Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Steeler Dog

When we were in college, Erick surprised me with a new puppy.  A black labrador retriever.  Neither one of us really thought this through.  Erick bought this little bundle of black fur for a steal and drove the 3 hour car ride to my parents' house where I was home on break.  When he arrived, I opened the door to see Erick and a little puppy standing there with wobbly legs and big brown eyes looking up at me.  Two of my best guy friends came over that night to hang out with Erick, me and our new puppy.  We all tried to come up with the perfect name for her.  I was going for the cute names but the guys weren't having it.  We were all huge Pittsburgh Steeler fans so the name Steeler was suggested.  I wasn't convinced but Mark and Dan kiddingly said that they would not call her anything but Steeler and that would certainly confuse the dog.......  so, there you have it, it's settled.  Steeler it is.

We both had to return back to our universities where neither one of us were allowed pets at our apartments/houses.  Erick had arranged for his youngest sister, Anne, to watch Steeler while we were away at school.  Erick's mom wasn't a huge dog lover so there were some rules about where Steeler would stay in the house; the basement.  Like all puppies, Steeler was a chewer.  No, a destructive chewer!  She ate just about anything that she could in that basement.  She eventually grew out of that, I graduated from college, retuned back to my parents' house to live, and Steeler had a new home with me.

In 1998, Erick and I  purchased our first home in Edgewood.  Steeler would now have a permanent home with us.  Steeler was probably the best dog I've ever had or known (sorry for my current dog Penny).  She was so kind and gentle.  She never left our yard and when Olivia arrived home in 2003, it was love at first sight.  Steeler was always sitting near her.  Once Olivia started to crawl, walk, and interact with Steeler, they became even closer.  Olivia LOVED her Steeler dog.

In July of 2008, we sold our house in Edgewood but hadn't found a house to move to at this point.  We decided that we'd rent an apartment in Oakmont since that is where we ultimately wanted to buy.  We'd rent there and get a feel for the area, get used to the bus route and commuting, and then look at the houses that were for sale in the area.  Olivia would be starting Kindergarten in the fall.  Since I worked for the University of Pittsburgh, Olivia would be enrolled in the University Child Development Center Kindergarten program.  She had already attended the program for day care/preschool so this was a very simple transition for her.  We'd enroll her into public school once she entered first grade.  It made life easier for us too.  Erick would drive me and Olivia to her school, which started at 9am, then I would walk/bus a few city blocks to my office.  

The apartment that we were renting from only allowed dogs that were under 30 pounds so Steeler, our 90 pound pet,  was again moved from her home to live with my parents.  Steeler didn't mind because she LOVED my dad.  She could get all the salami and bologna that she wanted from that guy!  One day in September, my dad called me at work to say that Steeler had a massive growth on her left shoulder.  It appeared out of nowhere.  I called the vet and got her in right away to be seen.  The doctor informed me and Erick that Steeler had what appeared to be bone cancer.  At her age, 12, there was nothing that we could do but to keep her comfortable.  The doctor sent us home with some heavy pain medications for her.  Erick and I did not feel right leaving Steeler with my parents so we wrote a letter to our landlord asking permission for our dying dog to reside at our third story apartment.  We may have stretched the truth a little and said that Steeler was under 50 pounds......  but I din't care.  Steeler was worth it.

Every morning, Erick would have to carry Steeler downstairs and outside of the apartment complex so that she could go to the bathroom.  After Olivia and I would come home from work and school, I'd have to somehow hold up Steeler's upper body so that she didn't have to put much pressure on that shoulder as she come down the 3 flights of steps.  Typing this story makes me feel like this was a bit cruel but it didn't last long.  In mid October, Erick got up to get Steeler outside and he came back into our bedroom crying.  He told me that he's making the executive decision that we're going to put Steeler down today.  She can no longer stand up on her own.  Olivia was still sleeping in the second bedroom so I got up and called then vet.  "I think it's time to put her down", I say.   Hearing those words come out of my mouth was  heartbreaking.  The receptionist tells me to just bring her in when we're ready.  

So, here is how is went.......

Olivia is now up and getting ready for school.  Erick and I are getting ready for work.  Steeler is just laying on her bed.  We have decided not to tell Olivia what is going to happen until it has happened.  I don't know what the right thing is to do in this situation.  Olivia was only 5 1/2 years old.  The same age as Ainsley is right now........

We tell Olivia that we're taking Steeler to the vet this morning for a check up because she's not feeling well.  I put Steeler's bed in the back of our SUV.  Erick lifts up Steeler and lays her on the bed.  We drive to Olivia's school and Olivia gets out of the car.  She wants to say good-bye to Steeler.  I opened up the hatch back door and startled Steeler.  She must have leaned up against the door while we were driving.  She almost rolled our of the back of the car!  Holy shit, that would have been bad.  Olivia gave her buddy her final hug goodbye.  I walked Olivia into school and hugged her good-bye.  

