Our yard is a very pleasant place to sit and talk. We have been asked frequently to use the yard to host this or that. It is a pain to get ready, but in truth, we love having the kind of yard where people enjoy getting together for special occasions in their lives. So, having a wedding reception in the yard is nothing new. A couple of weeks back we were asked to host a wedding for a family that had just moved in the neighborhood. We were flattered and accepted the role of host. Most of the yard was in for the season but there were still a few details like the ponds that hadn’t been cleaned yet.
Shortly thereafter, my father-in-law who had Alzheimer’s took a unexpected turn for the worse, with significant pain and increased disorientation and disturbance. Like most big things in our lives, we got a sense something significant was about to change. In a few short weeks, he passed away and was given a beautiful funeral. Afterwards, family and friends gathered for food and memories, something we do quite well in my church. It felt less like the end of something and more like the celebration of a full life.
The burial was held the following day in a small town two-and-a-half hours south of us and was a continuation of the evening before. Things felt proper and finished. I was grateful for the legacy he left and even more so for my understanding that life continues on after our death on this earth. The drive home was one of reflection. I listened to my grandson sing along to the “Les Mis” CD (in his sleep, if you can believe it), and thought about pulling together the last things in the yard before the wedding.
The week before, on Memorial Day Weekend, we received the completely unexpected news that my ex-husband had been diagnosed with stage-four esophageal cancer. He was given four months to live, but rapidly suffered significant declines. Two weeks after the diagnosis, it was apparent he would soon be gone. My five children, some of whom had been estranged from their father, had gathered from around the country and were struggling to deal with his coming death. As we returned from burying my father-in-law, everyone was gathered at the house with the expectation my ex-husband’s death was imminent. That evening, the kids were summoned to his bedside and arrived, literally, within minutes of him taking his last breath.
How does one deal with the loss of a former spouse? I have been stumbling around for the last several days trying to figure it out. I did love him once when we were very young but the years that followed were very difficult. Even with that, I thought everything was settled and resolved. Nevertheless, I kept feeling I needed to grieve. My children were each grieving as well and trying to deal with the loss of their father.
Two days later, Saturday came along with the wedding. It was very pleasant and beautiful. In the midst of wedding hustle-bustle, funeral preparations and house guests, I noticed my little yorkie, Sassy, was very quiet and kept away from all the crowds and noise. I chalked it up to chaos and stress. She was diagnosed with some life-threatening problems last August and again in January, but with some medication and lifestyle changes, she has been fairly steady for the last five months.
Two more days later on Monday morning we were preparing for the (second) viewing and funeral. I woke about seven, and like always, I went to pick up my little Sassy to take her out for her morning routine. I was shaken by how weak and fragile she looked and felt. When I set her down on the lawn, she was wobbly and could hardly walk. Shortly after she began vomiting. These were the signs I had been dreading that would tell me her kidneys were failing and she would be near the end. I picked her up and pressed her to me as if I could hold her back from death. I couldn’t stop the tears. I looked in her eyes and I knew she was in pain. How could I let this little creature go? She has been the essence of joy in my daily life. How could I let her leave?
I held our little dog, Petee, when she died years ago. I felt the life go out of her body and knew then that I would never be able to do that again. Yet, here I was again, facing that un-faceable moment. I woke my husband and asked him to take her to the vet. I knew I couldn’t do it. My husband got dressed and went with my son to take her on that last trip. I wrapped her in her blanket and held her until they were ready to leave. Even as my husband took her, I held on. I kissed her one last time and then let her go.
I asked my husband and son not to say anything because I didn’t want the funeral disturbed. I knew I had to walk into the funeral of my ex-husband and be strong for my children even while grieving the loss of my little companion. I was numb, but I made it through.
After the funeral my husband and I went to pick up the body at the veterinarian. They handed me her body in a little box. She only weighed seven pounds, but she felt heavy. I managed to get in the car before I took the lid off. There was my little Sassy, lifeless but peaceful. I took her out of the box, wrapped in her blanket and held her. Arriving home, I carried her to our bedroom and laid her on the bed where she had slept nearly every night for the past thirteen years. She was a beautiful creature, even in death, and I was grateful she hadn’t died in a more gruesome way like being hit by a car or something.
My daughters came in with her hairbrush and a ribbon to put in her hair. While I brushed her and got her ready for her burial, my grandchildren were preparing a little funeral for her. My grandson, a tall fifteen-year old, almost a man, dug her grave next to our other two dogs we loved and cherished. Two granddaughters worked on music while another prepared the program. We gathered around, many grandkids, five grown children with three of their spouses, my husband and I, and we shared our memories of her and sang a few hymns: “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “All Creatures of Our God and King.” My husband placed her in her grave and the dirt was shoveled back in place. The grandkids placed flowers from the yard and on her grave and wrote: “We Love You Sassy” on a rock that will serve as her headstone, and then, then it was over. Thirteen years of memory all in a neat little box in the ground.
Four days later and now it is Friday. The family has gone home to New Jersey, Maryland, Idaho and American Fork and the house is empty except for the thirteen years of memories in every corner. I still haven’t figured out what I should be feeling for my ex-husband, but my heart is aching for my tiny seven pound bundle of life and joy. I can’t imagine that this hurt will ever end, but I know it will. Life does go on. We come to this earth and we live and we love, at times suffering great grief and other times basking in great happiness and joy. And when we leave, we leave a part of ourselves on every path we cross.