I’m a slightly different person today than I was yesterday. I don’t want to over state it, but it’s true. This morning I experienced another level of the redemptive side of grief than I had before. I say that with the recognition that my siblings and I have lost our mother and father in the past 2 1/2 years.
Beryl and I made the heart-wrenching decision to put down Tucker, our family’s canine companion for 12 joyful years. For the past couple of weeks we have sensed that his increased limping, and then inability to keep from collapsing while walking, were terrible signals that his life was in its last chapter. When the vet compassionately administered two injections that calmed his nerves and then stopped Tucker’s heart, less than a minute later she said the above words to us. “Not ours,” I thought. “Ours are breaking.” At that moment I unleashed a flood of emotion that I had been holding for quite a while. Beryl was already there long before me.
Some of you reading this, if in fact you still are, may be thinking, as I have in the past, “C’mon, Craig. It’s a dog.” Others of you understand how this passing of a special pet might hit like no other. You’re thinking, “Seriously? It’s taken you this long to find this out?” Why is that?
It’s not like we haven’t lost pets before. In fact, there was a year when it became clear that pets would be safer avoiding our home. As a boy I lost Meigs, then Rusty, and Boots, my sister’s beloved cat. Then, years later, in a fairly short time frame, our own kids lost Kelsey a Golden Retriever, followed by Shadow the cat, who died 2 days after we brought her home, followed a day or two later by Shelly, the hermit crab. That’s when we thought pets might be better off landing elsewhere.
Shortly before 9/11 we lost Cody another wonderful Golden, who we replaced with Tucker. So, we’ve lost a lot of pets. This loss is different. I’ve tried to understand why the loss of Tucker is so deep and have realized it’s not just because we’ll miss him. He was amazingly athletic, smart, obedient and anxious to please. He retrieved balls in water, Frisbees while camping, and in the park across the street, and our morning newspaper with joyful abandon. Friends who met him invariably found him unusually sweet-natured and well-behaved.
But those aren’t the reasons his loss hits deeper for me. It’s because of the unique years he spanned with our family. He was the one constant who stayed at home while our kids grew up, then departed, and Beryl and I became empty-nesters. Tucker was the last of our “kids” to leave home. He was the last direct link to so many family memories. I think that’s why his departure hits so hard. As my sister perceptively and concisely said, “It’s the end of an era.” Those are exactly the words I had been thinking.
Like some of you, in the past I haven’t completely understood the grief of those who wept at the loss of a pet. I felt sad and sorry for them, but I didn’t know the grief. I do now. I think that for some pets their personality, and the years they spanned with family, make their passing much deeper. I get that today in a way I didn’t get yesterday.
All day I’ve been struck by that fact. When we experience sadness, loss, deep disappointment and grief, as many of you have, there is a redemptive nature to those difficult feelings. We become more sensitive to those who lose a pet, a friend, a spouse, a sibling or a child. I can’t imagine that kind of loss. But today I’m a little closer.
This is the redemptive power of pain. God uses it to bring about compassion that we can now direct to others: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God… If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” 2 Cor. 1:3-7
“Tucker’s heart has stopped beating.” Not ours. We feel a little more deeply, a little more compassionately, than we did yesterday.
Can you relate?
My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say is I literally shake my head in wonder at the family I have: my wife Beryl; my daughter Barclay and son-in-law Vince, their four daughters, Bella, Brynn, Brooke and Blake; my son Alec, my son Conor and daughter-in-law Bonnie, their daughter Gemma and son Calvin. Every one of them is a genuine gift. Beyond that, I have a calling that I live out through Peregrine Ministries. It is to help men: Understand their identity in Christ, Embrace their role as men, and Live out their God-given calling in life. Bottom line is I’m convinced men matter and I want to help them live life on purpose.