Stages of life

and the dogs that define them

Maris was the first dog that was truly mine. Before Maris, there were dogs in my life, but they belonged to my parents because they were responsible for adopting them. Nevertheless, these dogs are a part of my life’s journey in the roles they played, how I felt about them, and who I was at that time. Let’s just say that these dogs, pre-Maris, were background characters, and when I think of them, I am instantly taken back to the person I was at that moment in my life. Geez, get a load of these canine time machines!

First there was Joy, whom I have discussed in a previous blog post. She was a tragic character in my life – she endured neglect in a way no dog ever should, and in my memory, she represents a similar neglect that I experienced throughout my teenage years. As a human, I grew up to be an independent person with problem solving skills; as a canine, Joy was just simply neglected. As I have said before, the story of Joy makes me wince and cry. She and Maris had similar coloring, and I felt like I was making it up to Joy when I treated Maris the best I could. Then there were other dogs that joined Joy in our backyard. I won’t go into the details of how then a whole family of dogs ended up neglected on our property, but let’s just say that the dogs in that yard represent a difficult time for our family and the dark side of immigrant life. Perhaps that is a story for another time.

Then there was the mighty pug, Bokdori. His name meant “bundle of blessings” in Korean, and he was such a cutie pie lap dog who loved to cuddle all the time. My parents adopted him when I was in grad school for music, so I only really saw him once or twice a year. But boy did we bond when we were together! He would come sleep on the bed with me instead of his crate – what luxury for his snorting majesty! As long as I was in my parents’ house, he wanted to be by my side, and we were joined at the hip. True buddies! One year, after I went back to school, he clawed his way out of the pool house net cover and went out into the neighborhood in search of me. When I think of him, I remember the early years of my musical endeavors when I was getting used to the world of classical music (some good and some really catty) and trying to shed the geeky math student persona. To me, Bokdori represents a happy but confused part of my life – I was so happy to finally get to sing and dive into something I loved, but also very uncomfortable in a new world where I stuck out like a sore thumb.

The next dog in my life was Sonja. I am spelling her name that way but really, it was an anglicized version of when Koreans call out the name “Sunny.” So “Sunny-ya” became “Sonja.” She was a squeaky Maltese, who was very protective of me. Like Bokdori, Sonja was attached to me whenever I would visit home, and I loved to play with what I called her crazy conductor hair. You know, where orchestra conductors like to grow out their curly and frizzy hair and whip it around when they are passionately gesturing to the musicians… Either that, or Sonja’s hair made her look like the abominable snowman. But the important thing here is that she let me play with her hair and groom her because she trusted me so completely and truly loved my attention. One of my favorite memories of her is that she would sit in front of the guest room door, waiting for hours for me to come out on days I chose to sleep in. Another memory: one day, my mom got very angry with me and began to yell (this was a frequent occurrence… I probably deserved some of it, but not all of it). Sonja got in front of her and started barking at my mom. Funny because technically, Sonja was my mom’s dog, but she was protecting me. Sonja knew who would freely give her the sweetest love… a true dog lover. To me, Sonja represents the time in my life when things started to get really turbulent in my inner world. In my late twenties, I struggled to steady my rudder amidst the turbulence in my mother’s sea storms. The responsibility of finding my life’s purpose loomed large while navigating the tricky waters of my misguided mother who believed that she had the God-given right to the lifetime that was allotted to me. The internal struggle stemmed from my love and compassion for her, and nothing more. I knew I had to use my life wisely; it was just a matter of trying to keep my mom in it. Sonja’s protective barks from that time represent the very boundaries I would need to build in my family relationships to journey toward a fulfilling life.

Then came Maris, and you all know about my life with her. I think the reason why she is so precious to me is not only that she was a special dog. This amazing dog met me at a time when I needed her the most. I needed her more than she needed me. And she saw me through so many changes that would come into my life. Starting from the outside and moving inward: a head full of black hair to what I would consider a distinguished (ahem!) salt and pepper look; a career change and a mountain of heartache that went into it; hundreds of hours of studies for multiple designations; unlearning singing out of desperation and re-learning how to sing with joy; and discovering eternity by focusing on the present moment. Maris accompanied me through the most profound stretch of my life so far.

Starting on December 3, 2022, another phase of my life will begin which will be defined by Lucas. He finds me a little more mature than Maris did 11 years ago… hopefully. I need to be excited about what adventures may lie ahead of us, what Lucas will teach me, what we will experience together. We will play games, we will train hard, and we will explore the best that northeast Ohio has to offer. But I must admit that I am a little nervous. I lost my best friend who has all those memories of where I’ve been. And now I have to start all over again with this little wild-haired munchkin that doesn’t know anything about me. As much as I have been looking forward to dog-cuddles, sweet faces, and puppy laughs, there is some anxiety about how this relationship will pan out. I guess there is only one way to find out. Dive in!

