Grieving the Death of a Furry Family Member

Pets bring us joy when they enter our life. Pets bring us love throughout their lives. And pets bring us pain, sorrow and grief when they die. Of course they do. A pet is a friend and a family member. We grieve the death of any family member.

Ararf, Squirrel, Brutus, Sadie, Wiley — all dogs I have loved and lost. Cats are no different. We’ve loved & lost Digit, Rosie, Rocket, Grits, Guinnan, and Kenai. All are gone — all are still here in our hearts.

Grief for a pet is fundamentally the same as grief for the death of a person. Why should it feel any different? Yet, even if we have accepted grief as a natural response to the death of a person, we sometimes feel a little odd assigning those same feelings to grieving our pets.Especially since it sometimes seems to hurt even more when a pet dies.

That feeling, too, is natural. And we are starting to explore more about our human response to the death of a pet. Here are some links to articles and videos on the subject:

Coping with the death of your pet (Humane Society)

When a person you love dies, it’s natural to feel sorrow, express grief, and expect friends and family to provide understanding and comfort.
Unfortunately, you don’t always get that understanding when a pet dies. Some people still don’t understand how central animals can be in people’s lives, and a few may not get why you’re grieving over “just a pet.”

Why We Need to Take Pet Loss Seriously (Scientific American)

Losing a beloved pet is often an emotionally devastating experience. Yet as a society, we do not recognize how painful pet loss can be and how much it can impair our emotional and physical health. Symptoms of acute grief after the loss of a pet can last from one to two months, with symptoms of grief persisting up to a full year (on average).

Nobody Can Tell You How to Feel After Losing a Pet (SELF)

We may not openly talk about pet grief in polite society, but most pet owners know that a pet isn’t just an animal. They’re also a beloved member of the family and a huge source of unconditional love, affection, and comfort. That’s because, unlike other relationships, animals offer an organic connection that you don’t have to overthink or worry about. You love them and they love you—it’s that simple.

Dealing with pet loss: How to help a grieving pet parent (Washington Post)

“Your pets follow you into bathroom. They sleep with you. They are your shadow. Human family members don’t do that,” said Leigh Ann Gerk, a pet loss grief counselor in Loveland, Colo., and founder of Mourning to Light Pet Loss. “Humans don’t go crazy with joy when you come back inside after getting the mail. Human relationships, while important, can be difficult. Our relationship with our pets is simple. They love us just as we are.”

Coping with the loss of a pet (American Veterinary Medical Association)

When a beloved pet dies, the loss can bring grief and intense sorrow. By physically showing your grief, you actively mourn the death of your beloved pet. This active mourning helps move you on a journey toward reconciling with the loss of your pet.

Finally, here’s a trio of TEDx talks offering insights about the death of a pet:

They say every pet you’ve ever loved will come running to greet you at the Rainbow Bridge. Frankly, that worries me just a bit. Brutus was such a scrapper, he’s likely to growl & snap all the others — at least the males.

Wonder what he’ll make of Stella.

Posted in Pets, death, grief | Leave a comment

New Beginnings & False Starts

Janus, Roman God of Beginnings

It’a the end of January, what someone once referred to as “that two-faced month.”  Its mythological namesake Janus has one face looking backward, one looking forward.

January serves as a commonly defined “beginning,” not just flipping the page on the calendar, but getting a whole new one. Some folks make New Year’s resolutions despite knowing many are doomed to fail.

It is almost inevitable to try and start anew at the beginning of January. While I avoid making resolutions, I do tend to think forward and set some goals, even if only informally. I even dared to share some thoughts & plans here on the blog.

Sure enough, I’ve just posted an index page for Granddad’s memoir scraps, a step towards organizing access to them. But I remain somewhat stymied on the overall memoir project. I should already be scanning those intact pages I mentioned. I could go ahead and compile some blog posts into a structured piece similar to “Pappa’s Childhood,” particularly those about his rural school days, both as student in the late 1800s and as teacher in the early 20th Century. Those should interest some educators and historians, if no one else.

