This week we lost our boxer Dempsey.
We knew it was coming; Dempsey was diagnosed with a very large and fast-moving malignant tumor just two weeks prior.
We had been fortunate to that point to have seen our prior canine family members lay down for the last time right here at the house, peacefully, surrounded by family, on their own.
So having to make the call when it was time for Dempsey to leave us, as any pet owner knows, is a dreaded and heartbreaking prospect.
Dempsey played a starring role in my campaigns for Huntington Town Council, and after I was elected, became my demonstration dog in a video to promote the pilot program I developed for on-leash dog walking in downtown Huntington's signature park, Heckscher Park. When we walked Dempsey at Heckscher, people would say, "there's Dempsey!" and it made Greg and I beam to know that she was known and loved by members of our community.
I frequently posted photos and videos of our boxers on social media that made people laugh and smile. I've always believed that boxers are the clowns of the canine world, so when I saw ours clowning around, I wanted to share those moments and the laughter we enjoyed with others. And as a Facebook community, laugh we did.
And so, when Dempsey left us, I wanted to share that news, too, especially since she was known around town and on my social media sites.
But it was so hard, not just because of the heartbreak of losing this remarkable dog, but because I had to pause to consider the appropriateness of publicly announcing and grieving a pet in the context of a worldwide pandemic with colossal and still ongoing loss of human life.
Since the onset of the pandemic last year, every time I look at Facebook, almost without exception, I learn about the loss of someone's wife, husband, partner, mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, child, grandchild, niece, nephew.
And we stop what we are doing to share our condolences in words of comfort and symbols of hearts, praying hands and more.
And those announcing and grieving these losses cling hard to those words of comfort, hearts and praying hands.
This pandemic has so cruelly robbed us of our usual rituals of properly sending off our loved ones, even from being with them during their illness and final moments.
We have had to learn to live in a world that denies sustained human contact, in-person hugs, conversation, sharing of food, memories and even the tears to dry for the inconsolable.
And for better, Facebook has become the alternative gathering space where we can come together in grief and in support, to help get us through these terrible, terrible moments.
After thinking it through, I made the decision to post about Dempsey, and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of wonderful souls who understood this pain.
The comments below Dempsey's post turned into the most beautiful and caring virtual community of friends, family and acquaintances reflecting and sharing their own feelings and experiences of loss of a beloved dog or cat.
And it meant the world to me and Greg.
Words do so really matter.
And as we remain socially distant, words posted on social media now rule the day.
I replied with a heart symbol to every post to show how grateful I was for these kind and thoughtful acknowledgements.
And it really hit me that Facebook can be a place for better, so much better, and, a place for worse, so much worse.
It has of course been painful to look at Facebook not just because of the personal losses and suffering we learn about every day, but because of the division and discord taking place as our nation remains at odds about how we move forward.
I see friends engaging in bitter disputes with friends over politics, people and beliefs. I see name-calling and vitriol. It hurts my heart.
How and where do we begin to repair the fault line that seems to grow larger day by day?
When can we remember there was a time when differences of any kind could be respected and debated thoughtfully with consideration for the other?
Disagreement is certainly nothing new.
My eternal optimism and hope tells me we can do it.
We can start to turn the temperature down, bit by bit, day by day.
Knowing we are united by far more than that which divides us.
One nation. Under God.
If we want it, we can do it.
As I especially learned this week, Facebook can be a place for better.
And better feels, well, so much better, than worse.