Category Archives: Love

Lessons from My Lab: More Room in a Broken Heart

Puppy Love

Last month our thirteen year old black lab, Hobie, died; a huge loss made even more difficult since it followed the death of Splash, his mom, two years earlier at the age of fourteen. Dazed, Jack and I rambled around a suddenly empty house listening to the silence or imagining the jingle of a collar. I completely identified with the words of Paul Ferson on grieving a pet:

“Without dogs, our houses are cold receptacles for things. Dogs make a fire warmer with their curled presence. They wake us, greet us, protect us and ultimately carve a place in our hearts and our history. On reflection, our lives are often referenced in parts defined by the all-to-short lives of our dogs.”

Yesterday, we returned home from Columbia Cross Roads, PA with two adorable Endless Mountain Labrador puppies. At nine weeks old, litter mates Schooner (chocolate male) and Katy (black female) are goofy little bundles of energy. It’s been over a decade since we’ve had puppies so their antics enthrall me with joy alternated by intense worry. What if I’m not stern and consistent enough? What if they eat a plant/shoe/dish towel and choke to death? What if someone steals them? How long before I get a good night’s sleep?

Jack and Schooner

Caring for them is offering me the chance to live in the moment: Several (okay, many) times daily I pick them up just to breathe in the smell of sweet puppy breath and stare into their gentle, trusting eyes. Soon they’ll be too big for this so I cherish these daily miracles, even as their razor sharp teeth threaten to pierce my nose.

Splash’s and Hobie’s passing left a huge hole my life. As I piece it back together I’m reminded of a line from a Carly Simon song, “There’s more room in a broken heart.” Even as I mourn, chubby labby legs and fat, furry tummies begin to fill the empty spaces with an unconditional love only our can animals give.

Crate training Katy

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Lessons from My Lab: Letting Go of the Leash

Hobie Roach (1999-2012)

Years ago, Jack and I lived in Port Aransas, TX, a small town on the northern tip of Mustang Island. One afternoon, we set off on our bikes with our two black labs, Splash and Hobie. I was flying down the road with Hobie gallumphing joyfully beside me. Jack and Splash followed slightly behind until Jack made a slight left into the University of Texas Marine Science Institute marina to take a closer look at a boat.

Since Jack’s the leader of our pack, both dogs also made a quick left.  Meanwhile, I’m unaware that Hobie has suddenly changed directions and is flying perpendicularly away from me.  Since he was on a retractable leash, he was also picking up speed.  If you’ve seen a water skier propelled outside the wake by a sudden turn of the boat, you know the trajectory I took.  Though I’d learned (mostly the hard way) to let go of a tow rope,  I was conditioned to hold tight to his leash.  He was still a puppy, albeit a 100lb one, and hadn’t yet learned the dangers of running toward other people, dogs, or into a road.  It was my job to teach and protect him.  There was no way I was letting go of that leash – no matter how hard he pulled.

Once the leash’s slack ran out, so did my luck.  I launched off my bike into the air thinking, this is really gonna hurt. Then…impact with the curb and a sound like a branch breaking.  An intense bomb of pain exploded on my left side as the bike fell on top of me.  Ouch, that was worse than I thought.

A broken hip landed me in the hospital for a couple of weeks and it was months before I could walk again, take a shower, or use a toilet instead of a bed pan.  A year earlier I’d run the New York City marathon; now, I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk without a limp again.

Hobie taught me a life lesson that day – sometimes it is better to let go.  Letting go of what I think I must protect, control, or manage is extremely difficult for me. So as I try to master this lesson, life keeps offering me the opportunity to learn it.

Once again, Hobie is my teacher:  He passed away unexpectedly last month at the age of 13.  One day we’re taking a brisk 3-mile walk, the next thing we know –  he’s gone. What did I/didn’t I do?  Could I have protected him more? Cared for him better? I’ll never know.  And the questions have been driving me crazy.

We got his ashes back from the vet a few weeks ago.  With his collar they’ve been placed gently in a special compartment of an urn he shares with Splash’s ashes.  And so again, I’m learning…failing…trying again…to let go of his leash.

Hobie Roach (July 3, 1999 – December 12, 2011)

Hobie at the Reservoir

It’s a terrible thing to lose a trusted companion, running buddy, constant giver of unconditional love.  But the memories Jack and I have of Hobie and his mom, Splash, will bring us joy and laughter…and tears…for the rest of our lives.

Splash & Hobie napping together, 2009

Splash of Shadowlawn (1994 - 2009)

Port A Christmas 2002

Here are some wonderful words I came across recently that rang so true for me.

Inner Strength
If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can get going without pep pills,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment
If you can ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,

 …Then You Are Probably The Family Dog!

4 Steps to Thrive Now and in the Future

Research shows we’re not good at determining what will make us happy in the future, yet setting and achieving goals is critical to our well-being.  Life coach Martha Beck offers a method for setting future goals but shows you how to experience the joy that achieving them brings today.  I liked that this exercise brings me back to the present and helps me identify the elements of my life I’m happy with now.  These serve as the foundation for all I strive for in the future.

