Kobe Brave and True, 2008

Kobe Brave and True, 2008

I haven’t really been able to write about Kobe’s passing yet, or thank the wonderful friends who wrote  in support of him during his final days.  In the immediate aftermath I felt like if I let that wound open, it would just bleed all over everything and I wouldn’t be able to stop it.

But today, on this day of Thanksgiving, it’s an FDL tradition that we come together and share the things we are thankful for.  And I am thankful to everyone here for the support they gave us during that time.  FDL wouldn’t be here were it not for Kobe, and for the people he inspired to come together to form the FDL community.  So I wanted to share his memory with you and honor him here today.

For those who may be new to this place, Kobe was the inspiration for the blog, the “dog” in firedoglake.  He was born in August of 2000, a companion for Katie who was a year and a half old and prone to Norma Desmond-style theatrics if left alone.  He was born in Ojai, the son of Lake Cove Matisse and Mojave Rose, and thus became Kobe Matisse Rose.  Whereas Katie was soulful and smart and very private, Kobe was a complete extrovert. He wanted everyone to look at him, all the time. But he was the sweetest, funniest dog ever.  Your heart just went out to him instantly.  He knocked Katie up in 2001 when he was 8 months old and Lucy, their daughter, joined our family a short time later.

The name “firedoglake” came about because I liked to lie by the fire with the dogs and watch the Lakers.  Really the “dog,” because Kobe was the Laker fan.  I never put any thought into the name because I never expected it to be anything other than a repository for posts that I’d put up over at Daily Kos so my friends and family could read them once they fell into the memory hole.

FDL started 5 years ago this month when the dogs and I were living on beach in Oregon in 2004.  I wasn’t really interested in Hollywood any more and it felt like the cultural energy was shifting, but I didn’t know which way it was going to flow or how I intended to follow it. So we walked on the beach every morning, I took some drawing classes while the dogs chased sea gulls, and FDL was born.

Not long afterwards, I went back to LA and put out an invitation:  if you have a blog, you’re invited to Coffee with Kobe.  That’s how I met Steve Anderson, and growing out of that fine tradition there were two Kobepaloozas — one that we held at Steve ‘s house, and another at Brian Linse’s.  It was at those events that many bloggers (including newbie Arianna Huffington) got to meet for the first time.

Kobe & Mom, 2000

Kobe & Mom, 2000

The dogs and I traveled all over the country together. From Oregon to Los Angeles and back again, to Oklahoma and Connecticut and DC for the Libby trial, to Northern California and back to Connecticut.  Kobe was with me through my battle with breast cancer, through many rough surgeries and chemo.  We came to DC two and a half year after I finished treatment.  Through it all, he was incredibly protective and devoted.  He never left my side.

But Kobe was always a bit of a hot-house flower.   Whereas the girls and I were more like hearty weeds who could throw off just about anything, Kobe always had health issues.  He had bloat twice and narrowly survived.   It seemed like it was always something.

But as a mom, you know how your heart goes out to the one you worry about most?  I think almost losing him like that so many times bonded us.  When I was going through all my own health issues, I’d just look in Kobe’s eyes and I felt like he understood.  At night he would sleep next to me and I’d use his butt for a pillow.  He was just a gentle guy, full of compassion, and I felt like he was in my life to teach me how to be a better person.  A bodhisattva, an enlightened being who foregoes entering Nirvana so they can help others to find their way.  I always trusted him to guide me and protect me.

Kobe and Fiona, 2007

Kobe and Fiona, 2007

Early this year I started noticing that he was breathing heavily for no reason.  I took him to the doctors over and over again, and we had every test they could give him.  Ultrasounds and xrays, blood tests and heart monitors.  They couldn’t find anything.

Then a couple of months ago, I brought Kobe and Katie in to have their teeth cleaned.  They were getting older and I wanted to have a good dental cleaning done one time before they got too old to be able to recover from going under anesthesia.  They found a big lump in the side of Kobe’s throat that wasn’t visible to the eye.  They did a biopsy and called me and told me they were sending it to the pathologist, but that it looked like cancer.

