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Four Boxes

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Mason brought Dessie’s ashes home from the crematorium. I placed her box next to the others. When Des died last month, an era ended. Mason calls Annie, Joe, Des, and Lucy our “starter pack.” We made every mistake possible raising those dogs, and from our mistakes we learned how to be leaders.

Now, four boxes sit side- by- side on the bookshelf. Annie’s box is so light it’s hard to imagine more than air fills it. Lucy’s container is heavy enough to hold rocks. They are high enough so the young mutts living here can’t disturb them, but not too high. I like them level with my eye. Those four unremarkable containers hold the only physical evidence I have of a family I loved for sixteen years.

They died with the same frequency that we adopted them, one after the other, three in the last thirteen months. I don’t know if losing them so quickly made saying goodbye easier or harder. There are separate losses to each one. I know I’ve learned what grief really means. It means permanent absence. It means there are four hollow spaces in me that will never be full again. And sometimes those empty places ache.

Every morning before I sit at my desk and start working, I glance at those boxes, reassurances I didn’t imagine the life we shared. Now, it all seems so unreal. Is it possible to love as unconditionally as we loved each other? Sometimes, during the day, when I need a dose of inspiration I’ll take a second look at those four boxes. I’ve thought about spreading their ashes somewhere in the yard or the woods. But as much as they loved being in the outdoors, they loved being with us more.

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