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My relationship with my mother was…complicated.  She was first generation American-born. Her father emigrated from Lithuania when he was in the single digits after his sister made enough money to bring him over by working in a sweatshop in lower Manhattan. He grew up to marry another immigrant and my mother was the only daughter of four children.

When she met my father, he was lighthearted and physically demonstrative. My mother was drawn to this quality like a moth to the light. When he began courting her, my grandparents had not spoken to each other in four years. I was told that they did not like my father because he donned an eye patch after losing an eye in a handball accident. This did not make sense to me, but then nothing much did growing up. Most of my mother’s family had been killed in “the war.” I remember a photograph of a large family with many children, most of them deceased. I remember as a small child looking into the faces of the children and wondering how this could possibly be true.

I don’t think my mother was prepared for having a family. She probably would have been a successful businesswoman if she had been educated. She had been advanced a few  grades in elementary school because of her innate intelligence. She went to college for a short period, but women had very few options at that time. So at nineteen years old she had a husband and a baby. Within nine years she had three children and she was over her head emotionally. My mother was more suited to be a blackjack dealer then to be a mother and wife. When I think about it now, I imagine she was in the proverbial meatgrinder emotionally.

I  suspect that by the time I arrived she was burned out.  Most of my childhood my mother was very ill with something mysterious. It made her even last available and more self-centered, as she had to navigate serious health issues. There was so much deprivation in my family. Perhaps that accounts for many the many addictions that manifested.

When my mother was gravely ill during 2006, my siblings thought it necessary for me to fly to Pennsylvania to say goodbye. She had pneumonia and was not expected to survive the week. I flew by myself from Louisiana to Pennsylvania in a wheelchair. They didn’t tell my mother that I was coming in case I couldn’t manage the flight. When I wheeled into my mother’s room I saw a look on her face that I had never seen before, especially directed at me. A profound look of love and excitement was all over her face. Until that moment I never believed that my mother loved me. Never. To this day this is how she appears in my meditations.

My mother recovered from that bout of pneumonia to survive a few more.  During 2010, Casey’s future in-laws came to my home in Colorado for the weekend to meet me. We had a lovely weekend together and on our last night together, I got that fateful telephone call. Mother had passed. The following morning, my children prepared to begin their journey to Pennsylvania, where the funeral would take place. Due to the level of difficulty for me to travel, I chose to say my goodbyes in a more solitary and personal way. Nina helped me into bed and I happened to look at a white surface next to my bed and I saw a black dot. To my for horror I shrieked, “ IS THAT A TICK?” Nina quickly replied, “NO.. well…” And she took it between her nails and squeezed it and said, “well it is dead now.”

In the middle of the Colorado winter, at the end of December, there was a deer tick next to my bed. To give this context, the form of multiple sclerosis that I have been struggling with for almost twenty years stems from multiple opportunistic infections or Lyme disease, which is caused by a deer tick!

Any comments?

I’m beginning to understand the psychology of grumpy people. You put a person in a situation of learned helplessness, render them even more helpless and you’ve got the ingredients for a very unhappy individual who makes other people equally unhappy. This morning I blasted an unseen benevolent individual who was just trying to do her job. Because the urinary tract infection has recurred, I am in another skilled nursing facility.  (I  did not want to subject myself to yet another traumatic experience, but under pressure from my family I yielded.)

It had taken me a whole year to extend my sleep time to over three hours (seven hours of sleep is the minimum recommended amount). It was the third time somebody awakened me in the middle of the night in this facility. I don’t feel good about the outburst, but sometimes life works on my last nerve (as they say in New Orleans.) By nature, I’m a pretty pleasant and self-sufficient person. Contrary to what my previous husbands believe, I’m a pretty un-entitled individual. I am sure that my development in the face of unimaginable adversity has contributed to this even-temperedness over time. Twenty years in the trenches researching, implementing, and researching again without remission of symptoms has lead to me becoming a boiling cauldron of frustration when certain stressors are presented.  Twenty years of dealing with an illness that appears to be intransigent no matter what measures are taken including completely changing diet, sleep patterns, supplementation, medications, stem cell treatment (and that barely scratches the surface) will either lead to complete exasperation or unfathomable blind faith. Deep psychological/spiritual practice helps tip the fulcrum in the direction of the latter.

