I Dug A Grave For My Dog Today…

The skies are grey, there is a bit of wind, and the leaves in the trees are rustling. The weather suits my mood.

 

I dug a grave for my dog today. 

 

Well, my husband began it this morning before anyone else was awake. I went out thinking I would break the ground, and found instead a shared chore. It is right beside the grave of the previous home owners’s dog Squeak, with all kinds of shades of green above and surrounding.

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He is not gone yet, my dog. The grave isn’t finished yet. But he will be gone tomorrow night, and the grave will have to be finished.

 

He is not my best friend, this dog. He is not my soul mate.

 

He is just a dog. 

 

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Just a dog. Named Chip. 

 

He came 10 years ago from my Dad. Just after our first German Shepherd had been put to sleep. He came with all the wildness of a country dog. He peed on the oldest boys’ hockey bag almost weekly. It took awhile for him to figure out what we wanted from him on a leash.

 

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He ate a bag of bread from the top of the refrigerator, and 24 mini chocolate chip muffins from the kitchen table with the kids were snoozing on the couch.

 

He got into the trash more times than I can remember.

 

He’s just a dog.

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I dug a grave for my dog today.

 

It was a strange experience. My back is hurting. There was strain in the effort. And there was something releasing in the process. I cried as I dug the grave today. The rain, the grey skies, the leaves rustling…they all helped. You cannot dig a grave quickly. Well, maybe you can, but I cannot. And there is, in that slowness, the space for mourning.

 

He’s just a dog, though. 

 

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But he has the softest ears you’ve ever felt. Like velvet. And the scruff of his neck is thick and soft. He’s let me cry a few tears in that scruff, and more than a few this week.

 

He is always happy to see us. Always happy to go on a walk. Always greets the husband with barks of exuberance that begin as soon as he hears the car coming down the street.

 

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I dug his grave today.

 

It’s almost ready. He’ll be gone tomorrow night. His tumor came in November, but the cancer spread quickly in just the last few weeks. You can hear it in his breathing. We’re giving him pizza and hamburgers and chocolate chip muffins and bread.

 

He’s still happy to see us.

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But, he’s just a dog. A dog named Chip 

 

Everyone should have such a dog. Consistent. Present. Faithful.

 

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I dug a grave for my dog today. 

 

He’s just a dog. 

 

I have one more night of him putting his muzzle in my hand to walk down the hall to bed. And waiting when I have to go back to the kitchen three times to fill waters for kids and find my book. Looking out the bedroom door and waiting to lie down until I’m really, for real, ready to go to bed. Then staying by the bed until I get up.

 

Everyone should have such a dog…and a love that teaches your heart to break. We all need the lessons in how to mourn, because there will be deeper and bigger mournings. He’s just a dog, and he’s teaching me in this.

 

 

And I will just leave you with this, from, of course, G.K. Chesterton:

 

But a man does belong to his dog, in another but an equally real sense with that in which the dog belongs to him. The two bonds of obedience and responsibility vary very much with the dogs and the men; but they are both bonds. In other words, a man does not merely love a dog; as he might (in a mystical moment) love any sparrow that perched on his windowsill or any rabbit that ran across his path. A man likes a dog; and that is a serious matter.

– A Miscellany of Men (1912)

Mourning into Dancing…We Need Them Both

One week has passed since we dropped the boy at college. One week of him finding his way around a new campus, sleeping in a room that is not quite his yet, finding his own meals and making new friends.

 

One week has passed and there is still a heaviness for me when I walk to the basement and realize for the hundredth time that day his absence is going to only be more felt with passing days.

 

One week has passed and I am delighted by the excitement in his voice over meeting new people he has found connection with, and over the small victories in navigating this new adulting.

 

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One week has passed and I have had to bite my tongue when he is overwhelmed and not try to fix it for him. One week has passed and my heart has broken at the fear of a little boy breaking through the cracks of manhood he is experiencing.

 

One week has passed, and I have realized that there are several friends walking this path right with me. We are joyous in our children walking in this next step of their journeys…and yet we are filled with a hollowness at the absence of these people who have been the stuff of our daily lives for eighteen years.

 

I realized as well the other day that while we have laughed at our sorrow, or commiserated over the difficulty of letting our children go, we maybe have not learned to mourn well.  We joke about our sorrow, but we need to give that sorrow its proper moment.

 

Here’s the catch….learning to mourn well something that is good and right and filled with celebration. 

 

I remember when I married Steve, and I was stunned that there was a deep sorrow in me just the day before the wedding. Not a regret, and definitely not a questioning, but a sorrow that the identity I had for 27 years was about to change. Complete with my name changing. No one had warned me about that. No one had told me to give myself the space to let that previous station in life a proper farewell so I could wholly, and joyfully, embrace this next station.

 

I fumbled through more or less effectively, and twenty-two years later I’m quite pleased with this new station.

 

Still. I think in our joviality about being sad, our jokes at our tears, especially on social media, reveal we are feeling that contradiction.

