Lesson: Connections

This half-face picture on the left is Nico. I met Nico and his owner, Gerri, one day in early 2011. I had taken Oliver to the park and none of his friends were there…and then came Gerri and Nico. We introduced ourselves and began talking about our dogs, who really didn’t even acknowledge each other. (Oliver was in a bit of an anti-social phase at the time) Nico had survived Hurricane Katrina and, along with many dogs that were rescued, was brought to NJ for adoption.

We connected and for some reason, our conversation flowed as if we had known each other for years. Gerri told me that she had recently battled breast cancer and after several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, she was trying to move forward again. Her openness and easy nature made the time fly by and before we knew it, it was time to go home.

Gerri began coming to the park more frequently with Nico and we became friends while Oliver and Nico continued to ignore each other. Gerri was still dealing with a lot physically and some days were better than others. We had many conversations, sometimes about nothing and other times, about more in-depth things. As Gerri navigated her medical issues, she still continued to bring Nico to the park, whether it was the heat of summer or when there was snow on the ground.

There came a point when one of Gerri’s PET scans came back with not such great news. Her cancer had returned and this time, it was in several areas and more aggressive. There were days when Gerri couldn’t lift her arms to throw Nico’s ball, so our little group at the park took turns occupying Nico, being Gerri’s arms for her when she couldn’t do it. Gerri and I had exchanged phone numbers and on days when she didn’t come to the park, I would call her to check in with her. There were days when she showed up at the park when she probably should have been home in bed. I really believe Gerri needed that park time just as much as Nico did.

In February 2012, Gerri stood up and collapsed, paralyzed from the chest down due to a tumor pressing on her spine. She was admitted into the hospital while more tests were run. She was transported more than once to other hospitals while her family tried to begin setting up 24-hour-a-day care for her once she returned home. Gerri and I spoke several times while she was in the hospital and she couldn’t wait to come back home. Even though her life was drastically changed, “home” represented some normalcy for her. She wanted to be in her own house with Nico, who she referred to as “the man” in her life.

Gerri became extremely ill  in May of 2012 and was hospitalized. I called her cellphone while she was in the hospital and I could hear the difficulty she was having breathing. I didn’t have any words to say to her but I did my best to simply say what I could say. The next day, I received the news that Gerri had passed away. While we weren’t the closest of friends, I valued our time as friends and the talks we had. So much so that I wished I had known her for years and years before we had met. Our time as friends was so short and I felt there was so much more I wanted to know about her.

After Gerri passed away, Nico was sent to live with Gerri’s best friend. I saw Nico one time after Gerri died and it made me want to cry. As time went by, I would often think about Nico and wonder how Gerri’s death affected him. Did he understand why she was gone? Do our pets know more than we give them credit for? Did he miss her? Was he adjusting to his new home?

I often visit Gerri’s Facebook page and look at her pictures or leave a little comment. Silly to some, but I need to do it. I think about her and wish she didn’t have to endure all she did. It’s a comfort to open up Facebook and see her smiling face.

Yesterday (Thursday, January 12, 2017) I went for my daily walk and walked my usual route that takes me right by the park. As I approached, I looked to see what dogs might be there as I do every day, sometimes stopping to say hello to our friends but usually, no one is there any more. When I looked yesterday, there was Nico, standing in the park with Gerri’s best friend, his owner since Gerri’s passing. I couldn’t contain myself and as I made my way into the park, Nico ran to me like he wanted to knock me down and kiss me all over.

I had such a rush of emotion. Nico rarely showed affection in that way. He was single-minded at the park and only wanted his ball. He RAN to me, halfway across the field. He recognized me and he remembered me. He stood next to me while I spoke to his owner and literally leaned his entire body weight against me while I kept telling him I missed him so much. He kept looking up at me, meeting my eyes with his and just staring at me.

