Though all we may see is chaos, for myself, I choose to believe that through some miracle the universe remains in balance. If we clear the smoke and ruin we can still find the beauty and joy. It seems the cruelest of realities that with great joy and happiness must also come great sorrow and despair. We are the fulcrum, the point at which the balance is achieved. In our right hand we hold all that is precious and dear, and in our left we hold the pain and madness that awaits when the balance is tipped. Throughout our lives we tread this knife edge.
Yesterday, as the sun was sinking low and the day was ending, that which brought us such great happiness and joy came to the inevitable end that all things on earth must eventually meet. The balance was tipped, and we were plunged from light into darkness. In our hearts we know that it will pass, the sun will rise and chase the darkness until the scale is tipped again. It is the pattern of our world, and our lives, but right now there is emptiness and despair where once there was hope and light.
Somedays we have to pull ourselves back along the knife edge, claw our way back to the point where there is balance. It is a hard fought battle, if we slip or let go for even a moment the emptiness can consume us. Right now I slide along that knife edge. Behind me I drag the joy and happiness that I know I must never let go of, above me darkness and despair stomps on my fingers as I reach to pull myself up. The cruel blade cuts me deeply. Knowing that each soul here on earth has been through exactly what I am going through does not make the task any easier. It makes my heart bleed to know that the race of men is burdened with such a cruel fate.
We have all loved and lost, each in our own way, some more than others. I feel old now. I have buried my parents, a burden I thought I could not bear. I have buried a child, a stabbing pain in my heart I will take to the grave. I have buried a pet before, but never one I have loved such as this. When my world turned black and the darkness had consumed me she was there, my light, my hope, something beyond myself that gave me reason to go on. Now she is gone, and I struggle to find that reason, but I know I must.
The dawn has come. My eyes are crusted with the salt of tears shed in the darkness. My heart feels heavy as melted lead. I realize this was reality and not some cruel dream, some cruel trick of the darkness. Despair wells up in me once again and I try to choke it down like some bitter pill. I look out on the pond. It is shrouded in mist, as is my mind. The sun rises above the horizon, bright and beautiful, and begins to burn through the mist. The memory of a morning like this comes to mind. A memory of my Emma, on the dock with me, watching the sun rise above a mist-shrouded pond. A smile comes to the corner of my mouth, as a bitter tear falls. It is balance.
The sun has risen now, the fog has burned away revealing the day in all her glory, but in my mind the darkness lingers. I do not know how to go on without her. When I buried my son she was there, bright and cheerful, and ready to love me no matter what. While I cared for my mother, long hours and days of not knowing what was next, she was there beside me, a warm fuzzball. I do not know how I became so fortunate to become such great friends with her.
I do not know how it came about that when I needed it most I was able to walk away from the working world. I had done thirty plus years, I raised my children, I cared for my father in his long illness, I helped my mother all I could. First Judy came to me, then Emma came to Judy. She was always Judy's dog, the bonds of love made them inseparable, but when I came home and didn't need to work anymore we became the greatest of friends. She would go everywhere with me, and I began to understand what it was that she and Judy shared.
I began again to find the love that I had hidden so deeply away. She was there for me in the moments of despair while I watched my mother whither like the flowers when their season has passed. She loved me unconditionally, and she taught me that this is how love must be. I loved my mom and my dad, I loved a woman or two, I loved my children, but this was deeper, purer, it was love unconditional, love that I had never understood to this point in my life, and she was there to teach it to me, though I was not worthy.
Though I had been through much in this world, there was much I had not yet learned until this little dog taught these things to me. She taught me that each day is an adventure, to be lived to its fullest. To take everything in stride, and accept gladly what each day brings. To love unconditionally those who are in our lives, to love them as though they may be gone in an instant and we may never have the chance again. To love this world and to love my life just the way that she did.
In the last few weeks we knew that things were changing. She was not herself. A trip to the vet revealed that she had a heart murmur, and she was put on medication. The vet assured us it was not unusual, and that her arthritis was more of a health issue than her minor heart murmur. We took things easy with her, and we hoped that with the medication she would respond. In our hope I now realize there were signs we should have seen. A walk in the mountains with family did not go well for her, maybe she was just adjusting to the medication. We waited, she seemed steady, not better, not worse.
The strength we had always seen in her was there, though it was now overcast with a shadow. I knew in my heart the time was drawing near. In desperate hope we took her to the mountains again, inwardly praying that this was the right thing to do. Yesterday morning she hopped out of the car and bounded along the trail, an old dog, but a happy dog, glad to be on the trail with her favorite people and her brother Blue. We came to the low summit of Piper Mountain in the Belknaps. There were people and lots of dogs. She was her usual self in the mountains, eating kibble like she had never eaten before, or never would again.
