The Pure Joy of Heartbreak

The Pure Joy of Heartbreak

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When we lose someone we love, a purity of pain rises within us

I haven’t been quite sure how to approach this topic. Of course, the title gives it away a little, but titles need to grab us and shake us around a bit. If you’ve never loved and lost an animal friend, stop reading now and move on. This isn’t for you.

Rusty and Ruby.

Rusty Shackleford, photo by author

Rusty Shackleford, photo by author

Patti and I had Rusty for 8 years, he was intense, nervous, extremely protective with a personality that fluctuated between human psycho and superhero — brave, fearless, funny and almost terminally curious, Rusty became the center of our lives pretty quickly. When Rusty died suddenly at age 11, we were heartbroken.

Rusty, photo by author

The Pure Joy of Heartbreak

Ruby was already 9 years old when we inherited her from Patti’s nephew Paul following his tragic early death (age 34) from brain cancer.

Rusty had only been gone for a few months. But Ruby had us at her first smile.

The Pure Joy of Heartbreak

Ruby and Patti, photo by author

Ruby was the exact opposite of Rusty in terms of personality. What Rusty was to intensity, Ruby was to gentle, loving calmness. What Rusty was to movement and guardedness, Ruby was to friendliness and approachability.

The Pure Joy of Heartbreak

Ruby and Paul, photo by author

Each of these animal friends took absolute center stage in our lives, as dogs do in the lives of anyone who is owned by one; your canine master has to be considered in every travel plan (short or long) every choice of domiciles, plans for entertaining, selection of vehicles for personal and, more importantly, transportation of them/for them to their walks, vet visits and play times etc.

Losing two loyal, beloved and cherished friends in so close proximity, was devastating and has taken us until now to even begin to process and from which to heal.

I had, however had some practice and experience in matters of loss.

The Pure Joy of Heartbreak

image provided by author

Recently I posted my epic poem Sheehan and additional postings trying to pull Medium visitors and readers over to it. The main reason for doing this is that Sheehan is the best thing I’ve ever written, not the most popular or well known, that distinction goes to my 2000 novel Stuck in Neutral, still selling well after all these years, but the best.

image provided by author with permission of HarperCollins What makes both of these stories so successful is the intensity of emotion promised by them, and the delivery of that intense emotional experience to and for the reader.

We never feel intense emotion quite as sharply as when we are experiencing loss, especially permanent loss, is in the case of someone beloved to us dying.

This kind of pain can be so horrible that we feel it will actually kill us: we crawl into a ball sobbing, we can’t eat, can’t stop weeping, it’s as though something is eating us alive or kicking us to death from inside the deepest heart and soul of ourselves. We can’t do anything to pull ourselves out it, at least not for a while — We are wrecked and ruined.

Such is grief. Such is the purity of heartbreak and thus a kind of existential joy as the naked, brute truth of pain becomes clear to us. Sartre described how alive we felt in the grip of nausea. I’d submit that grief does the same to us.

The death of our animal friends, our pets, trains us in surviving such pain. Having lost and buried both human loved ones and animal loved ones, to be honest, the pain has been almost the same in its initial intensity.

I’m not suggesting that the death of a pet matches the burying of a child, I am suggesting that the initial pain, that first blast of loss and grief can be and often is and has been for me in my experience, indistinguishable between the two.

I’ve buried a stepson, the dream of a birth-son having any kind of healthy, normal life due to his birth condition, grandparents, parents, good friends and a nephew and aunts and uncles and neighbors and co-workers.

And several dogs, two of these much beloved companions within a two and a half year period.

Life is about pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, victories and defeats, and every experience we have, if we let it, prepares us for how to better manage our time here, to more fully relish our joy and love and hope and to help us rise above and move beyond our pain and losses and heartbreak.

It isn’t too difficult to imagine someone living life in total abandonment of compassion and love and empathy because the price tag for those aspects of our lives can be VERY high. But to me, the pure joy of heartbreak, of feeling all that pain in direct proportion to all that love lost, is part of what makes life worthwhile.

Just Weighing Separator

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