This has been a strange summer, to say the least. Isolation, “social distancing,” lack of work, the threat of serious illness, the pressing need for social justice and equality, all swirling together in a cauldron that still contains all the other challenges we face on a daily basis, merely compounded by a new and ever-changing landscape of uncertainty.
Until a few weeks ago I felt I was handling quarantine quite well. As an empathic introvert, a long-term refuge from crowds and strangers almost felt therapeutic. The protests began and I emerged from my hobbit hole to engage in something far more important than myself – a movement for the collective equity, equality and justice for all people in this country and around the world.
It felt good, and necessary, to stand in unity for rightful treatment long overdue.
Still, I did not mind returning home day after day, keeping a low profile for health and safety reasons, foregoing restaurants and social outings in favor of walks to the park and movie nights in.
It wasn’t until our dog, the sweet puppers who made outings an adventure and cuddles an experience, passed away suddenly that it felt as if my existence had shifted in a way that was impossible to recover from. It wasn’t until Levi was gone that I realized how much of a companion and friend he had been as the world changed before us. Having someone to take care of gave me purpose when I was bored. He provided friendship when I was lonely, unable to see friends or family. Simply being in his presence provided a comfort and support I didn’t even realize I needed until he was gone.
Being an animal lover, it’s sometimes hard to open up about the depth of grief this loss has caused. I fear friends won’t understand, that they’ll see him as “just a dog.” But for those of us who communicate with our pets from the heart, it’s impossible to see our beloved animal friends as “just” anything. Their ability to sustain unconditional love, even when they themselves may have had a life that was less than kind, is the ultimate lesson in selfless love. To be able to experience that for even a short period of time is a gift I wouldn’t give up for anything. I only hope I was able to give him such a sense of love and appreciation in return.
My partner and I are grieving in different ways. He writes Levi letters every night, and has started a campaign to donate money to the Humane Society where we first adopted Levi. I’ve felt the desire to foster or adopt another dog, feeling that helping other animals in need of a home is something Levi would have wanted.
We held a ceremony in his honor. We filled his little pool he loved with water, flowers, and his favorite toys, and then lit floating candles one by one, each time recalling different things we loved about him. The sun set, and we sat by the pool for a time, gazing into the candlelight. As the wind picked up, it blew the candles out in gusts. Eventually only two candles remained illuminated, one in front of Tom, and one in front of me. We blew the last two candles out together, and I hoped that the wind would carry the message of all the things we loved about Levi to him, wherever he is, in spirit form.
This experience has been a stark reminder that grief takes many forms. Grieving the loss of a family member, friend, beloved pet, or even a past experience is very real and is processed in countless different ways, sometimes by the same person in the same night. The fact that a serious illness is circulating means that many people are currently experiencing individual and collective loss at this time.
If you’re sad, if you’re grieving, if you just don’t feel like yourself, know that that’s okay. Death and loss are some of the most profound experiences we go through as humans on this earth. Grief, in all its forms, holds a mirror to the things we deeply care about. When those things leave, slowly or suddenly, it’s normal to not feel normal. There is no timeline to dictate when everything should feel okay again.
It’s okay to simply be in it, to feel, and to be sad, and also to know that it won’t always feel this hard.
Our grief is a reflection of our love. Like the sun and the moon, light and shadow, body and spirit, grief and love are inextricably linked. They are two faces of the same heart. They are a reminder of the full spectrum of what it means to love and be loved, to be a spirit living a human experience for small period in the timeline of eternity.