Contrast this with a lifelong pattern of deferring my own power to others, and it makes for a lot of confusion regarding the direction needed for my own evolution. As long as I can remember, I have been deferring my power to an authority outside of myself. Each significant recurrence of that pattern seemed to result in a dramatic progression of the illness. This tendency seems paradoxical given the observation that I was too willful. How do I hold these opposites and bring awareness and develop a plan to grow through this seeming paradox? How do I process through this consciously and kindly yet also with fierce determination to finally eradicate this conundrum?

I would imagine finding the balance between willfulness and autonomy seems to be my work. And what seems to be most important is that when there is a transgression (like outrage from sleep deprivation at 5 AM) it is essential that one ACKNOWLEDGES the error and corrects the behavior with the essential ingredient of self-forgiveness or self-empathy. The way I would do that internally is to acknowledge the feeling that was triggered. And then I would feel the grief associated with the wound, make amends for my outburst and forgive myself.

My mother was known to be a grumpy person. Not knowing oneself and therefore not being able to meet one’s own needs is a set up for disgruntled behavior. Empathy as opposed to judgment is called for in these circumstances. Understanding that is most likely part of the legacy my mother left me. She didn’t have the opportunity to learn this for herself–it was obviously not part of her curriculum this time around. Returning to a nursing facility has been a major stressor for me. I need to take that into account and give myself a break and not in the form of an ankle fracture is time.

Casey was a toddler when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I remember that because the recommended treatment at the time was implanting a radium seed in the prostate. I had to be vigilant in keeping Casey away from him for a while to avoid radiation exposure. Vigilance was not difficult for me when it came to Casey’s well-being. At that point my father was probably in his late sixties. During his mid-eighties, my father decided that he no longer needed the prostate medication. I don’t remember whether this decision was questioned, but soon after medical testing revealed a recurrence of the cancer.

If you knew my father, you might know that he was a staunch atheist. Actually, I didn’t know that fact for most of my life. During his eighties, my father began talking about his early years as a socialist. He went to a socialist school (I didn’t realize there were schools for communists and socialists). As my father became more ill, I was visiting him every few months from Louisiana. The next to  last time I visited, while I was walking him to the dinner table (which my mother told me was a very rare occurrence those days), my father must have been reflecting on what was on all our minds. He said, “they are just going to put me in the ground and that is it and anybody who thinks otherwise is sentimental.” I remember this statement like it was yesterday. This was the philosophy I grew up with.

During his decline, I was in intensive breathwork training in Sedona, Arizona, for four weeks. I remember getting daily reports from my mother and talking to the breathwork trainer who had recently lost her father. She recommended a classic book in dealing with end-of-life issues, Final Gift, which was written by two hospice workers. When I returned home to Louisiana, I had a significant dream. It was an elaborate dream that I know that I recorded at the time. The part I remember now is that I was riding in a vehicle which was going way too fast down an exit ramp in a parking garage. There was a monkey driving who was obviously out of his mind. What I had been confronting in myself was this tendency to over-analyze and get lost in my mental chatter. To me this was a message that I needed to discipline the monkey mind, a Buddhist term for unbridled, undisciplined thought that wreaks havoc and competes with living in the heart. I was on a mission to live more in my heart and intuition than in my mind.

That was on a Friday and my brother, Dale, was arriving on Saturday to visit. I had a strong intuition to visit my father. I called my mother and told her how I felt. She told me that my father was extremely medicated and wasn’t at all aware of his environment. I conceded that I still felt the need to visit him. In exasperation she said to me, “okay I will put him on the phone. When he heard my voice he said to me, “hello doll, are you coming over?” “Yes dad, I’m coming now.” And I drove directly to the airport.

