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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Meeting Mary at the Cross

Today I went to Mass, and I was FINE. I wasn't sad, Fire is doing better, and I have gotten fairly well adjusted to his probable diagnosis. It's of course at the forefront of my mind, especially with our vet appointment tomorrow afternoon at which he will likely confirm the diagnosis and discuss either further testing or treatment/ no treatment options. I'm comfortable with that. This discussion needs to happen and I need to be able to do it without being emotional.

Yesterday I told one of our priests about the cancer, but I was doing ok with it, and I know he's not a pet person at all, so really, I shouldn't have said anything. He cracked a few jokes, I didn't say much; he reacted as I would expect him to react, but wished he had not. I can forgive him for being himself, and really, I just figured that this bit of news should just have been kept for other dog lovers, no matter how devastating it is to me. It's not within the role of priest to deal with dog cancer. Father made some kind of a comment that I should not expect him to say a homily about this topic (meaning the dog, end of life issues for dogs, animals in heaven, etc.) He said it in jest, so I don't want to read any comments about "insensitivity" or anything else. I even went along with the joke; it's easier sometimes to let a little humor in, besides, seeing the "funny" side kept me from crying.

Well, I really wish he had warned me. He was the celebrant at the Mass I attended this morning, and his homily was about responding to people who may reveal they have cancer or some other disease, especially if the diagnosis is terminal. Of course, the context of the homily was in direct relation to the gospel and he quoted it several times, but the "damage" was done. All he had to do was mention "terminal cancer" and it was all over for me. I couldn't stop crying. For the rest of Mass, there I was, praying I had enough Kleenex because the tears would not stop. And I was THRILLED to be sitting by myself. There was literally no one else in my pew, save a friend at the far end, and I wished she wasn’t there because she would definitely notice I was crying. (I don't like to be emotional in public.) And thankfully, my immediate area was also sparsely populated.

Just when I thought I had ahold of myself, and was apologizing to God for "losing it" during Mass, completely losing my focus, that little interior voice that is so often God speaking said to me,

"Don't you think this is the place to be when you're grieving?"

For the last day, an idea has been creeping into my head; Mary lost a son. She watched him suffer. She watched him die; she understands grief like no one else on earth. Every time I try to push this thought out of my head, it comes back persistently.
I push it away again. No! He is a DOG! He is not a human! He is not my son! This does NOT compare to Mary's grief and the suffering of Jesus.

And then it comes back harder. "But it IS similar. Yes, he's a dog, but YOU will have to watch him suffer...and then decide when he dies."

I was reminded then that I was not alone in my pew, that I was completely surrounded by the heavenly participants at Mass, and that God knew it was not my intention to be distracted. In fact, his own Mother was right beside me because, even if Fire is only a dog, it is human to love, and death is unnatural; the only rational response to even the idea of death, is grief. The only rational thing for me to do is cry, right there in God's presence because He is the only one who can provide comfort.

I did my best to maintain any composure I could, but the truth slapped me hard today, and it needed to happen. I will have to watch my pet deteriorate. Osteosarcoma is a VERY painful cancer, and I will have to be vigilant; he will be ok sometimes, and in major pain at others. Concessions will have to be made for him in these last weeks or months that he has, depending on how the disease progresses. There won't be anything I can do, other than to watch and respond when I can, and when the time comes, only I can make that call. Only I can say goodbye and some people won't ever understand why this is so painful to do, but God does, for he never intended death.

Every time I wanted to push the thought away, that this isn't real suffering, that this isn't the same as the grief Mary experienced, the thought came back. And finally, God said to me, "Don't you think I can use a dog to teach you about the suffering of my Passion? Don't you think you will understand more clearly what it means to kneel at the foot of the cross beside my Mother if you are watching a creature you love suffer as well? Do you dare to think even a dog's life and death is irrelevant to my plan for YOU?"

And that little voice was right; God can use anything to teach us what He wants us to learn. It will not always be apparent, but when he is that persistent, it's time to listen, learn, and be open to God's grace. There is no such thing as love without suffering, and Jesus has asked us all to suffer with him, to join our sufferings to His, so that none may be in vain.

