Monday, June 16, 2014

Grief ... the never ending journey

Last night, a dear friend lost his soul mate; the night skies gained a bright new star; and those of us still walking this earth have a new 4-legged guardian angel amongst us.

We are all connected. There are many out there I know who are struggling, who are feeling the excruciating pain of having lost a beloved companion; a soul mate who came to us in the body of a furry 4-legged animal. The loss could have happened yesterday, or 6 months ago, or a year, or even 10 years or more. And this morning, as my heart hurts for the pain my friend is going through, my heart also hurts for Ahnung, and so I reach out to her for her guidance and her healing energy and wisdom.


Ahnung, shortly after she became therapy dog :)

Dear Ahnung,

This walk, this walk through grief, of not having you by my side, has been a journey where my path to desperately reach you is covered with shredded pieces of my heart. You asked me not to say goodbye. You asked me not to think of death as the end. You asked me to not run, to stay with all the emotions that would hit me like a tsunami after you physically left … when the truth is, all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and never come out … and when drowning in my tears and pushing away pain was all I wanted to do. But your words, your Way, your wisdom was telling me to choose a different path. We walked together on this earth for a reason; we were brought together for the short five years we had together for a reason .. for a purpose; this Walk began before you even arrived – I just didn’t know it; and Our Walk continues even after your physical death. And I promised you I would learn to Be with you in a new way; I promised you I would learn to listen in a new way; I promised to honor your memory and to continue what you inspired me to begin with Leech Lake Legacy.

So dear sweet girl … I ask you to wrap your healing, loving, magical energy around all of us hurting.  Walk with us, and hold us up, when the path we are on feels like quicksand; show us that there is a way to reach you and others who have crossed over into the spirit world … Let us feel your presence, and the presence of your friends who dance with you, now free from the limitations of a physical body. Teach us how to listen, and how to trust that peace, joy and hope will prevail in the midst of uncertainty and pain.


Go and find yourself first
So you can also find Me.

Don't run away from grief , o soul
Look for the remedy inside the pain.
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.


Rumi

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When Death Comes

We are approaching 9 months now since I held my sweet Ahnung in my arms as she transitioned to the spirit world. This journey began in July, 2011 when I first heard the words after Ahnung’s first surgery to remove a lump in her mammary chain … ‘I’m sorry. It’s malignant. She has cancer.” Her diagnosis came just 2 months after I learned I had a serious, and rare, heart condition … a diagnosis of left ventricular non compaction – a condition that would lead to heart failure. I asked my cardiologist when I was laying in my hospital bed at Abbott in May, 2011 how much time I had before the symptoms would start showing …  because of how rare the disease is and not much is known, I distinctly remember him saying … “it could be 1 year, 2 years … 10 years …” Funny isn’t it, how we can live our lives thinking we have all the time in the world, and then one day, it all just changes and that long road we thought we had, is abruptly shortened. 2011 was a year filled with so many new discoveries, and beginnings. It was the beginning of new paths for both Ahnung and I as we learned to walk with a new realization that our time was limited; it was the beginning of Leech Lake Legacy, a non-profit I co-founded to provide education and resources for the animals and pet-owners of Leech Lake Reservation.
 
Ahnung - July, 2011 up at Red Lake
So with Ahnung (a Red Lake Reservation dog) by my side we put our heart and our soul into the work of Leech Lake Legacy. She came with me to every spay/neuter and wellness clinic from the very first clinic in March, 2012 .. up until August, 2013 just 10 days before she crossed over to the spirit world. I just returned from a spay/neuter and wellness clinic up at Leech Lake … it’s the 2nd clinic without Ahnung by my side, but her spirit and her presence continue to be there with us.

In 2011, we were both given a new path to walk. I can’t say it was a path I would’ve chosen, but it was a path we were given. Ahnung came into my life at the end of 2008 for a reason. Her 5 years with me were to guide me and prepare me so I could continue her work …. There is a Way about Ahnung; there is a spirit, a wisdom, an essence about her that touches souls, lifts spirits and defies words.

And when Death came knocking on our doors, Ahnung taught me so much … and this morning there was an On Being blog post  that reminded me of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems .. a poem that Ahnung and I began to live and walk, side by side, in 2011. I may not have her physically by my side, but Ahnung is in me, and she will forever be my guiding star for as long as I am meant to walk this earth. And when the time comes for me to join her in the spirit world, my wish is that I too will have touched the heart of someone to continue the work we have begun.

When Death Comes
By Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited the world.


