March 31, 2013


Time is a funny thing. It is absolute, unavoidable, yet pliable to our perception.

That last week was very difficult. Probably not the worst of my life, but definitely up there. I don't recall the exact moment when it became clear that the end was near, but once the decision took root in my head, the clock started.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the last five nights sleeping on the couch. Sierra was only three feet away. The decision had basically been made that first night, but I had not uttered it aloud. There was still time to back out, to get a reprieve, to pray for a Governor's pardon.

While the days seemed to hurry by, time slowed in the evenings as we stared at each other in the quiet of the night. I had so many moments, pictures, stories running through my head. Each night I would write a little, and spend time going through the various hard drives looking for photos. Each picture would call up a memory and make me wish I could say, "Remember that time..." As the turmoil of emotions ran roughshod through the week, I would get each night this hour of silence. Time where I could just be. Time where I could stare into those trusting eyes, and be completely present.

The last night, time stretched out even further. Sierra was up at 3:00am, probably looking for a really early breakfast, but we went outside for a pee and poop instead. As I stood outside in the middle of the night, I realized there was just 12 hours left. I tried not to read too much into it, but it did keep me from falling back to sleep for a while. It seemed that I had just closed my eyes and she was pacing at 4:30. Then again at 5:30. Each time, I would usher her back to her bed, scrub her ears, and alternately worry about missing sleep and be thankful for the hourly wake up call. At 6:30am, it was finally time to get up and have breakfast.

I tried to make those last hours go slowly as possible. Outside of quick three mile run, and a trip to the store, I spent the whole weekend at the house. We went outside more times than normal, not wanting to turn her down even though we had been out an hour ago. With nowhere to be, I just let her wander around, sniffing the air and the grass. Nice and easy, nice and slow.

After the vet left, and I was alone once again, I packed up most of her things before I had time to think about it. I sent up the post to let everyone know what had happened, and then I went outside again. Not sure where I was headed, I turned right instead of left. I exchanged messages with Kristy along the way, but mostly I was there with my thoughts and memories.

I ended up walking the same three mile route I had run earlier in the morning, only in the opposite direction. Moving more slowly, and seeing things from the other side, my eyes were carried to the trees and trails running through them. To the paper-thin bark was peeling away from the trunk of the tree, even as someone had wrapped it to keep it secure. How the bits of spring growth lurked in the background of winter bare trees. My perception moved out of my mind and into the world. More slowness and time to really see.

My heart felt a bit lighter when I returned from my walk. The anguish leading up to that day no longer weighed on my soul. There was a void, and emptiness, but I too felt a certain amount of amount of release, a place of peace.

I am thankful for all the time I had with Sierra, and strangely blessed by moments in her last week. She is in my heart always, along with the lesson to take it slow, to take the time to just check out your surroundings, to be present and wait for the peace to come.

March 24, 2013


And some things are over.
Some things go on.
And part of me you carry,
part of me is gone.
But you've got a heart so big it could crush this town.
And I can't hold out forever,
even walls fall down.

~ Tom Petty

Today I have to say goodbye to a very dear friend. The best, really.

Sierra has had a tough road these past few years. Already slowing down, showing her age and the strain of two bad knees, she seemed to age rather rapidly after our move to San Diego. In fact, she had her first episode on the road south, falling over that first night in Newport. It frightened me and made me question what the hell I had done.

She was diagnosed with diabetes not long after our arrival, and once she began treatment, she bounced back. Though adjustment is never easy, I am sure she enjoyed the sunshine over the rain of Seattle, like a retiree headed to Arizona in the twilight years.

But in the past three years, there were moments of pain, days of struggle, and then the episode where I didn't think I would get her back. But then she returned, not quite the same, but she was back. She had more time. I had more time.

We moved back in November, and somehow it seemed to accelerate the aging process once again. She seemed to adjust to the surroundings pretty quickly, but soon there were more dips that she never quite came all the way back from. Trips to the vet, pills and shots, a closer eye on every move and moment.

