Best Friends, Gone

Three weeks ago, I did the funeral for my best friend. She had been ill for a while; she had checked out of life twice in the past three years and had been revived.  Though she had been sick, I thought she’d beat this last bout of a stubborn heart, wanting to give up and give out. She did not beat it this time, and Death claimed her.

I was angry about it. Anger is a part of grief that we don’t talk about much. It’s almost as though it’s a sin to be angry at someone who died. Their death was enough; their death is a ticket to grieve, but in an acceptable way. Sadness. Tears. A feeling of loss…

I felt all of that, but in addition, I felt anger. The anger started the moment I got to her hospital room literally a minute after she died. I hit my leg in anger and stomped my foot. She couldn’t be gone, I thought. But of course, she was. I stood next to her lifeless body, still warm, talking to her because I was sure she could still hear. I told her I was going to miss her, that I was missing her already.

I didn’t tell her I was angry that she had left me. Yes, she had left others, too, but honestly, all I could deal with at that moment was my reality. As a clergy person, you’re supposed to know how to handle death, and you’re supposed to handle your own emotions. I get that and I do that pretty well. But for a moment, before the “pastor” thing kicked in, I was just her best friend, left behind, and I was mad.

That anger was enough, but then, yesterday, I had to put my beloved dog down. She was 17 years old and could not walk, could not get up or stay up after being hoisted. She was still clear-minded and still had the amazing sparkle in her eyes that she’d always had, but she could not stand up, get up, or stay up. She was incontinent. She ate, but had gotten to the point where she had to eat while lying down, and when she was lying down, she twisted her body into a shape which I called “the question mark.”

I watched her and ached for her and for me. She was a proud, beautiful dog, a Siberian Husky. All her life she had been spirited and stubborn, and those parts of her personality had not been decreased or affected by age. But she was sick. I remember thinking that she was in a place where I as a human would not want to be; if I were so sick that my life had been maintained by machines, and I could not function, I would want to die.

Surely, a dog not being able to get up, stand up or stay up…must be analogous to being on life support.

She was my other best friend. She stuck with me no matter what. She laid by my bed for all those years; she actually slept on my bed when she had been able to jump onto it. She was the gentlest soul, and she was always there for me, but now, she was sick.

She fought to live, but I knew it wasn’t good for her so, I decided I had to put her down. It was what was right for her. I gave her the “death-prep” pill my veterinarian prescribed for her; I was to give it to her two hours before “the procedure.” I gave her the pill and then gave her a rib bone. It was her final treat. I normally didn’t give her bones because bones are bad for dogs’ teeth, I’d been told. But on this day, it didn’t matter anymore. She ate that bone with the excitement with which she had always eaten “treats,” and then she put her head on the grass still moist with dew, and went to sleep.

I went to get her a couple of hours later. Her body was completely limp, because of the pre-procedure pill. I took her to the car, already crying, and laid her on the blanket I had put on the back seat for her. My other dog jumped in and gave her a sniff and sat watch at the car window which her sleeping sister had always taken…

We got to the veterinarian’s office and were led to a room. I cradled my “other best friend” in my arms, on my lap, while my other dog pranced nervously about, sensing that something was terribly wrong, or at least different, and then the doctor came in.

She was crying, too. This dog was so lovable; she was kind and patient …and pliant, yet on the other side, she was equally as stubborn and strong.  As we put my limp dog on the table, it was hard to figure out who was crying more, me or the doctor.

The procedure went quickly, me holding my dog until she was gone. It only took minutes, and as life left her, I buried my head in her fur which would have made her, had she not been dead, give me one of her long, slow dog kisses. She was gone.

And I was mad.

I am still mad. My two best friends are gone and I am quite at a loss as to how to handle it. I know death is a part of life; God knows I have preached that truth enough.

But it doesn’t help, knowing death is part of life. Right now, it feels like death slapped me twice in three weeks. And it hurts. There is no easy way to meet grief and to get through grief,  whether it comes because you’ve lost a human friend or a furry friend.

Grief is grief.

A candid observation …

Grief, Uninvited

Grief is such a rude visitor.

It comes uninvited and too often, unannounced, and it outstays its welcome.

Emily Dickinson‘s poem, “Death,” describes well the rudeness of death, but death’s companion, grief, is much more pesky. It teases and taunts us, making us feel like we are getting better (and perhaps we are), but then it pulls the rugs from under our feet, and we find ourselves falling down into that empty hole that death left behind.

I thought about that as I listened to a person describe how horrible it has been for her since her husband died. It has only been two years, I think, as she speaks. Grief usually stays much longer than that …but this woman wanted grief to go away, and stay away, so that she could get herself together. Grief was not obliging her request and desire, and she shared that she was sinking into a deep depression.

“My soul aches,” she said. “It’s like my soul wants to vomit something up…but there is nothing there. It’s like I wretch and wretch but nothing comes up, and the wretching won’t stop.”

Were that there were an easy way to get rid of grief. Unfortunately, it is a process that takes a good bit of time to be eliminated to a point where we can function. Even after that huge block of time, grief remains a scar on our souls; there are scars there which belie a wound that was once gaping and ugly and at times, infected with anger and fear and confusion about how death or some other tragedy could have come and wreaked such havoc in our lives.

The only thing we can do in grief is to respect it – give it room to do whatever it is doing as it lingers within us – but then breathe good, deep, cleansing breaths when it takes a reprieve. We find that we go from living moment to moment, to living hour by hour, then day to day…sometimes slipping back to the moment-to-moment or hour-to hour mode, but consistently coming out of such a haphazard way of living to something more like we remember “normal” being.

I think that when our souls ache from grief, we should let them ache. We should “go with the flow” as our souls wretch with this unspeakable pain that is obviously trying to come out…because sooner or later (probably later,) the retching will stop. The acute parts of grief will have been gotten rid of, and we will be in a position to begin the healing process. We might as well go with it, because we certainly cannot direct or control the process.

When the retching finally stops, we know that we are at least getting to the possibility of putting the tragedy or loss in a place where we can see it and not have a violent reaction.

I guess that’s called life.

A candid observation …