This feeling of grief after a loss, I feel is a sacred time. I have vowed to let myself feel the depths of this pain. To sink down into the wisdom of this darkness. It is an ebb and flow of dark and light. And what we bring back into the world can be a healing balm, a calm acceptance, a way of walking gently on the Earth and loving this transitory life.
“No, it’s not emptiness that is felt now that you are gone from this world. What is felt is the fullness of your absence. A space laid bare, pregnant with the light of your humor,
I wrote the following journal entry in January of 2020 a few days after my dog Lola died, and a couple of months before the pandemic hit. I was struggling under the heaviness of new grief, trying to find a way to get through the days without crying. I would find myself numb, distracted, staring at nothing while at work. Nights were worse.
I never wanted to numb my grief. I wanted to sink into it. And I still do, when it emerges. Slowly the sharp pain I felt in my heart eased and came less often.
Perhaps that was the gift of Lola’s life: To tear my heart so wide open that the compassion and love that poured out carved a new trajectory for my life.
I have lost more loved ones, human and animal since then. My other dog, Dickens, among them. I try to meet these losses with a strength of Spirit that I did not feel before.
Sometimes I read this letter I wrote to Lola and it gives me comfort. I hope she can hear it where she is.
I cannot yet clean the patches of dirt off of the walls where you used to sleep or put your food bowl out into the garage. Your collar lies next to your ashes on the credenza. I wish I had known how much you meant to me when you were here. If only I could go back to that day when I saw you, an abandoned puppy awaiting adoption at the pet supply store. I would spend every day for the next 11 years making sure you knew how much I loved you, instead of being distracted by my ego-centric pursuits, all so trivial, now I know.
We had so much fun hiking in the mountains, or driving to the park, or swimming in the lake on the weekends, didn’t we? Do you remember that time you startled an elk? Or that time when you realized our home was going to be Dickens’ forever home, too? Or that first time I had to pick you up and put you into the back of the car because you could no longer jump? Do you remember? Can you still remember?
Or are you running in mountain meadows now, chasing elk and squirrels and butterflies? A green meadow with clean air and blue skies, where your labored last breaths are forgotten? But you still remember our walks and weekend treks and playing catch and how Dickens would always get the ball out of your snout, don’t you? You will remember us, won’t you? You will remember to greet Dickens when her time comes? And when I finally come? Won’t you, Lola?
It is said that with the loss of someone you love, there comes a feeling of emptiness. What I feel is not emptiness. What I feel is a presence, a fullness of your absence at home. I feel the fullness of the presence of your absence. It is heavy and it clings to me.
I know with time this fullness will diminish, and I will smile when I think of our days together, Lola. And on my last day, I will wait. As I hope you will be waiting somewhere, wherever it is that we go when our last, labored breaths are forgotten.
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
What will you do with your one wild and precious life?
As I care for my aging father, and witness his diminishing abilities, both physical and mental. I see my own future. I see my frustration and grief in not being able to do things that used to come so easily. I see my melancholy face as I stare out the window of the kitchen, thinking of – who knows? My past? Things I have done and not done? Joys and regrets?
At times it sends me into a panic wondering what I have done, or what I may still do in the time I have left of this life. What will I do with my one wild and precious life? At other times, I release these fears and escape my ego’s hold, a great reprieve if even just for a little while.
I believe the answer to Mary Oliver’s questions above may be within the poem in which she asks that devastating question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
Be in awe of the grasshoppers, and trees, and blue skies. Be in awe of the beauty in this weary world. A world that we have been gifted.
The rest of life will unfold as it will and should.
Mary Oliver’s poetry has saved me in ways it is hard for me to explain. Through the darkness of my mind, her words pulled me back to the world. I wiped my eyes and remembered to be in awe of the beauty around me, especially in the smallest of things. A flower, an insect, a cloud, fleeting as they all may be. Her poem “The Summer Day” was the first one of hers that I read, and it pulled me back from the abyss.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?