I promise I will be a good boy and connect with you. Maris has been training me from the Rainbow Bridge. I already know so much about all your joys and sorrows.

Closure

I will be okay, Little One

The days and weeks leading up to Maris’s departure from this world were filled with traumatic memories for me. Pills, lots and lots of pills to manage Maris’s cancer symptoms, cleaning up after Maris’s blood and drool from the skin lesions that swelled and bled, managing her food as her appetite changed and eventually faded, and finally the strained breathing as the swelling traveled to her lungs… I was myself in such a mess after we set Maris free, and all we could do in the evening was to watch a corny Christmas movie to take our minds off of what we just lost. That was on July 12th, and I was scheduled to leave for Dallas on the 13th. I got on the plane with a heart so heavy that I wondered if the plane could even take off.

During the 5 days I was in Dallas, Jeff did something for me that was so kind. He cleaned the house. He did his best to wipe away all the evidence of Maris’s illness. He even went to Michael’s and bought silk flowers and arranged them himself for the dining room table. He threw away the pills, the pill bottles, and put away the bloody inflatable donuts/cones, her toys, towels, food and water bowls, treat boxes, collar and leashes… I came home to a clean house for two humans. I was so touched at Jeff’s kindness, and I also didn’t ask him where he put all of Maris’s stuff. I couldn’t bare to see them.

Since meeting Lucas for the first time on October 15th, I’ve been feeling the spirits of both dogs. I have written about how Maris must have been orchestrating this union from the Rainbow Bridge… the idea that there is continuity, passing of the baton between Maris and Lucas gives me so much comfort. And now, we are only 9 days before we pick up the new puppy.

Some time this fall, I was rummaging around the laundry room in the spirit of cleaning (well, more like just moving things around), and I accidentally found all of Maris’s stuff. Jeff had tucked them away inside our little cubby at the bottom of our “locker.” I wasn’t ready to see it, and my heart skipped a beat and then sank. I quickly shoved the stuff back inside the cubby, making a mental note of where Maris’s belongings were held, and quickly moved about with the laundry. And then I let weeks go by.

As I have been preparing for Lucas’s arrival (oh, lots of Amazon and Chewy shopping so far, as well as enrolling myself into the Aussi Academy for proper training of this breed), I have also been thinking about that little cubby in our laundry room. The very box I have not been able to face, I knew that I need to face in the next 9 days. So today, on Thanksgiving Day, I decided that it was time to properly lay to rest Maris’s belongings. Oh, the sweet memories! Her collars from different stages of her life… I could almost see the dog in them. The long black leash with a clicker and poop bag dispenser attached reminded me of the countless trails we traversed all throughout northeast Ohio. The orange Ruffwear harness is so hard to look at… I would ask her “would you like to go on an adventure?” whenever I put it on her. Maris’s little squirrel toy that she liked to just have in her mouth… I would ask her “where’s Anderson? Don’t eat Anderson!” to which she would tilt her head while looking at me quizzically. The beige slow feed bowl that she ate in for the last however many years… that would also be put away along with Maris’s things. I even found one of Jeff’s socks in there, one of Maris’s absolute treasures – even in death, Maris is squirreling away Jeff’s socks! I quietly put all these things inside a box, so that I could properly label it as a part of Maris’s memories. And with them also followed a piece of my heart to be with Maris forever.

The new dog will look nothing like Maris. He is a blue merle Australian Shepherd puppy. Maris was a very pretty, neatly groomed short-hair dog, but Lucas will probably always look like he just got out of bed. He is also not a she. So I will not be buying anything red, pink, or orange for him… his new leash is green, as is his first collar. His slow feed bowl will be blue, and he will also eat a different brand of food. The only thing I am keeping is the water bowl… because Maris didn’t have it for very long.

Nine days shy of bringing Lucas home, I needed to do this last bit of organizing for closure. To honor Maris’s memory (my memory with and of her) but also to be fair to the new dog. He gets to make his memory with me, to guide me and to herd me in his own style. I am sure he is taking instruction from Maris from the Rainbow Bridge, but he is probably also thinking of his own ways to continue making me a better person.

Okay, Lucas. Show me!

Little Lucas and his bed head. Still at the farm, waiting to come home.

