Dear Mom… (a letter from my dog)

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Dear Mom,

I was just thinking about all the fun times we have together. There have been so many. I think I am the luckiest dog that I got to live with you. I know you weren’t sure at first, but I’m really glad you kept me. And I have really tried to be a good dog as much as I can. I know I have trampled your gardens, and sometimes I make the house dirty. I have tried really hard to always pee outside, and when I get into the garbage, it’s only because it smells so INTERESTING. I get a little distracted and forget that I’m not supposed to open the lid. I’m sorry. And, I want to state for the record, that it wasn’t me that at your Dansko clog – that was Molly. And I NEVER would have tried to eat that turkey and avocado sandwich if Molly didn’t first. It was all her fault. I have to be honest, Mom. I wasn’t crazy about Molly. But you and me? I think we have had some of the best times a dog and his girl can have together.

Hey! Hey!! Remember the time that you took me to that lake, and we swam and swam? And I got to get the Frisbee when you’d throw it? And then I got to chase the ball? And then I was so tired I had to rest a minute and we got to do it again? Do you remember?

What about the time we watched movies together on the back patio on the Big Pillow? Do you remember that? I might have snored a little bit, but the movie was so loooong. Do you remember?

Do you know what it’s like to go to Camp Cheese? I trained Grandma real good….she always gives me breakfast and water and lets me out and sometimes she makes me GrandmaSnack Cookies! If I know that she has them, I’ll stay up by the fence extra long and not come back in the house until she offers to give me one! She stands at the back door, and she calls, ‘Draaaaake…come here! Drake, come inside!’, and I wait a little bit…and then I sniff around the fence for something – there’s always new smells with all the people walking by – and then she says the magic words, ‘Drake! You want a GrandmaSnack? Come-on!’ And then I come running! Not so fast anymore. In my heart I’m still a puppy and I can outrun anybody, but my legs just don’t work so well anymore, so sometimes I have to take it a little slower.

The rabbits and squirrels know it, too, and sometimes they tease me a little bit. Especially the squirrels. The bunnies are just flat out obnoxious, so I chase ‘em out of grandma’s flower beds, but those squirrels! I think they plan it out…they’ll see me laying in the sun, and come down the tree and scamper towards me… hop, hop, scramble, pause….and they check to see if I’m watching. If I’m not, they chatter at me a little bit, just sort of to poke me I think. I whip my head up and narrow my eyes and I bark at them to let them know I might be old, but I’m not deaf! I don’t bother chasing them so much anymore…they’re just being ornery. But I let them know that I’ve got their number, and I’ve alerted Grandma and Grandpa. No siree, there will be no squirrels in our house!

Sometimes Grandma gets distracted and forgets to give me a cheese snack before bed. So, I remind her. I talk to her a little bit, and then she gets it right. You never give me cheese, but Grandma does every night. And I know you say they spoil me, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s not spoiling when I only get the most delicious snacks ever once in awhile!

I will say this, Mom, you are great about getting me toys. There was this one – it was a box that had squeaky balls inside, and I had to get them out! The squeakers were pretty damn annoying, too, so I had to really chew on them to get them to stop. You always say, “be NICE to the squeaker”, but I don’t think you really understand. What if the squeaker is really a small version of the squirrel – I have to make sure! I loved that box though. I’d carry it around the house with me and sometimes I brought it to bed. I have some dragons, and they are pretty cool. There was a duck once that I loved. I would groom it, lick his feathers, and keep it safe, he was my best toy ever. The new monster is pretty good, too. He makes funny crackling sounds AND has a squeaker. I like that.

The times when I got to ride in the car were amazing. And I always knew where we were going. I think sometimes you sort of forgot how to get places, and that’s the only reason I’d start talking to you in the car. I just wanted to make sure you knew, that I knew, that you knew how to get there. And if you didn’t, I was ready to help.

The time we went camping was epic. Yeah, I mean, it’s great being a city dog, but I think I could have been a country boy just fine. I’m not complaining! But going up to the mountains or out on the plains, rivers and grasses and sooooo many smells….yeah, those were good times.

But my best times were always with you. It didn’t matter what we were doing, just that we could do it together. If you were working and I could just take a nap in the same room, that was good. I love going for walks with you. And watching you cook. I love it when people come over because they give me all kinds of attention, and sometimes, they give me extra snacks….I like being in the middle of everything though. And with all those extra people around, I don’t want to somehow lose you, so I stick close, just in case. But it’s because you are my person. You are my world. You are everything. And I don’t ever want you to think that I might love someone else more.

So Mom, I just want you to know….I am the luckiest dog and I am happy. I have had such a good life. And every day I get to spend with you is the BEST day of my life. So let’s just keep being happy, for every day we still have left. Because until I can’t make it down the stairs anymore, I will always be ready to go for a walk with you. And I will always smile when you come home. And I will always love you best.

Finally, Mom, here are a couple things I don’t want you to forget, even after I’m not here….