Ahnung at the Leech Lake Legacy August, 2013 Clinic
... this was just 10 days before she crossed over into the spirit world


A video I created in honor of Ahnung for our Final Walk.
This video was created in January, 2013 after our decision to stop chemo.
Ahnung gifted me with 8 more beautiful months.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A new Way .... The Ahnung Way

I had just arrived in Walker, MN last October 10,  2013. It was my first trip back to Leech Lake without Ahnung; it was my first Leech Lake Legacy spay/neuter clinic without Ahnung. I had Legacy with me and before continuing on to the Tribal Police headquarters to meet up with the other volunteers who were setting up for the clinic, I decided to check into our room at the Country Inn. It was a beautiful fall day and leaves were a flaming orange. My heart felt this huge hole … this emptiness, this void, and this piercing pain in my heart as if a hand had reached through my chest, pried open my rib cage and grabbed the already broken fragments of my heart. With Legacy by my side we walked towards Leech Lake. I promised Ahnung I wouldn’t run from the pain; I promised her I would walk with her, stand by her on our Final Walk together, no matter how long or how short it was; I promised her I would cherish every moment, and when it was time to set her spirit free, I promised to hold her and be there with her.

She promised me she would always be with me; she promised me she would guide me; she promised me she would always be in my heart … I would simply have to learn to listen, and to be with her, in a new way.

The pain in my heart was fierce; it was unrelenting; it was breaking me. But Ahnung gave me the gift of knowing our time was limited; she gave me the gift of knowing that the path we were to walk together on earth was limited, and that we would approach a bridge soon … a bridge where she would have to cross over, and I would have to stay behind, for now. In 2011, we were both diagnosed with a ‘terminal’ illness … I learned Ahnung had cancer and that I had a rare heart disease that would lead to heart failure. Interestingly, this awareness came within a couple months of Leech Lake Legacy coming to be. We chose to continue the work of Leech Lake Legacy. Somehow, I just knew it was work we needed to do.

So that fall day on October 10, 2013 I walked along Leech Lake with Legacy. I promised Ahnung to walk toward the grief and the pain, and not around it like I used to. But so much of me wanted to run and to escape the pain. A part of me wanted to numb the pain, but I could feel Ahnung’s calm and wise presence next to me .. and with her spirit inside of me, I put one foot in front of another, and I kept walking. With Legacy by my side ... we experienced what I share below, from my blog post on October 16, 2013 (http://mariloureflects.blogspot.com/2013/10/ahnungs-gift-to-me-ishkode-means-fire.html) …

We continued walking ... as the trees opened up and we could catch a full view of Leech Lake up above us I saw what appeared to be a large bird flying towards us. At first I couldn't tell what kind of bird it was. It flew closer and closer to us. In moments, the bald eagle swooped down and hovered right above us. There was a momentary pause, and in that instance all I could feel and sense was Ahnung. 'I'm here." And the eagle flew away. There was no beginning or end, or life or death in that moment. We were One. I said outloud, 'miigwech (thank you) Ahnung' ... and my heart was filled with her spirit and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be ... continuing the work at Leech Lake Reservation.

And then Ahnung appeared in my dreams about a month ago. She gift me with a vision …

a circle with with people of all colors, races, ages .. of animals, of trees, of rocks .. and at the center was a fire and flame that reached up into the skies; and with us were stars, a squirrel, an eagle and a turtle. And I could hear drums. It was as if I could hear the heart of the earth beating. I could hear Ahnung's heart. I could hear my heart, everyone's heart. We were one heart .. and then I woke up"

The eagle appeared again. Ahnung is choosing an eagle to communicate with me. She has also guided me to Ishkode (means ‘fire’ in ojibwe). She has gifted me with the most beautiful vision. She is guiding me and she is asking me to walk a new path now … The Ahnung Way.

Teach me to remain rooted and grounded, while soaring like an eagle. Teach me to slow down, to watch, to listen, to observe, to be patient, to live in the moment and to know when to let go.

Teach me the wisdom of your way.

Teach me the wisdom of The Ahnung Way.



Legacy and Ahnung - Grand Marais 


Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Ahnung Way ....

It's been 6.5 months now since my sweet Ahnung crossed over into the spirit world. My heart still aches for her and often I find myself hoping I will wake up, and this will all just be a bad dream .... and she will be there right next to me, or I will hear a big thump as she throws herself down on the floor to sleep, or  we will be taking one of our long leisurely walks. I feel her presence with me every moment. I feel her guiding me from the spirit world, and yes, she continues to send me signs and messages. She led me to Ishkode and the little fireball girl continues to make me laugh and smile with all her antics and mischief. I have no doubt Ahnung gifted Legacy with Ishkode ... as the two of them are as bonded as Legacy and Ahnung were .. only this time, Legacy is the big brother guiding his little sister in the same way Ahnung guided him.

