I've fallen in love with someone else.
I didn't mean to do it. One Saturday a friend told me about another and my interest was piqued. When I saw her in person, I fell head-over-heels. Now it's all I can think about, this new love of mine. Every moment away, I’m thinking of how I can get back to her...back to her beauty, her quiet grace. My soul yearns for her peace.
I sneak away every chance I get to be with her. I’ve even started bringing my kids to see her. I needed to see if they, too, would be as enchanted, and their laughter has told me it is so. We are drunk with new love.
I walk about in a dream state and think of where I will place my things and where my children will sit, what their voices will sound like in the rooms and what the snow will look like through the windows as it falls from the sky.
Yes, I am in love, but it is a complicated love, because I still love my first, and I cannot have you both.
Oh, how I have deeply loved you, my first home! When we moved in over twenty years ago, we told you it was forever and we fully believed it was. With the blind faith only inherent to energetic young adults, we entrusted you with our lives. We didn’t care that you were neglected and abused; we saw beneath all of that. I ignored my mother’s tears as we credulously placed her only grandbaby into your decrepit arms. We crossed your threshold full of exuberance and hope. We looked beyond your peeling paint and odious floors and trusted your essence.
And we were right. We spent years (and oh-so many dollars) shepherding you back to your true glory and you did not disappoint. Together we created place full of beauty and warmth. We created our home.
But someone new has come along and I cannot ignore her. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you because I do! I still love you so much! But something has shifted in me and I am feeling the pull of change. I never anticipated this. I know that I will miss you. You are strong and solid and stable. She is ethereal, sublime and the place of dreams! But she is also slight and that scares me. I sometimes wake at night worrying that I have made a grave mistake, that my desire has ruined everything true and good. Am I out of my mind? How could I have betrayed you?
But I cannot step back. Change has been ignited and there is only one direction to go. We are meant to move forward in this life, even when that almost assuredly means moving through fear. I wish I could have you both, but I know that can’t be.
All I can do is tell you how much you have meant to me and ask that you release me gently.
The time has come for both of us to move on.
I hope that you can understand and we can part with little hurt.
My gratitude is immense, but all I can leave you with is this:
Ode to a home
Thank you for taking our little family in.
Thank you for growing so graciously with us;
for being patient as we moved your walls
and your windows and doors;
for tolerating dirty hands, pounding feet
and incessant chatter.
You watched as I birthed my babies
and stood vigil as one slipped away.
And you held us as we wept.
Thank you for holding us,
for keeping us safe and warm,
for catching our laughter
and listening silently as we cried.
And now, thank you for setting us free.
We will miss your comfort and your ease.
We will ache for the memories that only you hold,
deep in your bones.
Hold on to all of that love, dear house.
Share it with the next family that walks in your door;
wrap them up in it and carry them through.
Use it to soften the hard times that will inevitably come.
Hold them gently, dear house,
as you have so beautifully held us.
looking to the future
And I’m glad it’s over.
The Kings have reached the manger and I’m finished with all of their sorry asses.
I'm annoyed at them and I know it's ridiculous.
But, the feeling is there and it’s real. It’s in my gut and it’s been there for a good six weeks. I finally stop and analyze it because it’s not a good feeling and it kind of bums me out.
I also think about all the people relying on me and I realize I’m probably affecting them, too, even if my dissing of the Kings has been in silence.
After all, the Kings are really innocent in all of this--they’re just trying to visit the kid in the manger, but they just happen to be the final players in this mess that I have created for myself.
And this personal nightmare that I’m referring to is the Christmas season in our home. Today, well into January, I have finally vacuumed up the last pine needle. I am thrilled to be done. Perhaps a little too thrilled...
After six kids and 22 years, we have amassed more than our share of tradition and holiday magic.
And it's all brought into being by me.
