This one’s for you, Jean

Happy birthday-wild ride

I’m glad to be along for the ride!

Last January I contacted a hospice agency about volunteering with my dog, Liberty. There are other hospice agencies that serve my area and I don’t remember why I chose the one I did. I was surprised when I received a response to my online application from a woman I had known professionally for many years but, hadn’t seen for a very long time. It turned out that she was working as the volunteer coordinator for the hospice agency’s local office.

Our professional relationship had been limited to a once a year meeting to review the grant that the agency for which Jean was then employed received through my office. We also had an occasional phone call. It’s a small community so sometimes we would see each other at meetings related to health and human services issues. I liked her and I appreciated her work ethic and professional attitude but, I didn’t know anything about her on a personal level.

Fast forward about 11 or 12 years. Through my volunteer work with the hospice agency I had frequent contact with Jean and I grew to appreciate her in a whole new light. She still demonstrated the same professional attitude and work ethic I had admired in the past but I had the opportunity to get to know her as a person. I began to appreciate her sense of humor, intelligence and sensitivity. We discovered that we shared some unique similarities – one being that we both immigrated with our parents to the United States from Yorkshire, England, when we were children. She on the Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and me on the Queen Mary in 1955.

A few months after I started volunteering, Jean was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had surgery and chemotherapy and ended up being out of work for nearly 5 months. Just a few short weeks after returning to work, Jean was told that the cancer had been discovered in another location and she would have to undergo 6 weeks of treatment. One day a week of chemotherapy and 5 days of radiation at the Mayo hospital over an hour away. I asked what I could do to help and she said that the trip each day was going to be a major challenge because her significant other couldn’t lose that much time from work. I offered to drive 2 days a week and, along with two other friends and her significant other, we covered the daily trips.

Those long drives, under difficult circumstances, gave Jean and me the time to get to know each other. We learned that we have a lot in common; some in shared experiences and some in our personalities. She gets my dry, sarcastic, sometimes self-deprecating English sense of humor – and so few do! We’re both strong, independent women who find it difficult to ask for help so I know how hard it has been to let go of control and let the people who care about her offer their support. She talked about the side effects from the treatments and from the medications she had to take. She was never whiny or felt sorry for herself – she just wanted to be able to talk about what she was going through. We’re in the habit now of sending each other brief emails almost every day (like me, she’s not a big “phone person”) and I appreciate the glimpses into whatever she’s thinking about in that moment. As I saw her confront each new challenge the disease brought, my admiration and respect for her grew. I hope I never have cancer but, if I do, I hope I can find somewhere inside me the strong, positive attitude and faith in God that Jean has. I know she has her crying times and her angry times but they don’t last long and they certainly don’t define her. What defines her is faith, humor, optimism, generosity, gratitude, capacity to find joy in everyday things, perseverance, love of nature, and a kind heart.

I have decided that being a hospice volunteer isn’t right for me. I really wanted it to be right because I felt like something had called me to do it but, sometimes when you step back, you can see a bigger picture. I believe that God brings people and experiences into our lives for specific reasons so maybe my reason for being called to that particular agency at that particular time was to reconnect with Jean. We were each in need of a good friend in whom we could confide and trust and, amazingly, that’s what we got. Live long and prosper, my friend.

Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit. ~Aristotle

Dr. Brown and Kate check Liberty 4-4-16

Nobody likes to go to the doctor!

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When dogs meet

img011Have you ever noticed when dogs meet they seem to know within a few seconds whether they like each other or not? When Liberty spots a dog, which is usually when it is about 1/4 mile away, she starts getting excited. As we get closer, she begins to pull on her leash and I have to rein her in until I can determine if the approaching dog is friendly and also if the owner wants our dogs to meet. Once that is established we each loosen up on the leashes and allow our dogs to meet. They sniff each others faces and butts. Sometimes that only takes a couple of seconds and sometimes several lingering re-sniffs are necessary in order to make a complete assessment. I have never seen Liberty growl at or act aggressively toward another dog but I have seen her do what I call the “sniff and dismiss” move – she’s just not interested. She’s ready to move on but, she’ll stand politely if I’m chatting with the owner. Strangely, the other dog usually has the same type of reaction to her. Most of the time the dogs seem to send a cue to each other and it’s either “Let’s play!” or “You’re not my type”.  If it’s “Let’s play!” the dogs, oblivious to everything except their own happiness, leap at and try to chase each other. They sometimes even roll around on the grass together. The owners laugh as leashes get tangled and wrapped around their legs. If this goes on long enough, the dogs will usually get tired and flop down near each other in the grass, tongues lolling with big “smiles” on their faces. If it’s “You’re not my type”, they look away, sniff the grass and wait politely to walk on.

My instincts when I meet a new person are certainly not as accurate and finely tuned as Liberty’s. I usually know pretty quickly if I like or don’t like them, but sometimes I’m wrong about how they feel about me. I really envy Liberty’s instincts – it would be so nice to meet someone and each of you are able to know within a few seconds if you want to get to know each other better or not. No, I don’t want to sniff anyone’s face or butt and I don’t want to roll around in the grass with them – at least not right away – but I would like to have some way to know the essence of another person. Maybe children have it because I can remember saying to someone, as a child, “Do you want to be my friend?” and others saying that to me. No filter, just following instinct. We adult humans have layers of social behaviors to deal with, in addition to our individual inhibitions. We’re concerned about making a good impression, we’re afraid of rejection or looking foolish. We’re afraid of getting hurt. I tend to be socially awkward and not interested in small talk, which is why I don’t usually enjoy parties and I’m always uncomfortable on a first date. I enjoy real conversations during which I can get to know someone at a deeper level but, relationships between humans usually develop at glacier speed – or so it seems to an impatient person like me. We’re afraid to be too honest or trust each other too soon and the complexities of human nature and the society in which we live have forced us to be that way. Still, isn’t it sweet when you get that rare feeling that you have met a person with whom you really connect – someone who just might become a friend – and it turns out your instincts were right?

I dreamed that I was walking with Liberty and she saw a dog she wanted to meet, who was walking with his owner. I don’t remember what the man looked like but I remember that his dog was a big, friendly yellow Lab/Golden Retriever mix. The two dogs touched noses and sniffed and it was obvious they liked each other. At the same time, I felt a very nice connection with the man. That was the whole dream – just a nice, warm feeling. Maybe Liberty’s instincts will lead me to the man of my dreams. Woof!

What a beautiful world it would be if people had hearts like dogs.  ~Anonymous


Stick with me ... you never know what might happen

Stick with me … you never know what might happen

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions