Two Graduations and a Funeral (Plus Writer Unboxed Redirect)

To paraphrase Elmer Fudd, it’s been vewy vewy quiet around here, Zesties, though that peacefulness has not extended to my real life.

Change #1:

First, we lost our nearly twelve-year-old black lab mix, Maya. She developed a mass on her right rear leg about six weeks before this picture was taken. It grew quickly, to the size of an orange, and a needle biopsy confirmed a mast cell tumor.  Apparently this form of cancer is common to large breeds. At the time of diagnosis, the vet couldn’t believe how active she remained and sent us home with instructions about what to watch for, when to return, etc. She thought we might have as much as six months.

However, within six days, Maya went from a dog who’d gladly walk ten miles to one who struggled to get to her feet. She didn’t complain once, but she took to panting on occasion. We knew that keeping her any longer would be an act of selfishness on our part.


This is Maya just before we said goodbye. I’d been able to give her a dose of a left-over narcotic, so she’d taken an off-leash walk in the forest. She’d gorged herself on cooked chicken, been petted endlessly. And then we loaded her into the van for one last, beloved car ride to the vet. The whole family was present when she sank into her final slumber.

We’ve lost several pets over the years, but Maya was special. The gentlest of creatures, I never had to be concerned about bringing a baby into the house or that she’d get carried away in her greeting and bowl over an elderly visitor.  The neighbor’s grandchildren often took her out to play, where she’d tolerate a series of four or five baths in a row. I am not a patient person and often wished I had half her grace.

In the midst of this going on, we had two graduations to celebrate.

Perhaps you’re adept at shifting between the highs and lows of life, but this is not my strength. All the same, our kids worked hard for their respective days and we knew Maya wouldn’t want us to hold back.

Change #2:

“Frank” likes his privacy, so I don’t have any photos to share of him in his gown, but he finished grade twelve! We’re so proud of him, and are eager to see where he’s headed in the future.

Change #3:

As for Molly, she graduated from nursing. Here she is after the commencement ceremony. (Speaking of which, I have a question for you. Of the three speakers at the event, two chose to use their podium time to fund-raise for the university, didn’t address anything to the class. I’ve pondered writing a letter of complaint, it was so inappropriate and tone-deaf. Would you bother? If you would, to whom would you address it?)

From left to right, here’s me, my girl and The ToolMaster:

Molly graduation


Liz Michalski says my husband looks like a mob enforcer. What do you think? Is she onto something?

Here’s a selfie of our whole family goofing off at Molly’s grad party, joined by her BFF. (Molly is at the top center. Forgive the image quality; the camera was misbehaving.)

Grad party

Change #4:

The ToolMaster and I also celebrated our thirtieth anniversary. To immortalize the milestone, we’re contemplating a trip to Europe in the spring, provided life has settled enough. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris–for some reason, set my novella in France–so if I require further justification, I could call it research.

You might think that would be enough change for a month, but you would be dead wrong.

Change #5:

The ToolMaster and I took to hanging out at the local animal shelter. We weren’t going to adopt for a few months, we decided, if ever again. We’d live the decadent lives of mature adults with nearly launched children and self-sufficient cats. (See the travel idea above.) We’d go and soothe our heartache over Maya by visiting dogs who shared her mannerisms, but at the end of the day we’d return home and delight in the unlicked floors, the ability to go for a walk alone without feeling guilty. To a degree, this plan worked. While at the shelter, we felt better, though on the drive back it felt like we’d made a meal out of cotton candy.

We decided to stop the self-torture and were both solid in this–in a thirty-year marriage this has happened maybe three times. Then I looked at the shelter’s website and spotted this face :

Lady on Adoption Jun. 24, 2014

Both kids happened to be available, so we piled in my car and drove. One-year-old border collie mix Daisy turned out to be exactly what she looks like: NOT Maya, but smart, eager to please, and the right fit for our family.

She’s keeping me busy, yo. We’ve been working on Sit, Down, Stay, and Twirl (my word for turning a clockwise circle) and it’s only been a week and a half. It’s taken a lot of effort, but I think I’ve almost mastered them. 😉

Change #6:

Finally, I had a nice surprise in that Robert McKee’s latest newsletter contained a link to  last month’s post at Writer Unboxed. If he reads it, hopefully he’ll be as pleased with the latest edition–the third installment on principles I learned at McKee’s conference, and possibly my last in the series. I’ve been a total #Janfail in promoting it, but in case you’re interested on deepening conflict:

Because Size Matters: McKee’s Four Tips on Writing a Big Story.