But I haven’t really done much with the other “big projects” I’ve set out to work on, neither FlexQuest nor the music of my cousin, Will T. Massey. The truth is, I’ve had some false starts for the most part so far this year.

Yes, I suffered a major setback with my nerve injury last summer. That definitely disrupted everything I was doing. I likewise suffered some tech setbacks when my laptop stopped functioning. I still need to re-access some files hidden away on that now (and hopefully only temporarily) inaccessible hard drive.

But maybe I should look at this season as being more about “resumption.” I have begun to resume some of the regular rhythms of my pre-injury life, like my morning freewrite or daily walks (not on sub-freezing icy days like today, though!). Still, it’s the little things, like using my heated mug for my morning coffee again, rather than the travel mug I had to use for months to avoid spills while less steady overall.

Austin Kleon quotes Mark Larson saying, “We expect too much from January and not enough from February,”

I say: Bring it on!

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Re: My Grandfather as “Guest Blogger”

G.M.C. Massey

G.M.C. Massey

The first time I posted an excerpt from my grandfather’s memoir manuscripts, I referred to him as a “Guest Blogger.” By now, years later, I’ve posted over 70 entries from his writings. I still find these stories of his fascinating enough to share.

The pieces are fragments for the most part, floating free from each other. I posted about the box of scraps Mom passed down to me. I certainly salute the heroic effort she put forth editing portions of the manuscript into a coherent opening section she titled, “Pappa’s Childhood.” I have to admit that I gave up long ago any thought of trying similar editing to merge the various memoir manuscript pieces into a coherent whole.

It’s not that it can’t be done. It’s how difficult and involved even attempting to do so would be. Granddad had a habit of typing out multiple versions of some of his anecdotes — sometimes with details at odds with each other. He openly acknowledged he wrote of things as they came to his mind, so some of the pages seem to loop back to an earlier portion.

I’ve been using my own typewritten capture of the scraps of memoirs, a project I did years ago on a long break between contract jobs. There is still more material from that set of notes, but it has been picked over quite a bit.

To allow easier access to all of the posted pieces from Granddad’s memoirs, I’ve tried to organize them into groupings by topic on an index page accessible from the top menu of the blog itself.

  • Overview
  • Youth, including Characters and Farming/Horse trading
  • School Days — Student, Teacher, Disciplinarian
  • Asherton Tales — School superintendent, hunting/fishing
  • Progress, 1880-1960
  • Love & Marriage(s) & Family
  • San Angelo
  • Miscellaneous

Moving forward, there is certainly more to come from Granddad’s writings. I still have somewhat of a “treasure trove” of intact manuscript pages. However, there are still significant problems problems working with these, as Granddad used one than one set of page numbering schemes as well as using carbon paper to make copies.

This year, I will dive into those intact pages to see what can be retrieved that has not already been shared on this blog. Stay tuned!

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Reminder: We Are All Temporary Here

Death reminds us of mortality, our own and others.

Inevitable as death is, when it comes, we act as if it’s completely unexpected, regardless of how it arrives. We even try to avoid mentioning the word in polite company. instead using euphisms like “She/He passed on.”

This often leaves us unprepared, emotionally and intellectually, to deal with the death of someone close to us.

I believe more open talk and frank discussion of the dread topic of death would free us to more fruitfully engage with this common experience will we all share. I’ve certainly blogged about the topic more than once before — this is another set of links on the subject:

Death Ed

Our schools offer Driver’s Ed and Sex Ed — why not Death Ed? It turns out some educational programs are actively exploring that.

High School Death Ed

If sex ed exists in high school curriculums, why not death ed? It’s an idea some doctors, palliative care advocates and educators are calling for. They say that just as sex is a natural part of the life cycle, so too is death — and schools have a role in preparing students for this inevitable reality.

Death & Dying 101

Instead of confronting their own mortality, many Americans tend to label such talk as “morbid” and try to stave it off—along with death itself—as long as they can. It wasn’t always this way in the U.S. Until the end of the 19th century, Americans were far more familiar with many aspects of death, largely because most people died at home and people took care of their own dead.

