Another Farewell

As usual, this isn’t the post I wanted to write. I started it earlier today when I was still merely contemplating making the call for Grady, our gentle giant, Tank Boy.

When I was merely contemplating I was (mostly) okay with the decision, after all, it’s not like it comes as a surprise. Grady turned 15 in April and, honestly, I was amazed he made it this long. He’s had a few issues in his old age, but the good days have always outnumbered the bad.

Over the past week, however, the scales tipped. Grady’s appetite waned. He was still eating, but without his usual gusto. He slowly stopped galumphing across the yard in an attempt to keep up with Jig. And though he tried his best, he fell down frequently and needed more help getting back up. The walk in from the yard became a slow, stumbling event, and there were times he had such a list to the right he would have walked circles if not for my leg to lean against.

Grady’s age, as it will do, has caught up to him.

And I was (mostly) okay until I actually made the call and sent the texts to those who know Grady well.

That circle is small. Grady didn’t trial. His trips off the farm were mostly to the vet, visiting, or going camping, something that won’t be the same without having to go collect him when he wandered off, making apologies for the old dog.

Around the farm he was the gentle greeter, the big, goofy guy with the perpetually sunny outlook, and the tamer of wild puppies.

I’m still (mostly) okay, though tomorrow will be hard. It sucks. This habit some of us have of giving a piece of our hearts to creatures we know we stand a good chance of outliving many times over. Yet we do it again and again, even though the letting go never gets any easier.

What an empty existence it would be without them, though. The laughs, the unconditional love, the frustration, the heartaches, the friendships they lead us into and the adventures they take us on.

We will miss our Tank Boy. Safe journey, old man. Tell your Bruncle I said hi.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been struggling with this post for a few weeks.

First it was going to be about training; where I’m at with the dogs, what I’m working on now that the clinic & trialing year is done, plans for next year, the usual.

Then I thought I should really give Rebel Kitten his own post because… well…

Truth of the matter is though, I’m finding it difficult to write anything other than a post more fully answering the question some of my friends have been asking. How am I doing since losing Cian?

I have that post written. When I finished, I couldn’t decide whether I would hit delete or publish. I did neither. The writing of it was, in itself, truly cathartic. There are reasons psychiatrists suggest people keep journals. Just getting your thoughts and feelings out can really aid in healing. Or at least in dealing with them.

Though I still have that post, I decided not to share it. It’s… pretty emotional and I’m generally more private when it comes to deep emotions. I’m not a ‘wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve’ type of gal. Although I share some things here and on Facebook, only a very few, very close friends ever get the dubious honor of seeing me completely melt down. And even that is rare. Not saying it’s the healthy way of handling things, but I’m pretty accomplished at the art of internalizing, dealing, and moving on. Usually.

This time, however, the ‘moving on’ seems maddeningly difficult. Something I realized when I found myself still answering those inquiries as to how I’m doing with, “It’s been tough.” accompanied by a boatload of tears when what I want to say is something upbeat because it’s been a month now and I need to move on.

So why share even this much? Well, as I’ve said before, writing is my therapy. And the purpose of this blog, after all, is to share my journey. A journey not unlike many others, I’m sure. And so you’re getting a bit of everything this time around.

First, training. Jig and I ended the trialing season with a couple Final’s Points in sheep and ducks (LMAO on that one) and I think 1 point on cattle. Over winter I need to decide if I’m going to keep trialing Jig or retire her. With things already scheduled for next year I don’t have a lot of vacation to play with. Finding trials early enough in the year to get the remaining points would mean travelling south and I just don’t have the extra travel time. So the question becomes, do I keep working with Jig, take all we’ve learned and look toward 2021 Finals instead? Decisions, decisions.

And then there’s Dillon. He and I continue to have moments of brilliance and moments of …

Lately we’ve been working on getting him to understand and use his power. It’s not that he’s overly soft. He’ll stand in the sheep’s pressure all day if I let him, just begging one to pop so he can put it back, but when he needs to push from the rear and get a stubborn sheep to move, he’s just not certain how to handle that. Toward that end, we’ve been doing some chute work with me helping him, letting him know it’s okay if he has to nip one. He’s been punching with his nose, then popping back and looking at me. I don’t give him too much eye contact, keep my focus on the stock and verbally praise and encourage. I can’t overdo the praise or he gets all sorts of goofy and wiggly. The boy can be a bit immature at times but he certainly makes me smile and utterly adores me. Can’t knock either of those qualities.

