death

A Silent Supper

It’s funny what things will make you miss someone close to you who has died. For me it’s usually something happy, something I want to share with that special person, but now I can’t. In The Austen Tea Room I wrote about someone close who had just passed away. What I didn’t say was that it was my mother. Her death was still too raw. The words couldn’t be said. Burying her on the morning of New Year’s Eve meant I was starting the new year without her. It’s shaping up as one hell of a great year. And it’s the first year I can’t share with my mum.

The wheel has spun its way back to Halloween in the Southern Hemisphere. With all the fun of trick-or-treaters and dressing up, sometimes we forget the true meaning of Halloween which is honouring the dead. This April 30th I will visit my mother’s grave and take some of her favourite foods to share with her. I’ll then be going to The Austen Tea Room for an afternoon High Tea. For the evening I thought I would do something very different – a Silent Supper – which is a meal that is eaten in silence to honour the dead.

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There are many ways to hold a Silent Supper. You can have a solitary meal or invite friends and family. It can be as simple as eating something in silent contemplation or you can go all out and do a formal ritual with a formal dinner included. Some even suggest cooking the food in silence too.

While there are no real rules or directions, there are a few things to think about when hosting a Silent Supper. A place should be set at the head of the table for the departed loved ones you are honouring. You can drape the seat in a white or black cloth. Before you bring out the food, light a candle and place it on the table near the setting for the departed. The meal should include some of their favourite foods. Starting the supper around midnight is a nice touch. While you eat your silent meal, think about those that have passed.

When I think about my mother I always think of Demeter and Persephone. The bond between mother and daughter is beautifully expressed by these two Goddesses. My mother and I saw ourselves in their myth. She was Demeter as mother – good, bad and smothering. I was the daughter Persephone who left Demeter’s realm as a young girl to find a place for myself in the Underworld with Hades. Over the years I returned often to visit my mum. We shared both good times and bad times.

As the years went by I knew that my mother’s time here was drawing to a close. Finally, with very little warning, my mum passed into the realm of Persephone and Hades. I hope she likes the Underworld as much as I do.

In remembrance of my mother I will be making coliva for Halloween. Coliva is a boiled wheat dish that is traditionally prepared for services that honour the dead. There are many things you can add to the coliva but I prefer a simple fruit and nut mix. I particularly like adding pomegranate seeds so that the symbols for Demeter (wheat) and Persephone (pomegranate) can be united again in this sacred dish.

Coliva

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Ingredients
1/2 cup wheat berries
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
icing sugar for dusting
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Rinse the wheat berries and place in a large saucepan.
Add the salt and enough water to cover the berries by about 5 centimetres.
Bring to the boil over medium heat.
Stir occasionally to ensure the berries do not stick to the bottom.
During the cooking process, check to make sure the water has not dropped to a level where the berries cannot float.
Cook for 1 – 2 hours or until the berries are tender but not mushy.
Drain and spread out onto baking paper to dry for a few hours.
When the berries are dry, place in a bowl and mix through the walnuts, sesame seeds, ground cinnamon, vanilla sugar and pomegranate seeds, keeping a few pomegranate seeds in reserve.
Transfer to a serving platter and form into a mound.
Sift icing sugar over the top and decorate with reserved pomegranate seeds.
Serve with a dollop of cream if desired.

The Austen Tea Room

A Tale Of Two Valentines, my first post about Valentine’s Day, was about love and death and the history of the day. As we move toward another Valentine’s Day, the shadow of death moves with me.

Someone very dear to me passed away just after xmas. Although neither of us were Eastern Orthodox any more, we were both born into that religion and some of the traditions still have special significance for me. One such tradition is the ritual performed on or around the 40th day after a death.

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In Orthodox theology, the soul of the departed stays on earth for 40 days after death. The soul wanders around, visiting their home and places of personal importance. Many rituals are performed during this period to help the soul on its journey. On the 40th day, the soul leaves the earth. This final departure is celebrated with family and friends. Rituals are performed culminating in a meal, usually eaten at the grave or at the home of the departed. Traditional funeral foods and the favourite foods of the departed are served. It is a time of celebration and the ending of the official mourning period for most involved.

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As the 40th day approached, I wondered what I would to do to honour this ritual. A visit to her grave was a must. But what about food? It was an important part of our relationship. We loved going out to eat and we spent most of our visits together talking about food and recipes. I thought about making one of her favourite dishes and bringing it to the grave but it didn’t feel right. Then, while doing research for an unrelated event, I found the perfect solution – The Austen Tea Room – a tearoom honouring the late and great romantic writer Jane Austen. Located halfway between my home and the cemetery, it was the perfect place to have a a celebratory funeral meal.

