Everything is the same, and everything is different. As every year, the multitudes of people who have died in the military deserve, at the very least, our gratitude, our honor and our remembrance. But this time, our thoughts expand to those who have died from Covid-19, and to those who have fought valiantly to try to save them.
This will be a short post today, because I simply need the time and the space to find my way through holding profound grief alongside gratitude and joy. That’s the challenge of all life, isn’t it? Dealing with the juxtaposition of coffins and carousels, untimely deaths and daffodils. Finding a way to hold those contradictory emotions in our hearts, respectfully and fully, requires attention and intention both.
Sometimes I think that we pet lovers have to practice this on a daily basis. Many of our best friends (I do not mean that metaphorically, I mean it literally) will be with us for painfully short periods of time. Eight years? Ten years? Fifteen years? We are aware of that every moment; that our time with these astounding animals will be but a tiny segment of our own life span (if we are lucky). They will die, and it will break our hearts. I look at Maggie and think “Good god, how can she be seven years old already”? Tootsie, at the ancient age of 16 +, will die before a member of a human family reaches adult hood. But we hurt ourselves and them too if we let that darken the joy that they bring us.
Narayan Helen Liebenson, in The Magnanimous Heart, recounts the words: “I am of the nature to age. I am of the nature to get ill. I am of the nature to die. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.” One might think of this as a dismal recounting of loss and sorrow, but many, including me, find it deeply comforting to be reminded that we are not in this alone; that we are all in this together, that change is inevitable, as is grief.
But so is joy and gratitude. Pam Houston, in one of my favorite books of all time, Deep Creek, writes about a trip that included watching polar bears on icebergs. She says: “I was face-to-face with my familiar koan: how to be with the incandescent beauty of the iceberg without grieving the loss of polar bear habitat its appearance implied. How to grieve the polar bear without loving it any less. . . How to hang on to that full-body joy I knew I was capable of and still understand it as elegy.”
That is our challenge today. To honor those who have died, to grieve for them as they deserve, and to savor the beauty that they provided the world, remembering that it is all around us.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: About to make a rhubarb, strawberry pie. Work in the garden. Do Skip’s exercises. Trim Tootsie’s nails. Enjoy the flowers. Grieve for the departed. And every hour on the hour, I will thank those who have put their lives on the line to save victims of Covid.
Poppies; another appropriate flower for Memorial Day:
And one of my favorites, a Jill in the Pulpit. (These plants begin as male (Jacks) and become female once they have the resources to reproduce. As it should be.)
The lowly dandelion deserves some credit for being a kick ass competitor. Time for it to get its due.
May your day today, and your upcoming week, hold all the joy and, yes, the grief, that comes with being human.
Anne Johnson says
Yes it is an odd day. Probably similar to how our ancestors spent holidays during times of war. This illness has become a war. I’d like to close my eyes and will it away – at times when I’m feeling selfish. My hope is that those who can help us through this conflict will have the knowledge to allow us to continue our lives as strong as our ancestors and with freedoms restored, fear replaced with kindness for one another. I keep my four-legged family close, as they do help me recall why I am still here.
Somehow I did not read your post today as short. It was thoughtful and well expressed and a wonderful tribute to memory and honor of those lost. My best friend certainly helps me focus on routine care needs, and provides unlimited smiles, enabling me to get through the melancholy of this day, and these times. Hope your strawberry rhubarb pie turned out great. My husband LOVES strawberry rhubarb pie, but I am not a fan nor a baker – so he’s stuck with store bought!
Thank you for a beautiful post.
Pain and love. The sign that we are alive. The sign that we give life. I recently lost my little chihuahua Elvis. He died of a fulminant heart attack. I loved him so much and this love gived to me the force to stand by his side when he died. I held my pain untill his last breath, cause I didn’t want him to feel my stress or fear. He died in my arms and when de doctor says “he’s gone” an incredible pain arose in my heart. On the way to the crematorium I held him with so much love and pain at the same time. I remember him today with the same feelling: love, pain, tenderness, melancholia at the same time.
This is very beautiful. It’s my birthday and I consider this post a valued gift. Stay safe and take care of yourself.
I am still grieving the loss of my son 6 months ago. Your words are very soothing- thank you.
I’m glad you took time and space to listen respectfully to your grief.
I’ve left professional training for Unitarian Universalist ministry, dogs having taught me to be patient with human beings, and so I have many books on the subject of grief and loss. My favorite, by far, is “The Cure for Sorrow” by Jan Richardson, a Methodist minister with a long spiritual practice of writing blessings. After her husband and soulmate died unexpectedly, she wrote the blessings in this book during her first year of massive grief. She has an extraordinary ability to find the tiny crack between two great, immovable stones where love, hope, and life can slip through.
Beautiful and beautifully expressed thoughts and feelings. Thank you.
David Egger says
Really solid thoughts and a balm for today and every day! Thanks to you for your solid efforts to salute the day and the people who died to keep us free and the Covid 1st responders and paramedics and especially the EMS crews working around the clock to save and service those who need them! As I have known for years, Trisha, you are the real deal!
Chris from Boise says
What a beautiful essay, Trisha. And the photos!
Elizabeth Hendricks says
Thank you for this beautiful essay. Thank you for reminding me to treasure and savor the time with my friends and family both human and other.
Lane, the last line in your comment is as eloquent as anything I’ve ever read. When is your book coming out?
Thanks so much David!
Thank you Chris, it’s always special to hear from you.
Thank you Elizabeth. I think it did me good to write it.
Thank you Carol, I wasn’t going to write anything at first, but then . . . Writing turned into a beautiful reminder of how important our ‘villages’ are. And this is one of mine. Lucky me.
