It always amazes me how fast time flies.
As a family with only dogs and one fat cat, Malcolm and I find that most days merge into weeks into months into years as life speeds by. Those days tend to be a blur of memories, mostly good ones, mostly happy ones, but mixed in with the fond remembrances are the harsh realities of life.
Earlier this week Malcolm and celebrated our anniversary. As we reminisced our married life, memories of our early days brought forth giggles and laughs over old jokes, old adventures, and old ‘remember when’s. It also brought saddened smiles of other anniversaries. Our ‘borrowed’ kid, Sam, and our first child, Tiamo. One was our nephew, the other our beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. Both were ‘firsts’ in our lives.
May is the month we honor Moms, congratulate Grads, and celebrate Anniversaries. And May is the month we remember those who have left our lives but not our hearts……
Malcolm and I don’t have children – we have dogs. Use to be three, now two huge, wonderfully sweet, spoiled brats. Both of us were in our forties when we meet and married, well beyond the age to consider kids. But still young enough to fall into the pet trap.
Like most parents with real kids, Tiamo, our first Bernese Mountain Dog, was easy to raise and didn’t give us any trouble. Much. We spent hours training her, socializing her, correcting her, loving her.
Santa Fe is a dog friendly town, permitting canines on leash most everywhere and we took her everywhere that allowed dogs. She was part of our family, we were part of her pack. There was never a time she wasn’t with either Malcolm or I.
Tiamo would sit at our feet, under the table, while we sat outside eating lunch at the local cafes and bistros. She loved to watch the other patrons, always hoping there might be other dogs around. She was so well-behaved, little nippers would climb all over her and she loved the attention. She loved people and other animals, especially Thugs.
But most of all, she LOVED Sam.
Sam was our nephew and was loved like a son. In so many ways, he was the kid we never had.
One freezing cold January day, Sam arrived in Santa Fe. He arrived shirtless, in shorts and wearing flip-flops. He planned to stay for a short weekend visit. He was passing through New Mexico on his way to life.
I had never “truly” met this nephew of Malcolm’s. He attended our wedding, but like most brides on the wedding day, I didn’t remember much. As for Malcolm, it had been years since he had any true contact with him. Short emails and such, but no one-on-one, face-to-face conversations. In truth, neither one of us knew Sam very well, and me not at all. Neither one of us knew what to expect. I have no doubt Sam felt the same way.
Sam was 23 years, not even a quarter of a century old, and traveling through his life. While both Malcolm and I were fast approaching the half-dollar mark and getting ready to slide down the other side. Sam was just starting on his expedition, his life’s trek. We were winding down from ours. We were poles apart on where we all were in our lives, in age, in experiences, and in goals. Somehow we managed to find common ground and meet in the middle.
My plan was to cook up a storm, for in my experience, food solved all dilemmas. Sam was in his early twenties, an age when all males ate a lot, extra servings and seconds, so double batches were required. I went to work in the kitchen.
Malcolm’s plan was to show Sam around town, drive up through the mountains, expose Sam to the wonders of Santa Fe. Malcolm gassed up the SUV.
Sam’s plan was to document life through his travels, videoing his journey, recording his thoughts. He had graduated from college and his young artist’s soul was begging to be set free and loose in the wilds. His jump off was Santa Fe. He had tricked out his truck and camper into a cozy living area. He jimmy-rigged a camera mount on his bicycle to record his wanderings, pulled some money from his savings and had a full tank of gas and ideas. Ready. Set. Go.
He never left Santa Fe. One week later, after living in his truck at the Wal-Mart parking lot, Sam moved into our household, taking over the guest bedroom.
I had someone new to spoil, while Malcolm had someone new with which to impart wisdom and advice. Not having kids, we loved the fact he came diaper free and with manners. He was trained. We bonded quickly and the three of us became a family. We loved Sam – Sam loved us. Sam was special. Unique. We “adopted” him without any hesitation.
When Malcolm was turning fifty, I surprised him with a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. Born on Thanksgiving Day, Tiamo joined our new family when she was eleven weeks old. We all instantly fell in love with her, especially Sam. Although, I think he originally saw her as a chick magnet with four legs and fur. I mean, seriously, what female under 80 and not blind, would not fall in love with a Bernese puppy! For that matter, Sam was a hottie. What female under 30 and/or blind would not fall for a tall handsome Texan.
Sam took part in Tiamo’s training. He assisted in walking her, grooming her and teaching her to sit, along with other commands. Sam would volunteer to bring Tiamo to the vet when she needed her booster shots. He took care of Tiamo when we went away for travel and trips. Sam was Tiamo’s third caregiver. The two of them were inseparable.
When Sam later moved into town, I think he missed Tiamo more than he missed us. I know Tiamo missed him something fierce. She would go absolutely bonkers when Sam came to visit and wouldn’t leave his side. Malcolm and I were ignored. For Tiamo, Sam was it.