Waiting

is a hard thing to do

I am in the middle of the longest 7 weeks I have endured in… oh, a very long time. When we met the little puppy we would later name Lucas, he was only 1 week old. After the serendipitous collision of fate between us and this little canine munchkin (aided and guided by the spirit of little Maris, I’m sure), I knew it would be a painful 7-week wait. I am keeping myself distracted with work, business trips, girlfriend time, cleaning, etc… and lots of preparation work for the arrival of our next Little One.

That prep work involves shopping, of course. I’ve already purchased a playpen for the dog, researching the best dog training fanny packs, reading The Forever Dog by Rodney Habib and Karen Shaw Becker, and watching a lot of YouTube videos on puppy training. Some guy named Nate Schoemer has been my instructor, and he is fantastic. I trained Maris 11 years ago, and she was a very compliant and studious dog: Maris learned how to sit, lay down, shake, rollover, stay, and was potty trained within 2 weeks of arriving at her new home. The rest of her puppy years, we developed a routine together that lasted until she left us due to cancer. With Lucas, I’m going to be even more disciplined and teach more commands. I’m a little nervous about training a puppy because I haven’t done it in 11 years… but Nate talks through the steps with me, and he makes me feel like I can do this!

I keep hearing that Australian Shepherds are wicked smart. Could they be smarter than Entlebucher Mountain Dogs? Would Lucas be smarter than Maris? That is really hard to believe because Maris was smarter than me and Jeff. I always had a feeling she was just watching us, just shaking her head in “tsk tsk tsk” manner, thinking “you silly humans… I guess I was sent here to guard and to herd you for a reason.” Thinking of these whip smart dogs, I said to Jeff one day, “I think Lucas might already be smarter than us.” (Jeff doesn’t think so, but oh, just wait.) I also can’t help thinking that there is some stuff going on behind the scenes. Maris, from the Rainbow Bridge, is probably training Lucas telepathically- “I think you’ll really enjoy being a Rathbun. They need all the help you can give them. The alpha dog is the larger of the two humans, and he is very ornery, but in a funny way. He always played games with me and tried to trick me – but I always let him know that I was on to him by howling my head off. The beta dog is the smaller human, and she will always just want to hug you, kiss you, and to cuddle. You’ll have to get used to selfies. She’s also the one who sucks all your fur with this long machine that makes so much noise – I hated it. But you have to be really nice to her because she’s the one that has the treats all the time. Most of the time, she is the one to feed you in the mornings. And she’s the one that goes hiking, so you’ll get to check out what they call the Metropark System. Within a few months, you’ll realize that your job is to be loved, to love them back, and to protect and to guide them. You have herding instincts – it will be natural.”

Honestly… the dog has probably already figured us out by now.

In the middle of the long 7-week wait, Jeff must have been getting an earful from me on the puppy front. At first, I would ask him, as each day progressed, “do you think the puppy is *this* much bigger today?” using my forefinger and thumb, and squinty eyes to indicate an infinitesimal amount. I would whine while looking at the latest puppy photos from the farm. Either Jeff got tired of my pining or he felt really bad… he tried to make the situation slightly better. One day, I came home from work, and he said, “go into the bedroom, you have a visitor.” I walked in gingerly because the last time he told me there was a visitor, it was the neighbor’s dog who wanted to see me on my driveway… (haha! I know, all the dogs of the neighborhood know me). When I went into the bedroom, there was a stuffed blue merle Australian Shepherd animal waiting for me on my side of the bed. It looked almost exactly like what Lucas would be. I named him Chopin. I don’t need jewelry or a fancy vacation… Jeff knows the way to my heart.

Waiting is hard. But it is giving me time to prepare. The last, and perhaps the most important aspect of waiting is the precious time I have alone with Maris in my heart. All my memories with my little one, all the walks, all the laughs, those precious eyes, the kisses… she was the fountainhead of daily joy. I miss her with all my heart, and there isn’t a day that passes by without a sharp twinge of sadness. But thinking of Maris hanging out on the Rainbow bridge, that wicked smart Entlebucher Mountain Dog orchestrating this Rathbun family formation, prepping Lucas with all the tips on how to be a Rathbun, and healing me with puppy preparation… I can see how in all of Maris’s wisdom, 7 weeks would be the perfect length of time.

Little Lucas at 5 weeks old… What a little munchkin!!

Little Chopin.

