Our daughter was the last of our three children to leave home after the Christmas holiday this past year. Saying goodbye to her was especially difficult because it happened to be the same day we also said goodbye to our beloved 13-year-old Labrador retriever, Dash. I’d thought I was well adjusted to being a first-time empty nester this year, but losing Dash left an unexpected hole in the house. Suddenly our home felt vacant and quiet without him in his usual spot.
For several days I was overcome with grief whenever I thought about Dash. A memory or a simple glance out the window to the grove where we’d buried him on our property brought on the tears.
The grief felt overwhelming. But I’ve experienced the effectiveness of prayer in addressing all kinds of circumstances, and I knew this was no different. I wanted to understand more clearly the nature of our dog’s life. I’ve learned in Christian Science that the real identity of everyone, and of all animals, is the spiritual creation and expression of God, everlasting Life. Because God is infinite, His creation must be, too. I had been affirming this spiritual fact shared in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy: “God is the Life, or intelligence, which forms and preserves the individuality and identity of animals as well as of men” (p. 550).
Then I received an email from a friend that included an article called “Pets and endless life,” from the Christian Science Sentinel (Tom Blair, Feb. 3, 2014). The author’s experience was very similar to mine, and I found comfort in the ideas he shared, including pointing to a spiritual definition of “burial” that’s given in the Glossary of Science and Health (see p. 582). Rather than thinking of burial as the disappearance of something we hold dear, the description points to the importance of submerging thought in divine Spirit, in the immortal and spiritual nature of life.
This gave me a specific way to handle each wave of sadness that made me feel as though I had forever lost something precious to me. Instead, I made an effort to immerse my thoughts in the true, spiritual, and therefore always present aspects of Dash’s identity. I thought about his energy for life, his exuberance, his sweet devotion to our family, and his ready acceptance of other dogs, people, and even the deer that regularly walked through our property. These were qualities that couldn’t be buried or lost.
As I continued praying to feel completely free from the grief, I thought of a soft white coat hanging in my closet. It was a beautiful coat, but I realized that its value wasn’t in just hanging there. Its usefulness and animation came from being worn. This helped me see that Dash’s outside package – which was also a soft, cuddly white coat – wasn’t the substance of his identity. It was his unique compilation of qualities that animated him and would be forever a part of his being as God’s creation.
As my thoughts shifted in this spiritual direction, I found the peace I had been seeking. From that point on, I felt uplifted each time I thought about Dash. I found I could look at photos of him and talk about him without feeling even a twinge of the former sadness. The grief simply vanished like fog in the sunshine.
As difficult as it is to lose something or someone close to us, grief doesn’t need to irreversibly grip us. As this statement I had been studying from the Bible that week assures us, “to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).