Still First

Twenty-five years.  I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it.  Even after celebrating your 25 years as an active-duty soldier, the idea that we have now been married for that amount of time still boggles my mind.

Two and a half decades.  DECADES!!

Amazing, huh?

We were so damned young. On the surface of it, we really had very little going for us – neither of us had any education past high school, neither of us had spent any time living on our own.  You were a baby Private First Class in the Army, and I had a scholarship at the University.  We had potential; oh, we had such great potential.  But it was feared our plans to get married would derail a lot of that potential.

That’s what we were told.

The simultaneous facts that I was newly pregnant with Big G (surprise!) and that we hadn’t talked to our parents at length about how serious we were in our relationship probably did not help matters.

We were told by some that we wouldn’t last five years.  Some thought I would never finish school.  Some figured we would be destitute and miserable.

But you know what?  We weren’t. We aren’t.

My G, you’re still first.

All these years later, you’re still the first I want to laugh with. When I see something funny at a store, or I come across a hilarious bumper sticker on the road – you are the first one I want to tell.  I sometimes can’t wait to share the laughter with you.

You’re still the first I need to hurt with.  When our girls have gone through struggles of their own, you are the one I turn to for help.  I know you will understand that my mother’s heart is hurting, and you offer a shoulder even as your father’s heart aches too.  When the Army has offered us another “challenge,” I’ve known I could turn to you.  I know I can lean into your warmth, grow stronger, and then we can forge ahead together.  If work or friendships or other situations go sour, I know I can turn to you.  Even when you’ve been 7,000 miles away – you’ve been the first.

You’re the first I need to rejoice with, too.  When I got that interview for a dream job, or something went fabulously, ridiculously well, you’re there to share the joy. I know you feel gladness simply because I am rejoicing.  Your eyes sparkle and your smile welcomes me to share.

You’re the first I need to help me decide.  When there are big decisions about work, or family, or future, I turn to you to help bounce the ideas around.  You don’t just say what I want to hear; sometimes, in fact, you say exactly what I do not want to hear.  You say what’s real.

More than twenty-five years ago, we saw potential in each other.  We looked at our friendship, felt a spark flare up, and thought “Yeah, we can make it work.”  We wanted what was best for each other, and decided we would put each other first.

Twenty-five years ago this month, we committed to each other first.  First before friends, first before family, and quite often, first before self.

Here’s to 25 more years of “firsts”.

 

First

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Writing Anyway

I’ve been calling it Writer’s Block, in all caps.  It’s been nearly a year since I have written anything here, or any poetry, or anything really.  It is not for lack of time, for I firmly believe that we make time for what we prioritize.  It is not for lack of ideas, since my brain is buzzing all (allllll) the time with ideas, thoughts, analyses, and feelings that need to be parsed, shared, or dumped.

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It is obviously not for lack of writing implements.

 

I’m not a hundred percent sure why I haven’t written.  Overwhelm? Well, it has been a pretty momentous year.  Perhaps that’s it.

How about fear?  What if no one reads what I write?  What am I hoping to accomplish, anyway?

I think that last bit is the hardest for me.  I can blithely tell other people “write it anyway” . (Thank you, Martina McBride and Billy Gilman – amazing song.)

 

So now you see why I write, and why I haven’t been writing.

 

I write for that person who says, “Me too.”  I write for that person who needs to hear they aren’t the only one.  Even if I never hear from them, I write because I know the comfort of “me too,” and I believe someone out there hears me.

I write because otherwise the thoughts begin to spill over and become a jumbly mess.

I haven’t been writing because, sometimes, I’ve been concerned I actually am the only one.  I know this isn’t true because I have the blessing/curse/resource of social media and I can suss out “me too” stories like there’s no tomorrow.  But that is logic, and writing for me is anything but logical.

Writing is what I use because we don’t have Dumbledore’s Pensieve.  My pen and my keyboard are my wand and the words and thoughts and feelings are left safely on the page. I can always go back to them, I can always review.  In the meantime, the buzz-buzz-buzz of thoughts in my brain are relegated somewhere safe and secure.

So for today, I will write. Even a small amount.  And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow – I shall remember that it is ok to write small amounts.

And someone, somewhere, may be thinking, “Me, too.”

