Good Grief.

This is hard, but I feel important to write.

My first baby and longtime best friend, Besito, passed on a few weeks ago. I have thought of little else but have not been able to articulate how to write about it as each day has brought with it a new crop of emotions and realizations. I am confident Besito's life was filled with love, affection, stimulation, beauty, enrichment and loads of snuggles and fun even in the face of the inordinate amount of health issues that were prominent in the later years of his life. I'm also confident that it was, as they say, his time. He was comfortably swaddled in my arms and against my heart when he went to sleep forever. But I am still having such a rough time reconciling it all.

And I realize this is a very natural, very common, way to feel.

People have been telling me that time is our saving grace, that it heals all wounds. But what I fear more than feeling the grief is not feeling it any more. And that, of course, is inevitable. But for now, my tears seem to keep him with me. In a way it's good grief.

We went through a lot together, me and that guy. Some of my twenties and all of my thirties, a life in Atlanta and a life in LA, with a road trip to get us there and all sorts of other journeys throughout. We went everywhere together until it was simply too difficult for him, physically. But he saw more places and met more people, and animals, than most folks I know. He was there to accept my new relationships; friends and boyfriends, happily – welcomed them right into our family. And he was also there if those people left. I can remember, more than once, feeling heartbroken - everything broken, really – and so alone, but having Beso right by my side and thinking, “We've got each other you and me. We take care of each other.” And we did. And we knew.

Besito skirted death quite a few times in his thirteen years. Some from illnesses, some from being adventuresome and defiant, and one time from swallowing a peach pit. I often joked that he had nine lives. After one of his surgeries to repair paralyzation from the neck down, he was on bed rest for three weeks. So I cancelled everything and stayed home for three weeks, too. We entertained in, ordered a lot of delivery and marathoned multiple seasons of Gossip Girl.

He was, without a doubt, a huge personality. He could sing – harmonize even. We loved to sing together. He would match my volume and pitch. He loved clothes, warm and fresh from the dryer. He would frolic in them like a child in a pile of fall leaves. And his all-time favorite food (though he would eat any and everything) was eggs. If he so much as saw me pull the egg carton out of the fridge it was over. Whenever I would have eggs for breakfast I saved some for Beso and let him lick the plate clean. But the most important thing to Beso, and I don't mean to boast, was me. And I felt it every single day. His eyes followed me everywhere I went, and when I would come home from being away, he greeted me each time as though I was one of the Beatles. And every, single night Beso slept curled up in my arms. He was the littlest spoon.

Beso was also like an alarm clock. He was so food obsessed that each day, both at exactly eight in the morning and at six at night, he would start yelling at me for dinner. And he would continue to do so until the food was in front of him. He always made quite clear what he wanted, actually – up on lap, pet me, no not there, yes, there, I want down, I need to go out, I hate wind, and rain, where's the sunspot, this would be a good time for a treat, give me your eggs.

As Fred said on a recent morning, when everything felt so still and quiet without Beso waking us up and screaming for breakfast, “He was the fizz that made the soda bubbly.”

And I couldn't have put it any better.

In the weeks I have been trying to write this, I've gone through many stages. But some interesting factors have been in play and continue to pop up during this time that I simply cannot ignore. As I mentioned, Beso was ill. He had a half dozen close calls, real nail biters, in the last year that I wasn't sure he would come through. It was very important to me that he at least make it back to Richmond. I wanted him to know home, be home. With me. And once we all got here, I really wanted him to make it to one more Christmas... and his thirteenth birthday. Which he did all of, gracefully. But now, so immediately after his death, what I can't help but notice is how poetic it is that Spring is suddenly in full force. New colors and new life are everywhere. There is a little bird's nest in a fern on my front porch and a baby squirrel nest in the tree in my backyard that I can clearly see from my window. The squirrels even used paper from our recycling bin to build their nest – which, a few weeks ago, I had thought Beso was doing to get into scraps. And most poignantly, I'm going to have a baby. Soon, now. In fact, he was laying on my shelf of a pregnant belly as drifted onward and upward.

I'm not a very spiritual or religious person. I know we all create signs and gods and heavens, really, to cope with the difficulties of understanding that which is death. But I can't help but look at Beso's timing, how well we knew each other, how unconditionally and ginormously he loved life, and me. And, though anytime I see something little and cute I think of him, how could the baby birds on the front porch and the baby squirrels on the back porch and the baby girl in my belly not also be a little bit of Besito saying, “It's okay Mom. Really, after all we've been through, all of that love, we're together always. What lives must die. Life is death as death is life. Plus, I really don't like babies anyway. They get all the attention - and it's time to give yours to her, now.”

So I will.

Fred and I will be planting a tree in our yard, hopefully a fruit bearing one, in the coming weeks, and we will scatter Beso's ashes there. That way he will always be home with me, with Fred and our family. He will see seasons and life and change and growth. I look forward to sitting by the tree and sharing stories with our baby girl all about Besito Ysidro and our many adventures together.

And all of this, I know he knows.

Besito Ysidro Shaffner

I haven't cooked much since Beso died. I especially haven't been able to make eggs, yet. But Fred and I did make this beautiful fish dish recently. It was so, so simple and very apropos for the warmer weather, and even dining al fresco. We made a fish stock out of the carcass that would have surely been incorporated into Beso's meals. Our other pups, Eduardo and Byron, enjoyed the stock in their own kibble!

Whole Oven-Roasted Fish with Lemon & Rosemary
(Recipe adapted from Russ Parsons, LA Times March, 2007)

Note: Trout, red snapper and loup de mer (branzino) are great choices; wild striped bass and rockfish work fine too. Cooking times vary with size.

Serves 2

1 whole fresh fish, cleaned and rinsed
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 lemon, sliced thinly & seeded
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoon olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Sea salt and pepper

Remove the fish from the refrigerator 10 minutes before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix garlic and olive oil and let sit to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain and discard garlic; set aside the oil.

Season the fish inside and out with salt and brush inside and out with the garlic oil. Place lemon (save for 2 or 3 slices) in the cavity with the sprigs of rosemary.

Arrange the remaining lemon slices and small rosemary sprigs in slits on top of the fish and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Roast until a knife easily penetrates the flesh and the top fillet begins to lift easily, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Carefully transfer the fish to a warm platter and serve.

Four years ago: Ludobites 4.0

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