So now you’re caught up on the changes in my life, what’s new with you, Zesties? Is summer treating you well?

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38 thoughts on “Two Graduations and a Funeral (Plus Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  1. So good to see you back at your blog, Jan. Again, I’m so sorry for the loss of Maya. What a roller coaster of a month for you and the family. Yay on all the good news, congrats to the kids, and I hope the Tool Master has a sense of humor! (She says, while hiding.)

    P.S. I am the cranky type of person these days who totally would write the letter — maybe CC the school’s pr department and president?)

    1. Liz, oh, he totally laughed. He couldn’t see it, but he laughed. I think I detected an element of pride, too. 😉

      Re the letter: thank you. It’s been a few weeks and it’s still ticking me off. Guess I’ll see if I can write a gentle but pointed letter.

  2. Aw man, you got me again, Boss. Hearing about Maya’s grace got me all misty. For the second or third time. I wish I’d had a chance to meet her. She sounds more akin to our Maggie (Belle’s predecessor – Belle was a lot of things, but gentle and patient were not among them).

    Congrats to the kids! I love the picture of all of you – such expressions of joy and fun! The ToolMaster could probably pull off mob enforcer if he was an actor, but we zesties know him too well to believe he has a ruthless streak or a cruel bone in his body.

    Hurray for Daisy! So delighted for you, the family, and for Daisy! She sounds smart. Smart enough to know she’s found a great home. Let the unconditional love bring the healing!

    All best to you during your many life changes. Looking forward to hearing and seeing pics of Paris!

    1. Sorry, V. So kind of you to read this post when I knew it was going to invoke bittersweet emotions in you. (You can imagine what it was like to write.)

      Yes, I’m afraid you’ve nailed The ToolMaster’s personality. He can look and act tough, but violent? Never.

      As for Paris, nothing’s booked, but my hope is if I say it aloud enough and commit it to pixels, we’ll follow through.

  3. Oh, such a lovely post . . . happy news (even the sadness of losing a dear dog has more sweetness than bittertude).

    I love Daisy’s mug shot, and am certain she’s training you well.

    I owe you an email! I miss you. Your family is beautiful, and yes, the toolmaster looks like a tough guy (though not nearly as tough as you).


    1. It’s impossible to write of Maya and succumb completely to self-pity, Sarah. She was one of a kind.

      Thank you for the kind words on my family. I’m partial to them, of course.

      As for the email, yes, m’dear, my inbox is lonely! Hope to hear from you soon there, though I’m thrilled to have a Sarah-sighting in these hallowed halls. xo!

  4. So sorry to hear about Maya. Losing a much loved pet is always hard but the way the universe works maybe Daisy really needed you. She’s obviously smart if she’s got you trained! Congrats to your kids and I’d say yes, write the letter. Grad, as I understand it, only happens once and should be about achievements, not funds. And, you know, no reason why you and the Tool Master couldn’t co-ordinate a trip to France with your kids who could then house and dog sit. Naturally it would be a writer’s expense for you! Pretty well every time I go to England I write half of it off!

    1. I love how your mind works re the write-off, Victoria. (Do you prefer Victoria in the wider world?) Now I need an income so I can write off expenses. 😉

      Yes, Daisy has been a real gift, both in dealing with our grief and in sheer enjoyment of her abilities and nature. I hope we can be the right family for her. Border collies are notorious for requiring physical and mental exertion. She’s keeping ME moving enough, but I hope we’ll be sufficient for her. Early results, though, are encouraging.

      Thanks for the thoughts re the grad ceremony. The ToolMaster and I were dumbfounded at the time and it still rankles, so I’m going to follow through.

  5. Wow, Jan! Yes, a very busy month. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve had my baby for 9 years now and for some reason this morning I was thinking of everything she’s been through with my husband and me. I don’t look forward to the day when she spends her last day with our family. She’s my angel.

    Many congrats, though, on your new family member and your kids’ graduations! You have a lot to be proud of. 🙂

    1. Speaking for myself, it’s funny how a person can go along for weeks/months/years and remain more or less unconscious of the potential for loss, then a small thing–a limp, a cough, a hunched shoulder–can remind you we’re all on borrowed time. I HOPE you’ll have many more years with your pooch, Jamie.

