Once upon a time, whenever something of significance happened in my life, I made sense of it by blogging about it. Though I don’t blog as regularly or as intimately as I used to, I still feel the need to share a seismic shift in our lives, but each time I start to write, I falter. I don’t even know where to start.

My dad died on Saturday morning. If you’ve been around for a while, you know that he had been sick on and off through the years. He had a liver transplant when I was pregnant with Tristan, but in the end it was heart and kidney failure that took him. He went into the hospital in June for a fairly routine concern and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure; he never really recovered. We were graced with a full summer to say goodbye, and for that I am deeply grateful. He died in his sleep at home in the early hours of Saturday, at peace in his own bed and with his family nearby.

My dad and I spent quite a few hours together in the past few weeks. Though he was mostly confined to his bed, we figured out that if we were careful navigating the stairs, we could get him into my car for a little change of scenery by driving the back country roads around Barrhaven. I’ll be forever grateful for those quiet moments we spent together.

Quite a few years ago now, I wrote a post for my Dad’s 65th birthday that says a lot of what I’d like to say today. And last year, I wrote this post for my parents’ 50th (!!) wedding anniversary. Threaded through the years of blog posts in the archives, you’ll find dozens of stories and vignettes and photos featuring him, because he has always been a huge part of my life.

My mom and I wrote an obituary that ended up being way too long to publish, but I thought I’d share it here. I can’t come up with anything close to eloquent today, but with this and what’s already in the archives, I don’t need to.

With sadness in our hearts, we share the news that Lou Donders has passed away. Lou was born in May 1944 in Dusseldorf, Germany, the only son of Katie and Harry Donders. The family moved to London, Ontario when Lou was a boy after spending a few years in Tilburg, Holland. It was at Catholic Central High School in London that he met the love of his life, Frances (nee Conlin). Lou and Fran were married in 1966 and had a long and happy marriage filled with love and laughter. They moved to Ottawa to be closer to family when their first grandson was born.

As a six year old boy in Tilburg, Lou formed a boy’s marching band which is still performing to this day. At 16, Lou began teaching drums and later became a professional musician, playing all types of music including symphony. He had a quick, dry wit and a curious mind. Lou, who became affectionately known as Papa Lou to his five grandchildren, leaves behind his wife Fran, his daughter Danielle (Mark), his son Sean (Natalie) and his grandchildren Tristan, Simon, Noah, Brooke and Lucas. He will be remembered by countless friends in London and Ottawa. Although there will be no service, whenever you see a dog happily wagging its tail, full of the joy of life, we invite you celebrate Lou’s life with fond memories of a life well lived.


I‘m looking for a way to put a buffer between the blog post about the dog and the blog post I’m going to write in a few days for Tristan’s birthday. They don’t seem like they should be juxtaposed, although that really is a metaphor for how life works, isn’t it? The joy and the grief all tangled up in an ugly and lovely mess.

Except for the life of me I can’t think of anything to write about. We’ve come a long way from the days when I’d put up a fresh post every single day and an placeholder of an apology on the rare days when I couldn’t. Now it feels awkward and forced to write something just to take up some space. There are issues about work-life balance and a photographer’s copyright that I’ve been following and would have commented on in other circumstances – but I just can’t muster the heart to throw into it. I’ve even got a new camera a few days before Katie died and I can’t bring myself to show it off quite yet. It just doesn’t seem right.

Life seems to be settling back into its routine, with a giant doggy-shaped gap in the middle of it. I imagine over time the edges of the gap will be less jagged, and I’ll stop gazing mournfully at the spot where she’d sleep each night. It’s funny, not really funny at all, how her absence asserts itself. She wasn’t there begging for the discarded bits of the peppers I cut up for dinner, and she’s not there taking up space on the carpet when Beloved and I watch TV after the kids have gone to bed, and she’s not there at the top of the stairs waiting for us when we open the front door.

