Musings on Grief and Advent

I thought I was doing a little better about losing Rowan, but I’m not. I think I was just distracted by preparing for my art show and also a bit numb, and now reality is hitting hard, really hard. No matter how tired I am, when I lie down to sleep, my mind starts going and going, and sleep is impossible for hours. I know it was Rowan’s time and he needed me to let him go. I did it for him because I never wanted to take the chance he would suffer or panic, and we were coming very close to that point. I will always be thankful for the clarity I had about the timing, so that I could give him the gift of a peaceful, gentle departing, but I can hardly bear it that he’s not here with me anymore.

I know it could be much worse. Stephen is here with me. My family and close friends are alive and, for the most part, in good health. As incredibly hard as it is to have lost Rowan, I know that losing any of them would be much, much more devastating. But, while that does help me keep some perspective, it doesn’t lessen the intensity of my grief for Rowan.

Unlike any of those people, Rowan was with me almost all the time for most of his thirteen years, so I feel his absence acutely throughout the day (and night, when I’m not able to sleep). Nearly everything reminds me of him, like the loud sound of my electric kettle lid closing, which bothered him, so I automatically look up to reassure him. Or the early dark of these late fall evenings, when Rowan and I would often go outside, just the two of us, to walk and play in the dark yard together. Or every time I head out the door to go someplace and start to think that it’s cool enough out to take Rowan in the car with me. Even those words, “with me,” which almost always got Rowan to leap up and dance in front of the door so he could go “with me” wherever I was going. And so much more, all day, every day.

Several wonderful people have reminded me that grief is grief, whether for a person or a beloved dog. I know that is true, and I know it’s going to be a long time before the sharpness of this pain softens and the many good memories cause me to smile rather than sob, but it is hard to know how to be and do life in the meantime, especially in this holiday season. I’ve been busy with show prep, matting and framing paintings, which has required a lot of focus. While I’m doing that, I can feel fairly normal at first, but a fog of sadness gradually creeps in, almost without me noticing, until finally the fog obscures nearly everything and I am exhausted and overwhelmed once again. And if I stay busy too long or too late in the day and don’t spend time feeling and processing the grief that is always there, I am all the more likely to churn wakefully through long hours of the night. I know this will get better someday, but right now that someday seems a terribly long ways off.

So I guess I need to take extra time to ponder and be and journal and process, and I guess this year that is going to be a big part of my focus for Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Not my usual Advent focus, but maybe not entirely inappropriate, as I think of Jesus, who came to live and die and show us God’s love, God’s comforting, redeeming, renewing love. In my calmer moments I can turn my thoughts to him and be thankful for his many gifts, including the wonderful gift of his love expressed to me through Rowan. And I trust that in my less calm moments he is right here with me, caring about and understanding my grief, because he came to live life on this earth, experiencing the pain and grief that comes with being human.

My sweet boy on his last morning


16 Replies to “Musings on Grief and Advent”

  1. I love this photo of your Rowan! His right side open to where he is going with ear up and eye to the peace….a look of every thing is ok! His left side shows his tired fight and the need to move on. You did him a great honor and comforted him when he needed it the most!

    • Michael, that is such a meaningful and comforting description of this photo of my Rowan. Thank you so very much for your words. They really help. Perhaps, even though I hadn’t thought of it that way, this is why I have cherished this photo and looked at it many times a day.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful essay about losing your dog Rowan. You have perfectly described the grief and loss I feel. We lost our dog Murphy the first week of November. Some days I, too, lose my grief for a while. Then I come home and he’s not there to greet me with wagging tail and a toy in his mouth, so excited; as if I was the greatest person in the world! And at that moment I miss him terribly and I sink into a deep well of grief. It seems unreal. Last week I dreamed he had only been lost and we found him and I was elated. Then I woke up. It is so hard and not everyone understands the depth of the love and the pain of the loss of a dog. Condolences to you on the loss of Rowan.

