Monthly Archives: April 2011

Of Love and Loopholes.

Grief is big but it is also small. One of the saddest random things: no one to give my kale stems to anymore. Alec was never much of a beggar, but he loved raw kale stalks and every time I took a bunch out of the fridge he would instantly appear in the kitchen doorway with his hopeful and polite begging face. He was never disappointed. One of my favorite sounds: the adorable crunch crunch crunch of Ali contentedly munching on a kale stalk. Sublime. I eat a lot of kale, and his absence tugs at me whenever I start tearing the leaves off the stalks and turn, half forgetting, to find nobody silently standing in the doorway with big brown eyes fixed on me, quietly asking me to share.

After my previous post about the JAVMA article that made me cry at work (don’t get me wrong, I cry a lot, but that was completely uncalled for), I wanted to share a short piece that I liked: “True Love, Loss and the Loophole,” which appeared in Grief Digest Magazine. In this brief essay, grief counselor Ashley Davis Bush uses the Cinderella fairy tale as an analogy for love and loss. Cinderella got her chance to attend the ball but there was a catch, she writes, some fine print: the magic would end at midnight. And as expected, her evening was cut short; it ended in” dashed dreams and a mysterious disappearance.” She asks:

What does this fairy tale have to do with our grief? When we fall in love and make a life with a beloved partner, we enter a similar sort of arrangement. Life is the fairy godmother telling us that there’s a small hitch to this wonderful miracle, that  separation is inevitable. This ‘hitch’ is even built into our marriage vows, “ ‘til death do us part.”

That last sentence is not applicable to partners who are companion animals, um, obviously, but the rest applies — especially knowing that most species of companion animals have shorter life spans than us. Although we don’t take formal vows with our dogs (because they are strictly defined as “property” under the law; despite Gregory M. Morris and the AVMA getting all kerfuffled over the word “guardian,” we in fact have very few legal obligations to them), if we are responsible guardians we make this vow unbidden, and we promise to love them until death parts us (“take care of them” until death parts us may be more accurate because, as the subtitle of my blog implies, love does not end with death. But I digress.).

Death is the bell ringing at midnight, cutting everything short. The reality that one of us will die first is not something that most of us like to dwell on. In fact, we are often shocked when the bell strikes twelve. We might feel cheated, betrayed, ripped off—as if we hadn’t been forewarned. But, inevitably, midnight comes, leaving someone alone on the dance floor, someone struck with the pangs of grief.

Alone on the dance floor. I like this metaphor. And even if we do not consciously think about it, we know we will be separated eventually from the object of our affection, whether through our own death or theirs. With nonhuman animals, given the disparity in our average life spans, the odds are we will be the ones left alone on the dance floor. She then asks:

Here’s a question for you: having experienced the pain of loss, would you have refused the terms of this deal and said, “no thank you”?

Well, my jury is still out on that one, but in light of the inevitability of loss, and the fact that nothing in life is permanent, not even life itself, it is a question worth asking. Especially for people like me, who really aren’t sure if not only the pain of separation, but also the torturous on-ramp leading up to it (pain, sorrow, more pain), were worth it at all. As I sit here wondering if I might be permanently broken, as if some essential part of me has been destroyed or gone missing forever, it is not as easy for me as it seems to be for some people to say “hell yes, it was worth it!” I am only being honest. The alternative — that I had never known Alec, never loved him — is of course also unthinkable. The author, along with most people (in my experience I am almost the only one who hesitates when asked this), comes down squarely on the side of “worth it.” Of course, she is a counselor, what is she going to say? “Don’t ever love again! It is clearly not worth it. Hope you learned your lesson! ” Nah, that would not be a very helpful message I reckon. So, she looks on the bright side:

A choice to avoid pain would seem to be a lonely shadow of life’s fullest potential. So, like Cinderella, we willingly accepted the terms of a curfew because we couldn’t imagine missing the ball. Even a few ‘hours’ of joy were better than sitting home alone—definitely worth the risk of heartbreak.

Maybe so, and maybe not. But her conclusion is my favorite part:

Fortunately, for each of us, not only did we get one beautiful night (so to speak), we also get to live with the blessed loophole that love never dies. To our surprise, we see that even after midnight, the magic continues. Love transcends separation. In other words, death may change the form of our relationship, but it cannot erase the relationship. Our hearts will forever remain full of the good times, full of the open hearted abundance, full of the memories and full of the life-enhancing love.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know she is singing my song. Heck, she practically wrote my song, as her book was one of the first resources that helped me in the beginning, when I was scrambling and grasping for any message of hope, the way a drowning person frantically claws for the surface. And not just any message of hope, but one that felt intuitively right to me. Love transcends separation. Yup, there it was. That was my tune. Still is. I started singing it before he even died. I sang it to both of us during those final days, like a benediction.

So now, as we grieve, as we acknowledge the painful end of the dance, we can turn our attention to the eternal love woven into the fabric of our beings. This love transcends loss in a way that is almost…well…magical. Thank heaven for love and alleluia for the loophole!

A very upbeat ending, and although I am definitely not shouting “alleluia,” I do like this concept of the “loophole.” As with the concept of death changing rather than ending relationships, it gives me something to hold onto. And I am all about the magic because however you define it, my love for Alec felt like some kind of miracle. Something magical indeed. It is kind of hard to describe, but what is this type of love that makes you feel like you could soar from the tops of trees, that your heart could burst, that every hackneyed cliche is true…what is that if not magic? The fact that this indomitable love, which felt like the strongest, most powerful and primal force on earth, the kind of love that lifts cars off people, could not keep him from dying seemed wrong, unfair. It made the magic seem impotent. But maybe there really is a loophole. I think she means it metaphorically but I don’t. There has to be a reason why we feel something so strongly. If true love can’t move mountains, save lives, and most importantly, transcend time and physical dimensions, then what good is it? I am only sort of being facetious. Sometimes my fingers just type these things. But I am inclined to let them have their way because who knows, maybe these unruly fingers have access to an essential truth my left brain – a stern editor – erases when I tap tap tap back and delete some of my more outlandish thoughts. Like the ones about string theory, and how I love that despite my oafish attempts to understand theoretical physics, it is so far over my head that I can use it as frame on which to concoct fantasies of a parallel universe where things turned out differently. In this other universe, Alec and I got our happy ending. We are still together.

It’s like this: all I have left are wishes and fantasy, and I always did have a vivid imagination (unhappily yoked to a hard-nosed skepticism, but imagination is holding its own), and so I am keeping my eyes open for the real loophole. Except in my mind it looks like a little keyhole, and I press my eye up to it, and in my fantasy he is there, on the other side of the door. I just have to find the right key but there is no rush. It will come to me. And then the door will swing open, and we will be together again, at last.

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Filed under Grief and loss, Love after death