An Obsession

with childhood

Here is a confession: although I wear an adult face and adult credentials on the outside, I never really grew up inside. That may make me immature and prone to laughing at bathroom humor, but I think it keeps me honest and grounded. My strong attachment to the child inside stems from nostalgia. I love remembering the simplicity of innocence especially as I consider the complex world that I must now digest as a forty-something grown up. But then I also remember knowing that this age of innocence was fleeting, that I would eventually grow up and lose it. I was nostalgic for my childhood while I was a child. It is almost as if I was this adult inside a child’s body.

I think my hyper existential awareness was due to the turbulence around me. I was especially sensitive to my unpredictable home life despite having a family that looked pretty normal from the outside. The surrounding mood could change on a dime, and I needed to be ready to deal with it. It would move from extremely happy to frigid and icy in a short period of time, and there was no way to know in advance. It was perhaps the eggshells I walked on that helped me to realize just how fragile the concept of innocence was.

Fast-forward to my mid-twenties, and I found myself writing a doctoral thesis on Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. And guess what the topic was within Mahler’s work? Childhood irony. What would I find in the fourth symphony? Turbulence and darkness of reality juxtaposed to the snow-white innocence of a child. I wasn’t even aware of it as I started working on it. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized why I obsessed over this document, slaved away at it for a few years, and actually… liked it. The thesis reflected my own childhood. I could identify with the piece from a very deep place. It was almost as if Mahler was describing my own life, nearly a century before I was born.

Mahler himself had a tough childhood. It was filled with the hardships that one would find in a regular mid-19th century life. Babies/siblings that do not survive infancy, difficult father, and the racial tensions that existed in Europe (and frankly still exist all over the world)… He himself said that he felt like a stranger in what should be his home. Perhaps that is why he was fixated on the poem “Das himmlische Leben” (the heavenly life) by Peter Sturm, because heaven itself and the innocence that is required to believe in it, to be in it (heaven on earth) sometimes feel like an unattainable goal. So he writes the third symphony based on the poem, and because it takes on a life of its own, he has to move on to the fourth symphony to finally include the poem as a song to his symphonic work.

And I fixated on this topic, too. Can innocence survive the harsh reality of this life? Can heavenly life exist here on earth? Does that heavenly life require the innocence of a child? As I think about my personal experiences, I know why I hold innocence in such high regard. I am fortunate that I understood the fleeting nature of innocence at such a young age… because that awareness helped me to preserve it into adulthood. And look at me now – decades later, I thrive with internal stability no matter how turbulent my surroundings, and the child inside still sings.

A little blurry… but I like this photo because it catches me in a moment of bliss.

The dog fix

there is nothing like a dog’s love

Last Saturday evening, I was coming back home from a week in Tucson. While on the second plane that headed from Chicago to Cleveland, I saw a long golden fur stuck on my jean. I smiled because it was evidence of my blissful visit to my sister- and brother-in-law’s house where two large balls of pure love reside: a golden doodle named Riley and a pure golden retriever named Resa. I was in dog heaven.

I had arrived at their house on Thursday morning already sleep deprived. My body was certainly tired, but my mind was also jumbled and my spirit battered. My line of work requires focus on the global economy, and lately, that has meant paying attention to the ongoing war and geopolitical tensions. With age, I have gotten better at leaving work at work, but the tensions can sometimes creep into my psyche before I am aware of it. And of course, the loss of my dear Maris has been a thing that has been hanging over me. There are days I miss her so much that it feels like I lost her just yesterday. It has already been almost 4 months, but now I believe what my friends have told me… the pain and longing last a lifetime. So here I was, broken and tired, and that is how Riley and Resa found me.

These dogs are around 75 pounds each. Yes… EACH. They have the power to knock me over, all of 110 pounds, but I wouldn’t care. I had been there just a few minutes, and they were already all over me, as if we had been best friends all our lives. Riley, the golden doodle, put my entire wool jacket in his mouth and walked around the house. Did I care about the dog slobber? Nah! I just loved that he liked my scent enough to do it! As I always say… everything is replaceable… except for us and those we love.

While I was at Rose’s house, I got licked all over by Resa who is a golden retriever extraordinaire… honestly, I think she licked me more in the two and half days I was there than all 11 years of Maris’s life with me (Maris wasn’t really a licker… she was very stingy about kisses, even with me). Perhaps one adventure that sticks out was our 5:30am walk in the desert. I tagged along with Robert (brother-in-law), Riley, and Resa on their morning walk, saw the constellation Orion very clearly for the first time in a really long time, witnessed the moon setting behind the Tucson mountains, and the sunrise painting the sky in various hues of red and orange. The desert is a beautiful place, and even better with loved ones and terrific canine company.