A few weeks ago, Ahnung appeared in my dream. This was only the second time she has appeared in my dreams since she left the physical world on August 25, 2013. I shared the following on my Facebook page on Feb. 20th:


"I am sure it's not a coincidence that the morning after Ahnung appeared to me in my dreams, in what was so real and vision like, that I got a call from Purina to meet with leaders of animal welfare organizations in St. Louis. In 1968, when I was 4 our family traveled across the world from Thailand to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis in hopes doctors could save his life. He crossed into the spirit world on December 20, 1968. I returned to St. Louis in 1980 when we moved to the U.S. for our education and lived in St. Louis for ~ 16 years. Purina, in their efforts to build a coalition in Missouri 'found' me ... I have no doubt my Papa and Ahnung had something to do with it. Here is what I posted on the dream I had the night before I received the call: "And last night, Ahnung (for the second time since her spirit crossed over on August 25, 2013) appeared in my dream and she showed me a new way, a new vision. I am not a visual artist, and I woke up with an image so vivid, so clear ... a circle with with people of all colors, races, ages .. of animals, of trees, of rocks .. and at the center was a fire and flame that reached up into the skies; and with us were stars, a squirrel, an eagle and a turtle. And I could hear drums. It was as if I could hear the heart of the earth beating. I could hear Ahnung's heart. I could hear my heart, everyone's heart. We were one heart .. and then I woke up" So I reach out to the stars ... to Ahnung and to my Papa, for guidance, as I travel back to St. Louis next week. My life is not my life ... and my work on earth must not be done."

The vision remains so clear and vivid. I have been unable to erase the image from my mind and from my heart. And over the past few weeks, the words "The Ahnung Way" keeps appearing. Since my speaking engagement in St. Louis I have been asked to present at two different events.

I hear Ahnung telling me I have more work to do, and that my work goes far beyond animals ...  I hear Ahnung telling me to listen and to open up my eyes, my senses, my heart to the expanse of something so much greater; not to limit my world and energy to the world of animal welfare, and to not even limit it to this physical world. There are many bridges that connect all of us in this world, and there is a bridge that also connects us to those who have crossed over into the spirit world.

I live my life guided by a We Believe statement that I wrote at the end of 2008 shortly after Ahnung came into my life. The We Believe credo, was slightly modified and became the Leech Lake Legacy We Believe Credo. The We Believe credo is what guides the work of Leech Lake Legacy ... it is what guides my life, and it is what I believe is The Ahnung Way.

  • We believe we all belong -- that our lives have purpose and meaning -- and that our footprints will be forever etched in the hearts of some living being, some cause, some dream.
  • We believe a spirit of fire and a flame of passion reside within each and every one of us.
  • We believe our journey is a never-ending question, embracing twists, turns and hills with child-like curiosity and playful adventure.
  • We believe in the power of creativity and stories to open hearts, touch souls and inspire committed action.
  • We believe in community. That connection begins with conversation, respect, active listening and an open, non-judgmental heart.
  • We believe every voice matters.
  • We believe in the healing and transformative energy of animals to build a bridge for a kinder, gentler and more compassionate world.
  • We believe reservation animals challenge us, teach us and guide us to our deepest sense of Home.
Ahnung is asking me to walk a new path .... The Ahnung Way. Yesterday, I reserved the domain www.TheAhnungWay.com. I don't know exactly where this path will lead me, but I know that the vision she brought to me a few weeks ago is something I cannot ignore ... 

" .... a circle with with people of all colors, races, ages .. of animals, of trees, of rocks .. and at the center was a fire and flame that reached up into the skies; and with us were stars, a squirrel, an eagle and a turtle. And I could hear drums. It was as if I could hear the heart of the earth beating. I could hear Ahnung's heart. I could hear my heart, everyone's heart. We were one heart .. and then I woke up ..."

I will share more as this journey evolves and Ahnung continues to guide me from the spirit world. 


With my Papa




Saturday, February 22, 2014

Winter reflection

It has been a harsh winter in Minnesota ... sub-zero temperatures, wind chills dropping down to -40s, and a couple days ago more heavy snowfall with blizzard conditions. I am fortunate I am able to afford a service to come plough my driveway and all I have to do is shovel my patio. Yet even my patio, and the heavy snow was tiring and hard on my back. It has become harder to find a place to even place the snow, or enough strength to lift a shovel full of wet, heavy snow above a pile of growing snow.