This morning, after Mass I left through a side door so that I wouldn't have to talk to anyone, anyone other than God. I really wish Father had warned me about his homily, but it may not have made a difference. God wanted to speak to me today, and he used Father's words to do it, in order to open the door for a deeper, more intimate conversation.

There is no such thing as useless suffering; it is different for all of us, but God draws very near to those who suffer. He helps us to embrace the crosses we are given so as to unite ourselves to Jesus in a meaningful way. I never expected that the idea of losing a pet could open me so up to experiencing God's love and presence, but there it is.

A pet is not a child, but for those of us who love animals, whether married or not, whether there are children in the household or not, the loss of a pet is ALWAYS devastating for that pet is literally a “member of the family.” Thus, facing the loss of an animal companion is heartrending, and those of us who are single do not have the rest of the family around to help us through this process. Most of us have lost pets; but this is the first time I have had to face doing so alone, being the sole person charged with making “that decision”, when the time comes. It is an awesome responsibility, for life in all forms has value, and I’ll even admit the life of a spider (a creature I fear and loathe) has value in God’s eyes. He gives us stewardship over the creatures of the earth, both wild and domestic. I realize that here in America we have an inordinate attachment to our domestic creatures, but unless the attachment is out of proportion to properly placed love for human beings, I can’t see this as being outside God’s will. He comes to us where we are, and he uses those very gifts he gives to us, even pets, in order to bring us closer to Him. In speaking only for myself, I am a better person because I have dogs; they must take a certain precedence in my life for they must be fed, they must be taken out, and when they are sick and it is warranted, they must go to the vet. When I come home from work, what I “feel like” doing must take a back seat to the needs of the creatures under my care. Yes, it is sometimes a chore, and makes some things in my life more difficult, but overall, the pets have been beneficial to my own spiritual life, forcing me to continually be disciplined in certain matters, and in fact, has forced me to face certain uncomplimentary traits about myself which were in need of attention.

So facing the loss of this pet, which, unexpectedly, is actually an unwitting conduit of communication and grace from God, has caused me to experience real grief. God gave me this gift; I must be prepared to let the gift go. Perhaps the lesson has been learned, or perhaps this lesson has only been for another test which has yet to come.

God calls us all to kneel at the foot of the cross and take Mary as our own mother, and he does this in different ways at different times of our lives. God called me today to recognize my own suffering and grief, and placed me in a position to offer it at Holy Mass. All I could do was offer tears because I did not have the ability to form words or other intentions, and somehow, I got the sense that my offering was accepted. Sometimes tears convey far more than mere words, and God will NEVER misunderstand our message or our intention.


Warren said...

Well yes, it's different than losing a son. Much different.

When you live alone, and you don't have any kids, your pets take on some of the emotional role that your children would take on.

Women were made by God, to care for those in their family. A single woman will naturally go a little over-board on the pet thing, because it's a GOOD part of who God made her to be.

Nothing wrong with feeling deeply the grief, worry, and care, and eventually, the deep sense of loss, when he's gone.

Nothing is quite like Mary and Jesus, not even if I were to lose my own son. But all grief is similar, and so they are comparable experiences, just not identical.


Odysseus said...

Priests are always stealing my confessional material to make homilies. It tics me off, but my lawyer says I can't sue over copyrights.

On a more serious note, I had a dog for fifteen years, from age 5 to 20, so I know what you are going through. Even if he is not a person, it is (and should be) painful to watch any living creature suffer. If you weren't emotional about you'd be a sociopath.

You and your dog are in my prayers.

Melody K said...

I think you are right that God uses pets to teach us lessons that He wants us to learn; especially about trust and unconditional love.
And you are definitely right that there is no such thing as love without suffering. Of course our pets become part of the family, whether we are single or married with children. Those who aren't "pet people" don't always understand. When we were dealing with end-of-life issues with our 16 year old cat, a coworker told me he had a 2 cent solution to all problems with cats. Of course he was referring to a 22 slug. Not funny and not helpful.
I especially liked your comment that sometimes all we can offer God are our tears. I'll have to remember that.

Hidden One said...

I have a confession to make:

A few years ago, I got my first pets. Tropical fish. We started with 6 X-ray tetras, 6 tetras of a variety I forget the name (but not look) of, 2 female swords, and a male sword. He was beautiful - massive beautiful fins, multipel colours and shades... I name him Comet, and he was mine.

