It happened without an obvious warning sign & was somehow undetected by my “Muma” radar which is so unlike me. Now it is my burden to bear for the rest of my days. One minute she was fine & the next, terribly not. It’s every pet owner’s nightmare – a beloved companion who stops eating. You rush her to the vet telling yourself it’s going to be alright. You rationalize every possible good outcome – a bad tooth that can be pulled, some kind of worm that can be easily remedied with a pill, a fluky dog condition that can be surgically fixed. You say yes to all the tests, pay up the wazoo for anything that will give you a logical explanation & immediate cure. You dread learning the truth because you fear with every ounce of your being that the worst case scenario is more likely the reality. And when you finally hear it, the words get frozen in your brain & it feels like a cannon ball has been plunged into your chest. The world around you suddenly sounds warped like a record on the wrong speed. You can’t breathe. You are going through the motions but, at the same time, are somehow outside of your body watching yourself do so. Liver cancer. Prognosis: a month at best.
Originally, she wasn’t supposed to be mine. Someone else had claimed her, much to my disappointment, so I had moved on. Then one day I arrived home to see the blinking light on my answering machine that would change my life forever. A stranger who decided that two pups were too much & gave one back resulted in me being blessed with one of the greatest joys of my lifetime. The timing of this event was uncanny, having recently learned I was unable to have children. I had wanted a baby girl so badly & here was God offering me a different option. Maybe this had been the master plan all along? It did not go unnoticed by me that it was actually Mother’s Day when I went to pick her up & take her home….it has oft been said that coincidence is God’s means of anonymity. And if it is biologically possible for a being to be borne of your own flesh & blood, then I truly believe it is equally possible for a being to be borne unto your heart. This is what happened the moment I set eyes on her….I experienced something I never had before….a radiant happiness within my heart unlike that which I had ever known. And I knew in that instance I had been given a great gift. I was meant to be a mother to Beatrix.
Beatrix was such a tiny, happy girl. Precious, really. She charmed everyone with her sweet, adorable ways & interminable good nature – even those who were the worst possible examples of being non-pet people were not immune to her delightful & heart warming charisma. You simply could not not smile & feel joyful while in her company. The day I brought her home, just a wee bundle cuddled to my chest, she instantly bewitched the retired cop living next door to me who was somewhat of a surly, sullen, & over-sized, gruff person. When he spotted me on the driveway with her, he was reduced to a fit of belly-shaking giggles that were more befitting of a little girl than a grown man. “Hee, hee, hee, hee……is that a Beagle?” he had asked as his face lit up into a grin. Similarly, a friend of mine back then who unfathomably had zero emotion when it came to animals once told me Beatrix was “just about the cutest thing she had ever seen” after Beatrix greeted her at the door & presented her with her prized iguana toy. This was the highest of compliments coming from my apathetic friend. That’s just how it was. Beatrix moved everyone. She simply was that contagious ray of bright light shining in a dim room….she melted all the darkness away into happiness.
