Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Will Update: "All is divine harmony"

Sweet Will.
It snowed last night.  Not a lot.  Perhaps a couple of inches.  Just enough to coat the trees in the backyard on this gray morning, and make our driveway look clean and fresh. But it’s not a Christmas snow.  No, this is kind that falls in late winter. In a few hours, it will rain, and the new snow will be gone. Tonight it will freeze, and if the sun comes out tomorrow and the temperature is as mild as predicted, the cycle will start again. All that comes eventually goes.

Since moving to the mountains, I’ve learned to slow dance with nature’s rhythms.  It’s what has gotten us through our toughest challenges when hiking, and has made its way into the rest of our lives.  This slow dance helped us deal with Atticus’s cancer last year, especially in the beginning when we didn’t know how things would turn out.

I have faith in that rhythm.  It’s the way life ebbs and flows and part of the grand mystery.  Part of my continuing education as a middle aged man has been to understand that I have no control over the outside circumstances.  All I can do is appreciate the gifts along the way. 

When hiking, especially in winter, I follow the simple adage to take what the mountains (and the weather) offer us. There are days to hike, and others where you have to have respect for what’s happening out there, and it’s best to stay home.  Nature tells us what’s best.

In dealing with Will since he arrived here in May of 2012 I’ve paid attention to the rhythms of his body, mind, and heart.  I’ve let him set the course and offered him support.  While I pay attention to what he silently tells me, we’ve always had an agreement. I have told him to stay as long as he wants for he’ll always be loved here, but I also tell him he has nothing left to prove. He can go when he needs to. 

That’s the way it’s been since we brought him in as a hospice dog, to give him a place to die with dignity.  Of course, no one expected him to last this long.  But more than that, no one expected him to thrive, to embrace happiness, trust, and love because of the years of neglect and abuse. But that all changed when Will decided to write his own story.

Now when I have this same talk with Will things are a little different.  In the revised version, I tell him that when he leaves us, the only thing that will actually be gone is his body.  All else will remain behind.  For those we love and think about and hold in our heart are never gone. They live on as long as they are remembered. 

We have a morning ritual I’ve written about before.  After the first trip outside each morning, we come back inside, and Atticus has his breakfast.  I put out Will’s too, but he doesn’t eat it right away.  Atti and I then take our place on either end of the couch, and I read for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, Will walks around our little home, never too far away.  Eventually he pokes my knee with his nose, and I pick him up.  I sit sideways on the couch, and I hold him sitting upright, my arms wrapped around his tiny body, his tilting head (with its weak neck) held up by placing it side by side with mine.  It’s then that the clouds of his aged eyes part and the years recede to reveal the wonder of a younger soul looking out at the grand world outside our picture window. 

After a few minutes, the wonder is replaced by relaxation. Snores rise out of his body, and when it’s time for Atticus and I to go for a walk I set Will in his bed, prop up his head on a pillow, cover him with one of his soft blankets – all which have been made specifically for him, knitted with love and kindness.  I turn on classical music, and he falls asleep again until we return. 

But over the last few days that little tap of his nose against my leg has been missing. After coming inside he doesn’t circle and stroll about.  Instead, he seems to stand still, not knowing what to do.  He slowly eases those old hips, stiff from so many years in a crate, and lies flat on the floor. 

Over the past few days, I’ve been to one to give the loving tap and let him know I want him to join me. I pick him up, carry him to the couch and together we look out at the universe. The snores come more quickly now.  I kiss him gently, hold him dearly.  Say my prayers for him as I’ve always done. 

He sleeps more lately and that breakfast he used to get to eventually, sits uneaten. I wake him up to remind him to eat, but he’s not that hungry and I feed him by hand until he takes over himself. 

The elderly have good days and bad. There are moments of joy, moments of being tired. Sometimes the tiredness stretches into days and sometimes it reverses itself.  I’ve seen this with Will over the time he’s spent with us.  There have been periods when I thought he was getting ready to say goodbye, but he’s always come back from the edge to stick around for a while longer.

