This, too, shall pass


Today, I had lunch with a friend. I will call him John in this post. About a year ago, he and his wife went through the unthinkable tragedy of losing their baby twins through an illness. It was one of those situations where there was truly nothing they could have done to change the outcome. And the probability of that outcome, that they would lose both babies, was so slim. It was a one-in-a-million event, and it happened to my friend.

When John and his wife lost their twins, I went to the wake and saw that many people had come to pay respects and to support them. Such a large family… and so many friends because the couple had been both born and raised in northeast Ohio. And it’s like that often – when tragedy strikes, your community rallies around you. But as time passes, all that energy and attention taper off, and you are left alone to deal with the grief.

I reached out to John a few month later around January to check in on him and invited him out to lunch. He was still the friendly guy I knew, but the events from last fall had changed him. I could see him trying to live out day to day, struggling, but what could I say to the person who lost his twins? We ate, caught up on a few community items, and then I went into listening mode for most of the conversation.

As you know, things have been topsy turvy in my life for the last few months, so I didn’t have a chance to really take care of anyone around me. Now that things are calming down a bit, I reached out to John again and asked him to lunch. We started out talking shop about investments and our jobs, but the topic of John’s grief hung over our heads. During an appropriate pause in the conversation, I asked him about how he has been doing. He wore the same expression as he did back in January… one of sorrow and resignation. “I have to live with it,” he said. And again, there was nothing I could say. Only listen.

He asked me what’s been going on in my life. I caught him up on what happened to Jeff, losing Jeff’s mother, and losing Maris. I told him the story of how unlikely Jeff’s survival was for a situation where the aorta had already started to rupture. All the things that had to be in the right place for him to be alive today. How it felt like a one-in-a-million event. And then for a moment there, we looked at each other and I felt the cruel irony of our lunch. Both of us had experienced a one-in-a-million event with completely different outcomes. Mine was happy, his was devastating. I couldn’t tell him that things will get better because I no longer felt like it was my place to. Being on the receiving end of an improbable blessing, what could I tell a person who was on the receiving end of an improbable tragedy? He knew what I was thinking the moment I thought it. He caught the irony of it, too. John is such a nice guy – he just smiled and looked down at his plate.

Through all the troughs of my life, I had told myself, “this, too, shall pass” and rode the waves. Up and down, up and down. Sometimes that trough could last a long time… a while back when I was younger, I thought maybe there was a streak of shadow that I could never get rid of, and that I would have to live with it for the rest of the my life. In those days, you can’t fathom that there would be an ‘up.’ And you wonder when shall this pass? John’s grief is so deep and the experience so tragic that he must not be able to fathom a day when he wouldn’t think of the twins. The grief must stretch as far as the eye can see at this point in time. I couldn’t really tell him that this, too, shall pass.

I wanted this blog to be about joy because that is what my marriage to Jeff has brought into my life. And joy is also Maris’s legacy. But for my friend, I dare not speak of joy because it is the furthest thing from his mind. The best I could say was “take your time. A year is not a long period of time. Take all the time you need. And in the meantime, I will be praying for you.”

Loss has a long tail

little good-bye’s

Yesterday, I bought a new car. I ordered the car back in June because of course, with all the post-pandemic issues there was no inventory at that time. After weeks of silence, they called me the day before to let me know that the car was arriving yesterday. Would I like to come in and pick it up?

My immediate internal reaction was ‘what’s the hurry?’ which is funny because I’ve wanted to swap in my current car (a plug-in hybrid Volvo) for the entire 4+ years I had it (sorry Jeff – the Volvo was his idea, haha). The reason behind my hesitation was simple… my Volvo had memories of Maris. She loved going through the car wash together, barked at all the attendants, usually young men who loved dogs, because she knew she was getting their attention! We had countless trips to the Metro Parks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails, pit stops at Starbucks for pup-cups filled with whip cream. There were numerous rides to doggy day care, where I would sing “Doggy School” in certain pitches, and she knew exactly where we were going. I would tell her what time I would pick her up (haha, like she understood!), and then when I returned in the evening, she would bound toward me for a sweet reunion. She knew to hop back into that car for a drive to the place we both called home.

Trading in this car, I felt like yet another piece of Maris was being torn away from me. I had very little time to get the car ready because the new car had arrived so suddenly. As I emptied the Volvo, I felt my throat tighten – there were little pieces of Maris all over that car because I actually couldn’t bring myself to clean it after letting her go. The blankets that had lined the back of the car during the last ride to the Richfield Animal Clinic were still lying there… I couldn’t get myself to take them out for the last month. The bag of treats I kept in the car just because she was such a good dog was still in the pocket of the driver’s side door. Her fur was still around the passenger side seat as evidence that she was my most frequent passenger. And I removed the doggy harness that I had installed on the passenger seat belt, the very item that I had fiercely negotiated to be thrown into the deal for free when we bought the Volvo (haha, yeah, I am a tough negotiator!). I had to say good bye to Maris all over again yesterday afternoon.

And it has been this way for the last month. There are so many little good byes after the big one. The first floor cleaning after her departure meant that my vacuum would suck up most of her fur for the last time. I had a difficult time emptying the bin full of her fur. But I had to do it and say good bye. The first mopping of the floors meant that I was erasing her little paw prints and drool, forever on our floors. Confession: there is a little spot of drool that I have not yet cleaned up… I see it when I go to that part of the house and think of Maris. Once in a while, I will find little dog food bits, and when I throw them out, I have to say good bye again. And there are the dog treats in our pantry that I have not yet been able to discard… and I know that that will be another moment of sorrow for me.

Slowly, due to passage of time and the regular routine of life, the hard evidence of Maris in our lives is disappearing. The more time passes, the more she will become a memory. Soon, the only thing I will have left in the house will be the beautiful cedar box with her name on it, her fur clippings in an envelop, and the paw print in a heart-shaped clay. No one warned me about the little good byes that come after the big loss, and they are devastating each time. But we have to move on and live happily because I know that that is what Maris would want us to do.

I will live joyfully as you taught me. And I will always love you and remember you, Little One.

Maris’s forever home with us
A pit stop at Starbucks for a treat after a long exploration session in the parks!
Maris loved Mr. Cheese and brought him to our rides in the car… yuck.
Maris had to ride in the back when Jeff was in the car. The poor puppy!
Car Wash!
She knew she was about to get a pup-cup!