27 August 2008

Enjoy the music

As part of my continued healing from the loss of Cricket, I am bringing music back into my home. It's not that I'd banned it (I listen in the car often), but I had not listened to it at home much in the years since I moved to Canada. (My good stereo is still down in Seattle.) The time has come to move forward into a new era.

As a symbol of this decision, I've added music to my blog. Scroll to the bottom to see what's currently playing on the playlist. If you don't like classical music, you can mute the player by clicking all the way to the left on the volume control.

I'm feeling a bit wistful about the fact that CBC is in its last week of the old format of mostly classical music (with some jazz). They are totally revamping their programming to reach a broader audience (i.e., younger listeners). Hmmmph! Who listens to a radio station that plays a whole smattering of lots of different styles? You end up going back to the stations that play your favorite kind of music.

I've been part of a grassroots effort to get them to change their mind, but I doubt it will make any difference. The new leadership doesn't understand the importance of classical music to a culture; doesn't realize that younger generations do listen to it. "Classical" is actually a very broad category that includes many different styles, including new music by contemporary Canadian composers, etc. They could meet their mandate to be Canada's national broadcasting station and still please the million or so long-time listeners who are going to abandon them and go elsewhere come September.

Some of us are starting to look into XM satellite radio, others are making do with iPods. Me? I'm exploring new online options like Playlist.com. But I'll miss discovering new music if I just listen to my existing collection of favorite works. There's always streaming audio from KING-FM in Seattle and other classical stations, or Shoutcast (free Internet radio from do-it-yourself DJs and broadcasters all over the world). But I can't pick up the Internet in my car. Not yet, anyway. (I'm sure it's coming...) And the quality of DIY broadcasters or the free tracks available through Playlist.com will never rival CBC's non-commercial classical programming (I'll miss Jurgen Gothe, Eric Friesen and the lot). So more classical music at home is the only solution to my need for it.

26 August 2008

Lake Dunmore panorama

Anonymous wants to be able to see the panorama shot all at once. You asked for it, you got it! Click on it to see a larger version.

Photo Software

I've been playing around with photo software again lately. I am very impressed by ACDSee Pro, and am using that now almost exclusively, instead of a combination of Windows Explorer, Picasa, and Adobe Bridge, for all my photo organizing tasks. The only thing I still need some other software for is occasionally being able to edit EXIF fields that are not editable in ACDSee Pro. For that, I use Opanda PowerExif.

I've also discovered the Panorado java applet that makes embedding interactive panoramas in a web page a cinch (for someone with HTML skills). It's a freebie giveaway to entice you to buy Panorado's stand-alone panorama viewer/browser.

Here's a panorama I stitched together using Serif Panorama Plus (which I've written about elsewhere in this blog), of photos taken from our dock at Lake Dunmore, after the floodwaters receded.

You can click on this image and drag the mouse around to explore up/down and left/right in the image. Or just watch it scroll itself like a movie, which it has probably finished doing by the time you read this far.

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Courtesy of:

19 August 2008

Confidential to frequent blog visitor from Connecticut

You are someone who probably knows me, as you visit my blog regularly (more than once a day) by Google searching my name. I'm curious to know who is out there that is so interested in my blog. I'm not aware of any friends in Stratford, Connecticut (which is where my stat counter says you're from, but that might just be your ISP's location; your ISP appears to be Optimum Online). Please identify yourself either by leaving a comment on this post (anonymous is OK as long as you give me enough info to figure out who you are if you're someone I know) or email me. You can find my contact info at my website.

New bird species: olive-backed forest robin

Meet the olive-backed forest robin, a new bird species recently discovered in Gabon, Africa. How wonderful to know that new species are still being discovered even as others are becoming extinct. This little creature is so beautiful! Isn't God's world just amazing? The variety and colorfulness never cease to delight me. [Note: though I do love photographing birds, this is not my photo. Source: Science Daily; photo by Brian Schmidt]

Heron on the dock!

A bit of a break from blogging about Cricket. (For those who are wondering how the grieving process is going, I'm doing well, and will write more later.)

I just got back from a week's vacation in Vermont at the family summer cottage. One morning I was awoken by my sister knocking quietly at my door to tell me there was a heron on our dock. I managed to snap a couple of photos of it (alas, through a screen window) before a motor boat went by and scared it away.

That bird was huge! As you can see, it's taller than the adirondack chair.

11 August 2008

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. I had to say a final farewell to Cricket. I know she was gone already, and only her lifeless body remained. But that was still a tangible connection to her. She was still beautiful even in death, and her fur was still soft and precious to touch. I'm glad I had those three extra days to ease into the absence of her physical presence. Even so, the waves of grief over letting go were intense. But I know I've given her back to God, and that helps soften the grief.