Jeff and I are waiting for our little Australian Shepherd puppy to grow enough to come home with us. He is currently 2.5 weeks old and still at the farm with his dog-mother. While I am so excited with anticipation for our little Lucas (yes, that’s going to be his name), this is the time for me heal by spending quality time with my Maris memories. And I was so blessed to have Riley and Resa’s love and giving energy to help me get through this difficult time.

Thank you, Maris, for leading us to Lucas. I know that you made me a better dog-mommy in the last 11 years, and that you’ll continue to guide me with the next little puppy. Don’t worry, little Lucas, I am working on healing and will be ready to be your mommy in a few weeks. I can’t wait to see you, little buddy. And thank you, Riley and Resa, for giving me the love and the desert warmth I needed along the bridge between Maris and Lucas…

So many kisses…

Desert morning

A second chance

when it calls you, finds you

Do I believe in fate? I’m not sure. I believe in providence, and I don’t know if the two are the same. Coming from a spiritual place, I believe that things happen for a reason, and that when things are meant to be in my life, things that are out of my control fall into place. Doors open. There is ease in the process. And when things are not meant to be… well, I have had doors shut on my face a few times in my life, so I know when certain things were not meant for me.

In a similar way, I felt that Maris was a gift to us, that she was meant to become a part of our family. She was God’s gift to us because we had so much to learn about life. Initially, she was supposed to go to another family, but they couldn’t take her at the last minute. So we received the call. Coincidence? I don’t think of life’s blessings as coincidences!

After Maris’s passing, my readers know that there has been a gigantic hole in my heart, in my routine, in my life. It has been so bad that I physically hurt… and have resorted to calling Jeff “my puppy.” One time, he came back from a concert and said, “the puppy’s home!” Clearly, I am discovering that I cannot live without a dog. Maris has changed the course of my life forever!

So it is no wonder that Jeff and I have been thinking about getting another dog. And honestly, after our European trip where I bonded with all the dogs of Europe, I realized that I needed one sooner than later. When we first started talking about adopting another dog, it was noncommittal. No real timeline, just thinking or dreaming about what our next dog will be, when might be the right time, etc. But one does not just casually talk about getting a dog. It becomes a real thing very quickly. The issue was that it wasn’t simple for me. This would be a dog that would take the place of Maris in our hearts… It would be sitting on a very special dog throne. It had to feel right.

I looked at rescue websites (that would be the quickest way to find the next dog love), discussed various breeds with Jeff, and asked our neighbors about their dogs. It was so confusing – nothing felt right. I probably had Maris on such a high pedestal. We discussed corgis, Bernedoodles, doodles and oodles, hypoallergenic, small dogs, etc. Do I want a small dog that I would be able to travel with? Or do I want a dog that will go to the Metropark trails with me? Maris’s legacy loomed large, my mind would change every other minute, and nothing would feel right to me.

Until this week. Just this Thursday, we found a good breeder for Australian Shepherds south of where we live. We thought that we would start the process of meeting the parents, the way we did when we adopted Maris. I had a good feeling about it, so Jeff and I took a short day trip on a beautiful October morning. There is nothing like an October sky in Ohio… We stopped in the Amish country at our favorite cafe (Salt Creek Cafe) and ate our favorite breakfast sandwich ever… honestly, we go back to the Amish country for this sandwich, haha! We walked around and bought a few mums. And then we drove to the farm where the dogs were. Two Australian Shepherds greeted us, Angel and Jake, and I just fell in love with the breed. As we conversed, the breeder learned more about us – and the fact that we love dogs more than words can say. She suddenly told us that she had a litter. Wait, what? She didn’t mention that when we called – we thought we were just meeting the adults to get to know the breed. The look on our faces must have been comical. She smiled and asked if we wanted to see the litter. Yes, yes, yes, of course, yes!

The puppies were born exactly a week ago on October 8th. They were so little!! The one girl was already spoken for, but a few of the boys were still available. I held several of them in my hands – they were soooo precious! Their eyes were closed, but you could already kind of tell that they were different (other than the fur colors). The very first one I held started talking to me so loudly! He was so vocal and so funny… I kept asking him, “do you want me to be your mommy?” Wah wah wah!! (Jeff later said, “maybe we should call him ‘Squeaky’!”) While I was in another universe with the puppies, Jeff asked the breeder when the puppies would be available to go to the new families. Early December… no way! That was exactly the ideal timeline I had in my mind because December is relatively quiet for my job. Really? are things really aligning? Perchance, fate?