 

This Too Shall Pass

 

The other day, I thought to myself, “This too shall pass.” But not for the reasons you might be thinking. At that precise moment, I was walking with two coworkers and we were laughing after a terrific day of teamwork and humor. We had been swamped with clients but we all pitched in and the day ended up on a wonderful high note.

We remind ourselves that hard times are temporary –

Bad day at work?
Deployment?
Hangnail?

This too shall pass.

There’s a flip side to it, however, that we sometimes lose in the day to day. Good times will pass also.

Great day with your kids?
Relationship hitting all the right notes?
Hair looks amazing?

This too shall pass.

We are told in the book of Peter that we shouldn’t “think it strange” when we are in fiery troubles, and there is great peace in remembering that the fire shall pass. But we are also told, in James, not to boast about tomorrow because the plans are not ours, but God’s.

When things are good, sometimes we forget to be thankful. We forget to take a moment and soak in the moments of joy, focusing on the well-being. We forget, until the hard times come and we have to shore up against them.

This was made abundantly clear to me over the last month or so. At work, things had been really rocky. There were some relationship issues and some other factors that made daily work very difficult. During that time, I relied on God to change things – I knew something had to give, and the difficulties wouldn’t last forever. As I told a coworker, “Something has to give.”

Something changed. Our team realigned and the difficulties were resolved. There is a lot of laughter in our group again, and we are able to provide much better service to our clients. At the same time this changed at work, things at home were really positive and happy as well.

This too shall pass, right?

Fast forward to today – work is still amazing. Home life is in a happy rhythm only slightly broken by the welcome visit by The Folks.

But my mom is in the hospital. A thousand miles from here. I believe she is getting terrific care, and I will go to her when she is ready for my help, but she is sick and I worry for her. I find myself distracted and somewhat exhausted, wondering when I should go, how I can help, and dealing with logistical details so she doesn’t have to worry about them.
And then a quiet voice reminds me, as it did during the happy laughter last week –

This too shall pass.

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(P.S.) – This did pass.  My mom is back at her house, with appropriate meds and home health care available.  And all I can do is smile.

 

Signing Out

Signing out

Yeah, that’s it.  The little thing he signed before they gave him his DD214.  The DD214 is the form that tells the entire story of his military career – and shows that the career has come to an end.

25 years and 12 days, it says.  It says he was out of the country for more than 4 years total, but it doesn’t count up all of the NTC trips, or gunneries, school, or TDY (temporary duty).  I’d say it was a good career, and certainly longer than most, and I am so, so incredibly proud of him.

Next to our marriage license and our babies’ birth certificates, this is the most momentous signature I’ve ever seen him make.  And it made me smile. And pause.

No longer a soldier, and now a vet, he takes off the uniform and puts it away today. The boots will be relegated to yard work, and I know at least one pair of the uniform pants will become a set of yard shorts.  But that’s just a costume. What happens inside when the identity of a job is changed?

No longer a military spouse, now I’m the wife of a vet.  And I started thinking a moment about the first step I made towards being a military dependent, at the ID card center at Fort Riley.  He was so serious, so proper as we waited.  There were other families with infants and small children, and there we were.  I already had some idea what I was in for, since he’d had to go to the field so soon after we got married that it took 2 months for us to live together once we said “I do”.  But waiting there, I had no idea we’d eventually be sitting in similarly uncomfortable chairs, making nervous jokes and then having to explain them to the lady helping us.  I’d never have envisioned so many years between office visits, or that we’d end up where we did after our start.

There is so much I didn’t know then, and I wonder now at what lies before us.  There is so much possibility ahead of us – so much choice.

I tell the soldiers I see at work that there is a big shift when they leave this life behind. I tell them to prepare for the psychological change.  And today, I halfway hope we’ve both been listening.

 

Rules for Parenting the Half-Grown

I have a group of Mom friends who all have children my Little G’s age. We met online when we were all pregnant with these kids, and 16 years later we are still “together”.  Many of us have met in “real life” but our “pretend friendship” is strong even among those of us we’ve not met in person.

From these Moms I have learned to be a better parent.  As I began writing some rules for parenting these half-grown kids, I turned to Shannon and then to the rest of our group.  The rules that follow are an amalgamation of what we came up with.

