How Do You Say Goodbye?

Janet kissing Gus on the deck July 2016

You weep.

You hold on for one last deep embrace; breathing in and memorizing the way he smells.

You run your hands gently through his fur; feeling the silky softness one last time.

You whisper everything you want to say, though you have said it to him a thousand times already, in anticipation of this moment.

You let go, knowing that the time is right and that you have done everything possible to make his passing gentle and peaceful; secure in loving arms.

You hold on tight and lean on those you love; shouldering the weight of grief together.

Finally, you breathe.

You begin to move past sadness, to other feelings. First, anger and frustration with cancer, and a loss that came too soon.

And then, gratitude.

For ten and a half wonderful years.

For a life that touched so many.

For unconditional love.

For a sweet face waiting patiently in the front window.

For sloppy kisses and boundless joy. For bouncing body wags.

For long walks on beautiful days.

For a head resting in your lap. For silence and calm, quiet loyalty.

For knowing when you needed a hug.

For hilarious moments of crazy behaviour.  For happy dances, stolen mittens and chewed up socks.

For the thrill of launching balls and frisbees into the air over and over, and the triumph of the perfect catch.

For finding friends in unlikely places.

For showing you how to stop and breathe deeply in the morning air.

For teaching you to live in the moment.

For all of the important lessons, and those still to come.

Gus in the field of grass

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It all evens out in the end

It’s kind of interesting, the way things work out.  On most days, Gus will bring a ball along as we head out for our walk.  He has quite a collection to choose from, and he will often deliberate for some time before selecting just the right one.  Off he will trot happily, with his ball in his mouth.

Throughout the course of our walk, Gus will stop and sniff here and there, and of course he will leave a little reminder of where he has been.  He usually drops his ball while he does this, but he is diligent about going back to pick it up before we move on.  However, there have been many days when we will be halfway across the field and I’ll suddenly realize that he no longer has his ball in his mouth.  I used to get stressed and circle back to find it, often taking 15 minutes or so to search for it in the field.  Then, one day I realized that Gus couldn’t seem to care less.  It was as if he had suddenly lost interest in that particular ball, and had happily abandoned it in the field.

So here’s the interesting part.  What I have found is that on those days, more often than not, we always seem to find a new ball in the field to compensate for the lost one.

Gus found a ball

It’s almost as if Gus knows that it’s no big deal to leave the old ball behind, because he is confident that a new one will be waiting somewhere ahead, along the way.  He is always thrilled with the new ball, even if it is rattier and more destroyed than the old abandoned one.

Gus happy with the ball he found

So what’s the point here?  It seems to me that Gus knows a bit about the laws of the universe.  In one of my chemistry lectures, I teach about a particular phenomenon in which the total amount of matter in the universe stays constant.  Under normal conditions, there are no atoms of anything created or destroyed;  they are just “recycled” into different configurations through a whole host of chemical reactions.  In other words, everything around us will always be there; it just might be found in a different place, or in a slightly different form.

Maybe Gus knows that a lost ball will be replaced with a found ball, in order to keep the state of the universe constant.  Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t seem to stress when his ball goes missing.  He understands that things will even out in the end.

I have to agree that this philosophy can make life a lot less stressful, and it can smooth out a lot of issues between people as well.  In all of our personal relationships, there is an ongoing saga of give and take.   This is ultimately how we care for one another, and how we show the people close to us that we are there for them when they need us.  Perhaps it’s as simple as who’s buying the coffee today.  Or maybe it’s more involved; as in running each other’s errands, or taking the time to sit and listen patiently while a dear friend pours out their troubles for a whole evening.

In the strongest relationships, there is no counting of pennies, and no running tally of who owes what to whom.  We just know that, over the course of our lives, we will each pick up the tab the same number of times, and we will be the one to lean on just as often as we will need the strong shoulders of those dear to us.  Running a tab takes the focus away from what true friendship is all about.  Of course there will be countless cups of coffee to pay for, and we each will cover our share over time.  With our close friends and family, we know that there are times when we need to sit back and accept assistance and support, and we can do so gratefully, confident that we will surely have the chance to return the kindness at some time down the road.  It’s what makes the universe work best.