First there's Advent, in which we honor the dark and await the coming light. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. We recognize it by making an indoor garden of moss and stones, and the magic happens each night when something new appears representing the natural kingdoms of the earth; minerals, plant, animal, humans, depending on the week. A lovely ritual, to be sure, about which there should be no whining (but...alas!)
During the first week of Advent, the gnomes arrive in our house as well.
Tiny stuffed little men that hide in a new place every night, waiting to be discovered by delighted children in the morn.
Mary and Joseph and their donkey join the party and start their journey now, too. Their wooden forms come out of cardboard hiding and start their long walk along our windowsills on the way to the manger at the other end of the house. They will reach the manger on Christmas day.
When the baby arrives, the Kings will come out to start their journey, walking for twelve days along the sills until they reach the baby in the manger. This all happens at night, by some magical Christmas force.
(And then there’s the presents and the whole farce that is Santa. I got very tired of that whole story a few years back and brazenly declared that he didn’t bring any presents. Mom did! Santa just filled the stockings. So there!)
All of our traditions started when my first child was a babe over 20 years ago. Never did I imagine that my 52-year-old self would be lying in bed and awake with a start and mutter, ”Shit, I forgot to hide the gnomes!” and then have to drag my tired ass out of my warm bed, trudge downstairs, fire up my brain and think of yet another spot to hide them to keep the dream alive for my littles. When I started it all, I was so intoxicated by the wonder of my adorable little boy, that I kept creating magic for him. (It never occurred to me to include him in the creating. As a veteran mom, I see the value in that now, but that's another story.)
And then it just kept going as the kids kept coming and here I am, two decades later, reluctantly and grumpily creating holiday magic. Frankly, this season I was a total bitch about it. Without the power of my initial intentions, I didn’t create magic, I spread gloom.
My complaining continued well into the clean-up of the magic this year (look at this mess! POOR ME!) As I was laboring, I took a break from the misery to unpack my son’s backpack. In it was my kick in the pants.
Twice a year we need to fill out emergency forms for the kids. At the bottom there is section related to housing. The district needs to know how and where their students are living.
As I checked my standard box: “in a permanent home”, I realized that there might be someone out there checking the “in a car, bus, train or campsite” box. Wow.
My newly humbled self signed my name and placed the form back in the pack.
I let myself be ashamed for a moment because, comparatively, I was being ridiculous (self-absorption is indeed ridiculous). Even though I was appreciating so many details of my lovely life on a daily basis, I still slipped into self-pity. It happened so easily, I didn’t even realize that I was doing it. I got caught up in the minutia of life...again.
Though, after catching myself in this and similar character slips (judgement, anyone?) several times, I've come to believe that that is part of the work- this dance of getting caught up and finding our way back again. And when we find our way, we take a moment to sit and contemplate the journey--to notice and acknowledge our missteps as well as our leaps. This is how we grow.
This is of course about a lot more than Christmas decorations, but they were the trigger--the symbolic straw. They are now all neatly packed away, with more care than ever before. I even asked my kids to help (which, astonishingly, I had never done before) and they did it willingly. I don't think I will look at this task the same way again.
However, there is a chance that the year will pass and I will fall back once more. But this time the path back will be familiar and I will more easily remember my way. The journey will not take so long and soon I will find myself home again, deep in appreciation.
I had a perfect moment today.
I had been feeling that I needed some time alone. Jeb was gone all last weekend and the kids were home sick a few days this week. Throw a new puppy into the mix and the thought of Thanksgiving coming up and I was about to short circuit.
And then I remembered that it was Ava's birthday. Ava was our fifth child, born 11 years ago. She was only meant to live on earth with us for ten days. Every year we celebrate her-and the important lessons she taught-with cake and candles. But I couldn't whip up the energy for a party just yet. I needed some space.
I let my understanding husband know and made a reservation for an overnight in one of my favorite spots. I spent the morning with the family (and puppy! She's a lot of work right now...) and headed out on my own. I meandered my way slowly to my destination and stopped half-way for a break and a bite to eat.