Next up… Rebel Kitten. This cat. I can’t even. He’s such a character. He really deserves some screen time. It is a rarity for me to be able to work the dogs without Rebel coming along and helping out.

Lastly, Cian… it’s been tough. I’m stuck somewhere between the anger and the sadness. There are, as I would say with Cian’s epilepsy, more good days than bad, but there’s also not a day I don’t think of him and fight back tears with varying degrees of success. Being me, I lose patience with myself in short order for being a weenie. Also, being me, I’ll work my way through it and come out the other side.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss… you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.
                                                                                                                               

~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler

The past couple of weeks have been tough. No doubt about it. Cian isn’t the first dog we’ve lost and he won’t be the last but, in many regards, he was the hardest. I want to take a moment to publicly thank all of you for the kind words, the private messages, the cards, the hugs, the support and the understanding. I’ve been riding the roller coaster of grief as best I can, trying not to think too much, bouncing erratically from tears to anger, most times settling somewhere in-between as I remind myself to live in the moment.

In any case, healing is coming, though it’s taking its own sweet time. I read somewhere that if you can tell your story without crying, you’re well on your way. Guess I’m not too close to that point yet, but I’ve been attempting to help it along by doing those things that always prove good for my soul.

The weekend after losing Cian we took one of our yearly family camping trips that had been planned for quite some time. Nothing like campfires, hiking, drinks, food, laughing, hours of table games, and the company of some of the most important people in my life to help reclaim my happy.

There wasn’t as much of this as usual. High winds, rain, sleet…
…and even some snow, gave us only a few short windows to enjoy sitting around a roaring camp fire.
There was, however, quite a bit of this, regardless of what Mother Nature tried to throw at us. Nothing like losing yourself in nature to soothe the soul.
And of course, there were shenanigans.
This is what happens when you don’t behave on a hike.

This past weekend, more soul food as Jig and I road-tripped to Michigan for the SEMASA trial. As usual, we got to see people we don’t see nearly often enough. There were hugs, more tears, more healing. I will admit, however, I almost lost it altogether after Jig’s first cattle run. In a very un-Jig-like fashion, Miss I-Love-Me-Some-Cows barely looked at the steers. As I headed to the re-pen after accomplishing next to nothing, I had to fight back a wave of frustration that found energy in some grief to give it even more impetus.

Here’s where being surrounded by the sort of camaraderie present at the trials I attend is a wonderful thing. The certainty that if I had to have a meltdown, the folks there would be the ones to have it in front of because they understood and would be my strength if my own faltered, made it possible for me to smother the surge of emotion. I took their strength, added in some constructive input from a good friend and what she thought was happening during our failed run, tossed in more than a few deep breaths, and created a new game plan for our next go. I’m pleased to say it was a vast improvement.

Jig and I had quite a few ups and downs over the weekend. It’s funny how things always seem worse from the driver’s seat. I felt as though Jig was being fast and pushy, not listening, and I was handling like crap. To those watching, it didn’t appear as bad. In fact, I received several nice compliments on Jig and one offer to take her off my hands if I didn’t like her. As sorely tempting as that might be at times… nah, it would never happen. And, even though I didn’t think we’d accomplish anything, we somehow managed to collect a couple finals points (one in ducks, of all things!) and take High Combined WTCH for the weekend.

When all was said and done, I felt pretty good about the weekend. Yeah, there’s a lot we still need to improve on, but we’re making progress and that’s always a good thing. One of the suggestions that made the biggest impact was for me not to come down on Jig so hard in the trial arena. I have a tendency to go straight to the Level 10 Felony correction. If, however, I remained calm but firm and kept things at, say, more of a Level 3 Misdemeanor, it made a great deal of difference in how Jig responded. It also made a great deal of difference in how I handled by keeping my stress level down.

Image result for meerkat meditating

So life, as it always will, goes on. Someday I’ll be able to tell Cian’s story without tears. Until then I need only remember…

Only in the darkness can you see the stars. ~Martin Luther King Jr.