Rules

Remember these things –

The fact that you will miss her desperately is not her responsibility nor her burden to bear.  It is yours alone. Learn to live with this.  This is where adults have to adult and kids still get to be kids, even for just a little while longer.

The fact that you are realizing that your time with her is passing faster and faster is also not anything she should be worried about.  Cry and mourn away from her, don’t add parental guilt to her already drama filled life of teenage angst and agony.

If she asks to do something with you, say yes.  She most likely won’t ask again.

This will be your loss, but her gain – remember this is a time that should be filled with joy for her as she looks forward to being on her own.

Don’t cling.

Do let her cling occasionally, but know it won’t last long. She may want to bounce things off of you; are you OK listening and NOT always giving advice? Learn how.

Go ahead and schedule time with her, and set up activities with her, but realize she has her own activities and interests.  You will regret not doing so.  Time is at a premium now.  She has friends and ‘important’ life things going on and you will have to fit into her schedule, so book time NOW.

The number one thing she needs from you right now is the security to spread those wings and the privacy and independence in order to do so.

But, she may falter at the edge of the nest.  She may change her mind 80 times.  Listen to her and believe in her decisions every time, even though it is hard each and every one of those times. It’s the 81st time you get to celebrate her, when she flies. (Remember to add a little mental kudo for yourself, since it is because you reinforced her independence that she flew!)

Add the assurance that you will be there when she falls to the ground – because she will.  These are fledgling wings, and not yet as strong as she thinks they are.  It’s OK.  (Remember, those same wings are also not as weak as you may be afraid they are.)

Be her soft place to fall.  You aren’t her parachute or her helicopter, but you are the solid person who has always been there to catch her.  She may ask for that – be willing to hear her, and if possible, occasionally, blow up the airbag for her landing.

You will doubt yourself.  You will make mistakes.  You are now realizing how many mistakes you’ve made over the years – she is not your therapist and is it not up to her to help you fix those mistakes.  Acknowledge, accept, move on. You may need a therapist, but don’t use your child as your ear or shoulder. She needs yours, but you can’t have hers.

Tomorrow is a new day, and today is one day closer to her being grown – you don’t have time for the awkward, doubting, nay-saying voice in your head.  Push it out and soak her in.

Remember hearing “the days are long but the years are short” when she was tiny?  The years are growing shorter and shorter – remember to enjoy them.  Take photos, but enjoy her live and in person more.

You never started that day journal for her.. . but it’s not really too late.  Maybe not daily but jot down those happy moments because they are things to share with her kids later (if she has them). They will remind you when you need it how wonderful it was to have her home.

Let them fail. Let them figure things out for themselves and choose their own path. We can teach, guide and support but we need to let go. It is NOT easy but it is necessary.

The irony has not escaped me that I, who did not even cry when our first went to kindergarten, am now struggling so much with the little one spreading those wings. I’ve even done this before – Little G is our second to fly from the nest.  I realize it’s a little ridiculous, but I am sometimes too overwhelmed by the sheer emotions to do anything except acknowledge, accept, and move on.

There is a big world out there, which scares and excites you for her.  Remember, that world is waiting for you to spread your wings again, too!  This time older, wiser, and with a fully grown person who you have offered to the wild. Good job!

(Many thanks to Anne, Gay, Jill, Kris, Kristin, Laura, Leanna, Linda, Melissa, Pam, Penny, Sarah, Shannon, and Trish.  And, because we will always miss her – Tabatha.)

 

 

 

Unpacking

 

From this:

Why we have separate closets

Thank you, Betsy.

 

To this:

Army unpacking

Thank you, Amy of AWW. (The beer is the best touch.)

And eventually this (tucked away):

Army packed

Thank you, Kelly of AWW. (We won’t keep this much.)

 

There has been a lot of packing and unpacking in our household over the years – packing to move across the country once we got married, packing for moves, packing for gunnery/NTC/field time…  Packing for deployments, for Korea, for extended TDY…

There is a certain emotional component to packing up the gear that I’ve learned to accept, acknowledge, and then just sort of shelve in my mind.  Set it aside – as My G puts it, “Build a bridge and get over it.”  Other spouses have echoed my dread for the days when the duffels come out and the gear vomits across the household in so much green/brown splendor.