I brought the book, Final Gift, on the airplane to read and a woman at the opposite end of my row enthusiastically acknowledged it, saying, “I am a hospice worker and my daughter’s friends wrote that book!” Okay, I felt like I was in the zone. That evening I arrived at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Pennsylvania to go to sleep for the night. In the morning I visited my father, and when he saw me he asked me how long I was going to stay. I told him that I’d be there for about a day. He responded by saying, “oh good, you will be available in case I need you.” This was the man who was supposedly not in touch with reality.

Within a few hours he began his dying process. We called hospice and I called Dale to come home. With the help of the promptings from the book I was reading, I sat with my father as he shared his experience as best he could from the intermittent times he was spending on the other side. I asked him if his mother visited and he happily shared, “she comes to see me every day, she loves to come see me.” What shocked me the most was when he talked about HEAVEN. When I sounded shocked to hear him speak of heaven, thinking that I did not understand the word he explained, “it is a  place of  tranquility.” If I ever had doubts about the spirit world, I no longer do. Thank you father for your greatest teaching.

After that interchange, my brothers and I stood around my father’s bed for hours. Unable to bear the scene, my mother came in separately to say her goodbyes. He began to struggle and choke, which was unnerving, but the hospice nurse reassured us that it was part of the process. I stroked my father’s forehead and sang “Child of God.”  This is a song that I sang to Jordan every night for his first ten years of life. I was becoming anxious as the night wore on and my father continued to struggle. I asked Lee to sleep there in case things became more difficult. So he slept in one side of the house and I slept in my parents room on the other. Within five minutes of each other, we walked into my father’s room where he lay peacefully. I held his hand and he took one more breath. I looked above his body and said goodbye to the man who gave me life.

In 2001, my very close friends Diana and Mark gathered with a few others at Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans to sing gospel music together. After a few weeks I joined them. The choir met at Loyola University music department. There were probably seven or eight people at that time and, Praise the Lord, I did not have to audition. My voice was adequate, not well-trained, but had a lot of heart. I had taken voice lessons from a very accomplished soprano a decade earlier. I was directed to the soprano section which included two or three other women on a good night. I never missed choir rehearsal in spite of the fact that I drove the farthest for rehearsal. One Thursday night, my biggest fear was realized. I was the only soprano present. I was the soprano section. My friends knew how horrified I was and Mark, who sang tenor with the New Orleans Opera, stood up with me and sang the soprano part. This generosity was classically Mark. He was my best male friend in life.

My friend, Mark, is by my side. As the disease progressed, choir members strategically stood around me in case I lost my balance.

Each week a few new members trickled into rehearsal. Always dressed beautifully and with perfectly manicured nails so long that they curled, Thetius stood on my left side and had a booming soprano voice that was obviously trained since childhood in an African-American church choir. Initially, as I was trying to loosen my throat and register a few notes, I would look toward Thetius for guidance. I asked her to direct my pitch if I were sharp or flat and she would point her finger up or down. It felt very comforting to see those nails pointed in the direction where I needed to correct. After the first rehearsal with sister Thetius, I thanked her profusely. She said to me, “girl, we all gots to help each other!” I remember tears pouring down my face as we were singing, and I knew that I was in the right place.

After a few months, it was recommended that we schedule an actual gig. The more seasoned choir members new that this was the surest way to come together as a choir.  With no further ado our first singing engagement was scheduled–September 12, 2001! After the bombing of the World Trade Center on the previous day, we wondered whether the date should be postponed. It became very clear very quickly that it was no accident. As we sang in the small chapel in Trinity Church where the choir had originated, the response overwhelmingly clarified our mission of solidarity among differences. For the next five years, I participated in Shades of Praise New Orleans Interracial Interfaith Gospel Choir.

