"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Saying Goodbye to Bear

It has taken me two weeks to get the courage to try and pull words from my heart about Bear. No matter what I write, I feel I won’t do him justice, nor will I be able to express how special he was, or the relationship that I had with him, and that my husband Shea had with him. But, I will try my very best, it’s all I can do.


Bear came into my life by chance, on a whim, just by sheer luck. One day I saw him and made a decision to adopt him. It made no sense at that moment for me to adopt a puppy—my life was honestly a mess. But something in my heart and my gut wouldn’t let me walk away from him. I signed the papers, and he was mine. I found out right after signing that I had just saved his life. If he hadn’t been adopted that day, he would have been put down. He was 12 weeks old. He had an hour and a half left. I had gotten there just in time.

That day, as I got into my car and looked at that sweet, beautiful puppy staring at me in the passenger seat, I thought for a moment, what have I done? I go back to that moment in my mind a lot. I think to myself—you don’t know how lucky you are right now. You just made the best decision. Be so grateful, be so thankful.

What that little being didn’t know was that the person looking back at him was struggling. My whole life had cracked wide open months before, and the pieces were shattered around me. Everything was wrong and broken. I was just starting to deal with issues from my childhood that were deeply affecting my life. Then, I found out that the man I had been seeing (long distance), whom I had known for years, and was just about to move cross country to live with, had betrayed me. All the time we had been seeing each other, he was in fact, living with someone else.

Everything hit me at once. I was lost and adrift, and in that weakened part of rock bottom that you hopefully only hit once in your life. I was deeply depressed, and I knew that everyone around me, everyone in my life that was worried about me, was going to think that adopting this puppy wasn’t a good decision. Maybe it wasn’t. But that drumbeat of hope inside me just kept telling me it was the right thing to do.

I was nervous to call my friend Debby, who is my second mother, afraid she would be so worried that she wouldn’t see what I saw in the new puppy. But I needn’t have worried. She immediately told me to bring him over and she fell in love with him on the spot. She and her husband Joe helped me go through a list of names I was thinking about, until Joe let me know in no uncertain terms that his name was Bear.

He was so right.

He always was Bear.

Bear worked his magic from day one. If you have ever battled depression, or know someone who has, you know that the hardest thing is getting out of bed or off the couch and getting OUT. It is a battle in itself, and before Bear, it was a battle I lost all the time. My friends would try and I would make excuses. I had taken leave from work, so I had nowhere to be.

But Bear had to be walked, he had to be taken outside. He needed me constantly. I couldn’t stay in bed or under the covers. He was constantly chewing on things, getting into things—he was keeping me busy.

I took him on walks and met neighbors I had never talked to in two years of living in my neighborhood. We went to dog parks, and I met new people who expected to see me and Bear daily. My life began to change. My outlook began to change.

I didn’t know what breed Bear was when I adopted him. I knew he was a mix of something, and that he was incredibly cute. Otherwise, I had no idea. He was extremely stubborn and independent. House training him was so frustrating and at times, seemed to be impossible.

We went to puppy training classes three separate times, and each time he was just too wild to participate. The last time I tried, the trainer was talking and Bear excitedly jumped on other dogs and then on the trainer, splitting open her fanny pack full of treats, spilling them everywhere. The treats rolled all over the floor and Bear and the other puppies were gobbling them up. The trainer looked at me with a mix of expressions—frustration, but also holding back laughter. I knew that mix well, I had been wearing it for many weeks myself.

I finally figured out what breed of dog Bear was when seeing a random blog post one day about a great pyrenees. Bear was almost certainly a great pyr, though I never knew what he was mixed with. But once I looked up all of the traits of the breed, it all made sense. Great pyrs are bred to be guardians for livestock. They need to be independent to handle themselves on a farm and be alone for long periods of time, but they also need to be sweet and gentle enough not to harm the animals they care for. All of these things added up to Bear: independent, strong-willed, stubborn, but sweet, loving, and with a huge heart.

