Farewell, Tennyson

We said good-bye to a member of our family yesterday. Tennyson came into our lives 14 1/2 years ago, wobbly, fuzzy, with a head as big as his body. Yesterday, he left our lives as Tennyson and hippoJon and I held him and murmured our good-byes, freeing him from the cancer eating at his body.

He was never the world’s best dog. In fact, he could have given Marley of Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog a run for his money. He ate entire socks, underwear, and the center stone to my engagement ring (yes, really). He peed on every bed we ever bought him. He destroyed every toy, including the ones billed for “tough chewers.” Early on, he developed an eye condition that required surgery at a veterinary ophthalmologist (price tag: cha-ching). He dug through visitors’ purses and luggage for Backpacking Tennysonanything in the neighborhood of edible. He shed twice a year like it was his job. He dug through the bathroom trash. He never did learn to heel or fetch. He was a born explorer, compelled to sniff every nook and cranny, and thus an incorrigible wanderer. He demonstrated a go-go-gadget ability to reach items on kitchen counters that seemed well beyond his reach, inhaling his reward packaging and all.

In fact, he was such a pain that I’ve been caught off guard by how brutal this is. The reel of memories has been playing hard these last hours: the backpacking trips where he cheerfully carried his own gear and, against all odds, proved to be a great trail dog; the pressure of his weight as he leaned against me; the years he provided comfort as our Tennyson and Samibaby when we were struggling to have one of our own; the few years he shared with our second beagle, Sami, before she left us too soon; his head buried inside a doggie stocking on Christmas mornings; tripping over him every evening as I cooked dinner; the jangle of his tags as he followed me from room to room, never wanting to be far from his humans; his presence in a thousand unremarkable moments, part of the fabric of our lives for nearly all of our adulthood, woven into the fabric of our family from its start.

So, now we learn how to be a family without him. Lina looked out the glass door at the rain this morning and told Jon we needed to let Tennyson in. When Jon reminded her that Tennyson is gone, she said “Tennyson is dead,” and her lip trembled. Corin has internalized a

Family photo fall 2010

Photo: Katie Schoepflin Photography

lot, as he tends to do, but choked up last night at bedtime as we talked about what he would miss most.

At these times, I always wonder why we do this to ourselves. Why do we sign up for the inevitable heartbreak of losing a pet that becomes a member of the family? I suppose the answer is contained in the grief. We have 14 years of memories that remain.

Rest well, Tennyson. You weren’t a good dog, but you loved and were loved well.

When you’re miles from normal

I remember just a few years ago being in the throes of fertility treatment hell and grieving the loss of the stereotypical family planning experience: have a lot of sex, wait a couple weeks, pee on a home test and watch the bright lines pop up. Hooray, we’re pregnant!

Instead, we waded through countless injections, complicated medical procedures, the agonizing wait for the blood tests and the phone calls from the nurse with the results. So many others have been there and know exactly what I mean, and many go through much worse. It was stressful, expensive, emotionally draining and – for me – physically taxing. Much of the emotional difficulty was coming to terms with how hard we had to work to get something that came so easily for many. I had a very bad relationship with home pregnancy tests.

Time has brought a new perspective. It was hard, and there have been a lot of hard times since then. And to be clear, feelings of loss are, well, normal. It’s just that now, with the luxury of time, I can look back and value what makes our story unique. I can recognize the incredible gifts that have come to us as a result of an off-the-beaten-path experience.

My dad is blind due to a biking accident in 1980. He wrote an article once called “Unusual Gifts.” In it, he explained why he believes his blindness is really a gift in disguise, allowing him experiences and purpose he would not have found otherwise. I realized recently that I feel very much the same about the unusual pieces of our experience. I wouldn’t have chosen them for myself, but that’s why I’m glad I’m not in control.

