The Butterfly

I’ve hesitated to write this post because I recognize it makes no sense whatsoever.  It completely goes against what I truly believe.  It is a flight of fancy.  Yet it persists, like other irrational thoughts as I continue to grieve.

A black and rust butterfly appeared to me twice. And though I feel foolish expressing it, I admit that at the time I wanted to believed it was a tiny piece of Atlas’s soul greeting me. Making contact. Reassuring me.  I don’t truly believe it, but for brief seconds I let the lie seep in.  And like parched earth soaks in the rain with a desperation, I let myself take foolish false comfort.

The first time was the spring after Atlas died.  One quiet morning as I was walking Halley along the power line it came fluttering up to us.  I recall no other sign of life – bugs, butterflies, or birds.  It followed us closely for some distance.  Its black wings had rust spots the same color as the ones above Atlas’s eyes.  I don’t recall seeing that type of butterfly before.  I went on the internet later that day to see what type it could be, but could not find the exact species.

The second time was more than six months later, after I moved.  It had just snowed, but was warming up.  Still, a few patches of snow stayed on the ground.  Halley and I were walking, and there it was…fluttering up to us again.  It didn’t stay near long, but I couldn’t believe that here was that exact same type of butterfly – so late in the fall, despite the cold.

For the most part I’ve tried to stare this reality  of Atlas’s death squarely in its face, but at times I just want to believe the lie. It’s so hard to accept that such a beautiful soul can just cease to exist.  And as much as I don’t want to, I do still believe that is what truly happens.

This is a poem I wrote years ago when I was left at the altar, that I think expresses the same sentiment of sometimes not wanting to accept a harsh reality of losing a love:

Honesty is my jailer

That I could lull him to sleep,

for just a moment;

One long enough…

To sneak into your arms.

To steal soft comfort and sweet desire.

But he never sleeps

Nor turns his gaze,

From my actions to thoughts

He knows them all.

He sours the dream-draft each and every night

Then makes me drink to my health.

 

It is so hard without you, Atlas.

 

 

 

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“Nameless Here For Evermore”

 

Atlas. 

It was the name that passed my lips dozens of times a day: in whispered morning greetings, in playful growls, in laughter at antics, in shouts to come, in invitations for walks or rides, in sighs of gratitude, and in proclamations of joy.  How much I long to say that name again. To hear it aloud. To feel it cross my lips again.

I’ve tried whispering it to the air.  I’ve tried calling out while driving in the car. But it felt false… I have no genuine reason to call that name aloud anymore.  If I speak it to others, it is a lifeless word.

I always loved “The Raven,” but I understand it on a new level now.  The depth of grief, the sadness when someone you love is “nameless here for evermore.”  It’s oppressive.

Yes, I will know happiness, but there is a shadow that will never be lifted – a scar that will never be erased. Just as there are memories of love that only exist because of my time with him.
Though I say it to the ether, I will say it nonetheless.
I will never stop missing you, Atlas.
Nevermore.

A Year and Then Some

Over a year later and I have no clever words of wisdom.

I just reread all of my entries and found not much has changed: I remain heart-broken. I still get seized by a desperate sense of panic and pain when I realize the full magnitude of my loss.  The road ahead is still one I can’t contemplate too much because it’s a long and lonely one without Atlas’s presence.  My sweet boy will never return and will never be replaced.

The only shift I’ve noticed is that at about the year mark I think I finally started to truly understand he’s gone forever.  I don’t know why I’ve struggled so hard with this fact – I tried so hard to repeat and repeat it to myself, but there was a stubborn emotional reaction that just kept not quite “getting it.”

I finally made it to Dog Mountain.  I went the day before Thanksgiving, which even though wasn’t on the 26th of Nov. is the day I will always consider the anniversary of Atlas’s death. And even though it wasn’t quite as magical as I hoped – also it was too cold inside for me to stay long-I did still get some comfort out of the experience.