He was wild and at times, and yes, frustrating, but he was also sweet. And gorgeous. He also smiled all the time. When I walked him in my neighborhood, people would literally stop their cars to ask me what kind of dog he was, or where I got such a beautiful pup. He always seemed to know how gorgeous he was. He never hesitated to walk right up to anyone and demand to be petted. He loved belly rubs the best.

I always got a kick out of watching Bear enter the dog park. He had so much confidence. He swaggered in like a rock star, waiting for the other dogs to run up and admire him, which they did. He would then saunter over and let all the humans pet him and give him compliments. Then he would run and play. Everyone knew me as Bear’s mom, and I loved every minute of it. We went to the dog park daily, and I learned how to laugh again, standing on the sidelines, watching him run like the wind, while I was talking to strangers who became friends—all who loved and cared about me and Bear.

One thing he did always amazed me. On days when I still felt a little blue, somehow, he would sense it. I could never figure out how he knew. I would be standing with other people at the dog park, chatting away in my usual spot near the picnic table, watching him from a distance. Then, suddenly, our eyes would meet from across the park where he was playing. For a moment, he would hold my gaze, and then, he would start running. He wouldn’t take his eyes off of me the whole time. I would tear up watching him coming towards me, his little ears blown back, a big smile on his face, running to me as fast as he could. I would kneel down and he would run into my arms and shower me with kisses and then sit back and smile and let me hug him and thank him for sensing that I needed him, just at that moment.

He always knew.

Bear pulled me out of the worst part of my life and led me into the next. His unconditional love let me open my heart again, something I couldn’t imagine doing at the time, and before Bear was a year old, I had met the man I would marry. Shea has admitted that seeing Bear’s pictures on Facebook had left him as excited to meet Bear as he was to see me. (I can’t say I blamed him).

The first time Shea and Bear met, there was an instant connection. Bear was always protective of me, and didn’t let anyone come into the house easily, but he let Shea right in, and he loved him from the moment he met him. As we continued dating, Bear grew to absolutely adore Shea, and would become distressed when Shea would leave, so much so that we had to figure out ways for Shea to sneak out.

Once we were married, Shea and Bear were inseparable, and Bear became Shea’s shadow. If Shea sneezed, Bear would jolt violently and run to his side to check on him. If Shea sniffled, Bear had to quickly check on him. Bear slept in the bed with us, and every noise Shea made at night, Bear had to make sure he was ok. Bear would literally lose sleep worrying about Shea.

Some of the funniest moments were when I would sneeze, and Bear would still check on Shea. Or when Shea was in the shower and would sneeze and Bear would burst into the bathroom and have to check on Shea, shower or not.

I loved watching Shea and Bear together, and it always warmed my heart how much they loved each other. They had a special bond, all their own, from day one.

I have always made a big deal over Bear’s birthday, baking him a doggie cake and giving him cheeseburgers with his birthday number on them, taking pictures and videos. Christmas was a huge deal, with Santa coming to visit and leaving a ridiculous amount of toys and treats.

It all might seem silly, but I am so thankful for every picture and video now.

Everything changed on April 7, when I left for several days for a work conference in San Francisco, just about an hour from our house. Bear had seemed a little tired, but nothing that either Shea or I was really worried terribly about. I always overthink things, so I had it in my head to ask Shea about him while I was gone. And I did. Every day.

Shea let me know that Bear was running and playing, eating everything he could get, which was normal, and being his usual self.

When I got home on Thursday night, Bear was so happy to see me, even moreso than usual, he jumped on me, and snuggled up next to me, and gave me kisses. That night, we gave him so many treats, and were laughing as he barked for more, no matter how many he got. He seemed a little sluggish to me, and I made an appointment to take him to the vet the next day. I really thought he had stomach issues or something minor.

The next day was a whole different story. Bear was not himself, and around mid-morning, I saw him struggle to get up. My worry shifted into high gear. I rushed him to our vet, and after some blood work and xrays, they sent us to the emergency vet for an ultrasound.

Bear had hopped right into the car and otherwise seemed ok, so I was trying to soothe myself, talking out loud to myself and him in the car, everything’s going to be ok, everything’s going to be ok.

