I am paying a little more attention these days to the habits that leave their mark on my life. Recently, what was our last family pet, a beloved dog, passed away. I say “last family pet” because, at 18, she was the last dog that we had (and we always had dogs) who helped us raise our children. Her last few years were those of an elderly dog–no much activity, eating and sleeping and being present in the house.
In the weeks that follow her death, we find ourselves wondering in the morning when we get up what kind of a night she had. We wonder as we pull into the driveway how she fared while we were at work. I walk into the family room where her bed stayed near the fireplace expecting to see her. I walk through the kitchen expecting to hear her feet on the floor making that little clickety-click noise. None of these things happen, of course, because she is gone, but the habits of listening, noticing, caring, tending, enjoying, feeding, bathing, seeing and expecting are etched into us over much time.
What I am noticing is that this is more than grief. Grief is certainly a part of the experience, but I find myself in wonder about those daily habits that have shaped my relationship toward this beloved animal friend. It’s teaching me how much love is born of chosen habits of presence as much as anything else. Do we really love because of some sudden magical attraction–always? Or, is love something more that shapes itself into our lives because we choose to be present to another? We were looking recently at pictures of this beloved dog over the years. She was a cute puppy, but my heart really moves when I see pictures of her in her later years. That’s the face that shaped my heart, and that took a lifetime.