In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about the loss of our sweet 18-year-old family dog.
For the Love of Dog
We lost a beloved family member last week. Well, technically speaking she was a member of our “pack,” as that’s how dogs see themselves. But Delilah, our yellow lab/husky rescue left this mortal patch of earth after 18 years and three months. It was an amazing run, not just for the length of time but for the love she doled out along the way.
Officially, Delilah was not a therapy dog, but she had her own ministry of presence at the
parishes I’ve served in both New York and Massachusetts. From welcoming visitors to comforting bereaved families to visiting nursing homes to putting children at ease, Delilah was a faithful companion to so many. Frankly, she was a more faithful pastor than I could ever hope to be, sprinkling unconditional love around with reckless abandon.
Before being furloughed by both the pandemic and arthritis, Delilah came to work with me nearly every day. I know this was more unusual before all of our pets became co-workers over the past year-and-a-half of working from home. But she embraced her role and her commute, enthusiastically bounding up the stairs from the rectory to the church.
Delilah also served as a marker of time for our family. She journeyed with our children from elementary school to their early 20s; she’s been in every one of our Christmas cards for the past 17 years; she endured countless goldfish, two ferrets, and even our now three-year-old other dog; she accompanied us on an interstate move and countless other adventures. Delilah has simply been there, through all the sorrows and joys and messiness of life. She has seen it all and yet remained overjoyed to see us each and every day.
As anyone who has loved and lost a pet knows, the grief is real. There’s an emptiness that transcends the physical emptiness of the dog bowl and creates a paw-shaped hole in your heart. But it’s also part of the deal. We bring pets into our homes, give them our hearts, love them, allow them to minister to us in ways great and small, and then cherish the memories when they’re gone. The love is as fierce as the grief.
Although I realize it offers comfort to many, I’m less enamored of the whole notion of the “Rainbow Bridge,” that mythical crossing animals make from this world to the next. I am, however, keenly aware of the rainbow that forms over Noah’s ark in the book of Genesis. The rainbow that emerges after the flood, is a sign of God’s promise to never abandon God’s people. As the storm subsides and the rainbow appears, God says, “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
I believe our beloved pets are part of this covenant, and I’m convinced they play an integral role in our relationship with the divine. Through them, we glimpse God’s love for all humanity. In the ways that our pets comfort us and care for us and cuddle with us and even, at times, confound us, we see the very face of God.
One of Delilah’s great joys in life was stretching out in the backyard and soaking in the sunshine. She could literally do this for hours. Besides the reminder to all of us to enjoy the present moment, something so many of us struggle with, I also hear echoes of the 23rd Psalm as I envision Delilah now lying down in green pastures and reveling in the celestial sun.
And as the storm of grief abates, I look forward to reveling in the vivid, multi-colored, rainbow-like memories of Delilah that will cheer us all in the days ahead.