When I first conceived the title, Just this side of Spring, I thought it would be mostly a tribute to Nikki, my beloved Siberian Husky. Nikki, my piano muse, who never tired of laying beneath my piano when I played, was quite possibly the sweetest dog I’ve ever known. She was diagnosed with Cancer on January 4 of 2008. I never believed that January, that she would be gone from our lives in April. Nor did I believe that I would have to fight Breast Cancer again.
We didn’t know how long Nikki had but the first couple months she was really doing very well. Then, towards the end of March, as we struggled to get past the last of the cold Winter months and head into Spring, there was a marked change. And on the morning of April 9th, Nikki could barely stand. Every day is a gift and ultimately, that was the last one we would share together’ she never took her eyes from mine until she closed them for the last time. We had just shared the previous weekend in the yard, with a patio fire going to keep us warm. Only the small, but brave, Primroses had begun to bloom, otherwise the gardens were still asleep.
January 16 of this year, (2009) I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer a second time. Preservation was not an option and after much research, questions, second opinions and reflection, I elected to have a double Mastectomy. As I sit at my computer writing this, March 14, about a week and a half post-op, I think of where we all were just one year ago’ Nikki’s Cancer was not kind. I look out my office window and Nikki, of course, is not in her usual spot. Winter can be callous, but its snow is at last receding’
This experience remains surreal in my mind. I find myself reflecting oddly, ‘I did have a double Mastectomy, didn’t I?’. I thought I’d be prepared for this in light of my prior Cancer surgeries but I really wasn’t. On my album ‘A Place in the Sun’, I talked about my journey through Breast Cancer, how ‘I was a Cancer Survivor to add to the list’ – I didn’t expect an encore. This time is so very different and words escape me as to how best to explain. I had already well-begun writing for this album and then Cancer hit, yet again. Cancer happens when you’re busy living and except for anger and a few tears, I just realized I had to do what was necessary to beat it down again and to get to that place in Spring where gardens awaken and memories bloom’.
I know that no matter what is taken out, cut away, or reshaped, I will always be who I am. Though ‘why’ often confounds my thinking, I do believe that I am a lucky woman despite the many odds against me. How can I not feel so with my whole life ahead of me due to an excellent prognosis. I can’t help but feel, and know that there are spiritual forces that watch out for me and I truly feel blessed by the love and care bestowed upon me from all those whose lives have intersected with mine.
Life, with its wonderful fountain of joy also infuses us with overwhelming heartache and pain; to that, no one is immune. I suppose the extreme dichotomy underscores the very sweetness of that which is good. Through the hills and valleys in what sometimes seems like different lives of my one life, many chapters have been written. In Pennsylvania, my youth played out on farmlands that used to extend beyond where the eye could see’.during undergrad in Western Massachusetts I searched for answers in books by the great philosophers and literaries to questions that all but paralyzed me and in so doing, my mind expanded enough to house a heart so badly broken I thought it could never mend. I later studied in Paris and enjoyed the seemingly limitless boundaries of living abroad where life’s possibilities seemed endless ‘ a brief time in Valencia, Spain showed me a simpler way of life’ In New York City, where I spent a great deal of time auditioning for the theatre, there were homeless in doorways or alleys next to restaurants and people actually walked over them to get inside. And on it goes’.
To me, these chapters are marked by the dogs that have shared them and seem to start and stop with the life and loss of each of their gentle souls. But the thread that weaves through these chapters is love, which never dies, but instead grows, and manages to sew the broken back together.
Our little Terrier, Shiloh, who grieved for Nikki right along with us, has made friends with a new addition, a young Siberian, who must have been around 6 months old at the time Nikki died. She too, is a rescue, as are all that come to dwell here. I hear Nikki’s voice in Jasmine’s and see certain similarities; but it is a new Chapter unfolding and a different song.
Just this side of Spring is indeed a tribute to Nikki , a magnificent soul whose spirit shines, but also a tribute to ‘Luck’, though perhaps better stated, ‘Divine Intervention’, that would let me stay here and continue my Earthly destiny. And last but not least, to the brave Primroses, those warriors of hope, whose vibrance and color, challenge the very harshness of Winter, just this side of Spring. Ann Sweeten
P.S. Nikki lost her battle, I am fighting mine’ let us all pray for a cure.
November 23, 1994 ‘ April 9, 2008
Oddly the music was silent
Save the tears of steady rain,
And thunder clapped the sun-dappled skies
In Nikki’s sweet refrain.
But now, I hear her singing
Her own special melody’
She searches now the path assured
As she is running free.
She tells us she has found the bridge,
Now lined with friends we used to kiss,
Rejoicing in reunion,
with all those we have long missed.
Sweet Nikki’s eyes are gateways
To such love and tenderness
Life’s lessons flowed abundantly
To those she once caressed.
My beloved piano muse,
How I miss you laying there
Waiting for my music
That we so deeply shared.
I can’t describe the feeling
Not having you so close
As notes dripping from my soul
Seemed to resound with you the most.
Trust that I’ll feel you always
Deep inside my heart
Knowing there will come the day
We’ll no longer be apart.
Then we will cross together,
That bridge of rainbow sky
To where love’s the only answer
And we no longer have to question, ‘why?’.
Written by A.S. 4/12 ‘ 4/14/08