Our choir performed at churches, synagogues, jazz festival, political events, and St. Louis Cathedral just to name a few venues. Some of the voices individually were breathtaking, but all of the voices collectively were deeply moving. We recorded a number of CDs. Wherever our unifying and joyful message was needed, we were there. In 2003, one of the organizers from the choir got an invitation for us to go on tour in Ireland. It was an opportunity to spread our message of solidarity within a country so divided by sectarianism. We flew to Dublin the exact night that US troops were entering Afghanistan. I remember watching the television in the Dublin airport describing the military maneuvers. Many of us were horrified; this was the polar opposite of our mission, bringing people together in harmony. From Dublin, we rode on a tour bus to Omagh, a city in Northern Ireland where a car bombing had taken place and killed many men women and children on August 15, 1998. Sectarianism had emotionally devastated this town. We lived in private homes in the community and heard the heartbreaking stories. Netflix has the story of Omagh. The documentary cannot capture what we experienced bonding intimately with this community.

After the car bombing, a high school choir had come together of catholic and protestant adolescents. This was very unusual as the students were educated separately and essentially lived parallel lives. The Duchess of Abercorn sponsored the choir and their courageous mission of peace and reconciliation was shared by Shades of Praise. Our whole experience in Ireland was life changing–our time in Omagh the most profoundly so. We toured the town, spoke about racism and sectarianism, broke bread with the families, performed in both of their churches, and witnessed the broken pavement where the car bomb exploded.

As we swiftly jogged to the high school for our practice with the choir, for the first time I began to show a visible limp. I remember walking with Mark on one side of me and Diana on the other side. The support from my friends and my choir was exactly what I needed at that moment. We continued to perform throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We went to the home of the president of Northern Ireland Duke and Duchess of Abercorn as well as many other historic places. We ended week with a very powerful performance at an old church in Dublin. Everybody in the church young and old, well and disabled brought themselves to standing position and held hands. It was a moving way to end the most profound adventure of my life.

I returned from Ireland to complete the medical testing which resulted in a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. 2003 was a very tumultuous yet profound year that would change my life forever.

When I was younger I was in an abusive relationship. He would drink alcohol and call me names that were disrespectful and hurtful. He knocked me down a few times and when I tried to stand up to him the resulting consequences were much more severe. I was totally clueless about how to deal with this situation. I became an abused wife. I didn’t stay in the situation for very long, but more than five minutes was way too long.

I rationalized and said that now that I am out of it I can help others. I learned how I did not want to live. I thought it was over and a part of my past. I realize that that experience could never have happened if there wasn’t something in me that mirrored that behavior, kind of like a receptor. I say this with no self blame, none. I realize that something in me has continued the pattern.

With the illness, I have had to look closely at my internal conversations. “How did I create this?” “What legacy am I leaving my children?” “Did my fears attract this illness?” Thirty years later, I see the same perpetrator in different clothing.  The voice is more cunning–“Have I manifested this?”almost sounds spiritual. Something that needs to be released has remained intact. I hear the self-centeredness in all of these statements. Even seemingly true spiritual teachings can brutalize. The perpetrator is within. Had that not been the case, there would’ve been no opening for the abusive behavior to take root. I often wondered why I couldn’t just walk away from the situation as I have seen others do. There was an opening that I needed to become aware of. Had I not experienced that situation, I would never see the present reenactment. You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge.

It takes so much courage to live with your eyes open. People willing to read this blog are in that category. We are in good company.

Sometimes you can tell what your primary curriculum is if you notice what keeps showing up over and over again. For me, surrendering my will is what keeps being called for.

stub·born/ˈstəbərn/
Adjective: Having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, esp. in spite of good arguments or reasons…Difficult to move, remove, or cure.

I was a willful, stubborn child. One of the qualities people seem to like most about me is my steadfastness. I have a tendency to be very determined in my beliefs. When I seize on a protocol or a treatment plan, I won’t give up until I have completed it or I believe it is ineffective and usually both are true. After twenty years of proactivity regarding this illness, I am beginning to wonder whether the trajectory can even be altered. Perhaps the teaching involves the means employed, and my attitude towards those means, rather than the end result. When I say “people who seem to like that about me,” that isn’t completely true. I do remember a lot of power struggles with other willful people, and I remember the frustration people experienced who really care about me personally. I can cry at that. Of course, these patterns will always be more apparent with parents, children, and spouses.

