Thursday, June 25, 2015

Grief Therapy

Spending time at Almond Acres Charter Academy is a favorite spot for us.  No doubt about it.  We love our kids.

And stories happen.

A little friend of ours had a very rough year. A tragedy in his family.  One of his younger siblings died in an accident.  sigh   When our little friend returned back to school,  whenever Chester and I were on campus, we would make a point to give extra hugs and wags and time.

The principal at Almond Acres is such a dear man. Full of love and  kindness and strength and wisdom, and believing the best in his students and inspiring them towards greatness. Mr. B, as he is known to all, had an open door policy with our little friend.  Whenever the days got too long or too hard or too anything, this little boy could have time with Mr. B for whatever was needed.

I was on my way home. Signing-out in the office,  I noticed our friend sitting and waiting to see Mr. B. His eyes stared at the floor, shoulders slumped, and well, I just could not imagine the pain in his little heart.

I knelt down, and Chester snuggled in. And the boy snuggled back.

"Would you like to help me with something?" I asked.

Silence. A shrug.

"You know, being at school can be hard work for Chester...and sometimes, before we head home, Chester really likes to take a short walk with a good friend in a quiet place. I think he'd really like you to take him. What do you think?"  I asked.

He looked up and nodded yes.

Mr. B's assistant smiled.  I handed one leash to our friend, and held the other in my hand. And out the door we went. We strolled on the grass under the shade of the trees for about 10 minutes or so. At first we were quiet, and then he began to tell me about his dog at home. How he thought Chester and his dog would be good friends. And we talked back and forth about other things that I really can't remember.

What I do remember is how his eyes began to brighten, how his steps became perkier, how his shoulders unslumped,  how a smile even came to his face, and how his heavy load seemed a little lighter.

"Well it's time for me to take Chester home. Shall we walk back to Mr's B's?" I asked.

"Can I just walk Chester back to my class?" he asked.

Giving him a hug, I said, " I think Chester would like that a lot."


One of Chester's silly tricks is "ta-daaa".  This is his command for take-a-bow. His hiney goes straight  in the air, and  his nose reaches down to touch his furry toes.   It is always a crowd pleaser, and usually means we are wrapping up whatever we are doing.  Most often, at the end of a public speaking event, we finish with "ta-daaa" and off we go. Home.

It's important while doing pet therapy to watch your dog for signs of stress/boredom/not having fun/time to go/etc.  If you watch closely, they give lots of clues. They really do.  And when they give you clues, it's important to pay attention,  wrap things up, take a break, and head for home.

On this particular evening, I was giving a pet therapy talk to a group of Hospice Volunteers. The speaking event came at the end of a long day, and a long week.  During my presentation, I was NOT doing a good job of paying attention to my buddy.   I did not notice the clues.....

And so in the middle of my little talk, that apparently Chester thought was far too long,  Mr. Fancy Pants gets up from his laying down position at my side... looks at me, then does one absolutely long and drawn out humongous,   "taaaaaa- daaaaaaaa" .

The crowd roared with laughter, I turned it into a teachable moment --- wrapped it up --- and we were out the door. Headed home.

He slept the whole way.

Chester and Dr. Seuss ~ Thank you

A few posts ago...I mentioned unslumping....speaking of unslumping...

Before embarking on our journey west from PA to CA,  a dear family member gave us a favorite Dr. Seuss treasure Oh The Places You'll Go!  The Dr. has some very wise words about slumping~

I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
than Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you. .....

And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.  ....

In this season of a writing slump, and let's just be honest.... a life-slump....I've felt slumpy.   And may I just give a shout out and 'thank You God', for MY pet therapy buddy, Chester.  In this season of slumpness, he is faithfully at my side.   First and foremost, he takes care of me.  His specialty truly IS touching lives and warming hearts (KPETS motto), and I am eternally thankful for how he touches my life and warms my heart most of all.

I don't do this change-thing easily. Though we have done a few MAJOR moves, hello, I do not seem to become an expert at this starting over thing. hmmm.  My track record is great, I always grow to deeply LOVE each place we live and the people tucked inside our community. But, I suck at the starting over part.  It takes me awhile.   a...w...h...i...l...e....

So thank you Chester -- for helping me through yet another season of change.  For snuggling by my side or at my feet and just being there. For understanding when I have no words and my heart is achy. For getting me out for a walk or a bike-- down the street, or in the hills, or to the beach -- when it was hard for me to get up and go. For being silly and making me laugh. For helping me to meet people when I really didn't want to but I really wanted to.  Thank you for being my therapy dog. You teach me much...beginning with how you handle change. I notice this about you. As long as we're together, your world is safe and secure --- whether we are in Timbuktoo or Kalamazoo. And that is worth pondering on a deeper level for sure. So thank you buddy.

