What My Dog Taught Me About Suffering and Death
Dec 05, 2019
Recently, after a long slow decline in health, my wife and I had to put down our 15 year old Shitz Shu, Francie. Though we had been through this twice before and had been preparing ourselves for this eventuality, we were surprised by the intensity of our grief and sadness. I wondered what God was trying to say to me through this experience so I determined to more intentionally reflect upon the grief I was experiencing.
Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or beloved pet knows there is much that suffering and death can teach us, as innumerable books on the subject testify. But for me, four realizations surfaced as I pondered, prayed, cried, expressed gratitude, and reflected on Francie’s death.
Suffering and death are great teachers but the rational mind can’t fully understand the why
Ego is all about understanding, controlling, and fixing but suffering and death are two of life’s greatest mysteries and can’t be understood or controlled. Yet, unless we can find meaning for suffering and death, that God is somehow in it and can use it for good, that the pain is not just our own, then we will never break through to deeper levels of faith.
When we reach the limits of our understanding, strength, and courage, something unexpected happens. In our prayers and tears of desperation we discover the people around us, the God for us, the Christ beside us, and the Holy Spirit within us to strengthen us and help us survive and go on.
The cross, the primary symbol of the Christian faith, teaches us that Jesus is not observing suffering and death from a distance, but he is somehow at the center of our pain and loss and is suffering with us. Our rational minds must surrender to this mystery and allow ourselves to be ministered to through our faith, to be overwhelmed by God’s love, and taught by the Spirit.
For me, a key lesson from Francie’s passing is that God mysteriously allows suffering and death yet sustains us in ways we cannot and do not need to understand, and that we shouldn’t try and get rid of our pain until we have learned what it has to teach us.
The life-death paradox is necessary
Just as the rationale mind can’t fully comprehend suffering and death, nor can it completely grasp the great paradoxes of life, such as:
o Life and death
o Health and sickness
o Joy and sorrow
o Light and dark
But, what is known is that God chose to incorporate these opposites in creation, therefore, they must serve a purpose. My realization is that not only can’t you have one without the other, but that you can’t fully appreciate one unless you have experienced the other. How could we fully appreciate the attributes of light if there was no darkness? How could we appreciate the rapture of joy without the pain of sorrow? How could we appreciate the benefits of health if we never experienced sickness? How could we appreciate the gift of life without experiencing the loss associated with death?
God, in his divine wisdom, knows we need these mysterious paradoxes to fully appreciate and experience the wonders of his creation.
Creation’s pattern is a blessing
Jesus is the archetype of God’s divinely instituted pattern of life, death, and new life. This pattern manifests itself throughout creation in:
o The setting of the sun signaling the death of a day to the sunrise ushering in a new day
o The passing of each season to the next
o The life, death, and new life pattern of plants
o The dust to dust cycle of humans, animals, and yes, even of our pets
The realization is that death is truly the ultimate transformative process and always reveals various kinds of resurrection. Each form of death ushers in something new….a new lesson, a new opportunity, a new relationship, a new experience, or a new life. The challenge is to discover, explore, and embrace the new even if we perceive it as inferior to the old. With the passing of our precious pup I have discovered new gifts that birth new questions:
1) The gift of more time. How will we spend the many hours a week we devoted to her care?
2) The gift of more money. How will we allocate the money used for her food, medicine, vet and kennel expenses?
3) The gift of more freedom. Now that we don’t have to rush home during the day or restrict our travel to care for her needs, what do we do with this new found freedom?
4) The gift of more opportunity. Is there another pet in our future to love and be loved by?
True peace is not of this world.
As Francie aged and became frailer she seemed to accept her unacceptable situation and took on an uncanny peace and puppy-like dependency. I found myself strangely touched and privileged just to be in her presence. I discovered how precious we are in the midst of our fragility and how an acceptance in death can help renew our efforts to learn from God how to die to anything less than God’s sustaining love.
As Francie’s passing continues to play itself out in my life, I am finding my way to the peace that is not of this world…..a peace that surpasses all understanding.