“Feels like sky where there should be land”

It’s spring, the days are getting longer here in the northern hemisphere, and the vernal equinox, Passover and Easter are in the rear-view mirror (behind us, and yet closer than they appear.) For anyone who is grief-struck (and I know more than a few people who are), this is an excruciatingly difficult time to be struggling with the cognitive and sensory dissonance between all the blossoms, buds, emerging greenery, sharp echoes of “Alleluias” and the mysterious heaviness of a heart that has a hole in it in the shape of whomever or whatever it is we have lost: a wife, a son, a father, a sister, a daughter, a brother, a husband, a friend, a mother, a dog, a job, a dream, a hope that we could hold no more.

What I know about grief is that it’s deeply personal and it can be intensely isolating. It can be a sink hole, a vortex for every other loss we’ve had, no matter how old it is or how over it we thought we were. So it’s rarely a singular grief that grips us. Griefs can make it hard to figure out what we need. Do I need solitude? Companionship? Silence & stillness? Noise and busy-ness? Who even knows and what do these questions even mean? Griefs can make those words, or any words, completely incomprehensible. And yet the goal of any writer is to feel our way through the world with words as best we can.

So here’s today’s offering for those of you who are grief-struck. I wrote it after my dog died in May of 2001. Griefs don’t seem to have a shelf life, so even though this reflection is old, it doesn’t seem to have expired.

Zoey is the Greek word for “Life”

Nothing has challenged my creativity like my daughter’s “Why? Why not?” stage. She’s nearly five, and I’m thinking this “phase” may never end. It reminds me of the defunct comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” and the wacky ways the dad responded to Calvin’s questions:

Calvin: “How do they know the load limit on bridges, Dad?”
Dad: “They drive bigger and bigger trucks over the bridge until it breaks. Then they weigh the last truck and rebuild the bridge.”

Inspired! I love the challenge of responding to GForce’s questions. Often, I have no idea where I come up with stuff. Maybe I have deep beliefs that I’ve never articulated before. Maybe I’m in a creative Fertile Crescent. Maybe I’m insane and just heartbeat away from writing wacky letters to the editor on how gravity is really generated by our washing machine. Maybe all of the above.

On May 2, my 10-year-old dog Zoey died suddenly. I dreaded navigating my own grief while fielding the peppering of GForce’s “Whys” and “Why nots.” As we sat next to Zoey’s stiff body, GForce had tons of questions, including “Why is she out here all alone?” I said, “She’s not alone, honey, we’re right here with her.” Perturbed, GForce scowled and said, “No, Mom, where’s her angel to take her to heaven?” Now, we’ve never talked about angels. In an out-of-body experience, I heard myself say, “Maybe Zoey’s angel is an angel only Zoey can see. So maybe her angel is right here but we can’t see it because we’re not dogs.” GForce’s response: “I’m hungry. Can I watch a movie now?”

For me, one of the gifts of the companionship of animals and children is their complete presence in the moment. As I reflect on my own griefs, I’m keenly aware that by viewing grief as something to navigate, rather than feel, I get in my own way. Lately, I’m feeling that grief is not like a really long “will-this-ever-end” car trip. It’s more like the tide. It comes in, it goes out. Sometimes it’s so high it pushes through the seawall. Sometimes it’s so low you wonder if it’ll ever come back.

We recently received the box containing Zoey’s ashes. GForce held the plastic bag of ashes to her cheek and said, “Oh Zoey, you were such a good puppy.” Then she looked at me with disappointment and said, “I thought we’d be able to see Zoey’s colors.” I sighed and said, “Yeah. Death’s a big fat bummer, isn’t it?” GForce: “Yeah. [Sigh.] Let’s make Lego cars.”

My dog is dead. The tide is high.


The title of today’s post comes from this song.

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10 responses to ““Feels like sky where there should be land”

  1. i can’t believe you haven’t collected your writing and submitted it as a collection of essays. you’re far, far too good not to be more widely read. and i don’t say that to just anybody.

    amazing.

  2. We put our Leo down last month. Thanks!

  3. Barbara Howard

    THere’s a couple in our congregation whose only child, an adult son, died. (She’s Bev’s husband’s niece) On Easter Sunday I glanced back at them during a hymn and the pain they were experiencing was intense enough that I could feel it. The joy of Easter when one has never lost a beloved is one thing, but for them as much as they fervently believe in resurrection (and they do) the sense of Patrick never again being physically with them is overwhelming at times. She told me today that last week was the hardest week yet. “The grief subsides, and I think I’m over the worst, and suddenly it comes like a huge storm and envelops me.” Thank you for this essay. I may share it down the line. I love you, my gifted daughter. Mom

  4. I’ve never heard grief expressed better…the tide is indeed apropos. You were truly wasted at IBM…please keep writing. You are indeed needed and I feel doubly blessed each time I read what you have posted anywhere. I don’t have many nieces but the ones I have….wow! Aunt Jo

  5. Joy: was e’er a person as well named as you? It is indeed a joy to read your posts – they give us something to which to aspire. (And thanks for the FB shout-out, by the way….)

  6. Heather Kohout

    I can see just why reading about time would make you write about grief, all the flux and disbelief, all the surges of memory so powerful they seem palpable, even reconstructive–for a minute. You are mighty fine, dear friend.

  7. I was scared to read this first thing in the morning, thinking, it’ll remind me of any grief I’ve ever felt and feel…and it did, and it was soothing, not a downer.

    No doubt, you’ve read C.S. Lewis’ *A Grief Observed* and if not, it might hit the spot, just like reading this entry did for me today.

    Thanks for writing about grief and don’t stop till the tide is low again. I’ve heard that the tide goes back out from the shore faster, the more you express yourself.

  8. Pingback: On balancing peaches and grief | The Crooked Line

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