Convergent Losses, Invisible Strings

John Lennon reminded us that life happens when we’re busy making other plans. Today, I was similarly reminded that life continues, even when we’re busy grieving the loss of it; that love is both the foundation of grief and the way through it. 

Lisa and I agreed to meet at a beach halfway between where we each live. I’d walked the same stretch of beach countless times and thought I knew roughly what to expect, anticipation stacked loosely by experience. I was right to predict the easy rhythm of conversation with an old friend, the gentle acknowledgement of Lisa’s past and pending losses, my own healing grief. But I could not have imagined the surprise to come, or the feelings evoked.

After walking, talking, and letting the low-tide expanse fill our hollow places, we were greeted by a yellow lab and two women sitting on a bench near the parking lot. The dog calmly approached and honored me with several mature dog kisses, deliberate and measured. She then turned to Lisa, offering her a similar greeting. “What a sweetie,” I called to the women on the bench. “I recently lost my dog.” They smiled, understanding. 

We briefly chatted about some related details – how old my dog was when she died, how old their dog is now, where we all live – before one of the women added that this was originally her son’s dog. She pointed to the memory plaque behind her on the bench, “This bench is in memory of my son.” We could see he died from melanoma when he was only 37 years old. “Wear sunscreen,” she added.

Turning back to the dog, the woman smiled and said, “This is Chapin.” Lisa and I looked at each other, mouths open, before I explained, “That was my dog’s name too! She was also a yellow lab.” What are the chances?

Now, I believe in coincidence. I don’t think EVERYthing is a sign or filled with special meaning. As Freud famously said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” But some things feel like signs. Or at least feel bigger than what is immediately apparent, which is sometimes pretty big already. This was one of those times. Not only because I felt my Chapin’s love in the other Chapin’s kisses, even before I knew they shared a name. But because the random meeting of mostly unrelated humans revealed an otherwise hidden connection – shared loss and deep love. And what’s bigger? Except to recognize and share in the vulnerability of being present to it.

Lisa had earlier said she was due to get home where her mother, awaiting another cancer treatment, was taking care of Lisa’s nearly blind dog. Still, we lingered in the parking lot, first with our new friends, then with each other. I’d brought Lisa a painting to borrow, a painting I hoped would offer soothing energy for her and her family during a challenging time. We looked at it together for a bit, then hugged goodbye.

It was only after we parted that I felt overcome, washed through by a feeling hard to name. My eyes filled as I pulled away from Chapin Beach and remained so as I drove along the beach access road, but my vision was sharp enough to notice the other Chapin and her two companions walking along the beach in the distance. I stopped briefly to take a picture, a visual reminder of the threads that had briefly connected us: grief, love, dogs, and the beach they were named after. I was newly overwhelmed by another wave of feeling, more expansive than the low tide beach, something like the inhalation of clouds, lifting my grief like a helium filled balloon.

So many of the best things are difficult to explain and seem reduced by the telling. Such moments of gnosis are rare, or at least they have been for me, even as I am aware I’ve been long searching for that very thing – the palpable awareness of something bigger that lives in and connects everything, the invisible strings made visible.

Though I miss my dear Chapin. And Lisa grieves the loss of her baby, just as the woman on the bench still cries for her lost son. Although I wonder, as we all do, how to go on after losing and whether love is worth the price. I feel the tug of so many seen and unseen connections, and know I am held in their braided net. And that is enough to keep me daring, heart open, to love again and deeper still.

More living, less dying

Chapin, age 13.5

In the hiatus of favored things
Pain evident in your gait and change of habits
We feared the worst, prepared for the end 

Until suddenly, again, you trotted along the beach
Delighted in old crab shells and seaweed
Then later begged to climb into bed with us,
   Something you’d not done for months
And earlier, chewed on a long discarded bone
Nestled between forgotten toys
Remnants of your younger days

These things seem small, maybe 
But I know they are the sum of everything
Evidence of more living, less dying

And so it is, for all of us
Times of grace, even joy
Smiling into salty waves and leaning into the day
   while knowing. That final day will come

© Amanda Reilly Sayer, 2019

If you liked this, you might enjoy an earlier poem about Chapin here.

A different kind of love letter*


You’re watching me
From your blanketed perch
The spot we’ve made for you
On the left side of the couch

I’m in the kitchen
The reason
Your interest is keen

But I pretend your attention
Is something like love

Something like
The way I love you
Which feels like held breath
And fills my empty spaces

Even as I know
You’re merely calculating
A piece of carrot?
A slice of cucumber, maybe?

Weighing the likelihood
Of a treat against
The comfort of the couch

There was a time
When you watched
From up close
And only
Pressed against my leg
Or with a nose in my lap

Ever optimistic
No matter how many times
I never
Shared my dinner

You’re more discerning now
Better trained perhaps
Or maybe just tired
Aware of your aching body
As I am

You see
I watch you, too

And I feel my heart ache
Each time I imagine
Your side of the couch
Without you. Watching me

© Amanda Reilly Sayer, 2019

* In honor of my dear Chapin, 13 years old today ❤️