With Beatrix, it wasn’t like there was any one thing that was captivating about her, it was the whole package! It is difficult to adequately describe all her attributes & the effect they had over me & others because they come to me in flickers & fragments of the past…. through cherished recollections, glimmers of memories, pieces & shadows of her that stay with me, haunt me, every moment of every day. Like her irresistible, velvet-soft ears you just had to feel to believe. How when she slept soundly, she smelled like warm cocoa butter. How she would wait for you each morning, patiently stretched out at the top of the stairs, & display nothing but sheer happiness when she saw your face every, single day. How she could track anything from clothing, to treats, to human foot prints, to injured deer with her amazing hound dog nose. How when she wagged her tail, her whole body wiggled like a big smile. How she had the most lovely markings, including the white zigzag down her back, a matching one on her back shank, & wonderful brown spots on her front legs that reminded me of a baby giraffe. How she never lost her innocent, puppy-like ways that made her so adorable & dear. How she learned & responded so brilliantly to sign language. How when you came home, she was always at the door to greet you with a soft toy in her mouth, sometimes with 2 or 3 if she felt the occasion called for it. How incredibly fast she could run, often outrunning the biggest of dogs. How she adored her big brother & tried to do everything he did, even attempting to howl like a Husky. How she would graze outside on the lawn in the sunshine with no mind to the deer behind her doing the same. How she could smell animal tracks in the woods so deeply I thought her sniffer would break. How she loved to eat & was my “official taste tester” for mashed potatoes. How she would run gleefully through the tall grass in the spring time, as it whipped in her face, chasing frogs. How she knew & could retrieve by name each of her toys without error. How she loved to cuddle & nap with you, especially if it included pillows & blankets which somehow managed to become hers & not yours. How she went berserk if you asked her if she wanted chicken nuggets, because this is what I called her dog food. How she stood guard by my bed for 2 weeks when I was very ill & growled if anyone came too close to me, even though she had never growled at anyone before or after in her life. How she would squeeze her head through the cat door in the basement just to be part of the action. How when she was a puppy, she would climb into my lap & crawl right under my shirt & fall asleep in a little ball. How she had the most hilarious look on her face when you put any kind of a coat on her. How she’d stand on her hind legs & gently tap you with her paw as if to earnestly say, “Don’t you think it’s a good time for a rawhide chip right now?” How she loyally stayed by her feline sister’s side as she was slowly dying & kept a protective vigil over her; then later, after her death, would rest her head upon what had been her favorite chair & glance at me with sad, mournful eyes that were agonizing to behold yet told me I was not the only one who missed her. How her pretty, loving face was always full of joy & kisses. How her sweetest ways & gentle friendliness stayed with her to the end. How she made my life better simply by being in it. These images are like brushstrokes from my heart & memory that slowly fill a blank canvas. Over time, a beautiful portrait emerges, because together they paint the masterpiece who was my Beatrix.
After her diagnosis, Beatrix declined rapidly. I could not bring myself to focus on the impending future because it was too painful, instead I merely concentrated on making each day I still had with her the best it could be. A great portion of my energy was devoted to helping her try to eat & maintain her strength. It broke my heart that she no longer had the desire for the one thing she had most loved to do. I gave her every choice available to me, trying to hit on all the favorites she had once enjoyed – scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, peeled carrots, peanut butter, cheese, saltine crackers, wet dog food, all sorts of meats. I even went so far as to cook venison & duck, which had been somewhat revolting to me, but more importantly, a small success for Beatrix on those days. Most of the time when presented with food she would wag her tail & sniff politely but usually turn away. My heart sank as I watched her grow weaker, slowly slipping away from me. She slept a lot & I would lay with her, gently petting her or just watching her breathe. Every now & again she would surprise me & want to play a little with a toy or rawhide chip. Those glimmers gave my heart hope, & in those moments I refused to listen to the reality inside my head. It was a bitter stretch of winter during her illness but at times she still wanted to go outside to tromp around & I certainly was not about to deny her the chance to feel glorious sunshine on her sweet face. So, out we would go into the cold temperatures & wind chills to walk slowly on the driveway & take in the scents, sounds, snowy scenery & fresh air which she continued to enjoy. On one of those occasions, we just happened to see a large hawk owl suddenly fly off of a barren maple tree nearby, then cross low in front of us as it swooped to the top of a tall pine across the field. It caught both of us off guard & Beatrix pulled instinctively on the leash as if to track it, but in her weakness chose to remain by my side where we both stayed fixated on this stunning predator perching majestically in the tree top. “Wow, Trix,” I spoke softly, “It’s an owl! Isn’t it pretty? See how high up it is?” I had asked. She wagged her tail & we stood watching it in awe for a very long time. I knew in her heart she wished she could follow it, & I knew in mine that soon enough she’d have all the time she wanted to follow & even soar the skies with owls. So we stood there on the precipice of what was really an awful juxtaposition between life & death & it became a single, defining moment for us as, together, we watched the owl. That shared experience would turn out to be not only the most memorable event in my final days with Beatrix, but long afterwards, perhaps the most healing & significant. It stays with me always.
