Friday, September 17, 2010

Navigating the Shores of Grief

There is a heaviness in my chest this morning. I am nearing the very last days of my old wolf-dog's life. I have been grieving this for some time, for it will be a huge loss, in a life that has been full of losses. I have been trying to prepare but there is really no preparing: there is simply doing what must be done and getting through it. There will be great pain and many tears. But I also know that the only way out is through, and I will come out on the other side, and it will be all right.

This is the way of life, and of loving, people or creatures. Loss is built-in.


I picked up a little book with a silly title the other day: Geneen Roth's The Craggy Hole In My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It. Geneen Roth has written some weightier tomes, notably Women, Food and God. I might have thought this was going to be another cute little cat-story book. But I was wrong. I think it is her best book.

This book is about loving her cat, Blanche (who was male:) ). But it is also about the death of her father and, subsequently, the death of Blanche. I could not have picked up a better book this week.

Since some of my readers are also going through grief and remembering, I will share a few excerpts from it here:

A student once asked Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi what nirvana was and he said, "Seeing one thing through all the way to the end."

....I soon realize there is something here besides grief, and it is so surprising that I keep turning away from it because the impending death of someone you love is not supposed to feel like this. In addition to my usual thrashing, I am aware of an unchanged and unchangeable stillness, a peacefulness so languid and so relaxing that it feels like being dissolved, cell by cell.

[I have felt this stillness at the side of death beds, and within my own being. It is a profound pervasive stillness, almost an entity.]

The difference between how I think death should feel and how it does feel is like the difference between being knocked around on the surface of the ocean and gliding along on the dark, hushed bottom, where the surface is only a dream.

When I pay attention to what I am losing, [her father] I feel insane with grief. When I pay attention to the enveloping stillness, I know that nothing bad is happening.

It makes me wonder if what the Sufis have said for a thousand years is actually true: anything you can lose in a shipwreck is not really yours.

...Now that I have to face the unfaceable, I feel washed clean, unexpectedly alive.......if I give up holding onto what I love most, I get the world back........If I give up trying to orchestrate the safety and the future of those I care about, I get to have everything - as if for the first time: the gratitude of having a body, the round shimmering coins of Matt's eyes, the silkiness of Blanche's fur beneath my fingers, the delicacy of air, just plain air, on my skin. Geez. Who made this bargain?

.......a knowing arises that this is what is going to get me through. Not...personal love - my dad loved me and now he's dying - but the fact that Love exists, is real, is true. It existed before and through him and will continue after him. I am beginning to believe that everything will not end when he does.

.....the aftermath of surviving what I thought would destroy me, of having my heart broken ten thousand times, means there is nothing left to protect. I can have the whole world, every illuminated gorgeous fragile sunrise, every glimpse of a hummingbird, every morning I spend with Matt, every taste of food, every step, every breath. I can have the unrepeatable wonder of them, no holds barred - but only if I know I can lose them the next instant. It turns out that astonishing beauty co-exists with staggering pain. It's a feast here, it's always been a feast, and even dying is part of it.

[My friend Peter, who lost his young wife to cancer, said to me, smiling, when I remarked how well his soul was handling her loss: "It's part of the deal." It's part of life.]

In the end, both deaths - my father's and Blanche's - did mean a kind of death for me......because in addition to the heaving grief, there were necklaces of whooshing, starry moments.....If the worst possible thing that could happen does not destroy me, it means there is an ineffable, mysterious something that can never be destroyed.

Nothing is the way I thought it would be. It's better.

[Then Geneen writes a few pages she says were channeled through her by her cat, Blanche, after Blanche's death:]

You cannot see me splayed in the sunroom looking as if I am surfing on a wave of light, you cannot see me lapping up the dripping water in the bathtub, curled on the couch in the TV room, or snoring in the laundry basket. This deceives you into believing I am not here, but you are only looking with your physical eyes. Look again. Look with the eyes beneath your eyes, the quivering life beneath what you call your life. is what you can see with those eyes that is most compelling. It's time to begin living the shimmery glimmery sunlit life you gave me, but haven't let yourself fully inhabit.