There isn’t any doubt in my mind seeing Nico after almost 5 years was a sign from Gerri. And to see him run across the field and look me in my eyes with his beautiful eyes, I knew it was a small hug from the other side. When people leave us, when our pets leave us– we are still connected in more ways than what we believe. It was in that moment that I truly believed while I was hugging Nico in the middle of a field, Gerri was in Heaven doing the same with my Oliver.

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Lesson: Me Time

Oliver had a very large group of dog friends and we would meet them almost daily at our local park. While some dogs played with balls and toys, other dogs chased each other and played roughly. Oliver would often go off on his own at some point and spend a large portion of time by himself. While I would wonder if he was defective because he was so antisocial, Oliver would get into his favorite position–butt up in the air, chest to the grouns–and he would simply chew on his ball. He was quite content to be alone and have his “me time” while the dogs soaked up the energy of playing with each other. He simply wanted some personal space to destroy his (and his friends’) balls and toys.

Why do we, as humans, often feel guilty when we do something special for ourselves or when we take some time to do something alone that we enjoy? Maybe you like to get a massage or get your nails done or go to the gym or go out for lunch by yourself. But sometimes there is guilt attached to doing something for ourselves. We treat these things are something special and almost decadent, as if we don’t necessarily deserve to set aside time for ourselves.

Do you make time for yourself? What is something special you do to rejuvenate your mind, body and/or spirit?

 

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Lesson: Choosing Friends

Oliver and AmeliaIf you are in a room full of people you don’t know, are you drawn to people who might have similar interests as you or do you gravitate towards people who might be the exact opposite of you? What do you base those decisions on? How they look or dress? A certain vibe they give off? What draws you to the friends you make? Watching Oliver and his crazy, weird, rag-tag group of friends play in the park made me think in-depth about the friendships we choose in our lives.

I met an unlikely friend through a weird situation. I was at the hospital for an infusion for my treatment of Crohn’s Disease. An elderly gentleman was sitting next to me when I began to suffer an Anaphylactic reaction to my infusion drug. Unable to speak because my tongue was swelling and my throat was closing, he stood up with his IV attached and began flagging down the nurses.

We became great friends throughout the eight years we had treatment together. We didn’t bond because of how we looked. We didn’t bond because we had similar interests. We bonded because we were going through similar experiences.

He was 40+ years older than me and our friendship grew and grew. We would speak on the phone, we would meet early prior to our treatments just to chat in the hospital waiting room, and we would request to sit side-by-side during treatments. Despite a huge age gap, we had the most pure friendship I had ever, and probably will ever, know.

One day, someone said to me, “Isn’t it depressing being friends with someone so old?” It wasn’t. It was more depressing being friends with someone who could ask that question.

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Lesson: Expectations

What Oliver Taught Me: When you are faced with a difficult situation and need help, do you ever become upset if someone you expected to help you, doesn’t? I think if many of us were to be honest, it is human nature to sometimes put expectations on our relationships. Speaking for myself, I rarely ask for help but there are times in life when help is necessary. To feel as though you are being slighted by friends or family who choose not to help is something that I think most of us struggle with, mostly because we tend to keep mental tallies in our heads. “I did X, Y, and Z for so-and-so, therefore they should return the favor.” It’s an active effort to not think that way sometimes and that’s okay. We are only human, right?

One of the most difficult times in our lives was when we lost almost everything in Hurricane Sandy. We were so grateful to have a place to live (at my parents’ house) while we were sorting through the destruction and mess the hurricane left behind. We needed help and lots of it. We were desperate for help with trying to salvage pieces of our home and lives, desperate for help moving things out, desperate for help tearing the house down to the sub-flooring. We were simply desperate.

We had some help and for that, we were humbled and grateful. There were also many people whom I felt let-down by, who didn’t choose to help whether it was physically or even emotionally supporting us. It was something that took me a long time to work through and it was on my walks with Oliver in our temporary neighborhood–watching him react and be so grateful for every person he met–that I realized I needed to stop placing expectations on the relationships in my life. People who want to help and can help, will. If people choose not to help, it doesn’t always mean they don’t want to; maybe they simply can’t.

