You Are My Darkness

 

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Scanned 35mm photo by ©2016 JRobin Whitley
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Bearing the unbearable – Thinking through the loss of my best dog

“…even with imperfect masters, the canine soul is pure, loyal, and dependable.”
Jon Katz,   The Story of Rose: A Man and His Dog

bear-on-mountain
Bear discovers the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Bearing the unbearable is something we all have to do in life. Grief happens. Death happens. Nothing lasts forever in this world (except maybe plastic). My dog, Bear, was an amazing dog. She was part chow and part blue heeler, and she got the best attributes of both breeds. These are the first sentences I’ve typed about her in past tense. You see, last week, I had to put my best dog down. She was 15.

She never liked having her picture taken, but I kept trying. It was harder when she was young to see her face. She was black everywhere but on her toes. There was a bit of white with speckles (from the blue heeler) on her toes and a white mark on her chest. Sadly, I don’t have any good photos of her until she was about five. Even then, she was so black that in most of the photos you can’t see her eyes. She had soulful brown eyes. Most of the time though, she turned her head when I took her photo. That means there are a lot of photos with the back of her head.

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Begging for cake.

I do have a few where she posed for a treat

… or a present.

Bear loved presents
Bear loved presents

Bear really loved presents and would open them herself. Yes, sometimes it was because it was about a treat or a toy. It was also about quantity. She was always miffed when the humans got more presents than the dog. It was funny that she counted presents, “1, 2, 3, more than the dog.”

Rufus' first Christmas
Rufus’ first Christmas

She was smart and another dog lover told me a dog as smart as Bear could count up to 3. As the years passed after his comment I noticed that she did count. When family visits here in the mountains, we go out to eat. Upon our return, Bear always counted the people, “1, 2, 3, the rest of the family.” How do I know she counted? She would use her nose as a counter touching the leg of the first three people (usually me, my wife, and mother-in-law). After three, she was okay and would go back into the living room.

Bear knew everything about me that I didn’t want anyone else to know…not even God. Of course, God knows, I believe that is why Bear was sent to me. Bear was sent to me because I needed to know that some creature loved me with all of my faults. First it was Bear, then my wife. After learning to accept their love, I began to see that I have been loved all along. Who knows why I could not see love from others until Bear, then DJ? All that matters to me is that while my wife is my Holy Woman, Bear was my angel. bear-in-car

three-dogs-2014Bear was my lead dog. Other dogs knew that too. There were several times a male dog tried to dominate her. She would have none of it. She didn’t fight back, but she didn’t let any other creature dominate her. There were times when she was a typical Taurus. She was born in May and I put her birthday as May 5th because 5 is my favorite number and Bear is my favorite dog. Well, was my favorite. It’s hard to move my love for this dog into the past tense.

We have, no, we had 15 years together. I have never had a dog that lived that long before.  I’ve grieved pets before, beloved cats and dogs. The thing is, no one, no pet I ever knew wanted to be as good as Bear. I think her love helped me be ready to trust my wife when I first met her. Bear was my guard, my guide. If Bear didn’t like a person, you knew to be wary yourself. When she met DJ the first time, she got out of the car and promptly fell at DJ’s feet. She was usually too dignified for such displays of love. My angel guide was telling me that DJ was the one I had looked for all of my life.

Bear & DJ at Waterrock
Bear & DJ at Waterrock

 

I wish I could say that love has saved the day. In a way, it has…saved all my days in fact. I am a better person because of love. My life is better because of love. Yet, it is not perfect and is as fraught with pain as any life. Well, maybe less fraught now that I live in love. The fact is, this dog was larger than life for me. My big dog now fits into a box I can carry.  Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust happens to our beloved pets too.

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Bear 2001-2016

Grief happens. I look on Facebook and see all the battles that my friends and family face.  It’s the one change that we can count on; a life that seems large disappears. Even though we may believe in an afterlife, loss is hard. No one ever promised us that life would be easy or that there would be no hurt. All I know is that my heart aches at the loss of this beloved creature named Bear. I don’t regret loving this dog one bit. For every moment of sadness I feel, there are thousands more of love and joy. My only hope is that one day I might be half as good as this dog. If I can be, then another person will feel loved. Rest in peace my sweet dog. Rest in peace.

“The relationship between a dog and a human is always complicated. The two know each other in a way nobody else quite understands, a connection shrouded in personal history, temperament, experience, instinct, and love.”

― Jon Katz,  from his book A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me

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©2016 Photo by Pat Thomas of PhotoPhetish

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If you or someone in your family is having challenges with grief, there are resources available to help deal with loss. In Jackson County we have a great Hospice group to deal with loss of humans. Hospice in Sylva can be reached by calling Westcare Health Center.