After much deliberating over the past few months, I had chosen to have her cremated. That will allow me to spread some of her ashes in a few special places that have been meaningful to us. I found out about a wonderful pet cremation service in North Vancouver called Until We Meet Again, run by Kevin Woronchak and his wife. They do a professional job of the cremation business, but their mission is primarily to care for the people who are going through loss of a pet, and they treat the animals with dignity. They have a beautiful meditation room for pet owners to sit in while the cremation is taking place. Kevin was so gentle and tender with Cricket, and made me feel really cared for. He allowed me to participate as much as I was comfortable in the cremation process. I ended up being brave and wanting to see what her bones looked like when the oven was opened, before they were ground down to ashes (see photo above left). It was a shock looking in and seeing how little of her remained. One amusing bit: I had chosen to have two of Cricket's favorite toys cremated with her (her whale and her elephant), because they were "dead" too: they no longer made their noises if you squeezed them, as their unchangeable batteries were dead. We found little bits of exploded battery and melted down circuit board in the cremains. Kevin removed them with a magnet, so that what's in Cricket's urn is pure Cricket. I chose to have him reserve some of the ashes to be made into a piece of memorial art glass, with swirls of color in it. The colors I chose were cobalt blue (because Cricket always wore a blue collar) and apple green (because apples were one of Cricket's favorite treats).

For now I have the urn set up on my hearth, with candles and flowers next to it. I could have straightened out the skewed photo, but I realized it is better that way, as it represents how my life is now out of kilter without Cricket in it. It will take me some time to find equilibrium again. When I'm ready, I plan to sprinkle all the ashes. Again, it will be hard to let go, but I know that Cricket is not really there in the urn. She's in my heart and will be forever. People I know who have hung onto the ashes of a pet or loved one until they figure out what they're going to do with them have ended up hanging onto them indefinitely and then feeling awkward about it. Do you keep them out visible forever, or put them in storage? Neither of those seems like a good alternative. I want to find freedom through releasing them all back into God's creation.

God has been really good in showing me his presence throughout these sad days, and sending friends to help me bear the grief. Never has Isaiah 53:4 ("Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.") meant more to me than now. Last night I went with a friend to hear the Vancouver Cantata Singers perform Brahms' Requiem - perfect timing! It was a very fitting closure to such a day. A requiem mass is the traditional mass sung for departed souls, only Brahms' Requiem is a bit unorthodox, as it is meant to comfort the living, not petition for the souls of the dead. The text was beautiful (as was the singing), in German with English translation in the program: "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (all from Scripture). This last photo of me was taken a couple of years ago by the young daughter of some friends of mine when we were playing around with guessing emotions from someone's facial expressions. I was putting on a sad face on purpose.

Ritual is very helpful in handling passages in life such as the death of a loved one. I have done several things intuitively which have turned out to be comforting. Lighting a candle each night of the "wake" when I kept her body in my house, and again the first night with the urn on my hearth. Crossing myself (even though I'm not Catholic, it seemed the right thing to do) as my friend and I prepared to lift her body into the car to take her to be cremated, and again when I said farewell to her body before the oven was closed.

I slept well last night.

08 August 2008

Rehearsals for death

This photo was taken by my photographer friend Chris Berrio in 2003. I was already by that time anticipating losing Cricket in the near future, as she'd been diagnosed with cancer. I invited Chris over to do a photo shoot so I'd have some good ones to keep her alive in my memory. I picked out this photo as my favorite -- the one I would use to send around a death notice card (another friend of mine had sent out death notice cards to family and friends when their dog died, and I liked the idea). Turns out it was a false diagnosis, and Cricket lived another five great years. She did get cancer in the end, and that is what ultimately took her away from me, but that wasn't what she had back then.

Anyway, that was the first of several "rehearsals" Cricket gave me for losing her. Each time, I was strengthened for the future work I'd have of caring for her and grieving for her. It's not that it was easy, by any means, when the time came, but I was as prepared as I could ever have been. I knew by the time we had the diagnosis of her terminal illness that I wanted to do hospice care for her at home until she died naturally. It was those false alarms that got me thinking about preparing myself for her death, whereas before, I was blithely going along in denial, pretending she would never die.

07 August 2008

It is finished

Cricket died early this afternoon. I was not present when she breathed her last. I'd gone out from 12:30 - 3:30, and she was dead when I returned. Though I wish I could have been with her (for my own curiosity as well as to comfort her), I'd already made peace with the possibility of missing her final moments. I know she was resting comfortably, and I'd given her a dose of her pain medication before I left, so she wasn't suffering. Her lights just went out.

Now comes the first task of the next few days: putting her body on ice to keep it here for the next day or so, kind of like a traditional wake for humans, so that I can come to grips with her death and begin the next phase of my grieving process.

Emails welcome at this time, but please don't call in the next 24 hours. I need the space to just be with her, deal with practicalities, and sleep. This has all been very exhausting. Thanks for all your understanding and prayers. I'll be writing more over the coming days.

Rainbow Bridge

No changes in Cricket. This post follows immediately after the previous one.

The following poem has been posted on many sites helping people deal with the loss of a pet. It made me cry, as it hits pretty close to what I believe about our animals and eternity. We will meet again. The thought comforts me as I say goodbye to Cricket (for now) ...

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Author Unknown

[The photo was taken in Scotland in 2004. That's my uncle photographing the rainbow. Note the raindrops on the back of his coat. You might need to click to zoom in to see them.]

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."

