parvo and a little white box

this definitely starts out as a story about dog poop. (sorry.) it gets better though. (promise.)

last week, our puppy got very sick. she almost died, and we are going to be paying her vet bills for a very long time. what started with a pile of vomit outside quickly escalated to the worst mess i’ve ever had to clean up…from her kennel she somehow managed to get poop all over the bottom shelf of our bookcase (in addition to the carpet, floor, and wall). i put her outside so i could clean it up, naively believing she had just eaten something she shouldn’t have. it became clear when i went outside to bathe her check on her that we were not headed anywhere good (or clean)…that without medical intervention she would certainly die. so i left the bookcase contents, removed and sanitized from the bottom shelf, scattered around the living room and took our girl to the vet (because look at that face).


a couple of hours later, with an assurance that our vet’s office would kindly cap our bill at $1,000 we had a diagnosis…parvo. we also had a terrible mess from the car ride there, that no matter how many times we scrubbed it or what “guaranteed to work” cleaner we used did nothing to mask the “our dog was terribly sick in this car” odor. to say that we were exhausted from the day is laughable. what i wanted to do was climb into bed and sleep for days…

but there was a pile of things strewn about the living room that, now cleaned and sanitized, needed to be put away: a box of slides from my mom’s childhood, a photo album full of treasures from the 90s, ashes from a childhood pet (i know, i know), a few knick knacks…and a plain white box. i stacked everything back in its spot, but i couldn’t put that white box back without opening it first, a trip down memory lane that i probably hadn’t taken in at least a decade, and one that always leaves me with more questions.

the box is full of all the things my grandparents decided to save from my mom’s funeral and the days and weeks that followed…the death certificate (12/22/91, 10:47am, cause of death: cerebral edema secondary to fulminant hepatic failure), a copy of the eulogy (delivered the day after christmas), a guest book full of signatures (mostly of people who loved my grandparents and me…very few who actually knew or loved the woman whose funeral they were attending), a few sympathy cards (one from my first grade teacher, one from her ex-boyfriend, another from my aunt), the pictures we displayed at the service (full of smiles), and two letters from the man she was dating when she died.

i’ve probably read those letters a hundred times, mostly in my early 20’s when the plain white box was given to me, definitely before i had children of my own. his words were so familiar, but reading them this time felt different…like i was noticing parts i hadn’t before. he talked about her mood, her health, how much he cared for her, how sorry he was, that his heart would never be the same…he would never love anybody the way he loved her. god i hope that’s true…that she really did get to be loved like that, even if it was in the midst of addiction and homelessness and a sickness she was incapable of surviving.

and then, he said this:

“anytime she was feeling bad or down she would always talk about getting it all over.”

and in that moment, i don’t know…it was like breathing deep and holding my breath all at the same time, getting pulled under the waves while breaking through the surface. in that instant, reading those words, i was her and she was me, connected by words written almost thirty years ago by a man i never met.

getting it all over…i wish i could say i’d never had that thought, that things have never been that bad or hopeless or lonely. but when i’m really honest with myself, yes. i’ve thought the same thing, in exactly the same words…getting it all over.

on the days when my kids are being bullied because of choices i made about who to love,

when another day passes without a phone call or email or text message from family members who have decided that my family is expendable and unworthy,

when someone i once confided in and called friend turns her back and pretends not to see me,

on days when all those things stack up and the weight of it feels suffocating and impossible, overshadowing all of the goodness and sweetness and healing and magic,

on those days, i have thought the very same thing she did…i’m ready to get it all over.

and i’m so glad that those thoughts don’t win. i’m so grateful for a wife and a therapist who pull me back from the edge, for new friends, for a group of literally the strongest women i’ve ever met who somehow love me in spite of myself, for our kids who have had to be more resilient and stronger than kids their age (or adults for that matter) should have to be, and for a community that will gather this weekend to celebrate love…to remember the people who fought so that we can love whoever we want, regardless of the personal fallout we might experience.

even on the worst days, on the days when getting it all over seems like a solution, i am so proud to have chosen love and happiness and health and safety and warmth and magic. i’m proud of all of us who choose truth. and this weekend we will celebrate with our kids, our friends, our city. i wish there was another person celebrating with us…that she would have chosen differently. i wish she would have fought harder for the good stuff, that she could have known her granddaughters and celebrated the magic this weekend with us.

life is hard, y’all. hate and holding grudges and judgement and abandonment is not only hard, it’s terrible and it’s destructive. i’m choosing love and hope and magic…choosing to stick around for the amazing days and the shitty ones. and if you need a friend or a cup of coffee or a shoulder to cry on, i’m your girl…because getting it all over is not an option. you belong here, and we belong to each other.


(and all of that because of parvo…funny how things work, huh?)

One thought on “parvo and a little white box

  1. Hi Kara, This was lovely about your mother. I worked with Leslie at the insurance company when you were very young, and one thing I know and I hope that you can take comfort in was that she loved you very much. Sometimes in life people will get mixed up with things or people that bring them down and it has ahold of them before they can get away. But please never doubt or wonder if she cared because she definitely loved you with all of her sweet kind heart, but somehow just couldn’t find her way back. She was my best friend until we lost touch after she left the insurance company. You are in my prayers and I hope the best for your beautiful family. Patty B.


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