I enjoyed preparing a tribute of Atlas to hang, the drive through the mountains of NH and VT was lovely and peaceful, and I was touched by the tributes of others who clearly loved and deeply missed their dogs.  I gained a small relief through the sense of communion with others who also have suffered a profound loss, but in the end it is but a temporary reprieve and I’m left with a reality I hate: a life without Atlas.

Currently I’m still searching for handholds.  I’m still trying to embrace life. Atlas was a great example of joie de vivre. Here’s hoping that one day I’ll learn to live life with even half as much gusto as he had.

 

 

Dust to Dust

There is dust on the door I painted the day after you died.

A snowy Thanksgiving Day,

No power, no oven, no turkey, no company.

It was all I could do,

Dip my brush in the white paint and drag it back and forth,

Back and forth.

Colorless minutes grew into hours.

I hadn’t cleaned it since then, but

How can there be dust so soon?

Poems by Masters

One day I hope to write a seemingly simple poem that so effectively conveys a universal truth. But for now, I’ll enjoy the masters.

Nothing that is can pause or stay;

The moon will wax,

The moon will wane,

The mist and cloud will turn to rain,

The rain to mist and cloud again,

Tomorrow be today.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I’m trying to accept this incontrovertible fact with more grace and compassion.  It’s not easy. I recognize I’ve spent far too much time seeking to control the uncontrollable.  While I recognize this truth…I don’t like it much yet.

The poem below more closely reflects a sense of despair I can relate to.  How insensitive the world seems to our individual heartbreak.

Break, Break, Break

BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

Break, break, break,
         On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
         The thoughts that arise in me.
O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
         That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
         That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
         To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
         And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break
         At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
         Will never come back to me.

My Teacher is Gone

Dogs live completely in the moment.  Reminding us to do the same is one of their greatest gifts. Atlas constantly grounded me in small precious moments.  I vividly remember the time I took this photo because I knew even then that Atlas was teaching me about how to live.  Stop and smell the grass.  And so we did… more and more. Life was stressful and I was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that our time together was finite. But we had then…so I watched, and I breathed, and I marveled at how happy the simple pleasures made Atlas. He was reveling in the glorious smell and feel of grass. It was a good moment. He provided me with so many good moments.

I’m cataloging them in my mind. I can never capture them all in writing. And though they are precious to me, I doubt they’d have value to others. It’s the compilation of idiosyncrasies and shared moments that make the relationship with a loved one unique. A private club with a membership of two.

I miss so many of Atlas’s ways…daily…hourly. I find myself struggling not to compare Halley, but I miss his endearing habits. Every morning the minute Atlas heard a change in my breathing, his tail would thump loudly on the floor. It always made me smile. It was a great way to wake up. We called him “Tail Wagger” and “Thumper” among other names.  I know not terribly creative, and a bit embarrassing, but many dog lovers probably relate. I know Halley is happy to see me, but she’s not as demonstrative. Also, Halley shows little interest in toys. Every once in awhile I can get her to play, but it’s just not her thing. I miss how Atlas would do his play bow and bark. Then he’d give me a look with his tongue hanging out “You game?”  I think he liked playing with me because he felt he had a chance of winning- a good one.

Here are some other memories I’ve been polishing lately.  I miss the way he pranced through the grass when it was time to eat: his tail straight out, his footwork like a horse performing dressage. I miss the way he pressed down on my arm with his muzzle to wake me up if he had waited long enough for breakfast or the bathroom. I miss how every morning and evening I cuddled up next to his large warm body and smelled his fur while he curled his toes, stretched his legs and sighed in contentment. I miss how he followed me up the stairs with a look like he’d won a prize.  Then he’d lay down on the landing next to me while I was on the computer. I miss the sound of him lapping water.

Those moments were countless.  Those moments were precious.  Those moments are gone.

