Countless times I’ve told friends my sweetie loves the dog more than me. I don’t actually believe this I just say it to describe the depth of his affection. Also, to sound like I’m less attached to the dog than he is. However, the truth is Buddy and I are knit together like a sweater. When I’m home he never leaves my side and when I return, he lets me know he felt unraveled.
This has made the last couple months especially hard. Something, our vet can’t figure out, is ailing him and while he’s improved, he’s still struggling. He went from never having any kind of respiratory problem to sounding like Darth Vader with laryngitis overnight. At eleven years old we know he has fewer days in front of him than behind, but up until now he’s been incredibly spry.
The timing couldn’t be worse. December and January are hard months for me. I get through December because the holidays are a great distraction. By the start of the new year though, my mood dips like the thermostat. I become especially conscious of the anniversary of my brother’s death. January 2021 marked five years and this felt like a horrible milestone.
About a week beforehand at dinner we were talking about the dog’s future, when my sweetie said something to the effect that he’ll be sad if Buddy doesn’t live much longer, but thankful for all the awesome years we’ve had with him. “He’s such a great little guy,” he said.
I smiled politely when I really wanted to start sobbing. In the moment his outlook felt entirely too rational. Are you kidding me I thought, Buddy is my heart walking around this house? I can’t imagine life without him. How can you possibly be so circumspect?
I could have easily dismissed his comments as something, “a guy would say” but my guy isn’t that kind of guy, so I filed it away in the I’ll make sense of this later folder.
Later came the day before the five-year anniversary. It was my quiet time with God and Buddy was curled up on the couch breathing like Vader. The sky was static gray and the trees looked like dirty concrete sticks. I felt sad and was inching up on hangry when I asked God why it had to hurt so much, wondering if January would ever be a month I’d weather better.
I didn’t expect an answer. It was meant to be a rhetorical question yet God spoke, and was pretty clear with me that I was choosing the wrong perspective. January can only be better if you choose different memories Kären. You need to follow your husband’s lead with the dog and adopt the same perspective with your brother. God was essentially saying be thankful for what you got instead of focusing on what you lost.
He wasn’t saying it’s wrong to grieve or that grief has an expiration date but He was saying you don’t have to dwell on it. You can choose the memories you want to focus on. Time is the gift that affords you that perspective.
While I’ll never forget finding my brother’s lifeless body, when that image pops up it’s time to quickly replace it with other indelible images from our adventures together—and man did we have some great ones.
My brother and I knew how to make something fun happen even on a day that looked to be ordinary. One of us was always saying, “Let’s” or “You want to” or “We have to” — fill in the blank. We were both born curious and had just enough courage to get ourselves into plenty of trouble. It drove our Mother nuts and made our Dad proud.
It’s why I had to sing our theme song—”Mechanical Boy” from H.R. Pufnstuf at his memorial service complete with robotic hand motions. I laughed and cried while doing it, but Craig would have expected it. My favorite penny memory with him was at the “Gum Wall” in Seattle when he pulled out a pocket knife and deadpanned, “Get to work!” As if….
Would I trade any of those memories for one more year with him? Yes, but that’s not how it works. We don’t get to barter with what God allows we just get to accept it. It’s a process of course, but distinctly remembering to forget something is a wonderful way to break free from the past.