Step 1: Pick your most ambitious goal. Write a sentence for it.  My example (please don’t laugh!): I make a living as a writer.

Step 2: Project into the future a few years. Imagine what your life looks like after you’ve achieved that goal.  I’m writing in my home office, a simple house filled with light, love, and the soothing sound of waves. I look out my office window.  Jack catches a perfect little wave on his favorite longboard.  At my feet, a black lab naps in a pool of sunshine.

3. Write at least three adjectives to describe how you feel in this scenario. I came up with content, secure, creative, joyful, loved, strong, humble, grateful, and purposeful.

4. Here’s the interesting part.  Beck says to find something you’re doing now that makes you feel those adjectives.  My projects to support low-income women achieve economic independence help me purposeful.  Yoga gives me contentment and humility.  When I do something unexpectedly kind for Jack or take a walk with Hobie I feel grateful and loved.  Writing this blog feeds my creativity.  Running the gorgeous Colorado trails gives me joy.

Try it and and let me know what you think!

Working the Dream: 2 Things I’ve Learned

Working the Dream Memorial Light

I woke up a year ago on a sun-soaked autumn day savoring the fact that I had my husband to myself for the entire weekend, a too-infrequent luxury.  But in less time than it takes to write this entry, that day and our lives since changed irretrievably as we got the tragic news that Fran Crippen had drowned during a 1oK open-water World Cup race in Fujairah, UAE.  Over the past year, there are two things I’ve learned as I’ve watched Fran’s family and friends come to grips with this tragedy:

1. A broken heart can expand outward to help others. Fran’s family and friends are moving through their pain to make sure no one has to go through the preventable tragedy they’ve experienced.  They show patience, resolve, and compassion in advocating for safer protocols even as FINA drags its heels.  They’ve established the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation to award scholarships to elite swimmers who share Fran’s passion and dedication to sport.  “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart,” said the Kotsker Rebbe.  I never truly understood this until now.  Their love and loss has transformed the sport for this and many generations.

Fran with his beloved Phillies. Photo: T. Crippen.

2. Love is stronger than death.  My husband, Jack, and Fran’s teammate and friend, Alex Meyer, have taken Fran’s spirit with them as Alex works his dream of making the 2012 Olympic team. After placing 3rd in the Viedma (ARG) Open Water Swimming Grand Prix in January,  Jack and Alex got back into the water with a treasured photo of Fran who’d won the race the year before.  The same photo of Fran accompanied Alex on the 1st place podium at Worlds in Shanghai where he achieved his and Fran’s dream of making the 2012 US Olympic Team.  While Fran’s physical body is no longer here, his love for life, swimming, and his friends remains a spark igniting inspiration.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Fran made us feel special with a smile, kind words of encouragement and his laughter.  His spirit lives on through all of us who loved him.

Jimmy & Lucinda!!!

See y'all in Denver!

Jimmy Buffett and Lucinda Williams in Denver!

One of my favorite lines from a Buffett song resonates with me more and more each year: “Wrinkles go where the smiles have been!”  It’s a good reminder that thus far I’ve been blessed with A LOT to smile about.

3 Signs You Might Benefit from Yoga

1.  Is stress making you cranky?                                                                                  Henry Kissinger once said, “There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” All of us can relate.  But when we’re stressed for extended periods, our bodies release cortisol at levels toxic to the body.  This can cause irritability and anxiety which negatively impact work performance and relationships. Elevated cortisol has also been associated with weight gain and heart disease.  Studies show yoga benefits stressed individuals physically and mentally through regulating cortisol. Consider which is more important:  the quantity of the work you do or the quality? 

2. Are you trying to break a habit or establish a new one?                         Even though my rational brain tells me I don’t need the whole pint of Cookie Dough ice cream or that second glass of wine, I can’t always control myself.  Research demonstrates (Slaughter, H. & Davidson, R., 2011) that those who practice meditation showed increased “cortical thickness” in a region of the brain important to controlling behavior.  Since yoga is a form of mediation that incorporates poses, or asanas, with controlled breathing, it not only offers the benefits of meditation but offers the positive effects of exercise. 3.  Do you have trouble sleeping?                                                                          I’m sometimes able to travel with my husband to the fun places his work takes him.  But upon my return, I have to hit the ground running with work, school and other commitments.  In other words, no time for jet lag!   I’ve discovered yoga helps me get the most restful sleep I’ve ever had.  But don’t take my word for it, there’s scientific proof.  A six month study found yoga (60 minute session six days a week, with a 15 minute evening session) helped increase total sleep time compared to control groups.           

Maybe it’s time to give yoga a try!  If you’re in the Colorado Springs area, I can highly recommend Pranava Yoga Center owned by fellow Texan Charlotte Matsumura and her husband Mike.       

Namaste, y'all!

                                 

Slagter, H. A., Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2011). Mental training as a tool in the neuroscientific study of brain and cognitive plasticity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5(17). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00017 PMCID: PMC3039118