Erick and I then drove out to Murrysville where our vet was located.  We never changed vets once we moved from the Edgewood area.  We really liked that clinic.  Once at the clinic, Erick carried Steeler out of the car and to a door that was located around the back of the clinic.  I was given these instructions over the phone.  We entered the door and the doctor was waiting for us.  She kneels down to Steeler and says, "Your wheels aren't working anymore, huh?"  Erick lifts Steeler up onto an exam table, they explain what is going to happen, and just like that it's starting.  I am holding her head and looking into her brown eyes telling her what a good dog she is.  She is looking at me but  shifts her eyes to the needle that is inserted into her front paw.  She looks back up at me as I begin to cry.  I can hear Erick crying as he's petting her.  Just like that, she closes her eyes and her head falls heavy into my hands........  she's gone.  I turn and place my head into Erick's chest, he puts his arms around me, and we both cry.    

Both of us decided to go to work after that.   I was useless.  I sat at my desk for the few hours that I was at work and cried for most of the day.  I remember calling my friend Tracey to tell her about Steeler.  I can't sit there anymore so I walk over to the Carnegie Library and ask the librarian to help me find books about losing a pet.  We find a few but one in particular will end up being my favorite, "A Dog Like Jack". 

It is now time to leave and do what is going to be one of the hardest things  I can imagine, pick up Olivia from school.  I got to her school before Erick did so I went in and whispered to her teacher that Steeler had died and that Olivia would not be at school the following day.  Olivia and I walk outside towards Erick as he is waiting for us in the car.  Olivia's class made masks that day out of brown paper bags.  She has her mask on as she asks me, "Where's Steeler?"  I'm trying to avoid answering this because I want to wait until we are in the car.  She removes her mask and repeats her question to me but now demanding an answer.  I think she knew......  I bend down to Olivia's level, look her in the eyes,  and say to her, "She died."  I reach out to her and hug her as hard as I can.  She is so silent.  The ride home is equally silent.  That night, Erick reads "A Dog Like Jack" to Olivia.  I leave the room so that no one sees me cry again.  Once he  finishes, I return and sit with Olivia on her bed.   I can tell that she is so sad but is  holding it in.  She surrenders, breaks down and sobs.  She is truly sad and heartbroken.  I had never seen her sad before.  I've seen her cry but that was from skinning a knee, not true raw emotion.  Now my heart is breaking for her heart.  She curls up and lays against me and we both cry.  Our Steeler dog is gone.  

The next morning, Olivia and I stay home.  We pull out tape, glue, paper, and all of the pictures that we have of Steeler and we make a memory book of our beloved dog.  What great therapy that was.    I still have the book.  It was in Olivia's room with her personal items.  As for the book, "A Dog Like Jack", we buried that with Olivia so that she'd always be connected with Steeler.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

LaLa's spot

As the weather starts to change, the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, and the days are very short, it becomes harder for me to visit Olivia at her burial site.  

The first year after we buried Olivia, we visited her on a weekly basis.  She is buried across the street from the church that we joined in 2010.  Visiting Olivia is our church.  Usually on Sundays, we will drive the 20 minutes to visit Olivia and not even go to church.  Going to church is hard for us.  Being inside the church where  we sat for her funeral is depressing.  There are days that I feel like being in church  but for most Sundays, I would rather be visiting Olivia.  

I know that she got more visits from friends and family  over that first year.  Almost every other week there would be something left at her grave site such as flowers, notes, balloons, or trinkets.  Now, not so much.  I wonder if people still visit her but just don't bring anything to her or if she doesn't get many visits since it's been over 3 years that we buried our sweet Olivia.  Our Lala.  

Every year, my good friend Lisa orders a grave blanket for Olivia.  It's so nice to see that beautiful greenery lay atop her spot with red velvet bows and signs of love.  It makes our winter visits a little less miserable.  

Friday, November 20, 2015


As Thanksgiving approaches, I think back to the Thanksgivings we had as a complete family.  We really only had 2 Thanksgivings where both Olivia and Ainsley were together, 2010 and 2011.  Olivia never made it to 2012.....

November 2011, we decided that we'd host our first ever Thanksgiving.  Olivia was so excited!  She loved hosting parties and helping to prepare for them.  She would even help clean the house before company would arrive.  She was so excited to be hosting Thanksgiving that she created name plates for each of our guest with a saying on why she was thankful for that person.  It pains me that not only did I NOT keep my name plate, but I don't remember what she was thankful for.  I choose not to dwell on things like that.....  those regrets can only eat you alive.  Instead, I have these wonderful family pictures to reflect on and know that she was thankful, as am I, for each other.