Exit Music

Hospices and death doulas work with the dying and their family and friends to ease the final days of a loved one. Here are two groups offering music as salve for the pain we face when facing imminent death.

Swan Songs (Austin, Texas)

Never underestimate the healing power of music, even if it only lasts for a brief moment. Songs can uplift our moods and move us through difficult times. The gift of music can be so powerful, it can transport us to a different place, entirely. Music can also bring people together. It may also bring solace to friends and families of loved ones who are terminally ill. Swan Songs, a local nonprofit in Austin, is striving to accomplish just that, and the process is simpler than you might expect.

Companion Voices (North London Hospice)

“Although our culture has moved death into the realms of fear and dread, it’s a normal and accepted element of life in many other cultures around the world…I set up Companion Voices to make it possible for people to choose to be sung to as they approach the very end of their life; to be surrounded by the loving presence and voices of people who wish to accompany and affirm them at that moment of transition.”

“This camel stops at every tent.”

My friend, Bijan, shared this old Persian proverb when he heard of my father’s death. It perhaps sums up the core truth about the death of a parent. What I often tell friends now is, “The world changes forever the day a parent dies — in ways we can never foresee.”

I don’t think there is anything that can prepare you to lose a parent. It is a larger blow in adulthood I believe, because you are at the point where you are actually friends with your mother or father. Their wisdom has finally sunk in and you know that all of the shit you rolled your eyes at as a teenager really was done out of love and probably saved your life a time or two.

The longer we live, the more often we will hear of the death of someone we know and love. Let’s break the silence and start the conversations that can help address our fears.

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Make of Me a Moral Lesson

Willy Wonka would be proud.
Some funeral goers will likely be appalled.
Just don’t blame me.
It’s not my fault.
It’s not even my idea.
But it is a great idea.

So, I’m stealing it. Not just to repost the meme itself, but by bringing the idea to life — at the time of my death.

I want my own Oompah-Loompah song performed at whatever “celebration of life” my survivors might host.

Am I serious? As serious as a heart attack — or even death itself. Which, you gotta admit,  is even more serious than a heart attack.

For the uninitiated, the Oompah-Loompahs work at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story, which many of us know from the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder. The wise folks at Wikipedia offer this explanation regarding the Oompan Loompah song:

During the tour, each child’s character flaws cause them to give in to temptation, resulting in their unusual elimination: Augustus gets sucked up a pipe after falling into the chocolate river; Violet bloats into a giant human blueberry; Veruca falls down a garbage chute; and Mike is shrunk to the size of a chocolate bar. The Oompa-Loompas sing a song of morality after each disposal.

Sing along if you know the song!

Oompa Loompa, do-ba-dee-doo,
I’ve got a perfect puzzle for you.
Oompa Loompa, do-ba-dee-dee,
If you are wise you’ll listen to me.

Some suggested topics for the rendition at my funeral might include:

  • What do you get when you procrastinate?
    Putting off everything until it’s too late…
  • What do you get when you’re always lazy?
    Nothing gets done, making you look crazy…
  • What do you get drinking oceans of beer?
    That likely helped speed your pathway to here…

Get the picture? Good, because it’s going to be up to someone other than me to finish the verse(s) and lead the singing.

Of course, I still want the same exit music I’ve long asked for.

Let’s put the “fun” back into “funeral,” folks!

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Songs of Will T. Massey — “The Darkness Now”

One of Will’s later songs that he recorded on his iPhone and sent out to a limited number of people, starting in 2014. I have 11 songs he sent out that way, and six of those are already posted here. He even joked about releasing an album of them all — to be called “iPhone,” of course. He did re-record one of them, “Sometimes I Sing,” for his 2016 release, The Weathering

While the raw recording quality reflects their origins as demoes, the power of Will’s lyrical imagery remains as gripping as in his most polished recordings. This one in particular vividly paints a picture of an emotional landscape in stark relief. No video with captured images could ever improve on Will’s poetic vision here.

