I’d never realized that loss is such a complicated and nuanced concept. I thought you either had something or you didn’t — that something is either possessed or it is lost. I figured the only complication would be if something is misplaced. But over the last year, I’ve discovered that loss is something that can itself be possessed.
Today is the one year anniversary of the loss of Ben who was my furry rock and best friend for 18 years. Ben was not a possession as pets are often figured in our language and in our law (as chattel). Ben and I chose each other and in a symbiotic relationship, we helped and supported each other through our difficult lives. But on October 15th, 2014, I released Ben, at the age of 18½, from this world and his suffering. In that moment I did indeed feel dispossessed and with the loss of his life in mine, what had been an 18-year journey of discovery and adventure transitioned into a journey of grief. The worst part of that moment was that the creature that had supported me through so many other transitions and losses was no longer there to guide me and keep me grounded. For the first time since Ben came into my life, an adult life that was almost completely with him, I was now on a journey alone … or so I thought.
In truth, I discovered that I was far from alone. I discovered I was blessed with an abundance of love and support. I started to realize this fully when three weeks after I lost Ben I held a “celebration” for Ben, created food that Ben would have loved, and invited many of my friends that had either supported me through the years or known and supported Ben. I was overwhelmed by the fact that all but a few people who had had prior commitments came and offered their beautiful emotional support to me and gave me a very safe place to be sad. My house was truly full. And many of these friends have continued to be active and amazing supports in my life showing me compassion all the more remarkable because they aren’t necessarily dog owners themselves. Through all of this, they have been there for me … a fact that I have found startling and had to grow to comprehend.
Out of that support emerged another surprise — another miracle — and that was the discovery of a support I had never expected, in a place I never expected to find one … and in a friend who has since become my fiancee and who has become my new rock (sans fur). I can’t imagine that I could have travelled the last year as difficult as it has been without the presence of her love and her support and unwavering understanding and acceptance. In Jessica, I possess and share in a love I never knew possible.
During this year, I also came to possess — or was gifted the revelation — of another safe place to grieve: the very unique Pet Loss Support Group of Ottawa (visit them here on Facebook) which is lead by an incredibly generous woman, Dr. Lianna Titcombe, a veterinarian who has selflessly led the group since 2000. On the second Wednesday of every month, I’ve gone to this group, listened to others share their grief and stories and shared the progress of my own journey. And through this I have come to both understand the grief I am feeling and to accept it.
I miss the constant presence of my friend. Don’t get me wrong. I know he’s gone from the floor at my feet — though I continue to find traces of his fur in the house in unexpected moments, including yesterday out of the blue. I feel a hole in my body — the absence of a limb. And I grieve and I mourn … still. The days get easier and these are followed by difficult days to be sure. But over time, a new balance is finding its way into my life, in large part because Jessica and Elijah are occupying a huge part of my life today … and they need and deserve my love now. But for all the loss and change in my life with Ben gone, all I wanted today was to be able to hold him one more time. Even for instant … I just wanted to possess him on this earthly plane.
I’ve figured out that the past year has not been about grieving a loss. And it’s certainly not been about forgetting.
Over this year, I’ve discovered that I didn’t lose Ben. I lost his physical presence, his smell, and his warmth. I lost the patter and click of his pads and nails. I lost an incredible devotion and unconditional love. Yes, I lost a huge part of my world, but I did not lose Ben.
The past year has been about possessing this loss — of accepting it, understanding it, examining it, and making room for it in my life. I have discovered that I will never be without this loss and — by extension — I will never be without Ben. To put this in other words, by acutely feeling the loss of Ben’s life in mine, Ben becomes an immortal part of me. Or, still, in other words, by surrendering to the loss of his body, I possess his spirit and his love.
With the approach of this anniversary, my rawness of the loss started to rise back to the surface of my being. I cried spontaneously at many reminders of Ben and I started to live in fear of the anniversary and what it would bring. However, a wise woman shared with me at my group that we have a choice in how we remember — that I don’t have to relive the loss of that day and bury myself in the last hour of my time with Ben as he lay in a sunbeam and surrendered to our goodbye. I have a choice to celebrate and create a new memory that is equally a part of my life with Ben as the day he came into my life, unexpected.
I took the day off work — not because I so much had a huge plan in my head — (I had no plan at all) — but because I didn’t want to have my emotions escape unexpectedly — or, worse, I didn’t want to have to keep my emotions in check because of others. Today, I gave myself the freedom to think and to feel. The only thing I knew that I wanted to do today was to visit the dog park, my happy place, where Ben and I shared so many memories … and where on his birthday this year I scattered a few of his ashes (read more here), where we had had so many photo shoots including what I believe to be my best shot of him ever: Endurance (pictured above). And I knew I needed to find time to write about all of this. In short, I needed to possess my grief and be in the moment with it.
Jessica decided to use one of her scarce remaining vacation days to be with me today — to support me in whatever I needed. I didn’t ask or even insinuate that I wanted this — expressing my needs is not a strong suit regardless. I am not surprised she did this because that is quite simply the kind of amazing woman she is — and she continues to be there for me wherever I need her. I’m in awe of My Muse.
Soon after Ben passed away, the clouds rolled in and it rained for a week. His birthday this year was similarly inclement except for when we went to scatter his ashes, the sun came out behind the clouds and provided lightness to the moment. It’s been raining here again for the past few days and the forecast is more of the same. It rained hard this morning and the clouds are rolling in again … and, indeed, it looked like, if we were going to visit Ben’s tree today, we would be doing so in jackets and rubber boots. Instead, it stopped raining for a couple hours and when we arrived at the park after lunch, the sun came out … and came out in force. Ben’s tree — an ancient maple — erupted into gold as transcendent as the ruddy gold of Ben’s own fur. It was magical and even Jessica was there to remark that she felt Ben near.
When the rains came a year ago, I thought the heavens must be crying for this special sweet dog. Even though I’m not a religious person, I thought it seemed appropriate and right. Upon reflection now, I think it was Ben himself who was weeping. Weeping for me. I sort of think that he’s stopped his crying each time I’ve gone to his tree and instead beamed with the warmth of his undying love as we’ve approached. Indeed, I feel that tree is possessed of Ben and his spirit — which is why upon our return on our walk today, I couldn’t help but encircle the tree with my arms and press my forehead into the bark. I whispered into the tree: “I miss you Ben. I love you. Keep him safe — please.”
All Text and Images © Dale Schierbeck