Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Slowing Down to Find Rest: A Season to Grieve

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
-          Ecclesiastes 3

I needed a time to grieve. Deep inside, I knew there was pain I had yet to sort through. If only life would cooperate long enough and give me time to stop and reflect, I wouldn’t have had a morning where the floodgates broke open.

It had felt like every day was a battle to keep my emotions at bay. My job was to comfort our girls in the loss of our family pet. But I was failing. Evidence came from the mouth of my preschooler, hands covering her ears. “Don’t talk about Pup. It makes mommy cry!”

I knew my tears had to stop. The last thing I wanted to do was stir up unsettled emotions in my children because I had yet to cope with my own. However, life kept prodding us on and stuffing my feelings was the only I knew to make forward progress.

Every time I see a dog my heart aches. As the girls and I set out for the bus stop each morning, I have a sense of loss. Our dog was Lassie-like and wanted to be with us to see everyone off for the day and welcome them home.

On this particular morning (well over a month since we said goodbye to our furry friend), two wet, shaggy dogs came running across the street straight into our garage. Living near a busy intersection, my mind immediately went into pet rescue at the sight of them. I was torn between needing to get my daughter to the bus stop and knowing what I would want someone to do if it were my Pup.

Not wanting to see those sweet little animals in the middle of a busy street, I corralled them into the safety of our fenced-in backyard. My daughters and I headed to the street corner just in time to turn around and see one of the puppies escaping. I left my two young daughters at the bus stop to attend to the lost dog. Thankfully, I got the animal back to safety and myself out to meet the bus in the nick of time. (Despite the fact that my daughter was reprimanded by the bus driver because her mother instructed her to cross the street before the stop sign arm was out, everyone was safe.)

With only my youngest left to get off to school, I had some time to look for the concerned owners of the little shaggy animals now locked in my garage. A short walk revealed a woman driving slowly in her vehicle. I directed her to my house and delivered the beloved pets. I had hoped to feel a sense of joy to overwhelm me. While our family pet was no longer with us, I was confident of the part I played in preventing this type of pain for others.

My heart dropped when the woman informed me, in broken English, where she lived. Despite the fact that the dogs came from the opposite direction, I had just rescued my neighbor’s dogs. All the details became clear. These were the same yapping animals who keep me up in the middle of the night!

Tears took over. Had I really just tried to rescue a couple of dogs whose owners apparently don’t care much? I tried to comfort myself with the thought that the woman must have missed her pets (she was looking for them after all). How could I leave my girls on the street corner as I ran after an animal? I knew everyone was safe but guilt still won out.

It shouldn’t have surprised me when the damn broke. A short visit to a friend’s house later in the morning revealed the raw emotions inside me. This wasn’t just guilt from a morning filled with bad choices, this was unresolved grief. Greeted by my dear friend’s black-and-white pooch, I couldn’t hide the emotion tugging on my soul. My tears were evidence to me that I had never taken the time to fully grieve the loss of our Pup.

Running my fingers through this dog’s fur left me longing for the one I’d always called mine. I think I could have cuddled with any canine this morning. There was a longing to bury my face in their neck full of soft fur for comfort.

I knew it would never have brought me relief the way Pup could do. She knew when I was sad and would walk over to lick the salty tears from my cheeks in an instant. I miss being able to wrap my arms around the animal I loved. My heart aches for this faithful friend. It doesn’t matter that she was just a dog. She was mine. She was family.

It was over fourteen-years-ago that I begged my husband for a puppy. My brother had offered us pick of the litter and I couldn’t think of a better gift. As a cat-lover, my husband did not see eye-to-eye with me. After two weeks of nagging on vacation, He gave into my request anyway. He chose the whitest dog out of the litter of brown and we named her “Pup”. Despite the fact that she behaved just like Disney’s Lady on her first night home, Rod assured me we weren’t allowed to return her. Thank goodness! For this dog became part of God’s medication for my soul. I had no idea how much I needed her.

The day we had to say goodbye to her, my husband and I sobbed together. I thanked him for choosing our beloved pet who believed she was alpha dog. He assured me “I didn’t choose her, she chose us… she chose us.” As she lay without a fight on that clinic floor, we knew there was no other choice. I had prayed this day would never come but now I had to find the blessings in the hard times.

That my husband could be there…
That the girls would not soon realize the decision that had been made…
That we weren’t in Disney when it happened…
That my husband wasn’t away on a business trip…
That school had not begun yet…
That we had fourteen wonderful years…
I am reminded everywhere that God gave me Pup as a gift… even if it was for a season.

When I see someone walking their dog…
When I return home and am deceived by vacant barking to welcome us home…
When I walk into our front door and look at the empty, silent front window…
When I carefully step at night only to remember it’s without reason…
When I imagine hearing the clinking of collar tags…
When scratching of nails on hardwood floor is only in my imagination…
When plates of food are left on the table untouched…
When there were no dog treats handy for pet rescue…
When a leash was no longer convenient to reach…

I miss her. She was the one friend I could always talk to. There were no strings attached to her love. Always welcoming of my hugs, she would kiss me on the cheek even if I didn’t want my space invaded. She was loyal to a fault. We introduced each one of the girls to her and she loved them fiercely. She brought with her a sense of protection. While a bit psycho, she was ours… separation anxiety and all.

I’m taking a season to grieve. Finally allowing myself to feel the separation, I’m grieving the loss I should have dealt with many weeks ago. It took a crazy start of a day to make me press pause on the busyness of life for a moment. Long enough to process my thoughts and emotions, even if my children have to see me cry.

I need to be intentional to stop and process my thoughts and feelings more often.

I’m grateful there is a season for everything… even a season to grieve.


  1. Tristi, this is so beautifully written. Thank you for being open and vunlerable. I think what happens many times is that people think grief over the loss of a pet should be fast, afterall, it was just a pet. But our pets are not just pets, they are part of our everyday lives and routines, and part of the family. Your words brought tears to my eyes because your experience is so similar to my own. I remember hearing Max's nails on the floor, and imagining him in his favorite spots around the house, and I would feel guilty for months as I threw food in the garbage. Anytime you want to talk and reminisce about Pup, I'm here to listen.

  2. Such beautiful words. I understand your grief oh so well. I am the first person to jump into the conversation and argue that a pet is not just a pet, that they are so much more. Anyone who has loved a dog, and been loved back in return knows what we are talking about. That final gift we give them, ending their pain, is the hardest gift to give them, because our pain begins as we set them free from theirs. My heart still aches for my Chili Dawg, and he has been gone now for 2 years. Our heart dogs are very special and we are blessed to have been chosen to experience life with them. You take all the time you need to grieve. Share your stories about Pup. I would love to hear them.

  3. Thanks Steph and Jenna. I appreciate your kind words and understanding.