In Beatrix’s last hours, she mostly slept & I stayed by her side. With my arms around her, I tenderly told her stories of how she came to be mine, how she had been borne in my heart & she would stay there forever. I recalled for her the many joyous highlights from her lifetime & spoke of her siblings who had gone before her & the many, funny memories she shared with them. I softly kissed her & gently stroked her head. I reminded her of us having seen the owl & how wonderful it had been. Out of the blue, I had uttered the words, “OWL always love you, Trix,” & upon hearing them she lifted her frail head with much effort & looked deeply at me. I smiled into her lovely, brown eyes & repeated, “OWL always love you, Sweet Pea. OWL always love you.” Peacefully, she lay her head back down to rest & I repeated that phrase over & over & over again….as the beautiful light within my precious Beatrix continued to grow increasingly dim.
The thing about loving living, breathing creatures, whether they have four legs or two, is that they come with a time line. We don’t talk about it with anyone & we never acknowledge it to ourselves; instead we live our lives under the pretense that this inevitable outcome is simply not the case & they will be with us forever. But deep down inside we know the gut-wrenching truth is that, at some point, we have to give them back. We don’t know when that will happen, we are never prepared, & it is always too soon.
Beatrix died in my arms with me whispering to her what a good girl she was, how much I loved her, how much I would OWLways love her, that I would see her again, not to be afraid because her brother & sisters were waiting for her on the rainbow bridge & she would not be alone, that I would forever be her “Muma,” asking her not to forget me, asking her to watch over me from Heaven. In the moment I felt the last bit of life leave her little body, I was consumed by immense sorrow, swept away to a place I had never been before. I felt void of everything. Immediately I convulsed into painful wails & sobs known only to a mother at the loss of a child. This went on uncontrollably & endlessly while I clung to my sweet baby. After much time had passed with me in this state, Beatrix had to physically be removed from my arms because I could not let her go. I did not want her to leave me. I did not know how I could live without her. She had come into my life so unexpectedly & she had just left it in the same manner. It was such cruel irony…. & I had never known such grief.
In the days, weeks & months after Beatrix had passed away, I was inconsolable. There was nothing anyone could do or say that could ease my pain & I fell into a dark despair. I was able to function, but I felt empty & hollow inside. All that I was & everything that had defined me seemed gone. I was a mere outline of my former self. The one thing that could have brought me back from these depths of grief was the same thing that was no longer there. While I continued to mourn the devastating absence of Beatrix from my life, I felt more grief-stricken that her life had been unfairly cut short, having been so young when she succumbed to her illness. The fact that she wasn’t given the same opportunity as her siblings to experience a happy longevity weighed heavily on my already shattered heart. My sorrow was all-consuming, & while I knew it could never truly go away, I also felt like it would never, at least, subside. I longed for a ray of light, some sunshine, a sign that my Beatrix was with me…..something…….anything……to brighten my heart & days.
Spring was coming, so I attempted to take a step out of the blackness that had become my life & forced myself to begin working on getting my physical shop open & ready for the new season. For hours at a time, I worked quietly in my shop. Ordinarily I would have had the music playing & the doors wide open, but instead I chose to work in the atmosphere which had become familiar to me as of late. Silence. Darkness. Solitude. Busy hands kept my mind occupied as I organized & arranged the shop space so that it was fresh, new & aesthetically pleasing yet again. As always, I made new my inventory & furniture the focal point, & that year, I pondered whether to create a clearance section in the back or have a $5 bin for older pieces that had been hanging around too long. I decided to sort through them all & see what I had before making a decision. After realizing there were only smalls except for one item, I quickly put together a fun & inviting bin for them & was left holding the remaining large article that didn’t fit. It was an old, antique quilt I had purchased for $12 at a flea market some time ago. I shook it out a bit, refolded it in a flattering way & tried placing it in numerous spots around the shop but nothing pleased me. Finally I unfolded it & simply folded it in half, then hung it over the open door of a jelly cupboard. That worked perfectly because I could instantly see the colors better & appreciate its time-worn beauty. The dominant color was brown, & while that might seem dark & ugly, the splash of red, pink, yellow & hints of blue in surrounding fabrics made the brown shine in its own stunning way. I stared at it for a while because the manner in which the colors came together reminded me of something & I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then it hit me & my heart fluttered ever so slightly. Could it possibly be? Yes. Yes, I could see it now. Yes, that’s what it was for certain. An owl. The colors in the quilt reminded me of an owl! My heart fluttered again & suddenly glowed with a warmth & love I remembered but had not felt in so long…..Beatrix. Since her death I had been crying on the inside for a comfort I desperately needed yet seemed I would never find…..a sign that she was still with me.