We got the emergency vet and being his usual friendly self, Bear greeted everyone in the waiting room, wagging his tail, waiting to be petted, and soaking up the compliments. I was shaking at the other end of his leash, trying to talk to the woman behind the reception desk. Still saying things to myself, willing him to be ok.

He had to be sedated for the ultrasound, and I paced around the waiting room, made all kinds of deals with the universe, and texted and called my husband and best friend…and waited.

The doctor finally called me in.

She cried as she told me that Bear had cancer, and that it had spread everywhere.
I blinked back at her in disbelief. This had never entered my realm of possibility. I wasn’t even thinking about cancer.

There was nothing I could have done, she had reassured me, but there was also nothing that could be done.

It was an awful moment. I sobbed as I asked what we needed to do for Bear. I was astonished to learn that we had so little time. He was going to start deteriorating so fast. Within hours. I could take him home for one more night, but he was not well, and any time after that would be difficult.

She let me know that he wasn’t in pain, just that he probably felt sick, like he had the flu. I asked if they could give him some medicine to make him comfortable. They gave him some anti-nausea meds.

I waited out in the waiting room for Bear to be brought to me. And when they did, there, in front of everyone, I fell to my knees and sobbed. I buried my head in his neck and told him I was so sorry and how much I loved him. I leaned back, and sweet Bear licked away my tears.

We made our way home. I had kept Shea updated, and I knew he was in shock. We were both sobbing as Bear made his way into the house for the last time. We couldn’t believe how fast he had deteriorated. We had both dreamed of giving Bear one last amazing day of everything he had ever wanted—endless cheeseburgers, a walk on the beach, all his favorite treats—but it was clear that none of that was going to happen. He laid on the couch and we told him over and over that we loved him, and we just loved on him as he rested. When we went to bed, he came into the bedroom and jumped onto the bed, and slept between us, one last time.

Taking him to the vet to let him go was absolutely hardest thing I have ever had to do. However, the one thing that gave me and Shea any peace about it was that it was clearly time. Bear had deteriorated so fast, it was unbelievable. He was able to walk into the vet, I was thankful for that. He would have hated to be carried. And he was still aware, and knew we were there. But, he was not well. We would not let him get to the point of suffering.

Those last moments are oursin our three hearts, shared just between us. But I will tell you that Bear wagged his tail and loved us until the end, and that we held him as he took his last breath. He left this earth with words of love and gratefulness for how wonderful he made our lives.

In the days since we lost him, I have been lost. I should keep a list of the places I have fallen apart in public. I wish I knew the names of the people who have comforted me, once they knew the reason, crying with me in the aisles of Safeway, Target, and Sam’s.

Bear was not just a dog. As my therapist recently said, Bear was a being of such importance in my life—animal or human—that this is a huge loss. Because for me, Bear was never a pet. He was the heart I tied my hope to, a life preserver, a confidante that led me back to the living. As dramatic as it sounds, I can tell you without an ounce of hesitation that there is a very good chance that I would not be here without Bear. In the months leading up to the day I adopted Bear, I was losing my battle with depression. So many things kept happening, one after the other. It was more than any one person should take. More than I could take. Everyone around me saw it, too. They were worried.

The tide changed with Bear.

How do you repay that debt?

Yes, I saved his life the day I adopted him. But he went on to save mine, and then fill my life and Shea’s life with so much joy.

I still think I see him coming around the corner in the kitchen when I am cooking, or beside me when I roll over in bed. I swear I have heard his little sigh when he would lay down when the house is quiet.

I have felt that I have failed him, that I should have caught his illness sooner. It is all part of grief, I guess.

I know that Bear had a good life, and all the birthdays, and holidays, and all the days at the beach, all added up to a really spoiled dog by anyone’s standards. I am so grateful for all of that. Every silly thing I did, every over-the-top thing.

In my heart I know I did the best I could to love him, and give him everything.

Every day as I try to get through this grief, when I am struggling because I miss him so much, I close my eyes and imagine our eyes meeting from afar. I see him recognizing how much I need him—and he is running to me, as fast as he can. He doesn’t take his eyes off of me for a second, and he is smiling the whole time.

