The muses have been busy in my life. In addition to music, I’ve been busy writing. There are sketches too, but nothing I’m willing to share. For a while, it was overwhelming how fast things were coming to me. Trying to keep up with the creative flow while also trying to promote my new novel made it hard to decide where to focus for 2019.
After some time considering the next step in my writing journey, I’ve decided that I will be working on a book about dogs. The title is nothing fancy right now and so I’m not going to type it out. It may sound disappointing if you know its title is so um….not catchy.
Here is something really exciting I want you to know, however. The new book cover is going to be created by one of my favorite photographers, Pat Thomas. I met Pat while living in Sylva. Her wife bought City Lights Cafe and together they are making Sylva a fun place to be. While Bern keeps busy feeding people, Pat keeps busy encouraging dog owners and helping people find lost pets. She also helps everyone celebrate pets by sharing her artwork of pet photography. The only thing she asks is for the owners to make donations to her non-profit, Advocates for Animals in Jackson County.
Pat has started a new non-profit organization in Sylva that works to help keep pets and owners together. You can read more about her and her work in her bio. I just wanted to share the good news about her being willing to work with me. I can’t wait to show you the new book. You’re gonna love it!
Pat Thomas is passionate about all types of photography, but her love for animals motivated her to focus on pet photography. She began photographing pets through her involvement in animal rescue in Atlanta, GA, 10+ years ago and continues to contribute her photography talents here in Western North Carolina.
Pat has been supportive of many rescue organizations and has established an email communication network for pet placement, lost and found animals, upcoming pet events, etc. Extremely passionate about animals and animal welfare Pat enjoys donating her time and photography to the local rescue community. She was formerly on the board for PAWS Bryson City and has volunteered for ARF, (Jackson County Humane Society). She has also donated her time to photograph the dogs and cats at our Jackson County Animal Shelter. In addition, Pat donates her time to photograph local pet events, such as the Bark in the Park event in Sylva every year. Several times a year, Pat schedules photo shoots at different community businesses, where she takes special holiday and-or themed photos, including Valentines, Easter, summer beach photos, Halloween photos, and of course, the ever-popular holiday photos. From these proceeds, she always donates a generous percentage of her proceeds to a local rescue organization, another way she supports the rescue community.
In 2017, Pat recognized the increase in owner surrenders and abandoned animals, and decided to establish a non-profit group that would focus on pet retention, and Advocates for Animals in Jackson County was founded. Keeping pets IN the home has been the objective of this organization, by helping with pet food, unexpected vet bills, training, and fencing. AAJC has also helped with temporary boarding for domestic violence victims, and people that are temporarily homeless.
Pat enjoys doing private photo shoots on location, often at the client’s home, where the pets are most comfortable. If requested, she is happy to arrange the shoot at a local park or another location. Many people request posed shots, however, she has found some of her best photos have been the candid ones, where pets are just being themselves, and showing the personality their owners have come to love.
Dreams of cats. Jung had a good time with that symbolism. I’m sure Freud did too, but my dreams resonate with Jung’s dream analysis much more than Freud. This was the best dream of a cat I had ever had. I’m not going into the other dreams because that’s way too personal. This was a
dream of my boy, Grayson.
He was a cat that adopted me. Never much of a cat person, somehow I told a local I would find him a home. It was never my intention for his home to be with me and my wife at the time. We already had cats.
Grayson had other ideas.
As you can see from the picture, he was a handsome boy. Though he lived to be eight, he was always a boy. He loved to play, loved to love, and loved to give kisses. The stance in the picture is where he is asking for kitty kisses.
He really was a lovy dovy cat. In fact, in the dream last night, he came to see me. All he wanted was to be near me. He sat in the dream much like this photo. Then he curled up on my lap; rolling like a big fuzzball.
“You’d say this is all there is And every time you’d blink You’d miss another piece of this wondrous world…”
The dream stays with me though it’s hours later. Between the dream and the cloudy day, there’s a sadness that lingers like smoke from a smoldering fire. He lived to be eight, but I had to put him down because of kidney problems and he was in pain. He was such a good boy, he didn’t deserve to suffer so.
I spent most of the morning trying to understand what he was trying to tell me. I know what Tony Crisp would say in his Dream Dictionary because I’ve had enough cats in my dreams that I always get nervous when they appear. In the past, the dreams weren’t good and belong more to a collection of sci-fi thrillers.
But this dream was about Grayson. I called him my shoeshine boy because he loved to fall on the floor at your feet and then rub his head all over your shoes. Yes, I know that he was marking his territory and it’s true. WE belonged to him and nothing would change that. Perhaps not even death. He died years ago. I haven’t gone through his photos in a long time, so his appearance in my dream was interesting. Today I’m going to choose my own meaning. I believe he came to tell me he loved me.
