I watch the flowers and the grass every spring, comparing the timing to previous years. I watch the fields of grass dreaming about a barn full of fresh cut hay. I watch the flowers thinking of a sunny spring day 2 years ago in which I picked lilac and bridal wreath spirea.
Connor died on a Monday evening. That year the lilac and spirea were bursting with blooms and I picked them and laid them around my sweet dog’s neck after he died. They have not come into bloom yet this year.
I had been through death before, 4-h lambs, the three years I volunteered in an emergency department, the deaths of all my grandparents. Each of those experiences held their own pain and reflection, but none of that compared to what we went through with Connor. There is no dignity in death. It is a battle until the end. No living thing wishes to die. I will carry the raw experience of that day for the rest of my life. Part of Connor’s memory is obscured by the helplessness I felt in those final hours of his life. Unable to stop what was happening or even really comfort him.
I’ve taken as many lessons as I can from his death: greater empathy, a better ability to offer condolences in grief, appreciating the sunny times. Life can be hard and weird and traumatic. It can also be glorious, surprising, exhilarating and bursting with joy that couldn’t possibly fill you any fuller. The trick is to hopefully not reside for too long in the weird, hard, traumatic side.
In retrospect I know I went through some depression after his death. And I struggled with feeling embarrassed that I could mourn a dog so much. Time and distance has brought one thing more into focus: That it doesn’t really matter what other people think. My experience, your experience, is uniquely our own. And how we move through it, is an intimate thing. I invited people to witness what I was feeling by writing about it, but I don’t need to concern myself with their opinions. It’s a lesson I have to continually work on. I have to shuck the worry for judgement, because judgement happens no matter what I do anyway.
The grief of others still makes me a little uneasy, unsure what to do, how to offer comfort. But I can say without a doubt that my loss has made me acutely more aware of how important it is to honor grief. Offering condolences isn’t for the offerer. It does not matter if we are comfortable or awkward or if someone else’s grief brings up sad feelings of loss for ourselves. The important thing is that condolences are offered and grief honored.