Filling in with life.


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The beauties featured in the photograph are the cynosure of my eyes right now. After Sage’s death, a dear friend gifted me a blooming orchid. She said seeing a new life bloom may soothe me after the loss. She was absolutely right. As each bloom unfolded its potential and spread its beauty, I was mesmerized. I sat by it thinking of my years with Sage but not in a melancholy way. The quiet splendor of the orchid gave me peace.

Another friend is a nurturer of indoor plants and succulents. The pictures of her plants on Instagram inspired me to buy a succulent for myself. Although I enjoy flowers immensely, I am sad to admit, I kill plants. Understandably, I was nervous to buy the succulent fearing I may be incapable of keeping even a hardy plant alive. My friend encouraged me. “I believe in you” she said. I ventured out and bought 3 succulents. I kept them on the sunny ledge of the balcony where Sage used to sit and reign over his domain. I added 2 basil plants, a mint plant and 2 pepper plants to the mix. Now Sage’s ledge is completely covered by new life. I like to sit by them, savor their quiet beauty and think of him.

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This was his space. He ruled his world from here.

I managed to keep all the plants alive this year. They seem to be thriving. So I got ambitious and bought more succulents for inside my house. I work and read next to them now, glancing over often to marvel at how beautiful they are, how full of life. Sahana bought some baby ones for her room and now we have quite a collection of quiet yet vibrant life in and out of our house.

Sage left us with emptiness and quiet. The plants fill up that emptiness with their lives. They maintain the quiet. I don’t mind it. Their radiating beauty soothes my soul.

Sage’s path


This is Sage’s path. No, our county did not name it Sage’s path, we did. Our backyard abuts some sports fields and right next to the fields were acres and acres of cornfields for as long as we lived here. About 3 years ago, the owner of those cornfields sold his land to developers. One fine day, we saw and heard big machinery mowing down the green. Like magic, big and small houses appeared, they were sold and bought, within a year young families moved in. Lucky for us, though, the developers kept a swath of land undeveloped and wild as a buffer between the new community and the fields.

As Sage grew older, we shortened the route of his regular walk to the fields so he had enough stamina and also could walk leash free. Every morning, I hung his leash around my shoulder, opened our gate and walked towards the field. Sage, quivering with excitement bounded ahead, but always looked back to make sure I was within his sight. A lot was accomplished during those walks. Bunnies were sniffed out, mom was protected from attacking deer, exciting new smells were discovered, explored and sometimes licked. If mom did not stop him in time, there was some rolling in deer poop. Then there was scolding and shaking of head by mom, followed by a bath when we came home. As Sage explored the wilderness, I freed my mind, breathed in the fresh air and tried to absorb the soothing energy. Even on his last day, I took him to his fields to say a final goodbye. He could not walk far so he took a few steps, looked around. I believe he sighed.

The shadow of the 3 of us on Sage’s path.

Sage left us on January 31st and we began our quarantine on March 13th. During this time of physical isolation, Sean, Sahana and I walked in the fields and the undeveloped area that the developers spared almost every single day. Without a big yellow dog to chase and scold them, the deer, foxes and bunny rabbits watched us walk by. I could almost see a bounding big dog running ahead of us, looking back, saying, “You coming?” We talked about him. We walked through those fields every single evening, reminiscing about Sage but in a good way. That path, for his humans, has become Sage’s path.

Ryan laces up his sneakers saying, “I will go for a run to Sage’s path.” When we ask each other where we wanted to walk that evening we suggest, “Should we just go to Sage’ path?”

I realize grief is non linear. I think of him everyday. I really do. This quarantine gave me so much time to pause and grieve. It gave me the opportunity to get angry at the injustice of losing him and also gave me moments when I smiled at his memories. Each of us grieved in our own unique ways. Ryan’s perspective on this loss was noteworthy and I thought I should write it down.

“I know, mom, you are so sad about his death. I was, of course, sad but I learnt a lesson from losing him. Sage’s death has taught me something new. Losing something invaluable like Sage has taught me I need to value what I have. I am fifteen. Before losing Sage, I took things for granted. My family, my friends, the materials I have. His death taught me not to take things for granted. Nothing lasts. I need to value what I have. I text back my friends more regularly which I did not do before, I try to spend more time talking to my family, I appreciate all that I have. Sage’s death taught me all this.”

