Grief, a personal etymology

To our beloved Carter, a great dog.

Grief: A sad feeling, especially upon the death of someone.

Is a dog “someone”? Do trees count? I know I have grieved for trees. And yet a dog is of another order, the grieving even worse than for a person depending on the quality of intimacy, the tightness of the orbit, the beauty of the dark Mongolian eyes.

Yes, a dog. My dog. Forget trees, at least for now. Though I hear them as they drift off to sleep, golden and autumn-frowsy. Million-mouthed, they breathe slower and slower, stomatae opening to the cooling night air, crying still a bit at dawn. Crying through their mouths. Like me.

Tears like vomit. Purifying.

Grief. From the French grever: afflict, burden, oppress. From the Latin gravare: cause grief, make heavy.

Yes, heavy. That’s it. A heavying. A bespoke gravity that throws me out of synch with the normal physics governing the rest of the world: water’s flow downhill and clocks’ tick and satellites’ orbit and people falling into bed with each other as somewhere barns come apart board by board, melting in their molasses time back into the red clay Earth. Grief bends me down at the shoulders, becomes a mass in my stomach (for him it was the spleen), takes all the space where food should be, makes my legs drive like stakes into the ground.

Grief. Proto-Indian root. From the Sanskrit guruh: heavy, weighty, venerable.

My guru is gone and I am aggrieved. Oh, the baros of it all.

Soft the lips that took the last treat—King Oscar sardines!—from my palm.

Light the great head as the tranquilizer took control.

Heavy the great wolf body, rolling, lolling, the white paws that tried to remember how to walk, how to lie down in air that had become like syrup.

Grave the hearts that watched him stumble to his bed and only make it halfway so we had to lift him there.

Oh ponderous body, cweorn. He knew, he knew, I saw he knew. And so I lay behind him heavier now, growing heavy with him, holding his bulk in my arms. I held him as his broad white chest slowed in its rise and fall and I whispered into his chocolate ear: Remember the ocean, remember the mountains, and, in a last desperate and selfish gesture: remember me, my love, remember me. Not to keep you but to let you go. As if words were wings. Wishing halfway that you would take me with you.

I felt it, that flutter of electric life triumphant, as you leapt out of yourself and through that final screen, into the golden air, light at last, leaving me with all this gravity still left to bear.

Carter: Dancer, twirler, problem-solver, the Great American Susky. 2009-2022. R.I.P.

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