It will be four years on January 11th.
Four years since I stood next to her white casket as it was poised over the frozen ground.
I’ve moved more times than I can count since then. Divorced. Changed jobs. Bought a house and a lot more animals. There’s a new grandbaby she hasn’t met.
But I still see her picture from my wedding on my wall every morning, one of the last photos we took together.
And I still have our “timeshare” dog.
It was so hard in the beginning. She was crotchety and nagging and impossible to please. I remember calling my mom a month in and admitting defeat, “I can’t do this. I can’t live with her.”
I really wanted a dog. I grew up with them and was lonely without any animals. Grams said no, no way, absolutely not.
So my aunt Maureen stepped in to help me out. She called and said she had a little dog from her recent litter and that he was being picked on. She begged Grams to let me have him.
I’ll never forget Grams calling me upstairs and asking how I felt about it.
And I’ll admit. I wanted a puppy. A corgi puppy.
“Jesus, child. I offer you a Chevy truck and you ask for a corvette!” Was her response. So I didn’t push my luck. I agreed on the chihuahua/dachshund mix “Ollie” and drove out to get him that weekend before she could change her mind.
On first site he was long with stubby little legs and a quirky underbite that made all his bottom teeth stick out permanently. He rode in my lap the entire way home. I warned Grams he might be shy for a while.
But something magical happened when I opened that front room door. He ran right in onto her lap and started licking her face like a long lost friend he hadn’t seen in a while even though they’d never met.
I snapped this photo of their first meeting and sent it to Maureen (who thankfully kept it and sent it back to me recently).
Ollie changed something with us. Maybe it was my joy at a canine companion or her lowered blood pressure, but he bridged the gap between generations. He turned us into best friends who watched Jazz games together and the news, who stayed up late swapping stories and laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
The joy he brought her was tender and raw and so special. He kept her company every day while I was at work and would sneakily jump up to snuggle her while she slept. He gave her something to love and enjoy in the last few years of her life and I will always be grateful to that little dog for that. For all he did for us. He made the time I lived with her some of the best years of my life.
He kept me together when she passed. Being able to cry and hold onto something that we both loved so much healed my heart in a way nothing else could.
My aunt Maureen and uncle Dennis were back in town on Saturday, so I took Ollie over to see them.
He hadn’t seen them for four years, since right before Grams died. And I didn’t know if he’d remember them but I hoped he would.
He didn’t disappoint.
He dove right up onto them, kissing their faces and wagging his tail at his long lost friends that he hadn’t seen in a while.
The fact that he remembered them means he could remember grams too. And for a night, I felt that much closer to her.
In the words of Grams, you are such a good kid, Oliver.
“Can you have a sleepover?” was the first thing I heard when I picked up the phone. Aspen was on the other end and you could almost feel her anticipation.
Ever since she was three and oh so tiny, I’ve been stealing her away for the night. Partially for her, and partially for me too – sometimes it’s nice to worry about nothing other than kid shows, fast food, and the thrill of winning tickets at Nickelcade for a night.
So I picked her up and made the requisite stops on the way home. McDonalds for a happy meal. The dollar store for candy and toys. She picked out a 100 piece puzzle and we chatted while we worked on it.
And this kid.
She amazes me. She’s only seven but she is in a Chinese immersion program and can sing happy birthday and count to twenty in one of the hardest languages in the world.
She can remember things from when I lived with Grams and will often throw out memories that none of us would have even been able to recall on our own.
Which means she’ll probably remember every time we upset her (go ahead and forward us your counseling bills, Asp) but she only gets upset because she is such a tender soul.
She has the biggest heart.
She always jumps in to encourage and help her little sisters.
She is game for any activity you can think of. Our next venture will be ice skating even though she’s never been and she’s worried she might fall through the ice.
It upsets her when Todd bites on Ollie’s ears (“You’re a good kid, Ollie” – she’ll tell him after she shoos Todd away, and I melt into a puddle of happy tears because that’s exactly what Grams told Ollie every day, and it’s what I’ve told him every day since she passed).
I was vacuuming in the morning after our sleepover. This is what I saw when I walked into the front room – her comforting both the chi’s on the couch.
Aspen – don’t ever grow up. Don’t ever change. Please stay sweet and sassy and witty and smart and all the other wonderful things that you are.
And please, please always keep thinking that your aunt Aubrey is much cooler than she really is.