However, how often do we acknowledge the unpacking?  How often do we look at the changes that have occurred during the “trip” (so to speak)?  Whether it’s a move across the country or a deployment across the world – or even a field exercise numbering in the days – there are things that happen during those journeys that sometimes go unregistered or unnoticed.  We put away the socks, we launder the gear, we find homes for any new stuff.  Over time, though, the unnoticed and unacknowledged emotions and events start to build up and create a cluttery mess inside our minds, where it is most difficult to resolve.

As we reach single digits in our countdown to My G’s signing that beloved (and somewhat scary) DD214, there is a lot of unpacking going on.  His gear is turned in, but our closet, shed, and garage corners all have the leftover bits and pieces that have accumulated over these 25 years.   A glove here, an extra uniform piece there – mox-nix stuff here and there of little value but that still has to be taken care of and put away.  And as we…ok, as he goes about figuring out what is worth keeping, what is trash, and what can be shared with others, we are also looking at the last 25 years and making choices about the intangible things too.

At night, his brain is unpacking memories it had long stuffed away – soldiers today have huge numbers of sleep disturbances, because eventually these things have to be dealt with.

In conversations, we are acknowledging the loss of time with his girls and together, the lack of deeper connection to extended family, and the loss of health and changes to his body that the Army has wrought.

All of it- unpacking.

Long-term Army spouses have long recognized that even joyous homecomings can usher in some mixed feelings.  There is a cost to everything the Army asks of us, and disregarding that truth doesn’t change it.  While this is a “homecoming” that is filled with just as much joy as all the others, it is also a time of great change and future-planning.  In order to make space for the new things we get to experience, it is time for us to unpack some of the old.

We are unpacking memories and frustrations and joys and sorrows that have been piling in the corners of our hearts for many years.  Heartaches and hurts and yes, even petty grievances lurk in the corners of our emotions and we have to figure out how to clean it out and start anew.  After so much time, our hearts are beginning to look like those well-worn duffels that he just recently turned in!  We’re both a little battered, a little bruised, but also reinforced by things like acceptance, joy, stolen moments, gratitude, and even duty.

This month, we unpack.  We clean, we dust, we mend and we make decisions about what to keep.  This next journey is one we choose.

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This one was by far the best and worst I’ve seen. When My G went to Korea, our garage was nearly this bad. Whew.

Filling Buckets

This week, we’ve all just been running on empty.  Full of the wrong things, maybe, as we try to just get through like we are driving to the gas station with the light on and praying the car doesn’t die.  Our tanks depleted, we’ve neglected laughter and “please” and “thank you” and just felt oh-so empty.

But starting last night, we began doing some things to fill ourselves back up.  A few years ago I read a book called “How Full Is Your Bucket” and it talks about how we can’t really do much for anyone if our buckets (our hearts) are feeling empty or worn out.  It mentions ways to fill out buckets, and ways we can help other people with their buckets as well.

It’s a great book.

The things we’ve done have been small ones, but they’ve helped a lot.  Maybe these ideas will help someone else who is running on empty and needs a little laughter, sunlight, or warmth.

I sat outside in the afternoon sun, feeling the breeze and enjoying the flowers we’ve planted.  A little Vitamin D can go a long way after a horrible long day.

We let our big boy Jack out so he could get some sun (and a good brush).  Hearing him purr and watching him hop-skip-jump to catch moths is a singular pleasure.

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My G got the last 2 pudding cups out of the fridge for us, topped them with some whipped cream, and we had dessert.  Just us.

A coworker was having a rough week and her birthday is coming up – I got to be a part of making her day really special and memorable.  Buckets – filled!

More sun, more flowers – madly thriving purple iris are the last of our beds to bloom and they make an impression that lasts.

 

This post – I love this blogger and the way she writes so much.  Today’s post was just golden.  The lady in 18F had great advice for parents of teenagers.

An apology from my boss, to all of us, for a misunderstanding.  Do you realize how rare it is for bosses to apologize for, really, anything?

Quiet laughter, good food, Lego minifigures (even though I didn’t get the Queen)…  My bucket feelss a lot more ready to take on the world now.

What can you do to fill your bucket today?   Or fill someone else’s?

 

 

 

How Does “Getting Out” Work?

