Get Another One

31 Jul

Yesterday I took a hike up to Baldpate Mountain on the western side of Trenton, New Jersey with my dogs, Gem and Hank. On the way up to the first durable footing of this not very big mountain, but in the heat and with suffering humidity, that mountain is big enough. On the first level Gem meets two women and eagerly sends them a good hello with a wagging tail. The first woman calls out, “What a beautiful dog!” I hear this from ten paces below, and then she sees my face as I traverse the jagged rocks, mindful to let my walking stick help me as I push my weight up to where they’re standing. “Yes, thanks, and this is Hank, he’s a white lab,” I tell her in a relaxed manner, knowing that it’s important to be even more polite on a mountain where three people and two dogs are sharing  a six-foot expanse of rock.

The second woman, tagging behind the first, says “I used to have an Australian Sheppard. What is your dog?”

“Border Collie.”

“Really? Well, she’s beautiful.”

“She’s a good girl. Loves to climb and she’s good at it, too.”

“I loved my Aussie, I had him for years.”

We started shifting, them going down, us going up, Gem, leading the way.  “Get another one!” I said, “Dogs are great!”

In thinking of this exchange, as I walked, the walk taking nearly ninety minutes in the heat, where I had to stop twice to wipe the sweat now pouring onto my back, a sleeveless tee-short now soaked with sweat; the dogs were panting hard and we broke for a watery deliverance. My voice parched and I could barely call for Hank who had wandered off into the tall grass. I looked to see a big cast of blue sky with the sun high, I knew it was too early to bring out the dogs and should have waited for the sun to relax and instead, hiked closer to 4 o’clock, but I’d endure it with a head bandana, and a piece of fruit, and lots of water and try to find a running stream for the dogs to wet their pads.


You can’t do that with people you love. They don’t come back. People die and you don’t see them for a long time. They say you will see the ones you love when you die. I don’t know that. Maybe I’ll know it when I die. They say death is a mystery. I believe that. My own death is a dragon I must slay by facing it with bravery. In some ways I’m afraid of what I’ll find. What will I see? Will I go through a tunnel, a field, a valley, a gravesite? Will I see the devil? Is there a devil? Will I go to hell?

My friend leaves her job as a nurse to become a caretaker to her terminally ill mother. It all happened very fast. Illness breeds superficially and then it manifests itself becoming a fire-eating dragon, breaking out loose, and you watch it without preparation because it’s stunning and it catches you off guard, until you grasp the tools and make them your own – for you must play offense so that you don’t get swallowed by the dragon.

So she faces death, it’s looming over her, its coming for her; the daughter plays a significant role in her life: feeding, preparing, comforting, she does this for her mother, putting her life on hold. She barely sleeps, finding only fractured sleep. But this is your mother and you do what you have to. You lose your mother, you lose your womb. Your life goes oddly empty when your mother leaves. She knows this, so keeps her close for however long she can, for however long her mother’s heart can beat.

The aftermath is the hardest, it’s when others stop calling, people disperse, their advice doesn’t come, and they leave you alone to get along. A scattered card, lost in the mail, is delivered several weeks after the death of your loved one and you read it, but you put it back in the envelope and don’t display it. You are not needed, so you sit and you wonder and then you begin to cry. You cry from the bowels of your stomach, your heart is broken, shattered in a million pieces, and you catch your breath, and you hold back the tears and you wash your face and you look in the mirror and you say, “I miss you mom!”  You gulp at Mother’s Day, and you face it somehow. And then you visit the cemetery and you see your mother’s name engraved and the dates she lived, and you kneel down, talking to the headstone and you cry. You cry without pretense, not caring if anyone sees you when they drive by.

This is the aftermath. No one can tell you how long it will take; no one should tell you that “It’s time you got over it.” You take however long you want to heal the empty feeling, having lost your mother’s womb.

I think of my calling out to the woman, “Get another one!”  Referring that dogs are great, but you can’t replace the ones who leave you; you can only find survival strategies to live without them.

© of Terry Rachel, 2011

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