[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post about a family’s loss and the ritual that helped guide their way is the first in a quarterly series on the making of rituals. Whether happy or sad, quotidian or momentous, these watershed moments in our lives leave a mark on us and can be honored, as humans have done for centuries, by using a ritual to mark the moment in our lives. The rituals shared in this series are often personal and reflect the unique spiritual path of each writer.]
Rituals give us actions to take and steps to follow as we look for passage through an unfamiliar experience. In January of 2000, my family needed a ritual to help us acknowledge and release our sorrow when our one-year-old Corgi, Sparky, died.
Our son, Morgan, was nine years old when he began asking for a dog of his own. A fan of the PBS show, Wishbone, he first wanted a Jack Russell terrier. However, after spending time with two six-month-old Jack Russells—jumping straight up and down next to him as though they were on pogo sticks—Morgan decided their energy levels were too high for him. The owner of the terriers also had a pet Corgi with which Morgan promptly fell in love.
In December, Sparky, a spunky, playful, ball-chasing female Corgi, came into our lives. Our whole family attended dog training, learning to walk her on a leash and teaching her to respond to commands.
Morgan loved having an exclusive best friend who looked sad when he left on the school bus each morning and then enthusiastically welcomed him home each afternoon. Nearly a year later we celebrated Sparky’s first birthday, delighted to have such a lively spirit gracing our household.
Then, tragedy struck.
Having forgotten a folder I needed for work that January morning, I returned home and noticed a small blonde dog with a blue collar lying by the curb directly across the street from our front door. Getting out of the car and looking closer, I prayed it was not our little dog. With a sense of the surreal, I crossed over to the small body and realized it was Sparky. The gate to the backyard had somehow swung open, she slipped out, and was hit by a fast-moving truck as she ran across the busy street. Hoping against hope, I bundled her in a beach towel and rushed to the vet who confirmed my fears that she had died immediately upon impact.
How would I tell Morgan when he stepped off the school bus ready to play with his lively companion that his faithful friend would no longer greet him each afternoon? How was I to comfort a ten-year-old child whose beloved dog had somehow gotten out of the yard, been hit by a passing truck, and died?
We sat at the backyard picnic table as I gave him the sad news. Having lost what an only child considered his best friend and playmate, he was inconsolable until he was able to see her body and bury his tears in her fur.
As a family, we decided to create a ritual to help all of us, especially Morgan, let Sparky go. We brought her home from the vet having decided not to cremate her body. We chose to bury her in our yard because, as Morgan pointed out, that’s where Sparky liked to run and play. Also, he wanted to be able to visit her anytime he felt sad or missed her.
We dug a hole, prepared a clean box, and laid her body in it on top of the cushion she normally slept upon. We surrounded her with her blue woven collar and her favorite toys, including the white whiffle ball she loved to chase—a ball the perfect size for her narrow jaw.
This is the reading we read over her grave., adapted from verses found in Marianne Williamson’s Iluminata.
We pray for the spirit of this beloved companion, Sparky.
We see at this time all of the beloved people who mourn her.
And we watch as a glorious angel of God now
ties the golden cord of life at one end
to Sparky’s heart and at the other end to the
heart of everyone who receives her.
We see a golden cord that connects her to all
of us, our hearts are now tied to hers forever.
And now the angel places its hands on this
cord, signaling the power of God, which
blesses and sustains us, and holds firm our
relationships, through life and through death.
Through the glory of God, may love still live forever and ever.
Uphold us through this sorrow and this loss,
as we grieve and release this one we
loved and shall so sorely miss.
That night when I came into Morgan’s bedroom to tell him good night, I found him sitting on the side of his bed. I asked if he was feeling sad about Sparky. Referencing the golden cord our ritual mentioned, he said, “Mom, now Sparky has US on a leash!”