In a Facebook blogging group I belong to, one member asked if any other bloggers wrote about transition, specifically Army transition.  Even though I now work as a Career Counselor helping Soldiers as they transition from the military, I hadn’t before written anything about how the process works in the military. 

The process (for the Army at least) used to be called ACAP (Army Career and Alumni Program) and – believe it or not – it used to be optional.  This means that those soldiers who were proactive about their transition and who had the support of their units, were the ones best suited to handle transitioning from the military.  After noticing that there were some big problems with vets who hadn’t made adequate plans (unemployment, homelessness, etc), the program became Congressionally mandated.  Now called Soldier for Life/Transition Assistance Program (SFL-TAP), it’s a program that every Soldier must go through upon leaving the Army. Each of the services has a similar program, some of which are just called “TAP”. 

What some people don’t realize is that this program works hand in hand with retention, the branch of recruiting that hopes to hang on to good soldiers and keep them serving.  Some soldiers sign up for the program, and then decide that they don’t, in fact, want to leave the military at all.  Not all soldiers have this opportunity to stay, of course, in the current draw down of the military (don’t get me started on that).  But for many, the program’s emphasis on planning for the future helps them see that remaining in the military is their best bet, at least for now.

It usually starts with a soldier calling the program’s office, though some of them are referred to the program due to the forementioned reduction in forces or due to their time in grade (time they’ve had their current rank).  Soldiers who are within 18 months of their ETS (get out of the Army) date, or 24 months from their retirement date, may apply for services.  They will almost always ask to start the “ACAP” program despite the program name change.  Just as with any program, name changes take time and ACAP is easy to remember.  Soldiers are referred to take an online survey and watch a “movie” that offers an overview of resources from which they can choose to learn more. 

After this video, soldiers meet with a counselor to begin their plan.  Many know what they want to do – work, go back to school (hello, GI Bill!), start a business, learn a trade, etc.  Some have absolutely no idea what they want to do, post-military – and despite what you might think, this undecided feeling can be found in people of every rank and background. 

Even if servicemembers are sure that getting out is the right choice for themselves and their families, they may not know exactly what options are out there.  For Soldiers like my husband, who have never had an adult job outside the military, it can be particularly difficult.  They may know what they enjoy doing when it comes to their time in the service, but how do they apply that to a civilian job?

The 5-day class, or VOW workshop, came about from the same mandate that made the program mandatory. VOW stands for Veterans Opportunity to Work, and the workshop consists of classes that were selected to hopefully give each servicemember the best opportunities to create their personal plan.  The Veterans Administration teaches about their resources and benefits, SFL-TAP helps soldiers work out a plan and understand their transition options, financial advisors (also from SFL-TAP) teach a budgeting workshop, and the Department of Labor teaches about resumes, interviews, and the like.  If this sounds like a ton of information, it is. 

I like some of the catchier terms in this program – Transition GPS (Goals, Plans Success) is pretty catchy, no?  If only we all could have a GPS system to tell us which way we were going in our lives!

Each soldier who comes through the program will create a budget and a workable resume, as well as look into job options and create a list of professional references to use in their job hunt.  Obviously I think the program is important and beneficial – or I wouldn’t be working here.  However, a lot of it depends on the individual soldier, their motivation, and sometimes their “click” with the program and/or counselor.  Sometimes a soldier will hear about a side program through us, and that ends up helping them immensely (such as a fellowship program, a series of classes, or other opportunity).  I LOVE when that happens.

Soldiers come from all sorts of different backgrounds, educationally and otherwise.  Those who are going through the Med board process (MEB/PEB) may have tons of appointments to go to while they are also attending transition services.  Soldiers who are transitioning for other reasons may have a shorter time period in which to take advantage of everything.  There is a virtual center online and a toll free number, as well.  (As a counselor with the program, I find myself saying “Open 24/7 except federal holidays” a whole lot.)

Once finished, the SFL-TAP documentation becomes part of the soldier’s clearing packet to officially leave the military.  Services are available post-military, as well, for at least 6 months.

I hope this helps to explain the entire program to people, both outside the service and those considering the program.  Signing up for “ACAP” doesn’t mean that a soldier has to leave the Army – it means they are looking at all of their options.  (I will say, though, that it’s always nice when they call us later to say they have reenlisted so we can stop sending them “next steps” emails.)  My hope is that, by explaining things from the perspective of stages and steps, from within the program, I can at least let people know what the program is about. 

