Just a couple of weeks ago, my dog, Vermont, (AKA You Da Dawg) died at age 16. He was a class act all the way and I’ll miss him… forever. I know, I know, everyone loves their dog. Dogs are awesome and we love them, in part, because they are so loving and forgiving and so damned loyal.
But this isn’t a eulogy and it’s not a teary-eyed post written to assuage my grief. Yes, I loved Vermont and our 15 years together as buddies is a treasure for which I’m very grateful. But the truth is, I’m not sad.
Sadness comes from loss for which there has been no preparation. People get stuck in grief when we can’t come to terms with reality because we don’t accept it as reality. A shocking loss can do that to you. Like when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack when he was 50 and I was 15. Because his death was such a complete break in reality for me, I experienced sadness that was so deep and overwhelming that I needed to build a protective barrier around the rim of it, lest I stumble in and never resurface.
But at some point, I created a gate in the barrier and I dove into the grief. (OK, I’ll be honest. I was pushed, but I’m glad of it.) I needed that submersion and I resurfaced stronger, more compassionate and more accepting of all aspects of reality… including death.
I also learned something that I’m happy to share with you. Here goes:
The relationships you have with the people and animals you love, will end. Either they will die or you will. If you fully accept that, then you can, without reservation, love everyone in your life more fully.
Here’s how that’s worked for me… 14 years ago my mom was diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) It’s fatal and uncurable. It’s also a bitch for the patient. As my mom said, “It’s like my world is shrinking and I just get to watch.” At the time of her diagnosis, the neurologist put it this way, “Other than AIDS, this is the worst diagnosis I could give anyone. Have a nice weekend.” (I kid you not!)
Fortunately, since that time in 1994, people living with HIV/AIDS in countries where the health care system provides them with the latest life-extending drugs have been managing their infections with much better results. So maybe that neurologist would now move ALS up to “the worst.”
Anyway, I digress… the point is, my mom got her diagnosis at the end of May that year and on Christmas Eve she died.
Were those last 7 months terrible? Oh, yes. Without question, they were the worst times I’ve ever lived through. I was physically strained and emotionally stretched and continuously devoured inside with dread and anxiety. What’s also true is that during those 7 months, I loved my mom every minute I was with her. I gave her my best and didn’t hold back. In return, she gave me her best.
So when she died, I was relieved that her suffering was over. And, to my surprise, I found myself calm and peaceful and whatever else you call the absence of grief.
We adopted Vermont 6 months before my mom was diagnosed. When she got her diagnosis and I accepted the reality of what that meant, I chose to love her fully for as much time as we had left together. At the same time, I accepted that my relationship with my new dog and with David and our kids was also going to end. And so I decided that I’d love those close to me with the same “Now is all we’ve got” approach.
Vermont died in our arms. We buried him in a spot in our side yard that you can see from the living room window. We planted a liquid amber tree over his grave. The leaves are starting to turn.
Liquid gold. Liquid love. Free flowing. No holding back.