I am fortunate in that I truly treasured them as they happened. I wish I could find comfort in that.  But I just miss them all the more because I knew their value.  I do not want to live in the small moments now.  They are painfully empty. My teacher is gone.

Lament

Yet another day has passed in my Life without Atlas.

 

I don’t care if it’s simplistic and trite, it just ran through my mind while I walked along the power line. It seems there’s a refrain I hear after almost every thought- no matter what I say, think or do…Atlas is gone. I guess I’m still trying to grasp that fundamental fact, so I have to keep repeating it.

 

The sun rose again,

and you are still gone.

The snow has all melted,

but you are still gone.

The flowers have returned,

yet you are still gone.

My heart remains empty,

because you are still gone.

Dreams

Before Atlas died I’d suffer from recurring nightmares during times of stress: Atlas would be off leash and running away from me across busy roads.  Sometimes he would be hit by a car in front of me; other times there was just the constant threat, but the stress of the inevitable event woke me up before it actually happened. Thankfully, Atlas didn’t get hit by a car in real life. One of my worst fears never happened, so I thought I’d be done with it.  Unfortunately this was not the case- at least the dream isn’t as common anymore.

I’ve dreamed of Atlas many times since he’s been gone. Many have been good ones. On two occasions it was such a sensory experience I swore I really got to touch him. I woke up feeling calmer.  Last night’s was not one of those, however. In some ways it is the new version of my bad dreams.  Atlas is there, but far away.  It’s as if he can’t hear me either, because he won’t respond when I yell “come” and something prevents me from reaching him. I wake up filled with sadness and longing.  I guess it’s my mind trying to accept my new reality. But I hate it.

In another one I had about a month ago I discovered a new door in our house.  I couldn’t believe I had never seen it before, so I opened it to see what was there.  There was a small dark room with only two things in it: a Christmas tree and Atlas lying on the floor.  He got up and greeted me when I came in, and I remember thinking, this is where you’ve been this whole time?  I felt bad I had left him in such a dark place and had not found him earlier.  I was also a bit upset with him that he had stayed there and not looked for me.  It was a curious thing that there was a Christmas tree.  My family growing up would be able to tell you how much Christmas used to mean to me.  It hasn’t evoked any special feeling for a long time though.  We didn’t even bother decorating this year.  Why was there a tree and Atlas?  Were these two things I had loved that were lost to me forever?  Precious treasures of my past?

I haven’t been back to that room in my dreams.  I don’t want Atlas to stay there.  If I have to relegate him to some compartment in my mind, let it be somewhere with more light and beauty. Somewhere with no roads or cars.  Even if I can only watch him from a distance, let him be safe and free.

My Peace Corner

In many AMS Montessori classrooms you’ll find a Peace Corner.  There might be a mini Japanese rock garden or a peace rose.  My last year at Pathfinder I had a very small group of 4-8th grade girls- two of whom had a history of strongly disliking each other.  It was a potentially toxic mix.  I tried to think of various ways I could build a positive group identity and let them express themselves as well.  One of the things I came up with was our Peace Wall.  I invited them to bring in photos to personalize this wall with images that might have  significance to them, or ground them if they felt stressed.  Naturally, I had a picture of Atlas on it. Simply looking at a picture of Atlas calmed me down.  Of course, being with him was the best medicine.  The girls were a bit upset with me and wondered why I didn’t have a picture of Halley too.  The answer was simple, if seemingly brutal- Halley never earned a spot.  She was not, and is not, a source of peace in my life.  In fact, she is the opposite frequently.  It is extremely stressful to walk a dog with dog-on-dog aggression issues.  Though I’ve never measured it, I would not at all be surprised to find my blood pressure goes up a solid 20 points every time I walk her.  Halley can be a sweet dog inside, and it’s not that I don’t really value her most of the time, but it will never been the same as it was with Atlas.

I’ve lost a major source of what made me feel peaceful, and have not yet figured out how to regain it.