It was like the world went dark.  I had worked through my own cancer and never thought of taking a break, but suddenly I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t work.  The thought that Kobe was going to have what I had was just too painful.  I wanted to help him but didn’t want to put him through a lot of suffering just to make myself feel better.  And at nine years old, he wasn’t a young dog.  One of my wishes for my life was that I lived long enough to be with my dogs when they were ready to pass, because as painful as it was, I knew that nobody could care for them like I would and I did not want decisions about their care to be made by strangers who might not hear what they were saying.  I’d always heard that your dogs would tell you when they were ready to go, and I wanted to love them enough and be strong for them and look out for them when that happened so they wouldn’t feel afraid.

The doctor called a couple of days after the surgery to say that Kobe’s biopsy had been a false alarm — the pathologist said that it didn’t look like cancer to them.  They gave Kobe some antibiotics and told me to bring him back in a few weeks, and for the moment, I felt wonderful.  Like we had been given an amazing gift.

In retrospect, I think it was an amazing gift.  We got to spend the next few weeks feeling like everything was okay, and just enjoying our time together.  But as time wore on I didn’t feel like Kobe was okay, and I didn’t trust the doctor who diagnosed him.   I took him to another doctor, and I could tell from the way he was talking that he thought something was very wrong.  I asked if we should have a better biopsy so we’d know what we were dealing with, and he said that was his recommendation.  He sent me to a surgeon and Kobe was scheduled for surgery two days later.

The night before Kobe’s surgery I turned the computer off and spent time just quietly being with him.  I had intentionally not tried to figure out what his prognosis was because I’d just drive myself crazy, but we both knew there was a good chance our time together here was coming to a close.  I snuggled with him and told him that I needed another lifetime at least to just spend taking care of him and being with him, because I couldn’t think of a single thing that I’d done that was more important.   I let him know what an honor and a blessing it was that he spent his life with me.  He wasn’t his usual goofy funny self.   Even though I was well aware that I loved him to distraction, I was surprised by the power of the bond I felt between us at that moment.

Connecticut 2006

Connecticut 2006

I took him to the hospital early the next morning and stayed with him until they were ready to take him into surgery.  He was scared. I took his head in my hands and I looked into his eyes, and I said “Kobe, I know I’m a part of you like you’re a part of me.  I’ve had so many surgeries that I’m not scared of them any more.  So if you just call up that part of me that lives in you, you don’t have to be scared either.”  And they took him away.

Kobe’s surgery didn’t go well and to this day I don’t want to know exactly what happened, but I felt then and I feel now like he trusted me and I let him down.

I just wanted the chance to bring him back to the beach in Oregon and let him live out his final days there, however long that took.  He loved it there so much.  I’d always told the dogs that one day when we were all gone, I’d asked my nephew take our ashes and bury them together under some tall tree high on the cliffs above the Oregon coast.  There we could climb the roots together in some Thanatopsis vision of forever while we watched the waves break over the shore.

At the very least, I wanted Kobe to come home and be surrounded by everyone he loves when he was ready to go.  I didn’t want him to die in some animal hospital.

When I arrived at the vets the next morning I met a minister whose dog was getting chemotheraphy.  She reached out to me when she saw me crying in the lobby and I told her how much I wanted to take Kobe to the beach.  She told me there was a great beach house she know of in Delaware and said she would email it to me.

When they let me see Kobe that morning it was clear he wasn’t doing well. One of his nerves had been cut and his left eye was closed. They told me he needed to go to another dog hospital where his cardiologist was, and where they had an ICU. While I waited for Chris to come with the car I emailed the minister and asked if she would come down and pray with us if she was still there.  She had already left but she sent this:

Dearest Father:

We thank you so much that you love us and have given us companion animals to brighten our days and comfort our nights. Bless Kobe, we pray, and give him comfort and peace. Thank you for bringing him into Jane’s life and allowing them to walk together for a time. Bless my sister, Jane, too, and surround her with your love and fill her with your peace. Give her grace and strength during this trying time, and help her find her hope in You.

This we pray for your Son’s sake.


Chris and I took Kobe to the other hospital.  He almost didn’t make it.  They wouldn’t let me be with him in the ICU except for 20 minutes every 2 hours as he fought for his life.  I checked into a hotel in Virginia so I could be with him as much as possible, and so I could get there quickly if anything happened.  He was hooked up to heart monitors and all kinds of tubes and it tore me up to look at him.  He was so proud of how handsome he was and I knew he didn’t want people — didn’t want me — to see him this way.

