What do you do when you lose your best friend? How do you handle it when your mother dies? For me, they were one in the same person and the earth opened up beneath me. It was like going into freefall. I am the person I am because of her. She wheeled my baby carriage through Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. She took me to see my first ballet when I was no more than 4 or 5. I still remember that touring company production of Giselle and that specific Dance of the Willies. I can't begin to count how many Broadway shows we saw together, how much regional theatre, how many operas, concerts and ballets and book readings. She was always there with unconditional love and wonderful friendship. We laughed at the same things, shared each other's joys and pain.
My friends adored her. They all called her Mom. I called her Mummy. And then, when I was older, Mother. No matter what I chose to do, she was supportive.
We shared another passion: animals. If she had been a fan of bumper stickers, her car probably would have sported one reading: Ask Me About My Granddog. When I could no longer have another dog after my last one died, because caregiving and writing are two full-time jobs without adding the third: raising and properly training a dog, I got her a retired show cat.
She was a wonderful artist, incredibly creative whether painting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, needlepointing, etc. Children and animals gravitated toward her.
And then the unthinkable happened. She developed vascular dementia. I had promised that I would never put her in a nursing home. I became her sole caregiver. When "friends" suggested I put her in a nursing home, or go and look at them, my answer was always the same: I am NOT warehousing my mother!
She was in rehab when she was rushed to the hospital and a day later she was dead. The day and hour of her funeral were, ironically, the day and hour of my meeting with the rehab people to arrange to bring her home. My tears were uncontrollable, as was my pain of loss.
I don't know how we did it but my editor and I caught my book, "Small Dogs, Big Hearts," just before it went to press and I changed the dedication page. It's the only time I have ever bled on paper. I poured out my heart in a few short sentences. But I wanted to do more.
Part of the Jewish religion is pledging charity in the name of the loved one you've lost. I took that very seriously and thought carefully.
I ultimately created a Donor Advised Fund at the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation in her memory. (See the AKC/CHF Description at The Red Room's Causes We Support.) The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies has been created to fund studies that will benefit both dogs and humans. Everything AKC/CHF does benefits both species. More dogs die as a result of behavior problems than any one disease. It is across the board in all breeds and dogs of mixed heritage. And, somewhat selfishly, I hope that someday a study will be funded to help prevent or cure dementia in all of its forms. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (Canine Alzheimer's) has already been recognized and there is a form of Aricept for dogs. But it's not enough. It is not a cure, it is not a preventative.
I wonder what would happen if everyone donated just one dollar to the Behavior Fund? I am donating a portion of what I earn from my behavior book, "Rover, Get Off Her Leg!" to the fund. I use the fund when I want to give a gift to someone who seems to have enough of everything. How many toasters does someone need when they're getting married again?
It is my hope that it will make a difference. And my mother's name will live on.
Causes Darlene Arden Supports
The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies at the AKC Canine Health Foundation