This is the story of a dog. This dog.
He joined me for coffee this morning. His name is Beethoven. He’s my dad’s dog.
He started off as a cute little fuzzball. He’s now 6 years old – and still pretty damn cute. The epitome of the friendly, playful dog.
My family never had a dog when I was growing up. We were a (reluctant) cat family. We just kind of adopted a few cats that showed up at our doorstep, and they were tolerated.
I’d been in grad school a while when Beethoven joined the family. Beethoven was a bit of a surprise. My mom played piano for friends’ church on Sunday mornings, had for years. It essentially started as a Christmas present. Knowing they hadn’t had a pianist for months, she showed up to play for Christmas Eve service. They asked her to serve in their regular service, for pay, and since her own church’s services were on Saturdays, she agreed – and she loved it.
Her Sunday tradition was to pick up a newspaper at the convenience store after church. One Sunday, an older man was there with a litter of pups, giving them away. You, my bright readers, will intuit that she went home w one. There was one male in the litter, which the man had considered keeping… but for some reason, he thought Mom might like him. The man had only one request: Give him name that started with a ‘B’.
My dad was not particularly ecstatic when Mom got home carrying a little furball in her arms. But Beethoven quickly won his way into everyone’s hearts.
At the time, Mom had been undergoing cancer treatment for about a year. Nonpolyposis colorectal cancer. She was only 47, so it wasn’t screening but physical illness that led to the diagnosis. It had been diagnosed at stage 4. Five-year survival rates were not good. Mom was a nurse in an oncology clinic, so she understood the odds. She was upbeat – and realistic.
A few months after she came home with Beethoven, scans showed the metastases were no longer shrinking. And then a few more months later, they were growing. Less than a year after coming home with that little furball, Mom died. The cancerous nodes on her liver and lungs overtaxed her system.
Later, Dad commented on his initial annoyance at the new furry family member. And that he thought Mom was well aware of what she was doing…
She was upbeat. She willing to follow her oncologist’s recommendations. But she knew that one day she’d likely be gone.
And so, I think, Mom brought B home, in part for the joy he’d bring her but in part for the companionship he’d offer when she was gone.
He did. He continues to do so (even as Dad starts a new chapter w a new partner). And he reminds me of her thoughtfulness in little things.
It’s OK to remember. It’s OK to move forward. It’s OK to grieve. To be sad. But also to find joy & happiness. Even, or may especially, in the memories of those we’ve lost. It’s OK to grieve. To be sad. But also to find joy & happiness. Even, or maybe especially, in the memories of those we’ve lost.
Difficult as it is, it’s amazing to find space, tolerance, gentleness for myself to experience those emotion – sometimes simultaneously – and to find myself in a place where I can share that story with you.
Many of my friends and acquaintances have experienced loss – death, relationships, things less tangible but no less real. Many in this community have suffered such losses this very year. You might be way ahead of me on this. But if not…
Grief has no rules & no timetables. It can take months or years. It can return unexpectedly. It can accompany seemingly polar opposite emotions. There is no “should” to how you feel. Be gentle with yourself. Take care of you.
Thanks for “listening”. For being supportive. For telling your own griefs and joys. For making this a space where I can share. For being reminders of the kindness & goodness in the world.
Note: This is an edited and expanded version of a story I posted on Twitter on Dec. 21, 2013.