“Would you rather me do it while you’re gone, or the day after you come back?”
I lounged on a patch of grass by a centuries old cobblestone street. I knew he would have loved to taste the mint chip gelato I was eating. It was cool and refreshing in the hot Mediterranean atmosphere. I wasn’t cool. I was distraught. I knew this would come eventually but it just hurt so bad. This, and the countrysides of Tuscany were my favorite spots in all of Italy, or at least the parts I had been to. I was in the Piazza della Rotunda and beyond a sculpted fountain was the Pantheon, a giant concrete and granite monument to the ancient “gods”. It was so out of place in the small square, wedged between newer buildings from the 18th-19th centuries, and so massive it seemed to swell with pride in its small corner of Rome. But I loved it so.
I tried to think about that domed structure and the soft local music being played by a few native citizens. It was good therapy. It was distracting. But it wasn’t quite enough. I knew when I got home I’d be saying goodbye to my best friend.
Lucky was an 11 year old black and white Springer Spaniel. If you aren’t familiar with Spaniels, they are the most loving, cuddly dogs you will ever meet. They don’t have the brains of a Collie or special skills of a herding dog, but they serve a very specific purpose for their human families. They are birding dogs, but that still isn’t their greatest skill. Their greatest skill is love. They are incredibly soft, just the right size to fit on your lap (with a lot of finagling and work) but not be a yippie ankle-biter. Basically, they are perfection.
The day after I got home from my trip abroad in Italy, a trusted vet rang our doorbell, and was invited in to prepare what I thought to be the most gruesome crime scene. Medical tools, a sheet for Lucky to lay on. At least it was all in his own home, where he loved and lived and licked so much.
After it was done, and my buddy – my brother – was gone, I started saying a lot of things to God. I asked Him the normal things like “why?” and “are our pets gonna be there with us? In Heaven?” But I surprised myself with desperation. I begged for a way out. There just had to be a way for me not to feel, or for Lucky to be sitting at the back door wanting back in. I wanted to see him wagging his non-existent tail, which made his whole body sway back and forth. I knew I could trade with him, I knew I could have gone instead of him. He deserved to be with my mom, he deserved to be petted some more, he deserved to enjoy some mint chip gelato.
God heard a lot of silly requests. Of course I couldn’t trade circumstances with my dog. Of course I couldn’t die instead of him, or give enough money to grant him immortality, or even make any promises in exchange for a few more moments with him. But God was there through all those moments. Jesus was chuckling to Himself at the most comical ones, and the Holy Spirit was sitting on my shoulder telling me it would all be ok.
Humans start looking at you weird when you tell them you’d live homeless for a year if your dog could be there with you, or when you say you’d become a dog and take the place of another so they could personify and live an 80+ year life. That’s why when we start bargaining in this stage, when our grief becomes so large that we look under every rock and pull aside every spiderweb to find a different reality, we must also find God. Yes, we still need to have our friend group that gets it from part 1, but in this stage God will be your strength. And, eventually, He may give answers.
Search for Him.