We headed off to the higher peak of Belknap. On the less crowded summit she shared more food with her brother Blue, everything seemed fine. We headed on towards Gunstock where we would skip the summit and head down the White Trail to where our car was. As we headed up from the col it was apparent that Emma was getting tired, but still willing to move as long as we were with her. At the picnic tables below the summit we took the unmarked leg of the White Trail back down. Emma kept pace, but would occasionally stop to look around.
Back down at the road we climbed down the embankment and let the dogs cool off in the cold mountain stream, she seemed to relish this as she always had. We made the short walk up the road to the car and we all piled in. On the ride home she could not settle, it was the first time either of us had thought maybe we had asked too much, that maybe there was something wrong. When we got home she still could not settle, and we began to worry. Before long Judy decided it was time to take her to the emergency vet.
The vet immediately recognized that she was in congestive heart failure. Not much time passed and she was gone, we were too late. There was not enough time to save her. I understand enough about how things play out in this world to not stress about the what ifs, but it is always difficult to get by these. In retrospect we had seen it coming for awhile, but chose not to dwell on it, choosing rather to look the other way and letting things unfold as they were meant to. On the night she came to us we did not know she was coming, and on the night she left us we did not know she was leaving.
In between there were thirteen and a half wonderful years of companionship. How we will pick up the pieces and go on I do not yet know. Where in our lives we will store her memory is hard to say right now. She will always, always be a part of us. Her spirit led us where we would never have gone ourselves. There was no mountain too high, no trail too long for Emma. As long as we were all together, that was all that mattered. This we learned from her precious, gentle spirit, and will carry with us until the end of our days.
All her life Judy had wanted a dog, but in a small house with a large family it just couldn't be. When we were married Judy had a cat, and I had a dog, Sheba and Sky. In their old age they managed to work out a living arrangement, but as time passed they fell to the ravages of old age. With much love and care they passed on, hopefully to a better place where there is no sickness or pain. Soon after this Judy's father fell ill. Then, in a dream, Emma came to Judy. In the dream she held her father's hand as he walked across the floor. There he fell, but when she bent to help him he was gone, and in his place was a small, black dog. In reality her father had passed away.
A few weeks later we were at a place we had never been before. There on the floor of the Knights of Columbus in Lawrence, Massachusetts was a little black dog, barely old enough to be weaned, begging for food as though she hadn't eaten in a month. Nobody knew where she had come from, or where she belonged. She had found us, the dog that Judy could never have, a gift from her deceased father. She came home with us, and the rest is history.
So, from the dirty, dangerous streets of an old mill town, she found her way to the peaks of the highest mountains in New England. Not only did she hike them all and more, but many she hiked so many times we lost count. She hiked Mount Washington at least a dozen times, even taking the treacherous path up Huntington Ravine on two occasions. Of the forty eight four thousand footers in New Hampshire she hiked them all at least twice, some as many as nine times, and forty of them, including Washington and Jefferson, she hiked in winter, including Lafayette this past winter, her thirteenth.
There was no stopping her, except by that which eventually stops us all, time. Time ran out on her tiny little body, though her spirit is as big as any who ever tread this earth. On the trails, in the middle of nowhere, complete strangers would come up and ask us, "Is that Emma?!" Through pictures of her on the internet hiking forums a world of friends and fans had taken shape, and she had become a small legend among the hikers and mountain lovers of New England. Hopefully her memory will live on among the White Hills where she was quite at home.
When our pets and loved ones take the road that we cannot yet follow we often try to comfort ourselves with thoughts like, "The joy of our times together will always live on in our hearts", but right now our hearts are so empty that I don't know if the memories will ever fill the void. It will be long before we can comfort ourselves with these thoughts. When we reach for a loved one that is no longer there and the emptiness wells up inside us, I do not promise there will ever be comfort again. It has always been said that, "Time heals all wounds", but right now it is hard to believe.
So, our little girl is gone. You may say, "Do not mourn her passing, think of the wonderful life you had together!" but the emptiness in our hearts is overwhelming right now. I do not know if we will ever fully recover from this cruel blow, inevitable as it may have seemed. If there is a way to prepare yourself for letting go of the things you deeply love, I surely do not know it. Last night in the darkness Judy lit three candles. Fittingly, the one in the middle flickered out first.