On All Saints Day I took my dog Max for a walk. Yes, he’s been dead for two years, three months and one day. But with Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, it was a week of remembering the dead, celebrating the dead so I thought it was perfectly natural to take one of his favorite walks and have a conversation with him.
I’ve always believed that death does not end a relationship; it simply alters it in a drastic way. Of course you lose the physical relationship and that is not an easy one to give up. But in another way, the loved one you lose (human or animal) can be present to you in a way they never were.
Max is especially present to me when there are squirrels. But on the day of this walk there were no squirrels, not even other dogs. No distractions. So I posed the question to him, “What do you think of the past two years? I mean, the way I lived my life, my choices, my relationships?”
Max is not a King Charles spaniel who lives to flop in your lap and has no opinion about anything. Nor is he a Chihuahua who will start yapping criticism at you before you’ve even finished asking the question.
Max is mighty Cairn terrier and his preference would be to take a hike through the Highlands ruminating on your question before answering. But he knew my time was limited that day.
I stopped by one of his favorite pee spots and took in the view: a fig tree, some rose bushes, leaves mounded on the gravel path. I took a deep inhale of that spicy-woody scent that is fall and toed the ground—waiting.
“I see you’ve become a wee more patient,” he said.
“Well, not in every domain.”
“I know, I know.”
“Not so good in meetings.”
“Could we just move on?”
“See? Right there.”
I moved on, turning the corner to walk up a steep hill. It’s not only a steep hill but it’s long and my thighs were burning. When this happens to me in yoga class, I say to myself, “But this is how you get strong.” And that is what I told myself going up that hill.
“That’s right,” Max said. (Hills were never a problem for him). “Good job with your father. I always liked him. I know it hard at the end. But that is how you get strong.”
I teared up a little at that. I started thinking about my dead father who I had not invited on this walk. I was afraid that there might be some kind of ghostly interference with him and Max. One dead at a time, please.
By the time I got to the top of the hill I was sweating and just then a light breeze came up. I turned my face to it thankful for the cool-down right when I needed it.
“You can stop worrying about making things happen,” Max said. “Let things unfold. You’ll always get what you need when you need it.”
I laughed and said aloud, “You are so right!”
We carried on like this for another thirty minutes.
Now I know the arguments for not thinking about dead loved ones: it makes you sad. Yes, I felt a little sad but it was worth it! Would I rather look into his sparkly brown eyes and scratch his furry chin? Of course! But I can’t have that physical connection. But I can have the spiritual one.
Does this story sound familiar? The Women and the disciples are devastated that Jesus is dead. And yet. And yet he comes to them in a different form and now here we are two thousand years later and there’s a world community formed around Jesus. People talk to him all the time!
I heartily recommend a walk or a talk with a dead loved one. You might make peace, you might laugh, you might cry, or you might even be angry. But one thing is for sure: you have not lost the connection.