After holding a few others, we decided to adopt the very first one that I held, the one that was singing to me. And the thing is that it feels right. I feel at peace. And I think it is also no coincidence that this new little one is also a cattle herder, just like Maris was. I am at peace that this little animal is the right one to continue Maris’s legacy of herding me through life.

Early morning drive to Salt Creek Cafe… not quite awake yet
A goofy photo, pretending to be surprised.

The world through my eyes

in which I am the dog whisperer

Our family had a dog while I was an adolescent. Her name was Joy. She was a German Shepherd mix that we rescued. I remember that I was in middle school when the opportunity to adopt her presented itself. I was vehemently against it. I made my case to the family: owning a dog is a huge responsibility, and I don’t have the time to do it because of my academics. You might be asking, why was I putting all that responsibility on myself? Because I knew, even as a 12 year old, that I would be the one to take the duty seriously, but I simply did not have the time. But I was outvoted, we got the dog, and no one had time for her. Honestly, it is still traumatic for me to think about it. I have one photo of Joy from the early 1990’s, and I can’t even really look at it because I get so sad.

Can we make up for our past sins (no matter if collective) in the present? I sometimes thought of that during the 11 years Maris was in our lives. I treated her with respect for life I would have for any person I knew. She was my priority – I rearranged my social life, my schedule, finances, etc. around her happiness and fulfillment as a canine. I worried about her exercise routine, about her food… and during our walks, I let her sniff as many things for as long as possible because I knew that it would keep her canine brain active. I aimed for a fulfilled life for Maris. And sometimes when I looked at Maris’s face, I saw Joy. They were similar in some ways… the black-tan-white combo, and the big, kind eyes that would see through to your soul. It wasn’t too often, but I thought of Joy from 2011 to 2022 and hoped that my love for Maris would somehow make up for the love that Joy did not receive.

My young experience with Joy changed the way I interact with dogs as an adult. When I see a dog, I feel an immediate affinity to it… and I like to think that most dogs recognize this, too. Most dogs look right back and me and stare. I am sure there is a scientific explanation for why dogs do this, but in my eyes, they are connecting with me. In my world, they look back at me because they recognize that I am their ally, that I am communicating my deep love for animals to them. “Yes, dawg, I see that you are a beautiful soul… I know, I know… I get you. I love you, too.” That’s the conversation that takes place in my head. And this happens with most dogs – perhaps not the German Shepherd police dog I saw in Philadelphia airport who was all business and didn’t respond to me at all.

You might be thinking that I’m crazy, but from a psychological standpoint I think that my strong connection to dogs stems from my early trauma with Joy. Joyful her life was not, and her name was cruel irony. But it didn’t matter to her perhaps that she didn’t live a joyful life – to the end, she remained all loving and giving because that is what dogs do. It is the closest thing to unconditional love I have found in this world.

Happy together

Simple is beautiful

back to the basics

At heart, I am an analyst. My attention to detail is useful in my line of work (investments), where I am often in a sea of numbers. It also comes in handy for me as a musician. I love being surrounded by sound and enjoy identifying the minute differences in shades of colors embedded in a beautiful tone. It’s the detail-oriented mind that allows me to appreciate the complexities in life, but it is also a hurdle to appreciating the simple truths. In short, I tend to make things complicated.

Jeff’s survival in March of 2022 was such a dramatic event in our lives, that we are, or at least I am still reeling from it. A stupefied and speechless face with jaw dropped to the floor describes how I spent the 6 months since the emergency surgery. “I can’t believe you’re still here,” “I can’t believe you are here to tell me that lame joke,” “I can’t believe that I am hearing this lame joke right now and laughing at it…” I am still speechless. But out of sheer gratitude for the blessing we have been given, for a second chance at life for Jeff, and for another chance to fall in love again, I have been thinking about why this happened to us, and what we are supposed to do with this undeserved gift. A good friend, who went through an ordeal similar to ours told me that it takes time to process it. So I am taking my time, and trying not to make things complicated.

The first thing I felt was the unmistakable thumbprint of God on how the events unfolded. Because I tend to make everything complicated (and therefore, am prone to rationalizations), God made it so clear and simple for me to see: everything was out of our control, and only God was in control. God knew that I would otherwise go down the rabbit hole of “well, in actuality, there is an “x” probability that yada yada could happen, and blah blah blah.” Yeah, I am really that annoying. (For details on everything that contributed to Jeff’s survival, please visit What is a miracle). I have always believed in God, but for some reason in March of 2022, He decided to make himself known to us in this way.

