Monday, October 19, 2009

Not Alone

The morning my grandmother passed away last week I spent some time on the phone speaking with my cousin Cookie, who I have not spoken with in several years. Cook, like the rest of us, is suffering the grief of losing our grandmother, but she is also struggling with the additional nightmare of having recently lost her home (the house my grandfather built) in a fire. She is a brave soul, though, strong and smart, and although it's not immediately apparent how she will manage, I know she will. Her faith alone will carry her through and beyond.

She was grief-stricken, sobbing and frightened and completely exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to race home to Idaho and help her family in any way I could but all I had to offer were my words and my good thoughts carried on the wings of imagined butterflies in her direction. I was still numb from the news my father had delivered only an hour earlier but Cookie was expressing everything she felt that cold Sunday morning.

"I'm so glad you're not alone," she said as she finally began to compose herself. "I'm happy Ken is there for you." We had never discussed my thirteen year relationship with Ken and this was her way of telling me she loved me no matter what, that she understood.

"Oh, Cook, I'm sorry," I told her. "Ken and I separated last February. But don't worry, " I offered after a momentary silence. "I'll be okay."

There was a longer silence and then her grief broke through again. "Then..." she cried, her words coming in big, heaving gulps. "You. Are. Utterly. Alone. There."

I hadn't felt alone until she'd said it and then suddenly there it was, an enormous gulf between me and the rest of the world. There was no one to rush to and throw my arms around, no one who knew my grandmother and could cry with me, no one who understood what a unique and special voice had finally fallen silent.

The rest of the week was extremely difficult, not only because I was grieving but because I came down with the flu and spent much of my time in bed, Duncan and the cats curled around me while I shivered in my sleep. My sister traveled to Fargo to be with my dad, sharing stories and reminiscing, consoling one another. I stayed home and felt sorry for myself, resenting my flu and the anxiety which kept me grounded and unable to travel. And I felt truly, "utterly" lonely, still too numb to cry much, too sick to care.

And then tonight Duncan and I strolled through the park. The soccer kids and their wretched parents were wrapping things up. Duncan had pulled an enormous branch off of the big willow and was happily prancing through the leaves and across the field with it clutched firmly between his jaws. I chased after him and finally settled down next to him while he chewed and gnawed. His face was rapturous, eyes closed as his teeth slid up and down the thick pole, peeling the thin, papery bark away before plunging into the depth of the green and golden wood. He rested one paw on my hand as I laid on my belly next to him. The sun had drifted behind the mountains and while the sky was bluish white the clouds caught the last of its beams and exploded in pink and purple above us.

I don't know how long I slept. It couldn't have been long because Duncan hadn't turned away and his paw was still curled around the back of my hand. The park was nearly empty, though, and the color in the clouds had melted. The sky had darkened just enough that a few stars had begun to peek out. The grass beneath me was warm and even the air had yet to cool. I did not want to lead Duncan back across the street to our small apartment, did not want to stand in the kitchen while I ate alone. I did not want to curl up in my bed tonight with no one there whose arms could fold around me, someone who could kiss the top of my head while I slept. I only wanted to roll over, lay on my back with my good dog's paw resting in mine and watch the stars, remember my grandmother and her laugh, her refusal to smile, the smell of her mint gum.

Duncan rolled toward me, spooned up against me and licked the top of my head. He smiled into my face, that big, hearty warm smile of his. The world may be a lot less friendly without a grandmother there to love, but it is certainly not empty.


I am not alone. And I am very much loved. Thank Dog!

14 comments:

Miguel said...

When I read your cousins comment about you being alone, I thought, "no, he's not, Dunc is there..."

At times like this humans can be awkward and stumble, not knowing the right thing to do or say, but canines seem to always manage to do the right thing.

Nik said...

Ditto. What Miguel said.

caboval said...

Curt, you amaze me. I felt the same way when I lost my parents and Im pretty much estranged from my brother. BUT I do have the love of my 2 goldens! Thank goodness, for that and for Duncan. I just love reading about Duncan and how much he loves you! Its so neat how he "kissed" you on the head! Give him a scritch from us! And Hugs for you dear friend! Valerie Joey and Kealani

Ashley, The Accidental Olympian said...

I had the same experience this weekend. After losing a family member to a murder 4 years ago, I have never felt entirely safe being in my home alone after dark. For the last 4 years I have been filled with a worried panic if I was home alone in the darkness... until this weekend.

Although the anxiety crept over me each and every night, for the first time it was my dog Oly who calmed my fears instead of medication or booze.

I too realized that one is never truly alone if there is a canine curled up beside them.

So sorry for your loss.

Lori said...

Look at that FACE! Dogs do help, and ask for nothing... though I understand the grieving process is about giving comfort as well as receiving it. Yesterday, I felt lousy and went in to lie on the bed. Darwin joined me, of course. He snuggled up with his head tucked under my chin, then later shifted and laid his chin on my cheek, his breath softly puffing by my ear. I could've stayed there all day.

Ruby's Mum said...

Yes. No words of support can match the comfort received from your dog when you're grieving.

Scout 'n Freyja said...

That's it in a nutshell - we a not alone and will never be alone. In fact, I have felt alone, absolutely abandoned, in a room full of human beings but NEVER in a room full of dogs and cats.

Greg said...

Tears. Of course you aren't alone, omigosh, that sweet boy's face.. Cats are pretty instinctive and comforting, too. I bet you've been nearly smothered by that bunch.

Still, I'm sorry I can only send thoughts of a warm comforting embrace to you during your sadness.

Sam said...

One is never alone as long as Dog is there - regardless of size, shape or breed, Dog's loyaltly is great and his heart is big...

I'm sorry to hear of your loss and your illness. I hope you had a speedy recovery and memories to last a lifetime.

Sam and family

Ben said...

Duncan,
Snuggle up close to your Poppa, he needs ya.
Life is Better on 3 Legs than 4,
Ben

Farley's Mom said...

We are sorry for your loss, and thankful you have Duncan. There is nothing that compares to the comfort of a loyal and genuine friend...

KBL 2 ORD 2 SAN 2 LUV said...

You are so eloquent in how you describe what Duncan means to you. Perfectly written, as always. I've never, ever felt alone with my pups. Funny, because there are times I feel alone in an arena full of folks.

I'm sorry about the passing of your grandmother, and I'm grateful for the love of your Duncan in your life. Many kisses from me to your sweet pal.

Curt Rogers said...

Thank you all for your kind words and comments. They bring me tremendous comfort and mean the world to me and my family.

Max Mom said...

You have been through so much, dear friend. What an amazing pillar of strength Duncan has been ...and continues to be. Please know that you are never alone.... there are many of your special cyber-buddies who will look out for you...
Lotsaluv
MM in SA