I’ve been silent. Silent with my blog, silent on social media. This will be the most difficult post I’ve ever written. And it will probably be long. Too long for some. But not long enough for others, especially dachshund lovers (yes, that’s a wiener dog joke).
I just returned from the annual American Society for Horticultural Science-Southern Region conference in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a great conference (held in conjunction with SAAS), not just for the horticulture science presented in talks and poster presentations, but for the “reunion-like” atmosphere with colleagues past, present, and perhaps future. I look forward to receiving some CEU’s for my Certified Professional Horticulturist designation.
I might even get to do a little crossing of kiwi this spring because of an opportunity gleaned from a friend at Auburn University.
I didn’t think I would make it to the conference this year for a couple of reasons, including the health of our female dachshund who will be 17 on April 21. I’m also recovering (and in physical therapies) from a tremendous amount of pain focused on the right side of my body that evolved over the holidays due to a family tragedy that built upon grief. My chiropractor said my body went into flight or fight mode. But I made it. We all made it to Birmingham: me, my dachshund (who can no longer be boarded), and my wonderful husband who served this past year as the President of ASHS-SR. The Big Cheese.
This year was my last year serving on the ASHS-SR Executive Committee, a position I have enjoyed. Not only can it be fun helping to shape the future of the Society, but its a great way to get to know other Members better too. I considered this a great honor, because as I’m often heard saying, I only have a Master’s degree, not a Ph.D., like most of the other committee members serving our Society. I have enjoyed giving back volunteering on committees on both the SR level and the national level.
I have missed only a handful of SR meetings since I was a graduate student, which means that nearly every year, I am celebrating my birthday at our horticulture conference. This year was extra special.
On Sunday February 3, the ASHS Southern Region President, Dr. Eric Stafne, gave his Presidential address. I sat there on the front row, feeling so proud of him, remembering sitting in the audience when Dr. John R. Clark (Dr. Stafne’s major advisor) gave his Presidential address ~2004, and saying to Dr. Stafne “someday that will be you”. That was fifteen years ago.
Slide after slide, Dr. Stafne tasked the audience with assignments for the upcoming year, relating life-long goals and childhood aspirations to his work in horticulture (showing how your own personal aspirations can be relevant in horticulture): baseball player (Babe Ruth), detective (Eliot Ness), treasure finder (Dr. Indiana Jones), writer (Ernest Hemingway) and rock star (Pearl Jam and KISS). But it was the moment his slide showed a photo of me and our two dachshunds that I immediately went to tears. Not only were his unexpected words kind and complimentary, but his admiration and love were felt. (afterwards we heard I was not the only one brought to tears).
Following his speech, during the call for deceased Members, I proudly, and sadly stood and announced my former Bachelor’s and Master’s advisor, mentor, and dear friend: Dr. Alfred Erwin Einert, Emeritus, University of Arkansas. Dr. Einert passed away in August. In many ways, he was like a father figure. Always supportive. Always remembered my birthday. Attended our wedding in Florida. Wrote countless letters of recommendation. Loved to “break bread” and “shoot the shit” with my husband and me over dinner and pints of beer. An endless reservoir of advice…and stories. I will miss him greatly.
As a student, you can only hope to be gifted with an advisor who will become such an important part of your life. John Clark is that gift to Eric.
Five days after losing Al, we lost our male dachshund to complications with cancer. Mr. Weenie (one of his nicknames) fought tremendously since his March diagnosis when he was only given a few weeks to live. His first chest tap (at the Medvet cancer clinic in Louisiana) lasted many months, but his second tap (family vet) only lasted a couple of weeks and caused him great discomfort.
I often told folks from spring through summer, don’t be sad for my little man, he is enjoying the best treats, and is in the best spirits, and still loves to “go” and explore and help me type on the computer. I frequently found myself thinking, they were wrong. The vets were wrong. He does not have cancer. We put him on homeopathic supplements for kidney and liver detox. We opted for no chemo. He greeted every day with enthusiasm, even after the diagnosis. But that all changed in August.
On Friday August 24, we noticed he was having some difficulties and didn’t feel well. We decided to have the family vet tap his chest on Monday. Monday morning I told him we’d go to the vet and make him feel all better. But at the vet, it was determined the cancer must have progressed. He could barely walk for breathing difficulties and he was already maxed out on his medication. He was in distress. On Monday August 27, just five weeks until his 16th birthday and a few months away from his 6th year with us, we had to make that awful decision to have the vet come to our house and put an end our little rescue doxie’s suffering. I took him home from the vet, without the chest tap. One final car ride. One final, albeit slow, walk into the house. My husband and I had a few hours to spend with him. Although I’d never ate it previously, I defrosted and lightly grilled a filet mignon I’d purchased from the butcher the week prior. We cut it up and shared it with our dachshunds. I tried to tell him how much he meant to us. The vet arrived about 2:15 and at 2:30 p.m. as I held him tight, he left us. It was the most difficult, sickening and heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do. I have re-lived that moment over and over, daily since then, questioning everything we did or didn’t do. The next day I ordered a book (which I highly recommend) called the Pet Loss Companion.
A few days after Mr. Weenie left us, my husband stopped by the vet clinic and brought him back home to us in a beautifully carved wooden box. I also purchased an ashes urn necklace.
