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Going Into the Dark

Posted by Eliza, December 4th, 2013

Love is a candle in the dark.

Love is a candle in the dark.

I remember the first tough Christmases without my dad. He passed away twenty-eight years ago. When I was a child, Christmas time was his driving us children out to choose a tree after work on a dark and frosty night. And the amazing packages he designed for us – once a set of presents chugged, a line of train cars beneath the tree. I still miss pouring over the Christmas cards with him, indulging in slivers of my mother’s fruitcake. (A great fruitcake, by the way!) He’d tell stories about former neighbors and students, distant relatives, and others who’d reach out to us at least once a year.

The winter holidays have begun, with their festive lights, special foods, gifts, and gatherings. Everywhere we look, on our various screens, in shop windows, on the faces of passers-by, we are encouraged to express joy and delight. Yet for some of us, however, the smiles can be forced, our holiday shadowed by loss. If we’ve lost a beloved companion animal we may find it especially hard, as loss of a pet is often a disenfranchised grief – not considered a true loss by many.

So how do we move through this season with all our being, our sorrow included? It’s important to honor your grief. Denise Levertov, in her poem “Talking to Grief,” encourages us to befriend our grief, not try to chase it away. During holidays that might mean making time for quiet reflection, looking, at pictures of our pet, lighting a candle, sharing stories with a fellow pet lover, or seeking out a pet loss support group. Befriending our grief might mean being grateful for all that your beloved companion shared with you: holidays, trips, walks, and laughs. Addressing your bereavement, in appropriate ways, will be easier, and healthier, than trying to suppress it.

Each winter I find an hour alone, put on some carols, and pull out the holiday cards, sharing joys and sorrows with far-flung people, as my father taught me. I think of his quiet and creativity, his love of beauty and nature, and am very grateful for all that we shared, all that he gave. And this practice gives me, in the midst of bustle and noise, a deeper appreciation for all the lives that have touched mine. Including my beloved animal companions.
Poet and farmer Wendell Berry wrote of the dark times:
“To go into the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”
May love and memory shine within you, lighting your way this winter.

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We Cross in Safety Holding Hands

Posted by Eliza, September 13th, 2013

What kinds of healing are needed to help us midwife our beloved into a good death? Once physical pain has been relieved, emotional and social suffering can be perceived more clearly and helped more successfully. Then, finally, spiritual suffering – which includes the need to make meaning of pain and loss – can be addressed. This is the guiding principle of hospice care for humans as well as other animals.

Recently I was invited to the orientation of new staff members of the New England Pet Hospice and Home Care, to share with new staffers what my role as the spiritual advisor/chaplain may involve. I told them that I was there for them as well as for patients and clients, since the nursing they do in such tough situations can take a spiritual toll. I offered them the following blessing, which offers compassion and gratitude for the work of caring. I share it with all who need it today.

Praise the Work of Our Hands

Simple things get lost.
Look, for instance, at hands,
tools of great beauty, strength and courage.
Let us praise the work of our hands,
their holding and cleaning,
their mending and calming,
their patient waiting in birth
and grace in ushering death.

Praise the quiet hands
holding all time in their palms,
and the busy hands,
knitting up wounds.
Praise the jazz hands,
keeping time with our joy,
and the cradling hands, soothing as sleep.

Praise the work of our hands,
And may they realize the highest
intentions of our hearts and minds.
Paw– May it be so. Blessed be. Amen.

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