For a more personal approach to grief, I highly recommend Kristin Moore at Keystone Behavioral Health. I first started going to Kristin to deal with the loss of my dad. She has helped me through that loss and when I talked with her about losing Bear and all that means for me, she is just as helpful in dealing with the grief of a beloved pet. You can get through your grief.

 

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What should I keep? Books, Letters & Friends

Pile of projects

Things keep piling up. No matter how much I clean, give away, or throw out things continue to accumulate. Thousands of photos stored. Coats that I still might wear. Books I might read again or I might not. The books become friends and we all need friends even if we must dust them off now and again.

Paring down bulky items, I donated two music trophies to Goodwill. They were probably antiques because I hear trophies are no long metal. I took off the plates with what the trophies were for and I put them in some drawer. The purpose in saving them, only a reminder that I once won awards in music. The softball trophy I keep on my shelf still. Most people know about my music and how I used it. Few people know I was once good at softball. It felt important to keep the sports trophy as proof of my identity as a dyke. Silly isn’t it…or sad.

What do I have to prove at my age? Who will care about my memories or accomplishments when I’m gone? My diplomas hang now in the music room at church, my icons of hard work and dedication. My fellow musician, another childless person, is excited for the opportunity to hang her credentials with mine. At least one day perhaps someone will see our contributions as vital to the life of the church.   bookshelves

This is not self-pity to think on these things.  My family is still sifting through the junk accumulated by my pack rat of a dad. He’s been gone a year and a half, almost two. My mother seems to have just as much stuff. When it’s my time to go, I want it not to be a chore for whoever must empty my remaining space. Can I leave treasures instead? Handwritten notes from friends and family. Books that speak of the goodness of life. Things that might matter to a stranger as well as a family member?

My life is strong and I think on these things because I never want to hoard, but also because I live with a 94-year-old who continues to distribute her possessions to the proper family member, someone who would appreciate an item for its history or use. She’s not being morbid about it, only practical. Still, when it’s her time to go, there are things that no one will want; things that are too painful to see and remember loss or things that only she liked anyway.

PorchWhat should I keep in this transient life? I will keep love remembered and forget the pain. I will keep the joys, but also the sorrow for,wherever there has been sorrow, Joy eventually took its place. Sorrow is also a teacher, even if the lesson is not one we wanted to learn. I will hold on to my friends and family members and embrace forgiveness. I never needed those grudges any way.

 

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Happenings in my Writing

Fiddle GuitarsThis was supposed to be a photo of my puppy. I clearly clicked on the incorrect icon. Web design and writing blogs takes a lot of time. So does writing books. I’m excited to say however that my muse has been busy!

Last year, I came out with my first CD, Ordinary Miracles. It was a dream come true. I may have rushed it more than needed. The death of my dad at the beginning of the year muddled my thinking in unanticipated ways. I wanted him to be able to hear it, but at least he knew that I had won an artist’s grant to get it completed. Dad was the one who first helped me start guitar.

 

I’m not sure where my love of writing comes from, although I know another cousin who loves to write poetry as much as I do. I recently completed my first novel and excited about it truthfully. It’s only taken me twenty years to get it finished. My characters are as stubborn as I am. When first starting it, I had a love story in mind. You know the type, typical girl meets girl and life ends happily ever after. Ha! If only that were the truth of it all. Then a character took over my book. I mean really, who

CC0 Public Domain Pixabay
CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay

knew that could happen. The characters and I kept arguing about how to proceed until finally all of them went on strike. The characters wouldn’t talk to me until after I completed the memoir and the poetry. Okay, so I decided to do it THEIR way! It’s a pretty neat story that will be told. I have two more readers’ edits to complete and then it’s off to the publisher.

Of course, the main character is not as young as once anticipated. There are no sexy scenes because, well…it just didn’t happen. The one place I had tried to make something happen seemed forced. That’s just not right to do that. Who wants to put in gratuitous sex anyway. I always want to write about love and how we can be better humans together. I’m hoping that happens in my new book. Check back here to see when you can get your own copy.

If you’ve been to my site, you have noticed that I’m also working on creating a place about music. I’m calling it Robin’s Radio.

Learn Guitar
Learn Guitar

When I get finished creating Robin’s Radio, it will be a place to learn about music and hear tunes that make you happy. Support women musicians. That’s the other thing I hope my new “station” (I use the term loosely) will foster, love of women’s music. Life is too short not to hear women singing about other women.

Creativity is an energy that gets me moving. Whenever and wherever creativity is involved, is the place where I want to be. It’s exciting to be able to focus more on my art, music, and writing now that I’m older. A life lived creatively is the only life I’ve ever wanted. How amazing that it’s now MY LIFE! Because I also support creativity in your life, here’s a cool article I’m going to read when I finish this blog: How to Unleash The Great Perfection of Creativity by Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.

