Although she was just a whisper, the house is so quiet without her bigness

Today was her day

Martini Bednorz   11/4/02 – 2/26/16

How do you say thank you to a bundle of white fur that taught me all the more about unconditional Love, who won my husband’s heart (as much as he resisted), who made me a better person, dog mom, and stripped me of my big dog snob ego. 

How do I say thank you to the Creator for making such miraculous creatures.

Pets teach us that no matter what we look like, how big or small, rich or poor, white, black, purple or green, we are the bee’s knees to them. They are always there to listen with their floppy ears, and happy beyond belief to see you with the inability to hide it because of their wonderful truth tail. I’ve always said dog is God spelled backwards, because they show us how God Loves us.

How do I say thank you to her bloomers (groomer & beauty parlor blended together) Ray & Joe, all her babysitters Arlene Parker, her backup babysitter Emily Boyes, backup to backup Mindy Rae Lawrence, and her familial auntie babysitter Kasey Louise.
How do I recognize my manager Rafael, and all my colleagues who enjoyed having her around everyday & Loved her. Natasha, (Moo Feyh’s mom) always willing to keep an eye out on her if I needed to go to a meeting.

Pink princess resting under my desk PHOTOGRAPHER: Karen Bednorz


Bossy pants taking over meeting PHOTOGRAPHER: Cheryl Endo

To my daughter, who called me when she was moving back to Vegas and couldn’t take Martini. I said without hesitation, I’ll take her! It was suppose to be for a month. I transferred all my Love of my daughter into this one year old pup.

She Loved everyone she met. When she was young she was lightening fast, and gave us unending entertainment when she would ricochet around our house, us unable to catch her, when we would come home from the day at work. She grieved Betty for months. 
Martini lived fast and died fast. I was with her the entire day, held her for hours waiting for Gary to come so that he could hold her one last time too.
IMG_3407 (1)

Tender & intimate heartfelt goodby PHOTOGRAPHER: Karen Bednorz

Martini had great Vets, and today especially, those who tried to save her. I know she is with Betty now. The Catholic church espouses animals don’t go to heaven. C’mon!!! I say how can they not? It just wouldn’t be paradise without them.

Letting go

From his website about loss, Howard Lunche describes:“Mourning is the expression of sorrow for the dead. It is what we do to demonstrate the grief we are experiencing, and is the means for sharing the pain and disruption caused by a death. Funerals, prayer, unveilings, wearing black, sobbing, visiting the gravesite, journaling, memorials, and looking at photos are examples of how we overtly express and acknowledge the importance of the one who died and his or her death and absence. It is important to foster grief’s natural and healthy progression toward an outcome of acceptance of, and adjustment to, the reality of the death.  Mourning is how we do this.

In summary, grief is what is happening to us; our uniquely personal experience in all realms of our being. Bereavement is about who we are without the one who has died. Mourning is the method by which we alleviate the pain and disruption of grief and solidify the memory of the deceased and meaningfulness of our shared life and relationship.”

This precious family member was more than a dog, she was Love, and the loss is great, and so very real.  Losing Martini has also brought up for me, the many losses we’ve suffered this past three years.  Some happening so quickly upon one another, I realize now, I didn’t process each grieving period fully at the time.

We buried Martini’s ashes on Easter Sunday, as we did with her doggy sister and best friend Betty just three years earlier.  In a beautiful cardboard daisy shaped box with pastel polkadots, along with all the condolence cards we received, next to the fountain in the rose garden under the juniper where she liked to lay her belly to cool.  I see thirteen pink hearts every morning from my kitchen window.  Somehow this tribute / memorial art installation,  lifts and carries me.


Our Journey to Petralia

A photographer I work with said to me, he detecting I was in a “partly cloudy” funk;  “keep going toward your own bright Light”.  That is exactly what I’ve done, just striving to be my best self.  His words lifted me and became my mantra for more than a year, a time of great loss;   Beginning with the decision to put our 18-year dog to sleep as her quality of life and body dwindled,  my Mother passing away, although she was 86, it felt sudden. And, within months, the murder of our 20-yr. old nephew, just 20-months after his older 20yr. old brother lost his own battle with Myelodysplasia.  Immediately, came a car accident where miraculously we walked away with my husband suffering just a scratch, especially since it looked as if a disco ball exploded in my car and we were both covered with thousands of pieces of glass shards.  When I needed my family the most, and my husband would certainly have been greatly comforted by our nephew (my sister’s son) reaching out to him, the  coup de grås, was my nuclear family turning their backs and disconnecting themselves from me.

