I tend to flow with the technology tide, embracing what I find useful and helpful while ignoring what seems negative or destructive.
On the positive side, I love the camera in my smart phone (a Pixel 3a). It takes amazing photos, and I’ve taken thousands of them in the two years I’ve had this phone. On the negative side, I hate that same smart phone for giving others the idea that I should be available to them 24/7, just a text or call away. (My phone is always on mute for that reason.)
I love how Facebook allows me to stay in touch with far-flung friends, but I hate how social media has devolved into political divisiveness and a place to spread hate and misinformation.
I love how easy writing is on my computer, the internet making research on any topic my mind wonders about just a click or two away. I hate how that research makes me a target of ads because I’m being tracked.
My ambivalence about technology was brought home in a new and unexpected way over the past two weeks.
My social media footprint is relatively small. I use Facebook for posting photos of mundane things like wildflowers and my dogs, or updates of interest to my friends. I use Twitter primarily to broadcast my blog posts a bit farther than WordPress does. I have a LinkedIn account for more business-oriented stuff (publishing, editing, promoting my book).
One feature of Facebook I actually like is Memories, where Facebook dishes up posts you’ve made in past years on that date. I’ve been on Facebook since 2008, so there are plenty of memories to serve, and they usually bring a smile or chuckle.
Amazon does something similar. I do a lot of reading on my Kindle Fire tablet (I think I’m on my third Fire). And, because I live in a rural location, I rely on Amazon Prime, both for purchasing needed items as well as for streaming of movies and music. As a Prime member, I get free, unlimited photo storage, and for many years I made an effort to upload photos there. Great, right? Well, now every time I fire up my Kindle Fire, it alerts me to photos from that date in past years (2008 through 2016) which – as with Facebook – is mostly lots of fun, sparking fond memories.
Lately, though, many of the photos Amazon entreats me to revisit are from 2013. That was the summer I had to say goodbye to both of my female Malamutes, first Maia on June 6th, then Meadow on July 22nd.
Maia’s passing was expected; she was 14 years old, and old age spares no one, human or canine. But Meadow? She was just twelve. It was four weeks after Maia passed that, worried about a persistent limp, I learned she had bone cancer. Palliative care was the only good option.
That shocking diagnosis and prognosis made her passing so much more difficult to accept.
From the day I saw the x-ray of her leg until the day I said goodbye, I took tons photos of Meadow. With Maia, in the weeks leading up to her passing I took the usual number of random photos because I didn’t know she would be leaving soon; her earlier lymphoma was in remission and she was doing well until one day, she was done. Just, done. The call to the vet, while horribly difficult, never left me wondering if I’d made the right decision. Maia made it clear: she was ready to go. The next day, here at our home, she and I said a final goodbye.
With Meadow, after her diagnosis, I wanted to memorialize her remaining time with lots and lots of photos.
My Kindle happily shares all of those photos with me now. Every. Single. Night.
I keep asking myself why now, seven years on, are those photos of Meadow bringing such tears and intense sadness?
Part of the answer lies in the times we’re living through now. The pandemic. Cultural and political chaos. The loss of our social buffers that help ease our individual pains and challenges. The pandemic makes it obvious that nothing is certain, so there’s a sense of needing to live purposefully, intensely, while I can. Finn and Conall are the beneficiaries of that mindset as I put their needs and joys above all else, spending as much time in the forest as possible, away from people and (for me) bad news.
Losing both of the girls that summer of 2013 was a similar lesson: don’t put things off, live now, cherish every moment. There are no guarantees.
Another part of my current sadness lies in learning last week that a friend who has been fighting kidney cancer for two years found out his cancer has returned and spread. He’s been very open about this journey on his Facebook page, so I’ve joined him along the way in that detached but still emotionally-invested way. His news was like a gut punch.
Every time I saw photos of Meadow on my Kindle, I thought of that friend’s battle with cancer, and another friend’s long fight with cervical and breast cancers, an incredibly brave friend.
Cancer sucks. Fuck cancer.
That summer that Maia and then Meadow passed – 2013 – I took their ashes to several of our favorite places in the forest. Finn was my companion every time. Eventually I built cairns to mark those locations, memorials to the girls and the places we loved exploring together. I visit those cairns regularly every year when running trails, with Finn and now Conall – he is a wonderful combination of Maia and Meadow, by the way – when there isn’t too much snow on the ground. Every time I visit one of the cairns, I make any needed repairs and as the boys and I leave, I whisper what has become a sort of mantra: I love you. I miss you. Thank you.
It brings me peace and joy to be able to be with the girls in that way, year after year.
After today – the anniversary of Meadow’s passing – the photographic memories that my Kindle shows me from 2013 will be of me and Finn visiting those special places, spreading ashes, building cairns, celebrating two amazing creatures who made both our lives immeasurably better (Finn adored both girls and they quickly adopted him as part of our pack, without reservation, in 2008).
Grief is a strange companion. She taps you on the shoulder when it’s convenient for her. She swoops in quietly on the wings of your past photographs. She doesn’t care if you’re in the mood to reminisce. That she messes with your emotions, pushes you into a darker space than you’re used to is of no consequence to her.
Yet Grief brings with her unique gifts, strange as they seem, as hard as they are to accept graciously. Grief encourages you to remember, to reflect on the past, as compared to now, to feel a gamut of emotions – happy, sad, empty, wishful, angry, loving, hopeful – and ultimately, to celebrate what was: that you loved deeply and fully, and were rewarded in return with their love and cherished memories of them.
Embrace it all.
I wrote about the gifts Maia and Meadow gave me here. The post includes the tributes I wrote about them for my personal Facebook page.
Feature photo: sunset from my yard on July 22, 2020, like so many sunsets enjoyed with Maia and Meadow over the years.