So apparently this post is about Katie after all, although I suppose I have hit a few notes of transition, so I won’t change the title. I have been caught off guard by the depth and breadth of my grief, of our loss. With that comes a host of conflicting emotions: I don’t like to be sad, but I don’t want to dishonour her memory by being happy too soon. I want to restore what was lost, but no dog can ever be Katie. I want to get past the hurting but not forget the feel of her ruff in my fingers. I don’t want to wallow in this miasma of loss, but can’t quite find my way out of it just yet.

Has it only been a couple of days? Oh Katie, I miss you so much.

And I know that this too, shall pass…

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My darling Miss Katie,

You arrived in our lives when our lives were just coming together. Before we were married, before three noisy boys, before we owned a house, before it all came lovely Miss Katie, our first baby. When a friend of a friend had a litter of pups in need of a home, we went out expecting to take home one of the litter with your mother’s black and tan shepherd markings. But you, you joyfully yellow little pup, stole our hearts.

Katie, 1999 to 2013

You came home to live in our new home just a few days after our honeymoon, and promptly turned our lives upside down. Rambunctious and clever, you failed puppy kindergarten not once but twice. You ate shoes, eyeglasses and, memorably, a can of coffee, among many other things in your puppyhood. One night I called my mother in tears, wondering how I would ever raise children if I couldn’t train this insane bundle of energy wrapped in yellow fur. And then, finally, we brought you to proper obedience class, and you became the dog you were destined to be – the perfect companion, save a few bad choices over the years. The unfortunate eating of the meringue from a lemon meringue pie comes to mind.

Poor Katie

Once upon a time, when we thought we would never have children, I cried into your patient fur and imagined myself pushing you in a pram at the mall, a pink frilled bonnet on your head. I knew you wouldn’t mind.


Then, miraculously, there was a baby, and you welcomed him with spirited curiosity. I still remember our first night home with Tristan, how you held vigil over the mewling thing in the cradle, and how you drew my attention urgently to him with every move and sound he made. “Did you see?” you seemed to ask. “Look, it’s moving. What is it? What should we do with it?”


And then came two more babies, and you welcomed them too. Toddler Tristan howled with glee from his exersaucer as you raced silly doggy loops around the house. Curious babies pried open your lips to examine your teeth, lifted your ears and pulled your feet and tail, even used you as a step to climb onto the sofa, and you simply looked at me with your patient doggy face: “I get extra treats for this, right?” When they went too far, you opened your giant toothy jaw and used your head to shove them carefully away without even so much as a snarl.

25:365 One for you and one for me

We lost two cats and many years later found another, and you welcomed Willie with the same patience you welcomed the boys. He hissed and spat, and you sniffed curiously, and when he wanted to wrestle you rolled him across the floor like a beanbag with your careful paw. To our ongoing surprise, you never tolerated him cuddling you, though. Only people were allowed that privilege.

Willie for the blog

I miss you deeply, Katie. I miss you so much I can’t really even get my head around it yet. There’s a giant gaping hole in our lives where you’ve been for the past 14 years. Even knowing you could not, would not last forever doesn’t seem to ease the grief. Neither does knowing that in the end, you did not suffer. We think maybe you had a stroke, because yesterday morning you were more or less fine, and then you were not. And the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was to bring you to that end, and hold you until it was done. And then walk away without you.

554:1000 Miss Katie

Katie, I’m not sure I know how to say goodbye to you. Everyone who met you knows what an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime sort of dog you were. Even as I type this, I’m still listening for the sound of your endlessly growing claws on the hardwood, and picking your ubiquitous fur out of the weave of my sweater. Waking up this morning and knowing you were not on your blanket at the foot of the bed was heartbreaking all over again. I wish you were still here, that I could turn back time and that we could go for a walk together in the woods, like we did when you were a pup and had so much extra energy to burn.

468:1000 Doggy love

Katie, you were truly an amazing dog. You taught me so much about love, and you were such an extraordinary gift in our lives. Thank you, my sweet friend. Sleep well. You are deeply and dearly loved.


