There comes a point when a woman is labouring in childbirth when she says “I can’t do this”. Usually that’s a hallmark of what’s called transitional labour, and it usually means she absolutely can do it, and is likely about to do it with aplomb. Well-seasoned labour and delivery midwives have said when you hear her say those words, you’ll likely have a babby in your arms within the hour.
Likewise, when we labour through loss, we sometimes say “I can’t do this”. When I say it, what I mean is I can’t bear the enormous burden. It’s too big, too strong. Maybe the hurt will sweep me away, its powerful current leaving me battered and tangled. I know I *can* do it. I can grieve, damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead and all that. But also, knowing and experiencing are different beasts. Maybe what I really mean is “I can’t do this alone”.
Seven years ago, we welcomed two little dogs into our family; little dogs who were in need of new people. Teyah was nine when she came to us, her sister six, and immediately it was clear they had chosen the right family. I have this photograph of the kids in the back seat of the van, each with a dog in their lap and the biggest smiles on their faces. When we got home, His Nibs lay on the floor and one dog curled up on each side of him. They were home.
We knew we’d have to say goodbye.
We knew the time we are given to share with wee beasties is precious and short. I knew each of these dorky poodles would break my heart, and I jumped into that knowledge with both feet. The miracle of love is that it just keeps growing. When I pictured the dogs I would have some day (and toy poodles were not the ones I saw myself with), I didn’t know our girls would be exactly the dogs I needed.
Teyah arrived a little heartsore, a little nervous, and with an enormous personality. When she decided she was through with her walks, she would sit up on her haunches and paw at the air with her front feet, as if to say “that’s enough, now; I’m ready to be carried”. When we got home, she’d beeline for the dog treats (we keep them on top of the fridge) and sit there in anticipation, knowing I’m a huge softie. She almost always got a treat. She would actually sigh and…honestly it looked like she rolled her eyes when her sister barked too much or jumped around too much or basically did anything too much.
We are in the process of saying goodbye to the old girl. At sixteen, she’s started having difficulty walking; she’s lost a lot of weight and a significant amount of fur. She keeps getting these warts…she’s pretty deaf and I think recently has lost most of the sight in her right eye. She’s old. And we love her so much.
They love so selflessly, so perfectly. Their trust is without ego, without compromise. The labour of loss is enormous. Overwhelming.
Teyah has brought us seven years of singing the song of her people when she’s hungry, very smelly kisses, and just generally making our lives better in ways we could not have imagined. Although there will be a teensy poodle-sized hole in our family, we will never forget the joy and laughter and love she brought us. The labour of love is absolutely worthwhile.
I don’t know if animals or humans have souls, but if we do, the labours we work at here and now must cause ripples *out there*. There’s a great, big part of my heart that this little goof is taking with her. I know it will grow back. I will fall in love again and again and again, although none of it will be Teyah-shaped, and that’s okay. Love is not a finite thing, but right now, I don’t think I can do this.
I will miss you, little Bumblebutt. We all will. You are loved.