I love you, Bear.

Ten years just wasn’t long enough.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

17 Years

I am on a train, and as we started to move, I just burst into tears. I might be a little dramatic. But, I waited 17 years to get back here.

Paris. I am headed to Paris. Almost 17 years to the day, I am on a train, headed straight to my favorite place in the world, a place that means so much to me. There just hasn’t been an opportunity; life and work have gotten in the way, the time hasn’t been right, the finances haven’t been right, the list goes on. All the while, I have dreamed and wished and hoped. I honestly gave up on ever coming back.
Then, I had to come to London for work, and being two hours away from Paris, there was no way I was going to let the chance pass me by. So, voila! My work is done, and I am headed for a short stay in Paris.

When I went to Paris 17 years ago, it was on a lark, more of a last minute trip, not planned or obsessed over. I had to take vacation time I was going to lose, and I had a lot of hotel and airline points, and could do it for free, so I thought, why not Paris?

But, upon arrival, something so unexpected happened. I felt a connection to the city like nothing I had ever experienced before. Like I was “of” this place, like I had past lives here, or at the very least, my ancestors had walked here. I felt the very being of me had started here. I felt I had found home, something I have been endlessly searching for. I still can’t quite explain the connection I felt to Paris, but that feeling never left me, and the need to get back was like an aching chasm. 

Later that same year, I went back at Christmastime, and I thought surely the spell would be broken, that maybe I was just so vacation-starved that Paris had cast a temporary spell that spring, but the feeling was even stronger. As I did the first time, as I left for the airport to go home, I wept in the cab the entire way.

There are other places that I love, other cities that are special to me, San Francisco in particular, that have a part of my heart. But there is something different and deeper about Paris. There always will be.

So, now, I am headed back, and I don’t have to ask if the spell is still there, the tears in my eyes tell me it is. Paris is waiting for me, and I am going home, even just for a few days. I cannot wait. I will wander, eat bread and cheese and pastries and not count a calorie once. I will walk through museums that make me remember why I loved every art class I ever took, and that I have tried to learn and absorb everything I can about the artists behind the huge canvases on the walls. I will stand in awe over works that are ancient that I have seen many times, but still feel like I am seeing them for the first time.

I will not plan too much, and get lost and end up finding amazing shops and restaurants, as I have both times when I visited before. I will still be a tourist and do a few touristy things. I will see the Eiffel tower. I will go back to my favorite little places I remembered in my dreams over the years.
I didn’t realize it had been seventeen years until I counted a few nights ago, and it made me sad. I had always kept Paris kept closer in my mind. I couldn’t imagine it had been so long. But now, I am going. Next week, I can say, I was just in Paris, last week. And in about two hours, I can say, I am in Paris, right now. 

Right now. 

What a wonderful thing.


Friday, January 27, 2017

Eight Years with Bear

I wasn’t prepared for how hard my life was going to be. None of us are. Unexpected hills and valleys, illnesses, loss, broken hearts, and then even more loss in different forms. There are so many things I have now that I thought I would never have: love, marriage, a sweet husband, a good, well-paying job, and relatively good health (aside from chronic migraines). 

But I am healthy enough to get up and go, to work, and to take care of myself and my family.

I am guilty of making decisions in the hope that this “one thing” would make everything better. If I move here- to this place- my life will get better. If I get this job—my life will completely change and everything will work out. None of it is absolute. So many pieces have to fit together. I learn new lessons every day—some infinitely more painful than others.

Last year, as it came time for my annual post about Bear—my 7th, celebrating his 7th year as my sweet boy, I struggled to write it. I try to post on January 17 every year, the date I adopted him. It has always been fun to revisit the previous year of his antics and stories. The last few years have been harder for me to write, because I see time already affecting him and slowing him down. Mind you, he is now only 8, and he has an activity level now that probably represents a normal dog. When he was younger, he had the energy of 10 dogs, and I remember thinking I couldn’t wait until he slowed down.

