Paying the Faith Forward

This has been a very difficult month at our house. When you look at the “About the Author” tab on this site, you see a “family” picture of my husband Gary, and our four dogs. We were all a couple of years younger then. Gary hadn’t turned 50 yet, Benny the French Bulldog was in his first year, Sofi the Tea Cup Poodle was 6, and Annie & Mario were 8. We were a hectic, but happy pack. I remember that day. It was late summer, we were on the back porch, set our camera on self timer, and then raced to get everyone in place, presentable for the photograph. As you might imagine, not an easy task. The image shown, turned out to be our Christmas card that year.

Back then, I didn’t know I would be a published author and radio host within a couple of years. I had no idea what drastic changes were coming. Changes, filled with both blessings and grief.

At this time last year, I had just finished writing the book. The manuscript was being read for some pre-publication reviews. I was planning the cover and finishing touches were being completed, so we would make it to press by the holidays. I remember riding high, but feeling drained to the bone from the massive undertaking. The learning curve was steep, and when the ball started rolling after seventeen years…It gained momentum fast. The book came out December 14th, just under the holiday wire. By the end of the first quarter, the book had traveled the world. My message was being heard by hundreds, and my new mission statement was unfolding before my eyes, down roads I never could have guessed. When I wrote the book, I was simply writing “my story” about the ruptured brain aneurysm I had suffered. I made a journal of the events in 1995 when the episode happened, but then buried it in an old tub down the basement for years. Out of sight, never out of mind. After all, how could I “forget” an unpleasant experience, that would leave me with some permanent uncomfortable reminders?

Over the summer I went from never having met another survivor, to meeting hundreds in online social media outlets. A couple months ago, I met my first fellow survivor in person. In the meantime, I joined the team of Brain Injury Radio as their Wednesday night host. At first I couldn’t correlate the concept of a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), with a ruptured aneurysm like I’d had. It didn’t take long to discover that both camps end up with similar residual and adjustment issues. In fact, many of us had experienced both an aneurysm, as well as damaging blows to our head. Since my own summer radio show had been about “recovery,” it wasn’t hard to make the transition into TBI radio, with hopes of uniting these groups who have suffered brain trauma, regardless of the origin.

In the book, I talked about my dog Frank. He had been the best nurse a person could hope to have, after my aneurysm. He had been my best bud, my only room mate, and the longest lasting love of my life. I share that when he was 16 years old, I had to put Frank down, and how it was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do. That, from a gal who had nearly died and undergone a brain horror that no one should ever have to face.

It was on the heels of Frank’s death, that Annie and Mario entered my life. I had to put Frank down on Christmas Eve that year. I wasn’t dating anyone, and I lost my best, most trusted friend. I sat with his urn all week, with a pain that seared through my heart and a constant sting of tears. His death ripped a hole through my soul, leaving an aching void. I knew he was in Heaven, but I missed him terribly. Now it was just me and Petey bird. The sudden stillness in the house was deafening.

One New year’s Eve, I went to buy Petey food, and that’s when I saw Mario. He was a four month old black and tan mini Doxie. Frank had been a dark red one. What are the chances there would be another wiener boy in a shop that had previously only carried fish and exotic birds? Frank’s memory was never compromised, but Mario came home that night making a happy New Year for both of us. Ten days later, six week old Annie came home too. I had always wanted a big dog, and figured since I was a girl living alone, it might be a good idea. In my grief, I decided that two dogs wouldn’t be a bad thing. Annie’s litter had been found abandon by the side of a road. She was the runt, and the last of her siblings left at the Humane Society. I’ll never forget how the tiny fur ball was sitting in the corner, scared to death. She was my girl. She would never be scared or alone again. Now Mario was her brother, and we were a family.

Annie would have been ten years old on November first. Once again, I was called upon to relieve one of my “kids,” the only ones I would ever have, from their suffering. Once again, I sat in the Vet’s office holding my precious bundle. Both times it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Both times I was brave for them, and they were brave for me. We had already said our good-byes, and now they were going from my arms to God’s. I prayed the night before about how I would know “when.” The answer came, to talk to Annie. I told her we could keep going, but if she was ready to go…I would help her. It had been a long, hard summer. She looked deep into my eyes as I sat with her on the floor, and then she raised her paw to rest on my shoulder. She’d had enough, and she was telling me that it was time.

When we got to the doctor, I stroked Annie’s body, as I had stroked Frank’s a decade before. I kissed her head, as her soul left for Heaven. She was sick for the whole summer, and was never going to improve. At least not in this life. In the life she was headed to, she would be whole and healthy again. I knew this, because I had been there too. The difference is, that I was allowed to return. I knew that wouldn’t be the case with Annie. The Vet left us alone. I sat with her as her empty eyes gazed straight ahead. I gave her another kiss, said good-bye and walked straight out the back door. I love you and miss you Annie. I know you like Frank, and that your still not alone. Just like I promised you nearly ten years ago on the way home from the pound.

About ten days before, Mario ruptured a disc in the backyard. I saw it happen as the dogs clashed together, running after a squirrel. I hurried over to him scooping him up, carrying him directly to the Vet, where he remained all day. I thought I was going to loose Mario too. It’s been hard to watch him struggle, but he’s always been a fighter. He’s back on his feet and off the medication. He has a ways to go, but I think he’s healing for now. The whisper of winter around the corner would have tortured Annie, and won’t be good for Mario either. At least he’s had time to come back 90%, and I’m praying he’ll come the rest of the way before the snow flies.

This month has been a blur for me. Our whole home has shifted. Each has experienced grief in our own ways. There’s no doubt that the other dogs miss Annie, and feel confused. She was always part of their lives. There was never no Annie. For Gary, it’s the first loss of a dog he’s suffered. Annie and Mario were at our first date, when they were just pups. The first week was excruciating after she was gone. We all rounded corners of the house where Annie should have been laying. Life is hard and grief hurts. Still, Annie and Frank had a life to be celebrated. They were safe, happy, spoiled, and most of all loved. Now they are missed.

The only thing that has kept me going is knowing that her spirit lives on, like all of those we have loved and lost. God blessed me with a glimpse, so that at times like these…I would keep the faith, know the truth, and pay it forward. I can’t bring myself to create the new family portrait for the card this year. It’s still too soon. We’ll see what the weeks bring. Life is an unending process of peaks and valleys. My prayers are with you in yours.

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