It it was a beautiful November day and I wanted to be outside. I ordered my food to go and sat outside in the sunny courtyard. I took a few bites of my lunch, but something wasn't right. There were a lot of people that wanted to enjoy the day and I was surrounded by conversation. This was not the peace I was looking for, and besides, I felt like a glass of wine. I packed up and got in the car. I wanted to soak in this sun, but I also wanted quiet. It was getting close to 3pm, so I knew I had to act fast. This sun wouldn't last.
I rushed to a grocery store and got myself a bottle of wine and headed toward my new destination. Nearby there was a magnificent granite quarry. I would spread out a blanket there and have my picnic.
But when I arrived there were two young boys there playing soccer, screaming and delighting in this 60 degree day. I drove on. I have been to this area many times, a favorite runaway spot for me. I knew of another place, and I knew I would be the only one.
Several years ago I rented a house on this road with friends. It wasn't the greatest rental because it was right on a busy route, but I discovered an old cemetery right across the road. It's dirt roads climbed up a hill and twisted deep into the woods. I was right. No one else was hanging here on a lovely Saturday afternoon.
I parked and found my spot-a nice, soft patch of grass right in the sun. I spread my blanket and opened my wine and re-opened my lunch. I turned on my most soothing playlist.
Deep sigh. I had found it...the perfect spot. After I finished eating, I just sat and enjoyed. I felt so content, so at peace.
Some think my love of cemeteries is strange (my children call me Igor), but I tell them they are missing out. Cemeteries are usually on the most beautiful pieces of land and there's really nothing scary about them. I guess you could focus on the fact that there's a lot of dead bodies under the ground, but I don't believe there are any spirits hanging out here. If you're finally free to go wherever the heck you please, are you really gonna hang out by your dead body? Nah, that would be the last place my soul would hang. And I believe all the other souls feel the same...they're off floating around their loved ones or doing some other important work. They're not hanging around a bunch of stone markers waiting for someone to show up and have a picnic!
I sip my wine and close my eyes and soak up the day. The Sun is just about to dip behind Mount Equinox, but I have made it in time. I think of Ava and our family and what we went through all of those years ago and how that experience shaped us. Death came and kissed me right on the mouth, and everything changed.
I lean back on my elbows and open my eyes and notice the stone marker next to me for the first time.
I have indeed chosen the perfect spot. Back in 1870, another mother may have stood at this very spot and mourned her loss. I get up to inspect the stone and look at the others around it. I don't have to go far before I find another.
I feel peace because I am in the company of other women who have let go of their babies. And maybe at this moment those souls have indeed come back to this cemetary to be by my side. They too knew what it felt like to watch a little life slip away. And maybe they too discovered that there was a whole depth of emotions involved in the experience, not just pain. I hope so.
There is comfort in knowing my situation is not unique. In fact it is the opposite of unique-death is what we all have in common. We will all face her. So today I lift my glass to her and my sweet baby, Ava. Thank you for adding a new dimension to my life.
And I am thankful for this perfect moment: sitting with kindred souls in this cemetery, my scarf wrapped around me, music so beautiful it makes me weep, and chickadees calling so loudly that I almost cannot hear the notes. Thank you for my beautiful husband who understood that I needed to be alone and who would never, ever make me feel bad or guilty about that.
I sit on my hill and whisper thank you to the sun, who kept me warm and thank you to the mountain who will soon swallow her whole.
Thank you, I say. Thank you.
The sun goes down and I get in my car to drive away, deeply satisfied.
As I'm pulling out of the cemetery, I realize one more thing- the song that was playing during my perfect moment is titled "Immortelle".
It was perfect.
It was easy to be wise when I believed that things were going my way. Today I am struggling and confused.
But my children are looking to me for hope and I will find some. Somewhere.