 

We have raised these children with the goal of their adulthood. Their fully independent, fully joyful, fully confident separation from our direction. I know we still have a role, and I rely on my Dad still to this day as a parent. I seek his wisdom and I value his encouragement…but what a different relationship it is from thirty years ago when I left for college.

 

Now I’m on the parental side of that change.

 

So how do we navigate this? And I have to give a disclaimer here…we have several friends and acquaintances who have navigated true tragedy recently. True sorrow, true mourning and deep grief. That is not what I’m addressing here. I do not want to make light of those moments of gut wrenching sorrow which becomes more of a state, as C.S. Lewis says, than a process.

 

This is different. What I’m on about here is the good things in life. Marriage, birth of children, and the growth of those children to the point of separation. We still need to give ourselves the space and grace for some mourning.

 

“I realized that healing begins with our taking our pain out of its diabolic isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer it in communion with all of humanity, and yes, all of creation. In so doing, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness. Our little lives participate in something larger.” Nouwen

 

We are right smack in the middle of lots of others experiencing the same thing. Some, legitimately, are thrilled that their kids have left for college. Some are really, truly ready…but most of us are dealing with some sorrow.

 

That sorrow is not evil, and it is not weakness. It means we have loved this child well for 18 years and now they are transitioning to a position of not needing us in the same way. And part of that transition is separation. That physical absence of their laugh and their questions and their simply ‘being there’ has an impact.

 

And that impact…it should be to draw us closer to God as we navigate how to parent in this new situation. That impact should be delight in what He is doing in their lives, and awareness of the adults they are becoming.

 

“I am less likely to deny my suffering when I learn how God uses it to mold me and draw me closer to him. I will be less likely to see my pains as interruptions to my plans and more able to see them as the means for God to make me ready to receive him. I let Christ live near my hurts and distractions.” – Nouwen

 

But here’s the thing:  I’m not sure we can adequately make room for rejoicing until we have mourned what we are losing. Every new chapter means that something has closed, some role or event or identity has shifted and become something new. I think we need to give ourselves the space to mourn. And in that space…which hopefully is not a lengthy time…we meet God in a new way as well. Our vulnerability in times of mourning, even mourning small or good things, leaves us open to meet God differently. As Nouwen says above, we begin to see these pains, or transitions I might add, as a means for God to meet us.

 

The world is full of dark shadows to be sure, both the world without and the world within, and the road we’ve set off on is long and hard and often hard to find, but the word is trust. Trust the deepest intuitions of your own heart, trust the source of your own truest gladness, trust the road, trust him. And praise him too. Praise him for all we leave behind us in our traveling. Praise him for all we lose that lightens our feet, for all that the long road of the years bears off like a river. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. But praise him too for the knowledge that what’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and that all the dark there ever was, set next to the light, would scarcely fill a cup. – Buechner

 

In the midst of our mourning, in the midst of our sorrow, even if we fill somewhat silly or as if this is not something to mourn, we need to learn to praise God. I love the above quotation from Buechner. It speaks so deeply to true deep mourning, and also to this intermittent and even lighter mourning we experience.

 

So to all my friends walking this week and catching yourselves filled with tears and emotion. Let them come! Let the tears fall and let the emotion come. We need to allow those emotions their moment, so that we can fully rejoice and delight in the new station of being parents of adults.

 

 

Remember Psalm 30? I know…sending a kid to college is not quite the equivalence of the dedication of a temple after years of deliverance by God. But still. Weeping may endure…but a joy comes!  Cry a good cry and then be ready to be a cheer leader for your kiddo, and rejoice with them as they navigate their new role.

 

 

Weeping may endure for a night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

Horrors and Sacred Cookies

I started to write the last night. I had thoughts in mind, things stirring in my heart, but no time to get them down on paper.

I planned to sit today and enjoy a cup of coffee, giving time and space to these thoughts and grabbing a chance to write here on the blog again.

Then I woke and heard the news this morning. 


Heartbreaking, overwhelming news
.  

 I thought about what had sparked my desire to return to writing.

A cookie. 

Yep.

And then I realized what I wanted to write last night was exactly what I needed to write this morning. 

That cookie, and my eating it, is a sacred act.

You see, I ate that cookie to hold a memory my mother cannot hold any more. The memory that she loved macadamia nut cookies. The memory of things that brought delight and a moment of splurge. I could do the same with a Payday candy bar. That cookie is sweet in a deep way…because it holds the reality of a broken world, of a woman who delighted in good things, and memories. 

That’s a lot for a cookie.

We need those sacred moments. Walking through the grocery store and catching sight of something which can bring you up short. Allowing the pain of what is lost, and the delight of what has been, to mingle in the act of eating a cookie. 

That is sacred.

So what does it have to do with today?

Mom’s Dementia, the horror of Las Vegas last night…they force our awareness of the broken state of our world. We know this, of course, but sometimes we are struck forcefully by how fragile we are, and how desperately in need of rescue.

