Christmas is my favorite time of year. Always has been. Juxtapose this with the fact that my beloved stepfather died on Christmas day about 10 years ago, my dear mother died about a month before Christmas last year, and we lost our sweet dog Hunter just a few days ago.
I’m waiting for my oldest daughter to wake (ugh, college kids) so we can do some fun stuff. I’m watching Christmas Vacation and laughing. My house is decorated.
I have a Christmas dinner on the 23rd to plan, and I can’t wait for Christmas Eve at the Fairgrounds with my family and my buddy from the Buddy Ministry at Church of the Nativity.
I also just took care of having our dog cremated. I made an ornament of his dog tag. The condolence card from the vet is in the basket with our Christmas cards. I keep forgetting that I don’t have to feed a dog or let him out or walk him.
Now, I’m not a pet person. My sister in law commented, when she first saw we had a dog, “I can’t believe YOU did this.” It’s true. I’m not a big pet person. I grew up in a bit of a zoo. My mom loved pets and chaos, and I love neither.
And yet that piece of her lived on in me to some degree. We got our first dog when the girls were little, and he was a big slob of a black lab. He was naughty and excitable and dumb. And we loved him.
When he died about 10 years ago, something interesting happened. We learned to mourn in a really pure way. When people die, mourning is so complicated. There is guilt and relationship residue and theological struggles. It’s so messy. And often you don’t have that pure, “my heart hurts and I will cry” moment early in the process.
I think the death of our rambunctious Quincy and our precious Hunter is an opportunity to mourn in a way that produces muscle memory for when our people leave us. Quincy died just a few months before my stepfather died on Christmas Day. And that taught us to mourn. Not perfectly (what is that?) or even in the same way we mourn for people. But it was instructive and helpful.
My grandmother, the matriarch of our family, rests each day in a nearby nursing home, peaceful but sometimes distressed. We don’t know how much she takes in but she does take in some of what is going on. We don’t know when this southern lady will take leave of Baltimore, which is perilously close for her to the Mason-Dixon. I want to be ready for that. I won’t be.
But the pure mourning of a pet really is a growth opportunity. It’s actually comforting to be able to cry when we think of the dog and just feel plain old sadness, missing him, without the gunk that tends to accompany mourning our family and friends.
Pets aren’t people. But we have them for a reason, to bring us joy and comfort and, I think, to teach us to mourn so that when our people leave us, there is some ability to keep on going.
Merry Christmas. I mourn the loss of my dog, my mom and my stepfather. And I love Christmas and will celebrate.
The two emotions are not mutually exclusive.