As we all settled back into home life, Charlie's absence was huge, and we were all affected. I cuddled with Oliver and thanked him for being such a good friend to Charlie -- for helping draw him out of his shell with his affection-hound ways. In subtle ways, he responded whenever I spoke to him -- it connected us by a fine thread of understanding and mutual loss. However, walking Oliver alone was hard for a few weeks -- visiting all the usual places that they'd both sniff and mark, like a team of explorers. Walking the paths in the woods behind our home, I'd once again be reminded that it was Charlie who was good at tracking our way, and not so much, Oliver, who's far more interested in spotting possible prey. Yet, Oliver practically jumps into the creek, no matter how cold it is, while Charlie (the super tall) always had to be coaxed into it -- he was fearful of slipping on the rocks and preferred sandy beaches. Little differences like this were and still are poignant. I moved through a heavy cloud of stillness and pain for a few weeks, with little desire to leave the house or talk to others. Yet, I was productive in my writing, and comforted myself with meditation and music.
I payed Charlie's large vet bill -- it was amazing how many medicines were used -- and, about a week after coming home, I had to pick up his ashes and collar from the vet that he was taken to (not our usual one, because it happened on a Saturday). While helpfully putting this new vet on my car's GPS, it was a painful trip. I had planned on releasing the ashes fairly soon after getting them, thinking that, like all the previous cat burials we'd had, this would help all of us process. I had decided to hold a ceremony and release them into the creek that flows by our house.
Several times, I told Drew that we would do it today, only to face a fresh onslaught of agony that left me drained. I realized that this was different than a burial, not just because there is no decay issue, but it seemed that Charlie wanted to be with us a bit longer. Still, I fought against this idea for a while, wanting to move on and distance myself from the pain of the quiet house, the big empty space where his bed was, Oliver's sadness, all of it -- and wanting to release him completely. Yet, every time I built up my courage to have the ceremony, I became a shuddering, tearful heap when the time came. I felt stuck.
After a couple of phone calls to supportive friends and family about this stuck-ness, I decided to take my dear cousin's advice, and stop pressuring myself into doing it -- that it was unkind to me. We had went with her to distribute her mother's ashes at Walden Pond several years after her death -- it was a loving, peaceful experience. So, I agreed. His ashes and collar now reside in my office, next to my altar. Perhaps he only wants to help usher in a new greyhound friend for us, and then will be ready to be accepted back into the earth, or perhaps, he'll stay a few years. I'm open to whatever messages he sends.
It's been a couple of months since Charlie left, and writing this is bringing back the familiar feeling of heart-burn and tightness. But, I'm not impatient, but humbled by how powerful this journey is. On Facebook, one of those memes with nature photos said something like, "to grieve well is the greatest gift to your loved ones." This, and treasuring Bjork's new album, Vulnicura -- which was compelled by a romantic breakup, but resonates to the universal themes of loss, I'm getting better. I'm even considering hosting another writer's event in my house in a month or so -- my hermit phase will eventually end.
We've decided this week-end to take Oliver and choose another greyhound to adopt. I can feel Charlie urging us to do it -- bring another friend into our home, and complete the perfect 4 household members that we are used to. I feel so lucky that I can sense his support and know that he will guide entire process. I truly have gained another beloved spirit guide. What a beautiful blessing death is!