Recently my family and I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to put our oldest dog down. Sophie was 17 years old. She spent those years being tortured and loved by 3 girls. She was dressed up, picked up, accidentally stepped on and purposely hugged on. As we moved from toddlers to young children, to teenagers, to young adults she was there watching us grow. She laid on her bed by the fireplace, sat on the floor of the kitchen waiting for scraps to fall, she ran around the backyard chasing a ball and she went on walks pulling at the leash for 17 years. She lived long and good, and seeing her in pain, unable to do all the things she used to love, was extremely difficult for all of us.
I didn’t think that the devastation would manifest itself as tears as much as it did. I was really at peace with our decision, resting in the idea that she had a good life, she was loved completely from beginning to end, and would no longer be hurting. But the tears did not stop coming. From the moment my sister woke me that morning with the news until we left the motionless shell of her behind at the vet’s office, I cried. I cried an ugly, deep cry. The kind that makes your stomach jump up and down as it tries to catch up to the gasping of your lungs.
I cried so hard for Sophie. I cried for her in her final moments unaware of everything happening. I cried for our other dog who would be alone now. I cried for myself for having to go home without her and see her empty spot on the hardwood floor. I laid on the floor of room 1 at our veterinarian’s office, resting my head on Sophie’s slowing chest soaking her black coat with my salty tears and thought of how much we would miss her.
As we were leaving the vet, my tears stopped and I began to think of all the things I have ever cried about. I thought of all the tears I’ve bled over the years for things that never loved me or served me or grew me. I thought of the boys, the friends, the fights, the things I thought I wanted or worse thought I needed, all of the things I wanted desperately to be or have. I thought of all these things that I once gushed tears for and how much more I cried for those things then I was for my Sophie. I did not cry all day for Sophie nor all week. I did not wake up in the middle of the night crying or drive home crying.
How is it that we cry over things that leave us or hurt us voluntarily for far longer than we cry over those that love us long and hard and leave us full? Being left by choice seems to do breaking inside of us that we cannot sit with dryly and calmly. Being left empty and being left full are two completely different experiences. Feeling the fullness that Sophie had lived many years and had a great life, or feeling full that my Great-Grandma B. had lived 85 long years and had seen all of her grandchildren and countless great-grandchildren born, feeling full that I had done all I wanted in high school and that me and the people I was leaving were all going off to do other things that we wanted. The sadness is more tolerable when it feels backed by fullness while being left in emptiness haunts us. The emptiness of wondering what would have happened if he had stayed, or of wishing that years with my Grandfather weren’t stolen from me, or of feeling like I had more to do in college even though it was over. Emptiness never feels easy nor restful; like a ball thrown into an empty cube, we ricochet through the empty space slamming into walls, striving to calm, unable to find anything to slow our chaos. When the cube is full, however, we do not fall or slam or fly anywhere, we simply land comfortably in a place of safety and grieve in sweetness.
I think there is a way to carry fullness with you so that when anything leaves you, you can land, comfortably in a safe place to grieve in sweetness. I think you can cultivate fullness in any situation with self-love, a firm sense of self-worth, and a steady belief in love’s eternity. I am still working every day to achieve this fullness, and the task seems nearly impossible, but the process seems beautiful.