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It feels like going home.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Don't try to replace our old dog, he said.  Just sit with the sadness, he said.  Remember?

But then spring came.  Everywhere we went people were walking their pets, and he remembered how much fun our old pup was, back when he was healthy.  He softened, and began watching rescue sites and animal shelters' "I'm adoptable!" pages. Until, on Friday, he said, "I think I found the right dog for us."

He was right.  The dog was a perfect fit for our family.  But when we went back to introduce the kids and fill out paperwork, something unexpected happened.

Our little boys grieved.

They'd said good-bye to our old dog before he died, they'd sat and cried with us after he was gone.  Still, the idea of a new pet brought a fresh wave of sadness I did not see coming.  One son insisted we name the new dog after our old one.  The other grew edgy and uncertain, springing quick tears all weekend.  Were they not ready?  Or was their sadness inevitable?

I'm still not sure.  But we decided to proceed, and keep our boys close.  We hugged them, remembered our beloved old pet out loud together.  We thanked God for the chance to know our old dog, reminded the boys they will love our new dog, too.  They helped us brush and name him, they fed him treats and rubbed his ears all day.  Still, it was a tender day, full of the holy stillness that accompanies death and new life in equal measure.

After bedtime, one of my sons came out of his room, eyes full and small voice quivering. "I just can't stop thinking about him."  He sat on the couch, leaning against me, and together we watched our new dog sleep.  "I miss him too," I replied.  "But you know what?  He's better now.  He's not sick anymore."  My little boy's eyes ran over.  "What's it like there?"  He means Heaven, and now I'm crying too.  Because his question is everyone's question, and his need is as real at seven as it will be at seventeen and forty seven.  I cry because he sounds so much like his dad.

"Tell me again why you still go," my husband asked earlier that morning.  He means faith, not a specific place.  "Tell me how you can engage with this stuff and not be angry."  He gestures toward the computer screen, where he has been reading comments to me from a popular blog.  They are vitriolic and stubborn, setting our teeth on edge.  I mention liturgy and vulnerability and love, and we think out loud about how different we are, how two people can process the same event in such different ways.  The conversation ends when he says, "I guess I'm looking for a culture of peace.  And I can't find it there."

"What's it like there?" and "Tell me why you still believe" ... they are the same question, really.  We long for eternity, all of us.  For a space and time when all is made right again, when there is no gap between how things are and how they should be.  But in the meantime, we live here.  Where our best dog gets sick and dies, where we're left to deal with the aftermath of destruction.  And our hearts long for more.  For Communion and Love and the moment when all shall, finally, be well.

I focus back on my little boy, steady my voice, and answer him as honestly as I know how.  "I don't know what it's like for sure," I say.  "But I know it's good.  It will feel like going home."

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