one fourth of a country song

Over the weekend, I was at World Domination Summit, something I had looked forward to for a year, since I learned of the inaugural event, something I was committed to since I purchased tickets in the first wave last September.

The weekend was a challenge for my introverted self, a challenge I am proud to say I rose to (in a bumpy, Muppet-y kind of way). I met wonderful people for the first time; I shared hugs with people I’d only known as back-lit photographs and typed words.

My heart swelled.

And then, on Sunday evening, as I was about to walk into the wrap-up, my heart broke.

I received the news that my beloved Kaylah, a chocolate lab who has been my daily work-from-home companion and buddy for ten years, had died a few hours earlier. My only comfort was knowing my husband had been with her, petting her, close to her, for her last moments, her last breath.

I wrote these words the next day. I will have more to write about WDS – and the people I met there – in the days and weeks to come. It really was a fantastic weekend, filled with community and inspiration, kindness and enthusiasm.

But right now is about grief. I can come back to making the world better tomorrow.

I woke up this morning to the click of the bathroom door closing. Ed was up. I lifted my head to peer at the clock, and thought, “oh, it’s late… time to get up and feed Kaylah.” And then my heart broke all over again.

Kaylah died yesterday.

Those words shatter me, have cut my heart into shards that wander around behind my ribs, piercing every soft thing they touch.

Yesterday, Chris Brogan asked what superpower we would like to have. Today, I want the powered circle (or triangle, in the original comics) that Iron Man has, to collect these shards in my chest, so that I do not feel their edges every time I take a breath.

A light would shine every time I used it – my heart, this broken thing.

Kristina reminds me over and over that Kaylah lived a life of love. She was loved, yes, beyond all conventional concept of the boundaries of dog and human. She also gave love, shared love.

Kaylah brought joy to everyone who met her. Every single person. She was a dog with character and integrity – more than some humans I’ve met.

She taught me much about forgiveness and compassion. There was always room for redemption with Kaylah, even when I’d been thoughtless, forgetful, impatient – human.

Kaylah’s love was bigger than any of that. We get to keep those memories.

Kristina has been so wise and generous with her heart through all of this, feeling so openly, in her raw, fierce way. She said last night that she doesn’t know how to be a good person without her dog, reminding me of the maxim,

Be the person your dog thinks you are.

Kaylah loved Kristina – all the goodness and the fierceness and the big heart of Kristina. I reminded her that Kaylah didn’t put it there – Kaylah saw it there.

I took photos in a little park nearby after one of our last visits to the vet. It was her last kind-of healthy day. It was her last trip to a park. They are my last photos of her.

This guts me.

The last photos. She’s gone. I’ll never pet her again. Not once. This is unbearable.

Everywhere I turn, every corner-of-my-eye glance holds some fresh awareness that she is not here. I reached over to dry my hands on a towel and swore I heard her nails ticking on the hardwood in the hall to the kitchen. My heart leapt at the sound, truly leapt, then crashed and burned in the same instant as I realised it couldn’t be true.

Later, I came home and noticed the faded, floppy red rose that must have bloomed in the heat while I was away. Next to it, the yellow rose was in bud again, which made me think that yellow roses are for friendship and remembrance, and how Nana always liked them. Yellow roses make me think of Nana, every time.

I wondered what Kaylah’s flower would be. What would always make me think of her?

And I knew.

She loved to hang out with me in the first warm days of spring as I made photos of spring greens and new life. She’d trot out as soon as I opened the door. I made photos of the delicate new blossoms on the apple tree while she sniffed the warming earth beneath.

She loved the apples, too. As they dropped each autumn, she would stamp at the back door with eagerness, rush out to find the juiciest one, and bring it back to eat on the deck with all the pride of a champion.

Yes. The apple blossom. That’s the one.

And then I realised that she won’t be here to eat the apples as they fall this year. And it started all over again – the scattered pieces of my heart spilled out in sobs and tears.

I went down the hall and noticed the gate was gone from the top of the stairs, and I was ruined all over. Of course we don’t need it there now, but it had been there for the last seven months. It was there for Kaylah (after her surgery). She needed it and we needed it for her.

The pain of this is everywhere I look, fresh and raw.

Kristina posted on reddit, asking for encouragement that this would get better. The responses were amazing – heartfelt, poignant, tender, personal – all from strangers. The one that hit the hardest was from the guy who still calls black t-shirts on the floor, four months later.

So raw, so real, so exactly how it is.

Today, I saw a man riding a bicycle, his dog running beside him on a leash – tongue lolling out, tail waving high – and that dog looked so damn happy. It was a beautiful thing and I didn’t begrudge it to them for one second.

It was life, doing exactly what life is supposed to do. I want it still for and with Kaylah, and I can’t have that.

I miss her so much.


    • Thank you, Catherine. I’d say it’s getting easier, the edges are softening, but it’s also getting harder: she is still not here. The more days go by, the more ways of noticing this stack up. Each first thing that she is not here for is hard. We miss her.

  • As I try to write something witty and supportive my brain only supplies me with stupid cliches. Lacrosse brought Samantha something she will love for life…for me lacrosse brought me a friend I will love for life. I need to start reseaching comfortable wooden rockers for the porch and good recipes for mint julep. Or perhaps just learn how to create the perfect glass of sweet tea. Or maybe just learn to truly enjoy the taste of a good Kentucky bourbon. All this will prepare me for the time when two eclectic old ladies, dressed in crazy colors with bright red lipstick will rock together on the front porch complaining about these youngsters who always whiz around on their I-Scooters. Love Ya Jet.

    • Oh, Kim. You always, and I mean always know just what to say. Thank you for this. I hope we have many, many years to develop the taste for that bourbon, because I am so not there. A mint julep has appeal. What’s in that? Not tequila? Not interested. Whatever the drink, count me in, friend. That’s for life.

    • Thank you, Katie. She was such a great dog, and meant so much to me in every part of my life. On facebook, I posted about all she had seen me through in over ten years – so many changes, and she was my constant. And what I didn’t mention there is that she also saw me through Kristina’s entire first year of college. What a gift that was. I am so blessed to have had her in my life, and to carry these memories in my heart. Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.” I am clinging to that right now.

  • oh, jet, i am so sorry to know your heart is in such a place right now. and so glad for your wonderful memories. i wish i could have met kaylah. sending you a giant hug, and hopefully i can deliver one in person soon. xoxo.

    • Thank you, Shawna. I kind of dropped out of things there, didn’t I? It’s been kind of a wretched spring/summer/year, and I haven’t had it in me to extend much beyond my little circle. I am slowly healing from the long-term sinus infection, although now I have to be very careful not to overdo. Illness and grief have taken their toll on me. Time in the sun and with friends and laughing children will surely put it back. Maybe a beach afternoon would be a chance for that hug?

    • Thank you, Beth. She certainly was. I still come home and expect her to be at the top of the stairs waiting, or sit at the end of the couch and my hand drops over the edge to pet her. She was so present in every part of my life. As another friend put it, grief keeps us present, so in the moment of noticing. That is a gift in a way. The edges are softening now. Warm wishes like yours have helped.

  • oh sister.
    What a beautiful post you have written with love and tenderness for your friend and family member, kaylah.
    thank you for sharing from your heart; your beautiful words and photographs.
    i love you so very much.

    • More comment love. Thank you, sister-there. I feel your love and tenderness across the miles and through the ether. I am healing. On so many levels, I am healing. When I meet other dogs on the trail, I ask to pet them. The dogs know. They are already stopping – they can see the petting on its way. Paws. So many wonderful paws. xo

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