I'm sure it seems a little silly to some of you that I could/would write about grief in relation to a dog. And I get that. I know that there are many people in the world who just aren't dog people, who haven't had them, don't want them, don't understand the whole thing. But then there are others of you--and you know who you are--who so completely understand you are already nodding as you read this. I've talked to a few of you in the last couple of days. You've teared up when you've heard about our dog, you've thought about your own, about what it meant when you lost her, what it might/will mean when you have to put him down. We're a company of human companions to these loyal, loving creatures who not only share but enhance our lives. That's how we look at it.
But even those of us who love our dogs--even right this moment when the loss of mine is palpable in every room of this house, so fresh it cuts by the moment--I know there's a quantifiable difference between the loss of a dog and the loss of a human whom we love. There have been moments in the last couple of days that have torn at me. The worst, I think, was when Jamaica climbed into his bed and began to whimper. Simply lie there and cry, not understanding why he wasn't coming back, but somehow knowing it was true, I think. That moment seared itself into my broken heart and blurred my vision so much I had to lean over and catch my breath.
But when my father died, those moments came at me, multiplied by the thousand. By the millions. Fast and furiously and were my own moments. My own keening knocked the wind out of me, my own knowledge--that he wasn't coming back but not quite wanting it to be true--broke my already broken heart. My kids would tell you (as I have told you before) that I cried every single day the first year my father died. EVERY day, and it felt like there were canyons carved down my cheeks from the rivers of salty tears that poured down their contours. I had to carry a hankie (one of his) because tissues were too rough on my face.
In the beginning, it was by faith alone--by the words of scripture that I had read and continued to trust with my brain--that the fact that he was in heaven mattered to me. I knew--I KNEW because I knew when and how he'd become a Christian, had watched his growth and seen his love for Christ flourish--that he was in God's throne room, worshiping with all the saints. But that didn't matter to me. I wanted my daddy back. I wanted him for me. And even though I know that I will see him again, that someday we will be together singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy," if I'm honest, I'll admit that I would have him back. Right here, right now. Fifteen years later, and it's still true. I would have my father back if that possibility was open to me. And no matter how long I live on this earth, that will never change.
That's the truth of it. That's how life works on this earth. We lose people we love. We are separated from them for a while. It may feel short once we get there, but from here, from living minute by hour by day by week by month by year, that separation is long. It can never feel anything but long. The sharpness dims, we grow comfortable living with the hole of it in our lives, but it's there. And God understands this. Our lives are only this long and no longer on this planet even when we are promised eternal life. There's paradox in that. It means, of course, that there is more--far more--on the other side of the veil than there is on this side. That what we hold on to is merely the prelude, merely a flicker of time.
But let's start with the understanding that it's okay to weep. "Weeping may last through the night but joy comes in the morning," the Psalmist says. Okay then. There is night first, a dark night of separation and sadness and yes, even grief, first. We don't have to rush through it to the joy. We don't have to pretend not to feel, or fall back on platitudes that are worse than the pain. Though it may be absolutely true that our loved one (canine, but more importantly, human) is no longer in pain and in a better place, is with God, and we will see him/her again (though I honestly don't know about pets--sorrry, I have no theology of pets in heaven), grief is not about that. Grief is about OUR loss of that relationship. And that loss is real. Painful. Worth mourning. A hole that must be lived with. Soon we learn to live with that hole, learn how to live and laugh and get on with life. And we get to the place of feeling blessed not only that our loved one was in our world, but we remember. The hole reminds us. I believe that.
But let's start with grief. Shall we? And allow ourselves to weep through the night.
And then, on that first morning, let real joy--like we've never experienced while in this world-- abound.