It was early May when I happened to walk past them. You hear them before you see them, really – their cheerful little peeps drawing you in.
So I bought them.
Five baby chicks.
An impulse buy, the thought of fresh eggs and darling hens roaming the yard was just too much to resist.
But like all poorly-laid plans, the chickens quickly became a major source of anxiety. I had wrist surgery a few days after I bought them (the second hand surgery of the year), and couldn’t clean their pen with only one functional hand. I constantly worried that their heat lamp would start a house fire while I was away. And then they started outgrowing the small bathroom and tuppoware bin that I was keeping them in…
I was too prideful to ask for help. But my dad gave my Grandpa a call and he graciously stepped in and built the most amazing chicken coop from scratch. I could have cried at the relief of having a home big enough for them and having something handmade from my Grandpa made it that much sweeter. It was chicken heaven.
I painted it duck egg blue and was relieved to get them out of my house.
But again, the frustration set in after they matured and refused to lay.
I’d like to think it was just the wrist pain, the surgeries, and the pain pills (that make me incredibly irritated) – but if I’m being honest 2014 has been a year of feeling entirely overwhelmed.
And the animals became just one more thing to take care of – which isn’t their fault. But I resented them for it all the same. I resented myself for getting in a situation that I felt I couldn’t control. The mortgage and medical bills and car problems were slowly crushing me.
So I did what I’ve done since Grams died.
I compensated with medicine.
I took a pill to be happy. I took a pill to not panic. I took a pill to sleep.
And I’m grateful for modern medicine. Trust me when I say that – I’m slated for two more hand surgeries next month (yes, four in a year. I should have a punch card by now) so believe me that I am the last person to knock taking meds when you need it.
But I started wondering – do I? Do I really need it?
So I weaned. The sleeping pills first, the pink anxiety ones next, and the antidepressants until all that was left was my original self. It was a slow, agonizing process but afterwards, I realized just how dull I had been to everything – how much I had just been getting by.
I started taking better care of myself. Drinking less soda. Eating better foods. Exercising for fun, for the thrill of pushing my body to the limits and seeing what it can do.
And that care trickled into the pets – who god bless them, still love me regardless of all the times I’ve lost my temper or just not had the motivation to fill up their food bowl some nights.
So I put bedding down in the chicken coop last Thursday. They weren’t laying yet but it has been bitter cold and I wanted them to have that extra bit of padding from the sub zero temps.
Maybe it was just the timing or maybe it was the extra bit of pine shavings, but for the first time on Friday I found the most perfect round egg nestled in the box.
And yesterday? I found three.
Sometimes patience is the hardest thing to have. And it can feel futile to keep putting care into something that looks endless, no matter if it’s chickens or happiness. But I promise you – the results are worth the wait.
My Grandpa called me to celebrate when he heard about the eggs. He ends every phone call with, “keep smiling, kid” and I couldn’t find a better ending to this post if I tried.
Keep smiling, kid.
“Shopping for Christmas trees with my love!”
That’s the status that two years ago I typed happily into a tiny little screen in the middle of a store in downtown SLC.
I wrote a little bit about that tree on my Instagram… about how I miss that time. The togetherness. Even though things were already rocky at that point, there was the plural instead of a singular sense of self. The holidays are always wonderful but that particular Christmas especially – full of hosting family Christmas parties and snuggling with mugs of hot chocolate and having someone to put my cold feet on at night.
So sometimes, that tree, well – it represents all I have lost. And even though it has been up for weeks I just couldn’t bring myself to drudge up the boxes of shiny orbs and sparkly snowflake ornaments from the basement.
But this weekend we found the ornaments while searching for other treasures (one of Aspen’s favorite past-times, digging through all my old stuffed animals and travel magnets) and I just couldn’t say no. So my three little loves with all their childlike enthusiasm helped me decorate it.
And it’s absolutely darling to watch those three sisters work together, the two older daughters passing each other ornaments and the baby with those delightfully chubby hands reaching up as high as she can to place a golden bulb on a branch and grinning ear to ear at her accomplishment.
I couldn’t help but smile at the reminder that family and love – real love – isn’t gone. It never really left. With each ornament, those tiny hands helped place a new memory that I will always be grateful for.
I told myself I wouldn’t move a single ornament, because I’d rather see an imperfect tree than ruin the perfection of the memory. But looking at it, you wouldn’t even know the tree was partially decorated by hobbits (and by a slightly-taller hobbit on a ladder).