Little did we know that this would be our last Thanksgiving as a complete family......

The following year, I had decided that I didn't want to celebrate Thanksgiving because well, I wasn't at all thankful.  I was completely anti-Thanksgiving.  I bought a beef roast and put it in the crock pot that morning, unwillingly let Ainsley watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and listened to the pounding in my chest become louder and faster as the day went on.  We did promise that we'd stop in to visit family on the North Side of Pittsburgh.  It was a beautiful November day and quite warm.  On our way to our visit, I asked Erick to stop off at Giant Eagle so that I could get my blood pressure read from one of those automated machines.  My blood pressure was extremely high.  I've always had low to normal blood pressure so this was a bit concerning to me.  I asked Erick to get his read  in hopes that the machine was off.  Nope.  Erick's was normal.  I took mine again.......  140/100!   Erick, as always, is calming  me down and tries to ease my mind.  We continued with our plans and drive the rest of the way to my father-in-law's house.  

Once we arrive, I immediately ask Nancy (Erick's dad's wife)  if she has a blood pressure cuff.  Nancy is a nurse so I sort of knew that she would have one.  I explain my dilemma and we go upstairs to her bedroom.  She takes my pressure and it's now higher.  She tells me to lay down and relax, takes it again, and it's still high, 150/100!    Holy shit, I'm going to die.  I jump up and declare that I'm going to the emergency room.  The closest ER is literally within walking distance, but Erick drives me there.  Nancy took care of keeping things quiet so that neither my parents or Ainsley would worry.

I entered the triage area of Allegheny General Hospital.  After a very brief set of questions by the triage nurse, I'm being escorted, by foot, to a room and thenI'm  hooked up to monitors.  Erick has parked the car and comes into my room where Thanksgiving Day football is on the TV.  He's content.  Two different doctors run tests on me to rule out a stroke.  No, I didn't have a stroke.  They then tell me that my heart is fine.  Lastly, they ask me a series of questions about stress.  Here it comes, I have to tell someone my story.  My daughter died in March.  Every time I say it, there it is, the lump in my throat, the sting in my eyes, the elephant in the room.  Is the elephant sitting on my chest?  

Blood work comes back all normal and I'm diagnosed with anxiety.  I had my first panic attack on Thanksgiving Day 2012.  Am I thankful that I didn't have a stroke?  

Hell no.

I am still anti-Thanksgiving at his point and am not thankful in 2012.  

I am discharged from the hospital.  Erick and I return back to our family and I cry when I see the concern and love from everyone in the room.  Then, there is Ainsley.  She is so happy and doesn't have a clue as to what just happened to her unstable mommy.  

We finally make our way back home and the roast in the crock pot is WAY over cooked.  It sucks.  

I have since learned that I cannot change the inevitable.  I cannot hide.  I can control my anxiety, which takes some time to learn how and some help from a therapist.  And, I can be thankful for Ainsley, Erick, and my family but I don't have to like the way things turned out for us.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pancakes with the Principal

Today, I attended Pancakes with the Principal with Ainsley and the other Kindergarteners.  I felt so fortunate to be a part of this yearly function since I missed those 3 years when Olivia was in school due to my work schedule.

(my selfie skills need some work)

I have to admit,  these kids have fun with or without the company of their parents/guardians.  

(Thank you to my friend Mike for taking this great photo)

Monday, November 16, 2015


We went away over the weekend to my in laws house second home located on the Allegheny River just above Oil City, PA.  It's their "camp" - a house that faces the river with beautiful scenic views and indoor plumbing.  Now that's my kind of camp!

We've taken several weekend trips to camp since my in laws bought it back in 1995.  We took Olivia there for the first time when she was just 2 months old for a Father's Day weekend.  She grew up loving to spend weekends up there.  She loved to fish, canoe, play in the river, and catch bugs and toads.  We spent many evenings around campfires rating marshmallows and making S'mores.

We've kept coming back to camp so that Ainsley could experience the joys that her sister did for so many years.  Ainsley, who is in some ways different from Olivia, also enjoys everything there is to do at camp. As we traveled the 2 hour car trip home yesterday she asked us if we could come back to camp next weekend.....

At one point, my father-in-law had a jet propelled boat.   We spent many days fishing on the boat.  Those days are long gone since Olivia's accident in Florida.    The boat now sits on a trailer parked back behind the house as it collects dead leaves and spider webs.    There are some things that I'm not quite ready to do again even though I once loved to.  Boating is one of them.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A drawing to share

Olivia has a siter, Ainsley, who was 5 days shy of her s2nd birthday when Olivia died.  She doesn't remember much about her cherished big sister except for the things we have told her and by watching videos.  I'll get to their story at some point in my blog but I wanted to share with you something today.  