There is a man. He's got to be in his 70's, maybe even older. Every time I drive a certain road at a certain time, I see him. This is a busy road and for a lot of it there is no shoulder, but there he is, riding his bike. I've seen him many times in different places along the same route, so my guess is that his round trip is at least 8 miles. I've seen him in every type of weather- blistering heat, rain and snow-and some mercifully beautiful days, too.
He has an old bike with no gears with a plastic shopping bag on the seat. His coat is faded blue canvas and he carries an old, worn pack on his back. On his head he wears a metallic blue helmet. He reminds me of The Great Kazoo.
I loved The Great Kazoo. (And today I take solace in the simplicity of childhood.)
He rides slowly and deliberately and he walks the inclines when he needs to.
I see him pass on my way out to the dentist and I see him on our return trip, both of us on our way home (I assume) two hours later.
This is what he does. This basic and simple chore soothes me this morning. His consistency and commitment inspires me.
When everything feels crazy and out of control, this stranger is my steady and I am thankful for him.
Be committed. Be reliable. Be strong.
Thanks, Mr. Kazoo.
When I spotted my guy on the way to the dentist, I kinda freaked out- like he was my messiah or something. "Oh my god! There he is!" "Mom, you're being weird," came from the backseat. On the way home we saw him again and I had to pull a u-ey. I tried to take a picture but he was too far out. "Mom, we're going to be arrested!" No boys, we're good. We're all good.
A friend stopped in for dinner the other night. He mentioned that the night before he went to our small town theater and saw Art Garfunkel perform.
“Oh, my mom loved him!” I exclaim without giving it much thought. We go about dinner prep as my friend continues to talk about the concert. He talks about all the Simon and Garfunkel tunes he heard the night before. No, no! I protest. He had some beautiful stuff all his own! I reach for my phone and pull up Spotify to remind me of the album I was thinking of--a favorite of my mom’s. I draw in my breath when I see the cover of the album again. It's probably been over 40 years since I’ve seen it. I find the song I’m looking for. Did he play this? I’m thinking of asking my friend, but I never get there.
I only listen to the first few opening notes before my finger must quickly find the pause button. My eyes sting with tears and my throat closes. I have to leave the room. There would be no Garfunkel for me on this night. I am not at all prepared for the ambush of memories that come so fast and so clear. All triggered by a few piano notes. I walk outside to be alone and sit in the dark. I look up at the stars. “Hi Mom,” is all I can squeak out.
The next morning I’m headed to the woods. I have forgotten all about the music from the night before until I look at my phone; it was still on my search from the night before, and there was the song, beckoning me. I wait until I am deep in the woods before I find a log, sit and let my finger I press the button that now asked me to play.
I weep quietly as the memories started to come: my mom opening the green cabinet my father made for our stereo, his signature hearts carved into the door. Me lying on the flowered couch wondering why I had to endure this song (again!) But, I listened and I secretly loved it. I could sense the music's power for her, even then.
This was in the mid-seventies, and my mom was probably younger then than I am now. Now my 51-year-old self knows all too well what Garfunkel was singing about. By this age we all know of endings--we know that they come at last and they pass too slow. I wonder now what she felt when she heard this song. What ending was she thinking of?
But I can no longer ask. I can only stand and turn to the noises of the woods.
I am so sad I feel like I will crack in two, but I let the music play on and I allow the tears to come. I walk and cry. No one around to hear, no one around to console and no one to judge.
By the time I reach the top of my hike, my eyes are dry. I'm a bit surprised to notice that the sadness has left me. I have moved through it and I am on the other side. Huh, I think...that’s kinda cool.
Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Yeah, that. Exactly that.
For the rest of my walk my mom is with me. Music has brought her back to me for the moment and together we walk and appreciate the woods. I feel light--no sadness, just contentment and something else...Grace, I think. Yes, Grace.
I love that there is something we humans create that transcends all. Music has the power to touch us and shift something deep within. Did whatever created us think this through? Did he/she/it sit down and ponder the possibility before installing the hardware that makes it possible for us to create such beauty, and then the corresponding pieces that allow us to respond in such a way? It’s one of those mysteries that our mind cannot even begin to understand, but our heart knows for sure.
