When I was a vicar, my dog died. Within days, two church members had family members die. The wife of one. The mother of another.
Feeling unable to cope I rationalised the situation. These people had lost a spouse, a parent. My grief was just over a dog. So I put my feelings to one side. I pushed the grief under. I kept professional and carried on.
It was a mistake.
Now, a friend has died and his family are in mourning. My aunty has died, and my cousin has no mother, my father no sister. But my dog has died and I am bereft. And I have learned that grief is not a competition. There's no need to compare griefs. And it's pointless trying to deny the power of what I am facing.
It won't go away.
I'm no longer the professional spiritual carer, there on 24 hour call for everyone. I think that's a pretty poor understanding of what a vicar is, anyway, though it's overwhelmingly common. But I remain a human being who does care about those around him. I don't come just now with too many answers and with comfort in a briefcase; I come rather with my own brokenness and tears, to share with the brokenness and tears of my friends and family.
So I thought I'd write a bit about the grief. Put it out there. It may or may not help anybody else, but I hope it will help me.
Grief is bizarre and makes you think and say bizarre things. Or maybe, it allows you to say things that exist on the edges of normal life. It allows you to say things which the day-to-day round of living prevents you from looking at - never mind even thinking about turning into words. In this state, you can't take your eyes off those things. And the words find a vocabulary you didn't know you had.
I mean (and this is a great example) I do not believe in ghosts. But for the first time in my life I understand why some people would. Sure, there was a curious time when I lived in Ponty vicarage when the lights went through a phase of turning themselves on & off and that was just plain weird. But it was just plain weird. I never for one moment thought, "There must be a ghost; perhaps someone murdered a former curate?"
Now, the sense of Matt's presence at times is tangible. I understand he's not here. I know it's a psychological trick. I realise it's the grief and the letting go and the not being able to let go. But there are moments when the sense of him lying on the sofa, walking through to the next room, wagging his tail, smiling, curling up beside me, standing at the door waiting for me to open it - the sense of him doing these things is overpowering.
I've started using a different chair in the front room. Matt & I used to curl up on the sofa, and I've moved to a different chair because the feeling of him at my side was too strong.
And I want it to stop. And I want it to never stop. And I want it to be even realer than it is.
It's not real. He's gone.
Here's another thing.
I wrote in my last piece that Matt re-defined the term 'creature of habit'. But of course, what I didn't get was that he did that for me too. My routine was based around his routine.
My alarm clock goes off. We get up, he goes out. He has a tablet & a treat. I put his lead on him, we go for a walk. He has his breakfast. Then I can carry on with my day. My work day ends bang on time so I get back to him as soon as I can. When I get home, he goes out; then we walk, then he eats, then other things happen. Before we go to bed, he goes out, we go to the kitchen, decide on his late night treat, and head upstairs. When you have a dog where you put food, washing, clothes, anything is guided by what the dog will do and how much this matters.
And now... My whole life is shattered. It's not just the Matt part of it. He was in every part of it. He shaped it. I suddenly have no routine. I don't know what to do when I get up. I still want to go for a walk; but why? I sit in the car outside Sainsburys and wonder why I'm going home. I go out of the house, and come home, and there's no-one here. Matt is a photo on the wall. And I ache for him to be here, to be able to wind the clock back and to know his love again.
I simply miss him. I can feel fine for a while and then I simply miss him. The tears come unbidden and flow freely. I feel embarrassed about going out because I don't know when I'll just cry. And I don't want to talk about it. Except when I do.
I had a dream last night.
It's about the whole turning the clock back thing. This was the dream:
A famous singer realised a moment when they could have helped someone out but didn't. Realising this, they went back in time. Only, the whole 'turning the clock back' thing went wrong, and as a result of going back, they were involved in an accident. Not only did the person they meant to help end up worse, but the singer was in an accident and couldn't sing. Ever. They were never famous. No-one knew who they were.
We presume that knowledge means we can improve life. But life is life. A gift and from a good and loving God. Gifts are precious. But they are gifts.
Sometimes, the saying "All good things come to an end," is simply true. I don't fight this. I'm grateful to have had the good thing. And I'm left better for having had it. Better, but empty and gently devastated.
There were days Matt seemed to fret, especially early on, but I guess it happened all through his life. I would hold Matt in my arms on those days and tell him, "You are loved, and you are safe," and he would visibly calm down and relax.
I wouldn't go back. I wouldn't change anything. How could I know what to do to make anything better? I could touch one moment and make so much worse instead. To think otherwise is just pride.
My dream continued. For God spoke to the famous singer, who now was no longer famous, and pointed her to two places in the Old Testament, to Lamentations 3.19-33, and to Isaiah 40.21-28. (And yes, I do apologise, my dreams are that Biblically literate...) Here's a couple of headline verses that were picked out:
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
The overwhelming emotion I have is loss.
Life can never be the same again.
Yet I will live.
This is the third day. There are words here that speak of compassion. For me. For Matt. And hope. And if I can look to the One who is all compassion and all strength and all mercy, then loss and despair will have their time in my heart. But it won't be for ever.
I will hold on to this.