Walking with Grief
Last week, quite unexpectedly, I lost one of my Aussies, Thunderbear. He was only 9.5 years old. He was diagnosed with a large mass in his spleen, likely hemangiosarcoma (a highly malignant cancer), and his prognosis due to internal bleeding was poor. Even if he survived surgery, he would need chemotherapy, which would only give him a few weeks or months.
We have all faced the heartbreaking decision to put an animal down. I have had to put down other dogs, horses, cats, and it never gets easier. Years ago, I learned a hard lesson when I waited too long to put a cat down because I was not willing or able to let go. I won’t do that again.
Some of us have lost family members, a child, a spouse, a friend, or a parent. We stumble through our days and nights with grief ever at our side.
I sat on the floor with Thunderbear, thanking him, loving him. He went to sleep, his heart stopped, his spirit leaped free.
I don’t know how I drove home. But when I turned on the car radio the song that was playing was Sad Eyes by Robert John:
Sad eyes, turn the other way
I don’t want to see you cry
Sad eyes, you knew there’d come a day
When we would have to say ‘goodbye’
Grief is a shadowy companion that walks with us, triggers tears, makes our heart hurt. Grief can feel like a blanket, enveloping us in deep, profound sadness we don’t know if we will recover from.
When my father passed years ago, I had a revelation about grief and the singular uniqueness of saying goodbye. After my sister and I got the news of our Dad’s passing, I crawled into bed with her, and while she sobbed, I thought about how grateful I was that he had finally been freed of the terrible condition he was in. I thought about how lucky I was to have him as a father. And I remembered that he would always be with me, as I carry him in my heart like a locket. I didn’t cry then, it was later that the tears came, when I was out in a patch of Arizona desert by myself, just needing to process it all. The grief was a welcomed friend.
It has only been a few days since Thunderbear passed. I see him everywhere. I still go to make up his food bowl and have to stop myself. I call his name with the other dogs, and suddenly realize he won’t be coming to the back door. Last night the memory of him lying on the couch with me was so profound I could almost feel his head on my thigh, the way he inched closer, nudged my hand for more contact, more ear scratches, me telling him what a good boy he was.
I wish we had more time together. I wish I could watch him roll in the autumn leaves, stand outside during a snowfall and lick snowflakes, run pell-mell into the pond in summer, walk ahead on the paths through the woods and run back to me with a stick so proud of himself he grins from ear to ear, his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. He had an ability to leap from a standstill onto a counter at BioStar to survey the production area or jump onto BioStar’s conference table … just because he could.
Grief spurs memories. Perhaps that’s the deepest blessing of grief – remembering. Remembering the little moments forgotten, taken for granted, considered ordinary but now ever-so wonderful and important.
And to feel such gratitude – how lucky I was to have this marvelous Aussie dog spirit in my life. Even with the pain of his passing, how rich my life has been with Thunderbear at my side.
As I write this my eyes water, grief is with me, without judgment, without condemnation; no “hurry up and get over it.”
I visit the hundreds of photographs I’ve taken of him, and I feel the gratitude and privilege of spending 9.5 years with him. How poor in spirit I would be if I hadn’t known him, learned from him, and loved him.
Grief is here, the sorrow worth every drop to have loved and been loved by Thunderbear.
(All Photos by Tigger Montague)