"Without music life would be a mistake.” Strong words from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and there are times when I want to agree. Music connected me and moved me through. So happy am I to spend this fall morning with my mom.
Thank you, Art.
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver
Thank you, Mary.
It’s that time of year again. While everyone around me is buying candy and creating costumes, I’m thinking about the dead.
I’m not a big fan of Halloween, but I do like to honor the origins of the holiday. I appreciate the opportunity to take a few days to consciously connect with my loved ones who have passed. Many traditions believe that between October 31 and November 2 the veil between the living and the dead is at it’s thinnest point. I like the way this feels, so I choose to believe this, too.
This morning my energy was low. I haven’t been sleeping well and it was grey and cold outside. I was tempted to pass on my hike, but I put my shoes on anyway. I told myself I’d just go around the block and listen to some music. I have to do this sometimes. I have to trick myself. I give myself an out, but what almost always happens is once I get outside, I’m glad.
I feel the familiar pang of missing my dog, and I sent a friend who understands the following simple text:
A few steps in it is obvious that I have outsmarted myself yet again. My walk is cold and glorious.
The woods feel sacred.
Even the most simple things boast beauty.
When I reach the top of my hike, I sit on the rocky ledge and look over my town. I close my eyes and think of my dead. I have quite a collection at this point: My mom, my dad, Ava and just recently, my sweet Roxie. As I sit, a soft rain falls on my face. Just a few drops. Just enough to awaken another sense. When I open my eyes and look to the sky, I see blue. No rain clouds in sight.
I get up and start my descent. I put on some music to make the trip down a bit more fun and I dance a little in the woods. I arrive home invigorated. When I glance at my phone again, I see I have missed the following voicemail:
“Hi Nora. I’m calling with an unusual subject and it’s maybe a little too early to talk about this, but I thought I’d give it a go. I have a client who has a puppy and they’re having some trouble keeping it due to big life changes. She’s a beautiful dog and I didn’t know if you might interested in looking for another dog or not. I know it’s a little early and I’m sorry if I’m pushing into delicate territory, but I just thought you might want to consider it. She’s beautiful. Call me when you can.”
I call her right back. How could I not? I just proclaimed an hour before that I wished I had a dog!
My friend answers right away and she is a bit tentative. “Well,” she says, “this is a bit weird, but the dog’s name is Roxie.”
That makes me a bit uncomfortable. Could I adopt a dog with the same name as my last? The dog is also 7, the same age my Roxie was when she died. I tell my friend I have to think about it and give her permission to share my contact information with the owner. I’m a little let down because I thought she had a true puppy for me, not an older dog.
But then as I get in the shower, it dawns on me: What if this isn’t about adopting someone else’s dog? What if this is just my Roxie’s way of saying hello today?
I smile...oh, I like how that feels!
Hello, my darling, Roxie. Hello!
Don't mistake me for this human form.
The soul is not obscured by forms.
Even if it were wrapped in a hundred folds of felt
the rays of the soul's light
would still shine through.
I’ve been avoiding the Heart trail since Roxie died.
I’ve still been going into the woods, but taking a distinctly different trail with a very different personality. I told myself I wanted a change--a longer route, and I have been enjoying it very much.
But Saturday I didn’t have time for the longer hike and I decided to take the Heart trail for the first time in months. I didn’t think much about it. It was just a quick, convenient hike. I wasn’t even thinking about my pup when I set off, I was just getting my time outside.
The Heart trail is close to my house. All I have to do is walk down my suburban street, turn and walk a short way up another road and I come to the trail entrance. There I wander along a stream through the woods before heading up. It’s really steep and intense for a while until you come to a big, mighty oak tree. Here, the unmarked trail meets the Heart trail. I call it the Heart trail because some lovely soul has marked the trees with hearts to guide your way up. There is something beautiful about every kind of tree--maple, beech, oak, birch, pine--bearing this symbol of love on your way through the woods. It stirs something in me. I almost always raise my camera to capture one.
