September 8, 2019
In my last post I settled on the idea of “resigned acceptance” instead of the “radical acceptance” urged by yogis, authors, therapists, and other enlightened souls. I am resigned to the facts that bad things happen and I can’t control everything. This reluctant balance has given me some surprising benefits: my recovery time when “bad things happen” has shortened dramatically, both physically and emotionally. I don’t need to put on my happy face as much anymore- I can function in public spaces (and some private ones) even while sad or in pain, and not frighten any passers-by. I’m not faking it, or avoiding it– believe me, I’ve tried both for decades now, but my cosmic fatigue finally forced me into this new place, and it actually feels strangely good. One of the hard tasks now is to accept feeling good, feeling capable, feeling worthy of this small piece of peace.
And then our sweet, sweet pup Finny died.
He was only 8 years old. We knew for a year or so that he had some kidney issues, but we had been managing to keep him healthy through special food and medications. Then, suddenly, over the course of three weeks, he deteriorated. At the start of his last day with us, we weren’t even sure that would be his last day. Just a couple of hours later, however, we were calling the vet and asking to come in as soon as possible. Our last best gift for the sweetest dog ever was to help end his suffering, and that knowledge gave me the strength to plow through those last few hours of that utterly surreal and sorrowful day.
There is so much written about grief that it feels wrong to even try to add my thoughts to what’s already out there. But it is exactly thoughts that I want to talk about: how grief can distort your thinking so that suddenly you are stopped cold in your tracks at what your mind just conjured. . . . I keep hearing and seeing Finny everywhere in the house, and I keep thinking that I’ve got to get home from whatever I’m doing to let him out. And when I do finally get home, I’m greeted not by the shiny black nose poking out the door (the nose we always thought looked like the plastic ones glued onto teddy bears) but by the gut-punch of emptiness. These are my everyday, garden-variety grieving thoughts. The one that almost caused a car accident occurred as I was driving home from the vet’s with Finny’s ashes. . . . We had selected a small, plain, wooden box for his remains, one that had a place to display a photo on the front. I had gotten a new iPhone in the days since Finny died, one with a much-improved camera, and I thought that I would head home and take a “portrait mode” photo of our pup– TO PUT ON THE FRONT OF HIS URN. WTF?? I was driving home with his ashes in the passenger seat, planning to walk in and take a quality portrait of him to slide into the frame on the display box holding his remains?!? Whoa.
Yes, I was under the extreme stress of grief. And yes, I realized my thought was “Not Normal” the second after I thought it. But if this is what our brains can produce under duress, how many other distortions do we think into reality and then act on? Our brains, our thoughts, are NOT reliable sources, not even in the best of times. Thinking things doesn’t make those things “real.” Question everything. Be present. Be curious. Remember– “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” That liberty, that freedom– even just a reluctant taste of it compels me to urge you to stay vigilant. You don’t have to be radical— just resigned. If I can do it, so can you.