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You may want to read the following story, previously posted on this blog, as background for this installment. The tale of  Mavis’ Ladybug below has been excerpted from a chapter in my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss”.—Sid


Mavis’ Ladybug

I was blessed to know a phenomenal woman named Mavis Vitums
for more than a decade. There were more times than I could count
when I saw evidence of her doing the work of angels in people’s lives,
my own included. She was the most giving person I think I’ve ever
known. In her sixty-eight years on Earth, she had fostered dozens
upon dozens of children and later gave homes to adults in need of
foster care, including my stepfather Leonard and his mentally
retarded brother Benjamin, who both lived quite happily in Mavis’
home until their deaths in 2001 and 2003, respectively.
After years of battling numerous forms of cancer and heart disease
— after even having died twice in the ER and been resuscitated — she
finally chose to let herself stop fighting and truly transform into the
celestial being I knew she always was on the inside.
However, while she was in hospice care in her nursing home
room, a few days before she died, I had said to her, “Mavis, we have
to work out an important detail. What are you going to send me as a
sign that you’re around and doing all right once you pass? I want to
be able to recognize it.”
She thought a moment and then said with a grin, “A ladybug.
Red with black spots. I think they’re classy.”
Well, she died on September 19, 2007, and I was to perform a
wedding ceremony on September 21. I’d gone into the ladies’ restroom
at the golf course clubhouse in Shakopee, Minnesota, for a
final freshening up before the ceremony was to begin, and when I
reached into a basket of paper towels to dry my hands, I stopped
short because there, atop the stack of towels was a red ladybug with
black spots!
The members of the bridal party who’d been gathered there waiting
for the big moment said they’d seen it earlier and just thought,
“Oh that’s nice. It’s good luck.”
I told them of Mavis’ promise to send me a ladybug, and they
promptly cursed me out for making them all cry before the ceremony.
I put the bug on my left palm and ran around the party room, showing
as many of the 250 guests and/or wedding party members as I
could find. The ladybug just contentedly sat on my hand, occasionally
stretching its legs and preening but otherwise never budging. I
picked up my note cards and decided I would perform the ceremony
with a bug on my hand. The wedding went off without a hitch; I can’t
imagine where my newfound confidence could have come from!
My husband took a Polaroid picture of this as untampered-with
photographic evidence.
After about an hour of holding my palm turned upward, though, my
hand started to cramp. I said to the ladybug, “I’m going to have to have
you climb up on my dress, okay?”
As if it understood me, it began crawling toward my chest when I held
my hand next to me and wound up positioning itself on my dress approximately
where a brooch would go. It sat there for nearly another half-hour then got a little bit “antsy,” pardon the pun, and crawled along my collar.
I said to it, “Oh, I get it. You have to go now, right? I’ll take you
outside.”
I placed the bug back on my left palm, where it sat, pouting, legs
tucked in and unmoving. My husband, Anthony, and I went outside
to near the waterfall beside which I’d just performed the ceremony.
The ladybug remained motionless until I said, “I see some impatiens
in the rocks over there. I’ll put you there, okay?”
The instant I’d said that, the bug began crawling up my palm to
the tip of my index finger, just like a trained flea circus performer. I
placed my finger next to a leaf on the purple impatiens plant, and the
ladybug readily climbed onto it. I turned for just a second to hug my
husband and say tearfully to the heavens, “Mavis, you rock!”
When I turned back, the ladybug had disappeared.
Later on, as we were leaving, I saw Stacy, a.k.a. the new Mrs. Jake
Adelmann, racing across the parking lot like a runaway bride, only
she was running toward us. She called out, “Tell your friend how
grateful we are she came to our wedding!”

Now that you’re caught up, back to the current story…Yesterday, I took my four Westies for a walk around beautiful Lake Calhoun here in Minneapolis. As I prepared to get them out of the back seat of my car, I placed my keys on the roof and stopped in my tracks. There on top of my car and right next to where I’d laid my keys was a ladybug.

This has enormous significance because it was another gift sent from the Other Side by my dear, departed friend Mavis Vitums. The timing was incredible, too, because the ladybug showed up on the afternoon of my opening night of “The Dixie Swim Club,” a play in which I play Jeri Neal, currently staged by Expressions Community Theater at the Lakeville Area Arts Center.