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The Austen Tea Room brings us right back to Valentine’s Day. What could be more romantic than dining under the watchful gaze of the creator of Mr Darcy! I had a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with coffee followed by scones with jam and cream and a pot of tea. The surroundings in the cafe section were informal but the rooms where the high teas are served were incredible. I am definitely going back for high tea.

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I must admit that I have read only one of her books – Northanger Abbey – but I do love the television and movie versions of Pride and Prejudice – especially Pride, Prejudice and Zombies! I also own the Tarot of Jane Austen 🙂

The scone recipe below is not traditional, but you can serve it with traditional jam and cream. I wanted something different so I went with butter and maple syrup which works really well with sparkling wine.

Sparkling Scones

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Ingredients
2 + 1/2 cups self raising flour
200ml cream
200ml sparkling wine
butter for serving
pure maple syrup for serving

Method
Preheat oven to 225C / 440F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Sift flour into a medium sized bowl. Add cream and sparkling wine. Mix together until just combined.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead into a 4cm thick square. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Place scones so they are just touching on baking tray.
Bake for 12 – 15mins or until golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with butter and maple syrup or your choice of accompaniments.

 

A Game Of Love And Death

There are eight seasonal festivals that many witches and Pagans celebrate. Three of them are really well known – Yule, Easter and Halloween. Yule and Easter fall around the Summer Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They have been overlaid by a veneer of Christianity and so are celebrated in many different ways across the globe. Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It too has been overlaid by many cultural veneers but has stubbornly remained Pagan. From its ghoulish iconography to its impish games, there is no mistaking that Halloween is a time for remembering, honouring and fearing the dead.

Last week I discussed the issue of flipping northern hemisphere festivals to fit with southern hemisphere seasons. For a moment I fell into step with my witchy compatriots. Beltane, a fertility festival with a special emphasis on love and unions, was calling. For the first time since I became a solitary witch I was considering celebrating Beltane on October 31st. But a few things happened that flipped me back to Halloween.

As I was perusing the shelves at my local craft beer shop I saw a can of beer that really called to me – a saison named Persephone! When I saw the name, and the Grecian inspired artwork, I just had to have it. The beer is flavoured with balsamic, grapefruit, pink pepper and, not surprisingly, pomegranate. But what really interested me was that saison is French for season. I didn’t know that. The label told the story of Persephone’s journey and how her love of pomegranates bound her to the Underworld and to a seasonal dance of Love and Death with her husband Hades. I can think of no better drink than a saison for Persephone.

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I chose to drink my Persephone saison while finishing a book recommended to me by my friend and cupcake conspirator Anne Belov. Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is an extraordinary tale featuring the anthropomorphic characters of Love and Death. Each chooses a human player that will represent them in a game. The human players don’t know they have been chosen. Love and Death then manipulate the lives of their players to see if they will choose each other or go their separate ways. Choose Love and the game ends, choose Death and you end! One of the intriguing questions in the book is if we didn’t have Death, would we Love as deeply? Does knowing that Death is our final destination inspire us to Love more fully? Another fascinating aspect is the relationship between Love and Death. Are they enemies or are they two halves of the same coin? You’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

This October 31st I will be celebrating Halloween. I can’t resist the siren call of the Halloweeny paraphernalia surrounding me! But I won’t be forgetting Beltane. Although I have symbolically chosen to celebrate a festival of Death over a celebration of Love, I will also be thinking of my fellow witches down under who will be leaping over bonfires to promote fertility and dancing around a maypole in November. As for me, this Halloween I will begin a new round of my own seasonal game of Love and Death.

Coeur a la Creme

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Love and Death unite in this decadent heart of cream bathed in pomegranate juice and scattered with fragrant pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients
125g mascarpone
125g ricotta cheese
300ml double cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pomegranate, juice and seeds

Method
Beat mascarpone and ricotta with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add cream, sugar and vanilla and mix lightly.
Line coeur a la creme moulds* with muslin that has been moistened with water and wrung out. Make sure there is enough overhang to cover the top of the mixture. Pour mixture into moulds and cover the top with muslin. Place on a cooling rack over a baking tray and leave in fridge to drain overnight.
Unmould onto serving dishes and decorate with fresh pomegranate juice and seeds.
To prepare pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and squeeze into a bowl. Separate the juice and seeds. Pour as much juice and scatter as many seeds over the coeur a la creme as you like.

