Monday, April 19, 2021

The missing raised glass

The photo above is me raising a glass to toast my sister-in-law’s birthday this past weekend, taken at about the same time her party was underway. I intended to share the photo on my personal Facebook as my small way of participating in the party, since I wasn’t there (and most of the family was). I decided not to post it, for a whole bunch of reasons, however, I kinda liked the photo (which is rare enough), so I decided to use it here as a way to talk about the larger issues behind that photo.

I wasn’t at the party because it was in Queenstown, and that meant someone would have to look after my furbabies. At the time everything was planned, tickets were booked, and reservations made, Sunny was very sick. I knew I couldn’t leave her in anyone else’s care, a decision that was continually reaffirmed as her health continued to slowly decline. I didn’t change my mind after she died in February.

The thing is, it wasn’t just that I couldn’t leave Sunny in the care of just anyone, it was that I couldn’t leave any of the furbabies in the care of just anyone. The family members who would normally stay with them if I was away were all going to be at the party, and, at the time, there really wasn’t anyone else I could ask. There was also no way I was going to leave Jake and Leo at a kennel; Nigel wasn’t a fan of kennels any more than I am, but me putting them in one right now was absolutely unthinkable.

In a post yesterday, I hinted at why that was the case: “There have been times over the past 18+ months in which [my furbabies] were the reason I was able to keep moving.” From the very beginning of my grief journey, the furbabies not only helped to keep me moving, they also kept me alive. I don’t know that I’d have considered ending my pain if I hadn’t had them (I doubt it), but I know for certain that the fact they were there meant there was no way the thought could even enter my head: They needed me—and I needed them.

Both the times and I have changed since then. I still need them, but now it’s mainly for companionship: There are many days in a week in which they’re the only beings I talk to. Even that small thing has helped.

Although I no longer need them (seemingly) merely as a reason to remain alive, they nevertheless still give my life some purpose and meaning, both of which are otherwise missing right now: Because they depend on me and rely on me for their very survival, it’s important that I remain focused and present for them. This isn’t enough for the long term, obviously, but for now? It’s just fine.

This has given me the small, comfortable space I need in order to rebuild my life. Just like a house, my new life has to be anchored in the ground so that it can rise upward, and while technically this new house/life is still at the groundworks stage (clearing and preparing the land for the foundations to be laid), I’m at this stage at all because I have my furbabies with me, demanding attention, food, to go outside, and more attention. It’s impossible to be too submerged within oneself when big brown dog eyes are looking up at you—especially at meal time.

Obviously humans are extremely important in this process, too—of course they are—but my furbabies are the ones I spend most of my time with, and so, they have a huge presence in my life. I’ve shared daily life with them for many years—nearly 14, in the case of Jake (he arrived to live with us in June of 2007), so it makes sense I’d need them as a sort of emotional touchstone, the one thing from the life I lost that’s still there (even if Sunny isn’t).

What this all means is that the furbabies provided the emotional shelter I needed in order to begin to figure things out. Along the way, I started to work out what I want to do with the rest of my life, and how I want to live it. I’m not very far along in that process, but it’s started, and those dogs of mine have helped make that possible just by being there.

Because of all that, I couldn’t go to that party and leave them in the care of just anyone. I couldn’t risk anything happening to them and me not being there with them, and I especially couldn’t risk putting them in a situation where there was even a remote chance of something happening without me there. I owe it to them to look after them to the best of my abilities (clearly not just because I promised Nigel I would). Over time, I’ll continue to relax and will worry less about what could happen to them, but I’m not there yet.

So, if I’d posted that photo, I’d have known all the reasons I couldn’t be at that party, and, in my mind, that would’ve made that photo all about me, not the birthday girl (and the family) I was toasting. I’m also not sure that everyone would’ve understood/approved of the reasons I couldn’t be there. All of that makes this blog the perfect place to share it, because here I can talk about such things, as I do so much of my grief journey.

Anyone enduring a journey through profound grief will encounter all sorts of things that will help them, some more obvious and approved of than others. I’ve learned that it’s important to take the help that makes sense to us, things that, well, help, and that it’s important to do that even if others may not understand or even approve.

My furbabies have helped a lot over the past 18+ months. I guess I’m really raising my glass to them, too.


Roger Owen Green said...

It IS a nice pic.

Arthur Schenck said...

I actually took several photos, as I do, and several had better composition than this one, but—I liked me best in this one. So, choice made!