I am no stranger to spells of sadness. Most of the time I can’t really point to the cause, my mood just drops and I’m in that familiar place. But, unlike in my younger years when I would flail and woe-is-me and curse my life, I’ve learned to just ride it out, remembering that this too shall pass.
This weekend, however, rather than just amorphous sadness, what I was feeling could only be described as grief. But it wasn’t grief over any loss of my own, but rather for the losses two very dear friends had just experienced. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it second-hand grief.
On Thursday night, my bestest childhood friend, Carol lost her dog, Manon, to a stroke. Manon was a gorgeous golden retriever, and she as sweet as she was beautiful. A brave girl, she had recently battled – and won – cancer. But she couldn’t beat old age. She was 14 years old.
There is a special poignancy to losing a pet. It’s hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. But, pet people know too well that heart-ache. Unlike a human for whom our memories may be mixed, most of the memories we have of our animal friends is of the unwavering love they have given us. They don’t care if we’re a success or failure in life, or if we’re cranky or we smell bad. A pet’s love is like no other. There is something so pure about that relationship. Their love is so unabashed and unconditional. And to lose that hurts so damn much.
Carol and I chatted briefly online. It was clear she was in no mood to talk. She’s been through this before too many times. Like me, she is a major animal lover and has opened her heart again and again and again to animals in need and given them a good and loving home. She knows the drill. At first the grief is searing. Eventually, it gets better, though you will never forget your furry friend. And then one day, another creature walks into your life and your heart. And the cycle of life and death begins again.
* * * *
On Friday afternoon, I got a text from dear friend John, “Dan just died”. Even though I had only met Dan once, those words still landed heavily. I quickly texted him back, “I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to help you?” I didn’t have to ask what happened. I had been hearing the gory details of Dan’s demise for the last three months.
About three months ago, Dan was in training for the AIDS bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, when he developed a bothersome pain in his side. And as he was about to embark on a 545 mile bike ride, he decided to go see the doctor to get it checked out. Worse news possible: Stage IV metastatic cancer. Within days he had surgery where they removed a 10 pound tumor the size of a pot roast enveloping one of his kidneys.
While there may have been glimmers of hope during those three months, John recognized how grim the prognosis and seeing his friend in such horrible pain affected him deeply. Our weekly chats, normally cheerful and a bit snarky, became more philosophical. What’s it all about? Why are we here? What have I done with my life? And at times we talked about the more practical aspects of planning for our own demise: wills; advanced directives; and medical power of attorney. Would you be willing to pull the plug if that was indeed the compassionate thing to do?
Life can be pretty fucking gruesome. And it can also be pretty damn sweet, and everything in between. I guess it’s just a matter of being able to remember that it is all of those things and to not hold onto to any of it.