When grief gets messy

IMG_1603The unexpected loss of our dog a few months ago has been a complicated one, a death infinitely harder to process than that of the many other pets we’ve said goodbye to. Though I have loved all our dogs, I am not really even a “dog person”, yet almost 4 months later, I am still welling up with tears when I think of Sadie, or when another dog with the same sweet Labradoodle face walks by. Her loss has triggered pent-up grief.

Sometimes, I’ve found, grief gets messy, and one day when you think you’re crying about your dog, you realize that all the losses in your life are bubbling up together into one rushing flow of grief.  There is so much to mourn in this brutal, beautiful world: suicide, child abuse, bigotry, violence. Each of these injuries leads to trauma that prints and duplicates itself on spirit, flesh, and blood, and thus lives on even after the traumatic event has passed.

I’m mourning our dog still, but to be honest and honor my own grief process, I am mourning other losses, both personal and corporate: dreams I’ve carried close that haven’t come true, hard changes in our family and schooling, physical and emotional injuries sustained, the chronic pain of perceived failure. And so I write it out, hoping that giving grief its outlet will allow it to empty out, and in doing so free up some much-needed psychic space.

Our dog Sadie had the gift that each comes naturally to every animal: she inhabited her life fully. May we all do the same.

 

Losing Sadie

The night you were hit, we wept

over your soft, warm body, we buried our faces

in your fur, whispered words of love

and I’m sorry.

In the months since you have been gone,

I wake up early, thinking of you,

knowing you are waiting to go

outside, and breathe morning air.

Every evening at 5, my

inner alarm rings for your dinner.

I crack eggs, pop popcorn,

and see your ghost under

my feet, waiting for the dropped scrap.

At night your shadow

curls up at the corner

of the couch,

or at my knee,

wet snout nudging, insisting

I PAY ATTENTION.

Now I listen for

your toenails clacking

on the kitchen floor

on the way to

your empty bed.

Matthew 9:20-22

All the small things in the woods

hold their breath as I pass by.

Who knows what I am missing

as I tramp through the mud?

But I am on the lookout for

the glisten of sun on new leaves,

ladyslippers and bluets,

spring ferns and mosses,

I am seeking a

glimpse of miracle,

asking to be made well,

grasping at the hem

of Your robe.

Coming home

It has been a long time since I have visited this place. Sitting here in quiet with space and time carved out to write — it is coming home to myself.

Life has simmered and stewed its witchy brew in past months: another dog lost, dead on the roadside; children struggling; unmade decisions wagging insistent fingers; me barely managing, some days, to stagger through the day and feed the children.

Here are some things that have kept me from flying into a million scattered pieces during dark times: the love of my parents and family, blessed village; the gratitude list, jotting down thanks on even the worst days; the walks in the woods and views from my windows; the stories of hope and inspiration (thank you Queer Eye); the time I’ve spent in intentional family time, working or playing together .

One day a couple months ago, I had a couple of blessed hours to myself and opted for the woods. I hiked out into our Hundred-Acre woods and found magic everywhere I looked. I left home with lip balm, a tiny notebook, and my cell-phone camera in my pocket.  That day, I wrote:

Dazzled by the February light draping itself over my shoulders,

I wander dazed by beauty through the woods,

stumbling

so loudly and clumsily

that I flush the hidden creatures .

A huge bird beats wings heavily upward

from the eastern shore of the swamp,

lifts itself up and over the swamp to safety.

Birds chatter wise warnings

and all the sounds are music

and the creatures are the heavenly host.

They go about their business,

and I go about mine,

walking wonderstruck through the woods.

 

Wishing you, today, a moment of beauty to carry you through the dark. Wishing you the joy of coming home to yourself.

I am glad to be home.