Tiamo would have this goofy grin on her face when Sam showed up. Her eyes would light up and she would prance around, showing off for Sam. Sam always brought her a treat. Something special just for her. It got so every time Sam came, she would immediately reach for his pant’s pocket, nosing her muzzle, sniffing for her treat. Sam never failed to disappoint her.
Tiamo was the happiest when the three of us were together. Sam, Malcolm and I. Plus Tiamo. She would grab her toy of the week, gnawing on it while laying at our feet, listening to our voices as we caught up on our lives. Her family together, Tiamo was happy and content.
Sam loved the outdoors. Even on the coldest of days, he and Malcolm would sit outside, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon, enjoying a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, discussing life. They would pull up two old wooden rocking chairs to the edge of the portal, facing west, and observe the sky’s colors as they faded from brilliant blue to fiery orange to pitch black. Tiamo at their feet. They would still be talking as the stars turned on their lights, twinkling from above. Tiamo was content to be with her “boys”.
Some nights, Malcolm and Sam would light a small fire in the clay Chiminea for warmth. Other times, they would gently rock their chairs to the cadence of their conversation, low murmurs that would tease Tiamo into a soft sleep at their feet. During the summer months, Sam and Malcolm would take Tiamo for midnight walks after it had cooled down from the day’s heat. Tiamo happily trotting along besides the two of them. Plainly said, Tiamo LOVED Sam.
When Sam was 27, he passed away. The first year, after Sam’s death, was the hardest. Malcolm and I had to re-adjust our family back down to two with a dog. Along with Tiamo, we had to re-adjust to never seeing Sam again. We all mourned. We all missed Sam. Like barbed wire twisted around our hearts, we felt every razor-sharp prong squeezing into our grief and sorrow. Our hearts were bleeding, bruised and beat up. Tiamo’s was as well.
The following spring after Sam’s death, I started a memorial garden. West of our covered portal, in full view of the day’s end, I planted flowery shrubs, bushes and flowers in every color to remind us of the sun winking good night. Fiery reds and oranges, brilliant blue hues, twinkling whites and luminous purples. Cheerful yellows and soft pinks. Bright colors to reflect life’s wonder. Colorful shades of nature reminiscent of watching the sun disappear behind the Sandias as all of us conversed. A salute to our loved ones. A nod to Sam. We missed our Sam, but are so thankful he joined our life for what little time we had with him.
We have since laid flagstone, moved the clay Chiminea pot to the middle of the stonework and added more wooden rocking chairs. Birdhouses and yard art are scattered around to commemorate the joy of life. Sam’s life. Bright colors surround the garden, flowers edging the stone’s perimeter. Pinon, pine trees and junipers providing the shade and adding a wind break. It has become a happy place. It is a continual work in progress.
Tiamo was half way through her sixth year when Malcolm and I had to put her down. Cancer. Heart-wrenching. Sad. Deep. It was early May and we had two weeks to prepare for the finality of losing her. We had been through the grief of losing Sam. Now we were going to go through the heartache and anguish of losing another beloved child.
There was no question that we would bury Tiamo at home in our Memorial Garden. A place where Tiamo would sit at Sam’s feet as Malcolm and Sam watched the sun set. Malcolm had chosen an area in the garden where Tiamo loved to lay while Sam and Malcolm chatted, solving the world’s problems. Under a big juniper tree, he started to dig her burial plot.
As Malcolm prepared Tiamo’s final resting spot, Tiamo laid by the deepening hole and watched, silently giving us her acceptance of what was to come. She was ready. We were not.
We didn’t want to let her go. Memories of her as a puppy, remembrances of Sam “borrowing” Tiamo to assist him in picking up long haired co-eds, recollections of Tiamo sitting at our feet while on the portal, flooded our hearts. Our beautiful Tiamo was in pain. No more walks on the green belt, no more belly rubs at night, no more trips in the car. We knew it wouldn’t be long.
Our veterinarian had told us we would know when to bring her in. “When it’s time to stop the suffering, you’ll know,” she said, her eyes filled with sympathy.
Malcolm and I felt like we were playing at being God, making the decision about when to end Tiamo’s life, when to “bring her in.” “When it was time” turned into “then it was time” way too soon. With tears in our eyes and a heavy, burdened heart, we put Tiamo down. Again, Malcolm and I deeply grieved.
When we bring pets into our lives, we come to the understanding that, most likely we will outlive them by many years. Most likely there will be many other pets in between. We had already put Thugs down, our aging cat of nearly twenty-two years. Malcolm and I accepted that. Hate it, but know it, and know this is life. This is the harsh reality we all go through. Damn it hurts.
We buried Tiamo in her favorite spot, shaded by junipers and surrounded by color, facing west to watch the sun set. She is deeply missed.
I would like to believe Sam and Tiamo are high in the sky, in their happy place together. Tiamo has her “Sam” to play with, sniffing out an endless supply of treats from his pockets, prancing around in a field of soft green clover. Sam has Tiamo, keeping him company while he enjoys the fresh air and outdoors.
We miss our kids.