For all you extroverts out may think.  Whaaaaaaaaat the heck? Just get out there and get er done and begin again!  For all the introverts out get it.  Unslumping yourself is not easily done!

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So....get on your way!

Thank you Chester.  AND. Thank you Dr. Seuss.

Monday, June 22, 2015

In Loving Memory

I learned last week of the passing of our dear friend, Willard.  As I read the email , tears flowed....

Dory, Chester, and Willard

Dear Willard,
We are so blessed to call you friend and to have known you for the short time we did. Though our time together was short in the world's eyes -- it felt more like dog years :), and we were thankful for every moment. Priceless memories. I remember our first visit to your room. Our friend, Dory,  who worked on your floor, asked if we would visit you. "Willard rarely leaves his room, he doesn't get many visitors, and he really likes dogs," she said.  "Of  course," we said.

We were just going to visit one time.  After all, retirement communities, memory-care floors, were not really MY comfort zone. Walking into your room for the first time is forever etched in my memory....I can still feel my uneasiness, and still see Chester climbing right up into your bed! I was mortified (he was NOT invited), you were thrilled, and Chester was a happy camper as he settled right in. You two knew far more than I did.  And that was that. Our one time visit turned to once a month, twice a month, once-a-week. Thursdays with Willard. 

During our visits  you and Chester snuggled and spooned. I sat quietly in the chair. No words necessary. Just quiet. Full of meaning and love. There were a few jaw-dropping-surprise moments sprinkled in; when your memory returned for a bit, when you showed us the picture of your dog, Katey (from 1952). When we talked about the lightning storm from the night before.  When we went for a stroll in the garden -- your first time outside in many years. You would only go because you could walk Chester and hold his leash.

Mostly, though, ....I remember sitting in the chair by your bedside enjoying you and Chester together. I remember the pictures in your room ~~ the watercolor painting of the little Baptist Church, the  worn Bible on the shelf, the black and white photo of your Pennsylvania farm, the certificate of honor that hung over your bed from World War II. Bronze Star. Algerian Conflict.   While you and Chester had your time, I would watch you two,  and scan the room -- putting the pieces together of 'you', the man we had grown to love.

A few years ago, when our family moved, and  journeyed from Pennsylvania to California, saying g'bye to you was ohsohard. I knew it was our earthly good-bye.  (sigh)   After moving, Chester and I   mailed postcards and pictures to your bedside regularly. The last card arrived in your mailbox just 2 weeks ago, for your 97th birthday.  From sea to shining sea, you were never forgotten, always remembered with love in our hearts.

Our lives are all the richer because of knowing you. Thank you for welcoming us into your heart, and Chester onto your soft and cozy red blanket. 
The Hawaiians say it best "A hui hou" dear friend, until we meet again....
We love you,   Chester and Diane

PS  Dear readers....if you are new to Chester Tails, check  past posts for stories and pictures of our dear friend, Willard. 

Writing s.l.u.m.p.s. and b.u.m.p.s. & Chicken Soup

Back in January....I stumbled upon an ad for Chicken Soup for the Soul, looking for inspiring stories from volunteers.  Immediately a Chester-story came to mind. Without thinking about it too long ... I did some re-writing and editing ---  pressed SEND. Told no-one. (I did tell Keith about two weeks after the fact, mumbling, while doing the dishes or something....)

And then I forgot about it.  A month ago, I received an email. THEY liked the Chester Tail.  Really? Today I received an email saying congratulations! No way I said.  Yes way they said.  We are dog-gone excited!!!!  Our Therapy Dog Tail will be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Volunteering & Giving Back, available in bookstores August 18, 2015!

I must say....we are dog-gone excited. (I think I already said that)  We are!

As I type this....I realize (oye), I've not written a Chester Tail in over a year. That's a long time. Sometimes writing s.l.u.m.p.s. and  b.u.m.p.s. can be long and ....well, long.  The longer the slump, the bumpier the bumps. Though my writing has been s.t.u.c.k. ~~ our stories have continued, and Chester continues to be Chester, touching lives and warming hearts.  Chicken Soup has been good for my soul to help  me get  unslumped.

Reminding me the importance of telling our stories~
If  I don't want to forget the stories and the people, who have touched my heart so deeply ...well, I had best pick up my keyboard and write.  Just write -- not worry so much about dotting my i's and crossing my t's -- or if you will think it is a great tail or not ---  just get back to the beginning and the basics of enjoying our pet-therapy journey and talking story with friends. we go....