My head was pounding as loudly as my heart. I didn’t want to open my eyes and see my husband carrying Finn, our seven year old Golden Retriever, out to the open back hatch of our veterinarian’s Subaru. I couldn’t bear the thought of Finn leaving us.
When I finally opened my eyes, I looked at Finn’s lifeless face. He wasn’t in there anymore. I could feel his soul all around me, but it wasn’t in his body. He was everywhere but nowhere. Nothing about that moment was tangible except my grief and my longing for his deep, warm eyes to look at me lovingly just one more time.
When the vet drove off with Finn’s body bundled up tightly in the back, I somehow made it into the house. I don’t remember climbing the four steps of our front porch or closing the door behind me. I only remember waking up on the couch some time later, my eyes wet and heavy.
I’m convinced that grief is something God devised to help us mark our human experience. And to make it even more interesting, he juxtaposed it with bliss. Think about it. Don’t most of us define our days, our months, our years by the sorrow that hollows us out and the joy that fill us up? Deaths, illness, and breakups occur, their weight teetering the see saw of life, only offset by births, remissions, and falling in love. The grief becomes joy. The heavy becomes light. The end becomes the beginning.
I wasn’t ready for joy, light, or a beginning after Finn died. I wanted to wallow in my grief. So I cried and journaled and asked my husband over and over again why Finn had to die at such a young age. I protested the Universe’s supposed bigger purpose for Finn. And every night on the sofa, I covered my miserable, aching body with the old, unwashed blanket that Finn laid on for the last weeks of his life and drank wine.
A couple of months after Finn died, I was walking into the nail salon when I got a call from the breeder who gave us Finn.
After exchanging pleasantries, the breeder said, “I just wanted to share some good news, I know it’s been tough after losing Finn,” she said, her tone compassionate yet upbeat.
I stood in the shade of the salon’s awning in silence. For a brief second I fantasized that she was calling to tell me Finn was there with her and I could come and pick him up. (Crazy, I know. But grief can do strange things to the mind.)
“I have a puppy here that would be perfect for you,” her jolly tone inflated my false hopes of Finn’s return.
The salon door opened and a woman hobbled out carefully as to not smudge her fresh pedicure. Her shimmering, aqua blue toenails snapped me back into reality – Finn was gone.
The few moments of silence were a cushion for me, but for the breeder on the other end of the line, the silence became awkward.
“Hello? Are you still there?” Her concern nudging me to reply graciously.
“Yes. So you have a puppy available? Is it a boy?” I asked, that old, familiar lump of grief creeping back up my throat.
“Yes! A boy. He’s smart and curious and he’s a cuddler.” She enthused, “And, he’s as cute as anything. I wondered if you might be ready for another one?”
I closed my eyes and remembered the first time we met Finn. We went to the airport and picked him up after his flight from Ohio. He popped out of the black sherpa bag and wrapped his arms around my neck. I could still remember his smell.
A sudden rush of joy sent tears rolling down my pink flushed cheeks.
“Yes, I’m ready,” I whispered, feeling Finn smiling down on me proud that I finally let it go. In that gifted moment of purposeful joy, outside of a nail salon, my grief evaporated in the heated swell of my happy heart.
A few weeks later, my husband and I once again met the breeder at the airport. As she got off the tram, I saw the same black sherpa bag she had used for Finn hanging from her shoulder. And just as she approached us, a curious furry face popped out from the unzipped top.
I reached inside and pulled the puppy to my neck.
“Hello, Irwin. It’s nice to meet you.” I closed my eyes and inhaled. He had his own smell, different from Finn, but equally as precious.
The breeder spent the afternoon at our house and after some sustenance and a solid hug farewell, my husband drove her back to the airport. Holding Irwin, I walked into the living room and picked up Finn’s old blanket. I pulled it up to my nose and inhaled deeply. It still smelled faintly like him. I smiled at Irwin and laid the blanket back down on the couch. I wouldn’t be using it to envelope myself in grief anymore.
What I had once perceived to be the end was actually the beginning. The beginning of a new chapter, a bigger heart, and a greater awareness that both grief and joy have a purpose. They are where God’s pendulum swings every so often so that all the stuff in the middle, which we call life, doesn’t feel blah and meaningless.
I sat down on the back porch with Irwin and took a selfie of us. The sunlight filtered down omnipresently over my right shoulder. And in that moment of joy, Finn was there with me once again.