When I think about it logically, it makes perfect sense to plan a curriculum to treat dogged (sorry Basha) determination by setting up circumstances that cannot be altered by will. Imagine the benefit of becoming okay with chaos or being out of control? Perhaps it is in the surrendering of will where true power is manifested. This can be a slippery slope because I can seize the opportunity to try to control in a counterintuitive way. However, maturing on a spiritual level demands integrity. As Oprah says, “when you know better, you do better.” To know better and not do better would be a breach of integrity. I think I’m beginning to know better.

I returned home from the doctor’s appointment, which revealed another dead end. There is no sediment in my bladder to be causing recurring UTIs. The alleged diagnosis I lived with for the last month (perhaps I should call it a hypothesis) and went through two hospitalizations and sustained a secondary broken ankle for was nullified in give minutes in the urologist’s office today.

If my theory is correct and I created a curriculum as challenging as this appears, I must be kick-ass courageous. Since I believe in my heart of hearts that the Universe is a safe and loving place, that can be my only interpretation.

When I first joined Yokefellow, I was in my late twenties. I was in a tumultuous and often violent marriage. As I mentioned in a previous entry, my former grad school roommate begged me to go to her therapists due to my unhappiness and the compulsivity I exercised in complaining about it, without taking any apparent action. At the time, I didn’t realize how unconventional the therapists were nor how this would initiate my work with a series of unconventional teachers, which continued for most of my adult life. Patricia and Ken co-facilitated intensive group psychotherapy that had transactional analysis foundation at its foundation and also utilized Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream, Gestalt therapy and a variation of what they called “re-parenting.” It was not unusual to see baby bottles around the therapy room or clients planning their desired and evolved “chosen” birth processes to reenact. The Yokefellow community was probably comprised of nearly fifty people. As was common with all of my teachers, they were very controversial in the mainstream community.

During my initial appointments with the co-facilitators, they appeared caring, seasoned and very present. Ken was wearing khaki pants and a long-sleeved shirt rolled up at the wrists. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. But as I began intensive group therapy, I began to notice a few irregularities. Physical contact was something that, as a society, is lacking. Personally, my father had been very demonstrative and my mother very distant. In this new setting, I noticed an unusual practice in that people arranged ahead of time, namely who was going to sit next to Patricia. “I get her left side,” “I get her right side,” “I get the wishbone!” When I began therapy at Yokefellow, I thought this practice was ridiculous and I felt I was way above the fray. The thought of choosing to sit close to Patricia was not even on my radar and vying for this position was probably my greatest nightmare. (This is a perfect  demonstration of how the Shadow manifests.) At this point professionally, I had been a therapist in a children’s home which did not require me to be an in-depth psychotherapist. This experience catapulted me into becoming the Depth Psychotherapist I truly wanted to be. Like the old expression of not just talking the talk or walking the talk, I was about to learn to walk the walk as I grew to meet the challenges in this situation.

After a few sessions of group psychotherapy, I began to notice something else unusual about the facilitators. Ken began wearing T-shirts which revealed multiple tattoos all over his  body, and this was way before tattoos were mainstream. I began to hear more about his biography, which was quite colorful. He was quite forthcoming about his history and given his professionalism and effectiveness as the therapist, I was more and more intrigued by his Story.