“All these memories too much to lose…” sings Lianne La Havas. The song fits the mood of the morning and somehow the dream. It’s true to say I miss him. I think he’s saying he hasn’t left me. He’s just in a different dimension. I can feel all the love that cat held even now, across the years, beyond life and death.
As I listen to the song on repeat and type this, the love this cat gave changes the meaning of a song that I thought was about loss. Instead of loss, now I am hearing the message of presence in the song as La Havas sings, “…No one ever leaves you….” The song talks about a “good goodbye” because the truth is, love always changes us. It was Grayson’s time to go when he did. I gave him a good goodbye by not keeping him where he had to suffer. Maybe he’s telling me that too. He knows. He was always a smart cat anyway. He realized that I was too allergic to let him stay near my face long. He learned to stay on my lap or sit near me.
He loved everybody but strangers and he wasn’t fond of dogs. He always hid when new people came over. His greatest concern (other than dogs) was that we might give him away. In truth, at first, I really did try to find him a home elsewhere. One of my wife’s friends took him…and I cried my eyeballs out over missing that cat. I couldn’t believe it as it was happening because I “wasn’t a cat person”. My wife felt the same and fortunate for us, the friend let us have him back. Grayson belonged to us as much as we belonged to him. He quickly adopted my mother-in-law and couldn’t wait to see her each morning when she came out. One of my favorite pictures of the two of them together is where Grayson had been looking for his milk rings (his favorite toy). The picture shows both Grayson and a 94-year-old woman on the floor looking under the kitchen stove.
Before running errands into town, Birdie keeps trying to pull me into the woods. She’s not barking, so I know it’s not a squirrel or
“As a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for thee…” Psalm 42
chipmunk. I look up finally to see what attracted her attention. Staring at me is a deer standing still as a tree. Birdie stops pulling once I see where attention goes. I excuse us from the deer’s wood and we go back on the way. Birdie is proud of herself because she didn’t bark and scare the deer. The deer looks far away in the picture, but in person, it felt that it was almost under our nose.
The clouds are on our side of the mountain today. The dream and the dreary day cause me to think all day will be one of melancholy. As the dog and I drive to Banner Elk, I listen to the song “Good Goodbye” and wonder if the dream caused me grief. There is sadness for sure, but not the soul-wrenching grief of loss. My thoughts keep turning back to the cat, Grayson. I replay the memories of him loving us, loving the other cats, tolerating the dogs (though he didn’t want to).
Being present to sadness can teach us things. That doesn’t mean we choose to stay in the sadness or grief, but that we listen to it and see what it has to say to us, about us, about those we love. The message I hear at the end of the morning is love. Why love? Love doesn’t hurt. Well, love never intends to hurt, but sometimes it does. This is not an excuse for another to be abused to stay in an abusive relationship. This is about the power of love to move us forever. I hurt because I lost something, someplace, someone I love. It hurts because I know they loved me back. I know that although circumstance has changed, love remains.
The story of The Velveteen rabbit teaches us that love wears us down sometimes, but more importantly, LOVE CHANGES US. Though I have lost love in the past several years through death, a move, differences…I do not lose and will never lose the experience of love. My grandparents have been dead for over eighteen years, my dad for around three. Although I have lost them, I will never lose their love. As I have moved to live where my work takes me, I lost co-workers, colleagues, congregations, but not the love. Once we are loved, we cannot be unloved. When love changes us, it even changes our brains (The Brain in Love).
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
― Lao Tzu
Last summer, as I grieved the loss of my marriage, a friend recommended Lianne La Havas’ CD as one I might like. This song, “What You Don’t Do”, made me happy. I thought it was the melody, because melodies can change your mood; give hope. The more I listened to the song though, I realized I love the lyrics too. I began to sing the song almost as a prayer. I kept telling the counselor that my divorce was hard because my wife was the love of my life. Each time he would add, “…up until now.” After he did it several times, I told him in an annoyed voice that I wasn’t going to ever be in a romantic relationship again. I was done.
Months have passed. They feel like eons after such a cold winter. The divorce occurred. That made me both angry and sad. At least the questioning had moved into acceptance. That always helps pain to heal. Today, I have a dream of a cat long gone whose love in my heart consoled me. I look back on all the love in my life and I realise that for me, love never dies. All of the people I loved in the past (exes included), are still loved. We grew to another place. My life is forever changed, because I have been loved and because I choose to love others. As I listen to the love songs now, I know I will love again. The love may or may not be romantic, but I’m never giving up on love because love changes us for the better. My life is better because I’ve risked heartbreak. My love is better because other forgave me my mistakes and reminded me to never stop loving.
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.
Begging for cake.
I do have a few where she posed for a treat
… or a present.
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
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 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
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.
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
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.