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Leader of the Pack

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Not long ago, I found myself grieving as my dog suffered through a period of serious illness that I believed would kill her.  Now that she has recovered, I am ready to reflect on this experience and share what I have learned.

I am not ashamed to admit that I cried, and then laughed at myself for crying, and then cried again, as I arrived at the realization that I am utterly unprepared for the inevitable. My brain knows that this beautiful creature—a loyal member of our pack for her entire adulthood and my son’s childhood thus far—will not live forever.  But my heart cannot comprehend this fact. The human brain has limitations; it cannot always convince the heart to accept the truth with grace.

I can see that the symptoms she exhibits are mostly related to her advancing years.  But she still behaves like a younger dog, especially when I lace up my running shoes and grab the leash.  She is slowed only by the older dog’s achy joints.  My misery stems from my awareness—coupled with her apparent ignorance—that she is aging at a faster rate than I am. We are no longer the middle-aged walkers we both once were.

Caring for an aging dog stirs up unresolved issues about death and forces us to examine our own mortality, as well as the mortality of our human loved ones.  I know of no way to prepare for grief, but I am beginning to understand how the heart can be primed to grieve more deeply.  Perhaps the role of the leader of the pack is to teach us that in life we must face death, by reaching inside our hearts and allowing ourselves to feel both the anticipated pain and the unexpected joy of being alive.

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Comments (5)

Your insights have come to me at the perfect time, as I watch some close friends deal with the loss of their parents. In the last 3 months as many of my friends of lost a parent. One due an accident- completely unexpected, although we did have time to say goodbye. One due to a longterm illness and one due the natural progression of aging.
The grieving process for all has been different but thankfully all have found the joy that comes with dawn, knowing that is how their loved ones would want them to go on.
Still, with each of their losses I find it difficult to accept the fact that my parents won’t live forever. With each injury or illness(however minor) I start to feel a panic come over me. Logically, of course, I know that it is not possible but still….
So thank you for reminding me that I too will be able to come to terms with the passing of someone so important to me by remembering that with this sadness, joy will follow, as it should.

Laurie, Thank you for sharing your story. It does seem like the older I get, the more I confront loss and death. In high school, I knew exactly one person who lost a parent to cancer. Now it seems like many friends are burying their parents, and this hits too close to home. Though confronting death and helping others grieve has been part of my professional life, it never gets easier for me personally. Still, I think that allowing ourselves to feel the pain deeply is a critical part of the process.

Remember, everyone you love on this earth is really just “on loan.” So, you better love them while you can!

That is so true! Glad to see that you are still checking in and reading the blog.

I feel fortunate to have you to lead, since I will not know how to do this or where to turn when (may it be a long time yet) the time comes. Even to approach the inevitable confrontation of the mortality of my beloved family members is scary to my mind at this time. Thanks you for adding to my awareness.

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