They say the best way to learn something is to teach it.
I teach grief. I already knew the language fairly well, but I learned to speak it fluently when going through the loss of my brother, and in that fluidity I took my words, wrote a book, and have been an author and voice on grief since.
It’s not that I think I’ve learned grief’s lessons- I will forever be learning and relearning some of those lessons. But since Brent passed in 2016, the heart of my grief is further away than what it once was.
Those ripping reds and tumultuous blues in my alchemy have quieted to softer pinks and deeper grays with only occasional bursts of loud color.
The grief is still there, but it’s different.
Then last week I got the news that my sweet old dog, Sam, has cancer, and we’re looking at about 6 more months, maybe less, and I’ve got new reds and blues and eruptions of color exploding all over my heart palette.
There have been moments this week where I’ve felt like my heart is going to rip itself out of my chest, so heavy and hurting it feels. It’s suffering break and ache, and I’m trying to attend to it as best as I can.
Sam is still with us, but there is an anticipatory loss from the concrete knowledge that we’re going into all the lasts. Last summer. Last memories. Last moments.
I keep looking at him- he holds so much of my heart- and cannot imagine life without him, even as I know I’ll be okay, because I have enough love inside of me to get through this.
The profundity of my grief, as I write these words, is such that my eyes are so raw I’ve taken to wearing sunglasses in public, my throat is full of the unshed, and I’ve found myself doing tasks of grief that surprised even me.
I spontaneously had the compulsion to buy a special crystal heart ring to wear during this time period, so I could associate it with Sam and have something tangible to link to the memories created this last summer.
I started to make a list of all my memories and musings of Sam, doing my best to fill in the timeline of all I’ve loved most since he came into our hearts November 2014. Some of my happiest memories are on that list, and I’m touched and awestruck at the magnitude of love wrapped up in his being.
It’s like I’m trying to piece our timeline together and take stock of just who he’s been to me, how this special being has been in my life, and what pieces of my heart he holds.
I put together an album of all the pictures I have of Sam. Not only to have something tangible to look at, but as a way to track the evolution of time and to acknowledge all the life passages he’s seen me through and all the memories we’ve created.
And I reread some of the passages in my grief book from fresh eyes:
“There is no shame to be found in having a hurting heart when your hopes haven’t gone as planned and life has brought you to a point of break. No shame at all. Your heart is doing what it is built to do: love, feel, break, heal.
The human heart is one of the most achingly fragile and sturdily resilient forces on the planet. Don’t be afraid of what it has to say. Don’t be afraid of its depths. And don’t be afraid to let it do what it needs to do to release, remember, repair, renew.”
I found this version of me learning from my younger self, I almost felt like I was reading somebody else’s words as I sat there nodding, “yes, yes, this is exactly how I feel, somebody understands.”
Dogs often reflect back a piece of our own soul we aren’t able to put words to.
They love unconditionally and there is an absence of judgment that allows a purity of love. They see our soul-light and what is best in us. And they offer love without expectation- dogs love us regardless of who we are or what we do.
It struck me earlier this week that I need to work on loving Sam like this now. I had hoped and expected we would have him longer, but he doesn’t owe me that and neither does life.
So now it’s my job to love him without expectation of time line. Without expectation of what will come to pass. Without expectation- just purity of intent.
I know a lot more burning tears and heart swells and chest aches are coming, and that’s okay, that’s part of love. I find it so beautiful that I’ve had the privilege to love so deeply that it hurts this badly, because all the hurt is there because of all the love.
The hurt is the grain of sand- the irritant in the oyster- but the love is the protective layer that I will keep covering that grain with over and over and over again.
I figure the best I can do is to follow my own advice: love, feel, break heal, release, remember, repair, renew, and keep finding the love to cover that grain until it becomes a magnificent pearl.
(Image by Artist, Janina Simutis)