Most of my essays are pretty upbeat. Life has been very good to me and that is something I want to share. This one is a little different. It's about sadness and the pain of loss. Life, no matter how good, is not pain free, and the more we have the more we can lose.
About a year ago my oldest son had to take his cat to the vet to be put down because all efforts to fix its health problems had failed. He knew it was what needed to be done and somehow summoned the courage to do it, but he was hurt terribly by the loss. In talking to him about it, I came up with the phrase, "Grief is the shadow cast by love." What I was saying is that when grief seems overwhelming it is because we have had the gift of being able to love, to have something or someone fill our lives so much that the loss is a physical pain.
Josh and I could have avoided all that pain by simply not allowing his cat or my dog into our lives in the first place. We also would have eliminated a whole lot of warmth and joy and laughter. We would have given up the chance to love and be loved. Believe me, our pets do return the love we give them. They offer no criticism or judgement, only affection.
So, is that the answer? Avoid the pain by forgoing the joy? I certainly don't think so. Over the years, I have loved and lost many beloved pets, mostly dogs, but also cats and even an iguana who lived with us for fifteen years. Every one of them more than repaid the emotional cost of losing them. I remember the joy much more than the pain.
Kahlil Gibran said it best in The Prophet, "without love you laugh, but not all of your laughter; weep, but not all of your tears." Thank you to Rowdy and all his predecessors, for my laughter and for my tears. The shadow, grief, is only there because of the substance, love.