I was in the depths of despair and grief. In time, I started to gain clarity, and as always my dear friend expressed his wisdom. He said to me; they’ve been living unprincipled lives.  It was bound to happen.  Their choices were to inevitably impact you.   I remembered Janis Joplin and her line from Me &  Bobby McGee “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” I choose to view the change in my sisterhood as a gift, although it took some time before I actually believed this to be true. If not for this disconnect it’s doubtful I would have pulled aside an ounce of Mom’s ashes with the thought of taking them to Sicily.

Ashes & discoveries

Ashes & discoveries

Twenty-one months later that is exactly what my husband & I did.  I’ve learned so much on our trip to Petralia, Mom’s maiden name, and the name of the two villages that rest in the mountainous region 43 miles southeast of Palermo, isn’t her maiden name at all. No buses or train to transport us,  we rented a taxi for €200 Euros, with the condition our driver would not smoke or drive crazy.   Toto, our driver, was very kind.  He took his duty to heart knowing our intention, turning into our personal guide.  Popping in a classical CD, stating “you bambino”, leisurely driving us for 2 1/2hrs. through stunning countryside, stopping to point out sites like Mt. Etna, a natural mountain spring that was made into a watering fountain centuries ago, and pulling to the side of the road where he broke off a branch from the Genista Aetneneis bush.

Pure spring water from the Madonie Mountains

Pure spring water from the Madonie Mountains

Ginesta Aetneneis (Mt. Etna Broom)

Ginesta Aetneneis (Mt. Etna Broom)

The clipping was fragrant with beautiful yellow flowers, then Toto successfully explained, in mostly Italian, that this thorny shrub was the plant branches used over two-thousand years ago to make Christ’s crucifixion crown.    Toto knew I was in search of “documents” as he put it, taking us to a government building, and guiding us through halls and floors until we came to a clerk.  He explained we came from America.  She stopped what she was doing opening an armoires of sorts, filled with oversized handwritten bound books of names and birth dates hundreds of years old.  I wanted so badly to take photos, but I already felt I was intruding on her day, and since they were vital records, to ask might have come across as disrespectful at the lest, and possibly illegal to do so at the worst, if those names were not my own family’s.  During this effort the biggest discovery is that Petralia has been mis-pronounced for three generations, and by many American families besides our own. Phonetically spelled; Pet tra lee-a. Also, that my grandfather had a different last name that was dropped when they immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island.  When I told the clerk his name was Joseph, she said adamantly “no Joseph,  Giuseppe. Giuseppe last name of Petralia.

Grandma Ann's Birth Certificate

Nunziata was Grandma’s first name, but she always went by Anna

Then I showed her my Grandmother’s birth certificate, which Grandma Ann had changed the birthdate as she wanted to claim being younger by four years.  When the clerk pointed to this obvious alteration I just shrugged my shoulders.  Grandma’s maiden name noted on the New Jersey birth certificate states Falco, and how I’ve always known it to be.  The clerk again, with hand gestures, corrected the error, and mispronunciation; Falco?!? Fal cone ay!  She was so generous, as well as patient,  with her time considering I had so little to go on.  I thanked her and we left.

Across from the government building is a square with a monument of two figures; a soldier and a monk holding up a sword together, on a pillar.IMG_2513  Across from that monument a terrace that overlooks the valley, and town of Petralia Sottana.  Directly below this raised stone terrace was beautiful foliage, flora & fauna, and butterflies.  There is where we let Mama’s remaining ashes fly.