The Pet Loss Companion book was a tremendous help (I’m getting ready to read it again) and although it is a very easy read, it took me a couple of weeks because it is so “spot on” that reading a few pages left me in tears. I’ve never experienced true grief before which makes me a very lucky person. I’ve been very sad to lose Grandparents and other relatives and friends. However, I had no idea what to expect. This book does a great job of explaining how some people will never understand your pet-loss grief and how everyone handles and processes grief differently and how pet-loss grief for a pet that loves you 24/7 for years and beyond that has required daily nursing, if not hospice-level care, will put you in a different level of grief. A grief that can be very different than that for a family member.
For a month or so I had to hide my grief, not from others exactly, but from our female dachshund. We nearly lost her five days after Mr. Weenie. At the time we though she was sick. She had stopped eating or drinking that Friday we noticed Mr. Weenie having issues. A few days after losing our little buddy, we had her in the vet overnight (she is a diabetic, with Canine Cognitive Disorder (doggie Alzheimer’s) since 2016) and after that an emergency trip back to the vet (we thought she was dying in my arms). We were told at that time there was nothing physically wrong with her, she was grieving him and that one pet will often know the time is near before we as humans know. For days she wailed all night long, heart breaking cries like she had never made before. She moped about and was lethargic. She would lay in our arms completely like a little noodle. I had to hide my tears as I read she was probably picking up on our emotions.
On Labor Day Monday, one week after losing our buddy, we said, if she doesn’t eat by dinner, we’ll call the vet back out to the house. We took her around to all of our favorite coastal locations including Bay St. Louis. You can see her grief in the photos. One final stop was made to Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company (she had been visiting there with us since 2012) and on a whim, we ordered a Mississippi brat. Something that we would never order (dietary restrictions) and certainly not give to our dachshunds. However, she lunged at that brat and consumed it with the eagerness one might expect from any good German doxie! It was her first time to eat without being syringe-fed in a week or more. And thus began the healing with non-stop hugging, loving and keeping her close to us. We did not leave her alone. She gradually returned more to herself and we all grieved our loss together.
Miracle of miracles, two weeks later we left for our pre-planned vacation to Yellowstone. Her 4th trip since 2010 and what would have been Mr. Weenie’s third visit. We missed him greatly. In November I started journaling to him but I still could not bring myself to get back to blogging or social media. I didn’t have the stomach for it. I’m a relatively private person anyway, using these platforms to connect about plants, not display my personal life.
In early December, I decided maybe, just maybe I could start writing again, but not without some sort of post about my silence for all these months. But how to do it? Leaving myself vulnerable for inappropriate comments from non-dog lovers, non pet-owners, and those who just don’t get it. But then on December 10, my Father was injured in a farm accident, leaving him, currently, a quadriplegic. We returned home for a couple of weeks. That’s when the pain began. But after several weeks of chiropractic, professional massage, acupuncture, stretching, and de-stress herbal supplements, I am on the road to recovery. I am hopeful, that although the road will be long, that my Father will also regain mobility and can once again return home. I think that is as personal as I want to get on that subject, as I said earlier, I’m very uncomfortable with being too personal on social media platforms, although I’m very, very appreciative and thankful for everyone who started prayers for my Dad, my Old Man (as he calls himself) on Facebook.
Part of my recovery is finding the inspiration to get back to horticulture at our ASHS SR meeting this past weekend in Birmingham. I love horticulture. I love posting about plants. Though I have to say, a break from social media is something that was refreshing and centering.
Mr. Weenie, Dr. Jones, Monkey Man, the Burgermeister, my Little Buddy, my Little Man will always be with me. He loved to be outside with us in the yard and garden and taking outdoor adventures with us to all sorts of places.
My little female dachshund, my Tiki-meister, lays here near me. I do not know if she will make it to birthday 17 in April. She has been with us since she was eight weeks old. I should probably, at some point, blog about what it is like to go through canine cognitive disorder (CCD) with a diabetic, arthritic dachshund who has lost her hearing and most of her eye-sight. Day by day, we evaluate her quality of life.
So although part of my wants to delete this entire post, I must give back. I post this blog now not only to renew my online horticulture presence, to explain my absence, but also to perhaps help one person who is or will go through pet-loss grief. I have received so much from those who have posted online, selflessly, about their experiences with canine cancer, diabetes, and CCD. Most of the help and tips we received were from online posts and sites. Perhaps some stories of Tiki’s journey in the coming weeks or months? I have barely been able to type or text from the pain, so I don’t want to commit myself to dates. (Sigh) In closing, we didn’t sign on for pet ownership until it was too expensive or too inconvenient or burdensome. We signed on for love of a little companion. Loooooong live the dachshund owners, lovers, rescue adopters, and caregivers!
Thank you Dr. Eric Stafne and all who attended the ASHS SR 2019 conference in Birmingham. I hope to see everyone next year in Louisville for our next SR conference or at our annual national conference for ASHS this summer.
Yours in Gardening and in love of little paws that dig those gardens!
The Garden Maiden
PS It took me several hours to put this together. Written half in tears, I am sure there are errors which I will attempt to go back and correct. Please forgive!
All images and text copyright 2019 The Garden Maiden