Tag Archives: Barbra Streisand

The Dog We’ll Never Forget!

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love

deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

It’s been almost three years since our gorgeous Border Collie, Bilbo, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. However, today I read a few posts which reminded of him and all these raw emotions and memories came flooding back in a way which caught my defences off guard.

Bilbo was every bit a part of our family as the rest of us, and there’s a dreadful sense of loss when you lose someone in your family. Human or dog, you just can’t replace them straight away and they leave behind a hole like a cookie cutter in their very own shape, which can not be filled. However, although it can be painful to remember, it’s ultimately worse to forget, which is why I wanted to share this moving story.

Just to put you in the picture, it was mid-January 2012…eight years ago. It wasn’t New Year’s Day when every other human and their dog automatically go on diets to welcome in the New year. Rather, it was two weeks later. I was the first cab off the rank, Geoff was second and Bilbo was lucky last.

Bilbo + Amelia

Bilbo with the kids when he first arrived.

Starting with yours truly, just before Christmas, I’d found out that my auto-immune disease was affecting my lungs and I was showing early signs of Institial Lung Disease(ILD) and fibrosis. I couldn’t get an appointment with the lung specialist until mid-January, the day before we were due to leave on a family holiday to Byron Bay. I was absolutely distraught over Christmas and New Year and vowed I’d do anything to keep myself alive to be there for the kids. They were still only seven and five and still so young and naturally I vowed to do everything I could to get more time with them. Fight right to the very and if I had to. Indeed, I would do anything for love and the song became my song and mantra through this truly excruciating time:

Jonathon Amelia Bilbo

Taken on our son’s first day of school in 2009.

However, there’s a key line of the song undermines all that devotion….”but I won’t do that”.

What was it I wouldn’t do? Where was my breaking point? Where would I draw the line when it came to self-sacrifice to be there for my kids?

It was funny because I remember looking into the pantry and seeing a packet of Tim Tams sitting in there, and it was calling out to me. It was like they’d come to life and were asking me if I could give them up. Could I give up my beloved Tim Tams to buy extra time with my kids? Or, was the packet of Tim Tams going to be my Achilles Heel? My “but I can’t do that”?

Of course not. I was made of stronger stuff than that. Well, at least I hoped so.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Only a lunatic would go kayaking with two dogs on board, especially Bilbo who is sitting right on top of me. He never really found his sea legs and tried to keep his precious paws well out of the water.

Well, I was lucky. The lung specialist felt that the Institial Lung Disease was mild and dormant. I was not in any imminent danger of dying, although he told me exercise and losing weight could help my breathing and quality of life. The next day, we left for my in-law’s place just outside Byron Bay, Australia’s alternate health capital and found myself sugar-free on the Caveman Diet and drinking gurgling spirolina smoothies. Over the next few months, I lost ten kilos.

Meanwhile, my husband, Geoff, was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and the doctor wanted to see whether diet could avoid medication. So, while I went sugar free, he went low fat and with all of us eating the same food, we were both losing weight.

That is, all except Bilbo.

bilbo BW dog food

The dog really must be sick…he is sleeping in the trail of dog food Miss left for him.

However, that didn’t last very long. Soon, Bilbo went off for his annual trip to the vet’s, and boy did I get a talking to. I don’t know if any of you have ever taken an overweight pet to the vet. If you have, you might’ve found yourselves in a similar spot where you’re much loved pet is unceremoniously called: “FAT.” If they’re being nice, they might tell you: “You’re killing your pet with kindness”. However, they could also be brutally direct, and speak to you in a way that no paediatrician would ever use to a parent of an overweight child. Indeed, they can hit you where it hurts just like a well aimed ruler across the knuckles. Actually, make that the heartstrings. There’s not much worse than being told you’re a bad parent of child or dog.

Bilbo & Lady

Bilbo & Lady

To be fair though, Bilbo did hit the scales at 42 kilos, and although he’s tall for a Border Collie, he wasn’t that tall. Of course, I should’ve known and done something about it myself, without needing the vet to point it out. A friend had referred affectionately to his “love handles” as she was feeding him her left over gravy. Moreover, while he could somewhat conceal all that excess over-indulgence beneath his woolly coat, we weren’t stupid.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Reality really hit home, however, when the vet asked how many meals a day he’d been having. That was the very first time I’d really become conscious of the mind-blowing volume of leftovers I’d been feeding him. Both of our kids were non-eaters and it wasn’t unusual for him to get both of their leftovers breakfast, lunch and dinner. After all, I hate waste, and we even have a worm farm to consume what the dogs don’t eat.

Bilbo was put on an instant diet. No more snacks, treats, leftovers.

Zip.

Fetching Bilbos Ball

Finally some assistance. Miss puts Bilbo out of his misery!

The trouble is, how do you tell a dog that he’s on a diet? How do you explain that you’re just not being mean, when you no longer give him that tasty morsel of fat off your steak? He was so used to getting all of our left overs that he had expectations – a sense of entitlement. So, naturally he looked at me through those huge, soppy puppy dog eyes as though I’d ripped his heart out. I was being so mean, and he knew nothing about the virtues of tough love. Was it too much to ask for Mum to have her cake, and for him to have some too? He certainly thought nothing of it. However he was a slow learner. A few weeks later when the kids went back to school, Bilbo spotted the lunchboxes and knew there would be leftovers for him inside. You could just imagine the look on his face when they bypassed his bowl and went straight in the bin.

Bilbo staring out to sea

I’m surprised Bilbo didn’t record his own sob song and post it on Youtube. His nose was very out of joint. After all, he knew food and love went hand in hand, and straight into his mouth.

“They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

Banksy

The only other time I’ve even seen Bilbo look at food in quite the same way was when he was put on prednisone for an infection. He was absolutely ravenous (prednisone is like a hunger drug and it makes you eat and eat and eat).

It really was hard putting him through this diet, but he lost weight, even if he was never going to make Slimmer-Of -The-Year.

Losing his appetite was the first sign Bilbo wasn’t well at the end and not being able to chase his ball was the second. Even still, we hoped for a miracle.

It wasn’t meant to be.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for

those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as

separation.”

Rumi

However, as the song The Way We Were reminds us:

Bilbo shadow Palm Beach

Our Philosophical Dog walking along beside the tide. He doesn’t like getting wet paws.

Memories
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were

Best wishes,

Rowena

Bilbo with ball

Bilbo appropriating another dog’s ball.

 

Midnight With the Philosopher’s Journal.

Well after midnight the night before last, a melancholy spirit crept into the house via the backdoor, and  joined me, my cup of decaf tea and row of Cadbury Hazelnut chocolate.  Zac, our gorgeous Border Collie x was sleeping across my lap nursing my keyboard,  while the rest of the house slept (or at least pretended to be asleep). In hindsight, I half wonder whether Zac was there to protect me from such spirits late at night, in the same way he guards the house from more physical threats. After all, when you put things in perspective, we often need more protection from ourselves than an intruder.

Anyway, as some of you would be aware, I’ve been researching and writing a collection of short  bios of Australians serving in France during WWI. I won’t just say soldiers, because my latest addition is Bill the Bantam Bugler, a bantam rooster who joined the 13th Battalion 12th reinforcements in camp at Liverpool in Sydney. Not one to be left behind,  he boarded the Suevic on the 22nd December along with the intrepid  Maud Butler and travelled to Egypt, before arriving in France.As it turned out, Billy the Bantam found his own battlefields in farmyards across France where he became the all-conquering Australian Napoleon of the chicken run. No rooster was too big for this little guy bursting with fight.

It was while I was researching Billy, that I came across a series of journals put out by the NSW Red Cross during the war. These journals have been a treasure trove of snippets, taking me off in all sorts of directions.

As you might’ve gathered by now, my research proceeds in anything but a straight, linear path and darts off on multitudinous detours. These are okay. Indeed, you could well consider them “the scenic route”. However, being in unchartered territory, I also need to develop strategies for finding my way back to the main road, or I’ll never get this finished.

Anyway, in the August 1916 edition, I found a quote which has taken me off on a completely different journey, forging a new main road straight through the bush. It reads:

“Never to tire, never to grow cold; to be patient, sympathetic, tender; to

look for the budding flower and the opening heart; to hope always; like

God, to love always–this is duty.”

Henri-Frederic Amiel

Amiel's journal

I’d never heard of this Swiss philosopher before, or  his famous journal: The Journal Intime. That’s now changed, and I spent the rest of the night reading through the most profound, gripping quotes, which I thought you might also appreciate. These all come from his journal:

“I am a spectator, so to speak, of the molecular whirlwind which men call individual life; I am conscious of an incessant metamorphosis, an irresistible movement of existence, which is going on within me — and this phenomenology of myself serves as a window opened upon the mystery of the world.”

“He who floats with the current, who does not guide himself according to higher principles, who has no ideal, no convictions–such a man is a mere article of the world’s furniture–a thing moved, instead of a living and moving being–an echo, not a voice. The man who has no inner life is the slave of his surroundings, as the barometer is the obedient servant of the air at rest, and the weathercock the humble servant of the air in motion.”

“A bubble of air in the blood, a drop of water in the brain, and a man is out of gear, his machine falls to pieces, his thought vanishes, the world disappears from him like a dream at morning. On what a spider thread is hung our individual existence!”

“Our true history is scarcely ever deciphered by others. The chief part of the drama is a monologue, or rather an intimate debate between God, our conscience, and ourselves. Tears, grieves, depressions, disappointments, irritations, good and evil thoughts, decisions, uncertainties, deliberations –all these belong to our secret, and are almost all incommunicable and intransmissible, even when we try to speak of them, and even when we write them down.”