      And thank you! It’s been the oddest month, as you can imagine, but we’ve done our best to celebrate the kids’ milestones.

  6. I’m saddened to hear about the loss of Maya, Jan. As a dog and cat lover I know how much your pets are part of your family too.

    I’m also happy to hear about your celebrations. I am always thankful that life often delivers a mixture, and for everything disappointing there is always hope and things that we can smile at. Your last bit about McKee made me grin. Way to go! You rock.

  7. Life has a strange way of mixing the highs with the lows. I’m sorry about losing Maya, Jan, but congratulations on the grads, the anniversary, and the new addition to your family. 🙂

  8. I’m so sorry about Maya, but it’s wonderful that you found Daisy. Seeing that photo I can understand why you felt compelled to visit her. Her eyes say “I’ll be such a good girl, and no one wants a home more than I do, promise.” Yep. I would have done the same.

    Love the photo of you with your family, Jan. So much happy.

    As for Paris, go and do call it research. When your book is published, you might even be able to deduct your expenses. Happy Anniversary!

    1. Until I owned a dog, I had no idea how much they can communicate with facial expression. In fact, that photo is representative of her personality. And since we adopted her, I’ve kept an eye on the shelter animals and haven’t seen one who would tempt me. Seems like it was meant to be.

      There’s a story behind that photo, T, but I’ll save it for another time.

      As for Paris, it’s not like a person NEEDS justification to go, but between an anniversary and research, I think I’m all set. 😉

  9. I love the family photo! Y’all look wonderful. Congrats on those big milestones in your beautiful daughter and son’s (love the beard, more Fiddler on the Roof than Godfather, though) life. Your young miss chose such an honorable career of service to others.

    My deepest condolences for the loss of your four-footed family member. We lost ours three years ago, and it still feels like yesterday, so I know, oh I know.
    The new pup is a lucky lady indeed. I want to see a video of her twirling. 😉 (PS I love Border Collie mixes; they have such abundant energy and love to give)

    Wishing you much happiness for all the new endeavors.

    1. Haha, D. My son hasn’t seen Fiddler in the Roof, but I think he’d appreciate your comment. Will pass it on.

      I’m sorry you’re still missing your dog, but I understand.

      As for a video, I might be able to make that happen. Have pondered shaking things up here and giving myself permission to try new things. Thank you for the gentle push. 🙂

  10. I echo the sentiments about Maya. My deepest condolences. And echo the congratulatory cheers to the graduates.

    Hooray! Paris should be in your plans. Everyone should go to Paris at least once in their lives , even if it’s Paris, Texas (or at least watch the film).

    I personally don’t know how you could go to the shelter and not leave with out a new family member, but I was so happy to see that you broke down and welcomed an animal-child into the family. She’s gorgeous.

    1. Thank you, Rebeca. I appreciate the kind thoughts and the cheers.

      I’m with you on the pro-Paris sentiments, too. 😉

      Because we’re fond of eating, we’ve had to learn how to leave the shelter without an animal. The ToolMaster and Molly used to volunteer there. 😉 That said, yes, we’re pleased with her. She’s the right fit for our family.

  11. Two graduations? Where does the time go? Congrats to you and your kids.

    And I am truly sorry for the loss of Maya. You have my empathy and you’re in my thoughts <3

    1. “Two graduations? Where does the time go? Congrats to you and your kids.”

      I know, right? I don’t feel one day older than when I gave birth to them, yet the evidence of my aging mounts.

      You’d understand about the grief, Donna, wouldn’t you? Thank you so much. Hugs back.

  12. What a graceful post to acknowledge that love is a part of both loss and gain. Congrats to your graduates. Hugs for your loss.
    Darn right you should complain about inappropriate speeches. Send it to the Univ. President, and be sure to explain your disappointment and perhaps express the obvious idea that had the speeches focused on the wonderful graduating class and all they had learned at the wonderful university, that wonderful donations would follow. But by focusing on fundraising they alienated their best fundraisers–successful and happy alumni and families.

    1. I should have thought to ask you about the grad speeches directly, Jeanne, because you would know. Thank you so much for the practical advice! I’m not generally one to make a formal complaint, but I think this warranted it.

      As for the rest, I appreciate it. You guys are a wonderful, supportive crew.

