Unwelcome Silence

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our four-legged companion and friend Giselle. She became the center point of our lives for many years, including giving us love and compassion during some of the hardest parts of our life together (and when our support system collapsed around us). She deserved to walk the Rainbow Bridge after a good night and a good morning, something not guaranteed to happen again given her cancer.

Yesterday Nora and I got to spend the day together, embracing, crying, deciding to throw everything of hers away and then, wisely, deciding to keep it in an opaque box for when we are ready to welcome another companion into our home. We spent time walking (something Giselle could not do her last few weeks), time laughing about her weirdness, reminiscing how hard the first month with her was. We spent the day mourning and worrying about nothing but mourning.

Today, Nora went to work, and I worked from home because of the snow. I sat on the couch, preparing to work, and I heard nothing. Absolutely nothing. I struggle with silence in general, but this was different. For 6 years Giselle’s breathing through her slightly brachycephalic snout gave a quiet noise to a silent space.

The moment I sat down today, nothing in the house made any noise. The furnace had clicked off, the dehumidifier too. The fridge compressor did not run, I did not forget to turn the vent fan off after my shower, the rain had slowed enough that I did not hear it hitting the roof. The house had no noise at all for the first time in the four years we lived here (whenever I had dropped Giselle off at the sitter, I always either ran around packing for whatever trip we had planned or immediately turned the TV on).

Or maybe I just noticed it for the first time because I did not welcome the silence. I did not want the silence. The silence settled heavy in my chest and forced its weight upon me.

But for a moment I paused, not in exhaustion or boredom or insolence but because I absolutely could not do anything but sit in the silence of a house who had lost its companion.

The moment did not last terribly long — a couple of minutes at most — but in that moment I realized, for maybe the 400th time over the past month, how important her presence and life was to us, just in a different way. Even the days she stayed in the hospital her presence sat here and I did not experience such empty silence until today, her things packed away, her pictures not scrolling on the TV, her slightly louder than silent breathing no longer present.

I hated that silence, but I am thankful for it. It forced me to pause. I had to stop and just sit with her loss, something I did not want to do but I needed to do. After that I could pull the album of her pictures up and remember why she meant so much to us. After that I could see her and hurt just a small bit less.

Her little bandana said, “Please pet me.”

I hate unwelcome silence, but I am thankful for it.

Peace,
— Robby

Remembering Aunt Darla

My Aunt Darla was one of God’s special beloved.  The medical community has words to describe her – nonverbal, neuro-atypical, differently-abled, and more hurtful words – but to us – to me – she was just a loved and special part of our family.  Many people in my family have a special connection to beloved children of God like Darla, and I never ceased to be amazed at the love and compassion that she was shown by people I would not necessarily describe as loving and compassionate otherwise.

That ability to connect with her did not come easily to me, or maybe not even at all.  I always felt that love for her, but that connection was not my gift (which saddens more than a little today).

But in her I saw a special gift I pray for myself: an ultimate vulnerability, a complete lack of mask or deception, fully bringing everything about herself to every moment.  I pray and dream of the moment where I can bring half of my true self to anything; she just naturally did it.

She was a complete and whole beloved child of God, no need for correction nor fixing.  I do not say that she had an easy life – or a pain-free life – but she was beloved exactly as she was.  I could not always see that, but I know it to be true.

Last night my Aunt Darla passed away from COVID-19.  She spent a week on a ventilator but was, ultimately, too weak to recover.  Thankfully my grandparents were able to spend the last moments with her, but most of that time they had to stay away.  I don’t know if she knew what was going on before they sedated her, but I know it had to be very confusing to be without anyone she knew in those last moments awake.

For the past week or so, a verse from Matthew has not been far from my mind: “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 CEB)

I know Darla was well cared for her entire life – my grandparents, the staff at the facility she lived, the doctors and nurses who cared for her at the end.  Those people are light in this world, a reflection of perfect love.

On Friday my family will be wearing red – her favorite color – and you are welcome to join us, but I more hope and pray that you can find your way to do for the least and the lowest.  Protect the most vulnerable, support the most downtrodden, lift the most beaten, sacrifice your own desires for the needs of those whose needs aren’t fulfilled.

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 CEB)

You will be dearly missed, Aunt Darla.  I pray I can someday reflect as much of Christ’s love as you did.

– Robby