Death, Love, and Making Room for Grief

This spring, a quote resonated with people all across social media. It didn’t come from a famous celebrity or well-respected guru. The inspirational message sprang from the mouth of a Marvel character on Disney’s Wanda Vision. Wanda suffers from amnesia surrounding the death of her husband, Vision, and because she is a superhero, she creates an environment using TV waves where Vision still exists. By doing so she suppresses and avoids her grief, and enjoys experiences such as buying a house, having children, and parenting together. However, the spell only lasts so long, and one day, she is confronted with the painful truth that her beloved can never exist in reality. His existence is predicated on the suffering of others (as her spell/powers included forcing others into roles supporting her alternate reality). Encouraging her to end the denial, Vision tells her gently, “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

“What is grief, if not love persevering?”

My family is fortunate to live on several acres of pristine natural Florida landscape, land formerly owned and nurtured by the Cherokee people and now partly owned by the Forestry Department, and us. Since it’s protected land, we are doubly fortunate to enjoy native wildlife, such as deer, rabbits, turkey, pheasant, and gopher tortoise, who make their homes in underground tunnels.

This week, we lost an animal friend. We had a rabbit living on one side of our driveway under a copse of saw palmettos we called “Little Hopalong”. We watched him grow from a small bunny to a full-sized rabbit this spring. He or she would come out every morning and evening to feed on the grass, white tail bouncing away as we’d approach with our black lab. Without the dog, the rabbit was often unaffected by our presence. Having had a pet rabbit in the past, we felt as if Little Hopalong was our bunny, only this time he enjoyed the natural freedom of the entire yard, rather than a small cage. A sort of karmic justice.  Sadly, this week Little Hopalong was taken, we believe, by an owl. Owls are the top of the food chain around here. They stake their territory and watch carefully for small animals, like the abundant squirrel population or our lonely rabbit, for their supper.

The absence of that fluffy white tail has hit me hard. I hadn’t realized just how much I looked forward to seeing his eyes staring back into the headlights of my car as I pulled into the driveway, or watching him nibble the grass as I walked by. He seemed to enjoy such an idyllic life on the land, I never thought about the possibility of him becoming owl or hawk food. But that is the necessary way of nature. 

And so I grieve. There’s an emptiness, a lack of vibrancy, in the yard when I stroll out these days. I feel it even more strongly having seen evidence of what was likely a brutal battle for life versus dinner. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not fair he’s gone. We loved that bunny. He brought us joy. Yet, although the joy is gone, my love perseveres. It’s the love for that little creature that stirs up the grief. As strange as it may sound to mourn a wild animal, if we love big, we will mourn big. It doesn’t matter if it’s a human loved one, a furry friend, or even an experience or time period that must come to an end, like launching children off to college or sending them to school for the first time. 

Our love leads to heartache. There is no other way. Should grief be exorcised from the human condition, we would find ourselves, tragically, without love.

Choosing to embrace grief means making room for big feelings. Feelings of the sort most humans naturally resist and avoid. We much prefer to experience happiness, joy, excitement, and love, but the so-called “negative” emotions are equally essential. Riding the waves of grief means confronting all that was good about what was lost. Fully grieving honors the loved one, the former life, the missed opportunity. Thus, we honor ourselves by making space for all feelings, those we experience as good as well as “bad.” The more we let the painful burst of pain and sadness wash over us, the more we open our hearts to love. 

As I confront the painful loss of a gentle spirit neighbor, without judgement of the feelings that emerge, I make room in my heart for gratitude and consideration of other neighbors and beings in my life. 

Allowing Grief Makes Room for More Love

Last weekend my husband and I mapped out a fencing plan and began purchasing supplies. It was finally time for our dog, Buck, to have some freedom in the yard. However, we neglected to consider that the part of the yard we had planned to fence includes two inhabited tortoise burrows. We had given them a quick consideration and determined that the type of fencing we chose would not prevent them from moving freely. Yet, after the loss of the rabbit, I realized that I could not bear to possibly lose the two tortoises that emerge every morning from their holes outside my office window before making their way around the yard chomping up the grass.

With the grief of the rabbit, my heart opened wider, expanding into broader consideration for the tortoises who would surely resent the presence of a large Labrador loose in their habitat. As I contemplated this possibility, I knew in my gut that they would leave. There is plenty of forest around here that doesn’t include Labradors. So, I have mapped out a new area adjacent to their habitat. It’s a smaller spot for the dog, but preserves the tortoises’ freedom while giving some to him. 

A delicate balance, discovered in light of love. My love for the tortoises thus emerged more strongly in light of my grief over the rabbit. Likely I would have plowed ahead with my single-minded plan for Buck, had my heart not been so aware of the loss of another free-roaming creature. The awareness grew from love, and emerged via acceptance and allowance of all feelings. 

Love leads to grief leads to love. 

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