Our Mississippi dog died on Thursday. On the eve of a new year, she slipped out of our reach. Molly turned thirteen this fall and was full of life until just a few weeks ago, when an unnamed illness took her appetite, then her strength, and ultimately, her life. My parents nursed her faithfully to Christmas, and when I walked in the door on Christmas Eve, they say she perked up for the first time in days. I spent four glorious days at home with my girl, knowing (painfully) that our time together was at its end.
I was due back to work on Tuesday morning, and while my boss encouraged me to stay, I knew it was time to go. My dad said “you have to keep going, keep finding the joy that’s ahead” and I knew in my spirit (and through the Spirit) that he was right. I was worried that Molly would stay for me, and beyond all else, I didn’t want her to suffer. So all day on Monday I sat beside her and stroked her velvety soft head. I helped her get up when she needed to use the bathroom. I wept and nestled my nose into her fur, memorizing her scent. And on Monday night, I said an excruciating goodbye—and gained a new softness towards those who have felt the irreversible pull of death.
My favorite movie (an adaptation of a play) is called W;t (Wit). In the film, Emma Thompson plays an English professor who studies the poetry of John Donne and finds enlightenment through her battle with cancer. In a poignant scene, Thompson’s character elucidates the significance of the semicolon used in the final line of Donne’s holy sonnet “Death Be Not Proud.” The line reads: “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die,” leading Thompson’s character (and many literary scholars) to the conclusion that in Donne’s figuring, death is more semicolon that period, more inhale than held breath, more restful passage than inanimate oblivion. I loved this interpretation when I first heard it, but it doesn’t hold up on this side of salvation. Death, in our lived experience, is horrifyingly final.
I won’t pet Molly for the rest of my life. I won’t be greeted by her when I pull in the driveway ever again. I won’t hear her bark at the horses or follow behind while she lopes through the pastures. When we are the ones left behind, death feels wholly insurmountable. I wrote a bit about this last winter when I was bearing witness to the grief of several dear friends and was aching to provide hope. I still hold that hope, and I believe in the miraculous reality of heaven, but now more than ever, I feel in my bones the unbelievable nature of the resurrection.
Born with an indomitable will, there is very little that I don’t believe can be muscled into place. And yet, I cannot, with all of my striving and weeping and fighting, undo death. This is the unquestionable, undeniable end of human power. This is where God becomes essential to any meaningful hope. This is why the gospel continues to bolster generations of weary humans who refuse to believe that a magical creature like Molly can exist for only thirteen short years and then suddenly, nevermore.
And so, united in the suffering of every person who has said goodbye to any object of their best love, I cling to the comfort and hope of the new creation.
When I get home to the farm again, likely sometime in the spring, I intend to plant some lilac bushes on the edge of the woods where Molly is buried. There, beneath arching, mighty maple trees on the little slope that looks down on our house, she joins the menagerie of animals who have made our land a farm. They are tipping the scale of my life towards the new creation, and pulling me towards the company of saints.
The last and best hope I can hold today, is that someday, I too will be committed into the arms of my loving Father. On that day, I will be reunited with the many saints who have gone before, whose number will grow with each year of my life. Of those saints, I am especially looking forward to finding my girl Molly, whose bright eyes and swift feet are some of God’s very best handiwork.
“And now, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our beloved Molly, and we commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless her and keep her, the Lord make his face to shine upon her and be gracious to her, the Lord lift the light of his countenance upon her and give her peace. Amen.”