We have to watch in the midst for grace, for humor and for rescue. We have to carry on. (Yes, I’m listening to Rich Mullins at the moment). There will be moments the brokenness is so raw it will break our hearts.

There will be moments we need to weep. Moments we need to see those around us and their pain…and in those moments we need to be so thankful for those we can turn to for comfort and grace.

“The mercy of the world is time. Time does not stop for love, but it does not stop for death and grief, either.” – Wendell Berry

There will be new memories, and there will be another sunrise and another sunset. I like very much, however, what Berry says here:

New grief, when it came, you could feel filling the air. It took up all the room there was. The place itself, the whole place, became a reminder of the absence of the hurt or the dead or the missing one. I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has its time and place forever. More time is added to it; it becomes a story within a story. But grief and grieve alike endure.”

Time helps. 

We carry on. The next sunrise helps us. But then we see something or hear something and our breath is taken away afresh. 

But we will dance again.

We will laugh again.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Buechner

I know…probably the tenth time I have used that quote.  Maybe Buechner can say that because of this…

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be r I g, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev 21:4

So. A cookie and a tragedy and a mother who cannot remember. They are all tied together because of a God who sees, who knows and who will one day set things right. Today, let’s find the sacred around us, let’s comfort those who weep, and let’s carry on. Grace upon grace for those around us today.

Callouses on the Soul

When I was 24 I spent a short time in Amsterdam as a missionary. The city is beautiful, and I loved walking along the canals and sightseeing. As I would walk back to the YWAM base in the evenings I would look in the homes that faced the canal. Almost all would have their drapes drawn back and the lights on and I could see the activities of dinners being made and families going about their business.

 

There was something comforting about watching these little pictures of life as I walked along, and I always enjoyed the changing scenery.

 

Facebook seems to be a virtual walk, looking in on the lives of friends, and even of strangers, as they draw back their drapes and live life in front of us. Status updates paint the picture of dinners being and families going about their activities.

The struggle for me is that mixed in with the mundane and the humorous are the many stories of deep suffering.

Stories of babies who are struggling to live when their bodies are not cooperating. Babies who do not survive just after birth. Marriages that are struggling. People who are filled with fear in the face of job losses and struggle. Deaths of acquaintances. Deep griefs and struggles posted in snippets.

 

I watch from the street, as it were, and wait to see how the story will unfold. I watched along with thousands the story of Lane Goodwin unfold, praying for God’s mercy and grieving with this family I have never met for the loss of a child I never saw in person.

 

There is enough grief in our “real” life to weigh us down. As I watch my mother continue to lose more of her mind to dementia I am sometimes overwhelmed with grief that she is not able to rejoice in the amazing life of Madeleine…even though she is physically present. I think it is actually more painful that she is physically here…I can hear her voice and talk with her and see her hold my little girl, and yet she is not here. The mourning is not given over to the comfort that comes after because she is not healed or at peace yet.

 

We live in a broken world, and broken things hurt. 

Sometimes I feel the need to have callouses on my soul to protect from the pain of suffering around me. I cannot fathom the depth of grief in losing a child…so I watch and pray, but I strengthen the callous that keeps it at arms length. I invest myself in the pain of those I will never rub shoulders with because I can grieve with restraint, while keeping the grief over those close to me in check with these callouses. 

A friend posted this the other day on her Facebook status:

“i am just sick of users. i often want to say to the people that see the beautiful things that God does for me, and want to steal those things: ” do you want to pay the price? it is extremely high. did you have parents, safety? have you been spared the rage of others? have you been Loved deeply? do you have a little child? have you been hugged lately? do you know what it is to feel safe? do you walk without trouble? great. i’ll trade places with you. you can have my life.”

 

and yet, i say this only to make a point: everything beautiful has a cost. the beauty comes through fire” Gianna Jessen

If we give in to being calloused, we miss the beauty in ourselves and in others. There is beauty in the pain, but oh it hurts to find it sometimes. There is not beauty in callouses. We have to be willing to allow ourselves the freedom to embrace the suffering of others and allow it to impact us because we are on this journey together. God works through our suffering to change us, to soften us and to give us wisdom. Suffering slows us down and filters the inconsequential things out of the way so we can hear differently and we can feel differently and we can see differently.

 

The wonders of life…the laughter of children, the sound of music, the colors of art and nature…are more vibrant when we’ve been through suffering and grief. I say this knowing that I have suffered very little and my pain is far less than most. I watch through the windows and am drawn into the lives of those around me who walk through great suffering and find that God is in the midst of it and has not forgotten them. That He hears and that our pain and our brokenness hurts because we know that we will be made whole and we long for that day.

 

We are not made to carry the pain and the suffering alone. We are made to rely on the strength of another:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls aroundlike a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  1 Peter 5:6-11

We are  able to remain vital and present in suffering because we know that God is present and he will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. We will be changed by the suffering…either we will build up callouses to protect ourselves and in the end become hardened, or we will be changed into something more through the suffering…a beauty that can only come through pain. Amen?