The death of a loved one, be they human or animal, leaves one reeling, gut-punched and sore. Numb. Confused. It’s difficult to imagine getting through the next hour, the next day, let alone the next week or month or year. It’s hard to believe that life will ever feel normal again. Maybe it won’t.
My psyche is an oddly malleable creature. Perhaps it is because I’ve dealt with death so often (grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, friends, animal friends). Maybe it’s because, most recently, I’ve had to deal with the deaths of five pets in four years (the last three in the space of one year almost to the day). I’m worn out. Tired.
That’s not surprising.
But all that battering has made me something of a survivor. Or maybe not. Perhaps what it’s done has laid a veneer over my soul, a hard layer of spiritual shellac that takes the dings and scuffs, the pounding of loss. Could be that it’s a sham, a pseudo-strength, fake bravery to show to the world when the inner core of myself is curled up and hurting. I don’t know. Right now I feel like I don’t know much of anything. Such is the beginnings of grief.
I wouldn’t mind so much dealing with grief if it would just BE — be here, let me deal with you, and be gone. But it has a way of sneaking up on me, of waylaying me when I least expect it, of hiding in wait so it can leap out at me at the worst possible moment, right when I think I’ve begun to get a handle on things.
Okay, sure; I know I’m expecting too much too soon. My dog died yesterday. It’s not like I’m going to rush out today and get another one. (Far from it.) It’s not like I expect to feel no pain. It’s like…well…it’s like I can only take so much and then something in me shuts down for a time, or takes one step to the side, or closes a door so I can breathe again, dry my eyes, go through the motions required to get the job done, to live my life in some vaguely normal way.
Then…WHAM! A memory hits and I’m undone.
I woke at 5:30 this morning. My first groggy thought of the morning? “Gotta get the dog out.” Followed a microsecond later by the realization that there no longer is a dog to be lifted to his feet, steadied until he finds his balance, followed to the door, guided down the ramp and into the yard. That part of my life is over.
Such pain I can’t begin to describe.
It’s been that way all day. I go out…and I come in expecting to see his happy dog-face peeking at me around the corner, waiting for me to come help him to his feet so he can greet me properly. Someone makes a noise in the kitchen and my brain hears it as the click of his toenails on linoleum. I look outside to see his favorite azalea bush…but there’s no grey dog sprawled beneath it. Tonight, coming inside, I paused and held the door for him, as I’ve done for the last 12 years. And the minute I realized it, the second each one of those moments rang empty in my ear, my heart broke all over again.
This will take time. I know that. I’m 53 years old and I’ve buried pets before. But I’m impatient. I want the pain gone. I want to feel sane and whole again.
But…in its way, I believe this grief, these flashes of memory disguised as present events, are all part of the process, part of the immortality that is not only Tucker’s, but that belongs to each of us in our time. We are here. We connect to those around us. With some we form particular bonds. And then we are gone, leaving them behind to deal with whatever their minds throw at them.
In the end, memories are all we have… and all we will be… until the last of us is gone.