I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Buz and Pixie

A wintry day a few years ago

A few of you are aware that I've written about my brother Buz in past posts, but today I would like to take a longer look at my baby brother. My parents only produced one son among the six of us. I was the first-born and the biggest disappointment to my father when I didn't end up being male. (Back then, in the 1940s, it was a bigger deal than it is today.) When the next two children were born, Norma Jean and PJ, I think he sort of gave up on ever having a son.

However, my brother Buz was born when I was sixteen, when my parents apparently decided to start a second family. His full name is Norman Francis Stewart, but he's always been known by the nickname Buz, after a good friend of the family. My parents went on to have three more children, my sisters Markee and Fia, and Tina Marie (who was born prematurely and didn't live more than a few days). The second family were all pretty much raised in one place, Fort Worth, after Daddy retired from the Air Force and after I was married and gone. They bought a rambling house on Lake Worth. All of my siblings were like little otters, born to the water, and I visited them sporadically for years. Wherever my parents lived was home, even if I didn't live there growing up.

Daddy wasn't all that old when he retired, so he ended up with another job at General Dynamics, located on the other shore of the lake. Daddy "drove" to work via his boat, Gigi, but this was a part of their lives that I didn't get to know well. I was busy having my own trials and tribulations to pay much attention to their lives. Occasionally I would need to stay there for awhile, but I didn't stay long. Wherever my parents lived, however, felt like it was home.

That was all a long time ago, and all my siblings but one have retired from their professions. Buz was in Information Technology (IT) until he was forced out, partly because he was now older and making more money than his bosses want to pay him. It's an old story. I'm a little murky on the details, but he was essential to the company for many years. He has settled into retired life with his wife Phyllis, who still works, as far as I know. The two of them had a couple of dogs that they spoiled and loved immoderately.

I think they were both rescue dogs, and I got to know them a little when I visited over the years. Bella was a pretty Scottish terrier, and Pixie was the textbook definition of a "mutt," a small mixed breed terrier. Bella was Phyllis' dog, and Pixie and Buz were inseparable for a very long time. She died earlier this year at the age of 17, so it wasn't unexpected, but when you have a companion for such a long time, it's very hard to pick up the pieces once again after such a loss. Anyone who has loved a fellow critter who gives you unconditional love knows what I mean.

Back of Pixie's head and Buz's foot

Last week, Buz wrote a story on his Facebook page, which I read and re-read and decided I need to share it with my virtual family (that would be you guys) about a sweet love story between a man and his dog and how he is coping with her loss. He named his rowing machine Gigi, after Daddy's boat.

* * *

Every day we go for a boat ride. We used to go for car rides, but I donated her special car seat to Goodwill. Also, I can’t close my eyes while driving my car.

I sit on the rowing machine, tighten the foot straps, tap my Apple watch a couple of times, lean forward to grab the handlebar (i.e. “the oars”). Then I close my eyes and start rowing our little boat, gently down the stream.

Without actually pointing (because I can’t point and row at the same time), and somehow without speaking, I direct her attention to the myriad sights in the water, in the sky, along the shore. She doesn’t need me to do that, but she seems to enjoy the sound of my mental narration because her smile widens as she watches the world, as she watches the life around her. She doesn’t bark—she hasn’t barked in years—but she glances at me occasionally, just as she always did, to acknowledge our connection, our sharing of this experience. She smiles, and I row.

Of course there are always horses, with riders, trotting along the shore. And sometimes we see cows. We see fish and birds and trees and clouds. Squirrels. All the things she always loved. We can feel the breeze as it caresses the trees and ripples the water.

Sometimes we see new things. Penguins, boars, lions, tigers, bears. Oh my. No matter what she sees, she smiles. And I row and row.

Along the way, we also see signs and banners, intended only for me because she can’t read. Duh. There’s a sign I posted myself, and it changes every day. Today it says, “46 days and 46 nights.”