Oh Pat, words fail. But I’m glad that what I wrote provided a moment of … what? I don’t want to say peace, that seems too much to ask. But ‘soothing’ . . . that’s good. I am so sorry about your son, you are so gracious to take the time to write.
Haley B says
Hi Trisha (and everyone),
Thank you for the reminder to hold BOTH things and create space for them. I hope you had a reflective memorial day.
This is FULLY unrelated but I wasn’t sure where to ask this question – do you have any recommendations for books/materials concerning adolescent dogs? My puppy is almost 5 months, and he has started really thinking about whether he wants to sit when I ask him to do so…We are taking an obedience class over zoom (I eventually want him to get his good citizen certification), but I am a scientist and so I am always looking for some extra research to do.
Wishing everybody some high quality dog snuggles,
Today we are three days into being a dog family again, after 10 months of doglessness. It is a profound combination of grief and joy as we navigate learning each other’s language. Thank you for your words!
Trisha – Your post is exactly the right length. Lovely spring pictures, too.
We lost our 12- or 14-year old Sammy mix this weekend. Not entirely unexpected but sooner than we had hoped. The Sammy was my mother’s dog, and became our dog when my mother passed.
I spent much of the holiday weekend going through dog pictures. Seeing the Sammy playing with other dogs, bounding through the snow, and racing across fields, all while beaming her big Sammy smile, brought considerable comfort.
So yes, enjoy your dogs while they grace us with their presence, and try to live life with the seemingly boundless enthusiasm that dogs often model for us.
And always circle around at least once before you lie down.
We were commenting yesterday how disconnected many of us are (save the front line workers and the families and friends left behind) from the reality of how many hundreds of thousands of people have died the world over. I hope someday every last who, when, and where will be recorded. It feels like all these people are slipping away without their due honor as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, as humans.
The New York Times is printing 1000 or so snippet-obits. This one caught my eye; I could picture her: “Myra Janet Headley, 72, Memphis, loved Jesus, Elvis, Dr Pepper and her family.”
It’s those little descriptions that make up a life. And I love reading in your blog that you are going to bake a pie, clip Tootsie’s nails, and do some gardening. Hope is in the details.
Sorry, it’s me again. We have a statewide, town-by-town online forum where people sign up in their neighborhood to post things for sale, wanted items, discussions on all topics local and not, and when animals have gone off looking for an adventure.
I just read this and had to share because it’s the details that matter, and it shows how much we love our dogs, and I’m sure Daisy will be found: “Our dog, Daisy Duke, was last spotted at the cemetery at 3pm. She’s probably scared but will come to Daisy Duke when sung in baby shark form.”
Wendy S. Katz says
Whenever I look at that perfect dome of tiny starbursts on a dandelion puff, I think, if dandelions were rare and hard to grow, we would hold a celebration when our dandelion blossomed. So I hold some private interior celebrations every spring when they decorate my lawn.
Susan WRoble says
Thanks for these lovely Memorial Day thoughts. For our family, with generations of military service, it always takes on special meaning — but it was hard, this year, to honor them while grieving the inability to be together to honor them!
As a side note, my thanks for the mention of “Deep Creek” in an earlier post. Based on your recommendation, my book club read it and loved it. What glorious writing!
Nannette Morgan says
At a virtual conference this past weekend, Suzanne Clothier illustrating a point said “weeds are just flowers we don’t want” which came to mind with your dandelion photo:-)
Nannette Morgan says
Lovely post! The dandelion photo reminds me of a comment in Suzanne Clothier’s session at the conference this weekend about “distraction” – “Weeds are only flowers you don’t want.”
Thanks for the reminder. My literal best friend, who is just over 15, is having more mobility problems, and I am trying really hard to enjoy what we CAN still do together. We can still do nosework, it’s not always pretty, but our wonderful trainers modify it so he can be successful. The nose works great, the legs don’t always cooperate. On the flip side, the younger dog is starting to blossom with training, and that is both wonderful because she has come so far, and sad because it highlights the older dog’s issues. They’re never with us long enough.
Barb Stanek says
Thanks for the dandelion. Among my favorites.
Perfect connection of two worlds!
Cat Warren says
It was my birthday on Monday as well–and I found myself grieving and feeling grateful. Thank you for this. The New York Times cover is sitting on our table, and I can’t move it yet. Because it represents so much, and yet, it’s inadequate. Holding all of this in the light.
Happy birthday Cat, the world is a better place with you in it.
Lesley Osborn says
As both a writer and one who has shared the last 40 years of my life with senior and special needs Greyhounds – this is an exquisite commentary on life with our dogs and what it means to be human.
Thank you, Trisha
Anne Ramey says
Thanks, Trisha, for bringing forward the “Five Remembrances” as quoted by Narayan Helen Liebenson. These verses are used quite often by Frank Ostaseski, a gifted teacher and writer who was a founder of Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis. He has been writing about the echoes of that time that are resonating through his mind and heart during this pandemic, as he progresses through a personally challenging year after having a series of strokes last fall which he is slowly recovering from. An amazingly insightful man.
I would like to add a recommendation of his book, released in 2017, “The Five Invitations”, in which he posits five ways in which awareness of our mortality can enrich our lives and relationships. It’s full of that bittersweet combo of grief and hope, which is the focus of his writing and teaching; the stories in it are wonderful as well as tragic, such as the matriarch who wanted to know if she could bring her china with her into hospice. He told her “You can bring some of it.” Another wonderful example of life and light coming through the cracks between the immovable stones – I too would like to bless Lane for that stunning phrase.
Beautiful post, thank you, Trisha