I admit I was wishing for spring. I am tired of the bitter cold, of not being able to take my little Ishka who is full of boundless, puppy energy for long walks. And then this morning I am reminded by Ishka and Legacy of how to live in the moment, of how to cherish and see the beauty. They find joy in the piles of snow, they tear around the yard and leap in the air without a care in the world .. and then they curl up to rest. And then there is Legacy, who plops himself down in the deep snow, content. Simply content.

I took time this morning to trudge around in the deep snow in my back yard. To watch Ishka and Legacy explore. I can only imagine the many scents they experience .... and somehow, my heart drifts to Ahnung. This is my first winter without my spirit dog and guide by my side, in physical form. But she picked Legacy and she guided me to Ishkode, so as I trudged around the snow in my boots, with Legacy close by and Ishka doing her best to trip me in the snow as she played games with my snow boot laces, I could feel Ahnung with me.

And this morning as I take time to enjoy the snow, the beauty around me, and to feel Ahnung's spirit in me, in Legacy and Ishka, in the snow, the trees, and all around me, I find myself reflecting on another one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems ... When Death Comes ...

It will be 6 months on February 25th .... I remember that Sunday, August 25, 2013 like it was yesterday. I remember holding my sweet Ahnung and feeling the weight of her head and body lean into me and let go as she took her last breath and her spirit was set free. I remember that moment and the pain of feeling a part of my being ripped from me. But I also remember, her spirit fill my heart, my soul, and being ... and in that moment I promised to continue listening, and to learn to walk with my Ahnung in a new way. And yes, she continues to guide me from the stars and from the spirit world ....

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~


Ishka
Legacy



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Listening to the spirit of Ahnung: Pay attention to my heart

On my drive home from the Animal Humane Society around 5 pm last night I was hit with a blast of fatigue. We were having a day of warmth in Minnesota … temperatures in the 30s versus the sub-zero temperatures we’ve been having, and are due to have again today. It was also snowing and the roads were getting slick. As I sat at the stoplight on highway 55 waiting to turn left onto highway 100 south, fatigue hit me surprisingly. I remember thinking momentarily, I need to just close my eyes for a minute. Then I shook my head, turned up the radio and rolled my window for a blast of cold air to wake me up. I could also feel a heaviness in my heart, a physical heaviness. It’s been 2.5 years since my diagnosis with  left ventricular non compaction, a rare heart disease .. no cure, not much known, and ‘the main target of treatment is prevention of heart failure and thromboembolic events.’ Just a couple weeks ago, I received a pamphlet in the mail from my health insurance company titled ‘Managing heart failure.’ Last night, I wondered for a moment, ‘is it my heart?’ And returned to the moment of staying awake and directing everything I had to driving in congested traffic and snowy conditions.


I made it home and after taking care of the pups, found myself on the couch unable to function. I just wanted to sleep. It was as if someone had given me a shot of anesthesia to knock me out.

I woke up early this morning to another vivid dream. I had a dream of a mother deer and her 2 baby fawns. I was in a forest and they were keeping a distance from me; something had scared them and the mother deer skipped off, into the woods followed by her babies. But then they stopped, and their eyes were fixated on me. Seconds later, the mother deer galloped towards me. I feared for a moment she was coming directly towards me. She ran past me, barely missing me, and off into the woods again. It was clear she had no intention of harming me – she simply wanted to get my attention. Her 2 fawns followed her, but they stopped. One of them came up to me. The baby fawn turned into a wolf …. She came up to me, pawing at me. I was mesmerized I was interacting with a ‘wild’ animal. And then I woke up from my dream.

The vivid nature of the dream caught my attention this morning. I could feel Ahnung’s presence. She’s communicating with me from the spirit world. Listen Marilou. Listen.
 
Karl waiting for treats!
Is it a coincidence that I experienced debilitating fatigue after leaving AHS where I was meeting my friends Barbara and Sharon who are going to foster and provide hospice care to Karl, a 5 year old big black dog from Leech Lake Reservation, who was diagnosed with heart failure? Is it a coincidence that just yesterday, I finally got my estate planning in order to ensure the legacy I want to leave behind is all in place and I sent an email with directions on what needs to take place to the Leech Lake Legacy board?