...I had a better life-and death-than most people on the planet..........All that was good, but the pleasures of the physical world.....were not the real treasure. It was the love, it was always the love............It was you. It was always you......

You used to mistake the symbol of the treasure for the treasure.....As if all you could possibly hope for was a thing you could touch, a token, rather than all of shining existence.....

It was time for me to go. I told you I would stay until you were strong enough to live without me, and I did, and you are. Until your heart spread like dragonfly wings, until you didn't need me to know you had a heart........Do not grieve for me. I am in a place where tuna fish flows like water, where I can jump like the wind and every place is silky and sunny. If you must, grieve for what you won't allow yourself to have. Grieve for all the ways you separate yourself from this radiance.......from knowing you are beloved on the earth.


  1. Powerful words..they touched my heart and my soul.
    Love to you and your wolf dog. It is hard to let go,

  2. I am so sorry about your wolfdog. I think this is one of the hardest paths to walk, almost harder than with a human as you cannot tell your dog his much you love him/her; and your dog doesn't understand and cannot even tell you where it hurts. I have been there. Thinking of you.

  3. The loss of a beloved companion is one of life's true challenges, indeed. I know how much you love your boy, and without a doubt, he knows how much you love him! You'll know when it's time to let go, and we will all be here to help you through it...

  4. 'until you didn't need me to know you had a heart' these words struck me like the blow of a hammer...

    I want to thank you for sharing this. My sister passed away 12 days ago... and I didn't realize until I read those words what I was most bothered by. We didn't talk as much as we could have and I fear greatly she did not know how much I love her...

    I wrote a poem to her shortly after I learned about her death... I will post it on my blog.

    Your wolf-dog is here now enjoy every moment you have with him.

  5. Hello, my friend. Any peace you can find in such a difficult time, I would say, grab it. I have lost four canine family members over time, and it is never easy at all. And the first one, oh, the first one. The part about staying until you know you have a heart without me, that went straight to my heart.

    I think a lot of what this woman said went over my head. To quote someone (oh, wait, it's me) "I'm not serene enough for that shit." But I do believe on the larger picture, in something beyond what we see. The poem I wrote for the Pantry last week was about this very thing.

    Anyway, what I do know is that it is devastating to lose a beloved animal companion, and my heart goes out to you, Sherry. But I do know, and I mean KNOW, that they do live on, and they don't forget us.


    ^^ that's a cyber hug.


  6. we so often grieve our human companions... but no matter how much we love or are loved, there is no love like that of a dog. I think I really understood what Love meant only after we got a dog... there is something magical about these creatures who love with their every pore, their hearts swelling and bursting, with their uncontainable love...

    i understand what it must feel like, knowing that this friend is going to go away soon...

  7. Yes, it's tough. I am so stoic through so many really hard things. But dogs reach deeper into my heart and there is no being stoic where this is involved. I am a mess! However, it is part of life, and he had such a good one. He would have wanted no other. I have a short reprieve as the vet wont see him for two weeks.....just have to love him while he's here. Thank you all for your support. Looksfar, I went to your site to read your beautiful poem to your sister, and left my comment there. Thank you for reading and commenting. Blessings to you.

  8. All dogs go to heaven. Not so sure about humans :(

  9. Sherry I am so sorry about your dog. I love mine as well they are my family and parting with them will be heartbreaking. I have you in my thoughts.

  10. "Be comforted, little dog, thou too at the Resurrection shall have a little golden tail."

    Though I'm not a devout believer, these words have always comforted me. If there is no heaven for humans, there should be one for dogs, purer souls there are none.

  11. Just red this again, Sherry. Hard reading, as you can imagine. I hope wherever the Wolf Dog is now he is enjoying a wild space and awaiting his beloved human who will be with him sometime down the line, but not too soon! Dogs don't have a sense of time, I've been told.


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