Restorative Oysters & Loving 'Too Much'
actual Wellfleet oysters
This is a missive from the Close Shave Department, a reflection in the aftermath of unbearable anguish. A brush with something we would not have gotten over. A dog in our pack ran off and was recovered. The only loss was a vacation gone awry.
It was not my dog, although my dog was also very concerned. But in the way that the concept of 'family' loses boundaries in a crisis, it may as well have been my dog. For 48 hours we searched all the places and in all the ways we could. The dog covered a lot of miles, bit someone, engaged the police and a mad array of dog-rescue resources. It turns out that those ever-present flyers people post about lost pets are the thing that actually helps bring them home. She was sighted cutting through cul-de-sacs, crossing and re-crossing a busy highway, and racing off again 'like a bullet', 23 pounds of wily bushwhacking cattle dog. White with red spots.
She travelled miles from where it all started, found the beach and followed the shore to the familiar nose-o-sphere of a tidal marsh. She settled, exhausted, on the deck of an unoccupied chi-chi mansion where she had a commanding view of her surroundings, and waited to be rescued and reunited. A dog-walking neighbor saw her, thought 'this dog doesn't live here' and remembered the flyer she had seen taped to a trash can at the ice cream parlor. She called the business and got an employee to go outside to get the phone number off the flyer. Because, that bit about how love moves us, if it was her most-loved dog that was lost she hoped someone would make that much effort.
Here's the thing. We were all already at the end of our respective ropes. For the first time in 3 years the Fam was gathering for the fun postponed by covid. For ocean time and meals and all the moments we needed to sit not saying much, holding hands as the sun set. Our beach-based plan was to float, eat, rest, and connect. We could only juggle three days of collective free time, and that involved planes and rapid tests and, generally, more courage than a joyfully anticipated family vacation should entail.
My sister and I were (literally) sitting down to a celebratory lunch of lobster rolls (hot) and fresh shucked (Wellfleet) oysters. We were eating out! It was heaven. And just as the food hit the table I got a text that her dog had done a runner. And I had to tell her and then hold still as the news sunk in, because it was her dog, and not just any dog but that love-of-your-life dog (even though she is also not an easy dog). And I had to watch her face do that thing our faces do when a worst case scenario unfolds. I stood helpless as our hearts flipped, both of us knowing that what was about to happen might change everything. Understanding that every action and word matters. In a flash we pivoted into doing without having anything solid to pivot from.
The next 48 hours were so hard. A lost dog presents a serious test of loyalty and everyone graciously rose to the occasion. Beyond the miles of searching, it was a compassion obstacle course with treacherous gauntlets where word and deed play out in the shadow of impending (and potentially unconsolable) grief. Overall, we did good. The thing that sticks in my mind are the words the missing dog's other human said, “We let ourselves love her too much, we won't get over losing this dog.” To which I replied, “It is not possible to love too much, it just hurts more than we can bear.” I believe that holding back from loving causes us more harm than the pain of loss. Fear of loss too often causes us to not love enough. And then we miss out on the whole exquisite gift of incarnating in the first place.
In my work at end-of-life I have not once heard a dying person voice regret over having loved too much. I have often heard a desire to love more. After a death, we navigate conversations about loss so unbearable that it seems easier to follow than to continue living. I see the ways that grief reshapes people and families. Nothing prepares us for these moments when loss tilts the world sideways and the tides of vulnerability run too high.
Our family was so lucky. Dog and humans all were shown that they are valued, cherished and seen, and won't ever be abandoned. Our pack dodged the bullet of deep regret that would have perpetually wounded us. We are recovering from an accident that almost had dire consequences, a moment with no re-do or take-back or fault. An open door that could have changed everything. But didn't.
In the denoument, when everyone else and even the recalcitrant dog had gone home, my sister fetched me and we went out for Restorative Oysters. At 11:30am we took a table on a shady back deck with a harbor view, magically removed from the tourist hustle. It is never too early for oysters. We sat looking out at water and sky, swimming in the unspoken. I have never felt more relieved to come through a close shave unscathed. I call her my sister but we are sisters-in-law, married to step-brothers. Our sibling group is the best kind of chosen family, relationships we have grown into over decades of shared history. She is the sister I have most in common with, I am so lucky to be able to grow old with her. It would have been an even deeper calamity if loss cast a pall on our cheerful anticipation of elder decrepitude. You see, over that plate of Restorative Oysters I came to understand anew that loving 'too much' is always, always, worth the risk.
Hannah - the rascally dog