Ahnung lived her life with purpose and intention. She guided me when she was here in physical form. She continues to guide me from the spirit world. I don’t know where my path is going to lead me … or how much more time I will be blessed to have walking this amazing planet. I have been able to put my diagnosis of ‘heart failure’ in the background for the past months. Maybe Ahnung is trying to remind me to bring it back to the forefront … to at least be aware of it .. to notice …. to listen. Maybe she brought Karl? Maybe her spirit is sprinkled in Karl, a gentle giant who showed us yesterday when we picked him up, that he is VERY treat motivated, and will even shake for treats … hmmm, that was a special Ahnung trick too!

Thank you Ahnung for continuing to guide me and for bringing Karl, and the deer (and 2 fawns) and the wolf to my presence. The deer symbolizes gentleness, unconditional love and kindness .. and Native American and Celtic custom regard the wolf as the way of finding the deepest levels of self, of inner knowing and intuition. I hear you sweet girl …. I don’t know where this path I am on will take me, but I know that you will guide me. You are my guiding star sweet girl … my north star, and I am okay with wherever our journey takes us.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ahnung comes to visit me in my dreams

Ahnung - July, 2013
We are going on 5 months since my precious Ahnung crossed over into the spirit world. Yes ... there are days where I see the light and I feel joy again in my heart. When I see Legacy leap in the air, and Ishka tear around the back yard with her brother, or drag snow shovels, dog beds and pooper scoopers around the yard, I smile. I believe Ahnung picked Legacy in August, 2011, out of 13 puppies from Leech Lake Reservation who found temporary refuge in my studio till they could move onto the next stage of their journey. I believe Ahnung led me to Ishkode/Ishka, the first surrender at the October 2013 spay/neuter clinic at Leech Lake Reservation - the first clinic without Ahnung physically by my side. There are days I admit when I ask my sweet girl ... did you really think I needed a puppy in my life? A puppy with lots of fire and energy?? :) What happened to bringing a puppy into my life with the same calm presence you had? .... There are days when the pain in my heart is still so fresh, when the tears feel like they will never stop, when I ache for just one more day, one more moment, one more touch. And lately, when I re-read the blog pieces I have written on Anticipatory Grief, I ache too for the days and the months when there was a lot of uncertainty of when the time would come, because in that uncertainty, I still had Ahnung. That Sunday afternoon (August 25, 2013) when I held Ahnung in my arms as we set her spirit free, yes, uncertainty left, and in its place came a feeling so heavy, a pain so deep and a desire to run from the sensation of my heart being shredded into a million pieces.

But the gift Ahnung gave me in our Final Walk together was a chance to prepare for this moment, and how to walk through the journey of grief in a new way. I could hear her telling me, 'Stand. Four feet on the ground. Let the tears flow through you ..... I am in your tears; i am in the rocks, the squirrels, in Legacy, in Ishka ... and in every animal you bring down on transport from Leech Lake and Red Lake reservations."

I have wanted Ahnung to come visit me in my dreams. As we approach 5 months, she finally came to visit me in my dreams last night. She came with Ishka and we were at Lake Harriet Vet. Ishka was busy getting lots of attention from the staff. Meanwhile, out of the side of my eye I saw Ahnung opening up a file cabinet. She used her mouth to grab the knob and pulled the cabinet door open ... and stashed in front of files was a big bag of chips! I called over to her, and she turned around and looked at me. I walked over to her and she plopped her body down and leaned her body against me. She looked up at me with those eyes that would just pierce through me ... those eyes that spoke to my soul and made us one; our eyes connected, and I held her. Together. We were together again ... and then I woke up.

Shadow and Light Source Both
~ Rumi

How does a part of the world leave the world?
How does wetness leave water? Don't try to

put out fire by throwing on more fire! Don't
wash a wound with blood. No matter how fast

you run, your shadow keeps up. Sometimes it's
in front! Only full overhead sun diminishes

your shadow. But that shadow has been serving
you. What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is

your candle. Your boundaries are your quest.
I could explain this, but it will break the

glass cover on your heart, and there's no
fixing that. You must have shadow and light

source both. Listen, and lay your head under
the tree of awe. When from that tree feathers

and wings sprout on you, be quieter than
a dove. Don't even open your mouth for even a coo.



Legacy and Ahnung
Joy Session by Sarah Beth Photography - August, 2012
Ishka
I decided to see if there was something symbolic about why Ahnung appeared to me in my dream last night ... I went through some old blog posts. A year ago today, Ahnung woke me up with a blood curdling cry ... there is intention and purpose, once again as to why my sweet girl appeared to me in my dream last night.

Blog post from a year ago:
http://mariloureflects.blogspot.com/2013/01/awakening-to-wild-cry.html