A bit more backstory is needed here. A few years ago, just a few months after she died, Mavis surprised me with ladybugs on another opening night at the same venue. This one was during Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” in which I played Mrs. Boyle. It was my return to the stage after a long hiatus. I’d gone into the ladies’ room deep within the theater building, and I was greeted by two ladybugs on the bathroom mirror right before I went onstage. (This was late October in Minnesota, it was cold outside and quite well past ladybug season.)

Knowing that my dear, dear friend is still a fan of mine and following my “career” on the stage is both thrilling and deeply comforting to me. Every time she sends me these messages, she reminds me that she is not gone, merely transformed into another form of energy—evidently a form of energy that has a lot of clout with ladybugs!

Thank you, Mavis, for remaining my steadfast friend even after death! My every performance in this play is dedicated to your memory. XOXOX

P.S. Added Monday following the play’s opening weekend: Mavis sent another live ladybug, which landed on and stayed on a barrette on the back of Bonnie Rae’s  (Vernadette) head during the show on Saturday night! As I was informed of this on Sunday, another live ladybug flew over our heads in the dressing room and landed on the window above my makeup station! I think Mavis loves the press she’s receiving from this!!!—Sid

"The Dixie Swim Club" cast L-R, seated, Pamela Page (Lexi), Bonnie Rae (Vernadette), Me (Sid Korpi/Jeri Neal), Megan Ward Trower (Dinah); standing, Kate Habegger (Sheree)

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This past weekend, I performed a wedding ceremony alongside the shore of Lake Superior in Two Harbors, Minnesota. The setting alone was magical, but several things set apart this event as singularly meaningful for me. The first was that my hubby and I took a six-mile walk along the harbor that morning and at the end of the journey encountered a doe and her white-spotted fawn. I knew that was a wonderful omen for the ceremony that would take place later in the day. Then, an otherwise cool-ish, cloudy/foggy day miraculously cleared to temperate sunshine just half an hour before the ceremony. Finally, one of my most poignant experiences of the afterlife and our connection to those on the Other Side, as recounted in my book in the story Mavis’ Ladybug (pg. 76 excerpted below), came back to revisit me.

Mavis’ Ladybug

I was blessed to know a phenomenal woman named Mavis Vitums
for more than a decade. There were more times than I could count
when I saw evidence of her doing the work of angels in people’s lives,
my own included. She was the most giving person I think I’ve ever
known. In her sixty-eight years on Earth, she had fostered dozens
upon dozens of children and later gave homes to adults in need of
foster care, including my stepfather Leonard and his mentally
retarded brother Benjamin, who both lived quite happily in Mavis’
home until their deaths in 2001 and 2003, respectively.
After years of battling numerous forms of cancer and heart disease
— after even having died twice in the ER and been resuscitated — she
finally chose to let herself stop fighting and truly transform into the
celestial being I knew she always was on the inside.
However, while she was in hospice care in her nursing home
room, a few days before she died, I had said to her, “Mavis, we have
to work out an important detail. What are you going to send me as a
sign that you’re around and doing all right once you pass? I want to
be able to recognize it.”
She thought a moment and then said with a grin, “A ladybug.
Red with black spots. I think they’re classy.”
Well, she died on September 19, 2007, and I was to perform a
wedding ceremony on September 21. I’d gone into the ladies’ restroom
at the golf course clubhouse in Shakopee, Minnesota, for a
final freshening up before the ceremony was to begin, and when I
reached into a basket of paper towels to dry my hands, I stopped
short because there, atop the stack of towels was a red ladybug with
black spots!
The members of the bridal party who’d been gathered there waiting
for the big moment said they’d seen it earlier and just thought,
“Oh that’s nice. It’s good luck.”
I told them of Mavis’ promise to send me a ladybug, and they
promptly cursed me out for making them all cry before the ceremony.
I put the bug on my left palm and ran around the party room, showing
as many of the 250 guests and/or wedding party members as I
could find. The ladybug just contentedly sat on my hand, occasionally
stretching its legs and preening but otherwise never budging. I
picked up my note cards and decided I would perform the ceremony
with a bug on my hand. The wedding went off without a hitch; I can’t
imagine where my newfound confidence could have come from!
My husband took a Polaroid picture of this as untampered-with
photographic evidence.
After about an hour of holding my palm turned upward, though, my
hand started to cramp. I said to the ladybug, “I’m going to have to have
you climb up on my dress, okay?”
As if it understood me, it began crawling toward my chest when I held
my hand next to me and wound up positioning itself on my dress approximately
where a brooch would go. It sat there for nearly another half-hour then got a little bit “antsy,” pardon the pun, and crawled along my collar.
I said to it, “Oh, I get it. You have to go now, right? I’ll take you
outside.”
I placed the bug back on my left palm, where it sat, pouting, legs
tucked in and unmoving. My husband, Anthony, and I went outside
to near the waterfall beside which I’d just performed the ceremony.
The ladybug remained motionless until I said, “I see some impatiens
in the rocks over there. I’ll put you there, okay?”
The instant I’d said that, the bug began crawling up my palm to
the tip of my index finger, just like a trained flea circus performer. I
placed my finger next to a leaf on the purple impatiens plant, and the
ladybug readily climbed onto it. I turned for just a second to hug my
husband and say tearfully to the heavens, “Mavis, you rock!”
When I turned back, the ladybug had disappeared.
Later on, as we were leaving, I saw Stacy, a.k.a. the new Mrs. Jake
Adelmann, racing across the parking lot like a runaway bride, only
she was running toward us. She called out, “Tell your friend how
grateful we are she came to our wedding!”

