Musings from Mama Bird
My friend’s cat, Bubby, died of a heart attack. In her arms. At the vet’s office. Her Facebook status of love and loss reached right through me when I read it a few minutes ago, and I shared her grief for the loss of her beloved cat, a feline I never met. Especially poignant was her response to another friend who offered her a replacement, to which my friend said something along the lines of, “I am far too heartbroken to deal with this kind of heartache as I fade into old age.”
After I posted my condolences, I stepped away from the computer and reflected on her words. What immediately came to mind was Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam: 27, 1850:
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
My favorite high school English teacher turned me onto this poem thirty-some years ago. Mrs. Daniels wrote these famous words on the blackboard and asked us to write an essay about whether or not we agreed with Tennyson. Being only 15 or 16 at the time, my thoughts immediately gravitated toward romantic love, something I hadn’t even experienced back then (assuming crushes on Jon, then Scott, then Jon again didn’t really count). I concluded love is grand and heartache is worth the price of a heavy heart when love dies.
This morning, thinking about this poem once again, I asked myself the same question my teacher posed way back then, and I now conclude that Tennyson’s sentiment covers a much more broad range of love, one that extends itself to all creatures, great and small.
As a child, my housemates included Pups the Collie and Red the Irish Setter. I was about 10 or 11 when my mom decided to send Pups “to live on a farm” after our beloved dog nipped me on the arm. Soon, we welcomed Red, who gave us much love until I was a senior in high school; my mom, sister and I returned home from a picnic to discover our beautiful dog dead in the backyard. I was old enough then to understand grief and feel it down to my bone. Still, we were glad for the mutts that Mom brought home in his wake.
As an adult, I have grieved the deaths of three beta fish and one house rabbit, who died in my husband’s arms. He was older than six, and a good bunny, indeed. All are buried in the soft earth of Kentucky bluegrass.
Now, for the first time in our house, we have a dog. Our beagle, Ella, is a little over a year old and a wonderful addition to our family. In fact, she is family, babied and spoiled like a grandchild would be. If she should live to her life expectancy, I will be well into my ’60s, and my husband will be fast approaching 70 when she leaves this good earth When we bought her last year, I realized she would probably be the only dog we would ever own (and kicked myself more than once for never owning a dog before Ella; rescues don’t count since they leave you very soon) because if genetics holds all the cards, I will be deep into the winter of my life in 14 or 15 years. That, and I don’t know if, like my friend, I would be able to invite heartbreak back into my life after a loss of the best beagle ever.
So, my point. Is it better to have loved than never to have loved at all? Bad boyfriends and childhood crushes? Absolutely not. Everything and everyone else? Yes, yes, yes.
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