Since then, I have been praying “please help me figure out what we are supposed to do with this blessing.” The first step was to share this incredible story. Then what else? What else am I supposed to do? Six months later, I still have no idea. I have such strong conviction, and I am fired up. Isn’t there something we are supposed to do with this second chance?

On Labor Day weekend, I went to church alone because Jeff was already in Europe, touring with the orchestra. That day, it hit me that perhaps God simply desired to be closer to us. That He wanted a closer, more meaningful relationship with us. Like a parent to His children. Shepherd to His flock. Maybe it’s not about what we are supposed to do, but about the nature of our relationship with God. Isn’t that why anyone would make himself known, loud and clear? Hello! I am here, right in front of you… unmistakably. The profound simplicity hit me like a ton of bricks. Duh! Isn’t that supposed to be the basics of Christianity? I was making it too complicated all along.

In my life’s timeline, the year 2022 is an absolute pivot in my faith… it is the year when I learned what it means to have conviction. So I think we will spend many years peeling this onion. But the place to start, the foundation of meaning behind our experience was not about something I should do. The cornerstone is a stronger, closer relationship with God. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). I just need to be still. How simple and beautiful.

Jeff with his Miro tie. Celebrating our friend’s wedding.

The withdrawal stage

missing xoxoxo

At first, the grief was overwhelming. I never wanted another dog again. How could I love something so much for so long, only to have to say good bye? A friend at work told me that I will be able to love again. That I would get there in time. It seemed impossible, but I believed her because time can do anything, I suppose. But even if I believed that I could love another, it felt like a betrayal to imagine loving another dog. Maris was my world for 11 years. I could never replace her!

Even if time healed my wounds and another dog came into my life, I might always compare the new dog to Maris… because Maris really was the perfect dog. She never chewed on anything other than her own toys. She was so well-potty-trained. She understood English (and some German words I taught her), even though she didn’t want you to know just how much. I could walk her without a leash, if I really wanted to because her focus was always on me. And she knew how to protect me. If I get another dog and it chews up my shoes, how could I not compare it to Maris? Then a good friend of mine told me that she had all the confidence in the world that I would love the new dog for what it is. Okay, maybe she is right.

You might be thinking that I am writing this post because I got another dog. Not quite. After the various stages of grief, I am experiencing a real withdrawal. I don’t think that’s a technical stage of grief, but here you have it. A real desire to connect with a canine. I can’t watch commercials with dogs in them without feeling a real pang in my heart for a dog’s love. It is difficult to watch people walking their dogs without feeling a bit of envy… what is a daily routine to them feels like a dream to me now. I guess I am a dog person through and through.

I like to think that it is more than just my love for dogs – you might think I’m crazy, but I think that dogs sense a connection with me. Just ask Jeff. Dogs somehow flock to me, or stop and look at me as if to say, “wait, I know you… and I think I might love you.” or “I want to lick your face” is more like it! When we were in Prague, we met a man and his dog, a Leonberger. It is a very large dog, similar coloring to a German Shepherd. When he and I saw each other, we just knew. Within a blink of an eye, I was sitting on the floor of the elevator bank with the dog licking my face all over, having a moment with this dog as if we had known each other all our lives. I never wanted it to end. And then there is the Shorkie that belongs to a new family in our neighborhood. I met the dog once before my trip, and apparently, she sat on our driveway waiting for me to come out to greet her everyday while I was in Europe. And honestly, I say hello to every dog I see. I am telling you… I think I might be part-canine.

There is an undeniable yearning for a dog’s love. Maybe it is sort of a rebound need… perhaps. After losing Maris, a dog’s love that had partially defined my 11 years had suddenly been snatched away from me. Whatever the case, the withdrawal symptoms are real. Emptiness, heartache, longing… for those indescribable moments of connection that dogs gift to us when we let them love us… all of it. Now I know that I will be able to love again, and I will be able to love another dog as our next family member. Not now, but some day.

December 2021. Last Christmas with Maris.

Something new

and yet familiar

It has been almost six months since Jeff’s surgery in late March, and we reached another milestone… the European tour. For the musicians, it is three weeks of being on the road, jumping from city to city, while still performing at the world class level that the audience around the world expects of The Cleveland Orchestra. It’s taxing, and the obvious jet lag is the least of the challenges! The late summer tour was the first time the orchestra toured Europe since before the pandemic (!), and it was the first tour for Jeff after the surgery.