Joining the butterflies

Joining the butterflies

Petralia Soprana over looking Petralia Sottana

Petralia Soprana over looking Petralia Sottana

Not all of the ashes fell out of the herb bottle that held her.  I didn’t want to force it, so the tiny bit that stayed behind I took with me back to our rented flat in Cefalu, which is situation directly across from the ocean bluffs.  There we emptied the oregano jar completely.

Thee unto the Tyrrhenian Sea

Thee unto the Tyrrhenian Sea






Mom rests next to her husband at the Riverside Veterans Memorial Cemetery, in the hills of Petralia Soprana, and released into the Tyrrhenian Sea of the Mediterranean Proper.  How amazing that her daughter and son-in-law traveled the 6,622 miles to make the journey, to mark her life, my ancestors lives, and the adventure that brought them across the Atlantic to the United States of America.Nearly two years after such loss and despair, I am so happy.  The storm made way to the most beautiful of rainbows.  We journeyed beyond the island of Sicily. I journeyed back to me…Fulfilled, living my life in truth, peace, freedom, and forgiveness.  My proclamation of my sister’s rejection being a gift, in spite of how much I miss her, as it turns out, is true after all.  

Suggested film for anyone who has had family immigrate from Europe through Ellis Island.

To My Daddy

(A Poem for his memorial, June 1998)

Puppies, ponds, and paint. Walks, talks and dancing fireplace fires. Kindness toward nature, hard work and play fair.
Best of all… music, nothing else can compare.
The horn you played, your own amazing grace.

Jam sessions, the lessons, the tears of practice at the drums.
Songs we sang and played together, Julie you and me.
Your trio dream, the famous band never to become.

This gift will never pass. The music in my heart is like my breath. Forever there, as it was yours.
Through every lesson, challenge and joy there is the music.
At times when words just didn’t work, the music has been the perfect fit.

My dear sweet father, our times have not always been bright.
But thank you for giving me the freedom and safe place
to always be honest and many times right.
Thank you for respecting me back.
Me, my feelings and my decisions.
And for loving me, all of me, no matter what.
For always letting me know you love me in more ways than your words could ever say.

Don’t ask me not to cry.
You always wanted to make it better. Well you have.
You’ve made my life better because you’ve been in it.
You’ve always been there for me.
I can’t image what my life would have been without you.
You made mistakes and Mom forgave you.
You choose to be clean and sober and I am so proud of you for that.
I am so proud of you for everything good about you.

Dad, you weren’t always easy, but You are my hero just the same.
And forever, you’ll be the music that stays with me all my days.

Forever in our Hearts

Our Mom became a beautiful butterfly, and one came to visit our backyard the eve of her 1year anniversary of passing into eternity.  PHOTOGRAPHER:  Gary Bednorz

Our Mom became a beautiful butterfly, and one came to visit our backyard the eve of her 1year anniversary of passing into eternity. PHOTOGRAPHER: Gary Bednorz

Even though my sister preferred not to partake, I held out hope and kept looking in my rearview mirror. Knowing all the while she would not show. So what I thought was going to be a process supported by & with each other is not, and what a missed opportunity she had to join me knowing my only response would be that of gratitude and Love if she only had the strength to take that step toward contrition. Her absence added to my sadness, so I just remind myself “it’s her own journey”

When we arrived at the gravesite after being escorted by one of the ground’s attendants I envisioned we would be placing the plastic box housing my Mother’s ashes in a small more hefty “coffin” (as in my uncle’s interment.) So surprised I said “AS  IS!”…the attendant obliged.

I scattered rose petals from my birthday bouquets and garden in the earth, and then when asked if I wanted to be the one to put her in, I said yes. I held the brown plastic box close then placed her gently down, sprinkling the remainder of the petals. Kneeling, I then read the most beautiful poem I could find for her;

“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
Runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
In numberless blades of grass
And breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
And of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Then placed the poem paper note with her as well. I said “thank you” to the three attendants, two of which dug the small grave. One of them, Derek, replied with “it was an honor”. I keep thinking and will forever remember him for how truly kind and tender that was of him.

Also, taking from my sister’s response email: “I know she is in my heart and with me always”, made for the perfect message for Mom’s grave marker: “Forever in Our Hearts”

Although I didn’t recall from previous visits that my Father rests on a hill, when I stood up I took in how beautiful a spot for them both – overlooking a magnolia tree for me, a golf course for my sister.