And now he has.

As I have written before, he truly was a part of saving my life. In a low point—my lowest—I felt there wasn’t much to live for. I had battled depression for most all of my life, and I was losing the battle, the war, and my very desire to try.

Bear wasn’t one of those decisions where I thought—if I get this dog, it will make everything better. Deciding to adopt Bear was an out of the blue, completely unplanned, and not-thought-through, snap decision. Something in me knew he was mine-- and I was his--the very second I saw him. It wasn’t a choice, or a hopeful decision. I just knew he was supposed to come home with me, even though it made no sense at the time to bring a dog into my life.

I have no idea what he went through before he came to me, but I know it probably wasn’t good. He was only 12 weeks old, and for the first few days I had him, he was calm, and seemed sad. He perked up quickly, though, once he seemed to realize that he was staying and not being taken anywhere else.

He was stubborn, demanding, hilarious, and a big cuddle bug.

He is still all of those things today.

The biggest difference between now and even a few years ago is the stomach issues he has. This was a dog that could eat anything—and I mean anything—and would leave the vet scratching his head as to how he ingested a myriad of things, including: matchbooks, lightbulbs, packets of shampoo, Christmas ornaments, and large amounts of chocolate (just to name a few) without so much as a whimper, any sickness, or any damage, or need for surgery.

Now, if we give him too many treats in one day, his stomach gurgles and moans, and he feels awful. Not so awful that he doesn’t continue to beg for more, but he doesn’t have his cast-iron puppy tummy anymore.

We also no longer have to brace ourselves and guard the front door in acrobatic fashion—as he doesn’t dart out the second he sees an opening. This activity consumed our lives the first three years we had him—and I cannot count how many times I ran through several neighborhoods in hot pursuit of my 110 pound dog who had once again Houdini-ed his way out the door and down the street.

But, oh how lucky we are to share every moment.

I know everyone believes their dog is special (and as the saying goes, they would be right). But there are a few dogs—I see this in other dogs I meet at the dog park or other places—that hold some special quality that makes you believe there is something deeper lurking behind those big round eyes staring back at you.

Bear has that quality. He seems so aware of the world around him—in an almost human way. He senses when my husband or I are struggling and comes to us in ways and with gestures that take our breath away. I have a connection with Bear that is hard to explain, and yet, I love to tell people about. The bond he shares with my husband Shea is almost magical to watch. Bear loves Shea – adores him—and has from the second he met him. He hangs on Shea’s every word.

Bear is different with me, more subtle. Cuddling next to me on the couch, wiggling like crazy when I get home from a trip, and wanting me all to himself when he is sick. More than anything, Bear knows when I am off--not feeling well, or depressed or stressed--and he comes and finds me. He comforts me—silently, but not silently. With his big, brown, soulful eyes, he does communicate with me.

I adopted Bear in Charlotte, NC, and then we moved to Myrtle Beach, and then traveled across the country with Bear in the car to move to the San Francisco Bay Area. As Shea and I have had our ups and downs with our careers, family stresses, financial worries, and other issues, Bear was always our constant—the rock that made us laugh in the middle of tension-- and pulled us closer when we needed each other.

I love and hate marking this anniversary—eight years with Bear. I want time to stop. I don’t want to ever think about not having Bear in our lives. It’s silly, I know, to worry like this already. Bear likely has many more years with us, and is far from being old. But I also want this awareness of the fleeting time I have with him, because it makes me and my husband appreciate every second. We absolutely do. This boy has been loved beyond measure from the time he became mine, and every single day he knows it. He is spoiled, given more kisses on his furry head than we could ever count, and gets away with getting in the garbage and eating too much fruit in the backyard because we want every moment for him to be happy.

He does generally get scolded for chasing our cat, or trying to steal treats from his little brother Boone, but other than that, he has a pretty stress-free existence.

He LOVES stuffed toys, but doesn’t tear them apart like other dogs do--along with his brother Boone. He just loves them and carries them around. And every night, when he comes to bed, he chooses one toy to bring with him to sleep. Every night, I think my heart will burst when he does this.