This week, there was a noticeable change. Her eyesight has all but disappeared, and she is bumping into walls she used to have memorized. She is unstable on her feet, and now she seems afraid to walk across the wood floors. Stairs have been a problem for a while, but now I have to carry her up a single step half the time. She can’t see or hear me coming, so she lurches awake in a panic when I just place my hand on her.

I was with a friend when he had to put his dog down. He had asked me over to help him with some part of it, but then left to the vet on his own. He forgot his credit card, so I ended up being there in the end. He had tortured himself with the decision, not wanting it to come from a place of inconvenience. His dog had been ill for a long time, and it was clear that it was time. It didn't make it any easier for him, and now I am torturing myself in the same way.

Sierra has taken a great deal of care these past few years, care that I was willing to give, but care I depended on others to help me provide. Matt, Holly, Kristy and now my parents have kept watch on her, administering shots when I couldn't be there, taking her outside because she couldn't do it on her own. I am forever in their debt for helping me, helping her, giving us more time.

People have asked when I would know it was time, and I have always answered that it would be when I saw that she was no longer happy. Like my friend before, I didn't want there to be any question in my mind that it was just too difficult. That is not what love is.

In the end, it was not the lack of happiness, but the presence of fear. She was still happy when I came down to see her in the morning, even if she couldn't see or hear me coming. Her tail would wag and she gave as much bounce as her body would allow. When I came home after too long an absence, I could sense the relief, even though she had been in the house with caring people and another friendly dog.

She is my dog, and without stretching the truth much, I am her world. But outside of those brief bits of morning and evening recognition, there wasn't much for her. And it is just so hard to see the fear and confusion in her cloudy eyes. As much as I am struggling with this, it would be selfish at this point to move her again and make her learn a whole new house. To be alone all day while I am at work, just to have those brief moments of joy for each of us.

So it is time. As much as I have been her world, she has been mine. My divorce shattered me into a million little pieces. Doubt and self-loathing, pain and confusion, the need for comfort and the inability to reach out for it. In that time, there was one constant. One place I could go without fear, without shame. One soul I could pour mine out to. As I wrote elsewhere, she was not only there to give me love, but to receive it when I so desperately wanted to give it. She was the furry zen in the sea of chaos.

She was the rock that I lashed my tether to, the anchor when I was drifting and flailing. I couldn't fall completely apart. I couldn't get too self-destructive. She was counting on me. As I sat on the floor as my friend said goodbye to his dog, we were both comforted by the vet who was there to ease the passing. She said that the dogs don't know what is coming, that it is only the humans that are anguished over what is about to happen. They are at peace as they so often are, about to go to sleep for the last time.

Another friend when she was about to lose her dog to a relentless tumor, took her dog on a tour of her favorite places. A trip to the dog park, a trip to the beach, windows rolled down and her fur blowing in the wind. Sierra and I are not making the trip. She doesn't have the strength to walk across the road, much less dip her toes in the surf.

She has always been more of a homebody anyway, preferring the company of people over other dogs. Our place was always the backyard. Where she couldn't care less about chasing a ball or other dogs at the dog park, she loved motoring after the hurl-a-squirrel frisbee in the privacy of our backyard. I would come home and we would step out back together. I could wind down as she wound up, and we would both walk away with our minds clear and a smile on our faces.

Those are the moments I will remember. Her tearing off across the lawn until I made her stop. Her sitting in that chair by the window waiting for one of us to come home. Her tail not just wagging in greeting, but arcing in great circles to express her joy. The bouncing dance she had at mealtime where all four feet would leave the floor. How she would bow her head and sigh contentedly when I rubbed her ears. Her patiently letting me unquestioningly bare my soul. The certainty that there was no place she would rather be.

And I will remember these past few years when the dynamic changed. When she needed me more than she had before. All the shots, all the sleepless nights, and each and every time I picked her up when she was too tired to move. Because that is what she has done for me. My sweet puppy.

