I reached a new Life Without River mile marker.
It was a weekend where I did not have to leave my apartment if I did not want to leave my apartment, not even to walk my own dog. Because he no longer exists in that form. There is no fluffy, soft-eyed, gentle dog reminding me of the passage of time and of my responsibility to explore the neighborhood with him.
Without River, I woke up slowly and luxuriated in my bed with my purring Daphne cat not rushing me to serve breakfast since she still had food in her bowl left over from dinner. No dog was cleaning her plate if I did not pick it up quickly enough. I did not immediately get bundled up to take my 20 minutes of fresh air with River. I could amble to the kitchen when my stomach started to grumble and lounge on the couch for the next several hours as I read my book.
Reading had been more than an interest, it had been a solace for me growing up. People are always giving the advice of returning to what lit you up as a child and bring that child-like open and optimistic energy to your daily adult life. “Remember how you would run just because and how good it felt!” they say. But I only ever ran when forced to for gym class and was always fighting off an asthma attack. Nor was I a particularly optimistic child from what I remember, so it’s difficult to pull from that experience. But one thing that did bring me comfort was animals and reading. I could pet the cat while I escaped my present life to travel to a different plane of existence, leaving all my concerns or awareness of time as I dove into my latest book.
So lost in my book was I that Saturday that I had a sudden panic arrive as I checked the clock – “River! When was the last time he was out?”
The present moment struck me like a blade to my chest. He hadn’t been out in months. Still in that box on my shelf surrounded by rose petals he was.
I no longer have a dog to take out for a walk.
I struggled all weekend with this guilt at indulging in what I had been dreaming of for years, a completely uninterrupted few days to simply read. Previously I had dreamed up vacations, but finding those difficult to access, I could make believe I was away in a cute cottage somewhere sitting by a fire with the help of scented candles and thematic instrumental music. And even in those dream vacations, I would come home to both River and Daphne.
I accused myself of being glad River was gone, going so far as to accuse myself of killing him off on purpose. Because why else would I – how could I possibly be enjoying this time to myself while he’s dead, if I wasn’t a complete cold-hearted, selfish bitch?!
How indeed does anyone who has lost a soul close to them go on to enjoy things again and really lose themselves in a lovely moment? Forgetfulness? Compartmentalization? Practice?
I know grief is an incredibly personal experience. And at the same time, a universal one that none of us will get out of here without having experienced at least once.
Practice and self-compassion seem to be the answers in all my moments of rumination, meditation, and reading on the subject. This grief may never fully go away. But I’m supposed to get stronger and better at carrying it along with the joy of my present life and the hope for the future. Some days are much easier than others.
Diving into books has once again risen as an escape for me… unless they’re about grief. It’s still socially accepted, even strongly praised to read more books; a healthier coping mechanism say than drinking myself into a stupor every day before noon, but a coping mechanism nonetheless. One I am perhaps overusing at this time. I know this. And I know I need this too.
Patience and self-compassion.
I am still getting to know my life here at home without my gorgeous soulmate dog. We were together for 9 years. He has been gone only 3 months.
Just taking it day by day.