There’s a hole in my heart where whole used to be. Those were the first words that came to mind when I sat down today to write this piece about grief, the power it spews into one’s life whether we want it or not. The great Emily Dickinson wrote so many passages about death, yet one resonates over and over, “Forever is composed of nows.” It certainly is. Are you loving someone today? Missing someone today? Wanting something today? Right now, you hold the forever that is the feeling. Right now.
And today, now, my forever is grief.
It’s an odd thing grief. We fear it, dismiss it, try and avoid it, occasionally have brushes with it, and most often times without warning, it invites itself into our lives. No welcome mat but it comes nonetheless. Good ole Emily said it best, “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me.” So when Lucy Maloney asked if she could have the honor of immortalizing my Brandy Noel in replica form with one of her miniatures, I hesitated.
Did I want to resurface those feelings? Would people think I was ‘weird’ for wanting to have this forever keepsake? Would this set me back to day one when I let my baby girl’s frail, disease-ravaged body free to soar and me left alone without her physical presence? None of that mattered, I deduced. This is a gift for me. Some of us visit cemetaries. Some light a candle in memory of, others we suffer in silence because, after all, ‘it’s just an animal.’ Nod your head if somewhere along life’s highway you’ve had that comment thwarted your way.
There’s no wrong way to grieve, my grief counselor told me. “You saw a grief counselor because your dog died?” Uh, okayyyyy. Yep, some people validate themselves and their ability to master the art of grieving by tossing eye rolls and handing out sneers like napkins at a cocktail party. <thumps hand to forehead> Oh wait, that’s right anger is a part of the process. Some wounds run deep.
So I sent a locket of hair to Lucy Maloney with some photographs of a life well lived and forever painfully missed. It costs two postage stamps to send grief these days. Not bad. I figured I would see something resembling my Brandy in microscope thimble-sized form come back to me where I’d keep it in a closet until the day came I could face her likeness without melting into a puddle of hurt.
What did arrive changed me. Me, who knows all about grief has mastered the art of suffering through it and while not kicking it’s choke hold on me, overcame and carries it with her like a shield of sorts. A wounded warrior. The mailman delivered hope. Hope costs a few more than 2 stamps by the way.
I called a family member to come open the box for me. Same as the day I had to let my baby go at the vet. Please don’t make me do this alone.
What surfaced was nothing short of a complete likeness of my Brandy Noel. Her fur intertwined with the process Lucy uses to make miracles come to life. She stands more than several inches high, she certainly isn’t thimble sized, but the gaze in her eyes, the ever so slight tilt of her head, the love in who she always shall be, those are the magical qualities in Lucy Maloney’s work that were brought to life. Many a tear fell that day and continue to do so. It’s my grief, after all.
“Are you going to sleep with it?” “Put it next to her ashes?” These are some things people asked me. Contrary to popular belief, no I’m not sitting home with an Ouija board summoning her spirit nor immortalizing her with a dedicatory wing of the house. But even if I were, am I not a fully functioning adult? Don’t I pay taxes and live and laugh, earn an income and rescue stray dogs? Don’t I have the right as a human being to hurt and deal as I see fit? What is wrong with this world to diminish the handling of one’s grief?
My Brandy is home in the closest sense I will ever have her until again we meet. Lucy Maloney is a maker of miracles and far above the craft her hands create. She is sort of a Clarence to George Bailey. Well, at least to me. For that, I am forever indebted.
As for my hurt, if you’ve loved and lost someone, you are walking that path with me. I view my grief as a suitcase. Some days it’s a cosmetics bag full and others it’s Samsonite gorilla sized. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a carousel in the airport waiting for the form my grief will take. Do I wait days or weeks before I tear up and ache so very much or is today a carry on kind of day where I just take it with me? In any event, I know my luggage always arrives and never gets lost. I’ve learned losing a loved one means gaining a new identity. Victim of grief, survivor of hurt, and eventually carrier of pain.
I was one of those people, by the way, who said “never again. I cannot get this close to an animal like this.” He sits at my feet daily and his name is Dexter, by the way. My never again. Thankfully I think with my heart and then ask my brain to double check my work. I could never not love this way again.
Will you like Lucy Maloney’s work should you choose to have her create magic for you? More than words could say yes. Celebrating the life of a dog with a forever full of nows, that’s the uniqueness of what Lucy does. “It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog that comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be a dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they.” Anonymous wrote that. I bet they’ve grieved a suitcase full, too.