Back to the present-day wedding. After we spotted the two deer that day, I had said aloud to my husband, Anthony, “Now all we need is a ladybug to make this wedding perfect!”

After the ceremony, Anthony and I were assigned seats at the table with the groom’s parents, grandparents and other family friends for the reception dinner. Later on in the evening, I was chatting with one of the family friends about my book, because she and her husband are animal lovers and she’d shared that her own neighbor had just lost her young chihuahua who’d been hit by a car, and for some reason I’d just started sharing the “Mavis’ Ladybug” story when my eye was suddenly drawn to the table’s centerpiece (made, I later found out, by the bride’s mother). Earlier on, I’d seen two ceramic mushrooms standing in a bed of succulent-like ground cover, thought it was a lovely arrangement  but investigated it no further. When I took a closer look, however, chills broke out on my arms and I squealed in delight.

Set in the center of the table’s decoration was a vintage-looking box with the word and a picture of a LADYBUG. In its open slot was a ceramic ladybug itself! This was the only design of its kind in the whole room, and I was seated next to it! I took a photo of the arrangement as evidence, yet again, that Mavis was watching over me.  (Double click on the photo to see it enlarged for detail.)

If all this weren’t twitterpating enough, I learned the reason the bride’s mother had chosen this particular item was because when her daughter was a teenager, her nickname was “Ladybug”!! (When she saw me totally spazzing over it, the bride’s mother kindly agreed to go to the store where she’d found this one and send me one of the ladybugs as a memento. Anthony gave her the money to cover the purchase.)

Then, she topped all this off by my telling me that she and her husband had seven adopted children and, over the years, 19 fostered kids—giving homes and love to those who need it most—just like Mavis had!!! Don’t hand me “coincidence” here. This is what miracles are made of in my world!

Mavis, you continue to rock, nearly three years after your passing from this physical plane!! The afterlife connections continue, and I am forever grateful!

A strong case can be made for keeping the elderly united with their pets. I had a dear (now deceased) friend who was forced to move into an assisted living facility and be parted from her beloved Pekingese Zeke. Clearly bereaved from losing not only her home but her pet, my friend’s emotional and physical health deteriorated swiftly, so much so that she was forced to move to an advanced care nursing home. The only good thing was this new nursing home allowed her to keep Zeke. He, in fact, became the “house dog” and enjoyed the run of the whole facility, frequently visiting other residents and beloved by all. My friend Mavis was able to die in her own room with Zeke by her side.

As I wrote in a story in my book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” Zeke was so protective of/worried about leaving his human mama, he would growl (very uncharacteristically for this sweet dog) whenever we tried to get him off the bed to feed him or take him outside. He wouldn’t eat or drink for nearly two days. For Mavis’ part, though in hospice care at the time, she felt she couldn’t “let go” until all the details were taken care of regarding who would adopt Zeke when she died. She made arrangements with her foster daughter to take her dog, and you could feel the weight that had been lifted from Mavis’ shoulders.

