Grief, Anniversaries, and the Holidays

Reprinted from my Facebook post of December 22, 2018

I snack all of the time. Anyone who knows me very well will tell you that. I’m certain that someday my children and friends will mention this as a primary memory of spending time with me. I was a perfect pairing for our family’s big old dog Lucky who followed me and my snacks throughout our house leaving a daily trail of drool behind him.

I would head for a chair and Kathy would say “Get Lucky’s towel” or “take Lucky’s towel with you.” Lucky at 112# produced quite an amount of drizzling anticipation. While sitting down with a granola bar one day, I looked at him and said, “Go get your towel, I don’t want to get up and you’re smart enough to get your towel.” I repeated, “Get your towel” twice more. He tipped his head as dogs do when they process information, turned, ran out of the room, and returned with his towel, staggering, trying to sidestep the bath towel as it dragged underneath his huge paws.

After this night of training, I would head towards a chair – snack in hand or not – and Lucky would run to get his towel – always stopping, tail wagging – unsure from a distance and waiting to see if I would give him permission, waiting to hear the words, It’s okay,  before running towards me with the towel.

Today on the second anniversary of laying on the floor beside Lucky for the last time and reluctantly attempting to assure him in his puzzlement  – both of us at the edge of the unknown – by saying “it will be okay,” the universe arranged for me to encounter this (uncredited photographer) photograph of a dog – posted I think in the spirit of the season – on a FB friend’s timeline.

Grief runs at our hearts unexpectedly at any given moment. It runs at us in the lyrics of a song, the image of a photograph, the scent in a room. It charges towards us as we glance at the date in an appointment book, notice a color, see someone holding a hand – someone walking a dog, A holiday arrives, an anniversary is marked, and once again we are reminded that the calendar of our life, unseen by the world around us, has been forever reconfigured into a before and an after.

I can’t acknowledge the meaning of this day for me without thinking of all of us, everyone around me, and the silent encounters we have with our losses every day, how in the midst of the activities and greetings and well wishes of the days ahead how important it will be for us to embrace and respect our feelings of loss and those of the people around us.

I volunteered at a grief center for children and families for a period of time when I was younger and I left that experience having learned that the gift of love and empathy and forgiveness is very often the most difficult gift to give ourselves. At perhaps no other time of year is it so important to honor our feelings of grief and the painful callings that no one else will hear – to look at ourselves as if from across a room – as we hesitate – and to give ourselves permission to feel the importance and meaning that our losses hold for us and to say to ourselves – perhaps for the very first time, “It’s okay.”

Forever old boy – forever.  It’s okay. 

4 Responses

  1. Rae Miller says:

    I am so moved by this post, Fred. My sweet dog Betty White and I took the same path in June this year. The surprise of fresh grief at any moment is a reckoning I hadn’t remembered. I am often bushwhacked by the simplest things. Thank you for your beautiful words. Wishing you joy.

  2. Fred Swan says:

    Oh Rae. I’m so sorry for this loss. Lucky still bounds through my thoughts every day, but now, after these 3 years, it makes me smile – most of the time. Other days are harder and I think there will always be the forever ‘missing Certain dogs, like people, can come into our lives at special moments of our own personal journey and challenges and will forever be a part of who we are – who we will be. Betty White – what a terrific name. I remember a post of her and thinking she was the same color as Lucky. Thank you so much for writing and letting me know. Fred

  3. Julia Storrs says:

    Thanks for this post. It was dated 12/4 , the date of my husband’s birthday. I lost him to an infection in the hospital 13 years ago. It is so important to acknowledge our losses so we can appreciate our joys. I will miss him always but I am so grateful for our time together, our beautiful son and this wondrous life. Peace, love and joy!

  4. Fred Swan says:

    All kindness and gentleness in the days ahead Julia. Those we love live on in our grieving hearts. Thank you so much for writing. It’s supportive to know when something resonates. Fred