  1. Always greet people with a smile and tail wag – you gotta let people know that you love them. Don’t hide that.
  2. Never turn down a snack. You never know if it’s the last one that will be offered.
  3. Work hard and sleep hard. Life it tough, so go after it all with gusto. It’s ok, there is time to sleep at the end.
  4. Five minutes of playing can turn your day around.
  5. This one is hard sometimes, but always try to mostly follow the rules. Nobody really likes a rebel who just causes trouble and makes other people clean up after him.
  6. Be loyal.
  7. Don’t be afraid to tell someone what you need, whether that is help, a listening ear, or that you are hungry or need to go out.
  8. Don’t forget that we are meant to be a pack, we are meant for community, so don’t try to do everything by yourself. The lone wolf howls at night because he is alone.
  9. Life is better when you risk a little bit. You’ll never get that proud feeling of saving the house if you don’t take on those fierce squirrels.
  10. When the time is right, let go. I will always live in your heart.

I love you, Mom, and I will always be your very best buddy. Nobody can take that away.

Love,
Drake

I Am A Survivor

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I am a survivor.  Six years ago today, I suffered a stroke.

For a long time, I didn’t tell most people because I was ashamed; I thought of it as a weakness on my part, and that somehow, having a stroke in the first place, was my fault.  I am ready to tell my story now because I realize that I have overcome some great obstacles, more than some and far less than others, but the journey is worth telling.  And perhaps in some small way, sharing my journey can encourage someone else in his or her journey.

People have asked me what the experience was like….It started when I woke up.  I was alone in my house, and I noticed that my entire left side was prickly, like when you have been laying on your hand wrong and it is just starting to fall asleep, only, it was the whole left side of my body.  I went outside to let the dog out and fill up his water bowl, and I noticed that my hearing was incredibly acute.  I could hear the dog barking 8 blocks away, I heard insects flying near me, only they were across the patio, I could hear the blood going through the veins inside my head; it seemed very surreal.  I picked up the water bowl with my right hand and when I wanted to go inside, I remember telling my left hand to open the door, but it wouldn’t move.  I used my right hand and told myself to “wake up!”

I should have known something was wrong at this point, but it didn’t occur to me because I was young, I was healthy, and symptoms of a stroke are very serious and only affect older people….little did I know.

When I tried to brush my teeth, I couldn’t swish water around in my mouth, and I realized couldn’t make a smile in the mirror.  That’s when I got scared….so I called my parents, only, I couldn’t make the right words come out.  I knew what I wanted to say, but the words weren’t there.  I finally made my dad understand that I didn’t want an ambulance, but I thought something was wrong…please come.  When he got to the house, I was feeling fine again, so I felt bad for getting him out of bed early.  Thankfully, he and my mom had the sense to make me go to the ER to get checked out.  What I didn’t know is that I was having a series of small TIAs (trans ischemic attacks), sort of like mini-strokes.  While I was in the hospital getting checked out, I had an actual stroke where a blood clot hit my right frontal lobe, and I lost movement in my left side, from my cheek bone to about my knee, which lasted for several days.

After I got out of the hospital, I had to learn how to do many things all over again, and it was frustrating.  Driving, writing, talking, picking up small things, holding a fork and knife, thinking….  I learned that the best way for a person to heal from a brain injury is to sleep, so I had to sleep 10-12 hours each night.  I struggled with missing words and not being able to express myself, I struggled to remember things, I struggled with physical weakness on my left side, I struggled with clumsiness, I struggled with becoming very tired without warning.  I often wondered if I would ever get back to “normal” again.

Having had a stroke does not define who I am, but it has certainly changed the way I see and live life.  It has changed certain priorities for me, it has challenged me to learn who I am, and honor that in myself.  I still have to pay attention to myself when I get very tired.  I laugh at myself when I forget things that I know.  I have to be more conscientious when I get a bad headache and determine if I am dehydrated, or am I tired, is it just a headache, or is it more serious?  I have had to learn how to give myself more grace.  And in the midst of all that, I have chosen to live.

I took culinary classes at the Art Institute, and I wore a mesh glove so that I wouldn’t chop my fingers off.  I learned how to ski.  I started working with a personal trainer, and we spend a lot of time on balance exercises and strengthening my left side.  I auditioned for a play and figured out how to memorize all my lines.  I competed in a Sprint Triathlon at altitude.  I trained for and ran a Half Marathon.  I’m currently training for a full marathon.  I started writing a blog.  I bought a motorcycle.  I passed the Level 1 certification towards becoming a sommelier.  I decided that the only person that can truly put limits on me, is me.  I go on vacation, and take pictures, and make memories, and love the people around me.

Some days, I still struggle with finding the right words, and I get frustrated that it’s not as “easy” as it once was.  Sometime I hit the wall and stop functioning, and I’m pretty sure that my left side will always be a little bit weaker than my right side.  But I am a survivor.

In six years, I have learned so much about myself, about living, about loving, about not taking things for granted, about courage, about what it means to “show up”.  Today, I celebrate life, recovery, hard work, and hope.  Today, I celebrate the people that have surrounded me with love and support and encouragement.  Today, and every day, I live life a little bit differently….because it can all change in a moment.  Take the time to tell the people around you that you love them.  Be nice.  Take risks.  Live out loud.  Own your choices.  Be courageous.  Laugh.  Say you’re sorry.  Listen.  Be present.  Celebrate the life you live.