I kept a very small scoop of ashes to someday take to Palermo, Italy. There is a tiny village centered in Sicily named Petralia – Mom’s maiden name. Thinking it would be nice to leave, rather “return”, a bit of her there, her ancestral home.  Grateful I have Gary, and by my side.  My Mother’s loss just as great for him.

Thankful to so many for so much Love and care received, and so blessed to have such heartfelt support during the journey of Mother’s passing, while I navigate through this tender time. I’m strong & brave, although at times crumble, because too, of the loss of the remainder of my nuclear family. I know when it comes to matters of eternity all will work out more perfectly than I, or anyone, could possibly predict or imagine.

We discovered our Mother’s note to us the very last night, emptying out the very last piece of furniture, as we prepared to leave her home for the very last time.  At first I thought she wrote this possibly some months, or the year before, putting it in her desk and forgetting about it.  Recently, I’ve come to believe, she scribbling out her message to us soon before she died.  A precious gift that anyone who Loved their parent would treasure.   Although, at the time of discovery, I did find it curious that she would say to us “Love and take care of each other” as my sister and I were fine; Calling each other daily, supporting each other through some of our most trying of life’s challenges, and especially in solidarity with our Mother’s care.  We would never, could never, be at odds with one another.  Little did I know that my Mother had the wisdom of the universe, and her note was, is, indeed, a message from the future.

We discovered our Mother’s note to us the very last night, emptying out the very last piece of furniture, as we prepared to leave her home for the very last time. At first I thought she wrote this possibly some months, or the year before, putting it in her desk and forgetting about it. Recently, I’ve come to believe, she scribbling out her message to us soon before she died. A precious gift that anyone who Loved their parent would treasure.
Although, at the time of discovery, I did find it curious that she would say to us “Love and take care of each other” as my sister and I were fine; Calling each other daily, supporting each other through some of our most trying of life’s challenges, and especially in solidarity with our Mother’s care. We would never, could never, be at odds with one another. Little did I know that my Mother had the wisdom of the universe, and her note was, is, indeed, a message from the future.

Elizabeth Josephine Valentine, otherwise known as The Betty

17yr.old Betty

17yr.old Betty

It had been over a year since our much Loved Butch passed and Gary brought home the Mutt Matcher, liken to a personals for dogs.  He had an Australian Sheppard in mind, thinking he would actually have time to play Frisbee again, only this time with a dog.  I knew better.  Any pet we decided on would be mostly my care responsibility.  The Love responsibility would definitely be a partnership.

When I saw the photo next to the dog Gary was interested in, and noted her age, counting the 49 days Buddhist believe the soul reincarnates, a little math of when Butch passed & Betty’s age,  I said “Look, Betty seems sweet.  I wonder if she is Butch”.  Well that did it…Gary stared at me then slowly turned his gaze with the conversation bubble appearing above his head (Oh my God, my wife has lost it).

We contacted Betty’s foster mom, Cindy, the big hearted women who found her abandoned in a park. Cindy had taken Betty to the shelter. She already had too many pets and could not take on another.  Betty was on death row! Just in time, Cindy went back, making our adopting possible.

Cindy & George brought Betty to our home while subtlely observing our house, fenced yard and surrounding, taking on the protective roll of K9 Greenpeace activist.  Ensuring Betty’s new home was appropriate, stable & Loving. She had finally, indeed, been rescued.

In a Christmas card I introduced her to everyone in this letter:

Hi, I’m new to the family.  My name is Betty. Mom & Dad rescued me.  Dad tells my foster parents brought me over on “Super Bowl Sunday”.

I Love my home and I get lots of attention.  In fact I’m a much bigger girl than when I first arrived. Mom keeps talking about someone named “Jenny Craig” when she feeds me.  I don’t know that person.  All I know is that I Love when Mom gives me  the last of her breakfast. A treat in the morning –  yummm, yummy.

Mom & Dad go to a place called work a lot and there is this narrow bar that rings all the time and my parents talk to it. They are very busy people.

