My beloved 13-year-old dog Hank passed away this past Tuesday. We knew his death was imminent as my husband and I had made the decision to stop his cancer treatment. Not one to override the nature of things, I felt at peace that it was time to allow nature to take it’s course and in fact, the day before we met with his vet about what to expect as we approached end of life. But we were shocked to find ourselves in our last moments with him just hours after he had woken up in his usual good mood and had devoured his bowl of food with typical gusto. As the veterinarian administered the anesthesia to place him in a deep sleep before euthanasia, I prayed over my faithful friend, a companion who had accompanied me to my last 4 residences from Nashville to Chapel Hill, had shared me with 2 husbands, one child, and was aware, I believe, of the new baby on the way. Hank had been a constant source of comfort and love in many dark days, and tolerated the times that he found himself further down on my priority list when I became a mother. You may be thinking: “It’s just a dog!” but given the several hundred people who acknowledged Hank’s passing on social media, I know that grieving the loss of a pet is familiar to many.
That night when the house got quiet, I sat on my porch swing in the dark, for the first time without Hank on the floor beside me taking in the night breeze. I reflected on the last 13 years with Hank, and the course I thought I was charting as he came into my life and where I find myself as he went out of my life. I suddenly realized that Hank’s passing over into the next life was a passing through to a new one for me. He was the last vestige of the person I had been before and in that moment, as I began to process my grief, I finally caught up with my reality.
I believe that our struggle with grief first pushes against the missing of what we have lost, be it a person or thing. But the bigger struggle is in the passing: the moving from what once was and known to what now is and is unknown.
I have grieved many losses in my life, but Hank’s death has taught me that fidelity to the Practice of Grief includes acknowledging the tension between what once was and now what is. The passing through into acceptance of the present which may no longer include any remnants of a life you once had.
This is Living Hope.