“Composition is a process of combination, in which thought puts together complementary truths, and talent fuses into harmony the most contrary qualities of style. So that there is no composition without effort, without pain even, as in all bringing forth. The reward is the giving birth to something living–something, that is to say, which, by a kind of magic, makes a living unity out of such opposed attributes as orderliness and spontaneity, thought and imagination, solidity and charm.”

“He who is silent is forgotten; he who does not advance falls back; he who stops is overwhelmed; out distanced, crushed; he who ceases to grow becomes smaller; he who leaves off, gives up; the condition of standing still is the beginning of the end.”

I particularly loved this quote with it’s note of pure melancholy, and social isolation:

“I can find no words for what I feel. My consciousness is withdrawn into itself; I hear my heart beating, and my life passing. It seems to me that I have become a statue on the banks of the river of time, that I am the spectator of some mystery, and shall issue from it old, or no longer capable of age.”

As I read this,  I pictured myself as Michelangelo’s Statue of David standing beside the River Neckar in Heidelberg where I lived many years ago. Or, perhaps, I was seeing Amiel, and I’ll recast myself as the Venus de Milo, which I saw in the Louvre on the same trip.

Perhaps, many of us are also feeling like that powerless, detached, isolated statue on the river bank. We’re simply watching as our loved ones, income, jobs, businesses, savings are all being swept away by the river’s flow, and there’s nothing we can do to hold them back. In so many ways, we are powerless. Or, our capacity to respond and “fix” the impact has been greatly reduced, and this doesn’t sit well in our mindset of “Just do it”, “Make it happen”, or “you can be anything you want”.

Where are we to turn?

My Dad used to say that doing something tough “put hairs on your chest”, which I wasn’t keen on as a girl, but I now understand that he was talking about building grit and resilience. Whatever doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. He also said: “life wasn’t meant to be easy.” However, he didn’t use the full quote:

“Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.”

― George Bernard Shaw

Anyway, getting back to what brought me into my melancholy zone of reflection the other night. Australia is now at the point of legitimately easing social distancing restrictions. While this is seemingly great news, for me personally its implications are mixed. Being at high risk myself, I need to work out what all of this means for me. Being in more of a melancholy mood at the time, I could see myself being left behind at home, while the rest of the country was out partying. Indeed, I even saw myself as that child stuck inside peering out while all the other children are playing. My hands and face are pressed hard up against the window watching all the others play and there’s such a deep, unfathomable heartache. A never-ending but very private cry.  In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that my thoughts galloped ahead of themselves.  We’re not at the point of coming out yet here in NSW, and I might not be left behind. The spread is being very well contained and might be all but wiped out.

With my chronic health and lung issues, these universal restrictions have not only been a lifesaver, for once we’re all in the same boat. Before they came about, with my husband working in a known hot spot and the kids being at school, we were expecting that I’d need to evacuate both from the community and from our family as well. Australia’s initial infection rates were heading along a similar trajectory to Italy and we had no reason back then to believe Australia would largely dodge the bullet. Consequently, we bought a camper to house me away from the family in our backyard. That’s how serious it was. Now, Australia’s in an entirely different position where we’ve almost eradicated the virus, but we’re not there yet.  New cases are still appearing, including a new cluster in Victoria. Restrictions haven’t eased much as yet. However, we will now be able to visit my parents for Mother’s Day tomorrow with the kids. That’s two and adults and dependent kids. That’s all that’s allowed, although school is going back one day a week, but we’re holding back at the moment. I don’t know how it’s going to look in a few weeks. So, I could well have freaked myself out without reason. Our State Premier is taking a very cautious approach. I might not get left behind.

Anyway, in the meantime, I was pleased to hang out with Amiel for a few hours, which has now extended into reading his journal, which is accessible online here and I strongly recommend reading the introduction as well:  Journal Intime

I am trying not to get too caught up what many of us know as “the dark side of the moon”. However, I also feel it’s important to acknowledge that it’s there. That it’s okay to indulge in it for a time, but like my many research detours, we shouldn’t linger too long and always endeavour to get back to the main road. Or, even return via the scenic and take a more uplifting route if we can.

I would love to encourage you to read Amiel’s journal with me and stay tuned for further posts. I already have a few up my sleeve.

How are you getting through the coronacrisis? Are you okay? Or, have you also had times of feeling melancholy, afraid or just confused? Even just having shops, Church, dance studio, schools, parks, museums and art galleries closed is throwing us out of kilter, and we’re not dealing with the worst of it.

It’s important to let these feelings out and share where we’re at. We don’t need to hide our grief away. Those of us well away from the epicentres, have big shoulders and are able to help carry the weight of your grief. It belongs to us all. You don’t need to bear it alone. Thankfully, the Internet is enabling us all to connect despite layer up on layer of border closures, shut downs and precautions and we can spread the love around like lashings of butter on hot toast.

From my place to your place, hang in there and we hope you’re doing okay.

Love,

Rowena

PS A big thank you to all my blogging buddies who’ve been through lock down with me! I truly appreciate our friendship!!!