Shortly thereafter, when Mavis did finally pass, Zeke immediately became chipper again and willingly leaped down from her bed, eager to eat, drink, and go for walks again. It was as though, once she was freed of her body, Mavis’ spirit was able to reassure Zeke that all was again well and he could stop watching over her.

This, to me, illustrates the depth of the human-animal bond and our ability to communicate with one another even after we’ve left this physical life. Imagine Mavis’ ongoing suffering, and Zeke’s as well, if they’d been forced to be apart at this crucial time of transition.

Mavis and Zeke

I hope someday all senior living centers will accept the benefits of pet ownership vastly outweigh any inconveniences and will allow their residents to remain united with their animal companions. The following article from K9 magazine illustrates my point still further.

—Sid

Pressure Mounts For Older People To Keep Pets

Submitted by Jennifer White on April 23, 2010 

A survey of more than 4,000 members of the public by PFMA, the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, reveals 90% of people think that separation from a pet is traumatic for older people entering residential care or sheltered accommodation.

The TNS research also found 83% agree pets make their owners happier and 54% think pet owners should be able to make the choice about entering care facilities after seeing the accommodation policy.

Pets provide significant benefits to elderly people; those who keep pets when entering care homes enjoy a smoother transition into residential care, as well as significant health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Other proven health benefits for older people with pets include: reduced blood pressure and cholesterol; improved recovery from heart attacks and strokes; better social interactions in people with dementia; and fewer GP visits.

Conducted in March 2010, the research helped shape the PFMA’s goal to ensure all leading UK housing providers implement responsible pet policies that enable older people to make an informed choice about their future. This commitment is part of the organisation’s 2020 vision to make a better world with pets, launched to mark its 40th anniversary.

The PFMA is working closely with SCAS (Society for Companion Animal Studies) and MPs taking the issue forward – including Ian Cawsey, Nick Palmer and Nigel Waterson – to strive for fairer treatment of the older pet-owning public.

Ian Cawsey, MP for Brigg and Goole, said: ‘Today we have more than 11 million elderly adults living in Britain, of whom approximately 25% are pet-owners. This figure is estimated to rise to 14 million by 2026 and the majority of these people will eventually require some form of residential care. Unfortunately growing older often involves inevitable heartache and loss but being separated from a pet when entering care facilities should not be part of it. This is why I welcome the PFMA’s 2020 goal to ensure care facilities implement responsible pet policies over the next decade.”

PFMA, Chief Executive, Michael Bellingham, explains: “Having analysed the research and consulted SCAS we are delighted to announce our 2020 ambition to ensure fairer treatment of the older pet-owning public. The importance of pets to people in care facilities cannot be under-estimated. Over the next ten years we want to make a big difference to the lives of older pet owners.”

This latest call to action follows the successful passing of shadow minister for older people, Nigel Waterson’s bill – Care Homes and Sheltered Accommodation (Domestic Pets) Bill -which aims for a more “enlightened and responsible” policy for allowing pet owners in residences to keep their beloved animals.

CASE STUDY: A SUCCESSFUL PET-FRIENDLY HOUSING SCHEME

Wandsworth Borough Council operates a positive pet policy and has been permitting pets in sheltered schemes since 2001. Wandsworth’s executive member for housing Martin D Johnson said: “Pet ownership is an enriching part of many elderly people’s lives. As well as offering companionship, they keep their owners active and are a link to social activities that prevent isolation.
We’ve had pets in our sheltered schemes for nine years without a single significant problem. Our experience proves this type of housing can easily accommodate animals and there is no need to deny elderly people the pleasures and benefits of pet ownership.
We want other housing providers to rethink their attitudes to animals and realise the huge benefits they represent.”

OTHER SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH PROMOTING BENEFITS OF PETS TO OLDER PEOPLE:

Older people who are forced to part with a pet when moving into residential care can suffer feelings of bereavement that are similar to the loss of a family member. Severe reactions can lead to depression, disturbed sleep or eating patterns, and even physical illness (source: McNicholas, J. & Collis, G.M. (1995), ‘The end of a relationship: coping with pet loss.’).

· Pet ownership in older people is also associated with better coping with major life stresses, such as bereavement, which is more common in older people. Pet owners adjust to spousal bereavement better than non-owners (source: McNicholas et al 2005, BMJ).

To find out more, please visit: www.pfma.org.uk

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