That may be the case now.  I don’t know.  It’s not up to me to understand how it works.  My only job is to be there for Will, to live with him as long as he wishes to live, and to ease him into what’s next when the time comes. 


 Yet somehow this time has a different feel to it. 

It’s part of the rhythm of nature…the very same rhythm of all our lives.

There is no sadness here at what is to come, perhaps soon, or maybe months down the road.  It’s anything but that.  We’re still busy living, but I also remember why we invited him into our home.

He’s happy, content, safe, and loved.  We still play.  When I’m on my knees with him he buries his head into my waist, and I rub his body.  When I stop, he nudges me to keep going.  And of course I do. 

Today it’s gray outside, but not frigid.  Snow has fallen.  Rain will soon come.  Winter is here, but not for long. The cycle of the changing seasons is upon us.
 
 

What comes into our lives eventually departs after minutes, days, weeks, months, or years. Nature reminds us always that things change.  John Muir wrote about what I’m feeling these days.  "On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death...Lt children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights.  All is divine harmony."   

Will is sleeping soundly right now.  He’s gone from my arms to his bed. He’s covered and snoring sweetly.  Today we follow our own rhythm.  Now that he’s tucked in, and Atticus and I get ready for our walk, I’ll turn on the music for Will, and when we return we’ll have Will’s Friday flowers.  I think tulips will be the choice today. They are a nice sign of what’s to come in spring.  Besides, Will likes their scent and their softness.

Life goes on, and all is divine harmony.
 

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love you, Will.

Stephanie Karabaic said...

Everyday is a blessing....

Lori JK said...

Peace

rusty andrews said...

I love that little wildflower & his flower patch

Annemarie Dalfonso said...

Wishing you all a blessed and peaceful weekend. Tat was absolutely beautiful as always Tom.

Priscilla Welcome said...

Thank you for sharing. I salute Will every day when I drink out of my Will Wisdom coffee mug. Love and prayers to Will.

Karen Kearns & Jaymie said...

Will, you are LOVED by many and your memory, when you decide to leave us, will LIVE ON FOREVER!
Sweet dreams little one.

Susan said...

So beautifully written. I felt a peacefulness flow through me as I read these loving words. I hope to see a picture of Will with his Friday tulips. Thank you for sharing your world with us.

Gin Jimenez said...

Sweet Will!

Anonymous said...

Sweet precious Will!!So happy he has you and Atticus, Tom.

Sharon said...

Beloved Will. That's all we want and need in our lives...to be someone's beloved.

kimbersue said...

Bless you all! I drink out of my Will mug everyday and it reminds me it's never too late for anything! Thank you Will for setting the example!

Susie Wood said...

Love and hugs! They are so blessed to have you! I enjoy your blog and facebook posts!

carolyn bonier said...

I Know that the passages of nature and life are not sad but I have tears in my eyes reading your blog. Although I have not met Will in person, I am going to miss him when he leaves. I hope that his spirit can remain in my heart!

Anonymous said...

When the time does comes I hope Will will have a nice soft peace of classical music on to hear and the scent of his flowers as he leaves us and journeys onward. No matter how much longer you are here with us thank you for all that you have given us Will and that you are loved by many!

Jonathan Berens said...

Love you guys. Finding much comfort when you write about Will especially today. I have a cat with cancer. He seems well but I too do not know how this will play out. Its hard to let things move as they will and in the divine direction. Thank you for sharing today.

Martha S. said...

To Will, Atticus, and Tom, you are all loved. It is with tears that I read your blog today. It reminds me of when I lost my husband to brain cancer 11 years ago and when I lost my sweet Harley, my schnoodle, 2 years ago to brain cancer. Life has a way of choosing it's own pace and we just go with the flow. It was time for them, but not for me yet. When it is time for Will, he will answer the call. We will all miss him and I am so grateful he had you, Tom, and Atticus to give him the love he so richly deserved. Thank you for sharing him with us.