So this day, I unsuspectingly make my way up and my blood is really pumping. My other walk is longer, but not as immediately intense and this takes me a bit by surprise. I round the huge oak and see the first heart. It has been a while and I have missed them--each with their own personalities on the different textures of bark.
I continue to make my way up, the trail familiar and comforting, when the first tears start to come.
This was our trail, Roxie and I. This was the walk that inspired the idea for my 5 Grate Things and Roxie used to wait patiently as I sat on my rock and closed my eyes and came up with my daily list. When I was finished, she’d happily bound ahead--sniffing and wagging, the tip of her white tail alerting me to where she disappeared to in the mist. All I had to do was bark out, “Here!” and she’d leave whatever scent she was on and come running back to my side.
My tears quickly turn to sobs and I have to stop my ascent. I sit on a rock, put my face in my hands and wail. I cry good and long and hard, the trees and the creatures my only witnesses. The wind embraces my cries and carries them away on her back.
I don’t want Roxie to be gone. I want my companion. I want to see her and feel her and smell her. I don’t want to feel this pain.
I wrote the following piece about a year ago, when my best friend’s dog was dying. I never did anything with it, never shared it. I just let it sit. I dig it up when I return home, searching for comfort:
The Power of a Dog
Every morning when I come down the stairs, my dog cannot contain her excitement. Her legs alternately tap the floor as her tail whips around like a helicopter blade. She moans with such excitement, it sounds as if she may explode: Oh my gosh, I love you! I love you so much, I can hardly bear it! Oh my, Oh my, Oh my!!
Most days I'm getting up with the sole intention of taking my girl for a walk. She is my early morning motivator. The thought of her sure enthusiasm draws me out of my warm, snug bed. I love taking her into the quiet morning world, watching her run ahead of me-- sniffing the grass and making her mark.
But there is the occasional day when I just don’t have the energy for the dependable flurry--maybe I haven’t slept well or a child has been ill. I descend the stairs and I can barely face the hysteria. I just don’t have the energy for all the energy. My dog-guilt forces me to mutter, "Oh, give it a fucking rest already!” and I put her outside without making eye contact. But she doesn’t understand that I had a hard night, and her brown eyes seek me through the glass... "What? What’s going on? Aren’t we going this morning?”
But that's the thing about a dog--I can slight her again and again and the moment I step outside and say, "Wanna walk girl?" the legs will immediately start dancing and the butt will wiggle and the tail will take off. I will be forgiven.
I got my dog from my best friend. I didn’t want a dog at that time. My twins were only two-years-old and we had four other kids. My plate was already full. But my friend’s purebred Bernese Mountain Dog had an accidental litter and she wanted us to have one.
We made the mistake of visiting the litter with our kids. My only daughter was seven at the time and of course fell instantly in love with this mass of insanely adorable creatures. There was no way we were passing up this deal, even I was smitten.
We named our pup Roxie because his mother is Moxie and our last beloved dog was named Rex. We thought it would be hard to have two toddlers and a pup, but we were wrong. It was a blast. Roxie learned fast and was nothing but a ball of joy. And now, in a blink, my twins are eight, my pup is six and as I write this, her mother is dying.
Bernese Mountain Dogs are not a breed known for their longevity. This was part of our trepidation in obtaining Roxie. Their average lifespan is six to eight years, but my friend had a few dogs that only lived to be two or three. I had already gone through the death of a cherished dog and I didn't know if I wanted to take the risk of loving a dog for such a short time. It took me several years to fully mourn the loss of our Rex. To someone that isn’t a dog person, this may sound ridiculous, but if you have loved a dog, you understand. The day after Rex died I had to attend a school function and I passed a woman whom I see often. We struck up a conversation and I of course had to mention that my dog had died--my heart was heavy and I needed to explain why I wasn’t myself. Her reply is one that I will never forget: She simply said, “Ah, well, get a new dog.” And then she turned and walked away.