A week later, we came home from a family get together, and he was dead. I've had between 30 and 50 fish in total in my life now, but Comet is the one I treasure(d) most. I cried for him, sobbing uncontrollably.

Since then, I've had many fish that 'excelled' in ways he did not. I've had fish supposed to live for a year last 3, I've had beautiful guppies, I've bred those beautiful guppies, I've had bigger fish, smaller fish, smaller fins and bigger fins (a red male beta), mroe colours and fewer colours, but no Comet. I've had smarter fish, including two catfish who independently learned to swim upside down on the top of the tank and eat the flake food there, and dumber fish, (such as the beta) who I befuddled with mirrors.

But no Comet. I have roughly half a dozen fish in my tank right now, so you can do the math and figure out how many have died. One of the ones in there now ate the last half dozen we put in there. (Beware adult tetras.)

So, what's my confession? Because of Comet's loss, because of the seeming futility of buying fish only to have more than a third of them not survive the first 24 hours in my tank, I have never pursued getting any other pet. I never wanted a dog - my second confession is that I have an almost phobic fear of any non-poodle taller than my knee - but I am quite a cat person. Still, I will probably never get one. I've fallen in love with pet ferrets and mice and even rats, but no, none for me.

You see, I am, if you haven't guessed it, inherently afraid of the loss, of the pain, that is the end of life. I am too scared to love an animal I may well outlive by 30 or 40 years.

As I sit here reading of your greyhound, I sit here thinking about a fish. He cost probably less than $4 Canadian, he was perhaps 2 inches long, I've had plenty more, and I only knew him for a week. It is a paltry comparison, and so I cannot claim to know your pain, Adoro - not on that scale. All I can claim to do is pray, and trust my Lord and my oft-failing memory that I will pray more often than I visit this blog.

This is my confession; this is why I pray.

Sincerely in Christ,
Hidden One.

Anonymous said...

Will pray for you...God bless

Cathy said...

Oh, man.
You are SO RIGHT that God can use anything to teach us about the Passion. For anyone to mock a person's emotions is for that person to place limits on God's ingenuity and teaching tools.
I am so sorry for you, and I appreciate your post.
Our pets are our friends, our buddies, our companions.
Their loss is REAL and it hurts.
God bless.

Anonymous said...

Love, why does it always call for sacrifice?--it hurts, it's ok to cry, especially in church. Having had a few heartaches myself, one is tempted to not want to love, because it seems to lead to pain. But, now, try to find the Joy in the pain--it's there--because you are not alone--He is always with you--embrace and feel the pain, because it means you have loved.

Rae said...

I lost a dear little dog to kidney disease this past Christmas... How I grieved! And I still dream of her, sometimes--of that dog, in particular--even though my husband and I have since adopted another.

While I think that you are very sweet and charitable to excuse your priest's inability to relate, I hope that you won't internalize his belittling of your grief! Yes, yes, it's real... and yes, it has meaning.

Scripture tells us that we must be like "little children"; and I'll extend this to say that we should be like "little dogs," too--obeying when we don't understand; trusting that baths and trips to the vet are all somehow for the best; realizing that, while sometimes our master disappears from view for a few hours, he always does return... Our pets can teach us much about holiness! They, too, are sources of grace.

God bless you.

Adoro said...

rae ~ I'm so sorry about your dog! And I know what you mean about dreaming of her; we had a little dog when I was a kid and she died when I was in college. I continued to dream about her occasionally for YEARS, although the dreams mostly stopped when I finally adopted another dog.

Pets do indeed teach us about holiness...I'v considered the same thing myself, how I wish I could be as devoted and obedient to God as my dogs are to me. Well, most of the time, anyway. LOL!

Anonymous said...

May God Bless you, Adoro. I have just lost my own beloved dog, less than a week ago. She was 15, and went from a dog, to an old dog, over the space of little more than a month. I was in tears at Mass this morning, and wondered if I was wrong to grieve so profoundly for a dog, for Heaven's sake.

I know that it was time for her to go(she was suffering)--my suffering is more about me--I miss her so! But, she belongs to God, and not to me, in the final analysis. Thank you, Lord, for entrusting this animal to my care for these years.

You have my sympathies, Adoro. God be with you.