This has been a year of losses, some annoying, some difficult, some heart wrenching.
The annoying losses mostly concerned property.
First to go were the 20 year old washer and dryer. That was hardly unexpected and, except for the hassle and expense of replacing them, mostly welcome. We had been putting up with occasionally mangled and often mistakenly shrunk laundry for quite some time. And goodness knows what impact that old washing machine had on our water bill. (It's been difficult to ascertain the impact so far because of all the leaky plumbing we need to fix.)
Next was our beloved Mazda 3 which was barely a year old. I've written in detail about that incident here. The up side is that, while we were set back financially when it came to replacing the car, we wound up getting another Mazda 3 that has some new features that the old car lacked.
Third was the demise of my infamous "produce killing" refrigerator. (I've written in graphic detail about said fridge here.) The great news on this front is that I finally have the fridge of my dreams and, the best part, it was on sale.
Those were the annoying losses.
The difficult losses began with a loss of our sense of security with our aging parents as we face the reality that our time with them is finite. We had a very close call last summer with my step-father-in-law that really rocked our foundations and there can only be more of such episodes to come as each of our parents reach or near the 80 year mark.
Other difficult losses have been school and job related as we shift with the economy. The one I'd most like to single out here is that of the conductor of the Kenosha Symphony, Miriam Burns. Tomorrow night I will play what may be my final concert under the baton of Ms. Burns and it will be a tremendously challenging evening.
Firstly because of the challenging program: Don Juan by Strauss, Polyvetsian Dances by Borodin, and a series of opera arias with "flexible beat structure".
But secondly, and most importantly, it will be challenging through the simple fact that Miriam Burns is, hands down, one of the finest conductors I have had the pleasure to play for. In a career that has spanned over 30 years of playing with orchestras large and small, I have had my share of interesting experiences with conductors. Some are tremendously arrogant and temperamental (I will have the good grace to mention no names) some completely incompetent (again, no names) and only a handful truly professional and visionary. Ms. Burns falls into that last category without question.
In the 14 years that I have worked with her she has displayed professionalism on every level. Her rehearsals are well planned and concise, she knows what she wants and she knows how to help the orchestra achieve it. I cannot tell you how important this is. I have occasionally played for conductors who - in the words of a colleague - are "tremendously generous with other people's time". There is nothing more frustrating than sitting idly while 60 minutes of rehearsal time are spent hashing out bowings. And there is also nothing more frustrating than sitting in witness to an out of control conductor whose only tool for improving the orchestra is to yell at and belittle them. Instead, Miriam excels at taking a passage apart and fixing its underlying structure.
Furthermore, she is skilled in selecting repertoire that challenges the orchestra but is not beyond our capabilities (we've played many, many pieces that could be seen as beyond the reach of a small orchestra that has only 5 rehearsals per concert - Daphnis and Chloe, Symphonie Fantastique, Bartok Concerto for Orchestra and Don Juan to name a few).
Ms. Burns is leaving, not because her work with us is finished, nor because we are unhappy with her direction. She is leaving, quite simply, because we can no longer afford her. She flies in from New York to work with us and our organization needs to find someone local to take over the conducting duties. The Symphony's loss is just another casualty of the horrible economy. Perhaps there will be a shift in our fortunes in the future and we will be able to have her back. I certainly hope so.
Finally, and I realize I've taken a long time to get here - thanks to those patient enough to still be reading - the heartbreaking losses.
The first was our Rat Terrier Lucky - to whom I dedicated an essay here.
Now it is our beautiful Border Collie Lyra who was diagnosed with inoperable, incurable bone cancer the day after the Mazda got smashed (which was on Valentine's Day, now that I think of it - what a sucky present).
As difficult as the situation with Lucky was, he was an ancient dog (our best guess at his age was 16). Lyra is only 6 1/2 and we really took it for granted that we would enjoy her companionship for years to come. As I write this the clock is running down on her final two hours. God, just typing that chokes me up.
As heartbreaking as it is to put her down, we know that waiting longer will only make things more difficult, both for us and for her. As it is, the cancer has grown to enormous proportions, taking over the entire right side of her face. It has grown into her mouth and begun taking over the teeth and jaw on that side and creates enough blood and other fluids as to give her difficulty breathing. As I describe that, I realize it sounds as though we have already waited too long. The problem is, not only does she not seem to be in that much pain, she is still incredibly active, in good spirits and bouncy. She still chases squirrels and loves walks and riding in the car and is still happy to see us when we come home. I took her for a walk this morning and, as per usual, she tried to drag me the whole way.
And that complicates things terribly. When do you do this thing that is ending a life? When the situation is bad but not impossible? Or do you wait until you run the risk of the tumor rupturing outward or her lungs collapsing as she struggles for breath? (This type of cancer has almost always metastasized to the lungs by the time you see the tumor.)
When I look at the course of her day it currently breaks down to 10 minute intervals of "same old dog" with 3 hour spells of "will she even make it through the night, breathing like that?" And that is how we find ourselves today having to make the call. I cannot keep her with us past the point at which she is truly suffering and she is rapidly approaching that state.
That's really all I can say about it right now.
I hope to write a tribute to her next week.