Although Sage decided to simply find a permanent place in our hearts, his path remains. His path leads me to peace. It leads Sean to contemplation. It leads almost adult Sahana to a bonding time with her family and perhaps, reflection. His path leads Ryan to a life lesson.

Rest in happiness, beautiful boy.

What grief taught me


Out of nowhere, a catastrophe struck. One Saturday, I took my Sage to the emergency vet’s office because he was slightly shivering. I was concerned but not worried. Maybe it was something he ate, maybe he just needed some medication to settle his stomach. He had not been eating his kibbles for a few weeks but ate everything else with relish – chicken, beef, treats, fallen cheese or tit bits while I cooked. So yes, I just wanted some medicine and go home. The vet came out to tell me that things did not look good. The news was devastating really. My beautiful boy had hemangiosarcoma and he did not have time. As she spoke, my brain did not quite process her words. The finality or the severity of what she said did not hit me till they took Sage in for some more conclusive tests. That is when I called Sean and asked him to come meet me at the emergency hospital.

Within a week we said goodbye to our companion for over 10 years. We wanted a week to love him and make sure the family was with him to say final goodbye. He did not seem to be in pain, just very tired. He went quickly and peacefully. It seemed he was ready. His decline in that short week was incredibley fast and heart breaking. On Friday morning, the day he was going to sleep forever, I took him to a park which he always loved since he was a puppy. He did not have any energy so we just sat on a bench and watched Canada geese in the water. He got up a few times to say hello to some humans walking by. He got a few pets and scratches behind his years. He also gave me the stink eye from time to time because he wanted to walk not sit. I sat there looking at him and allowed tears to stream down my face. His life from the day we got him passed by in my mind. So many memories, so much happiness, unconditional love. His love of snow, his frolic in leaves, his play bows and long hikes, his devotion and unconditional love for his humans. When we tried to go back to the car, he could hardly put one foot in front of the other, he was that weak. I knew right then it was time to let him go. We loved him too much to let him continue to lead a life that was no life at all.

The loss of Sage seemed unreal till the next week when I was all alone in the house. The grief of losing him taught me a thing or two about myself. I grieved and yet I was afraid for the world to know I grieved. I told a few friends how I was really feeling – I did not want to get up from bed, I saw him out of the corner of my eye, I anticipated the clickety click of his claws hitting the hardwood floor but when there was silence I was crushed anew. I looked up at his collar and broke down crying. I opened the door to emptiness when I came home from work. I sat on my reading chair and the space beside it remained empty. The empty space just put a dagger through my heart. My hand was restless to pet his furry head because that was our routine. It gave me a glimpse of what depression can feel like. I sat down on a chair and simply could not or did not have the will power to get up from it. When I forced myself to go for walks I felt I could peek out of a chasm of sorrow but coming back to the house drove me right back into a vortex of despair. I felt physically weak, unmotivated and very, very alone.

Yet when friends asked me how I was or whether I wanted company I was afraid to tell them the truth. I said I was doing ok and I knew it was a matter of time and I would be better. I was afraid to burden them with my overwhelming sorrow. I was afraid of being judged, “Wow, she is going overboard grieving a dog.” In the grand scheme of things, Sage’s life did not matter to others as much with all the sadness and devastating things happening in the world. I was comparing my sadness to the vast sorrow that others feel. So I kept it hidden, I put on a brave face and I laughed and carried on, till I came home to an empty house.

I did (and continue to do) my well wishers a disservice. I am projecting my fears of being judged on my friends who truly would sit with me and let me cry. And not only my friends, I was afraid to tell my husband and my children about my grief. I did not want them to feel bad for me or feel responsible for cheering me up.

Then a friend forwarded me an article. The article talked about not trivializing my loss because there are bigger losses out there in the world. It is not a competition. Only through grieving would I find peace.

I will not get over the loss ever. I know I will heal, I will find peace and I feel I am on my way there. But this loss will always be part of me as will the 10 years of unconditional love that the universe gifted me in the form of Sage. What a gift I was given!

