Every time we get a new dog, we have the same argument. I want to wait to give the new dog a name. I figure, if we give it a few days, the dog will name itself. My family, on the other hand, is so eager to have something to call the thing (why they can’t call it dog for awhile is beyond me) that they jump all over each other to choose the name within two hours of the new dog coming home. Hence, Blossom was named Blossom instead of the much more appropriate Pig Pen. Blossom enjoyed exactly two things: laps and gross stuff.
That right there is an unfortunate combination. A dog who enjoys eating the birds that the neighborhood cats kill almost as much as she enjoys rolling in everything interesting (the stinkier the better) is unlikely to be welcomed into many laps.
Somehow she managed to get all the lap invitations she wanted, anyway. She’d worm her way in, tail thumping, grinning her damn fool dog-grin, until the person whose lap she wanted into couldn’t say no.
She died a few weeks ago. We were all sad, but Carter was heartbroken. A few days after she died, Carter wailed, “Mommy, will I ever be able to go on with my life?”
Grief is like labor, but in reverse. At first, the pain is constant and concussive, filling the world from horizon to horizon and greedily consuming attention and energy. It crests, and crests, and crests again, leaving little space between contractions for rest.
I told Carter that after awhile, the sadness would start to melt and that he would still feel it, but not all the time, and not so deeply. That’s what I said out loud. In my guts, I was filled with warm gratitude that Carter has had this most appropriate introduction to grief.
My first experience of death* was violent and so shockingly destructive that my family is still grappling with the consequences now, over 30 years later. Jacob, Abbie, and Spencer learned about grief when a friend’s four-month-old was taken from the world by that terrible night-thief of babies, SIDS.
From that perspective, it has been sad yet somehow delightful to guide Carter through his grief, to help him through this most ordinary of human experiences. Virtually everything in Carter’s emotional life has been extraordinary, and Brian and I worried that Blossom’s death would spin him into mania or psychosis, but that hasn’t happened. He has been, simply, sad.
A few days ago, Carter said, “Mommy, you were right! I’m starting to be able to go on with my life! I’m still sad when I think about Blossom, but I don’t think about her all the time anymore, just sometimes. Isn’t that great?”
*My mom’s younger brother David died at age 19, when I was 2 1/2. While I have some vague memories of that time, my first true experience of grief happened when my dad’s younger sister Nadine took her own life when I was 8 years old, the same age that Carter is now.