Sunday, July 5, 2009

Also Known As Ruth ~ Farewell Monique

Almost four years ago I met the coolest lady. She was a dog artist in the little town I had recently moved to and I was interested in selling her items in my new store I was opening. We had many lively email discussions before actually meeting in September '05 and I was fascinated with her talent.
Not only was she an artist with hundreds of dogs, cats and other critters in her portfolio but she was a screen printer, putting her images on fabric items and selling them for people to make quilts and other items. Dogonit Gallery has been a staple in the pet world for 30 years.
A champion for everything "animal" and a big pet rescue advocate, she was the president of the Flagstaff Pet Assistance League, a local small group that promotes spay/neuter and responsible pet ownership. She was also an integral force in building both of Flagstaff's Bark Parks. Craft shows, holiday bazaars, the county fair were also favorite venues where she and her helpers would sell homemade dog treats and other goodies the FlagPAL volunteers would make to benefit this worthy organization.

Monique was born "Ruth" on September 12, 1934 and changed her name many years ago. Also Known As Ruth became the acronym for her last name...AKAR. As I got to know this woman I could not imagine all she had been through in her 70 years on the planet, burned over 50% of her body in a gas explosion in 1948 when she was just 14 years old. It took her mother's life and left her with a cruel father who never recovered from his wife dying. She spent two years in a nursing facility with countless medical procedures to repair her damaged body, which was never going to be 100%. Her hands curled from fused skin wouldn't stop her from becoming one of the most gifted pen and ink artists in the animal world....a world that she loved.
I recently had the privilege of meeting her brother who was here visiting from Chicago, a true champion in his own right also surviving the explosion and coaching kid's football for nearly 60 years now. He told me things from their childhood that even she never had, making me respect her strength and fortitude even more.

Monique never talked about herself unless you asked her. She never bragged about her was just something she "did". She was also a teacher, educating small children with her carefully thought out projects. She loved teaching almost as much as she loved dogs...and there were many. Collosus and Lute were dogs she spoke of with great love and most recently Sonny, Lucky and Uno. Her beloved Shadow preceded her in death by just a few months and it comforts me to think that somewhere they are together.
She was divorced many years ago, her 4 children scattered around the west coast where she lived until moving to Flagstaff about 10 years ago. She told of stories of sleeping on the porch in Walnut Creek to be closer to nature. She talked to spiders and elk and revered all living things. She seemed to get great pleasure from the countless friends she made over the years and never remarried. Independent didn't even begin to describe this lady!

I started to apprentice with Monique about 18 months ago. It was getting harder for her to handle the big screens and I was just fascinated with this entire process of pencil to paper to screen to fabric with emulsions, special fabrics and LIGHTS. Amazing really. She taught me how to screen print and while it was not something I would have pursued without her mindful nudges, it taught me a lot about myself and my own persistence!

Last June after being "just not right" for 6 months and blaming the flu, Monique was diagnosed with a form of leukemia that shocked all of us. We knew she was growing thin and sleeping more, but she would not think of seeking help until her friends finally forced her to the doctor. She couldn't be sick...this was Monique! The next year would be one full of experimental treatments that worked for a while, blood transfusions, trips to specialists in Tucson and a "beautiful remission" as stated by her oncologist in early '09!!! She wouldn't need a transfusion from November to April, she was able to drive, she was off her oxygen and she even helped me with the screening! A miracle for sure. We all reveled in her new found health and vigor, if only to see it slip away just a few months later.
She started losing weight again in the late spring, she was back on her oxygen almost full time and her days were mostly spent napping and getting her favorite backrubs. She loved her computer and communicated with her customers and friends in the wee hours when she couldn't sleep.

I tried to spend quality time with her without babying her, but mostly I was there to work and keep up with the orders that just never stopped coming in! I was with her at almost every doctor's appointment, acting as her ears since she didn't always hear so well. She called her oncologist "Dr. Happy" and always cheered everyone up when she went to that mostly sad place. I recall several times accompanying her into the infusion room where patients sit in recliners receiving their chemo treatments. She was there just to get a special shot to help restore her blood and she whispered to me, "Why are we in here with all the sick people?" If anyone could beat this on attitude alone, it would be her.

She lovingly called me her "super slave" and said "everyone should have one". I was her "in case of emergency" person and her hairdresser. Her part time employee and her friend. We laughed a lot. She didn't want pity and I never once heard her complain until Monday, a week ago. I met her in the emergency room and was shocked at her shaky appearance. "This too shall pass" I thought, knowing how she always rallied! It wasn't to be.
She was admitted for observation and I saw her just three times last week, Friday morning being the last. She uttered a few words, and I knew the end was near. Once I heard she was in a coma later that evening, I didn't want to remember her that way. I wanted to remember her as she was, before Monday. And I didn't want her to see me crying.

Ruth died on July 4th, 2009 just before midnight. Leave it to her to go out on a national holiday, one that represents independence, celebration and fireworks. I don't think I will ever see another fireworks display without thinking of her. Part of me is so thankful that she in no longer suffering or confined to the limitations of her body.....her independence day!
There was a very rare occasion in the last year that she didn't say to me, "What would I do without you." I shrugged it off, as that's what friends are for.
I'm not sure now, what I will do without her. She is certainly one of the people I will never, ever forget.

Farewell Monique. I know you are in a better place with all your beloved pets who left before you, I hope that you will take care of mine too. Thank you for all that you've taught me about the things that matter.
We'll miss you.................forever.