We buried Izzy in the garden where he loved to lie on the cool dirt and look out over the valley, as dogs do. It was Maria’s idea to leave him there and we dug a big hole after he died. Maria and I filled in the hole, planted some flowers, cleaned up the garden and all of us went out there this morning to say hello, or perhaps goodbye. It’s the right place. We will leave him behind when we move to the New Bedlam Farm, which bothers me. But this is where he belongs, and his spirit is free to go where he wishes it to go.
I’ve thought a lot about grief – and not just the loss of dogs and pets – in my life. I lost two children, my parents, many people and animals. So have all of you, I suspect, to one degree or another. This is the toll we pay for living a full life. I think the small dramas of life are really just warm-ups for the big one. Most of us are terrified at one point or another of dying ourselves and as we get closer to it, it becomes more real. This is not something the very young concern themselves with, or should. Izzy and I explored grief quite a bit in our time together. We saw much of it in our hospice work. And people who love dogs and other animals experience it again and again.
There is a part of grieving that I love, and I will admit that. I never feel more alive than when I have lost something I love, the meaning and beauty of life is never closer to me. When I grieve, I rush to the computer and to the camera, because I know my words and photos will capture my feeling and emotions and people will feel them. When I am not grieving, I tend to close up – you cannot be open all of the time - and the normal distractions, fears and foolishness of life re-emerges.
So grieving is a gift. And I do several things when I grieve.
I remind myself that every single person in the world has had a harder life than me, and I caution myself not to swim too deeply in the pool of sadness and pity, as I will lose sight of the rest of humanity, and become selfish and self-absorbed. Everybody wants to hear the news, but nobody wants to hear too much of the story. Everyone has their own, or soon will. Those of us who choose a life with animals know grief especially well, because it always the shadow on the wall, the elephant in the room.
Grief is fueled by love, followed by rebirth. I will get another dog. We put “Fran and the Fox” notecards up for sale. People are supporting Battenkill Books once again. Maria and I had the gift of experiencing grief together. We are moving to a New Bedlam Farm.
I see grief as a mistress, a lover, and I accept her, open myself to her, let us embrace, hold one another, let the sadness cleanse me, purify me, wash through me. As soon as I can and wish, I move ahead. As powerful as it can be, grief is not a permanent home for me, not a place I wish to live. Part of grief is conscious, and part of it is a process that has a life of its own, and it will take its own time and course. It is arrogant to think otherwise. Grief leads to things. People leave anger and fear behind. They comfort and support one another.
And grief always – always – feeds the creative soul, lights the creative spark, opens us up to the feeling and beauty and love of the world as nothing else can. Last night I spent some time with the late musician Levon Helm, and his beautiful new CD, “Dirt Farmer.” And I listened to these lyrics a few times:
“I’m only halfway home, I’ve gotta journey on
To where I’ll find, I’ll find the things I’ve lost
I’ve come a long long road but I’ve still got some miles to go
I’ve got a wide, a wide river to cross."