*Coeur a la creme moulds are heart shaped ceramic moulds with holes for drainage. They are difficult to get so there are a number of ways to achieve the desired heart shape without them: 
1) You can buy a heart shaped silicone cake pan or mini cake pans and make holes in the bottom with a skewer.
2) You can leave the mixture in a muslin bag to drain overnight then place in a heart shaped mould or moulds before serving.
The important thing is that the cream mixture is allowed to drain overnight before shaping.

A Halloween To Remember

From the film Dracula (1979)
Dracula and Lucy discuss the sound of howling wolves.

DRACULA:
Listen to them, the children of the night. What sad music they make.

LUCY:
Do you think it’s sad?

DRACULA:
So lonely, like weeping.

We named our first two dogs for a bat and a wolf – the animals Dracula turns into in the novel. We named our pack WolfChild – as they were our Children of the Night. A year later, near Halloween, two more WolfChildren joined the pack. They made beautiful music together. Then one of our wolves left the pack far too soon for his journey to the Underworld. This year he was followed by first by one, and then another of our wolves as they too journeyed into the Underworld. We are left with only one wolf, our original bat.

When I think of my musical wolves I feel sad, lonely and constantly like weeping. The time will come when I, like Lucy, will not feel sad at the sound of howling wolves, but that time is not now. It is Halloween – a time for tricks and treats and honouring the dead.

Our dogs are buried in the backyard. Three little graves testifying to the fragility of life and the call of death. They are constant reminders of what we have lost and confronting reminders of what will happen to us all. But they are also comforting. When I look at their graves I remember their lives and their deaths. The pleasure and the sorrow. I remember them playing and running around the yard and I remember laying them in their graves and covering them with dirt. They are always with me and yet they will never be with me again.

Not long after Wolfy, our first wolf passed away, I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs and cats based on your own photos. We knew straight away that we wanted one of Wolfy. Little Wolfy arrived on Halloween 2013. When our next two wolves, Wally and Furghy, passed away, we had little versions of them made. They are in our bedroom where we all slept, watching over us. We also had one made of our remaining wolf, Batty. But she won’t be introduced to the world until she passes away, which we hope will be a very, very long time away.

The Little WolfChildren

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Wolfy Maynard WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

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Wally DennyCrane WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

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Furghy Fergie WolfChild and her Tribute Doll

Death and food are intimately linked. In honour of the decreasing howls of my Children of the Night I am sharing a recipe for Hush Puppies. These feature corn which is an ancient symbol for birth, death and renewal – appropriate food for mourning and Halloween.

Hush Puppies
Some stories say these fried cornmeal treats were used to “hush puppies”.

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Ingredients
vegetable oil for deep frying
1 + 1/2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cups self-raising flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup canned corn kernels, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup buttermilk (more or less may be needed)
extra sea salt for sprinkling

Method
Heat oil in a large saucepan to 180C / 350F.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, egg and oil. Add the spring onion, corn, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined.
Stir in half the buttermilk, adding enough buttermilk for a loose batter that is still thick enough to drop.
Drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook, turning them over halfway, for 3-4 minutes or until they are evenly coloured and cooked through.
Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Pregnant Paws

Every year the panda faithful gather around their computers for the annual Panda Pregnancy Watch. Eager fans from around the world share news of which pandas are presumed pregnant, which aren’t and which have had cubs. It’s both a fun and stressful time.

Phantom pregnancies are common and determining if a panda is pregnant is also very difficult. Panda ultrasounds are posted, sometimes confusing the non-panda faithful as to whose ultrasounds they are! Then the moments we wait for – panda births captured on panda cams. The panda faithful hold their breath until the incredibly tiny baby panda starts an incredibly loud and ear-piercing squealing. Then the celebrations begin! And some more waiting as there’s always the possibility of twins and even rarer triplets.

In the midst of all the excitement there is also fear. Baby pandas are incredibly fragile and some don’t make it past their first week. But from the moment they are born they are welcomed, celebrated and loved. It is a happy and heart wrenching time. Sadly, as I was writing this piece, one of the recently born twin cubs died. The panda faithful have gathered together to mourn the loss. It is the cycle of life – birth and death. But it is amazing how sad a death can be for a little creature who had been with us for such a tragically short time.

I was going to end this post with a cupcake recipe I created to honour the time of the
Pregnant Paws. But the news of the passing of the baby panda has turned me down a different path. I will save that recipe for another time when we hopefully have something more to celebrate. I would like to share instead a recipe from my childhood.

Halva was served at many of the funerals I went to as a child. The making and eating of halva always brings back memories for me of shared grief and shared celebration for a life that is no longer.

Semolina Halva
A traditional sweet served at important milestones in life such as births, weddings and
funerals.