The group started in Hamburg, Germany, hopped around other German cities, and then performed in Amsterdam. The thing about me and Jeff is that we talk every day, no matter where we are on the planet. Even if just to say hello, “I love you,” and good night. We started the tradition in February of 2008 when we began dating, and have only skipped one day – I was in the U.S., and Jeff was in Serbia, giving a concert. The hotel where he was staying was an older building, and every time the front desk transferred me to his room, the line got disconnected. After trying about 7 times, I gave up (this was the days before “TravelPass” on Verizon). Anyway, our phone conversations while Jeff was in Germany and the Netherlands gave me confidence that he was adjusting to the tour life without any problems. You know, because international travel is stressful on the body, and I was just worried…

On September 7th, the group flew to Lucerne, Switzerland, and that is when I joined the tour to be with Jeff. The way that day unfolded was a little like a romance movie. Jeff was flying in to Zurich from Amsterdam, and I was flying in from Philadelphia. I arrived first, took the train to Lucerne, left my bags at the hotel, and then wandered through the city. When Jeff called me to let me know that he had arrived, we were in the same city, but in different locations, trying to find each other. He was getting his usual iced latte at Starbucks, so I walked over to the coffee shop. And even though he repeatedly complained that it was the worst iced latte he had ever gotten at a Starbuck, everything he did was endearing because he was a sight for sore eyes! To me, we were like two lovers in a movie, finding their way to each other in some European city. And he looked good. Healthy. Thriving. Just a little tired.

The next ten days felt like any tour. Day rehearsals, acoustic rehearsals, concerts, travel. Rinse and repeat. There were only two free days, and we made the best of it. In Switzerland, we took a train out to Interlaken to be among the Swiss Alps and the beautiful Swiss lakes. On the map, we found a town called “Entlebuch,” the name sake of the breed of our late dog-love, Maris. In fact, I wore my necklace with the image of Maris (Jeff had gotten it for me one Christmas) because I knew she would be happy in Switzerland (you know, the whole Swiss Mountain Dog thing). We did not go to Entlebuch because our time was limited, but I felt like I could picture Maris herding sheep in one of those foothills of the Swiss Alps.

In Prague, I was really wistful. It was the last European city I visited before the Pandemic in 2019, and being back there felt like some sort of a triumph over COVID-19. Jeff and I have musician friends in Prague, and we were able to see them. With Jiri, it was a short visit, but so great to see his face. Vladya gave us his lunch hour between two rehearsals, and honestly, it was too short… he is such a sweet soul. And we ended our Prague experience with our friend Vilem, who gifted us the experience of authentic Czech cuisine. We felt like honorary Czechs that night, feasting on beef tartare, port tongue, rabbit leg, washing them down with our Pilsner Urquell, and finishing the meal with a homemade drink!

The rest of the tour was spent in Austria. The orchestra jumped back and forth between Vienna and Linz, but I stayed put in Vienna (can you blame me?). The first night, I was alone and found a Korean restaurant. Ha!! Being Asian, I needed to cut the enormous amount of grease I had been consuming with something super spicy. You can take the girl out of Korea, but you can’t… you get the drift! While alone, I spent my time soaking up the special Viennese lyrical lilt in the air, going to museums and shopping. Yes, I did go to the Belvedere, and yes, I saw The Kiss (Klimt), but not surprisingly, my favorite was called “Caesar at the Rubicon” by Wilhelm Truebner. You’ll see why when you scroll down to the photo section. Let’s just say that I am very predictable!

We also have friends in Vienna, Carolyn and Roland. They have been friends of the family for a very long time, and two of the most wonderful and generous people. We ate together, walked together, and they also came to the concert (the one I went to) at the Musikverein. When Jeff went to Linz for a concert, they came out and kept me company with tea at the Dorotheum and ice cream on a bench under a random Viennese tree. We talked about everything from family, arts, music, love, to um… commodities (like oil, natural gas, and copper). Don’t make me explain that last one. Shop talk.

I realized something during this trip. Normally, I am a very independent person who loves to explore what seems interesting to me at any given moment. So I am good at being alone. During past tours, I didn’t mind when Jeff was at rehearsal/concert because I could do what I wanted to do. But this time was different. I realized that I really wanted to be with Jeff. Europe is more fun with Jeff than without him. When he was at rehearsals or running out to Linz, I felt lonely. And when we were reunited, I felt my heart flutter from excitement of being together again. Behold, what is this? I realized that after all that we went through in the last few months, I had fallen in love all over again with my husband of 12 years.

Jeff is the one smiling with an oboe. After a successful concert at the Musikverein in Vienna. Five curtain calls and a standing ovation.
Post concert happiness
“Caesar at the Rubicon” by Wilhelm Truebner. I told you I am predictable!