Loss of some sort finds us all eventually. An unfortunate few learn early in life that nothing is guaranteed, and the experience often shapes their lives. Others of us lead more charmed existences, and experience that particular pain later on.
I never knew my father’s father. He died of lung cancer when I was a year old. My mother’s father passed away when I was six, not before he had the chance to show me the wonders of hand chipped ice and six ounce Coca-Cola from a glass bottle. Then the woman who taught me to read and to take care of my body with regular exercise, Grandmother, she moved on that year as well. I was given more time with my mother’s mother, and she and I became good friends. Losing her was my first experience as an adult with loss through death. I was twenty-six.
Life works this way, preparing us for the eventuality of big things with smaller ones. Nothing equips us for some losses, though. My dad died suddenly May 1, 2011, the same day Saddam Hussein was killed. My mom broke her hip eight days after we buried him. She followed him “home” a year later on May 24, 2012. In July of that year, our precious golden retriever, Abbie, began to wane, and when we found a tumor the size of a volleyball and her suffering became too much, we let her go, peacefully, with us and her sister by her side.
Of course, life didn’t stop during that time, and I felt like it was constantly kicking me in the chest. Often, when I’d wake in the mornings, I was disappointed as I faced another day of soul sucking heartache. I saw little point to existence, and any idea of a concept called “hope” abandoned me. I’m not sure I’d still be here if it weren’t for my husband and Abbie’s sister Luna, a German shepherd dog who might have been smarter than me and most certainly was more intuitive. She would literally pull me from that bed and into the world to face life as best I could — always with her right by my side.
Three weeks ago, on a beautiful spring full moon, Luna suddenly left us, too.
In these weeks since Luna’s death, I have been reminded of the awkward way in which family and friends and coworkers face you when you’ve lost someone. No one really knows what to say because there is nothing to say. No words, no gesture, no flowers, no anything fills the chasm ripped in your heart. So most folks tell themselves it’s better not to say anything, just to move on to another topic. Better not to make you cry in public.
My experience has been, though, that I have wanted to talk about the part of my life that is gone. I appreciate it when people genuinely ask me how I’m doing and tell me how sorry they are that I’m hurting or even “Hey, sucks about Luna. I know you loved her.” Yeah, I did. I still do. Let me tell you this story about why she was such a great part of my life.
Monday was the six year anniversary of my dad’s passing. If you ever meet me, let me tell you a story about him — and about my mom. Ask me questions about what I learned by living through losing these best friends, these people who knew me in a way that no other person on earth will ever know me, these folks who loved me before they even knew who I was, and continued to even when they did. I miss talking about them. The stories help me keep some part of them alive.
I might tear up. I might have to pause a minute to gain my composure. I might even cry, but it will be cathartic. For just the briefest piece of a moment I will have them with me, and for longer I will know that you love me enough to be uncomfortable and sit with me in my grief.