Ken had grown up in California and his father was a convict. Ken had been involved with drugs and many run-ins with the law. During the Vietnam war, he found himself in Marion prison, a maximum security prison in Marion Illinois. At the same time, Marty Groder, a Jewish psychiatrist, was placed in Marion prison for a year to avoid going to Vietnam. When Dr. Groder arrived he found the system very flawed. As the story goes, the warden was crazy, the inmates were crazy and the trustees were crazy, and the only way he was going to stay sane for the next year was to make other people sane. Dr. Groder began conducting highly confrontive group therapy sessions with the inmates in which Ken was a member. He began confronting Ken about being a punk with his dark shades, tattoos and felonious behavior. It is also notable that Ken was not a typical inmate. Ken was very well read in esoteric subjects and was practicing a form of meditation that he believed would make the walls and the bars disappear if he concentrated hard enough. Ken became intrigued with Marty Groder’s persistent and penetrating approach, and the intrigue morphed into respect. Ken became enrolled in the mission to “make people sane,’ and he began an apprenticeship under Marty’s tutelage, essentially earning a psychiatric degree without the doctoral program. They called the approach the Askelepian Game, a name derived from the ancient Greek mystery schools in Askelepious. In Ken’s words, as he took the walls down inside of himself, the walls outside of him literally disappeared. He was up for parole before his apprenticeship was completed. In his words, the system wanted to spit him out as fast as it could. He had become way too healthy for the insanity of the prison system.

Having a therapist with a resume like that, how could I not flourish? I don’t want to minimize what it took for me to keep showing up for the demands of this rigorous path. It demanded everything from me and this continues to the present. Considering the complex choices I was going to have to make in my life, this experience gave me the foundation for negotiating the challenges of parenting, co–parenting, step parenting, etc. In spite of the deprivation of my early years, I was committed to give and receive more love in my life and to provide more for my children than my parents were capable of, hoping my children could go beyond me.

As I was finding my own way, I also needed to be an example to others in my personal and professional community. Sometimes I was the teacher, sometimes my children taught me and many times my clients taught me. As Hillary once said, “it takes a village.”  Isn’t that the TRUTH?

I dreamt that I was a part of the very important organization. I was walking through the building and there was a shelf with a homeless man lying there. I went over to him and I saw that there were three more homeless man lying next to him. There was a pile of dog food piled in front of him. I made sure that he had enough  To eat. I walked around the building and saw the same man in professional clothing. He was talking to someone and I saw that he was very important in the organization as well. I felt attracted to him. He started to walk alongside me and I saw that the feelings were reciprocal. I realized that they were just different roles that he was playing. Whether he was a homeless man or the professional, he was still the same person.

I have often said about this illness that it is the costume I am wearing for the role I have taken on.

When someone has a significant illness, it can be that the physical body is wanting to come into balance. I believe that this can be true of depression, addictions and anxiety as well. The greater the disruption, the greater the need for balance and wholeness. This is a shamanic perspective. Shamanism is a method of healing where the practitioner accesses the spirit world in order to mend the soul, which can then help the body to heal. When my symptoms began, I embarked on a deeper level of intimacy by closely observing my thoughts, my dream state and meditation state. I began to become aware of the themes that were recurring.

In an earlier entry, I mentioned hearing the expression “with the symptoms comes the Renaissance.” Around that time I had a significant vision. I saw two little hands on either side of my face and a child’s face looking into mine from a three-inch distance. She clearly wanted me to look at her with no distractions. Soon after seeing that image I began having many dreams of infants and toddlers. What was similar about these children was that they were dirty and unkempt. In one dream I was at a swimming pool and I forgot where the child was. I was terrified that because of my negligence she could have drowned. These dreams continue for the first few years. As I began to heal the fragments inside, the child dreams shifted. The later dreams presented a child who was clean and felt more connected to me. After a few more years, there was tremendous love and bonding between the child and me.

It is very interesting that my biological children had the same complaint about me, that I was distracted and they wanted more time with me. Often times the clues to our healing are all around us if we are willing to see them and in order to see them we have to be willing to change. If we don’t hear them initially, they will be repeated over and over again until we do. The nudge will be light at first, but will soon become more demanding. I seem to have needed a sledgehammer to get my attention many times.