I stood there in shock. What?? What?? All I could think was: I hate you. I really hate you. How could someone not get this? Can’t she see how my heart ached? I loved that creature so fucking completely and he’s gone...he’s just gone. When I reached the safety of my home, I crumbled and I wept. My hate and rage flowed through me and washed away with my tears. I understood that the woman wasn’t trying to be malicious, she just didn’t know. She had obviously never felt the power of a dog.
Rex was a beautiful lab/golden mix. We got him as a puppy before we had kids an we considered him to be our baby. But then the first human baby arrived and Rex was abruptly displaced. That's the natural progression of things: young couples get a puppy first, but then the real baby arrives and ousts the dog every time. Rex took the demotion as most respectable dogs do--he gracefully settled into second place.
Rex moved across the country with us and tolerated three different dwellings and four cats before arriving at our final destination, our new forever home. Day in, day out, life swirled about us, but this simple creature was our constant--whether we realized it or not.
Life marched on and we welcomed three more children, two of whom tilted the axis of our world with intense surprises at birth. Amidst it all, Rex was our steady.
And let me tell you, when your axis gets tilted, you need a steady.
But the stupid thing was, we didn't understand the value of that furry rock, until one day he couldn't stand up. We were so busy with our human drama (and it was a big one--our newborn baby was in critical condition in a hospital two hours from home for a month) that we didn't notice that our pup was sick until it was too late. We took him to the vet and he never came back.
When Rex died, I cried openly with my young children. Trying to help them process the complexity of their loss, I brought up the recent death of my father. Tony had passed just three months prior, so I tried to draw some parallels within the experiences and the emotions. I remember feeling a bit silly at the time...should I really try to compare the death of a dog to that of a human? But my heart ached so for my pup! It felt valid so I moved forward. I remember my little boy looking up at me a bit disgusted at the comparison. "But, Mom,” he cried, "we didn't even know Tony!”
It was like a slap. My child was unabashedly telling me that his dog was more important than my father to him. I sat stunned for a moment, but soon realized that his six-year-old logic was the only one steeped in reason. It took his raw honesty for me to see the truth: losing this animal that greeted him every morning, that followed him through his days and predictably lay down in the same spot every night was a greater loss than that of the grandfather he saw three or four times a year. It didn't matter that that the love didn't come from a human. In fact, it was the most lucid form of love: love without drama, without judgement, without confusion--just steady, dependable dog-love.
And now, twelve years and two dogs later, I stand by as my dearest friend has to bury her beloved pup. I want her to know that I understand that ache. Some will not understand, and I pity them, for they don’t know what it feels like to look deep into a dog’s eyes. They have never been fortunate enough to know this simple, uncomplicated love.
We know what that love means--love in its purest form--the love of a dog.
I did not know then that my dog would follow nine months later. I did not know that my empathy would soon shift into my own suffering.
So here I am. I breathe deep and wipe my tears and hope someone loves me enough to silently share this grief with me. But then, I sit and take comfort in the truth: I am fortunate enough to know that my grief will not rest with me alone. This weight will be shared.
Fortunate...is that the right word? Is it fortunate to share grief? It is.
The sharing of this universal journey is one of the things that makes us human, that makes the toil of this existence worthwhile. And I use the word “toil” deliberately. Sometimes life is fucking brutal, and if we can’t share that weight we are done for.
We will all know deep sadness. There is no easy way through grief. She finds us all eventually--even if we hide. And if you think you’ve outsmarted her, you haven’t. There will come a moment when she unexpectedly taps you on the shoulder and slyly whispers, “Here I am.”
But you will make it through, as will I. This ache is a cosmic one.
So sit with me and hold my hand and I, my friend, will hold yours.