  13. What is it about the loss of a pet that turns me into a puddle? Ag…I’m a Old-Yeller-Marley-and-Me softy at heart. I’m so sorry for the loss of Maya; the same thing happened with me and my Springer. He was gone in a matter of two months from the time of diagnosis, through surgery, then his passing. I was a wreck, but my folks did the same…walked me through the shelter a few times until one little face lifted my heart again. I’ve now had him (Rameses) for seven years.

    Congrats to the kiddies on their big life changes (and yours and the Toolmaster Mafia Muscle’s changes, as well). And yes, I’d be ticked enough to write a letter…perhaps the alumni association? But then again, as you may have gathered, it doesn’t take much to get me up in arms.

    Anyway…read this in my email and wanted to pop by and offer condolences and congrats. Changes: life happens. So glad to see you roll with them like the man on the flying trapeze.

    1. I’m partial to softies, Michael, and you’re certainly in good company here.

      I had no idea that cancer killed so many dogs. I’m sorry that you lost Springer, but Ramses sounds wonderful. What breed is he?

      Thanks to everyone’s encouragement, I’ve written the letter and ran it past a few friends who work in academia. Firing it off today. 🙂

      Thanks, Michael. Last month I was a little airsick, I’ll confess, but this month I’m enjoying the bounce.

  14. Wow…doesn’t life come in bunches. Thank you Lord for grace. Yes I would write something about the grad. speeches. If we don’t speak up, then who? I fear our timidity has brought us to young people with this kind of mind set. As for who you would write??? I guess the principal.

    1. I’m a peacemaker by nature, Linda, but I wrote it and sent it this morning. Since the two greatest offenders were the president and the chair of the board, I sent it to them after it was vetted by several academic friends to make sure it was balanced and grammatically correct. We shall see what happens, but thank you for the support! And for stopping by to leave a comment. Always appreciated.

  15. Always a pleasure to read your posts. So sorry for the loss of your beloved dog. I’m so glad you adopted a new family member to love and cherish. I can’t tell you what a difference it made to come home to our female Corgi after losing her male companion. It didn’t diminish our loss, but the void in our life wasn’t so big when our little girl greeted us at the door and we still had a pet to walk, feed and cuddle.

    Congratulations on the graduations! You look like such a proud mama.

    And yes, I would have written a letter too, or I would be constantly composing one in my head. Perhaps you’re the only one, or your voice has been added to the chorus. Either way, they need to know. And hopefully it makes a difference for future graduating classes.

    1. Deborah, I can’t quite describe how simultaneously relieving and bittersweet it is to see some of Maya’s mannerisms in other creatures, though I’m sure you’d understand. And yes, carrying on with the routine is another way I feel like she’s still with us.

      I sent the letter. The response was not encouraging. More on that later.

  16. Oh, Jan! Big hugs to you all for your loss. I got misty-eyed reading. Losing a furbaby is a hard change to bear.

    But the good changes are very exciting. Big congratulations to “Frank,” Molly and you and the Toolmaster! You are all beaming in the picture – it’s just lovely! 🙂

    1. Glinda! I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever. Hope you are well. I’m so pleased you came by to say hello!

      Thanks you re the picture. 🙂 That was a good evening in a sea of tough ones, so it felt extra sweet. Nice to have a memory of it, too.

  17. Wow, what a lot of ups and downs! I’m so sorry about Maya, who greatly resembled my dog, Maggie. I lost her a few years ago at age 12 1/2. Daisy looks like a real sweetheart – I’m glad she’s found a home with you.

    Belated anniversary wishes! I hope you get that trip to Europe!

    Congratulations to your graduates! I totally agree about using the speeches to fundraise. VERY tacky. My daughter’s graduation was well-planned and enjoyable. My son – whose college education cost an arm and a leg – was a horror story. Parents, graduates and other guests were left sitting outside in cold weather and pouring rain while the speakers sat in a sheltered area. My son’s favorite shirt was destroyed when his graduation cap (soaked, like the rest of him) ran, covering him and his clothes in black dye. I will NEVER donate to that school – they treated us like rubbish, and that’s exactly how I’ll treat any fundraising requests.

    1. Becke, it seems like black labs claim a special part of their owners’ hearts. 🙂

      Wow, how incredibly rude and insensitive of your son’s graduation committee! I don’t blame you for being incensed, nor for withholding funds!

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