I was cooking dinner yesterday and listening to my playlist.  I added a song to it that was sung by Christina Bruni Bolcato at Olivia's funeral.  Of course, I began to cry because it takes me back to that day......  the day that closed the chapter of her life.  The day that we'd see her for the last time in the flesh.  The day that we'd say our final good-byes.  

Ainsley, my now 5 year old, is very in tuned with my emotions and correlates Olivia with sadness at times.  After seeing me cry, she got out her drawing pad and her markers and began to color a picture.  

The 3 people at the bottom are me, Erick, and Ainsley.  Olivia is in the middle, going up to Heaven.  those are God's hands reaching down to Olivia and an angel at the top left.  Because this is scanned, I was told by Ainsley that I cut off God's hair.  I think you get the idea.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Home at last

Being 3 weeks early certainly presents it's challenges for a little girl but I had no idea how many we'd face.  After her first day in this world, Olivia had many visitors from new grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and even a great great aunt.  Needless to say, we were all thrilled with the arrival of the first baby born in this generation.

Because Olivia was born cesarian, I was already told that I could not be released to go home as quickly as most new mothers.  After a couple of days, I was in my zone with the help of the nurses in the hospital.  They would bring Olivia from the nursery to me in the wee hours of the night to feed her.  During the day, she'd spend the whole time in her little bassinet next to my bed or in my arms.  Man, this was pretty easy being a new mom.

Probably after 3 days, things started moving a little faster now with doctors coming in and out of the room to visit both me and Olivia.  The pediatrician started noticing that Olivia's skin color had a yellowish-green tint to it.  She was jaundiced.  OK, that's normal.  Nurses would take her for a few hours and put her under a special light in an incubator.  This minor set back would mean that we would not be discharged as originally thought.  Now, it's day 4 and Olivia is still jaundiced PLUS she failed the carseat test.  The carseat test measures the newborns oxygen saturation levels as they are seated in their carseat.  Erick had previously brought in our new carseat for this test and to hopefully take Olivia home with us.    Olivia's  oxygen levels dropped so leaving the hospital wasn't going to happen today.  However, I am scheduled to be released today.

 I am very calm and pretty much have no reaction.  I'm not sure this is processing in my brain as the pediatrician tells me that due to the jaundice and the carseat test failure I can go home but Olivia must stay in the pediatric intensive care unit tonight.  I still have no reaction.  Minutes later, the news hits me hard.  I'm on the phone crying to Erick then to my mom.  Again, this is not how this was supposed to happen.  Leaving the hospital without my baby was the hardest thing that I have ever done.......  so I thought.

The rest of the day is a complete blur......  I am now home and Erick is doing laundry for me.  I am not allowed to do a lot of steps because of my stitches and our laundry room is in the basement.  Our bedroom was located on the third story of our house, our bathroom on the second level, so we set up an air mattress in the empty room located on the second level of our hose next to Olivia's bedroom for me to sleep.

 I had no baby to feed but you can't tell my breasts that.  I set an alarm clock to wake me up every two hours so that I could pump.

The next morning, we awoke, showered (I think), and went to Babies R Us to buy Olivia some new clothes because although we had a ton of adorable newborn clothing, nothing fit our little 5 1/2 pound peanut.  We bought her some premature baby clothes.  One in particular that I remember buying was a pink and while one piece with a butterfly on the belly.  Oh, and those tiny socks couldn't be any cuter.  We also had to buy premature diapers.  I kept one to one day show Olivia how little she once was.  I have a box that sits on my bedroom dresser that holds that little diaper, hospital wrist and ankle bands that both Olivia and I wore, empty bottles  from when the nurses fed her while she stayed away from us that one dreadful night and her little pink cap that they placed on her tiny head after birth.

We arrive at the hospital and rushed right over to the incubator where she was "baking".  The nurses say that she's doing well and the jaundice was subsiding.  It's now game time.  Time for the ultimate test......  the carseat test.  Can she pass it?  This time, we are present for the test.  I'm not sure why we weren't there when they performed it the first time.  One of the nurses handed Olivia to me and I, oh so carefully, set her into the carseat, which looks like it could swallow her whole. She was hooked up to the oxygen saturation device and we wait.......  Olivia looked up at all of us with those blue eyes as we stared down at her without breathing.  She passes!  Now, I can breathe.

We sign all of the discharge papers and listen carefully to the instructions and walk out of the hospital, put Olivia in the  carseat base in the back seat of our JeepCherokee, and drive home.  I sat in the back seat hovering over her and giving Erick a play-by-play of her every move, even if she was sleeping.

Home at last, home at last, Olivia is home at last.  Our journey as a family can now begin.