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Just a Little After 11: Sandy Loree

"The song ends; the voices quaver away with a rich and dying fall."
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying


Sandra Loree left us on January 11, 2010 shortly after 11 p.m. wresting her soul from the demon cancer that strangled her. What a brave and loving energy she remains. I am heartbroken that she struggled so long and wish that in this circumstance I did not possess such potent imagination.

Numerologically 11 is a master number. I was born on January 11th and somehow I knew she would die on that day, a bold presence in life making a bold entry to be reckoned with in the spirit realm. Two nights before she died, her daughter called me with Sandy's final request: to talk to her Irish Water Spaniel, the beloved Skylyr to tell him everything would be all right without her. I did.
When Sky came through in my meditation, he did not approach me alone but with his "brother," or more accurately "house mate," Nicky, a boy who has feared me his entire life. When I first went to Sandy's house almost seven years ago, I sat in the living room with Skylyr and Sandy's German Shepherd and Rat Terrier, but Nicky hid behind the club chair and wouldn't come out. Occasionally he would stretch his neck around the side and when he glimpsed me still there in the room, like a spring, he fell back behind the chair. Another time at a big Irish Water Spaniel party in Covington, Georgia, Sandy asked me to come to her RV and read Nicky, who was having some behavioral issues. I climbed into the RV and made a left into the bedroom (which was actually the bed!). Sitting upright but leaning backward was a terrified Nicky, his whole body shaking and his teeth chattering like high speed clinking champagne glasses. When I left the room, his shaking stopped. When I returned, it resumed. "He knows there's something different about you, " she explained. Of course. No dog wants an uninvited stranger peering into him so intimately.

Skylyr, on the other hand, always gave me permission, sitting princely, directing me in the ways he wanted me to read him. Sometimes I pet or hold the dog but Skylyr always placed his paw in my hand and kept it there as long as it took us to exchange information.
At the Irish Water Spaniel National Specialty in Georgia two years ago, Skylyr was one of the
"middle aged" dogs honored in the ring during the parade of veterans. Before the event, Sandy called me and said, not asked, but said, "I would like you to be the one to take Skylyr into the ring." I see myself as clumsy and unsure in the ring (ask anyone whose seen me try to show a dog! -- something I did twice). "All you have to do is hold his lead. He'll do the rest; he knows what to do." I was honored -- and grateful -- that she valued me enough to offer this, doing so not because she felt ill ill but because she knew how much I love Skylyr.
I learned from our friend Deborah at her funeral that by this time she'd already been diagnosed and had begun chemotherapy, but she didn't disclose it to any of us. I realized only as I wrote the blog this morning that she asked me to accompany him in the ring because she knew I may never see him again. I cannot explain adequately how great a gift that was.
Hiding her illness, Sandy ignored the telephone and sent very sporadic e-mails during her chemo and radiation treatments and repeated surgeries -- treatments that weakened her so severely that she needed hospitalization a few times for the residual effects. When it appeared she had been granted a reprieve from treatment, she called and said -- not asked, but said -- "how about I come down to Florida and spend a week with you and we'll go to Georgia to the SE Irish Water Spaniel shindig and maybe take a side trip." I was thrilled! We went to Helen's house in Covington once again, where the Southeast Irish Water Spaniels and their owners gathered, all warm, giving, fun-loving friends -- groomed and played with the dogs and fussed joyfully at seeing Sandy despite her considerable weight loss and her brand new short hair no longer red or blonde but white and her still smoking-- and we savored the day knowing it would be our last hoot. She and I returned to Fort Lauderdale the long way, touring Savannah, stopping at Jekyll Island and Daytona Beach to give my dogs some ocean time. She was weak and tired and unable to handle my dogs, a first for her. We did, though, have one unpleasant and scary detour to the E.R. She still wore a feeding tube and had painful issues with medication and low potassium.
Sandy never talked with us about her dying. Most of us knew she had limited time when we heard what type of cancer she had and how quickly it had metasticized. I read that once a squamous cell tumor invades the lymph nodes, predicted survival rates rarely exceed five years. She didn't make it through two. The doctors never found the original cancer site and could not get get clean margins. She arranged this summer jaunt as her farewell.

She hibernated after our trip, not answering phones or e-mails for over 6 months, and we sent periodic cards, jokes, and left phone messages; at Christmas the collective unconscious led her IWS friends Moe, Ginny, and me to each send her a music CD, suspecting she was too ill to sit at the computer or in front of the TV. I sent her "Angel Love" by Aeoliah.
On the last day of her life I recorded a tearful goodbye and blubbering thank-you-for-gracing my-life mesage on her cell phone, then asked her husband to play it for her, which he did that night on the 11th. I think she was holding on to know that the dogs would be OK with her leaving. I relayed the message I received from Skylyr and Nicky :
"Who is going to take us to the vet?"

I said, "Sandy, it seems that with all the traveling around the country to dog shows and specialties and all the conformation and agility competitions, the motel rooms and RV trips from Idaho to the Finger Lakes, their most special mommy time was your taking them to the vet."
Two nights ago, after her funeral, just before I awoke -- I was still asleep but in that half step toward waking consciousness -- before my eyes appeared a computer screen with this typed message in a word arrangement I wouldn't use:
"Lisa -- I have passed through my soul.
Love, Sandy."
So I know she's all right. I'm not so sure about the rest of us who mourn her deeply in a crescendoing silence.

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