My daughter is the sunshine of my life. Truly, I can’t even explain how much joy she brings me. I sit and watch her, in awe of the beautiful little person she is. But someone prominent – I refuse to name him and provide further undeserved publicity – recently suggested that it would be immoral to knowingly bring someone like her into the world. She isn’t “normal,” and to a lot of people, that makes her unwanted. To me, she is priceless, perfect, a major part of the meaning in my every day. And thanks to the unusual path we took to her, we have a whole new branch of this crazy family tree to enjoy. Our lives would be poorer without those incredible people to love.

My son is four and growing up SO fast. He cracks me up with his wild flights of fancy, his funny observations of the world, his caution and bossiness, his need for his idea of order. (He recently organized the hangers in his closet by color.) He dazzles me with his adult vocabulary, his sweet affection, his curiosity and growing intellect. If it wasn’t for the hordes of doctors and nurses, the labs and procedures, he wouldn’t be here. Our firstborn would be someone else – equally loved, no doubt, but not this strawberry-blond boy walking around with my heart in his hands.

We have met so many amazing people through our experiences, and been able to share so many highs and lows with an incredible support system. We’ve had to learn faith of a truer kind, with nothing left to do but lean on the only One who knows the future. We’ve had to build a marriage that can withstand a pounding and another pounding, shuddering and rattling but holding firm. We are, without question, better people, because we’ve had to be; because that’s what God can do in the midst of the far-from-normal.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I do not mean to suggest God sends hardship. He is not the author of pain and heartache. We live in a messed-up world where things do not go according to God’s plan. There are some griefs that are far, far beyond explanation or reason, the senseless result of a broken, hurting planet. But God does have the ability to pick up the pieces and build them into something beautiful and good, something better than we could have chosen for ourselves, a monument to who He is and what He wants for His people.

I suppose none of this is really new; it’s more along the theme of this blog’s title. I guess I just want to say this: normal is overrated. In all the ways it has manifested in our family, the abnormal has become beautiful. If you find yourself miles from normal and wishing for something simpler, let me offer you hope that the path less traveled really can be breathtaking in all the right ways. Acknowledge pain, grieve loss, but then, look up. There really is joy ahead.

A sudden good-bye

Last week did not end in “hallelujah,” after all. Instead, we learned Friday that we had unexpectedly lost Jon’s sweet grandma, Virginia (Ginnie) Geary.

I missed out during childhood on the experience of doting grandparents who lived nearby. When Jon and I got married, I felt like I’d won the grandparent jackpot. His Grandma and Grandpa Geary took me in as their own with such warmth and love, and I felt so lucky to be close enough to see them often. Since Friday, the memory reel has played almost constantly, of holidays and family vacations in Gatlinburg, of weekend visits, shopping trips, wedding days, Sabbath dinners, meeting new great-grandbabies and all the moments over the past 11-plus years that made Grandma Geary so very, very dear. I know Jon has an even longer memory reel playing. She was kind and generous, gentle and loving, always looking for the very best in people, a lover of beautiful things, a great shopper, a fantastic cook, a world traveler, a beautiful dresser, a good sport who loved to play games and laugh, and a much-loved wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. The whole family is hurting and placing such hope in the promise of a day when we can be with her again.

For those who knew Ginnie Geary, a memorial service is planned for 4 p.m. on July 27 in Calhoun, Ga. If you loved her, as so many did, please join us in remembering the remarkable woman she was.

Grad Sharps

My college graduation, 2002

Three pretty ladies

The moms and Grandma Geary at our wedding, 2002

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Grandma and Grandpa at our baby shower for Corin, 2010

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Meeting Corin, 2010

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Corin’s baby dedication, 2010

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Corin’s first birthday, 2011

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Savannah, 2011

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2011

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Thanksgiving 2011

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Meeting Eline, 2012

I swallow a lump in my throat as I look at what I know now is my last photo of Grandma Geary. I wish I’d taken more. There is so much I never captured. I wish my children could grow up knowing her. Please God, let us see her again soon.