My grandmother used to say that the more she learned about people, the more she liked her dog. Its funny, as I sit here in this pandemic, considering my relationships and the ones that are most pivotal or changed or profound during this time….and mine is with my dog, and my heart is breaking. How do you prepare to say goodbye to the one true reason for both sanity and consistency? Aside from my son, the longest lasting, most authentic relationships I have is with a 14 year old, blind, deaf, grey mop with legs. Yes, I a married, but I actually credit the dog for my sanity during the off years, when I knew that no matter what else life threw at me, she would be by my side, under my feet, attached to my heart.
The Universe has given me three months of interrupted time to say goodbye. How many people are lucky enough to have that? As this gentle spirit ebbs through my fingers, I know that not one moment has been wasted. The irony is not lost on me that she has been with me for the past few weeks as I plod through my course on dying and death, force-feeding theories of Kubler-Ross and the art of letting go to a classroom of twenty year olds with delusions of immortality. It’s like some cruel self-fulfilling prophecy, I am living my curriculum. The damn circle of life. We move through it, birth, life, death. It’s unavoidable, and it’s exhausting.
There is no rational explanation or way to prepare a new mother for the level of complete passion and abandon that she will feel for her child. It’s unconditional. It’s intense. It’s beyond explanation. We hold that infant in our hands, then our hearts for the rest of their lives. Our job is to nurture them and help them grow into distinctly individual little humans, who eventually don’t need us at the breast, the kitchen table or the checkbook. Instead, that relationship morphs into something else. I don’t have a word for it, but right now I know it feels good. He’s moving on, growing up, growing away, but I don’t have to say goodbye.
There is no rational explanation or way to prepare a new bride for the level of complete unpredictability and challenge that she will face with her partner. How she navigates her marriage will vary depending on variables that will be as surprising as a green-flash on the horizon. Holding to the nautical metaphors, any marriage is like a leaky boat in a storm. Survival depends on the crew, the bones of the ship, and the ability for one to steer the rudder.
It was during my “rudderless” period, where I was feeling more alone, lonely and scared than I could acknowledge, I got an unexpected crew member. There was no rational explanation or way to prepare me for a life-bond with an animal. Silly me, for thinking that I was seeking a pet for my son. Looking back now, I realize that I was craving something I could count on. I was also exerting personal control by doing the one thing that would irritate my “ship-mate” who had left me feeling so adrift. It was sort of a three-in-one. My boy got a furry friend, I pissed off my husband with a non-returnable gift, and I gained a lifelong companion, tear-absorber, fearless protector and friend – all those things that I was desperately missing. My deed did not go unpunished. My son lost interest, my ship-mate never forgave me for breaking rank, and now I am alone in my grief. But, I assure you that the sweet knowledge that I took care of myself, just that one time, has been worth it.
So, now I sit here. I listen to the labored breathing that was once a funny snore. I see the old bones shift for comfort. I puree the chicken and rice. I crush the pain medication into the ice cream. I thank the Universe for my soulmate, while weeping for my looming loss. I respect the rules of life, and do my best to make it easier. I share my thoughts on paper, because so many are feeling so raw that my grief is inconsequential in the grand scheme. But, in this one thing I know that my conscience is clear, my heart is full of gratitude – even though I write with tears in my eyes. I guess there really is no rational explanation for unconditional love.