Obviously, Oliver didn’t know our home was destroyed by a hurricane. All he knew was he was living at his “grandparents’ house” and that meant four extra hands to scratch his butt. All he saw was people to meet and make smile in his new neighborhood. He would sit on the front lawn while the neighbors walked over to visit him, pet him and give him love. He saw all of it as a bonus and he was filled with pure joy. I needed to be like Oliver. I needed to view the help we received as a bonus and needed to stop expecting people to act in the ways I wanted them to act. I needed to feel gratitude for those who could help us.

I want to be someone who does good things for people simply because I want to, not because I need something in return. Relationships should not be based on expectations. Doing good for others should not be a transaction. Are you someone who places expectations on relationships with friends and family?

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Lesson: Going Limp

Going limp What Oliver Taught Me: When Oliver wasn’t sure of a situation (as seen here with his trainer when he was a wee puppy) he would go limp, become dead weight & let whatever was going to happen, happen. It was an important lesson I learned from him… we can’t control everything & sometimes we need to just go limp & let life BE. Some of the most wonderful things in life happen when we aren’t fighting them out of fear, intimidation, uncertainty or insecurity. Are you afraid of change or do you embrace new situations with open arms?

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Welcome

Welcome to the website for What Oliver Taught Me.  I am so excited to share this memoir with you!

Maybe you know me from one of the several Pop Culture blogs I’ve written in the past. Or, maybe you know me through the seven years I was the owner and editor (and music reviews writer, band interviewer, marketing and promo coordinator) of Revolt Music Magazine. We might have become buddies via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Or maybe we met at a fundraiser to help support bulldogs in-need. However our paths crossed– whether in-person or via social media, if you know me then you also know Oliver, my bulldog. In case you’re not sure if you have the right Oliver, let me break it down for you:

  • Oliver, of ABC7’s “Big Dog Sunday” fame (Fame is subjective. He was on three times. Throw us a bone. HarHarHar. Get it? Ahem.)
  • #oliverthemoonwalkingbulldog on Instagram.
  • Oliver, (in)famous for Puke Fest 2012 at the Bullypalooza fundraiser for MidAtlantic Bulldog Rescue at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, NJ.
  • Oliver, famous for his puppy blog, Adventures with Oliver.
  • Oliver, the best butt wiggler in the world.

This face!

After being shaken to the core by a scary anaphylactic reaction that in the moment I casually brushed off as “no big deal” when I quite literally could have died, I took some time to think about life and how we muddle up everything with bullshit. We make our lives so much more difficult than they need to be. Don’t roll your eyes at me. As humans, we totally screw up our lives and complicate them way beyond the way we were intended to live. It wasn’t until I explored my life more in-depth that I realized there is always room to be a better human being. And it wasn’t until I looked back on the past six years that I learned I could easily have been a better human, if I would have looked at how Oliver lived his life.

Yes, you read that right. I know, it sounds weird. My bulldog has shown me how to be a better human.

So, why are you here reading this blog? Well, I sure could use your help. See that little box over there on the right side that says “Sign up for the newsletter”– go ahead and look for it. I’ll wait. Did you find it? Awesome! If you throw your email address in there and sign up for the newsletter, I can keep you up-to-date as this book transitions from my brain into something physical you can hold in your hands. It’s coming along in a BIG way and I want you to know all about it so you can get a copy when it is published. Also, if you sign up for the newsletter you might just get a couple of early release chapters to read, which will surely entice you to want the whole book! I promise to never spam you. Ever. And the best part of all of this book stuff? A portion of royalties from this book will help bulldogs in-need. Pretty cool, right?

Oh hey, could you also do me a solid and follow What Oliver Taught Me on Instagram, Twitter and “like” the Facebook page? Since 99% of our time* is spent on social media, I know that’s not asking too much, right? Besides, the more support you show this book, the quicker Oliver’s story will be told and the faster we can help some bulldogs in-need.

Thank you so much for your support!

 

*I totally made that percentage up.

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