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Ingredients
for the syrup
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cinnamon stick

for the semolina
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup semolina
4 dates, chopped (optional)

Method
Place sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Bring to almost the boil. Add the saffron and cinnamon stick. Cover and keep warm while preparing the semolina.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over low heat.
Add semolina and stir to form a smooth paste. Continue stirring and cooking for 10 minutes or until the paste has become golden in colour.
Remove cinnamon stick from syrup. Pour syrup into the semolina paste. Be careful as it will splash. Once the mixture stops bubbling, begin stirring until the grains fully absorb the liquid. Add the dates and stir through. Continue stirring until the halva begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and starts forming a ball.
Working quickly, carefully fill large or small moulds with the halva, pushing down to make sure the moulds are tightly packed. Unmould onto plates while still warm.
Cover and chill until fully set.

And The Bagpipes Played

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Today is the anniversary of the passing of my beloved pug Wolfy Maynard Wolfchild. While I miss him terribly, I am also inspired by the stoic way that he continued happily through both his treatment and the progression of the cancer that eventually took his life. Here is that story.

And The Bagpipes Played

The passing of a beloved pet is always tragic, even more so when you have to choose the time of the passing.

The dreaded question that plagued us during Wolfy’s two year battle with cancer was “how will we know when it’s time?”

How short is too short, how long is too long?

Any time would be too short for me. The thought of losing my beloved pug was killing me. The thought of never seeing him again, of never touching his soft fur or having him cuddle up to me when we watched television was beyond painful.

We were charged with making that fateful and irreversible decision and the burden weighed heavily.

Some dogs will let you know when they want to go but I knew that Wolfy would struggle to the end. He was the most stoic dog I have ever met. Wolfy came to me from a pug rescue with only one eye and was a bold, feisty little boy. Every challenge thrown at him he dealt with in a creative and courageous way. Yet it was his bravery and stoicism that were going to make the decision difficult.

Wolfy became a part of our family in August 2007 and somehow, as his time came close, I knew that he would be leaving us in August 2013. August slowly wound to an end and I watched as Wolfy’s symptoms became more acute. We made the appointment to let him go on the evening of Friday, August 30.

As the day arrived I prayed to the Pagan Gods I had almost lost faith in to give me a sign it was the right time, but none came. The almost two hour drive to the vet gave me plenty of time to question our decision. I felt bile coming up in my throat as we neared the destination. We had decided to take Wolfy and the rest of our pack for a final walk around Lilydale Lake. The lake is only a few minutes from the vet and has been a place we visit often with the dogs. Many a day has been spent sitting and drinking coffee in the park while waiting for one our dogs to finish having surgery.

We drove into the darkened park and I said my final prayers to the Underworld Gods Hades and Anubis – please give me a sign. Surely they would understand. Hades has his own dog Cerberus and Anubis is … well he’s part Jackal!

As we got out of the car we heard bagpipes start playing in the distance. It was surreal and haunting but more than that, it was a sign. One of my favourite television shows is Hamish Macbeth and in the tragic episode “Wee Jock’s Lament”, bagpipes are played at the little dog’s grave. As I listened to the bagpipes I cried and said “They are playing the bagpipes for Wolfy”. So began our pre-funeral march. We went for our final walk as a pack towards the darkened lake, glistening in the dim lighting. The bagpipes filled the air with sombre notes, nudging us towards our final task.

Wolfy passed peacefully surrounded by his family and his pack. He died at 7.20pm, the same time that I was born. Another sign and another link that will bind me forever to my beloved Wolfy. As a life was taken, a faith was renewed.

My pug friends say that Wolfy is at the Rainbow Bridge. My Pagan friends say he is in the Summerlands. My mother says he is in Heaven. I know that Wolfy is running wild with Cerberus and his pack.

Until we meet again in the Elysian Fields.

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A Very Special Adventure

IMG_0238Wolfy was diagnosed with an inoperable nasal tumour in July 2011 and given three months to live. After the initial shock of his diagnosis things moved quickly. We were advised that radiation therapy could extend his life and that a twelve day stay in hospital with a daily dose of radiation – weekend off – could give him an extra six months or more. The best treatment centre was in Brisbane – two states and about 1,700km (1,000 miles) away. He could stay in hospital for the whole time or if we wanted to go to Brisbane with him we could pick him up for the evenings and just drop him off daily. After careful consideration we decided Wolfy should go to Brisbane. The decision was made easier by the fact that Wolfy was insured. We put Wolfy on a plane and worried the whole time. He arrived safely in Brisbane on Sunday night. I would be joining him in Brisbane on the following Sunday for his second week of treatment.