He is hilariously impatient. He knows what we are asking for when we tell him “be patient” as we have to open a wrapper with a bone, treat, or toy, and he barks in defiance of the mere notion that he should be patient for that. He also wants to be let outside and back in the very second he requests both activities, even if that means they are only a minute apart. Once we let him outside and he comes to the door to be let in, he will bark once—urgently and loudly. If you don’t run to open the door, his barking becomes more insistent –and you can hear the annoyance in it. It makes us laugh, especially when he can see us walking to towards the door, but feels the pace isn’t quick enough and barks in rapid-fire fashion to let us know it.

A few months ago, I had the scare of a lifetime. It was very early, around 7:00am, and I was still sleeping after a late night of work. I was woken suddenly by an incredibly loud banging sound. I was sure that a generator had exploded in our neighborhood. The house was dead silent. Even the dogs were so shocked- they didn’t bark, which is unusual--they looked around as I did, confused.

I turned over to see that Shea wasn’t in bed with me. I called out to him. Silence. I got up and walked through the house, still thinking it was a generator that had exploded, not noticing that the lights were on and ceiling fans were running—all the while calling out for Shea. Not in the den, not in the kitchen. I had left my cell phone on the kitchen table and was hoping to see a text from him “gone to the gym”—his usual note to me if I was sleeping when he leaves to run. 

No text.

Then, I turned to look down the hallway. In a moment I will never forget, I saw that Shea’s bathroom door was closed. That door is never closed unless he is in there. I started running down the hall, now screaming his name. Then, the dogs started barking. I pushed against the door and it wouldn’t open. To my horror, I realized Shea had collapsed and fallen against the door. The loud bang had been his body hitting the door. I pushed against the door, terrified—Shea was unconscious--and I was panicked. I was afraid of not being able to get to him, and also afraid of hurting him further as I pressed the door against his limp body on the other side.

Then, I noticed Bear next to me, pushing against the door with his head, scratching wildly at the floor, crying. He was panicked, too. But the miraculous thing was that the very high dog gate I had the boys blocked into the bedroom with was still in the same place, completely blocking the bedroom door, with no opening for escape. It’s too high for Bear to have jumped. I will never know how he got out in the hallway. All I know is that he had to try and get to his beloved dad, and he was trying to help me.

Thankfully, as I started dialing 911, Shea came around, groaning, the sweetest sound I have ever heard. He ended up spending the night in the hospital for observation, but was totally fine, and the whole thing boiled down to him passing out from extreme pain in his knee.

The night he spent in the hospital, Bear was inconsolable. He sat staring at the front door, whining, jumping at every sound outside to see if it was Shea coming home. Bear never likes it when Shea is gone, but this was different. This was worry. I had to force him into the bedroom that night, and he stood at the gate for most of it, staring down the hallway, whining.

Since Shea came home, he can’t shut the bathroom door without Bear scratching, or managing to open it. He sometimes stands in the bathroom while Shea showers. He is keeping an eye on him, and his worrying is so human, so real. We both talk to him and assure him. But, it’s in those eyes of his. He understands what happened, and he is worried.

As much as I try and explain it, I can’t. The special being this dog is. His sixth sense of knowing so many things that he shouldn’t be able to understand. The way he cocks his head when we talk to him. The way he comes to me when I am too deep in thought about things I can’t change, and no one but me knows my heart is hurting, and I am in the bedroom alone. I hear the soft click-click of his claws as he enters the bedroom and comes to me, quietly, slowly, and puts his head against mine, and then lays down next to me.

When I first brought him home, Bear literally saved me. 

He still does, every single day.

It’s funny, I have made so many (what I considered to be) well-thought-out decisions in my life, in the hopes of that one small, insignificant thing changing my whole life for the better. But the one decision I made without thinking, without weighing the pros and cons, and without putting the weight of all my happiness on the outcome, turned out to be the one decision that did all those things and more.

Thank you, sweet Bear, for eight years with us. 

You are so loved. 

We are so lucky.

All of my Bear posts, year by year:



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