Cricket is still here, but just barely. She has stopped drinking and is just lying in bed now. Other bodily processes are shutting down. No more intake, so no more output. Her breathing is more rapid and shallow now. I debated whether to put this photo, taken last night, on the blog, thinking thoughts of respect for the dying, etc. But I want to share with people what the journey has been like, even up to the part where she doesn't look cute anymore. I did at least tidy up the towel (dirty from icky drool) in Photoshop. I felt kind of like a mortician beautifying a body. But I didn't touch up her body at all. She looks peaceful and dignified to me, if not altogether beautiful, in spite of how close she is to death.

I've spent most of the day, on and off, by her side, on a mat on the floor, reading, stroking her, dozing. I've taken breaks to sleep in my own bed, eat, do stuff on the computer. But I made sure to be with her for the transition past midnight. A silly little thing, but even if I miss her last breath while I'm asleep, I want to at least know what day she died. I'm learning through all of this, though, to give up trying to control anything. I cannot predict or control God's schedule.

As those who are dying prefer darkness, I've kept the lights off, using just a small clip-on reading light (aimed away from Cricket) after the sun went down. By its illumination, I'm continuing to read Johann Christoph Arnold's Be Not Afraid: Overcoming the Fear of Death. (Just to myself now. Cricket is sleeping or zoned out most of the time. The pain meds are keeping her comfortable.) I'm finding it very illuminating. Here are some good quotes from it:

"I have met people who say they'd rather die a quick death than undergo the drawn-out suffering of a slow one. Still, in three decades of counseling I've never met a dying person who wasn't grateful for the chance to prepare for death."

"There is something deadening about going through life cautiously -- testing the water, toeing the line. But there is nothing as exhilarating as living it to the ful. It requires rising to challenges that come your way, rather than evading them; sticking out your neck, instead of hiding in the crowd. It means daring to take false steps -- and leaps of faith. And the reward...is calmness in the face of death."

"Elisabeth Elliott points out that...there is a price to be paid 'every time we satisfy our need to rationalize such things as suffering. Once we think we have unlocked a mystery, we tend to close the books to further study. Unsolved, the problem captivated us with the challenge of discovery; shelved, it loses relevance and meaning.'"

Arnold quotes Solzhenitsyn (who, incidentally, just died a couple of days ago) as saying "the solution to suffering is this: that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul."

"[G]iven the number of people I know who have not only coped with enormous suffering in their lives, but come through it stronger than before, I have come to feel that maybe we ought to stop approaching pain as something purely negative. If we allow it, pain can be an occasion for redemption -- a crucible of sorts that may refine and renew us."

04 August 2008

Some recommended reading on dying

I'm continuing to hang in there with Cricket -- I clean her, change her bedding, carry her outside and back in when she needs to pee, feed her by hand when she feels like eating (which is not very often anymore), etc. She has alternating good days and bad days. She can sometimes still stand and walk (or crawl) on her own. I've found her at various places out of her bed when I didn't carry her there.

She hasn't yet communicated to me that she's fed up with living. Dogs seem to have a different view of suffering than we humans do. It's something to endure, unpleasant as it is. It's not excruciating for her. She's at peace actually, most of the time. She is alert, looks endearingly into my eyes and still wags on occasion. She still lies out on the lawn and enjoys the simple pleasures of breathing in the fresh air and watching people go by. She is teaching me the inestimable value of life in itself, just for the sake of being alive. I will cherish these days for as long as I live, no matter what happens at this point.

Although anticipation of death is crummy, the extended period of time of waiting has given me the opportunity to slow down, get all my ducks in a row as far as practical preparations, and also to do some profound reading which I might not have found time for at other stages in my life, for example Marva Dawn's Being Well When We're Ill: Wholeness and Hope in Spite of Infirmity, Henri Nouwen's Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, Richard John Neuhaus's As I Lay Dying, and Ray Simpson's Before We Say Goodbye: Preparing for a Good Death. All excellent books. Still on the "to read" shelf: Gerald Sittser's A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, and a reread of both C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed and Walter Wangerin's Mourning into Dancing.

Tonight I started reading Johann Christoph Arnold's Be Not Afraid: Overcoming the Fear of Death aloud to Cricket, in the hopes that maybe it'll help her figure out that it's OK to let go. Not sure she gets it, but it can't hurt. She likes having me beside her anyway, and it's a way for us to spend some time together (I snuggle up close to her so I can hear and feel her breathing and heartbeat, and she mine). I've heard of children reading to dogs, and apparently they like it. So why not?

02 August 2008

Last bloom?

I keep thinking Cricket is finally at the end, but then she rallies again and shows a strong spirit and will to live. So there's been one "last bloom" after another. This morning I woke to find she wasn't in her bed. She had managed to get up and carry herself over to a chair which she was sleeping under. They say sometimes dogs, when they are getting close to death, will try to hide away. But today, she seemed more alive than she had for several days. She ate a bunch, she wagged at me for the first time in several days, and she was able to stand up on her own again (after yesterday being too weak). So we continue waiting, not knowing what each day will bring.

I took this photo of a sunflower today in Van Dusen Botanical Garden. I enhanced the contrast slightly in Photoshop, but the colors really were that brilliant.


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