The Rock Has Become Heavy

Our precious Addie reached the end of her journey on August 31, 2015, and Sisyphus’ rock was once again put in my care; it is a heavy rock and it seems to be resisting my influence, or at the very least in this moment it seems to be more attuned to gravity. Gravity in the sense that the rock is heavy, and gravity in the sense that this moment in and of itself is heavier than I thought it could be.
In June of 2005 I decided that we needed a dog; Bill was not really in agreement, but during our negotiations we came to an agreement, “we have spent the past 9 years without a dog and now we can spend the next 9 years with a dog, and at the end of that time we will decide which 9 years was better.” Prior to Addie coming into our lives our home looked as if we were getting ready for a photo shoot. The lawns, the gardens, and especially the house were always pristine. Bill exercises great pride in keeping a beautiful home and I am forever grateful to him for that. But that all changed quickly, the back lawn began to have dead spots, the carpet had paw prints, and I did not keep my promise of vacuuming at least once per week. To be honest, I really did plan on being helpful, but I just didn’t feel motivated to do so.
But with all of those truths, the bigger truth is, Addie brought to us so much life and purpose beyond our imagining that none of the rest of it seemed to matter. I readily adopted the mantra “who cares about the grass, Addie is so much more important than a perfect lawn” and I continue to believe in this mantra. However, part of the weight of the rock is, we are left with a less than perfect lawn and we are left with a carpet that has been lived on by a big dog; when I look at these things now, I am forced to see them without following through with a kiss to Addie’s beautiful face. Bill doesn’t get to lay on the floor and cuddle with Addie and decide that he just doesn’t care about water spots on the wood floors, at least in that moment.
Addie was the security blanket that we hugged when life seemed bigger than we could handle; when we closed our floral business in 2007 Addie dried the tears from Bill’s face; when we both had major medical issues in 2009, 2010, and 2011, Addie listened and loved the partner while the other was busy being the patient. When I returned home from my father’s funeral Addie greeted me at the door with the love reserved for a pet owner from his pet. But today, as I attempt to pick up the rock of grief Addie is the cause and not the cure.
I am so blessed to be a human who understands the need for physical healing of spiritual and emotional pain. Pets fill this need so beautifully, and although we have our little Mario, a precocious Min Pin, and we love him so very much, Mario cannot fill the space that Addie has left; Mario is experiencing his own loss. In the last year of her life Addie’s needs changed the ritual profoundly. She could no longer make it up the stairs from her kennel in the basement; we moved her to a dog bed in the middle of the living room, and we placed Mario’s kennel next to the fire place. The dog dishes had to be moved upstairs also; they became a decorating fixture between my chair and the French patio doors. The feeding schedule became shoving Addie’s meds down her throat while Mario did a happy dance waiting to have his food dish placed on the floor under Addie’s elevated dish. The evening of August 31 all those changes became moot and Mario gets to learn a new ritual.
Today, as I reflect on the negotiations of June of 2005, I am reminded that I promised to ask the question; “which was better, the nine years without a dog, or the nine (actually 10) years with a dog?” And as heavy as this damn rock is, as much as I want to reach the moment when her beauty is more paramount in my existence than the profound loss that I feel, I can tell you with no hesitation, Addie was given to us prior to our understanding how much we would need to have her, and there is no comparison to life before Addie to life with Addie; if only I could find peace with life after Addie I could begin the journey up the hill to at long last leave the rock at the summit in honor of our beautiful girl.
Peace all.


In This I am Sisyphus

In an interview on NPR this morning; Edward Hirsch was discussing his grief at the loss of his son and his processing of this overwhelming grief through poetry.  As Hirsch was reading an excerpt from Gabriel, A Poem,

The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief

I became aware that in my love and grief for my Great Dane, Addie, I have become Sisyphus.  Sisyphus is a mythological figure who had cheated death and he was punished by the gods for doing so.  They condemned him to an eternity of rolling a rock up a hill, and just as he reached the peak of the hill he would lose control of the rock, the rock would roll back to the base of the hill and Sisyphus would be forced to begin again.

Each time I walk through the door and Addie greets me with her beautiful brown eyes I become the Sisyphus who is watching the rock roll down the hill. In those moments I am forced to acknowledge that the rock is returning to its resting place, only to call to me to push it up the hill once again.  Addie controls when the journey begins again, and it is in this gray area that I am most uncomfortable, it is in this gray area that I am Sisyphus.

Hirsch pointed out that he does not believe that grief ends, but that we become stronger in dealing with our grief; poor Sisyphus grief.  We do not become stronger in the process but in the understanding that we have become accustomed to the repetitive motion of rolling that damn rock up the hill.  I don’t think, based on my grief for my father, that relief comes when I reach the summit but instead relief hits when the rock slips out of my hand and is rolling down the hill; in those moments, just before beginning the journey to fetch the rock, I can tell myself that the grief has left me.  Addie’s journey forces me to enjoy the brief reprieve because just like Sisyphus, I cannot ignore my penance, the rock is lying at the base of the hill and it is mine to roll, and yet it is not mine to time.



Grief and Healing

As I process the upcoming loss of my beautiful Great Dane, Addie,I am led back to the memories of my father’s death. Some would reject that comparison, but my emotions are not dictated by those differences, instead my soul acknowledges that yet another great love in my life is coming to an end.

I am finding that I want to be pragmatic about saying goodbye to Addie; I tell myself things like “She is a ten year old Dane, of course you are at this stage of her life, you knew this was part of the package”, and yet, I am thrilled to find that I have not become such a robot as too believe my own rhetoric.

We train ourselves to cut our losses and to go immediately to “the next thing”; grief, however, does not allow us to do so. There is a saying, and I do not know from where it came, “religion is for those afraid of going to hell, and spirituality is for those who have already been there”. I have always loved that saying, but, in that saying is one of the greatest lessons in letting go that I have experienced. Letting go of principles that do not work in my life. While my father was dying I was surrounded by people who were praying for the outcome to change, my 79 year old father was in respiratory failure, and yet I kept hearing people around me say, “God can heal him if he wants”. And as you can probably tell, I did not find solace in that with Dad, and I do not find solace in that with Addie’s upcoming death. When the inevitable comes, as death always will, I don’t want to be left with, “Why didn’t God love me enough to answer my plea”, when I know that death as much as it stinks (thank you Nate Hopping for acknowledging this truth for us) is part of life, and the death of a loved one, a pet, or a dream, is merely part of the cycle, and not a judgement from God.

Letting go is a life long journey, the five stages of death and dying; anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, are the same no matter the loss. Each time that I practice the dance of letting go, the better I become at letting go, and yet the tears are the same, the pain is as intense, and the emotional exhaustion will come.

I have heard many people express “I tend to let go with a clenched fist”; this is usually said with an air of disappointment, but I am proud that I let go so reluctantly, for it is in my reluctance to let go that I reside in my love of life, and all of the gifts that life offers. If this should cause me a longer dance with my emotions then so be it. This is after all my journey, and it is my loss, and although I won’t chase the pain you can bet that I will not run from it.