I have found that my healing happens in layers. I have recently gotten to another layer. What has been wanting my attention lately had to do with an issue related to my caregivers. I tend to caregive my caregivers. This is a pattern that I believe started in utero. Often times there is a pattern that we think we understand and once we work deeply with it the opposite is really true. My mother was a very strong woman. When she developed cancer, my whole world was shaken. My internal story line was, “she is my rock, how could I possibly be okay without her?” At the time I was doing some pretty deep energy work. One day a light bulb went off and I realized that in fact the opposite was true. I realize that I had been her rock all of these years. When I realized that, all my life relationships shifted, and I realized that this was true about all my significant relationships. I thought that I was the weaker one in the relationship, while in reality I had been the one taking care of the other. My body had to break down for me to be able to see this.

The more I realized the depth of this truth, the more I saw that this was the lie on which the whole illness was built. In meditations, I’ve seen over and over again the ways that this “turnaround” was being presented to me. But I had been either unwilling or unable to see  it in the past. I can remember over twenty years ago when a psychiatrist turned guru presented me with the truth and I saw it for a moment. My whole body started shaking and I couldn’t speak for about twenty minutes. The truth wanted to be revealed, but I was not ready.

In recent months, as I have become more vulnerable physically, I’ve hired caregivers. Again, I began to take care of my caregivers.  The pattern was insidious. I started to have “child” dreams again. This time I was home and taking care of business when somebody brought a child over to my house. I suddenly realized that I did not know where the child went. I ran all over, desperately looking, feeling like I was in trouble. Then I realized I was not responsible for this child. To me, the message was to stop taking care of other people’s lost children. I’ll be damned. So every time I find myself becoming over involved in this way, I repeat the mantra, “I am not responsible for your child.” Every time I realize that I let go and EVERY TIME it is a huge relief.

I don’t know what it is with me and my animals, but something very strange goes on. After David and I began living together, we found out we both had a love of horses. We would visit different horse farms on the weekend and I would call it our  “field trips.” I introduced David to an old friend who I had met when I was raising my daughter. Her daughter and my daughter were friends. Barbara had a beautiful horse farm. We reconnected in a deep way and began to ride her horses. She found David his first horse and she connected me with Ransom. Ransom was a very tall handsome gelding who had an owner who was allegedly diagnosed multiple personality disorder. She took tremendous risks with him and they had fallen together going over jumps. He was known to be a bit skittish. However with me, he was gentle and reliable. This perfectly demonstrates the ability horses have to mirror human behavior. I remember at an informal horse show while resting between classes, I was sitting on a tree stump and he was nuzzling my hair and putting his lips on my shoulder. The other women laugh saying, “he’s in love with you!” I clearly felt his love and gratitude.

The expenses for this hobby were swiftly becoming too great to rationalize and we decided to purchase a small horse farm. We were more than casual enthusiasts and ready to take the next step. This was probably in 2001. One day, Ransom shied and ran across the field. I went to run after him, but my legs would not run. I remember telling myself that I didn’t need to run. Denial.  What was happening concurrently was when we would ride Ransom he would kick out with his right leg. We called a veterinarian to look at him and Dr. Keith was very concerned. He wanted me to take him to Baton Rouge to the LSU vet school. I loaded him in the horse trailer and drove him two hours to LSU. Around this time, I developed optic neuritis, inflammation of the optic nerve which is common in MS. When the LSU veterinarian saw him, he suggested his wife take a look at him as well. She was an equine ophthalmologist and he felt there was something going on with Ransom’s eyes. At that time I was not talking about my optic neuritis. It was pretty ironic when the equine ophthalmologist looked at Ranson’s right optic nerve and called me over to look at it with her instrument. “Look at that optic nerve, it is frayed.” I was struggling to look at his optic nerve while my optic nerve of the same eye was not focusing.

Suffice it to say that I had no idea what was happening with me or with him. As I became weaker, he became weaker. I eventually found him a home as a pet since he was no longer safe to ride. I have to say that some of these entries are really painful to write. The constant heartbreaks. I feel like I’ve lived ten lifetimes. What is also true is once I’ve written this Story down it is out and I can let it go. Again thank the blog gods for this catharsis. And I thank you all for being very willing and gracious witnesses.