I have a big sister, Marguex. She doesn’t live here, but takes care of me when Mom & Dad are  gone for a few days. Her boyfriend Casey is nice and sometimes comes to visit when Marguex stays with me.

Sometimes I get to go on trips with my parents but I get real nervous usually the first night. There is no place like home and my spot next to their bed on my special blanket.

I get lots of walks and have made friends with some of the neighbors. My favorite are Tom &  Gayle.  Sometimes I sneak into their kitchen and eat the cat food.  Bad dog, bad!

Mom tells me that this is a very special time of year.  A time to share much Love and to try to  be forgiving.  All I can say is I hope everyone is Loved as much as I am.

Who knows what trauma our girl suffered before joining our family, but it was clear… She had anxiety. Chocolate lab, pit bull mix, I’ve always said she is a permanent puppy that protects.  One thing was for sure, she was strong. I’ve had my feet knocked out from under me, and several occasions had to be readjusted by my chiropractor after an enthusiastic walk.

She was such a ‘nervous Nellie’, jumping over or busting through our white picket fence was a daily event! with Gary repairing it every weekend. After every escape I would get a call from one of the neighbors. I would leave work, find her, put her in our garage and hope for the best. She ate through the drywall and door moulding trying to get into our house. Also chewed through the side garage door! Once I came home to find her wedged between the washer & dryer where she bit through the copper gas line.  That did it ~ to the vet for doggy downers – a temporary fix at best.

Upon the arrival of doggie #2, Martini, I finally relented. Letting them both stay in the house. However, there was the time she dug through our new carpet unraveling it in two places. Another day another repair.

All that aside, Betty has been a great dog. And, I’ve absolutely grown into a better doggy mommy.  We did two sessions of dog obedience school, but it was I who was trained. I always feel safe knowing she is doing her job patrolling our property.

A family member had a Peeping Tom experience so she got a HUGE gun.  I had way worse happen to me and I rescue dogs.  Different approach most definitely.

Betty also helped with healing our friend who had a brain injury. When we first got Betty, she escaped and went right up to our neighbor’s Tom & Gayle’s backyard sliding glass door.  This was remarkable because Butch did the exact same thing when we first moved to our new home at the time.  When their son was in a near fatal car accident with a eighteen wheeler, he miraculously awoke from a 3-month coma, on Good Friday no less.  I took Betty up to the Brain Trauma Center in Santa Barbara and this was very helpful for Barry.

Betty would also eat anything.  She loved finding the apples that would drop, and we often noticed her carefully picking the loquats from the tree until we trimmed it back to grow taller.  But the most memorable Betty binging was after we planted our garden it exploded with the carrot crop.  She discovered them, and when I came home after work the entire back yard had carrot tops sprawled all about, and Betty in a carotene drunk nearly passed out.  Her tummy was so upset I slept with her on the floor giving her little sips of warm 7Up. Vegetables gardens were difficult to maintain after she discovered those raised beds had food in them.  There were a few seasons of “oh, what’s the use”.

When Martini arrived, the tiny lion hearted Pekingese, has some kind of Napoleon complex, or simply does not know her size.  Aside from her puppy play by chewing on Betty’s tail and ankles, she, still to this day, viciously attacks Betty if she even thinks Betty is coming near her food at meal times.  Betty is so gentle, never ever harming this piranha at her paws & ears.  Which she could so easily do in a simple aggressive move.  But Betty knows Martini is small, so she tolerates all the bullying.

Betty is nearly 18yrs. old, deaf, and in some ways easier with less power behind that relentless reincarnated spirit. She can no longer make it up the stairs, so her DogFather carries her up and back down in the morning.  When Gary isn’t home I carefully pick her up (legs & abs, legs & abs), and in the morning bring her to the top of the stairs, steady her head between my thighs, at the same time I left her back legs while I back down the stairs one at a time, gently easing her down to our first floor.  More recently I have to hold her upright while she eats.  If you let them, dogs make you a better person, and yes, Betty has taught me a lot.

DogFather taking Betty to bed

DogFather taking  Queen Betty to bed