’Tis better to have loved and lost . . .

My white dog, Phoebe, taught me a lot about living last week. About living and loving. And about suffering the loss of the thing or person you love through no fault of your own.
Phoebe is a sweet, gentle creature, and she attaches easily. She’s known a lot of loving in her life. But also a lot of losing. Her first year is locked away in her tongueless soul but the next four years we know she was smothered in love. Only to once again lose those she cared about.
That’s why I was a little nervous last week when I saw Phoebe becoming soul mates with our house guest. Even before the suitcases were unpacked, Ruth Ann and Phoebe were hugging and rubbing noses. It was the joining of a woman who loves dogs and a dog who loves people.
All week, Phoebe sat patiently outside Ruth Ann’s bedroom door, squeezing in whenever a crack appeared. She followed closely at Ruth Ann’s heels and they romped in the backyard.
But then Friday came and the suitcases were laid out for packing. Unfortunately, Phoebe knows too much of suitcases and she paced the floor nervously. Her pointy ears were laid back, and her stubby tail stopped wagging.
After they left, the lonely white dog stood patiently by the front door. Waiting poignantly for the laughter and fun that was destined not to return.
Watching Phoebe grieve made me think of a friend and neighbour years ago in Edmonton, Alta. In fact, it’s been so long ago that I’ve even forgotten her name. But I’ll never forget what she said.
My friend and I had a lot in common. We were both far away from home in that western Canadian city. She was from England, I from New York. Both of us had lost a parent, and together we were trying to make sense of the loves and losses of life.
We talked about vulnerability and how when you commit and really care, you lay yourself wide open for terrible hurt. We wondered whether it might be less hurtful to hold back a little sometimes.
But “no” we concluded. You just can’t hold back on love. You simply have to risk. And summing up our mutual philosophy, my friend quoted Tennyson, “Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.”
Loss and grief can come at any stage in life but you absolutely can’t get to this side of 60 without experiencing painful losses. Losses that sometimes make you question, as my young friend and I did in our 30s, whether perhaps you should hold back a little and make yourself less vulnerable.
You could if you wanted to, you know. Just give a little less of yourself. Hold back on your feelings. Build a protective bubble around your soul. And, maybe you could cushion your grief that way.
Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think real grief comes when you haven’t explored the potential in a relationship at the time you had it. The real grief in life was expressed by a poet-peer of Tennyson–John Greenleaf Whittier.
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen/The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
So as you head into the new year, forget the idea of holding back on love. Instead, give love and friendship freely. And receive it. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Make the most of the relationships at hand.
Because once experienced, love is never lost. It will always be part of who you are.

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