A Honey-coloured grief at Christmas

Honey Hartland 2005-2012
Honey Hartland 2005-2012

Those who know us well, or follow my ramblings on Twitter, will know that the last couple of weeks have been strained by the fact that we had our wonderfully chaotic, demanding, some-what psycho, seven year old terrier dog ‘Honey’ put down on 14th December.

The logistics of life are easier. We don’t have to come home after five hours out, or make time to go for a cold, wet walk. Day trips to college and quiet days will be simplified. Friends won’t be pestered for ‘tiddling’ duties, and might be invited to dinner more frequently. Even dreams of a summer holiday are simplified. Replacing her isn’t an option to be entertained by any logical look at what the next few years is likely to bring (specifically any future curacy that isn’t in the community we live in).

But, I am finding it tough, very tough, to come home to an empty house; not to have a crazy hound barking herself daft every time we laugh at a joke, have a visitor, or turn the TV or computer off; not to have a warm, furry heap of Honey on my knee when I say Morning Prayer, or a digging maniac on the bed with my cuppa of a morning. There’s nothing jumping up to demand I throw a stick/stone/ball across the room/garden/fields. I’m not being dragged out into the winter rain and fog to catch glimpses of leaping Roe Deer or stealthy foxes. I can’t even cope with standing in the garden gazing at the stars with my husband last thing at night – not that there’s much chance of that with weather that seems to cry with me!

In recent months I’d actually prayed about the fact that I thought I should be able to empathise with people’s turmoil and grieving more, because looking back at past bereavements, even losing my Mother 17 years ago, though stressful and upsetting, didn’t ‘break me’ emotionally very much. I should know by now to be careful what I pray for, because losing Honey has left me hurting more than I ever imagined.

A wise friend said to me that this is because like a little child, a pet is totally dependent on us – for food, warmth, exercise, affection etc. They are there in your life, heart and mind, 24/7; even if you leave them for a few hours, you must return, simply to meet their basic needs. I have yet to learn to live comfortably without that requirement to always be thinking about Honey’s next need.

And yet, despite the gaping hole, I have struggled to make room for that other child, also no stranger to mucky mayhem, to pain and grief. The have been three small snatches of connection with the Christ-child this Christmas, but they’ve been will-o’-the-wisp moments that I need to recapture as I struggle to pick up the threads of what I’m meant to be focusing my life upon. A vicious and lingering virus may not be helping, but what I know I need is to re-gain the zest for life that Honey had and make the most of every moment God gives me, just as she did, because she was just as much part of his creation, as I am.