Her breathing was so shallow, I thought she was dead. Relief washed through me. Then her nose twitched and I felt a pang of guilt. She sighed and heaved herself to a standing position. Lurching like a small, furry drunkard across the cage floor, she settled beside the hanging water bottle. It seemed to take enormous energy; poking her tiny, pink tongue at the metal ball to release a drop of water.
We had seen that Xena, my daughter’s beloved pet rat, was declining. But on this day, it was as if some cosmic vitality switch had been flicked. Her life was at an end, she just didn’t know it yet. For two days we watched her lackluster breathing. Her movements were jerky and frightening. Listless, she looked at us with bulging eyes that bled.
Wandering the house, lost and waiting to mourn, we didn’t know how to proceed. Finally, my weeping daughter came to me and asked me to ‘fix’ it. It took an enormous amount of courage for her to admit that this was a more merciful way. We sent her off to dance classes for the afternoon with assurances that her friend would not suffer any longer.
My husband, bless him, did the hard thing. Although he doesn’t care for that particular animal species, the duty was not an easy one. We’ve not spoken of the details. My tears flowed freely as I cleaned out the cage and threw away the extra food and bedding. I wanted it all to be taken care of before our daughter returned.
I’ve had a hard time this month, thinking of what to write. It’s the month for posts of thankfulness and counting blessings. Quite frankly, I’ve been skirting the misty edges of depression, lethargic and exhausted. Even so, my mind has sifted through the abundance of blessings I enjoy; there are many things I am infinitely grateful for. Yet the words bouncing around in my head seem insignificant and trite. Then the loss of our furry companion brought an unexpected clarity.
When my daughter came home, I held her. We cried. And I was grateful in a whole new way. Through my tears I could see the beauty in sharing life with this precious person. Her tears and her relief became mine as well and it was exquisite.
Who am I, that the Creator of the universe would see fit to give me life? Life. Yes, oftentimes we fall, and sometimes we get hurt. Some of us live entire seasons in the gray fog of depression. Many of us have faced pain that is deep and dark and powerful and it feels as though nothing exists but the sorrow. And all of us, at times, are swallowed by the hollow ache of a loneliness that no human can fill.
How often I forget the sacredness of this journey. It is that very loneliness which makes friendship all the sweeter. The depth of our sorrow is a testimony to how much we’ve loved. In the darkness of depression, I can more clearly see the work of my Lord in me, enabling me to function when my reserves are depleted. And when I fall, or when my body rebels, I am blessed by the many hands that reach down to help pull me back up.
There are treasures, even in the rocky places. The laughter of our children, the genuine smile of a friend who is happy to see you. The raw power of the ocean, and the silent peace of a clear night’s sky. Life and loss. Light and darkness. Beauty and pain. All working together, that we may savor the sweetness of family and friendships. The hard things on this journey remind us of how fleeting the things that bring us joy really are.
From where I am on this life’s journey, I know the loss of our pet is but a small thing. But from my young daughter’s vantage point, it is deep and painful. What a privilege it is to walk beside her through this part of her path. Sharing in her grief is at least as profound as sharing her victories, and the tendrils of living that bind us together grow ever stronger.
And I am grateful.