Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Grief and Pets

Grieving for an old dog is an odd state to be in. It is like all grief, in the sense of being about a loss, about the daily sphere of energy being torn apart, about those ragged ends of feeling groping, groping and not finding what they used to. The reassurance of everyday is not there, the empty water bowl looks like a black hole in the floor. The best analogy to me is to think that suddenly there are rotten parts in the floorboards, in the stairs, doors that fall off their hinges, windows that suddenly crack, even though most of the time your life looks just the same as always. You never know when you step into something that gives, and so you must be careful, walk slowly, take care not to stumble.

It's like having to learn the world again. Every day the new world is more familiar, of course. But I still wake up feeling as if my outer shell has disappeared, feeling as if I have to defend myself against my own grief. That it is a dog I grieve for makes everything more complicated, because many think of dogs as not worthy of a human being's grief. Certainly not old dogs. The grief is seen as immature, ill-placed, a sign of something wrong in the griever. Thus, the grief must sometimes be hidden and not talked about.

But a grief for the death of an animal is not that different from the grief for the death of a person. It's all about those intricate webs of memory, love and dependency, and the webs have been cut through by that dark sickle of death. They must be mended, rewoven, repaired, and while that process happens one grieves.