I feel grief as a response to the perceived loss of someone I have loved deeply. Sorrow is part of the experience of love. But it need not dominate or overwhelm a soul. When Rummy died in 2005 (the day before I brought home Zoe), I experienced intense grief that affected me for months. It is not that I love Zoe less than I love Rummy, for I love each of these creatures as well and as whole-heartedly as I possibly can. Having passed through months of painful grief for Rummy, and understanding how love can slowly transform grief into joy, I seek, as noted, the peace of God in whom alone grief becomes joy. Stated psychologically, I do not want to torture myself or make myself suffer grief more than I must; rather, I want to help restore peace, joy, and vitality to my life. I could ask: Is that not what I would want for someone else? Is that not what my dear Zoe would want for me? Does it not honor our love better if I seek to live the love more in God, and not within the recesses of my private self? What do I mean? That I must seek to open my soul to the reality and presence of God, and not be self-enclosed.
In beginning any good work or activity, as St. Benedict instructs us, one should ask for the God of all goodness to help bring the work to completion. Seeking peace is indeed a good activity, and one seeks God’s peace by turning to God. Although verbal prayer is not necessary for the turning around of the soul, it can be a useful means to help direct the soul towards and into the presence of the living God:
Dear God and Creator of all, your little creatures need your wisdom and goodness. Zoe needs You for life eternal, I need You for the peace which surpasses human reasoning. And we all need You to transform our imperfect lovings into a genuine sharing in You, the one true and complete Love. From You each comes forth, to You each returns, and in You alone each has its being, for You are being itself, that which simply is. I ask that You receive your beloved Zoe, whom I have loved as a little daughter to me, into the abyss of your mercy, and let her live in You alone. I freely surrender her to You, and yield up all claim that this wonderful creature is in any way mine. She is yours. And I ask that You also receive my heavy heart into the abyss of your divine mercy, that I may experience your peace, and sorrow may yield to joy in You alone. I am not asking for a miracle; and yet, I do ask for a miracle: a radical change of heart from self-centeredness and interior isolation and darkness, into a heart and mind fully and truly open to You. In You is Life, goodness, peace. And in loving and in doing your will is our peace, as Dante reminds us. So your will be done: receive Zoe, receive me, into a deeper and truer union with You that costs nothing but the surrender of ourselves to You, who are Life, Love, Joy. We give up everything in ourselves, even our life, and receive All in You. That is quite a good deal You give us, is it not? So little given, and so much received. And You give in the measure that we open ourselves to the gift of You.
I am in You, as Zoe is in You. I see no thing, but I feel a quiet peace, a stillness, as in the pause between two breaths. “Ceso todo,” everything ceases, as San Juan de la Cruz wrote. I feel, as it were, a gentle fanning of a refreshing breeze. And I know that I am not here because I am worthy to be here, but I am worthy because I am here, as Plotinus teaches. You have chosen me far more than I have chosen You; I merely say “Yes” to your eternal Yes. It is You who opens the door and floods in, and I enter into your flooding presence, and rest in You, and You in me. When You open, why should I not enter—enter into the joyful light so blazing that I am blind to it, but it penetrates me nonetheless.
You are here. “I in you, and you living in Me.” In You alone am I truly, and in You alone is all that I truly love. Here, presently unseen by me, are all of our dear friends, human and creaturely: not parts of You, not dissolved into You, but each distinctly being in your one divine Being. Each is here as I am here: a guest, welcomed, received, at home, in peace.
God of all goodness, Lord of all love, I thank You for Life, for my life, for Zoe’s, for Rummy’s, and for my dear parents, and for Binti’s, and Romulus’ life, and for all the good people You have asked me to help tend in this world, and for each whom You have so generously given us to love, and help to tender home to You. Nothing is, unless it is in You; and all in You is forever, as You are forever. Deathless One, ever-living One, Beauty of all beauties, Wisdom beyond all knowing, attained only through the open door of love.
I thank You, dear Life, for Zoe’s life, and for having created such a wonderful and beautiful creature, such a creative and indomitable spirit. Thank you for showing me glimpses of your goodness and wisdom in such an original creature. You penetrate each and all, and yet we often fail to recognize, fail to understand. But love recognizes, acknowledges, rejoices, gives thanks. Into your hands, into your heart, I commend the spirit of Zoe. I withhold nothing back, for all comes from You, and to You each returns. And I freely give myself back to You now: “Let it be done to me according to your will,” whether to live here, or back there. Only cease to be I cannot do, for You are, and all and each is in You forever.
Here in You are so many friends I thought hidden “in death’s dateless night”—Brother Dominic, Father Daniel, Professor Voegelin, and all whom I have loved in the passing light, the shadow of your eternity. These souls are hidden to us in time, but they are utterly transparent to You, seer of all. And these friends have pointed me to You, and I honor them, as I come to You: not only those whom I have known in the flesh, but spirits who have spoken to me from eternity through the past: even Moses and the prophets, Socrates and the philosophers, and so many saintly men and women, and little creatures displaying your goodness and glory. The glory of All, your glory, is seen in each, and each in You. Here in You there is no separation, no division, no emptiness, but ever-flooding fullness of Your being and divine Life into each.
“So why yield to grief, little soul, when the one you love so dearly is filled forever with all the fullness of God"? Do you not know? Have you not heard, little soul, that I create each for my glory, which means, forever? O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Why be afraid? Do you not have faith? I AM WHO AM—just ask Moses!—and each and all are in Me forever. So come to me, you who labor and are heavy burdened in your self, and I will truly refresh you in Me.”
And so I see that it is not for me to offer Zoe back to God, for she belongs to God forever, but to offer to God all in me that is not from God: fear, doubt, grief, guilt, ill-will. It is for me to surrender all that I am and have to He Who Is. And it is for me to thank the Creator for His Presence in such delightful creature, including my beloved Zoe.
And I add one more note: In the still hours before Zoe died, around 0100 in the morning, as she lay on the floor at the foot of the stairs, I prayed out loud the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father, over her, slowly and clearly. As I prayed—“thy Kingdom come, thy will be done”—she raised her head and looked up into my eyes. I could see only one of her eyes, but that was enough. In her eying me, I saw You. The look in her eye brought Your Passion immediately and vividly to mind. In other words, I saw You, my God, suffering in her, and for me. And it was from this experience that I immediately became open to the vet’s guidance to let her die at the right time. “It is enough,” I thought, “depart in peace, my little one.”