Katie’s story

by DaniGirl on December 20, 2010 · 14 comments

in Life, the Universe and Everything, Loss

A couple of weeks before Beloved and I got married in the summer of 1999, a friend who knew that I was desperate for a dog called me up. “I hear you’re moving from an apartment to a townhouse when you guys get married,” she said. “A friend of mine has a litter of puppies who need homes. Are you interested?”

Was I ever! Katie was the product of a chance encounter between a purebred Golden Retriever who escaped from his yard one day and the German Shepherd-mix mutt who lived at the farm next door. When we set out to see the litter of puppies out near Sharbot Lake one gorgeous June afternoon, I had my heart set on a black and tan pup, but sweet Katie stole my heart from the minute we met her. She was only four weeks old, and my friend agreed to foster her until we returned from our wedding and honeymoon and moved into our new townhouse.

Katie was about 11 weeks old when she came home to us in August of 1999, and our lives haven’t been the same since. She was the oddest combination of submissive and stubborn. To this day, at 100+ pounds, she’ll drop to her belly in submission when a bite-sized dog the size of a Yorkie approaches. And yet she was so stubborn and so mischevious that she failed puppy obedience class the first time, and I clearly remember bawling on the phone to my mother that if I could not tame this wild dog whose antics had me at my wit’s end then there was simply no way I’d ever have the stamina to raise children.
362:365 Peekaboo Katie

In the darkest days of our infertility, I used to joke in an “it’s not really funny” sort of way that if we didn’t have kids soon, you’d find me at the mall pushing a pram with Katie in it, a bonnet on her lovely yellow head.

In many ways, she has been our first child. As each baby arrived, she adopted him into the family with good grace and patience, never begrudging the need to share her space in our home and our hearts. She has endured boys who lift her lips to examine her teeth and tongue, who yelp and yip and gambol like puppies while tumbling over her, and who have on more than one occasion used her like a step-stool to clamber up onto the sofa. She is part dog, part sister, part babysitter, part mama bear.


She is the world’s worst shedder. I simply cannot fathom how she has any hair left on her body at the end of the day, so much of it is left in tumbleweeds under every piece of furniture in the house despite daily and sometimes twice-daily swiffering. And she is the most prolific pooper you have ever seen, pooping out her own body weight at least thrice weekly.

She has mastered the fine art of Jedi mind tricks, and can induce any of us to feeding her simply by looking at us. I’m sure she averages four meals a day, not including the toddler high-chair buffet.

Poor Katie

And now, Katie is old. As she passed her 11th birthday this past May, I tried not to think about it. There is a chart in our vet’s office that shows the lifespan and equivalent age in human years of small, medium and large dogs. The graph for the large-sized dog actually ends just past eight years, but if you follow where the curve leaves off, when you cross 11 years it is equivalent to more than a hundred years of human time.

That’s old, no matter how you slice it. She’s aging with remarkable grace, and has virtually no significant health issues despite a family history of and breed tendency toward hip displasia. That is, until now. At an appointment last week, the vet found a lump near the joint in her back leg. They did an aspiration that came back inconclusive, but his recommendation is surgery to remove what he suspects is a “mass cell tumour.”


Given her current vitality, there’s no reason to believe she doesn’t have two or maybe even more good years. But the surgery is not free, of course. The cost for the surgery alone is in the range of $1,000. How can I possibly put a value on this dog’s life? It’s the ageless dilemma of the pet owner. Will I pay $1,000 to spend more time with her, to try to make sure that she remains healthy and vital and lovely for as long as possible? Of course I will. I simply couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. It’s a pittance compared to the value of what she’s given us over the years.

468:1000 Doggy love

But even if the surgery successfully removes all of the tumour, at best it buys us just a little bit more time. I’ve seen this day coming for 11 years and have been denying it ever since. This will be the boys’ first face-to-face encounter with mortality, and I don’t think any of us are ready, nor will we ever be.