A teenage daughter and now a teenage dog! I clearly need help.


Sage is not a teenage dog, mind you. He is a 35 years old (in human years) dashing gentleman, a convalescing one. He has recently had a surgery on the knee of his right hind leg because he tore it playing amazing soccer (not true, just making it up). But you already knew about that. I already wrote about the surgery, my tears, family’s love, Sage’s bravery and perseverance etc, etc. Now he needs to strengthen his leg muscles by walking on snow, swimming, walking on grass, going up and down the stairs. He needs to do all this but he has to take it slow. ‘Only SHORT leashed walks’ the vet tech warned me. And I am giving him only SHORT leashed walks. And Sage is acting teenagerish – willful, irrational and grumpy.

Every morning as I get ready to take him out, he runs back and forth in excitement, ‘Today is gonna be the day! Today this mean lady, who does not let me have any fun any more will take me for a loooong walk. Today I am going to smell fascinating smells, chase deer, eat or roll in fox poop. Today’s walk is going to be EPIC!’ His eyes say.

I fail him, of course. I walk him for no more than 10 minutes and bring him back. This morning we went in to our back fields but they were full of snow. He started lifting his leg up. So I, assuming his paws were getting cold, brought him out to the streets. He was very happy digging his nose into snow, smelling every mail box and fire hydrant, checking to see if any cats were lurking around or any deer poop that he could gobble up before the mean lady could stop him. But his joy, of course, was short lived. I walked till the end of the street and turned to come home. He looked at me first with disbelief and then stood his ground. The message was clear,

‘YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME, WOMAN!!!!!’

He followed me back but kept turning back, looking wistfully at the path we used to take for our long morning walks before he tore his cranial cruciate ligament. He took extra time sniffing mail boxes that he had already sniffed when we started the walk.

‘Take that! I will take my time and drag my feet and fight you every way without physically resisting you!’

‘Sage, quit it. You are acting like your sister. Very teen agerish! Who asked you to tear your CCL? I don’t want you limping again because of anything foolish like gamboling in the snow or going for long walks right now. Come on now, act your age. We will go up and down the stairs for exercise.’

I had a full blown, loud conversation with my dog as I walked him back. Neighbors, if you were watching, do not be alarmed, I have not lost my marbles yet, I was just having a conversation with Sage.

But if I have to deal with a teenage daughter, a teenagerish grumpy dog, a feather brained tween boy for long, I can not guarantee my sanity.

Supervisor Sage.


I have a supervisor in my house, who I completely love, adore, look up to for guidance/counseling and have nothing nasty to say about. He is perfect or very, very close to being that.

He is handsome and yellowish white. He has a long snout, pinkish brown nose, floppy ears and when he turns on the charm, he gets squinty eyed and irrestistable. He is mostly serious but once in a while, he lets his guard down and shows us his wild side. More about that later, but I must tell the universe why he is the best supervisor in the whole wide world, why I am head over heels in love with him and why someone should write a book on leadership qualities after observing him.

First of all, he is a young man of few words. He guides with his eyes, and sometimes by licking his chops. I like that. Verbosity is not what I need when the children and the husband are out of the house. He lets me have head space but clearly gets the job done by communicating with his beautiful amber eyes. He lets me know when it is time to wake up by standing next to my bed, wagging his tail and blowing doggy breath on my face. Don’t snicker, it is a great way to open my eyes, stretch my arms and leisurely scratch between furry ears. How awesome is it to wake up and be told by silent communing that you are a wonderful human and you are thoroughly loved?

His internal body clock tells him when it is time to wake Ryan. He stands in front of Ryan’s door and tells me with his eyes to do his bidding – ‘Open Ryan’s door please!’ And when I do, he bounds in and nuzzles Ryan’s face, second round of doggy breath exhaled on a human face. Ryan groggily says, ‘Good morning Sage!’ Morning work done!

He doesn’t micromanage yet effectively directs me to important chores like morning walks, feeds, a rawhide bone, toy. His eyes say ‘Yes, I understand you are messaging your college friend via social networking site, and I understand it is important. I will just stand here and look at you with my beautiful eyes and keep the smile on my face! I can wait!’ That works. I am guilted into hastily signing off and fetching the leash.

