I can’t believe it’s been a year. I started this blog years ago and it has evolved over that time. I’ve kept it up over the years as a place where I’d “live out loud”. I never restricted it. I would mix the intensely professional with the intensely personal. I would be fearlessly me.
Writing has given me that in my life. It has given me the ability to be intensely, honestly me. From the crass and often just “in poor taste” comedy of my early life to the wistful songs of my later years, I’ve channeled my experience into my writing.
But writing is not just a creative outlet. Writing is how I understand things. It’s how I make sense of everything. It’s how I learn and absorb.
So I don’t think I could ever stop writing. In fact, I’ve been writing more than ever. Articles? Mostly in IT World Canada or ITBusiness.ca but also for the Cutter Group. White papers? By the score. It seems since I took my new role at IT World Canada (now ITWC) that I’ve been as much a writer as a CIO/COO.
On the pure creative side, my work has grown as well. I may have written more songs in the past few years than I have in all my life – and considering that I’ve written on four albums, a couple of musicals and just my general song-writing, that’s significant.
But for some reason, I’ve avoided this blog. I abandoned this place. I gave up on the serialized novel I’d begun. It seemed dull and uninteresting.
Maybe because it’s also been a hell of a year, personally. The loss of one of my closest and most dearly loved friends Doug Stratton was a blow. Guilt. Sadness. Loss. These three are a potent cocktail. Could I have done more for him? I’ll never know.
The rest of the year was was simply low-level fatigue. The continuing estrangement from my daughter Christine has receded to a dull, nagging pain, only occasionally felt. The loss of my genetic mother Alice was less painful than I thought. It was months before I could even begin to mourn her loss.
The loss of Shiloh – my loving prince – has been devastating. I never thought anything could affect me like this has. I’ve learned over the years to keep sadness off to the side, in a container where I can look at it through the glass, sitting on the shelf, sealed up where it can’t hurt me. When I do take the lid off, it is temporary. I can always put the lid back on when I choose.
I’m sure I will be able to do this again. But for these past few days, the grief comes in waves.
It was an unlikely love. Yes, he started as a beautiful puppy, sitting in my lap on the way home from the breeder to our farm near Goderich. Beautiful, friendly, playful – and sweet.
He grew into the most neurotic and most “highly wound” creature one could meet. Almost any person in our house would cause him to go into barking fits. When we had friends with young kids (not very often) he would pursue them to the point where they were terrified.
He would never harm anyone or anything. He was just neurotic and anxious. As a result, until much later in his life, we rarely entertained in our home. I thank my stars we could afford a detached house – I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we had shared a wall with anyone else. How many times he “barked at the air” when we were away during the day, I will thankfully never know.
You could be frustrated by him. You could be driven to the limits of patience by him. But you had to love him. That was his magic.
We were always close. He slept in my bedroom – never on the bed, but always nearby. And in the years when I worked mostly from home, he would lie at my feet most of the day, content to sleep between barking fits at mail delivery, people at the door or sometimes – just the air.
But after sleeping patiently, he would get up, stick his nose into the gap between my arm and my chest and push insistently until I paid attention to him. Five to ten minutes was what he needed. Then he’d be back to his nap.
I named him after a Neil Diamond song from my childhood. The lines went “Shiloh when I was young, I used to call your name. When no-one else would come, Shiloh you always came.” Trite pop lyrics today, perhaps. But in the intense times of my youth that mythic loving person was a powerful fantasy.
Shiloh brought that unconditional love to my life.
I’ve never pretended to be perfect. I have an awful temper – hopefully mellowed by the years. I’ve found the demons of depression for most of my life – and won. Four things have sustained me. My wife and family, my meditation practice, my writing and the love of that insane terrier.
And I do mean insane. With a stunning amount of energy to devote to his fits of barking and running back and forth wildly or standing his ground barking at the real or more often imagined adversary.
Yet I could never fall out of love with him. Nor he with me. No matter what he’d do or how he’d behave, you had to love him when he looked at you with those liquid brown eyes.
And when sadness would come to my life, he’d be there. Again, its a cliche to say that he would know how I was feeling. I don’t know that. I just know he was there.
In later years, when we moved to the Haliburton area he had a vast area to roam in and burn off that energy. We worried about encountering a bear a porcupine or worse perhaps, a skunk. But it never happened. He had found his home. Curiously, in this much bigger space, he didn’t bark as much at the neighbours. Instead, he charmed many of them. The country life and maybe older age made him more agreeable. Most of the time. In the house, until very recently, he kept to his old regime of frantic barking. True to form, however, he replaced the barking with almost as annoying constant pacing back and forth. When we’d let him out, he’d come back and pace again – back and forth aimlessly. We later speculated that this was the onset of the dementia that plagued him in the past few months of his life.
I knew it would be over soon when he woke me in the middle of the night, I thought to go out. Then he just stared at me, lost and confused. The love that had always been there was lost in his own fright. Some medication from the vet helped to reduce these episodes. Thank god. I think if I had to see that look again, my heart would break.
The decline was swift. He was always thin, but he had lost so much of his body weight that he was light as a feather. His famous bark was now a hoarse parody of its former self. Where he could and would literally bark for hours, he could now manage only a brief few attempts before giving in to the weariness came over him.
Thankfully, he died peacefully, lying on the floor. He had his family with him. He was a shadow of his former self. His heart stopped. He was dead.
When I was a kid, my brother in law hit a cat. I could hear it crying out. My brother in law, who I thought was the strongest, bravest person I had ever met, couldn’t face the task. I grabbed a shovel. My compassion for its pain overcame my inability to do what needed to be done. I didn’t know where I would find the strength. In that brief hundred or so feet, I agonized. I had to do it quickly. I couldn’t cause more suffering. Over and over in my mind I killed that cat or failed to. I walked forcefully. I did then as I’ve learned to do since. I put those feelings in a jar and stored them on the shelf in my mind.
I was spared the final murderous blow. As I raised the shovel and took aim, the cat died.
It was an amazing thing. I do not believe or not believe in spirits or souls. I just don’t know. But that night, I could swear I felt the life leave that creature and I could almost see his life energy leaving the body rushing up towards the stars in the night sky. Was what I saw real – or the illusion of my tormented mind? I’ll never know.
But Shiloh didn’t die that way. I never felt him leave. Even as I carried his limp body out and kissed him one last time, it was though he just became part of everything. I can’t say it any other way. He was at peace. He surrendered softly.
In these past few days, the waves of grief have come and gone. I can function. When I’ve needed to I can pull myself together and focus on interaction with others. But a piece of me is missing and in its place, a powerful sadness that wells up from deep inside.
I know that I’ll get through this. I know that the grief will dull. In the meantime, I’m doing what I do. I’m writing about it.
I’m staring at the publish button wondering if this is too personal. If it’s too raw. If it’s too poorly written. But publish it I will. I claimed this space to live out loud. A space where I can do what I do – write to understand. And for now, I struggle to do that.