My dad is taking his dog to be put down today, and my heart aches for both of them.

Sassy is a gorgeous malamute, the kind of dog that other people stop you on the street to tell you how beautiful she is. She was also dumb as a bag of hammers, and stubborn as the day is long, but it was all a part of her charm. (I’m drifting between present and past tense, I know. It’s hard to think of her in the past tense, but her hours are numbered as I type this.)

My parents adopted Sassy from the Humane Society not long after they moved to Ottawa five years ago. At the time, they figured she was youngish – more than a pup, but barely. Over the years, though, they came to believe she was older than they first thought, and now they suspect she’s in the range of 10 years old. Just before Christmas, she developed some sort of tumor in her nose and in just a few short weeks, it has grown enough to obstruct both her nostrils and distort her snout. It’s obvious she’s in pain now, and can no longer breath through her nose. It’s time to let her go.

My parents have a knack for picking out good dogs from the Humane Society. When they moved up here, having just recently had to put down their previous dog, my dad was still recovering from liver transplant surgery in 2001 and his health was sketchy. Sassy, good natured though she was, also turned out to be a needy creature who craved long walks every day. Before long, my dad was walking her several kilometers a day, in all sorts of weather. All that walking reaped some impressive health benefits, and before long the chronic mystery pain he had been suffering for years had abated and then disappeared entirely. There’s little doubt that his daily walk with Sassy was the contributing factor to the disappearance of what had been a debilitating pain.

When I was Tristan’s age, we had a Shepherd-mix mutt named Happy, and my folks had to put Happy down at the insistence of a neighbour when Happy nipped a little girl. I clearly remember the entire incident, and the dog had acted only in playfulness – a playfulness that got out of hand, yes, but even at that age I knew the difference between aggression and accident. I was in my twenties when I found out that Happy hadn’t in fact run away, but had been put down. I thought about this last night as I debated whether to be completely honest with the boys about Sassy, or to cop out with a story about Sassy going to live with another family or some other fiction.

I’ll be honest with them, I think. Death is an inevitability, and losing a pet is the price we pay for loving them and letting them into our hearts. But if it moves me to tears at my age, with my capability to rationalize, it breaks my heart to think of how they’ll feel. And I’m breathless with grief for my dad today, bringing his companion in for this final act of compassion.

Goodbye, Sassy, and thank you for being a part of all of our lives. You were loved, and you will be missed.


A box of raisins

by DaniGirl on March 29, 2007 · 22 comments

in Infertility, Loss

The forecast called for a mild day with drizzle, a nice change from the month-long deep freeze we had been enduring. I happily dug my long spring coat from the back of the closet where it had been languishing behind our heavy winter gear. I shrugged into it and ran out the door, late as usual for the bus that was just pulling up to the curb. It was only when I got off the bus downtown and was walking with my face turned up to the newly softened spring breeze that I shoved my hands into my pockets and encountered the cardboard box. I pulled out my hand and opened my fingers. A small green box of organic raisins. In a heartbeat, my upbeat mood turned melancholy.

Of course, I thought to myself. I haven’t worn this coat since last fall. Last fall, when I was pregnant, I never went anywhere without a stash of granola bars and raisins to stave off that sudden lurch of nausea brought on by an empty stomach. I would have been switching to my winter gear just about the time we lost the baby. The last time I wore this coat, I was pregnant.

It’s only been four months. Amazing to think that if I hadn’t lost the baby, I’d still be pregnant right now, not even all that close to my May 8 due date. I’d be huge and uncomfortable and obviously pregnant, able to feel even the smallest of the baby’s movements. I’d be having trouble finding a comfortable way to sit, let alone sleep, and would be deep into preparing the boys for the impending arrival of chaos. I’d be pulling out the old cartons of baby clothes again, picking through to find sentimental favourites and reminiscing about how my giant boys used to practically swim in the tiny sleepers. I’d be hating my maternity clothes and missing my old favourites that no longer came close to stretching across the vast expanse of my stomach. I’d have forgotten what my feet look like. I’d be uncomfortable and crabby and glowing, all at the same time.