“The Darkness Now” — Will T. Massey, iPhone, 9-22-2014

I’m the rustle of the leaves when the wind blows.
I’m the frost upon the pane of your windows.
I’m an empty coffee cup, blowing down your street,
I’m a stray musician, looking for the beat.
I’m the city limits sign.
I’m the one that got away.
I’m a power and a teach and a prayer for yesterday.
I’m a lock that’s hanging open and always yours somehow —
I am the darkness now.

You’re a picture in the corner of the room.
You’re the magic in the morning, moaning low.
You’re a dusty, dirt road cross, and too many cigarettes.
You’re cold mesquite trees dancing in wind-blown silhouettes.
You’re broken miracles and crystals through the air.
You’re a hot dog I don’t buy at a lonesome country fair.
You’re a bitter, borrowed blessing and always mine somehow —
You are the darkness now.

We’re an old car that forgot the roads back home.
We’re a soulful sorrow seeping in our bones.
We’re the countryside between us and old bulls in the ring.
We’re the weathered corner by that hopped a southbound train
We’re a championship team in 2006.
We’re wild horses dying.
We’re a fire from little sticks.
We’re still old clocks and pennies and always ours somehow —
We are the darkness now.

Posted in songs, Will T. Massey | 1 Comment

Happy 33rd Anniversary, Sara!

for Sara, forever my angel

Alan & Sara, wedding day, 1-7-90

There is no greater force in the universe than the impact of two people finding each other.
— Scott Whitebird, my brother and one of the Two Best Men at our wedding

Today marks the 33rd anniversary of our wedding. That is somehow surreal, representing as it does one third of a century that Sara & I have been together. Certainly, when we met & married in 6 weeks, a number of people worried we had rushed into things recklessly and it wouldn’t — couldn’t — last. The fact that we were so sure reassured few of those folks — but I guess we showed the skeptics!

I like to think of our 33 years together (so far) as a vinyl LP, a long-playing record spinning around the wheel of life at 33 rpm. And we made it one more year. Not much more to say right now since I have posted about our wedding on this blog several times before. Enjoy these prior posts:

Looking back over our years together and rereading these stories, the closing of the Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast series still rings true, so I’ll leave you with that:

“Our life together has been filled with happiness — and sorrow and joy and pain and struggle and victory and loss and endurance.

See, they almost get it right in the traditional wedding vows, but they miss an important point: it’s not ‘or’ in those phrases— it’s ‘and.’

For better AND worse.
For richer AND poorer.
In sickness AND in health.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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Forward into the Future!

Today marks 6 months since I got laid low by an injury of unknown source. In the months since then, I’ve blogged quite a bit less than I had been previously doing. Most of my time & energy has been focused on, well, me — and getting me better.

Time to emerge again into the world. I’m walking up to a mile a day, weather permitting, and looking to build up my stamina. I’m up and down our stairs in the house as needed. And I am just about ready to get back to driving — though, truthfully, not driving has been rather relaxing in its own odd way.

So, with this new year upon us, I  want to launch myself anew into the rhythms I had going before the Incapacitation. That certainly includes blogging. Additionally, I want to focus on a few specific efforts I’d already been working on. I’ve mentioned these here before, but I want to reiterate them. Not just to refresh my memory (and maybe yours) but also to renew my intentions and “show my work” as Austin Kleon suggests.

G.M.C. Massey memoirs

G.M.C. Massey walking on sidewalk

There are lots of fragments from my grandfather’s memoirs already posted here as well as my Mom’s edit of his notes, “Pappa’s Childhood.” These all come from scraps of manuscript that my Mom used in compiling that part of his story.

What I would like to do moving forward is to compile portions related to his days in rural Texas schools. He wrote of his days as a student in the late 19th century, and then his nearly 20 years teaching i rural schools around Texas.

I mentioned these writings once to someone at SXSW EDU  a few years ago, and they encouraged me to share those via a book. Well, let’s see what we can do about that.


Will T. Massey

My cousin Will is 6 years missing since he last contacted me. I am not about to let his formidable body of work fade away in his absence. There are several possibilities moving forward, starting with doing more of the same.