There are also signs from others. I never know when or where they will appear. Most are compassionate or at least understanding, but others are unwelcome, intrusive even, signs like, “What’s wrong with you?” and “She was only a dog” and “Get over it already.” The thoughts of others. Thoughts that resonate a bit too much, that make too much sense, that have the capacity to wear me down.

My rowing slows. I grow tired. My narration has already died away.

Exhaustion, both physical and emotional, eventually forces me to stop rowing. When I open my eyes, she’s not there, of course. It’s just my room, filled with emptiness. The ride is over. I wish I could lift her from the boat, feel her heart beating as my hand presses against her chest. Just as I always did.

I am healing, lest you think otherwise. I am able to laugh. Interacting with me, seeing me from the outside, you would say I’m perfectly normal, or at least as normal as I ever was. My wife sees a bit more. Fortunately for me, my wife is an angel, and she’s guiding me gently down the stream.

Sometimes life is pain, and sometimes pain gives meaning to life. Speaking only for myself, I’m okay with that. So many others know levels of pain that I will probably never experience. I’m lucky, I’m blessed, I’m privileged. I can’t deny it.

It’s a slow process, but I’m learning once again how to fill the days, and the emptiness. With meaning. Not to replace the pain, but to shape it into a more manageable form. I would never want to lose it completely. It’s mine.

Yes, I’m just fine. But for now, my little girl and I will continue to go for boat rides. In that special place where life is but a dream.

* * *

My heart is full as I read this, with the understanding that he will indeed heal and recover from the loss. We always do, but we are changed through the interactions we share with other blessed beings who die before us. It doesn't matter how short or how long the bond has been, it still hurts. I know many of you have shared your loss through your blogs and I have certainly done the same. Today I wish that all of you dear friends are able to have your loved ones close by, but if not, know that love never dies. It just grows and changes shape. Until we meet again next week, be well, my friends.


Marie Smith said...

Such a beautiful tribute to a furry friend and description of unimaginable grief. I am thankful you shared it, Jan. It will give comfort to grieving hearts!

Buz said...

This was such a kind gesture, Jan. Thank you for extending my post to your wonderful audience. You have stirred my thoughts in the best of ways, and tweaked my perspective as we move into another beautiful day. I love you.

ApacheDug said...

DJan, how many times have I read or looked at pics of your family of six kids, the same as my own family, and never picked up there was only one brother until now? Anyway, I very much enjoyed reading about Buz. And thank you for sharing his wonderful FB tribute to his girl, it was such a loving, caring read. I am very sorry for his loss, but he opened himself up about it so well. I hope your week is an equally kind & caring one. PS. Oh there's your brother in the comments! Hi Buz :^)

Rian said...

Djan, you are right, "Love never dies..." And it's obvious from reading this that your brother has the same kind loving soul as yourself.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

Thank you for sharing your heart felt memories about your life . They are interesting and entertaining as well as thought provoking. So sorry for your brothers pain at this time.

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you. This is beautiful, true, and struck home.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I know exactly how your brother feels. Grief has hit me very hard the past few days...not sure why. One day at a time.

John's Island said...

A comforting story for sure. Thank you for sharing.

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

Thank you for sharing these beautiful words.

Red said...


Linda Reeder said...

That tribute to a lost pet was so sweet and loving and beautifully written. Thank you DJan and Buz for sharing this. It warmed my heart, and I needed that too.

Anvilcloud said...

Apparently, the ability to both contemplate and write run in the family.

Galen Pearl said...

Very sweet story.

Glenda Beall said...

Your brother's story brought me to tears. I love my dogs so much and still after many years grieve for them. He wrote this so beautifully. Thank you for sharing. My sister recently lost her dear Smokie who was like my own. We both have cried and grieved, but she can now talk about her little canine friend without crying and since i am with her most of the time she has my Lexie to share. Lexie adores Gay and spends half her time upstairs with Gay and half with me.