Baby Kobe, 2000

Baby Kobe, 2000

I was so scared. I posted on the Seminal and asked for people to tell inspirational stories of dog recoveries, because I needed to believe. I couldn’t give in to fear and despondency, I had to stay strong for Kobe.  I took in each and every word that people wrote to refuel that hope and give me strength.  I was so grateful for them, and for the support that all those who work at FDL gave during that time.  I just felt like I was pulling on this incredible network of love and support that spread out like a spider web to people I’d never even met who were there for us, who would carry us through no matter what happened.

I went to the hotel that night.  I bought Mexican food because bmaz said it was good for the soul in these situations — he’d dealt with doggie cancer before.  So had Marta Evry, who spent a long time on the phone telling me what her dog had been through. I couldn’t sleep much.

They called me at 4:30 the next morning to tell me Kobe wasn’t doing well.  I came down to the hospital and the doctor told me his heart was having a rough time.  I asked if I could stay with him and they said yes.

So I went into the ICU and I crawled into his cage with him.  I had been asking myself if doing all this was the right thing to do, if I was just prolonging his suffering, but I felt like he’d tell me if he was ready.  He looked up at me and put his paw on my arm, and gave me that look, and I went “oh no, Kobe, not that.”   I pulled my arm away.   And he put the paw up again.

I petted him and tried to push every single bit of strength I had into him, to will him back to health.  I prayed.  I bartered with God and offered time off my own life if only I could bring Kobe home.

And then he rallied.  Suddenly his heart rate got better and he started to breathe much easier.  He really seemed like he felt better, like he wasn’t struggling so much.  I read all the amazing pet recovery stories to him that people had left for him on FDL, and the emails and tweets that people had offered in support.  They made him happy. They made me happy.  Then I lay down next to him and one last time fell asleep with my head on his butt.

I felt so connected to Kobe lying there. I felt like the energy just flowed up through me and into him, and then back again. It was a rainy day but I had this vision of Kobe walking out of the hospital and into the sunlight.  When I woke up the Doctor told me his blood test looked good and his white count was up.  I was just filled with hope.  I stayed for 3 and a half hours, and when it started to get busy they asked if I could come back in a couple of hours.  I kissed my boy and told him I’d be back soon.

As I was driving back to the hotel I was so happy.  I felt like Kobe was going to walk out of that hospital.  And on the radio came George Harrison singing “Here Comes the Sun.”  I thought Kobe was singing to me, letting me know that he would be okay, that he didn’t want me to fall into despair and that this was the song he wanted me to be thinking of when I thought of him.

Kobepallooza II, 2005

Kobepallooza II, 2005

I called Glenn Greenwald and I told him what had happened.  He said “I think it’s great that Kobe rallied and that you got to spend that time with him, and I hope he makes it, just don’t get your hopes up too high.”  I started crying and pleading with him, like if I could convince him Kobe would be okay that he would be.  Kobe had to get better.  He was singing to me.

I tried to get some sleep but I couldn’t.  I called the vet right at 2 hours and I asked the doctor if I could come back now. She said it was busy and wanted to know if I could call in an hour and a half, and I said I would.

As I put the phone down I heard Kobe speak just as clearly as if he were sitting there.  He said “Mom,  when you saw me walking out of the clinic, I was walking out in you.  I’m always going to be a part of you.”   I felt dissociative, like I wasn’t in my body any more.  Like I was standing across the room looking at myself.

The doctor called back minutes later to tell me Kobe had gone into cardiac arrest.

I panicked.  I couldn’t find my keys.  I was tearing through the room trying to locate them and ran out the door in my pajamas, consumed with grief and fear that I wouldn’t make it in time to see him as I jumped into the car and raced for the hospital.

As I drove the panic subsided and I could hear Kobe’s voice.   “Mom, I know this time is going to be hard for you.  Just remember that I live in you like you live in me.  And if you can just call up that part of me that lives in you, you don’t have to be scared.”

Coincidentally, Egregious was in Vienna visiting her kids and staying at her old house.  She had emailed me the night before to ask if I needed her to come by.  “Email egregious,” said Kobe.  So when I got to a stoplight I did.  I asked her to meet me at the clinic.

When I got to the clinic they were standing around him, trying to keep him alive so I could see him again.  But it was too late.  He was gone.

I don’t know how parents of young children who die live through it.  I just felt like the whole earth opened up in a giant, raw scream.  I hugged him and I told him that he was the very best part of me and that it felt like someone had just put out the sun.  I didn’t know how to live without him.  He was so written into the daily fabric of my life, into everything I did and was and hoped to be, that I didn’t know where he ended and I began any more.  And that I was so, so sorry I hadn’t been there for him in the end.