I spent the last five days sleeping on the couch so she would have me nearby. Neither of us slept very well this week. There are so few moments where we sit still and be present for any length of time, so I just watched her as the hours clicked by. That first night I saw that much more clearly how disoriented she was. But as the nights went by, she seemed to be more comfortable. Though she couldn't always see me, I think she knew I was there.

Someone is coming over to the house on Sunday to ease her into the next world. I couldn't bring myself to take her anywhere clinical. Even in better times, she always panicked at the vet, and I just didn't want there to be any fear or slippery tile floors on her last day. I want her to be comfortable, to be at home, to be at peace.

I will want to turn the ship around a thousand times on Sunday, but in my heart I know that this is the right thing to do. During those nights of staring at each other, I wished she would give me a knowing nod to let me know I had made the right decision. But all I saw was unwavering trust that I would do the right thing, that I would take care of her.

She has been much more than a dog for me, as if that wasn't enough. She has been my home for the last four years. There is going to be a tremendous void where that loving heart used to be. Time and distance will do their thing, but there will never be another one like her.

I have been blessed by this light, this pure love, this simple but beautiful creature. My companion of ten years. My fuzzy buddy. My sweet puppy. My Sierra.

Adoption day - January 2003

The first Christmas together

The chair where she would wait for us to come home

peeking through another window

caramel ears


surveying her backyard

Best gift ever

road tripping to California

at Dog beach

"suffering" through California winter with the Beeze

weekends with Nike

waiting for me to come home

chillin' with Annie

 a little off kilter after her episode, but still smiling

riding shotgun on the way back to Seattle

are we there yet?

sleeping peacefully a couple of days ago

Dinner time in younger days.

Romping around in the snow, January 2009

At the beach in her retirement years

Oh, I will miss you so.

March 6, 2013

A darkness of the mind

I shouldn't make even the smallest decisions, much less operate heavy machinery first thing in the morning. This is nothing new, but it has been even worse lately. I am up to about fifty-five hours a week at work now, and with the commute, I am gone for twelve hours at a time. The minimal watts of brain power I usually operate on before the sun rises has dimmed even further. 

The hours of sunlight are getting longer, but the hours at work are matching the increase, so I am still heading out and coming home in the dark. Sierra and I wander the yard pre-dawn and post-dusk, so her already cloudy navigation skills are further limited. However, there is a light on the corner of the house to lead her to the yard, and the porch light to lead her back. When she wandered aimlessly one morning as I was late for work, I said, "c'mon puppy, just head toward the light." No, wait, don't head toward the light!

Since I can't seem to get home in time to get in a run, I have been heading out on my lunch hour a couple times a week. Steve has encouraged this to keep sane during the crazy season. I only have time for a couple of miles, but heading outside and getting the blood pumping does help clear the head. Unfortunately, not quite enough. 

A morning routine has more or less fallen into place. Wake up, feed the dog, prep the shot, take her out, shower, eat, give the shot, take the dog out once more, scoop poop, drive away - all in about 45 minutes. Even with repetition, there are hiccups. Tuesday I forgot my running shirt, so no run at lunch time. This morning I remembered the shirt, but forgot the lunch I had packed the night before, so no run again. I was sitting in my car feeling like banging my head against the steering wheel when our Admin Tamara drove in. I explained my moronitude as we rode up in the elevator. 

Under the strain of the longer hours, shorter nights, and trying to figure out what the heck I am doing, my brain is breaking. I am feeling a whole lot dumber lately. A couple of hours later, I was at the copier "making copies". I made some sort of error, and said (I thought) under my breath, "dumbass". Without missing a beat, Tamara said from across the room, "No you're not." 

It was a nice reminder that I am not as dumb as I am feeling right now. Also, that I need to avoid falling back into the habit of knocking myself down over stupid mistakes. It is a terrible habit, and it certainly doesn't make me any smarter. 

I swear I am going to remember my lunch tomorrow.