Month: May 2016

The Loss of a Matriarch

My tiny home town lost a matriarch this week. Although Gustavus has grown to a year-round population of nearly 500 people, when I was very young, there were less than 100 people in its entirety. Sally Lesh was one of those people, and she was one of those people until Monday night when she died quietly in her sleep at her home. She was nearly 91 years old.

Sally taught me to milk a cow and she helped teach me to read. She taught me that no matter your age, you can always have fun. And she helped teach me what it means to be part of a community. As an adult when I would see Sally, she would beam at me with her beautiful smile and say “Oh, Jorden! Wonderful! How are you?” We’d share a hug and catch up. I don’t get to make it to Gustavus as much as I’d like anymore, so I didn’t see Sally often in these past years, but every time I did, I felt such a deep connection to her.

For those of us who grew up in Gustavus back then, Sally and a few other women – including Ritabelle, who we lost less than a year ago – have become a part of our fiber. A part of our heritage, even though we were not related by blood. These were tough women. Smart women. Capable and caring women. They were women who believed in community, helping your neighbor and not mincing words. I cannot imagine that I will ever be as strong of a woman as these women were, but I can say that they have profoundly influenced my life.

Several years ago, after Sally completed her last book, she had a signing here in Juneau. I went out to see her, congratulate her, and get her new book. She signed it for me and as I was walking out of the store, I opened the book and Sally had written “I remember the day and minute you learned to read. What a discovery!” I cried.

There are many gifts that I know came into my life simply because I had the good fortune to be raised in Gustavus. Sitting on Sally Lesh’s lap, learning to read in her little house by the river, was one of those gifts. Thank you, Sally. We will miss you.

Originally posted October 10, 2011

Losing Zoe

On the morning of the first day of 2010, while the sun rose out the windows behind her, and the blue moon went down behind the mountains, my Zoe, the first dog love of my adult life,  left us. She was surrounded by myself, my husband and my sister. We sat with her, we stroked her and we cried as she quickly slipped away.

It was a tremendously heartbreaking moment for me. Even more so than I expected, and as I write this, two weeks later, my eyes are welled with tears and I feel a great loss in my life. Zoe was a member of our family and she had been with me longer than anyone else I share my home with. Zoe would come to me when I was sad and play with me when I was happy. She was amazing at reading moods and she had a way of reaching out to those she loved and those in need. In her older days, Zoe followed me everywhere, even into the bathroom. Now, I miss the clicking of her feet on the wood floor and the sound of her old body slowly moving up and down the stairs. Then of course, I just wanted her to stop, it felt overbearing and annoying to be honest.

Zoe gave us so much in her life and in her death she did the same. She spared us from having to make the decision ourselves. She went when we were all there. She made one cry in the morning, awaking us all and asking for us to be with her. I am so thankful for that.

We had decided (thanks to Patricia McConnell) that we would allow Zoe -when the time came- to “lay in state” in the house. I had read that this would help Rosie Mae to understand what had happened and to mourn the loss of her friend. So, this is what we did. Zoe was in the house, on her favorite bed, in the place she died for apx. 32 hours.

For the first 12 hours, Rosie would not go anywhere near her. We all spent the day in the room Zoe was in, petting her, talking to her, being with each other. That evening, Rosie went to Zoe. She kissed her all over her face, she cried out and she pushed on Zoe with her tiny little front feet. She did this more than once that night, while we watched in amazement as Rosie accepted the loss of her friend. It was wonderful and sad.

After that, Rosie would come and sit quietly near me while I pet, brushed or just talked to Zoe. Her perception of our sadness, coupled with her own sense of loss (what I can only assume to be), seemed to quiet her, she did not ask to play, she did not cause any mischief, as we all shuffled about the house in a fog of grief. She cuddled and loved us and quietly kept watch over her friend and over us.

We decided to have Zoe lay in state because of Rosie. What I didn’t know then, but realize now, is how cathartic it would be for me. We were not prepared for Zoe to leave us, we did not know it was time, we had not said goodbye. Having her in the house allowed me time to be with her, to talk to her and touch her. It allowed me time to thank her for all she has done for me and to apologize for all the silly mistakes I made when I was just a kid. No one will ever share those times with me again, she shared them all and now she’s gone.

As I sit by the small shrine we made for her with her ashes, her lovely collar, photos and cards from all the friends who reached out, I feel ache and relief, sorrow and joy, and mostly appreciation for all that Zoe gave me and for how long she stayed here with us. We bring dogs into our lives for many reasons, what we don’t fully realize until they’re gone is how much they bring us into theirs.

*Originally posted January 15, 2010