But as we lay beside her on the blanket, stroking that impossibly thick and luxurious fur while Dr. Lori administered the injection, we knew we had timed it just right. Sasha was ready. We had made the final decision in a lifetime of loving choices. And now we begin the task of living without her.
In the novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy uses a recurring metaphor for grief. Applied to our canine friend, we would say that her death created ‘a Sasha-shaped hole in the universe’. What an evocative picture for the hollowness that comes with grief! The image hooks me and draws me in.
If the death of a loved one creates a rending in the outer edge of existence as we know it, to where might such an opening lead? Where else, but to that which lies beyond. Each of us will have our own conception of this beyond, depending on our personal and spiritual bent. For me, it is not a place, but rather a space outside ordinary awareness, the same space touched in moments of deep absorption, prayer or meditation.
It would seem that a hole which bears the imprint of a dear one could, if we let it, offer access to and from that which lies beyond, however we imagine it to be. Could this, perhaps, complete Roy’s metaphor?
See yourself in a room, dark shades drawn against the brilliance of the day. These shades, however, are old and worn, their once smooth surfaces peppered now with cracks and holes that allow daylight to enter.
Certainly as we adjust to the absence of a loved one, our focus needs to remain primarily in the room itself, experiencing the depth of this change that has come to our life. But as time passes, we might find ourselves turning more often toward the light slipping through the shades.
I have now experienced the loss of four special animals. My godmother and aunt. A friend. And most profoundly of all, my mother. Each is represented against the inky screen at the edge of my universe, and each in her own way, provides an opening to what lies beyond.
When we are deeply bonded to another, our connection doesn’t evaporate when a body is discarded, or when that soul breaks through the barrier to elsewhere. Yet all relationships naturally seek transformation over time.
For example, one of the many ways my relationship with my mother has evolved since her death is that the filament that joins us, while remaining uniquely personal, seems to have broadened, too. It feels as though, through my enduring connection to her, I move closer to that Essence that lies beyond all things, while also opening to it more thoroughly.
Grieving is hard, and it is not wise to attempt to bypass the full range of electrifying emotions it engenders. The holes fashioned to the contours of our loved ones will rightly command much of our attention, particularly in those first months or years following their deaths.
But increasingly, our eye might be drawn to the radiance shining through these familiar openings. And in such moments, we may find ourselves rising up, arms outstretched, to welcome the Light that streams our way.
May you each bask in the beams shining through the familiar holes in your own universe.
For an essay written in honor of another canine companion, see Her Name Was Arrow.