They said they wanted to clean him up and then I could stay with him for a while.  Egregious arrived and I can honestly say I don’t think anyone has ever done anything more compassionate for me than what she did that day.  She just stayed with me and let me work through the grief.  It was so incredibly emotionally generous that I have a hard time even writing about it.   She was the living, breathing testament to the family, the community that Kobe inspired.

They brought him into a room and we wrapped him carefully in blankets.  We just sat with him for a while and let the loss sink in.  I called Glenn and told him Kobe was gone, and how guilty I felt for not being there with him when he passed.  Glenn said that his mother had actually collected stories of people and animals and how they would rally just before they died so they could spend meaningful time with the people they loved, and then failed quickly and wanted to be alone when they passed.  He said it was an incredible tribute to Kobe and his great spirit, his compassion and his kindness that he let me know it was time to go, and then rallied in spite of it so we could have that wonderful last few hours together.  He said Kobe did not want my last memory of him to be of his death.

The vet told me that if I wanted, they could box up Kobe’s body and send it to a crematorium in Maryland, and I’d get his ashes back via UPS in a couple of weeks.  I looked up in horror.  There was no way I was going to be able to get through the night thinking of Kobe cold and alone in some truck headed for Maryland, so we found a crematorium in Virginia that we could take him to and then pick up his ashes later that night.  When I woke up in the middle of the night and realized he was gone, I really needed my boy to be there with me.  I needed to know that he was home.

But I knew that despite Kobe’s best efforts to make my last memory of him positive, I’d quickly rewrite it in my head and only be able to see the emotional and physical trauma that had preceded it if I went straight to the crematorium.  So I asked egregious if we could have a little memorial service first.

Kobe's last ride

Kobe's last ride

We wrapped him up and gently carried him into the back of my station wagon — his station wagon — and put him in his bed.  I sat back there with him and tucked the covers around him to make sure he’d stay warm.  We stopped at a florist because I wanted to have flowers for the memorial service, and the minute I walked in I saw the most beautiful bouquet of lavender roses.  Purple like the Lakers, fit for Kobe the king.  We went to egregious’s house in Vienna and printed out the lovely tributes that people had made to Kobe online.  Egregious didn’t have pumpkin loaf (Kobe’s favorite) but she had some nutmeg loaf, which was close enough.  We parked the car where we could see the woods from the back window, lit some candles and turned on my computer to record the tributes as we read them aloud and had a lovely, lovely memorial service where we told stories about Kobe and his life, and remembered what a wonderful friend he had been.

And then we played “Here comes the Sun.”

Every time I try to rewrite those days in my head into a horror story of loss and grief, I remember Kobe’s incredible strength and generosity.  And I play the video of the memorial service, and see that I was happy.  He — and everybody who makes this blog what it is every day, who wrote comments that we read to send Kobe off on his journey  — gave that to us.

Then we took Kobe for his last ride.  They were very kind there as they gently carried him inside and let me spend a few moments with him before we left.  I told him that every time I looked up at the night sky I would know that the dome of heaven was really his big fluffy head over me, and that his spirit was bigger than all the stars in the sky.  I told him that I would be joining him, and that I knew he would be waiting there for me.  And that I would always try to live the life that he inspired, and be the person he wanted me to be.

One of the nicest things that anyone wrote after Kobe’s passing came from Lisa Derrick, who knew me both before and after Kobe came into my life, and reminded me of the remarkable changes that had happened as a result:

My deepest condolences and tender love to you, dear Jane. I saw the beautiful transformation and growth Kobe brought to your life and how he helped you tap into You-ness and bring out a healthy happier Jane, a true, new Jane.

Pets, our familiars, are markers in our lives and they carry us to a specific place, help us to a point in our lives, and then when we are ready they let go so we can carry on. Kobe‘s leaving will open roads and indicates a shift, a new direction, a new stage of growth, and as horrible and painful as it, know that this marks a new beginning.

And know too Jane that you were and are an amazing doggie mommy and you gave Kobe a life of joy and experiences and love.

with love and sorrow and hope

Kobe was a bodhisattva, and a zen master’s final teaching to his students is always his death. I told Kobe that I would try to figure out what that lesson was as I stroked his fur and kissed him and said goodbye for the last time.