Quickly I removed the quilt from the door & took it inside the house with me where I wrapped myself in it….in Beatrix. I closed my eyes & my only thoughts were of her. Until her last breath, Beatrix had such a contagious happiness & delight about her & after so much time, here I was feeling it again, its warmth emanating off this old quilt like a bright light slowly illuminating my once darkened heart & soul. I knew right then that despite my gravest sorrow, I somehow needed to emulate the light & the brand of happy that was Beatrix….as a way to honor her…..as a way to keep her light not only with me but also in this world. I needed to move forward, it was time, but I realized I could take her with me as I did so. She would want that for me….to move on yet also remember & continue to feel the pure joy, love, smiles & laughter she provided me & countless others throughout her whole life. I let the quilt slip from my shoulders into my hands as I studied it & the power it seemed to hold over me. Surely if I had envisioned an owl within its hues, couldn’t I then also create one from the same fabrics which contained them? I felt certain that I could. As certain as my love for Beatrix. So, I headed upstairs to my office & set about the task of designing & crafting an owl at my sewing table.
Drawing & cutting repeatedly on paper until I had the desired template with the look of a three-dimensional, primitive ornament, I then tentatively took the quilt & said a prayer to Beatrix over it before I made my first cut. To my delight, I found I could easily work with the blocks that made it up, for they were exactly sized to fit my paper template. Paying close attention to every detail, right down to a simulated ruffled feather around the edges, I managed to create my very first owl! I tweaked it a bit, embellishing it with vintage buttons, a jute rope hanger, even a little bronze heart, & then I added the perfect, finishing touch….a little card I could attach that said, “OWL Always Love You.” I couldn’t have been more pleased & for the first time since I could remember, my heart felt light, happy & hopeful.
Next, I shared my newly created prototype with a loved one who declared it “thoughtful.” Then I created a second, fancier version to send to my sister, a known owl lover, who wrote to me right away stating in all capital letters, “I–ABSOLUTELY–LOVE–IT!!!!” It had been such a long time, but I could feel Beatrix’s light growing inside me again, giving me increasing strength & confidence….& I felt determined to share the owl she had helped inspire with others….to spread that sweet goodness as far into the world as I could. So, I took photos of the owls, wrote a basic description with no mention whatsoever of the source of my inspiration, & listed it one afternoon in my Etsy shop. I also posted it to all my Etsy team discussion boards where you can promote & favorite everyone’s new listings. Within minutes of that, I received an email from a teammate who had seen the owl ornament & not only wanted one for herself, but further, wanted it because it reminded her of a pet she had recently lost! I was so moved….& so bewildered at the same time. What were the chances that her emotional story so unbelievably paralleled my own? What were the chances that, through my own loss & search for comfort, I could also ease another’s? The answers were clearer than ever & chance really had nothing to do with it. It was all about Beatrix & how she’d found a way to let me know she was still with me & was helping to guide me onward; telling me in a symbolic way that only I would understand, “OWL always love you, too, Muma!”
The average person might look at my creations & only see some fabric & notions fashioned together to resemble an owl, but to me, my ornaments embody everything. Life. Death. Joy. Sorrow. Love. Loss. The whole mysterious circle. The coming to terms with what feels like insurmountable grief. The struggle to come out of the darkness & into the light. It represents the hope everyone needs to begin a new day in the face of difficult circumstances. It symbolizes every second I shared with Beatrix & all the gifts she has left with me. It is Beatrix & me….my journey with her….& now my journey without.
The fact is, there are a million owls for sale on Etsy, but mine…..well mine is different. Mine, like my Beatrix, is one in a million.