I’ve already posted over 70 of Will’s songs with lyrics & either video or audio recording of the song. There are many more songs he has written still to be posted in that manner. I will continue posting more, including some tunes where I cannot decipher all of the lyrics.

I also want to explore more of the live recordings George Fremin made at a dozen or so of Will’s shows at Flipnotics back in 2009-2010. These recordings capture Will at a peak time during the second wave of his career and deserve a wider audience.


FlexQuest

I’ve been on & on about this idea for over 3 years now. By using a gameful approach (a la Jane McGonigal) to develop soft skills, anyone can work to improve themselves in key areas. We call these “futureproof superpowers,” as the demand for these skills determines an individual’s ability to grow and adapt to tomorrow’s changing circumstances.

Futureproof Superpowers for P-TECH student interns

The FlexQuest program/game would specifically target high school interns new to the work setting. Last year, we produced a handful of videos to explain the basics — but stopped short of launching the game. My injury interrupted plans to play an initial round in the fall.

Time to make it come alive by playing the game with real people.  I am not sure yet just how that will work out, but I intend to enlist allies who can help in this initial round of developing & testing by playing the game through. More on that later.

Writing

My injury/incapacitation disrupted all of my rhythms, including things as simple as my daily freewrite. I am only now starting to revive some of these practices. I further intend to work on some of the ideas I’ve previously shared — 2-Minute Warning, Demon Line, and General Sam.

I am also considering taking Ray Bradbury’s advice for how to write a good short story. He once urged potential authors to write a short story every week for a year, saying that after 52 stories, you’d certainly end up with at least 1 good one. Maybe it’s time for “fiction Friday” postings?

Of course, best laid plans have their well-known hazards, much like many of this week’s New Year’s Resolutions. These are not resolutions but intentions.

Stay tuned for updates on these and other ideas coming from the back porch!

Posted in blogging, Buller, G.M.C. Massey, Will T. Massey, writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Former and Further Adventures of Ralphie

Christmas means many things and around here, it always involves movies —and we crown our days of viewing old favorites with A Christmas Story,” reserved for post-Christmas dinner.

I shared my back story with Ralphie several years ago, relating how my father had turned me on to Jean Shepherd’s book, “In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash),” the collection of stories that provide the basis for Ralphie’s family’s story, many previously published in Playboy.

I just read an article by someone who knew these stories even before Shepherd published them in print. Shepherd had been sharing these stories on a late night radio show for years, it turns out. And just as “A Christmas Story” is derived from the book, the book was derived from the radio shows.

As craftily as Shepherd and the film’s director, Bob Clark, massaged the mishmash into a relatively cohesive whole, the sentimental tone of “A Christmas Story” belies the subtler textures of the original stories and the deep awareness of human frailty that permeated even Shepherd’s funniest yarns.

Though the movie originally did okay at the box office, it would take many years and repeated TV airings to blossom into today’s classic, endearing itself to generations of viewers. No surprise, then, that Ralphie has had additional screen adventures through the years.

In fact, a grown Ralphie just returned this season in a new sequel, “A Christmas Story Christmas.” But since we don’t have HBO Max, that one’s out of reach for us for now. But that’s the not only sequel — or prequel.

I watched one prior sequel, “My Summer Story,” (released in 1994 as “It Runs in the Family”) many years ago — and found it highly disappointing. Sure, it’s the same characters and Ralphie’s stories. It even reunited storyteller Jean Shepherd and director Bob Clark — but it lacks the same spark as their classic. Another sequel — “A Christmas Story 2” (2012) — launched direct-to-DVD I believe, but absent either Shepherd OR Clark, the results fell so flat most fans never even heard of this one. I sure didn’t. Even the trailer got panned!

The simple fact remains that it took the combined efforts of Jean Shepherd and Bob Clark working together for over 10 years to pull off “A Christmas Story.” That sort of movie magic doesn’t come easy!