 

NOTE :  As with all things military, this is how the program works today.  It is subject to change.  Don’t shoot the messenger. 

 

 

Never a Good Time for Goodbye

There are times that every pet owner dreads, and today was one of them. Precious was nearly 17, had thyroid issues and some form of kitty dementia on top of tummy issues and possibly kidney failure. His dementia was probably the worst of his issues, but he also suffered from arthritis due to his special-ness.  Today, we did the humane and the right and the appropriate thing – and said goodbye.

Today, tonight, my G and I will wrestle with doubt and guilt and questions because even if it was “time,” this is quite possibly the hardest and worst thing that can be asked of us.

Let me tell you a little bit about Precious, our sweet old man. He was born to a pure white Mama kitty who belonged to our across-the-street neighbors when Big G was just 6 years old. All of the kittens were white, and we saw them before their eyes even opened. Precious, a boy, was named by this family’s 9-year-old daughter. He had what the vets later called a “radial dysgenesis,” meaning his radial bone grew over his elbow and curved around his foreleg. His toes on that foot were merged, so he had fewer than the norm. Before we had him declawed (for medical purposes), his claws grew wildly, curling around those pink toes. His eyes were the purest mint green, and his fur was rabbit-soft and long. The tips of his ears were pink as the finest shell.  Precious ran like a rabbit, hopping and catching himself on that bad foot – he ran faster than any of our other cats have.  Visitors would always comment on him, both because of his limp and because of his beauty.

Precious has always been my husband’s cat. My G brought him to us the first time, having heard about the kittens after visiting with our neighbors. He carried Precious in  his Army soft cap, curled up tiny as could be and too small to be away from his Mama kitty for very long. We later brought him home to stay, trusted with his care by this sweet family, in that same cap.  Precious would sleep in my husband’s sandal, face scrunched under the top strap. He did this until he was too big to fit, but always had a special bond with the man who loved him first.

It had to be my G’s decision, this last trip. And for that reason, maybe it took a little longer than it would have for me to make this choice – I’ve been down that lonely road, bringing home an empty cat carrier or pet blanket. My G has not. This is a hard thing, to purposefully, deliberately, and finitely affect something in such a way. It is so final. We prayed he’d pass away peacefully in his sleep, but cats are not known for doing things the easy way. Despite knowing it was the right choice and the humane act, it is still an impossible decision and for that reason we have taken many months to come to this day.

Precious was always a noisy cat, meowing  his welcome and calling to us if he got lonely. Part of his illness included an inability to settle, and a confusion that would result in more cries, more yowls.  When his thyroid went bananas, he would cry like a newborn babe and wake even my half-deaf self from a full sleep.  The house is quiet now, despite my attempts to fill it with dishwasher noise and music and other things. It’s quiet, because no one is letting us know their deep hunger/confusion/loneliness/restlessness. Never has quiet been quite so loud.

As I’ve said, I’ve been down that road before and returned with my arms empty. My cat was the first to go, then Big G’s, then my mother’s dog. When hard times repeat themselves, such as deployments or death or decisions that hurt – they don’t get easier for the repetition. Each time builds on the one before, so the grief is huge and fresh inside us. The scars overlap, and reopen wounds we worked hard to close. Tonight’s pain is dark, and heavy.

Today we went down that road together, though, and we returned home together. Little G used her love language of acts of service, and helped take care of some of the cleaning details that come with having a pet who was ill. We came home to a fresh house, cookies that she saved for us, and the knowledge that we would get through this. One thing that is true about going through hard times, is that we learn how to manage our grief. We learn how to push through, how to hold tight, and how to keep fresh and dear the memories of those we’ve lost.

Tonight I am remembering Precious, of the noisy meow and the fierce insistence that he could do anything and go anywhere any other cat could go. I will remember his sweet soft fur, his funny messed-up foot, his surprisingly strong purr. I will laugh at how he used to bite My G’s toes under the covers, and I will think of his first night home with us when he could not sleep so I cuddled with him on the couch. I will remember his first purr that night, and the fat little kitten tummy he had. I will imagine him with my cat, whom he loved. I will picture him at peace.

 

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And it will both hurt and heal to remember it all.