A Season of Loss


Charlotte’s  Repose

Sophie’s Paws

The end of last week marked a heart-crushing milestone in our lives. Within 24 hours, we lost both our beloved greyhounds Charlotte and Sophie. There are no words for the gaping hole in our family their loss has created, coming a week after we lost our 19-year-old kitty, Pookie, and less than two months after the death of my father.

In our heads, we know these beings won’t live as long as we do, but we bring them into our lives and love them anyway, accepting that our hearts will break when they leave. We had our girls for over 10 years. Sophie was 14 1/2 and Charlotte 13, long lives for greyhounds. While Sophie’s passing was expected given her deteriorating health, Charlotte’s was sudden and unexpected.

An animal intuitive I know told me that it was clear the two of them were very bonded. They helped to complete each other. Sophie was often very shy around strangers, while Charlotte was outgoing and effervescent with happiness. Even still, it’s apparently rare when animals decide to pass together. Typically, Charlotte always had to be the first dog out the back door, so it makes sense that she went first, waiting on the other side for Sophie.

Although we find it difficult to breathe in the wake of their loss, I think they knew we’d be o.k……eventually, and we don’t regret a single minute we spent with them. They enriched our lives immeasurably.


The Boy in the Rowboat

Boy in the Rowboat

I know many of my friends lately have had to deal with the passing of a parent. This past February it was my turn. I didn’t know, but my father had been living with Parkinson’s-like symptoms for a while, not having told anyone until the symptoms were unavoidably visible. I live a continent away and trips back east are not frequent, except that while I was visiting with my mother, whose husband died after Thanksgiving, I went to see my father who was hospitalized. The doctors were having a hard time diagnosing what was happening with him. Dad thought it all may have had to do with a cyst on his brain stem. It wasn’t. Turns out he had a very aggressive, Parkinson’s-like disease and died within two months of the diagnosis, two months after I saw him for the last time. The boy in the rowboat crossed the horizon.

Dad and I had a fraught history. My parents were young when they had me, an accident. Neither of them knew how to be parents. They weren’t yet fully adults themselves. It took me a long time to understand and accept that after measuring my childhood in losses and absences, words not said, hugs not given, voids filled with fear and anger. Later in life, Dad seemed to find his way, learned how to be a grandfather to my brother’s daughter and his companion’s kids.

At his memorial, I heard people say many warm things about my Dad. He was certainly a likable person. But I sat counting the things I couldn’t say, like how hard it was to find Father’s Day cards that didn’t ring false. Like how I didn’t hear my father say he loved me until I was in my 50s (though better late than never). How some men’s cologne will always be the scent of rage for me. However, because of his absences of heart and attention, I’ve learned how to be strong, self-sufficient, how to step out of the dark of depression to create my own life.

A recent movie presented a beautiful, heartbreaking meditation on time and memory, posing a question; would you live your life over again knowing what you’d have to go through? I don’t know. I know I miss my Dad. We never seemed to have much in common beyond shared biology and history, but in the last couple years, he began to respond to my photography in a way that I never expected, initiating conversations on various images. For Christmas this past year, I sent him a calendar I made from my photos. My brother said that when they had to move Dad into a nursing care facility, they posted my calendar on the wall where he could see it. His last post on Facebook in September of 2016 was of two images side-by-side, images that meant much to him: a photograph of his beloved Rottweiler, Greta, and an old black and white photo of me at around age 2, explaining that “both are beautiful.”

Greta and Me

I know this final absence has opened up old wounds, but I look at my favorite image of Dad, the boy in the rowboat, and I understand how he is a part of me, regardless. He was once young and hopeful. He had things he wanted to do and to be. He lost things and gained others, including 5 marriages, while he navigated the complex scope of his life. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, particularly at the end.

What I do hope is that at my end, I can look upon the intersection of his life and mine and also declare, “both are beautiful.”

Dad and I

Hounds of the Heart


Eight years ago, we adopted two ex-racing greyhounds. Sophie, our first greyhound, was  two-and-a-half, extremely shy, and spent her first couple months with us in a fetal position. She wouldn’t eat unless we left the room. She’d tremble violently when she was around people she didn’t know, but she slowly started getting used to us.

Sophie's Paws

Sophie’s Paws

When we took her to a greyhound fundraiser, thinking she’d like being around other greyhounds, we met Charlotte, a year-and-a-half and just off the track with a broken foot. Charlotte’s exuberance was a sharp contrast with Sophie’s nearly pathological introversion, but Sophie felt an immediate bond with Charlotte, which she demonstrated by draping her neck over Charlotte’s neck in a neck-to-neck hug. We knew we had to adopt Charlotte. Six months later, her broken foot healed, Charlotte came to live with us and taught Sophie how to be a dog, how to play, how to be happy, how to enjoy naps on the sofa, and how to trust a few humans.

Charlotte in the Sunshine

Charlotte in the Sunshine

When Sophie was lost 4 years ago (the gardeners left the gate to the yard open and we searched for Sophie for two agonizing weeks before we found her), Charlotte was always part of the effort to find her and happy when she was reunited with our family. They are a continuous, wonderful part of our lives beyond being frequent subjects for my photography. They are our greyhound girls, our hounds of the heart, our family.

On Christmas Eve, we found out Sophie has lymphoma, and a week later, the lab results from the lump on Charlotte’s head indicated she has sarcoma, after having had a malignant melanoma removed from her chest two months ago. Needless to say, we were reeling from this awful news. We’re getting them the treatments they need to fight this, combining both traditional protocols with alternative approaches. And then we take it a day at a time.

A friend with greyhounds who has been through this said to try and stay calm around the girls so they’re not stressing out like their humans. I try. I’m not sure I’m that good at compartmentalization, even though I understand what my friend means. But the hounds know. They follow me around the house, having to be in whatever room I’m in. So we continue going for walks, we continue showering them with love and treats.

Ultimately all time is borrowed time….for all of us, which the head may acknowledge, but never the heart.

Why I Hate Mother’s Day

Let me first say, I don’t hate Mother’s Day. “Why I Hate Mother’s Day” is the title of a piece writer Anne Lamott wrote for Salon.com that takes on the way our culture views and treats mothers: “No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture’s bad people and behavior.” I tend to agree. It’s a holiday designed for Hallmark more than actual mothers, and even then, the term “mother” is very narrowly defined. I am not a mother (in the traditional sense), but my own mother has been a huge influence in my life, both in good and in bad ways.  Every day is Mother’s Day for me because I can’t imagine a day when I’m not talking with her on the phone, particularly when we are separated geographically  by a continent.

Texas Annie

Texas Annie

It’s interesting, though, to think about her life, apart from the history that we share. She had her own host of dreams, including the one where she gets a horse and changes her name to “Texas Annie.” Later in life, she traded in the dream of being a cowgirl for a teaching career, which she maintained for over forty years. I, too, have become a teacher, but, ironically, I am highly allergic to horses. And whatever she is or hopes to be now that she’s retired from teaching, this is one of my favorite pictures of her: a beaming, confident girl ready to ride into the sunset.