Around this time, my stepson’s girlfriend got a great Dane puppy. I was very excited and heard there was one left in the litter. When I called, the puppy was not available. But I had gotten the fever really bad. I began looking on the Internet for a Great Dane puppy.

I found Basha in Victoria, British Columbia. An eight-week-old puppy who had never been away from her mother flew from Victoria to Toronto to New Orleans. When I opened the crate a twenty-three-pound lion cub crawled out. She took one look around and crawled right back into her crate!

I hired a very well-known dog trainer to help me train her weekly as a service dog. Our horse farm was very busy with boarded horses, the horse’s owners, clients from my psychology practice, our existing two dogs, chickens, ducks, roosters and a turkey. Basha learned manners around other dogs, horses, and people.  As she grew, and believe me she grew, she was socialized well and was my constant companion.

There were many incidents that I feel like I need to relate. I would often say that Basha was not a dog. She was from a different species above humans.  She would come with me to women’s groups and would comfort a grieving member. It took us a while to catch on, but once we realized she was working the group we found it hilarious. Years later, when I had a nonviolent communication group, if someone was angry she would try to calm them by getting them to pet her and if that didn’t work, she would lie down in front of me, between that person who was angry and me. She always knew where I was. She took her job very seriously.

One devastating day on the horse farm, our two other dogs got into antifreeze. We didn’t know it at the time, but I noticed that Isabel was walking funny. I called her over and she ran away. I had never seen the effects of antifreeze or I would’ve grabbed her immediately. A few hours later I couldn’t find Isabel and I went out my golf cart to look around. Basha always came with me in my golf cart. Often I would look out of the window and see the back of her head as she was sitting in the golf cart, waiting for a ride. Today however, we were on a serious mission together looking for Isabel. We drove all around the tree line, all around the periphery of the property, to the barns and shed and couldn’t find her. I was getting desperate and I said to Basha, “where is Isabel?” I’ll be damned if she didn’t jump out of the cart and jump into the tree line to show us where Isabel was failing. David grabbed Isabel and I got her water and we rushed both dogs to emergency veterinarian. Isabel and Maggie had gotten into anti-freeze and after trying to revive them all night, we had to euthanize them both. David held Maggie and I held Isabel as the life went out of their eyes. We brought their bodies back to the farm and buried them in our animal graveyard. A few days later when I was in the house alone I let out a wail. From the other side of the house I heard an echo. It was Basha with a reverberating Great Dane wall. This was not a normal dog.

One day I was carrying my computer and I tripped. In an effort to save my computer, I fell to my knee and cracked my patella in half. The same day Basha was running with Dr. Keith’s  dog and tore her ACL in the same knee. I was on crutches and she was walking on three legs! Could this be an accident? I had never experienced another being as committed to my well-being as this dog. She walked with me to offer me support. I had a harness and held her on my right side which was my weakest. I went to renew my passport at the courthouse, and there was a very long outdoor staircase. I’ll never forget the rhythm we found walking down all those stairs. I held the railing with her on my other side. I took a step as she watched me, then she took a step. I took another step as she watched me, then she took a step. Her focus was 100% on me and the task at hand. The level of support this Being afforded me was immeasurable. One day I fell down with my walker and couldn’t get up. David was going to be away for another two hours, so I tried to get comfortable on the floor. Basha pushed her head against me to try to get me to get up. How would an animal know to do this?

When David moved out in 2008, Basha was beside herself. She was clearly grieving. That same time I was getting bee venom injections. As I was getting my last injection, which was near my wrist, I made the statement, “this one is really going to hurt.” The exact moment the injection was given, Basha screamed from the next room and ran to us shaking. She shook for twenty minutes. I called David to take her to the veterinary. At that point I put her on herbal stress tabs. It took her a couple months to work through her grief. Whether she was experiencing her own grief or my grief, I don’t know. She definitely tapped into The Grief.

There were other instances that I could mention, but basically you got my drift: this was no dog.