Giving a good dog a good death

 

Two nights ago, we were sitting in the living room watching a movie, dogs sprawled on the floor. Charlie had been licking his paws obsessively, nothing too unusual for our orally-fixated dog — who could often be seen with a shoe or pillow or leash dangling from his mouth like a baby’s pacifier, or licking his sister’s fur, licking dishes in the dishwasher — but that night when I called his name to stop him from licking, he stood up, walked across the grey carpet to me, and there was blood dripping from his nose, streaked on his black paws. Where he had been sitting there was a pool of blood on the carpet. We tried to see where it was coming from, hard to tell because he was gagging on it. I quickly realized we needed to get him to an emergency vet, my 13-year-old put old blankets down in the back of the van, we lifted him in, and I was off.

That night, there was a lot of blood, and he stayed at the vet for observation. As we ruled out possible diagnoses one by one, all the signs pointed to a tumor. Another visit to the vet later, an x-ray revealed a basketball-sized tumor in his spleen, metastatized to his nasal cavity. We knew it was time to make the decision every pet owner dreads: how and when to give our good dog a good death.

Charlie and his sister came to us from my brother’s home when my 9-year-old was in utero. They’ve been witness to 9 years of our family story, the good, the bad, the ugly. They have annoying habits and often smell bad — particularly when their favorite snacks are the delicious nuggets of chicken poop abundant in our yard — and they require a lot of us. But these are the sensory images on slideshow through my mind today: the velvet of Charlie’s fur, the upward curl of his wagging tail, the snuffling on the ground for every crumb, the tongue licking dirty dishes as I loaded the dishwasher, the wild leaping gallop through our fields, the soulful gaze of his eyes as he laid his chin on your lap. A dog is love embodied, unconditional love, forgiving love, love that trusts with a wagging, hopeful tail.

The decision to euthanize is never easy, and rarely as clear as this decision was. We knew we didn’t want to risk Charlie bleeding out at our home, an internal rupture of his tumor, fear or pain for him. There is never a good option at this point, and it always ends the same way: holding this dear creature while he falls asleep, whispering in his floppy ear, “Good dog, good, good boy; I love you, good dog, good dog.” This is as good a death as there can be. It’s the way I want to go, hearing the words You’ve done well, I love you, good girl, good girl.

We all gathered together around Charlie before I drove him to the vet last night. We placed our hands on him as he snuffled around for the last nuggets of Chicken Delite, we thanked him: for loving us so well, for the gifts a good dog brings a family. We blessed him as his life came to a close. My daughter asked through tears, “Will we see him again?” My answer to her: I can’t imagine heaven without our beloved pets there.

Good dog, Charlie, good, good dog.

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living in truth

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She sits across the table from me and her tears well up when I compliment her on a job well done. It takes me a moment to recognize where her tears are coming from; for a moment I think built-up stress is releasing, but then, after she says a few words, I recognize the tears for what they are. She has judged herself, and come up short. I recognize this demon and call it by name, wanting more than anything to cast it out of her. We laugh when I offer to burn a smudge stick, but the yearning is real. I want her to be free of this lying demon of self-annihilation, because I crave freedom for myself as well. Her tears are mine.

The voices are loud and brittle in our heads. “You didn’t do your best.” “You let them down.” “You should have. . .” “You aren’t enough.” The only way to contradict them is to ignore them. Or speak truth to their lies.

The walk through this world is simultaneously brutal and beautiful. I notice this daily, but nowhere is it more poignant than in the heart of a friend. I wish for her/me the grace of self-forgiveness, of self-love, of self-acceptance. I wish for the grace to see myself through the eyes of the Beloved. Truth is, I’m seeking to vanquish the lies in my own life, and to walk through the doorway into the sweet truth I inherit as one of the Beloved’s beloved.

How can we live into the truth and face the demons? Daily connection to the Divine, the Beloved, the power of Love that spun the stars into being. Clear, intentional eyesight to recognize the liar when he slips through the door and gets in my face. Naming and crushing the snake as it whispers the lie. Holy warfare. Claiming my own identity as I’m spun into being, inhabiting who I’m meant to be in this world.

Wishing freedom from the lies, a life lived in the truth, for you today, dear heart.