    • I am so sorry for your loss of Murphy, Kathy. There is nothing like the happy, loving greeting of a devoted dog, is there. And dreams like that I so wonderful while you’re still dreaming, but then so hard when you wake up. I am sorry…

  3. Big Hug Melissa, being as close to furry friend as you were to Rowan it will take time to feel the gain and not just the lost. Many wonderful, funny, jouyous and simply great memories arise. Sad times will also come every once in a while but you will see the wag of his tail at the end of these sad time.

    i feel the same about my sweet Isis and the beautitful babies she lost.

    I’ll keep you and Rowand in my Prayers

  4. Found the verse we were talking about:
    Rev. 21:5 I am making all things new.

    Notice it doesn’t say “I am making all new things.”
    It comforts me to take this literally – so far I have no reason not to. I have lots of furry friends I expect to see again eventually…

    • Thank you for finding and posting this, Judy. I really like that way of thinking about it. Had not applied it to my beloved pets before, but it is a very comforting thought. Thank you!

  5. Hi Melissa. The more I read your blogs the more I feel that I have finally met someone who was possibly as close to her dog as I was to mine. Perhaps. Cody was with me constantly. Especially after he was diagnosed with CHF he required tedious care, which I gave without blinking an eye. This strengthened our bond that I didn’t think could be any stronger.

    I loved that dog more than most people. I don’t care if that makes me some kind of freak but I did. You words keep hitting my feelings right on the head. Everything around me seems to remind me of him. I’m sure hoping it eases up because I don’t know how much more I can bear. I feel I’ve cried to the point where I may be dehyddated. LOL

    As I mentioned to you earlier, I think the only thing saving me is that we got another dog. I know in my heart she will never compare to Cody but I need to give her a chance and needed to try to fill the huge paw prints left in the sand by my beloved boy.

    I know I am babbling. I truly appreciated and enjoyed your sensitive caring words.

    • Thank you again, Sue. You are not a freak at all; the bond with a heart dog like your Cody and my Rowan is so intense, and these dogs are with us more than anyone else is, so the loss is deep and hard to accept. I am finding that now, 4 1/2 months later, I’m starting to have good days, but then it all hits hard again when I least expect it. I do have two other dogs and have been doing more with them, but nothing can fill the hole left where Rowan lived in my heart. Someday I’ll get another puppy, as you have, and I know that will help, but I also know he or she will never take Rowan’s place. I hope you are starting to have some good days. I find in some ways it can even be hard to accept better days, since it seems like choosing to leave my Rowan behind, but I remind myself that he wouldn’t want me to be stuck forever in deep sadness. Peace to you…

  6. It has been a little over 4 months for us, too. I have the same experience — the grief subsides, but then returns. Friends and family seem to have forgotten that he died and I get a sense that some people feel it’s time I got over it. I don’t think I mentioned in my previous post that our Murphy died suddenly and without warning of a ruptured spleen caused by an aggressive malignant tumor. It was extremely traumatic — the vet worked 7 hours in the emergency room trying to save his life. It was such a shock. Two weeks earlier he’d been running around the dog park having a blast with other dogs. He was a very healthy, athletic 9 year old. We thought he’d live another 3 years at the least. And then three days after he died the election took place, which has been very stressful for us. I think that I’ve not only had grief, but a sort of PTSD since then. And I find that I just miss my beautiful, happy, sweet, funny boy and want him back. Not some other dog, but Murphy. I want Murphy back! I suspect the only cures for losing him are time and getting another dog. And I know I must not expect a new dog to be Murphy; it wouldn’t be fair or realistic. I know we’ll get another dog; just not yet.

    • I can relate to everything you wrote here, although I knew Rowan’s time was coming. I did lose a previous dog the way you lost your Murphy, and that was definitely traumatic. I can see why you would have some PTSD. I was just now outside enjoying time with Petra but thinking how much I just want Rowan back. It’s good to have better days, but the waves of grief are still so hard. I don’t think we so much “get over it” as life expands and there are new experiences and new focuses, but Murphy will still have a place in your heart, as Rowan will in mine.