WRITTEN BY Laura McFarland
Outside my window, I hear Abilene take three deep horse breaths. She is sunning her mud-caked body at the very spot where Annie stood 48 hours ago experiencing the discomfort of the unknown ailment to which she succumbed hours later. The story of that day replays vividly in my mind, although that is not the story I wish to tell right now. She died in the trailer on the way to the vet, and this story begins once Tim and I brought her body back to my place to rest in the trailer overnight so that Abilene could say her goodbyes.
The night Annie passed we got a good amount of rain. Abilene stayed with Annie's body at the trailer for much of the night it seems. My housemate and I went out several times to check on her throughout the night, and she was always by the trailer. Sometimes poking her nose in and sniffing Annie, sometimes standing a few feet away attentively looking at her still body. Sometimes when we would walk up in the pitch black night, she would quickly come up to us only to turn away and return to the trailer once recognizing that we were not Annie.
That night the pain and shock of Annie's passing was all consuming. It surrounded me even as it swallowed me from within. It poured forth from my body as though the very ground of being opened up beneath me and gravity took care of the rest. I now rest on a subterranean ledge quite a bit further down, getting my bearings. I'm so thankful for Abilene - for her presence in this space we share.
Grief, I'm noticing, has different textures. There is the resounding, thunderous experience of loss - immediate, vibratory - much like being suspended in the hollow of a drum as it's forcefully struck. All that exists is the vibration, and it plays you through and through. In this texture of grief my body experiences only the loss - the pain of separation - the awareness of absence. Nothing else exists. This was my immediate experience. There was no way to talk or even think in the clamor. There were some escape hatches I could see in the haze of the moment - the illusory promise of distractions of various sorts - but I fell for none of them. Didn't want to be distracted because this now is my experience of Annie. Even an experience of her acute and sudden absence, painful and overwhelming as it is, is better than no experience. This is grief number one. Raw, immediate, kinetic.
And then there is the pain of memory. It has a different quality and it lives in a different place. It's less like a sound and vibration, and more like a storyboard. It is a string of images - snapshots tied to my heart, which tugs them like kites as it softens and constricts, softens and constricts. Images of Annie and the memory of her warm, sweet breath, her head on my shoulder, her neck stretching up so that I could scratch under her chin, her asking for butt rubs, her curiosity and gentleness and sometimes impatience, especially at mealtime. These images swell up in waves of moans and tears - stuck in the throat and then bubbling out of the silence. This is the pain of the past. The pain of remembering. The pain of the stories we compose and relive, again and again. I am deeply thankful that Abilene, at least I assume, does not have to experience this kind of grief. I'm pretty sure it's mostly the first kind she experiences, but I guess I don't really know.
Finally, there's a third kind - closely related to the second. It's future grief. Future grief is like past grief but instead of being triggered by memories or images of what was, it is prompted by the discovery and the rediscovery of what-will-no-longer-be, or variably, of what-could-have-been had past events unfolded differently. Expectations and hopes do not come with expiration dates. And yet, they expire. Just like that. Hope has an open quality and when it expires due to loss, it produces a grief for the un-lived future. This is experienced in the eyes and the face, wrinkling with tension as though straining toward a distant horizon in which one finds no trace or shadow of the departed.
I guess future grief is the most lonely kind of grief. Past grief isn't lonely because I will always have the memories of the time and space and connection Annie and I actually, physically shared. There is a fullness there. Present grief is more fluid. The vibration of loss is not always present. It gives way to other connections in the here and now. The thunderous, wordless kind of loss - the grief of the present - overtakes you but flows right on past so long as you don't resist it or avoid it. Thankfully, the present is the present.
One must make a conscious choice to stay with the grief of the present and to honor the grief of the past - the grief of the "what is" transfiguring into the "what was". It is worthy of enshrining. Annie lives in a golden place within my heart. This is that enduring sense of connection with detachment. She is not physically here but she lives very much alive within me. I will treasure this. Visit this place daily. Allow the waves of this type of grief to swell and crash in my heart without resistance. I think the best offering we can place on this altar is gratitude.
Gratitude is protective against the rages of the one kind of grief we must choose to let go - and that is the grief of the future. This kind of grief can keep us stuck. We cannot fully live without hope. Nor can we live fully if we dwell in a world of what-ifs. Hopelessness is a kind of suicide. Of course, we experience it at times but we mustn't enshrine it, or revisit it too often, I think. It's like a riptide or quicksand. If we find ourselves in it, we've gotta get out. Friends, present connections, mindfulness of the present, and meaningful, intentional gratitude - these keep us from drowning and perishing in the grief of the un-lived future.
I'm thankful for my wonderful, supportive friends, both two-legged and four-legged. I'm thankful for the Christmas break and the time to digest and metabolize this trauma. I'm thankful for dear, sweet, resilient Abilene, who is already teaching me so much about what it means to "surthrive". And I'm so, so very thankful for Annie, who blessed me in countless ways with her beautiful presence in my life for over a year, over two actually. I am where I am because of her.
I've been spending a lot of time with Abilene the past couple days. This evening just before sunset I found her in the front standing on the exact spot where the trailer had been parked. She saw me coming and walked toward me. I sat with her under the cedar tree where she and Annie liked to sleep. We silently stayed there, gazing out toward that spot and taking in all that remains. I wonder if Abilene sensed Annie's presence as I did, ever so lightly.
Thank you sweet girl. I miss you so much. My heart is yours. May you run free in the green pasture of my heart, always.
Interested in learning more from Laura?
Laura shared this blog at the start of our 2021 conference in a workshop called The Somatic Experience of Grief and Love. Check out the conference replays here.
She will also be teaching an upcoming workshop called Where Feet May Fail: Finding Connection in the Dark Night of the Soul.
The conference replays act as a stepping stone into ongoing workshops and powerful conversations centered around life, love, loss, and death. They will equip you with the tools for finding light in the darkest of times.
Join us as we journey through conversations centered around love and loss (of all kinds), and participate in “Grief, Love, and Life”, a series of experiential workshops that will take place throughout the rest of the year.
Each workshop is designed to build upon your foundational experience from the recorded conversations. Learn more here! We look forward to walking this path with you!