He shows me where his rawhide bones are kept. He stands in front of them and shifts his paws in the same place, wags his long bushy tail and intermittently licks his chops, while his eyes dart back and forth to the bag of rawhide bones and my face. His will is done. How can I resist? Am I not a mere mortal?

On walks, when I pull him from clumps of dry leaves, he turns his Sagely, somber, beautiful face and says (just always understand, Sage’s saying is with his eyes, so I don’t have to repeat), ‘Human, I understand you do not want me to defecate in that clump of dry leaves because it is difficult to pick up, but please understand, this place smells just right to do my business. Bear with me, for the sake of love that you have for me.’ I obey.

My supervisor is at his best when I haul groceries from the car. After a weekly trip to a retail store for bulk groceries, I feel overwhelmed at the amount of ‘junk’ we need for our family. I rant about having to carry all the items inside the house from the car, I strategize how I can trick my husband into doing the shopping after work. My supervisor, however, gets very motivated at the prospect of sniffing groceries. He detracts me from my evil thoughts of making the husband do it by the spring in his steps and the wag in his tail as he excitedly sniffs the trunk and urges me to open it. After a good round of sniffing, he accompanies me on every trip back and forth from the car to the house with the hearty assurance that I am doing a fantastic job, I am a strong human and I ‘got this.’ He goes in and out of the house saying, ‘I would help you with this if I could, if only my forepaws could carry, but I will not sit around idly as you trek back and forth, I will be with you every step of the way!’ Once all the grocery is brought in, he jumps in the trunk of the minivan and sniffs each crevice to make sure all items have been removed, before I lock the car.

He spends longer time sniffing and licking chops and showing his approval on those rare occasions that I purchase meat or fish. He is the perfect leader. He is not overbearing, he is calm and reassuring instead. He is not bossy but leads by making me feel I am part of whatever idea he came up with. Giving him a bone, taking him for his walk, feeding him, playing tug of war, belly rubs and rolling ball etc were joint decisions. I feel empowered and appreciated. He indulges me by letting me stroke his soft fur and relax after a long day. He endures my baby talk and squeaky voice and even humors me by going squinty eyed and rolling on his back, babylike. He calmly tells young pups to mind their manners when they jump on his snout. If a fellow dog barks at him, he looks quizzically and moves on, a picture of poise and grace. He herds the children constantly and gently rebukes Ryan if he plays too rough. He keeps a close eye as the man of the house does yard work. And makes sure he recieves the belly rubs and pats when he desires by looking at his man with chocolate drop eyes full of love. He has got us dancing to his tune without making us feel we are doing so. We are happy to do it. We live to do it. A true leader, I say.

When the day is done, he waits patiently for me to place his rug by my side of the bed, just so. Sometimes Ryan sneaks his rug into his bedroom to lure Sage in his room. But Sage loves to sleep with the grown up humans, so he waits till his rug is reinstated in its rightful place. Finally he settles down with a contented sigh and yawn, but flicks an eye open when one of his team members get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink. Ever vigilant, ever caring leader of the pack.

Now, there are wild moments when someone comes to visit. Our gentle leader loses his self control in his exuberance to make the guest feel welcome. He also forgets his size as he tries to crawl on their laps. He forgets himself sometimes when I make sandwiches and pitifully begs, or should I say silently wills a piece of cheese or meat to fall on the ground. But we will ignore that. After all, what is there to strive for if we attain perfection?

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Wild things…


First snow of the season in 2012! The boy and the dog couldn’t wait to get outside. The boy bundled up and called the dog to follow. I captured two happy souls and some happy moments in my camera!

Playing attack

Advantage Ryan

Who's taller?

You give up, Ryan?

Tag, you are 'it'!

Gotcha!

I need those gloves!

Friends.

Ryan believes Sage will outlive him. He will designate somebody to take care of Sage when his time finally comes. We tried to tell him, dogs don’t live that long. The thought brought tears, so we let it rest. I hope when he is a grown man, looking back upon his childhood, he will remember these happy times he spent with a big, yellow dog by his side.