However, I did discover a few other video retellings of some of Ralphie’s adventures not fully covered in the movie we all know & love. PBS took 2 bites at the apple first, airing a couple of compilations of Jean Shepherd stories before the Big Screen version in 1983 — and both of these are freely available via YouTube (embedded below). Though neither of these efforts come close to the wonder of “A Christmas Story,” I enjoyed spending some more time with Ralphie & the Parkers.

Phantom of the Open Hearth (1976)

Teenaged Ralphie faces the junior prom and the daunting pursuit of Daphne Bigelow, the girl of his dreams. The Old Man comments, “Too many guys settle for the first skirt that shows up. And regret it the rest of their lives.” This collection of Jean Shepherd’s tales does include the Major Award story, but no “Fra-jill-ee” or fishnet stockings.

The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters” (1982)

“The Old Man was a fireworks freak,” and Ralphie’s playing sousaphone in the high school marching band for the big parade. Again, it’s great to hear Jean Shepherd’s voice — he introduces the episode from the driver’s seat of his car before we flashback to his “childhood.” Of course, his descriptions are key to the story and its comic effect. And the Old Man dancing demonically amidst his fireworks finale is delightful.

Ollie Hopnoddle’s Haven of Bliss” (1988)

Also available on YouTube, this first true sequel, made 5 years after “A Christmas Story,” this made-for-TV movie (Disney Channel) finds the Old Man anticipating his annual 2-week vacation. The struggles & difficulties in getting to the titular lakeside paradise include Ralphie getting his First Job and Fuzzhead, the family dog disappearing. Add in packing for 2 weeks and the l-o-n-g car ride north to Michigan (“I gotta go!” “Randy!”) and you start to wonder if they will ever make it there.

Unfortunately, in all 3 of these further adventures with Ralphie, the cast & production pale compare to the now-oh-so-familiar Parker family we know from “A Christmas Story.” That one really captured lightning-in-a-bottle and remains unmatched since then. I love how it’s grown into a modern Christmas classics, complete with round-clock holiday showings. By 2012, there was even a Broadway musical based on the movie — which was broadcast live in 2017!

Of course, with access to old recordings, there are many of the original Jean Shepherd radio shows themselves available on YouTube. In fact, that’s a whole new rabbit hole right there.

Me, I don’t care. I love diving down rabbit holes — and Ralphie’s just the pink-suited bunny to lead me.

Posted in anecdotes, books, Movies, video | Leave a comment

Ghosts & Blogs of Christmas Past

I’m still a lazy blogger.
I’m still struggling to gain momentum in recovering from my incapacitation.
So, here’s my lazy offering this Christmas Day: a short collection of memories of Christmases gone by, as well as a few prior back porch blogs about Christmas.

My 1st Christmas, 1954 — don’t I look thrilled!

My childhood memories of Christmas are vague at best. I have photographic evidence of early Christmases, but few memories from those holidays at home. We always started the Christmas season — put up the tree & decorations — on the 18th since my brother’s birthday was the 17th.

Sometimes we travelled, no doubt, but those memories are even vaguer. One Christmas in the mid-60s when we celebrated at the YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park, a family of Texans struggling to dress warmly but still enjoying that season.

Other later Christmases that stand out:

  • 1967  at Granny Massey’s in San Angelo when I got the Beatles single, “Hello/Goodbye.”
  • 1977 — double-up dinner day since Scott & Joanie were on the outs with the folks.
  • 1978 — Playing Santa on the psych ward at the Brown Schools’ Ranch Christmas 1978
  • 1980 — “Working” at Marbridge by taking a group of our best-behaved guys to see “Superman” in the theater

Most of my 80s Christmas centered around the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar thru the 80s with my annual video shot, edited, and cablecast in the first week. Even after I stopped doing that (except for a few things 2008-2010), Christmas in Austin isn’t complete without a Dillo Xmas run or two.

And there’s a couple of bittersweet Christmas memories with Jessie circa he late 80s: building her bouncing horsie ride one Christmas Eve — and her final Christmas (1988), as she was dying of cancer and bloated by steroid treatment, and the minor miracle it took to get me there that time.

Prior Christmas blogs

Well, that’s about the best this lazy blogger intends to do this Christmas — enjoy!

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