Laurie said...

I guess I was meant to read your post today because I am dealing with almost the exact situation with our 17 yr. old cat Perry. He became a part of our family after my dad passed almost 2 years ago. I have always felt that I needed him so much because he was a connection to my dad. They were best buddies. But now, as I see Perry barely pick at his food and slow way down, I know our time is limited. I have told him he can go when he is ready, and I think he cuddles with me less in order to prepare for me for the time when I won't have him around. Thank you for sharing your story as it has helped me trust the divine nature of both life and death.

Kate Eastman said...

Sweet Will..when you are ready. You owe no-one anything and we are better people because you have taught us to be.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your reflections on this amazing journey and your choices of living and appreciation until we must go that we will all eventually experience. So many in the West are rarely if ever exposed to this sort of perspective and how very healing and affirming it can be to embrace the journey and passage rather than deny and ignore. Blessings strength and love to you all.
With deepest gratitude for the words you share, and the heart behind them,
CW Leavitt

Tracey said...

Hugs for Will! You're a good man Tom. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

“In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend...I shall not leave you.”
― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, The Little Prince

I just substitute our mountains for the Little Prince's stars.

John

Anonymous said...

There are some you meet and you know you will never forget. For me that would be William Lloyd Garrison, Sweet Prince of New Hampshire! <3

lorraine sharnowski said...

William will always smell the flowers, where every he goes. Bless all of you!

Betty and Lenny said...

Sweet Will ... stay safe and warm wrapped in the colors of spring to come. Today is no different than the others - you are loved near and from afar.

Peace to all on Flower Friday!

Hugs from here to there,
Betty & Lenny

Janice Hummel said...

You know, when I talk to my friends and family, and I mention something that "Tom said" or "Will did" or "Atticus saw"...they know exactly who I am talking about, as if talking about someone we know. Thank you for letting us into your world, Tom. We don't want to intrude...we just thank you for permitting us to enjoy the journey you take us on.

SILVIA SOOS-KAZEL said...

Beautiful perspective on the cycle of life, Tom. The day that Will came into your and Atticus's life was truly a blessing not only for you both, but for the many that have had the privilege to share in the rebirth of Will. So many heartfelt lessons of inspiration and wonderment. Will has given many the courage to face life and live life in such manner that shows one that life is a continuous journey to be appreciated with all its valleys and peaks. As referenced in your blog today, anyone who becomes of harmony within our existence never leaves us, because these bonds are with us until our own journey ends on this earth. Will has become a special angel within my own harmony. As I keep him in prayer today, he will always bring to mind his special attributes, as I myself journey onward by all means. My heartfelt gratitude to you Tom for sharing Will~truly a gift from your heart.

Carter W Rae said...

We all love you William Lloyd Garrison You have given us much joy and will for whatever your time is but more importantly as with all of our little Spirits around us you have left YOUR paw prints on our lives and Spirits too. We all take a few more moments with our own companions. Thanks to you Tom and whatever his schedule is we shall always be together in spirit I am not a writer ( or even a wordsmith ;-) ) but the feelings are deep for us .. Best to you all Tom from Carter & Stacy

Ann and the Boys' Baja Adventures said...

Such pure, wise and loving feelings. So beautifully written.

Linda English said...

I so love the respect and joy that you share about Will and these precious moments. You and Will and Atticus are able to live in the moment with an elegance and sense of gratitude that is inspiring and comforting. Blessings to you all. (I have to admit though, that I am crying)

Mindy Shank said...

Thanks for the update on Will. He couldn't have landed in a better home to live out the remainder of his life. You're a good soul, Tom!

Joeflo65 said...

Much love and blessings to you all...

BJ PUP said...

Your opened your home and heart to Will at a time few people would consider. In turn Will has opened his heart and life to you. Through you, Will has taught me many things. Take in all that is offered. Set your own pace. Allow people to love you and return the love in what ever way you can.