But, that’s not how it turned out. Instead, on the weekend that would have been baby’s first weekend at home, by a coincidence of timing we’ll be enjoying the company of my extended family on the free camping weekend. It’s taken a very long time for me to be able to consider the month of May without a sharp constriction of my throat. May finally no longer means the birthday that won’t happen. It means the month with the fun getaway, the month before our big vacation, the month when the boys switch to their new (sshhhhh!) caregiver.

Even though the shock and pain and immediate grief of the miscarriage have faded to a gentle melancholy, it only takes a little box of stale raisins to bring it to the fore again. And every month, the red tide of disappointment spills forth, dashing once again my hopes for another chance to be pregnant.

My feelings on getting pregnant again are complex, not clear even to me. I would like to be pregnant, love the mechanics by which one gets pregnant, but am so very afraid to become embroiled in the emotional maelstrom that is Trying. And every month since January, when we officially started Trying again, I’ve been heartbroken to find myself not pregnant again, even as I wonder in the bright light of day whether I am ready or able to risk going through it all again.

How ironic it all is. When I was speaking to the writer for the upcoming Chatelaine article, she seemed intrigued by my statement that I still consider myself in the camp of the infertile, even having conceived three babies naturally and Tristan and his twin through IVF. (I was still pregnant at the time.) For someone who considered herself infertile, we had really only spent that one year trying to conceive – and then a bunch of other stuff happened.

Sure, it took us more than a year and more than $10,000 of medical intervention (including the IVF and two IUIs) to conceive Tristan, but both Simon and the baby lost in November were conceived without concerted effort on our part. We weren’t really even Trying with Simon – in fact, we were celebrating the sign-off of waivers on our new house. Oops! We didn’t Try before Frostie either, because we had high hopes for that to work out, and when it didn’t I became pregnant the very next month anyway.

And now, so ironically, for the first time since before Tristan was born, seven long years after we tumbled into the land of the infertile, here we are again. We are Trying and it’s Not Working.

It’s different, of course. Back in those dark, lonely, scary days when we were first struggling with infertility, I was wracked with fear that we would never have the family we so dearly wanted. Now, the cruel and abrupt arrival of the monthly red messenger is disappointing, but not crushing.

With each month, as we drift further and further away from the last pregnancy, the urgency to replace and restore my pregnant condition subsides. All things being equal, I think I’d like to have that third child some day, and so we’ll keep trying for a while. Keep trying, without Trying, maybe.

That’s a whole lot of emotional detritus to stuff into one little box of raisins.


On helping a friend through a miscarriage

8 February 2007 Loss

I was blissfully engrossed in the task of finally getting around to framing some old photos, while also making dinner and tidying the living room, when the phone rang late one Saturday afternoon. I was so engaged in what I was doing that even though I had picked up the phone and said “hello”, my […]

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How do you know?

29 December 2006 Frostie

How do you know your family is complete? How did you decide? Did you always know? Did you just stop? Were you forced to stop by circumstance, or forced to accept more than you expected? What’s it like for families who don’t have the spectres of infertility and loss lurking in the shadows of their […]

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Dani and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day*

1 December 2006 It IS all about me

All I can say at this point is thank the deity of your choice that November is finally over. A new page on the calendar is as good a place for a fresh start as any. And December means the ramp-up to the holidays is in full glorious swing. I’m happy to leave November, with […]

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Loose ends

30 November 2006 Loss

I have my follow-up with my OB today. I don’t expect to learn anything, really. Maybe the pathology report can explain what happened, but mostly I’m expecting her to check that my parts are healing well and have yet another conversation about how these things just happen sometimes. For the most part, I’ve let the […]

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