She was my shepherd
I woke up at 4 a.m. yesterday awash in grief.
On Sunday night we discovered that our 10-year-old German Shepherd, The Lord (Named thusly because “The Lord is my shepherd”), could no longer walk. She had been having mobility issues for months, ostensibly due to arthritis and a torn meniscus in her left rear leg, but she had been able to get around, if slowly. This was different, though, and we rushed her to the emergency vet. Several hours later the vet let us know that there was more going on than simply arthritis and an injury. Our girl was very ill and in a great deal of pain. We decided to let her go.
Yesterday morning, my grief jolted me awake. The tears would not stop so I got up and sat in the dark of the living room, allowing the release of my own pain. I mourned the loss of my dear companion, who frightened many with her massive size and baritone bark. To those who knew her, though, she was a sweet marshmallow who enjoyed chest scritches, tummy rubs and car rides.
I had hoped that The Lord would make it through the holidays. This season is a tough time for so many people who have lost loved ones — both human and animal — around this time. The joy and festivities of the season seem hollow without the presence of those we love. My own joy has been dampened by the loss of my sweet girl.
The only solace I can find at this time is the knowledge that The Lord will always be with me. I truly believe that animals are part of the Oneness of God, just as we are. Their consciousness is part of the corporate Holy consciousness that we all share, and as such, they remain with us in spirit, even as they depart the world of bodies.
I will still miss her gentle kisses and forever miss the chance to once again feel her soft fur against my cheek or her comforting presence by my side. The light of consciousness that is her, however, remains with me. This is the promise of Christmas, according to A Course in Miracles.
“The sign of Christmas is a star,” A Course says in Chapter 15, “a light in darkness. See it not outside yourself, but shining in the Heaven within, and accept it as the sign the time of Christ has come.”
The Lord was part of that light of Love that shines within me. Our animals bring us the pure Love of God and teach us how to love unconditionally and purely. I certainly hope I did right by her and returned that Love purely and unconditionally. Letting her go to her final rest felt like a huge sacrifice for me, depriving me of her soft, beautiful, furry body, but as A Course reminds me, the Christ demands no sacrifice of any kind from us. Letting The Lord rest in peace, without pain, was the best gift I could give her, even if I selfishly wanted her to remain in this realm of bodies.
What I must do now is relinquish my own pain and anguish and allow it to be healed by the Holy. This too, is a gift that I have to give, because in the healing of my own pain comes the healing of the world. When our pain is given over to the Christ within us, it will disappear, A Course says, “and without pain there can be no sacrifice. And without sacrifice, there love must be.”
What feelings of pain and sacrifice are you holding onto during this holiday season? What grief or sense of guilt have you not yet been able to release? I invite you to bring that pain to the Holy within you and offer it up as a gift for healing.
Often, we like to keep our pain close, because we think releasing it means we will forget about the deep love we shared with the one, or ones, that we are grieving over. It feels like a sacrifice to release our pain, because it has become a source of comfort. That pain, though, is keeping you from unconditionally loving the ones you miss in this moment. I fully believe The Lord would not want me to find comfort in the pain of her loss, but in the remembrance of the vibrant life we shared together.
“Let no despair darken the joy of Christmas,” A Course says, “for the time of Christ is meaningless apart from joy. Let us join in celebrating peace by demanding no sacrifice of anyone, for so you offer me the love I offer you. What can be more joyous than to perceive we are deprived of nothing?”
I invite you to release any pain that keeps you from experiencing true joy this holiday season. Releasing that grief and allowing it to be healed is the best gift you can give to the Holy, to yourself and to the world.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.