 

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
― Rumi

 

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Free from Harm

Romans 13:10
Romans 13:10

The morning sun rises over the mountain and it will be a beautiful day again. Love abounds in my house, so it should be a good day right? Except for one thing; a classmate from college was murdered. The news must have covered it late last night because that was when I found out. A friend on Facebook posted it. When I went to the person’s page, someone alluded that the act may have been one of domestic violence. Another person posted more on the war on guns. Here’s a sad reality; if this was an instance of domestic violence, the guy would have killed her even if he had not accessed a gun.

On the website of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) the 2015 statistics show that 20 people per minute are murdered by someone they loved. Domestic violence is one of the more hideous crimes to me because of the implications on trust and how it affects the way in which we see “love”. Also, domestic violence is a crime that we are afraid to talk about, or embarrassed to talk about. Why? Who knows? Perhaps it’s because we all know someone who has been abused. Perhaps we have been abused too and don’t want anyone to know it.

Yet, one of the reasons that this is still a major crime is because we are not brave enough to talk about it in our churches, our families, or to our friends. It’s time to talk. We must stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves: for those who have died before us and sadly, for those who are now in abusive situations or will be in abusive situations. I know that I’ve not talked much about the things that happened to me because I was embarrassed that I could be so dumb. My friends always said that I was naïve and too trusting. Being in two different abusive relationships made me feed dumb. After a LOT of counseling and the support of amazing friends, I got the help I need. Still, I was more fortunate than many because I was not murdered. My lovely wife still has to deal with the fears instilled in me in those years however.

Some important facts:

  • Stalking is illegal in all 50 states. Often, domestic violence first begins as stalking of some sort. If you are being stalked, please visit the Stalking Resource Center to find how to get help in your state.
  • Domestic violence has warning flags. The NCDVA lists these examples of abusive tendencies include but are not limited to:1
    • Telling the victim that they can never do anything right
    • Showing jealousy of the victim’s family and friends and time spent away
    • Accusing the victim of cheating
    • Keeping or discouraging the victim from seeing friends or family members
    • Embarrassing or shaming the victim with put-downs
    • Controlling every penny spent in the household
    • Taking the victim’s money or refusing to give them money for expenses
    • Looking at or acting in ways that scare the person they are abusing
    • Controlling who the victim sees, where they go, or what they do
    • Dictating how the victim dresses, wears their hair, etc.
    • Stalking the victim or monitoring their victim’s every move (in person or also via the internet and/or other devices such as GPS tracking or the victim’s phone)
    • Preventing the victim from making their own decisions
    • Telling the victim that they are a bad parent or threatening to hurt, kill, or take away their children
    • Threatening to hurt or kill the victim’s friends, loved ones, or pets
    • Intimidating the victim with guns, knives, or other weapons
    • Pressuring the victim to have sex when they don’t want to or to do things sexually they are not comfortable with
    • Forcing sex with others
    • Refusing to use protection when having sex or sabotaging birth control
    • Pressuring or forcing the victim to use drugs or alcohol
    • Preventing the victim from working or attending school, harassing the victim at either, keeping their victim up all night so they perform badly at their job or in school
    • Destroying the victim’s property

 

As I grieve the loss of my friend, I cannot do anything besides pray for her family and their loss. In case she was a victim of domestic violence, I decided to write this because it is something I can do. Even if you are in an abusive relationship, it is not the end of the world. The sites listed above offer places and resources where one can get help. Talk to your clergy member and if that person doesn’t help, go find someone else. New Choices has a 24 hour hotline you can call at 937-498-7261 if you need someone to talk to right now.

Don’t think that domestic violence limits itself to straight couples either. I know many people (including myself) who have lived in these situations. I call domestic violence in a LGBTQIA relationship the “Secret within a Secret” because if a person is closeted, they have to remain silent in two ways or their lives are endangered.  Love and relationships are meant to build us up, not tear us down. You can have a better life without being harmed!

New Choices - Get Help!
New Choices – Get Help!

I know this because I finally got the help I needed after losing almost everything. When I moved back to North Carolina, I thought I would never be happy again, but at least I would be near friends. My second and last abusive partner convinced me to move West to have more power over me. The first abusive partner stole everything from me and threatened me with a gun if I told anyone. She was later imprisoned for two years on fraud, but I had not told because I did not want to be shot with the unregistered gun that threatened me. There’s more, but it is still too hard for me to write out. The pain so real. The damage done. You too can get help. Hope still abides. Don’t give up. Get out!

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by Marie Fortune
Excellent Resource
Clergy Resources Here
Clergy Resources can be found at the Faith Trust Institute. Click above photo.

 

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