We had to say goodbye to our beloved dog Hudson last week. Only barely 8 years old, he had been diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma–in other words cancer. My dad died of intestinal cancer years ago–what are the odds of my dog dying of the same thing?
At any rate, I have spent the last number of days crying off and on. It is a sadness that works itself within and out of my body–sometimes an ache, sometimes in the form of tears, sometimes as physical exhaustion. I mentioned to someone the other day that I often underline sad quotations in books, although I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve done it for years. Maybe it’s for times like these so that I can pull them from my memory or bookshelf, re-visit them and allow myself to grieve.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk –John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
This is the first line that popped into my head when we learned of Hudson’s diagnosis and it’s been my inner refrain ever since. In fairly economical prose, Keats has managed to evoke all the sadness and heartache in the world. I first read this poem in Junior High School and whereas the poem itself hasn’t had much of an impact on me, the first two lines are some of the finest. Continuing with poetry, I re-read some e.e. cummings. I’ve long been a fan of cummings and finding words of comfort within the beauty of his words is easy:
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals/the power of your intense fragility:whose texture/compels me with the colour of its countries,/rendering death and forever with each breathing–e.e. cummings, somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
I read Elizabeth Smart’s poetic novella, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, when I was in University. It’s a pity, really that some writers remain uncelebrated when their writing is so remarkable. This is how I feel about this book. The very last line of the novel is one that I have often revisited after a loved one has died. It is so simple, and yet so eloquent:
My dear, my darling, do you hear me where you sleep?
I’ve been crying a lot. A lot. Sometimes I wonder how my body can even produce the vast quantities of tears that I’ve been shedding. My favourite quote on crying, which helps remind me that it’s okay to feel sad and that it’s okay to cry is from August Strindberg’s A Dream Play:
“Why do people cry when they’re sad?” I continued . . . “Well,” he said, “because sometimes you have to wash the windows of your eyes to see more clearly!”
I guess I should be seeing things pretty clearly right about now. Finally, the quote that I go to time and time again because I feel as though it gives me permission to grieve is from Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body:
“You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?”
I should mention that all of these writers are wonderful, not just in times of death, but at any time. Their words have brought me some small semblance of comfort during these difficult days. I miss Hudson more than I ever could have imagined. He was the best dog we ever could have hoped for. A gentle soul. May he rest in peace. We love you Hudson.
Cummings, E.E. (1994) Selected Poems. New York: Liveright.
Keats, J. (1994) The Complete Poems of John Keats. New York: Modern Library.
Smart, E. (1991) By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. London: Flamingo. (Original Work published 1945)
Strindberg, A., & Carlson, H.G. (1983) Strindberg: Five Plays. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Winterson, J. (1994) Written on the Body. New York: Vintage Books.
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