I've never met you, yet I feel that I know you. I read the blog and looked to pictures of Will and updates. BJ doesn't understand my tears but i do. His 14 and I appreciate every day with him. He's sleeping and when he gets up, he's getting hugged a lot.

Anonymous said...

Bless u all!

Coniatthebeach said...

What you've written and what you feel is beautiful and so well stated. Will (and Atticus) is so lucky to have found you. God Bless you all !

Anonymous said...

Stop now - Im an ex British soldier who has seen things no man should see and have been unmoved yet you bring me to tears! Peace.

Shirley said...

Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. You, Atticus and Will have changed my life in so many ways. I will never hear classical music or smell flowers again without thinking of Sweet Will. As with all my own pets who have passed over the Rainbow Bridge, Will will always have a place in my heart. You and all of us out here have been so blessed to share this time with you. Much love to all.

Anonymous said...

In the short time I have been following your adventures, you have touched my heart. Thank you for sharing Will. God bless the precious little guy.

Kate B said...

What a beautiful post. I am so happy Will has had beauty, live and acceptance to round out his days.

snapshot said...

Thank you for Will's post today! He is such a sweet soul! I think I have been looking at things from the wrong direction. Thanks again.

Emma Tyre said...

Beautiful post. I love you Will. You are in my heart even though I've never actually touched you or met you in person. Rest easy, dear one. You are loved.

1HappyHiker said...

Masterfully written, Tom!

Kay Giblin-Schraff said...

Kay in Va.
I got half-way through Tom's post, and just sobbed. I get what he is saying about life...about sadness. Still, thousands of us tune in everyday to be a part of the lives of Atticus, Will, and Tom. I can't fault myself for the tears, for all three of you are like family.
We have come to care for all of you. Love and prayers to St. Francis, dear Will.

Michelle Anderson said...

Dear Tom Ryan,
Recently after somehow coming across this book in my library, I read it. From the start I got deeply into your book. It was well written and kept me hooked. I think I even cried a couple times. It amazes me how fortunate you are with this dog. I thank you for writing this book, it has made reading a blessing at the moment. So thank you Tom! Best wishes to Atticus M Finch and Will. I don't know how else to contact you - So I guess this is it. I have some more questions from a teen standpoint. I'm sorry that I don't read all of your posts, I don't have that much of a time. How are Atticus M Finch's eyes doing? What is to come of you and Paige Foster? What is the number of mountains are you at? What are some other interesting experiences that you have had whiling hiking? Will you ever try to complete the 96 mountains in 90 days again, or have you completed it? My last question is, Is Will's relationship the same as you and Atticus M Finch's relationship?
~Michelle Anderson, 14. Long live Max and Atti.

Sidney said...

I haven't been visiting you lately because I feared something was going wrong. But I realize that is not true - things are as they will be. Thank you Tom, Atticus and especially Will for helping me to accept and understand the recent sudden death of my husband of 42 years. It was his time and he was ready to just slip away.

Barb Baker said...

Love heals. My daughter visited us for two weeks with her deaf French Bulldog. Her journey with 5 year old Lilly Bell started with extreme anger issues, food aggression and nasty biting response when touched. Lilly with love and patience, now goes to doggie day care and plays nicely with a large group of dogs. She's been to a school for deaf children and demonstrated her ability to respond to hand signals. The children then cuddled with her on the floor. Dogs don't need to be thrown away because of limitations. Thank you, Atticus and Will for sharing your stories and deep personal thoughts and feelings.

Anonymous said...

Tom Ryan...you are a remarkable man and your love for those dogs is beyond remarkable!!!

Birdie said...

I think that you have a lovely heart. It takes a lovely heart to take in a dog who has been through a lot and who is dying. Most people would probably opt to put him/her to sleep.

Dogs (animals in general) live a lot longer when they're loved and can actually feel the love beaming from their person.


I hope that Will makes it until spring or even longer if possible...so he can lay in the green grass and feel the warmth of the sun on his fur.