Friday I said good bye to my loyal friend and beloved companion of 12 years, Tilly Jane.
I'd come to realize in confronting the reality of her decline and eventual demise, what it might be like to have the shoe on the other foot, as it were: What it is like to love someone whom you are aware is likely to be taken from you before you wish to let go. Steeling one's self against such a loss is a built-in human defensive mechanism. And I have found myself in the last two years of Tilly life, pacing the same circles of protective auto-thought that I am sure my loved ones must perambulate with me.
We want answers: Will our loved one be OK? By which we mean, at least in part, please assure me that I do not have to guard against losing them-- at least not now. We all know it must, it will come sometime, but the indefinite future is so much easier for our minds to deal with than the immediate future. Like the New Yorker cartoon depicting scheduling an appointment over the phone: "How about never? Does never work for you?" This is essentially how our small mind deals with big issues. They are happening NOW or they are happening NEVER. And "sometime in the indefinite future" is close enough to never for us.
I recognized in my own quest for solid answers regarding my dog's health and longevity what it must be like for my loved ones to try to wrap their minds around my (and therefore, their) predictament. We just want to put that niggling little question to rest: Will my beloved (and therefore I) be OK? Then we can breath again and go about our business.
But the problem is that even when we get the answer we seek ("All clear, for now"), it does not solve the question. We know there will come a time when the answer, in one form or another, will be we must face losing our beloved. And then we go bat-shit crazy. As well we should. We are stuck here on earth with only these fallible beings to love, and then we find out that someday each and every one of them will be taken away? Have a nice life!
This search for answers to the "problem" of my dog's coming death sometimes actually interfered with my ability to simply BE WITH HER while she was alive. I could stand back and try to "solve" her, or step up and just love her. Just embrace our situation, transience and all. Yes, we do not get to have one another forever here on earth-- but let's not let that diminish our remarkable capacity to love with everything we've got in the here and now.
After all, the Buddhist say the HERE and NOW is the only moment that is real, anyway. The past is over, the future a dream.
But here's the deal: Yesterday as I stood at the top of my stairs, not hearing Tilly's nails click on the floor below me, not seeing her sweet face peer up to check on my progress, not saying for the first time in 12 years, "Good morning, my sweetest girl-est" (yes, I spoke that way with her and I am not the least ashamed to tell you so), my loss hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I sat down on that top stair and wept my proverbial heart out.
What is this? I asked myself, what is this I am experiencing? Loss. Loss. And what is loss? It is the hole left behind. it is the pond that fills up, it is the pouring out of your love for the loved one when the container of their earthly form is gone. It is love.
And then I thought: This is okay. I can do this. I can just let myself love my girl ("my sweetness and light," as I called her) in this new way. It is sad, but it is sweet. It is a kind of holy thing, this love that continues past the beating of the loved ones heart. These tears honor that love and it is right and good that I should let them pour out of me. This is just love. A different face of love.
And in a way it is my privilege to weep, to grieve, to mourn, to honor my Tilly Jane. The remarkable, intimate, non-verbal form of love between humans and animals is no less precious than that between human beings. And every relationship we have is in some ways completely unknowable to anyone outside of its tiny, intimate circle. It will not come our way again in this lifetime. Be grateful. Be generous. Be willing to love. Someday it will all be lost, like the intricate mandalas of colored sand that Tibetan monks labor over for hours and hours and then sweep away in a moment. But what else are we here for? Maybe one of the few things we know is that we are here to love.