We held hands as we listened to the radio.
I’m sure neither one of us actually heard the music, though. It felt like the longest car ride we had ever taken.
We had just lost our second dog, Lucy. She was our first pet, adopted in the spring after we moved in together.
While we crouched down in the floor at the vets office an hour before, tears streaming down our faces, looking at our now asleep shepherd, my husband uttered the words that have haunted me for the past three days.
“Our youth is gone.”
Lucy and Gatsby were one of our first major decisions as a married couple. They were the first things we loved together. One of the first things we shared a camaraderie over. They were probably one of the first things we argued about, too.
We loved them together in the California sunshine for almost a year, before we packed up and drove across country back to the cornfields of Maryland. We loved them together while we fixed up our old farm house. We loved them together when our family grew to welcome our children.
I close my eyes from time to time, and think back on California when life gets too hectic. It was a place that is so unlike the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and yet a place that my heart beats for with all the familiarity of a place I’ve always known.
Who doesn’t grow accustomed to seeing the ocean on their way to work every day. Who doesn’t like to see flowers blooming all year long? How could you drive up the coastline of California and not fall in love?
We were just married, learning how to live with one another and how to love each other past the point of “I do.” Sometimes, that was really difficult.
We welcomed those doggies into our home together with open arms. First Lucy in the spring. It wasn’t long before we decided that she needed a companion, and within a few months time we brought home Gatsby. They took to one another instantly.
From there, we frolicked our way through the rest of the year before reality sank in and it was time to go home. We were all stuffed into my old Chevy Blazer, and we bemoaned our luck that we would be following an Eastbound storm front during our entire journey.
It didn’t stop raining for three days.
The dogs sat in the back next to each other, and they patiently trusted us to navigate the roads and the weather. We drank a lot of gatorade, ate a lot of chips and the car perpetually smelled like wet dog for three days.
If it wasn’t already true before, we were affirmatively family from there on out.
Today, I stood in the yard looking over at the two fresh mounds of Earth piled side-by-side while the wind hit my face, and I realized that life is different now.
In less than a month, they are both gone. Together.
I want to say that they’re somewhere, frolicking together. I want to say that Gatsby met Lucy at the Rainbow Bridge, and his boisterous, bouncing welcome was offset by her easing her way into the great beyond.
The truth is…that is probably not the case. And it’s where my faith begins to crumble.
I don’t know where animals go when they pass from our world into the next. I know that it’s not as painful to lose a pet as it is to lose a person that is close to you, though after what has happened this week I am sure I am hardly prepared to know the pain of losing someone. I know that man and beast are different.
And that’s something I’m stuck learning to be okay with. The not knowing part. It hurts more than I ever anticipated.
As I walked about in the yard today and my mind turned to them, as I was heavily contemplating the reality that I don’t really know where they are, or even if I really know where I am anymore, a calming thought settled itself into the back of my mind:
“His way is better.”
The other night, we covered our son’s face in kisses as he cried salty, real tears of sorrow over the loss of his pet. Wallowing though our own grief shifted instead to helping our son understand his feelings as we told him the truth – that sometimes, life is really, really hard.
There will be things that you love, but you might lose them one day. Because everything has a time, and time eventually fades for each one of us.
It was the first time that we had to introduce him to the reality that we need saving. Real saving. Because we all meet our end. And, good or bad, what we do with our time matters. We always foolishly assume we have more time than we truly do.
This is the curse of man.
It was the first time my children realized what we have all been saved from by the savior who hung near death on a cross. Whose blood soaked into the rugged wood and whose breath slipped from His body as he cried out in real despair and let go.
I watched my Lucy let go just hours before, and finally be at peace.
It became real to him for the first time. Everything lets go, eventually.
We let go to be held.
And he let go, too, and grieved with us in a very real way.
So, today, I tried to let go.
I know that I’m not entirely the same person I was ten years ago. My husband isn’t the same, either. I know that sometimes we want to find our way back to those kids who naively brought home two dogs on an impulse, and spent all of their money on sushi and wasted away their Saturdays on nothing.
I hate that we have to claw our way back to that at times. We have to fight to find a face in the mirror that we recognize. One that we can actually come to terms with as time marches on.
Right now, we are not the responsible parents who work 24/7 for the welfare and happiness of their children, and who know how to deal with life by bearing a stiff upper lip.
We are the very real people who brought those dogs home believing that all we needed to do was love them and that good things last forever, and we are suffering and reconciling what the last ten years have meant to us as we look at one of the last remnants of being young and carefree let go.
We have spent the better part of the last month sifting through our memories together. Not just of our doggies, but of us. Of what life used to be like. We each hold different pieces to the past, and we try to mold them together to find the most circumspect picture of what it used to be like; of them, as we try embed the memory of how their fur felt into our memories.
Sometimes, I hate that that is all we have left. Sometimes, I don’t know what I would do without it. I don’t know what else to do but hold those memories close as we make new ones and start over again.
I know that for all that hurts, pain lines the very heart of hope that beats fast, even underneath of agony and despair. It beats true. We just have to find it sometimes.
And I have measured the years by the gray on their faces, and the gray in my hair.
I measure my time by the growing notches on my wall, the worn treads on my shoes and the clothing my children grow out of.
I measure my time by the scars and the things that wear out and the things I have lost. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth as I must accept that with times passage, things are left empty.
Why must I measure my life from the things that I have lost instead of what I have gained? Three tiny faces, three sets of hands to love with and smudge my windows. Three heads of hair to brush my fingers through. I measure my time by the way I have loved, and with each passing day, as I move closer to letting go, I remember that in their hearts, I am held.
In His hands I am held.
With each passing year, more unfurls inside of me that I didn’t know was there. I don’t always see it this way. I grieve the chapters that end before I think they ought. I grieve the pages that have already turned and am terrified of the ones to come. The series of goodbyes and endings that come hand in hand with a long life lived.
He says that He is the author of my story, and as He wrote the stars in the heavens and named them, and His face hovered over the waters of the deep in secret, He says He knows my story.
He says He knows me. I find my way back when I find myself in Him. When I lean into Him and I let myself truly taste joy, and really grieve my sorrows. He reminds me of who I am as the gray fills the top of my hair, and the wrinkles etch themselves on to my face.
As the reality hurts, and the final goodbyes pierce my heart. He reminds me that I am still His, no matter what.