And then the little firedog made his final journey into the fire.

Kobe in his favorite spot

Kobe in his favorite spot

My best friend from high school, MaryJane M., took the train down that night to be with me so egregious and I went to pick her up at the train station.  She made us comfort food as we sat waiting for the call that Kobe’s ashes would be ready.  I had taken a clipping of Kobe’s hair and when I opened the bag, the girls came running and stuffed their noses in it trying to find him.   When the call finally came, we drove back to Virginia and picked his ashes up.  And when I put my head down on the pillow that night, the girls and I knew that he was with us — and always would be.

There will never be and end to the Kobe story, it goes on every day both here at FDL and in our lives.  But there is a coda.

A couple of weeks later we got the news that Katie had cancer too.  I just shut down.   I couldn’t even talk about it.

The night before Katie’s surgery, I wanted to spend time with her too.  I was sitting on the bed with her and Lucy, and you know when you have those moments when you really connect with your dogs?  It just clicks, and you’re right there, beyond words, in some kind of weird hyper-real moment?  That happened. It got really quiet. And I asked, “is Kobe here?”

Both of their heads swiveled toward the other side of the room.  And we just sat there.  I looked over to where they were looking, didn’t hear or see anything, and I thought “you know this isn’t fair — I should be spending this time with Katie, not dwelling on Kobe.” So I said “where’s the toy?”  And both of them went tearing off the bed and got their orange non-toxic recycled rubber bone that will no doubt take out a plate glass window one day but I don’t have the heart to confiscate it.

They started playing with it and they were really cute and I remembered how fiercely I’d been hunting for every picture ever taken of Kobe after he died.  I thought “I should be taking a picture of this,” so I grabbed my camera and found it was full.

I downloaded it and found this.  It was clearly taken right after Kobe’s teeth cleaning because he’s got a shaved leg where he had a cyst removed.

I had no memory of taking that video.  But when I saw it, I felt like I’d been given this incredible gift that I wouldn’t have traded for millions of dollars.  Kobe wanted us to know that he was there, watching over us, and that he wanted to play with the orange bone too.

Katie’s tumor turned out to be a non-spreading kind of cancer and they got clear margins.  She’s old and the surgery wasn’t easy — for either of us.   But Kobe got us through, and though Katie is taking some time to rebound, she’s okay.

Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of Kobe around the house, but it’s hard. I try to do what he told me to do and call him up inside of me but he’s so much a part of me I can’t feel the distinction, the presence, the goofy wise Kobe that just makes me happy.

I was feeding Lucy one day and I asked her where Kobe was.  She said “he’s here Mom, you just can’t see him.”   I felt Kobe there in that moment.

But I miss him every day. I see him in everything.  In the wind shaking the leaves in the trees that I see when I open my eyes in the morning, or in the smile that lights up a friend’s face or the small acts of kindness and emotional generosity that connect us all with hope for the future.  I see him every day in the blog — in the compassion this community has for those who  are suffering, in the fierce emotional commitment that we all share for social justice, and in our determination to be stronger together than we could ever be apart.  That kind of connected emotional wisdom is the very soul of Kobe.

Hs passing has changed the world for me.  That raw sense of loss still tugs at me, but I guess I don’t want it to go away, its immediacy makes Kobe feel very present in my life and I don’t want to lose that connection for fear of losing him too.  I look forward to a time when I can be with him again.  When I first got cancer I called my friend Rene and asked her to tell me beat by beat what it was like, and when she was done I said “I can do that.”  I got to be with Kobe and watch how brave and generous he was to me in his final moments, and felt the power of the wonderful people he drew around him — and around me — as he ended this leg of his journey.  And now I know I can walk through that door too.

When that moment comes and I take my last breath, I know I’m going to see Kobe standing in the light with an orange bone in his mouth saying “come on Mom, let’s play.”  And as I walk toward him I know that I won’t be afraid.

I’ll be thankful for a wonderful life, and all the incredible people and things that Kobe brought into it.  And as I hold him close and smell his hair and throw the bone for him once again, we’ll both know that we live on in a million hearts and pixels of those we’ll still be connected to long after they bury our ashes beneath that tree high on the Oregon coast.

Thank you all for being part of FDL. Because Kobe lives on in you, too.

Kobe on the Beach, 2006

Kobe on the Beach, 2006

Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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