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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

“You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille”

Living manzanita, Dragoon Mountains

(My emotions these days come to me through songs, hence today's title. "Sarah picked a bad time to leave us," I told the Artist. But then, there wouldn't have been a good time....)

I used to post to this blog more often. In the beginning, it was short pieces almost every day, usually with only a single photograph. Eventually that settled down to two or three posts a week, some image-heavy, others wordier. This past November, on the other hand? A mere four posts, from the day after Election Day to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I have felt more than a little disconnected to the world without my Sarah. 


But one of my husband’s cousins, who has known grief far deeper than mine, posted something on Facebook that helped me through the Thanksgiving holiday. She wrote, “As the years roll by and challenges surround, it becomes clear that being thankful doesn’t require feeling happy. May it be the same for you as we walk forward.” She did not emphasize the words I have italicized, but those were the words I found profound. 


Because – haven’t you found it so? -- it is so easy for us to think, when unhappy, that we should be happy, which then piles feelings of guilt and inadequacy on top of unhappiness already within us. It is far too easy for us to view our unhappiness as a spiritual shortcoming or a lack of maturity, a failure to be grateful for what we have. Anne’s profound insight is that we can be thankful, can be grateful, without necessarily feeling happy. Happiness, after all, comes and goes. If it were a constant, we wouldn’t notice it at all.

Manzanita again: Life gone but still beautiful

I once attended a funeral for a young man who had died of cancer at age 23, and part of the priest’s message to family and friends was that the young man needed to “cross over the river” and that if they, the living, failed to rejoice over his heavenward path, they would be holding him back. Sadness, heartache, heartbreak – all these, the priest painted as cruelty to the deceased. My heart ached for the mother, wife, and brothers in their sorrow, being told their grief was harming the very person whose loss had already devastated them! I thought then (and have never thought differently) that the priest was the cruel one that day. 


“But your grief is over a dog! Don’t you think that’s a little exaggerated?” No one has said anything like that to me or scolded me for not “moving on” more quickly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one person had thoughts along those lines. I’m happy – yes, happy and grateful – to have the reassurance that Anne, who barely knows me, is as sympathetic to my grief as my oldest, tried-and-true friends.


Sarah was with me 24 hours a day, from puppyhood until her last breath. When a stranger in the bookstore asked teasingly if she was the watchdog (this would be after she approached the newcomer with wagging tail and smile), I always said, “She’s my constant companion.”  

Her first winter

Here’s something too that I thought of only during her last days: Sarah was the same age as “Books in Northport.” We found and adopted Sarah in January of 2008, but she was four months old then, which put her birth in September 2007, the first month of this blog. And anyone who has read “Books in Northport” since 2008 has had the opportunity to watch Sarah grow from puppyhood to young adulthood to maturity and then into old age.


And the Artist and I are going on without her. We have each other and family and friends. We had (although I did not photograph it) a turkey for Thanksgiving and have enjoyed since then turkey pot pie and turkey soup with homemade noodles. 






We made drove over to the Dragoon Mountains and explored on foot a short stretch of equestrian trail (where we observed those manzanitas).

The Artist

The bookseller

In search of animal therapy, the Artist and I made an expedition over north of Benson, Arizona, to the Double R Ranch to visit their twenty-three horses and nine dogs, and I went back today for a trail ride.

My beautiful and patient companion of the trail

And I am reading again: 


A fundamental principle of nonviolence is that there is no such thing as defeat once a conflict is justly resolved, because there are no losers when justice is achieved. - John Lewis, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement


No defeat, no losers when justice is achieved! Isn’t that a beautiful thought? John Lewis’s death was a great loss to our country, but his life was a gift and an inspiration.

Times are not back to “normal,” either for me or for our country, but the sun continues to rise every morning and set every evening over the mountains, and the moon also rises and sets, and birds come to the feeding station in our mountain backyard, and there seems to be genuine progress on a vaccine for coronavirus, and one way or another there will be a new president in the White House in only a few weeks. And we will all keep getting older one day at a time on our journey “from the sweetgrass to the packing house” – or, as I think of it these days, from puppy breath to the last breath -- which sounds terrible, I know, but there would be no death without life, and life is a priceless gift.

Sunrise over Dos Cabezas, Arizona



Julia Brabenec said...

You speak to the hearts of many,Pamela. Thank you for your Blog; for your beautiful thoughts and profound wisdom. Keep on keeping on!🙏Julia

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you, Julia. It has been a hard year for everyone! We love you!!!

Dawn said...

I, for one, don't think grief for a dog is out of the ordinary. I think they are family, as most people do who have house dogs...maybe even outside dogs as well. I know how much you love her, and the one before (I'm sorry I just can't remember the name!) and how much you will love the next one when you're ready. So many dogs have moved on this year, it's been hard. I look at mine and know we have only so much time left, but that has always been the case, no? It just seems more real now.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I knew you would understand, because of your love for your beautiful, beautiful Katie. Once I said to someone, "I love this dog way too much," and that person said, "The only way to love a dog is way too much."