Making weeds into flowers

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Guardians of Sorrow

Brady the beagle was only eight years old when we unexpectedly had to have him put down. He woke up late one night shaking his head incessantly. I could see that his face was slightly swollen, but decided to wait out the few hours until morning to take him to the vet. It seemed to be some sort of allergic reaction, maybe a bug bite. He was given Benadryl and sent home.

That night, a Saturday—because all animal emergencies seem to happen when only exorbitant after-hours care is available—he developed serious gastrointestinal problems. The next few days resulted in one futile attempt after another to get him well. After almost a week of veterinarian head scratching, it was determined that he had weak kidneys, and all the inflictions and medications were more than his little organs could handle. The most humane thing was to let him go.

The vet spoke kindly and softly as he worked.  The process was gentle, quiet, and methodical—as my heart split open with grief. The guttural sobbing that followed came from as deep a place of hurt as seems humanly possible. I not only grieved Brady, but my dad who passed the summer before, my dog, Emerson, whose loss Brady had been the welcome heart mender for, and layers and layers of scratched open sadness.

I began to ponder why the death of a pet is so uniquely lacerating. More than once I have heard people say, “I cried harder when my dog died than when I lost my mom.” Or, “My cat died ten years ago, and I’m still not over it.”

Our fur-wrapped friends willingly offer unconditional love and unencumbered relationship. Pasts are forgotten, the future is not analyzed—now is all there is. No wonder grieving a pet is so searing. After all, that soft head is the one that soaked up countless number of tears—the nose that sniffed, the eyes that wondered, the head that tilted, and the ears that heard the stories, the railing, the fears.

They are the guardians of our sorrows and champions of consolation. And when they leave their posts, the unwatched gates fly open and the despair of decades spills through.

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