  Each kick and goal or save resulted in gasps and screams.  There was no heartbeat that was calm at that point.  No player, no coach, no parent.  Well, maybe Miguel, the Soccer Whisperer was calm, but the rest of us were shaking with adrenaline.

Back and forth it went until we were tied.

Each team had one last chance.  Eclipse kicked and scored to put us one ahead.  And then it was up to us to defend one last kick to win.

“Watch the hips,” Kian had said and he did.  He stuck his hands out as the ball shot toward him, and the ball flicked up and away from the goal.

Eclipse had won.

The first tournament win for this group.

The most exciting, ecstatic dancing (and we know Mazi can dance), the dog pile, the screaming, it was, in that fading twilight, a pure joy.

Who was to know that the fading twilight also described Mazi?

Maybe that intense joy spoke of an awareness, in some subconscious part of all of us, that this win meant something more.  Looking back it feels like maybe it was a gift, a perfect day for the Maghsoodnia’s to keep in their memory bank.  Because Lida was there to watch Nader, Auveen was there, Mazi was there, Kian was there and helped coach.  And one of the best pictures ever is this one:  Kian and Auveen with Nader on their shoulders, their parents there to share in the joy.

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The feeling of team, it is so special.  We all desperately strive for winning, for great performances, for great stats for ourselves and then our kids.  But maybe what we are really looking for, with all this sports hoopla, is to feel like part of something.  Maybe this is the real trophy, to feel part of a team.

Isn’t this what family actually means, that you belong to something? Someone has your back, someone cares about you, someone is working with you to make life better.  My husband coaches for a living and it is the thing he strives for the most, to give his players this feeling of being a family.  Of a brotherhood that goes deeper than batting average or wins and losses.  When you feel that connection to others you realize how much more you can achieve than if you were just working on your own.

People may think that winning makes you feel like a team, but it more often works the other way around, when you are a team, a true team, that is when you start winning.  We all felt it at that tournament, this team that Mazi and Miguel created. Those boys were playing like they were brothers and their brothers’ lives were on the line.  It infected the sidelines, the parents all felt connected too. There’s nothing like a rush of adrenaline and a wild hug after a penalty kick goal to bring people together.  We weren’t just hugging the people we knew best, we were all hugging everyone. It was such a shared joy.  

This concept of shared joy, it is just so Mazi.

I am deeply grateful that my son got to be part of Mazi’s Eclipse team, and that  I got to be  part of the team that painted Mazi’s rock.  We called ourselves ‘Sisters of the Rock,’ and I’ll tell you this, you didn’t have to be one of the people up there that night to belong to this team.  There are many more Sisters out there, and Brothers too.  Which is another way of saying that Mazi left a worldwide family, and that family will take care of its own.

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Mazi Belongs to the World

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It turns out I have more to say about Mazi.  I thought I had done my bit with my first blog post trying to capture the experience of painting ‘Mazi’ on the town rock and then going on about the business of private grieving, but it isn’t over.  I can’t stop thinking about him and the fact that he is gone from this form of interaction (I suspect there are other forms, beyond this earthly existence, but not knowing for sure I feel sad right now).

I don’t what the exact definition of something online going ‘viral’ is, but I know that my blog post about Mazi has gotten way more traffic than I usually get.

It has been read over 1600 times.

It has been read in 32 countries.

I know this is not due to my writing skill because up until the Mazi post my readers were in the high single digits at most (I was so under the radar my own mother didn’t know I had a blog).

Mazi knew a lot of people.

The 14th Dalai Lama said, “One family can influence another, then another, then ten, one hundred, one thousand more, and the whole of society will benefit.”  It is as if he was talking about Mazi Maghsoodnia.  The family he and Lida created is the best way to understand what a great man he was.  They are his legacy, are loving and generous and full of life and fun and dancing, just like their dad.  Mazi greeted everyone with a hug and a smile that made you know the world was going to be okay and his family is doing the same thing.

In the midst of the most painful experience of their lives they are doing this.

This family influence, this love, is literally spread throughout the world – I know this when I look at the map of where the blog piece was read.  Everywhere from Iceland to Kenya to the Phillipines there are people who shine brighter from knowing Mazi.

I have had people contact me to ask where the rock is so they can go see it.  I got a message from one person who reported her family ate dinner at one of the restaurants below the hill so that they could look up at Mazi on the rock while they ate.

It is as if we all want to be close to him again and are using the rock as a proxy.

Eventually someone will paint their own message on that rock and I’m already angry at them.  Angry at those self-centered insensitive teenagers (see that?  They don’t even know who they are yet and I have already made them villains.  Excuse my reaction to teenagers.  I have one.  A new one.  And maybe like baby rattlesnakes the new ones have the most venom?).

I started planning another bit of midnight mischief to take up a little sign to post by the rock.  Something explaining who Mazi is and asking these future delinquents to paint the smaller rock to the left, the one we left alone (you can only carry so much paint up those hills).  I keep driving past the rock to make sure the bright white ‘Mazi’ on its red background is still there.

And then it hit me, even once it is painted over Mazi will still be there.

No one strips the paint off the rock before painting it, they just paint over it.  So he will be there, forever one of the layers of the history of this town. Just like he will be for the rest of our lives, there, inside us when we do something kind, feel God’s love shine through.  As Antoine Saint-Exupéry said in The Little Prince ‘what is essential is invisible to the eye.’  And the essential Mazi will never go away.

When I look at the map of people reading about and remembering him I know that just like his name is forever preserved on the rock, the name Mazi Maghsoodnia is forever written on the world.