I was picked up at the airport by Kathy, someone I had never met in person, but who I knew from OzPugs, a pug forum we were part of. She had picked Wolfy up from the hospital Saturday and he had stayed with her and her pugs overnight. I couldn’t get to her home quickly enough. When I finally arrived, Wolfy looked at home and seemed surprised, but happy to see me. He said hello to me and then went back to Kathy. She was surprised at his actions – I wasn’t. Kathy had been giving him treats and, like a typical pug, he went where the food was! But when it was time to go to our rental holiday home, Wolfy was happy to leave the treats behind and come with me. We spent the rest of the weekend together before his next round of treatment.IMG_0246

I knew I would be too stressed to drive in Brisbane so I ordered a taxi to take Wolfy and me to the hospital in the mornings. I dropped him off on Monday and met the staff and specialist taking care of him. They loved Wolfy. They said he was such a character. He had spent the first week trying to teach one of the other dogs to stop barking by barking at him. Unfortunately the poor dog was deaf so Wolfy’s efforts were in vain. After leaving Wolfy at the hospital, I set about exploring Brisbane, making sure I would be back in time to pick him up in the afternoon. Two more Brisbane OzPuggers, Nat and Maree, also caught up with me. I got to meet Nat’s adorable pugs and she even took me on a cemetery tour. Maree had Wolfy and I over for dinner and introduced us to her family and pugs. These online friends that I had never met before were instrumental in making a stressful time not only bearable, but fun.

IMG_0263The week passed quickly and while making the final preparations on Thursday night for our flight home on Friday afternoon I had a massive panic attack. Wolfy had his transport to the airport arranged and I was to meet him at the cargo depot, sign him in and then get to the airport to catch our flight. I could catch a taxi but they wouldn’t wait for me to do the paperwork – unless the meter was running – so I would have to walk to the airport. Normally the walk wouldn’t have been an issue but with the Brisbane heat, an uphill walk and a suitcase, I was terrified I would miss our flight. Paul came up with the perfect idea – hire a limousine! It was going to cost the same as a taxi but the the driver would wait for me to sign Wolfy in and take me to the airport. I had never been in a limousine before so I thought “why not”. Lucky I did as Wolfy arrived late! The limo driver took me for coffee – and paid for it – while we waited for Wolfy. I didn’t have much time left to get to the airport once the paperwork was done. The thought of running uphill in the heat dragging a suitcase was terrifying so I am glad Paul came up with the limo idea. We made it home and were greeted by our pack. It was a stressful but fun adventure thanks to the wonderful people I met in Brisbane.

Back Home

IMG_1035Six months after his radiation therapy Wolfy went blind. We were told this might happen as they had needed to direct the radiation through his remaining eye. We were worried how he would cope with this but he dealt with his blindness in his usual stoic and heroic way. He remained happy and confident and would sun bake in the backyard as usual. When he wanted to come in he would simply bark and wait for me to pick him up. He did the same thing when he needed to go to the toilet or get off the couch. He even licked a path along the walls of the bedroom to the lounge so he could scent his way from the two rooms at his pleasure. The radiation therapy had greatly reduced the size of the tumour but by April 2012 it had started growing again. He surprised all the specialists by surviving for two years after his initial treatment. But he could only battle for so long. The above story And the Bagpipes Played was written shortly after we made the decision to let him go.

Memorialising Wolfy

I always knew I wanted to bury Wolfy in the backyard but I wasn’t sure what other memorial piece I wanted. There is so much on offer now for deceased pet mementoes. Nothing felt right until I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs based on your own photos. And that was what I wanted – a small, stuffed pug modelled on Wolfy’s face. Little Wolfy (what other name could he have!) flew from the USA and landed in Melbourne on OctoIMG_7385ber 31st – Northern Hemisphere Halloween. What a perfect time for a death memento to arrive. I couldn’t wait to pick him up. I even bought a little black and white bag to carry him around in when he goes visiting. He mostly sits on a tallboy with some very special pandas keeping his eye on us as we sleep.

Some people have thought that Little Wolfy is creepy or macabre. I just think of him as one of the family.

Deathiversary

One year has passed since we brought Wolfy home from the vet, wrapped in his camouflage blanket, and buried him in the backyard. It hasn’t gotten any easier to get over his death. It’s just easier to cope with. Wolfy left a big hole in our hearts and our souls. The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. It is still a hole and it still hurts.

Cancer took Wolfy away from us. But if he didn’t have cancer we would never have gone on our very special adventure. I had some of my fondest moments with him there. In my saddest moments I often think “you may be gone Wolfy, but we’ll always have Brisbane.”

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