Friday, March 26, 2010

On Grief

I am grieving.

Willy Wonka, my beloved companion, the world's greatest dog, died this past Tuesday. He woke me up around 4:30 in the morning, trying to get into bed with me. Half asleep, I reached down to pick him up, and he collapsed in my hand. Due to the lack of muscle tension, he slid from my grasp and fell to the floor. The drop was about six inches. I knew the moment his body landed that it was over. It was the sound of dead weight, as though I'd dropped a sack of potatoes or a four pound bag of sugar from a significant height.

Still, the sound shook me immediately from sleep and into complete panic. I scooped him up, ran from our apartment and pounded on my neighbor's door, seeking help. Slowly, drawn by the commotion, people began to look out from their rooms, and we were able to get Willy Wonka to one of our neighbors, Janine, who is an Emergency Room Veterinary Surgeon. She checked Willy Wonka over, and administered care. His heart stopped beating not long after.

The vet assured me of the following things:
1) Whatever caused his collapse led to the fall;
2) Whatever caused his collapse led to his death;
3) The event was catastrophic, and while it was good to seek help, there was never any chance of survival; and
4) Willy Wonka's death was quick (within 10 minutes of his collapse) and painless.

I knew the moment I heard his little body hit the floor that it was over. This was confirmed when I picked him up, and felt his weight in my hands, saw his opened, unseeing eyes, and saw his mouth, opened slightly. He was completely non-responsive, and his pupils were so dilated I could not see his irises. Apart from the beating of his heart--about 40 beats per minutes, I would estimate--there were no signs of life. All of the energy, joy, warmth, love, and spirit that he carried (too much to believe would fit into such a tiny body) were gone.

Still, I took him to the one person I knew could help, if help was at all possible.

Then, I sat in the hall outside of my apartment, surrounded by friends, people who loved me and had loved Willy Wonka, and I cried, holding my little dog, and trying to absorb the reality that my little family of two was now a family of one. Janine talked me through my options for disposing of Willy Wonka's remains. When I was ready, two dear friends, Ashley and Anastassia, and I took Willy Wonka's body to an animal hospital. He will be cremated and his ashes returned.

I am grieving.

It is not the experience I thought it would be.

The last time I lost someone significant was on Wednesday, November 7, 2007. My mentor, Tim Fauvell, died of a massive heart attack. His death was also completely unexpected, instantaneous and painless. He was also surrounded by loved ones.

When I received the news of his death, I was devastated. I spent the next four months in bed, gained 115 pounds, and could not perform the basic skills of daily life (I think I showered 8 or 12 times in those first four months). One of my greatest fears in the past year has been that I would find myself in this position again.

I'm not.

Perhaps I have learned to grieve well. Perhaps I have learned to grieve in a healthy way. I thought that was the case initially. Now, I think differently.

Sitting in the hospital, saying good-bye to Willy Wonka's body, I was struck by one thought, "I know who God is." This was naturally followed by, "I know who Jesus is; I know Jesus was in the room when this happened; I know Jesus is here with me now." This thought was followed by a vivid mental image I have kept with me in the past four days--Willy Wonka running, with all four legs and all the joy he had in this temporal life, through the grass in a meadow of wildflowers, up a hill. At the top, Tim was waiting. He scooped up Willy Wonka, who turned in Tim's arms to look at me. Tim waved and called to me saying, "Don't worry. We'll be here waiting for you when it's your time, too."

I have peace. My friend Gabe commented on it this evening. "I could tell you'd had a revelation," he said. "You wear this new knowledge. As soon as I saw it, I knew you'd be fine."

I do not have peace because Tim was waiting to receive Willy Wonka. I do not have peace because of the promise that they will both be waiting to receive me.

I have peace because I know who God is, and I know who I am in God.

With this knowledge comes a deep assurance that everything is right, in an ultimate, cosmic sense. Jesus came to reconcile the whole of creation to its creator, and that work was accomplished on the cross. We may not see this reality when we look at the world today, but this makes it no less true.

I do not grieve like those who have no hope. I grieve as one who has been separated from a dear friend for an indeterminate length of time. I grieve as one who knows that God is in control. I grieve as one who does not know what or why, but who trusts the One.

Because I know who God is, and who I am in God, I grieve in peace.

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