My Season of Firsts: The Grief Journey So Far

It is hard to believe that it has been seven months since Maestro crossed Rainbow Bridge. I decided that it would be cathartic to reflect upon my grief journey so far.

The First Summer: Keep Moving and Don't Think

Maestro and I usually packed in numerous day trips in the summertime. We did everything from attending outdoor concerts to cloud gazing in the park. He enjoyed trips to downtown Calgary just as much as jaunts to Turner Valley and Black Diamond.

Maestro does Waterton Park. Photo: R-M Arca.

Maestro does Waterton Park. Photo: R-M Arca.

I didn't feel ready to tackle any of those activities without my furkid, and with teaching and the concert season winding down for the summer, I had more pressing things to attend to. Enter special events.

I got a part-time casual job as Events Staff for a security company. All of the events were outdoor musical events and festivals. It seemed like a natural progression for a musician/usher/samurai-in-training. 

It was also the perfect way for me to get out and have new adventures. Show up at the event, get briefed, and hit the ground running. Keep moving and don't think: #AchievementUnlocked .

Our dojo had its annual summer seminars, which also kept me busy. Swinging swords for days on end was active meditation at its best. It's amazing what active meditation does for one's heart and soul.

The First Fall: What Would Maestro Do?

The fall was incredibly busy. The events job wound down for the summer. However, I started a new part-time job in a school, so I am juggling two jobs plus teaching. The shock to my system was sorely needed. I had grown complacent in my routines. Now, I am forced to manage my time more effectively (but that's another series of posts). I think I'm just starting to get the hang of a routine that doesn't centre around Maestro's appointments, medication, and sleeping schedule. 

R2-D2, Maestro's minion, has been helping out by greeting the studio families. He also chirps happily when someone plays well and swears when someone doesn't. Sounds suspiciously like some furball I know.

Maestro and R2-D2 were a unit when it came to waiting for students or demanding treats. Photo: R-M Arca.

Maestro and R2-D2 were a unit when it came to waiting for students or demanding treats. Photo: R-M Arca.

This year, I welcomed two new piano students, one from a current studio family and one from a studio family from a few years ago. I was actually relieved to not go through the audition-interview process alone with a brand new family.

It hadn't really sunk in until that point just how much I relied on Maestro when interviewing prospective studio families. Looking back, I can tell you that I watched Maestro's eyes, ears, tail, and behaviour for cues. If he was comfortable with the family, then I knew that they would be a good fit for our studio.

"What would Maestro do?" has cropped up in lessons this year, along with "Would Maestro clear you on that arpeggio? I don't think he would, so I can't possibly clear you on it yet."

Sometimes, students and studio parents tap the percussion tree or one of Maestro's instruments for old time's sake. We share a wistful smile or a chuckle, recalling how Maestro would come stomping into the studio to say, "Hey! That's mine!" 

One piano mom found it hard to come inside the studio for the first time after Maestro passed away. She teared up as she looked around at the various Maestro mementos and his pawprints. Maestro has clearly left his mark on his studio.

Maestro and his many instruments. Photo: R-M Arca.

Maestro and his many instruments. Photo: R-M Arca.

The First Holidays: Have a Good Cry and Move On

Driving to my parents' for Thanksgiving was hard. At first, I was congratulating myself for not turning into a blubbering mess. Then, my CD player randomly switched to Dancing Queen. I started to belt out the lyrics, just as Maestro and I would on our car rides. That's when I lost it.

My family saw the tears, nodded, gave me a hug, and then we carried on with the weekend.

Even Halloween was teary. Maestro would get all decked out for our Halloween Piano Parties. He also looked forward to my dojo's pumpkin tameshigiri class in October. He was the primary beneficiary of pureed pumpkin, enthusiastically so. I automatically started to pack many pumpkins into my bags and containers after training, but then tearfully realized that I no longer need that much.

Batdog and Batgirl prepare for the Halloween Piano Party. Photo: C. Kohl.

Batdog and Batgirl prepare for the Halloween Piano Party. Photo: C. Kohl.

Fast forward to Christmas. Part of me was dreading Christmas this year. Maestro loved Christmas so much. He got impatient because I could never put up the tree fast enough for his liking. Then, he would park himself in front of the tree to guard it, along with any presents that appeared. Ditto for the studio Christmas tree shown below:

Gimme presents. Now. Photo: R-M Arca.

Gimme presents. Now. Photo: R-M Arca.

In fact, I was contemplating whether to decorate at all, knowing that it would hurt so much. I decided to decorate in the end as I figured that if I delay any of these firsts, it would only be harder next year. Besides, I could just picture Maestro standing on a heavenly cloud, barking angrily at me at the mere thought of not putting up his Christmas tree.

Dad was over when I put the tree up. Through tears, I told Dad what Maestro would do as we decorated. It felt good to get the tree and decorations up. Next year will be easier.

This Christmas, I made photo ornaments of all our furry family members, past and present for the family tree. It was a wonderful trip down memory lane.

The Arca family dogs through the years, as shown on Maestro's tree. Photo: R-M Arca.

The Arca family dogs through the years, as shown on Maestro's tree. Photo: R-M Arca.

Christmas has come and gone. It wasn't as hard as I was expecting it to be. We shared funny stories about all of our furry family members. Mom even gave Angel Maestro a little stuffie to place beside his urn. I also was able to spend quality time with friends I haven't seen in quite a while.

Last week, we got a huge snow dump. I dug a maze in the backyard, for old time's sake. Maestro really liked his mazes:

We've had quite a bit of snow this month. Maestro has a snow maze in the back yard.

Earlier this week, the Lakeland Terrier calendar that I ordered arrived. Maestro makes a posthumous appearance in March with the feature photo for this post. Sale proceeds go towards helping two terrier rescue groups. How apropos that he shares March with another Caliente Lakie.

Honour the Journey

Once, I told a student that with Maestro having played a huge part in my life on a personal as well as professional level, I've had to get to know myself as well as Musespeak all over again, and get used to this new dynamic.

As I adjust to the changes, I'm also dealing with a lot of crap. There are things that got postponed for far too long, as well as years of clutter that I'm dealing with. There's literal crap too. Perhaps I should put a tracker in my Bullet Journal to remind me to put enzymes in Maestro's Waste Manager Disposal System.

The waves of grief come farther apart now. Sometimes, it's like Christmas, where I have a quick cry and move on. Other times, it hits so unexpectedly. It's the little things that do it. There was the dull ache that lead to a dam bursting upon seeing a puppy pulling on his leash. He wanted to make his human cross the street more quickly.

There was the quick stab of emotion when I choked up while trying to sing Dancing Queen. I'll keep trying. One of these days, I'll be able to belt it out with a smile instead of tears.

If there's anything that I've learned, it's to respect the journey. If you feel sad, that's okay. Take the time to let it out. Ride the wave and have a good cry. It shows how much of an impact that person or pet has had on your life. 

The other thing I've learned is to take time. All these little firsts take a lot of energy - physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  I was exhausted after putting up the Christmas tree. That was a good reminder to not schedule anything other than rest after going through a big first.

More people are starting to ask me whether I'll be getting a new dog soon. My answer: Someday, but not yet. Let me get more crap out of the way, get through a couple more gradings, and maybe squeeze in a trip first. The journey continues.