This one is hard.
I heard the poet David Whyte say recently that a good elegy is a conversation between grief and celebration.
And, so. Here we are. It’s 12 days since we lost our soul companion and guardian, our 10-year-old giant of a dog, Charlie.
I’ve written about him here before, a big Collie Shepherd mix with a coat like marshes in winter: faded brown, tinges of red and beige. He had ludicrously white legs, as though he had put on bleached knee highs. He wasn’t cuddly. He did not lick. If you tried to snuggle him while he lay, he would get up, irritated, shaking himself off. His preference was to lean his whole body in to you, or to wait, just off to the side, working the perimeter. He was steady and constant and heartbreakingly gentle.
But really, how do you write about your own breath? How do you write about the tragedy of loud silence? We talk instead about what he would have wanted: To go to the pond.
To see Charlie walk in his woods was to see a being utterly alive in himself. He would tilt his head at the word “pond,” pick up pace, bounce like a deer.
He could fly in praise of love and the arrival of someone he was happy to see, a whirling blur, impossibly fast, leaping and sailing in circles around the cars. His whole body cried: Yes! Yes! Here we are! Let us move! And off he took, sometimes crashingly.
Grief does funny things. It seems to slice through what is unimportant, gracelessly. It clarifies. It becomes obvious who can sit with you in the sadness, and who squirms in the face of it, or tries to fix it. It reminds you of times when you may have squirmed or tried to fix someone else’s grief, and softens you. It has a raw and merciless physicality – like a rope burn or an ache or a stone. And when that physicality dims – normalcy washing up on the shore of your days – that has its own grief, because it carries you further away from the time your loved one was here. A living body.
When we got Charlie from a shelter up the coast, he had been abandoned twice already. He was wild, skittish. 6 months old, with big feet and a body that would soon double in size, he would whine and jump and throw himself. His movement was careening, without regard for objects or people (or their bad knees) that might be in the way.
But we stuck together, and in that permission, he came home to himself. Grew into the gentle watching giant he was. Animals can do the same for us; their touch and constancy melting us into who we were to begin with. Until we are irrevocably marked by love.
In the end, as the cancer grew, his body diminished. But not his light. Charlie is buried out beneath the apple tree on the edge of the field, and the world seems to echo with him, in grief and celebration.
And oh, how we miss him.