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If we dare to love, we will grieve. It’s been a week since grief took hold of us.

We began in denial that anything serious was wrong, and then bargained that we’d fix it with surgery. When told that nothing could be done, I wailed in anger, then sobbed in despair. Since Lincoln took his last breath in our arms, Ray and I have experienced more tears and more sadness than we can remember.  

The anger and denial are gone, as is the despair, but now we feel lost in an empty house and garden. And, there is a weight of sorrow that sits on my shoulders, and at the top of my head. I want to smile, but my face is frozen.  

Lincoln was a dog. He wasn’t a child, but he was our baby. He was 6, and we expected at least six more years together. He was an equal member of our family, who we loved at the deepest depth of our souls.  

There are lessons for us to learn from the grief we’re experiencing. You grieve as deeply as you love. Grief requires patience. It can’t be rushed, and there are no comparisons. No two people experience grief in the same way at the same time. Lincoln started vomiting Saturday morning. Our vet directed us to a pet hospital an hour away. Lincoln sat in the front seat, very glad to be with his two dads. We pet him and stayed totally in the moment, reminding ourselves that we had no idea of what was to come, so there was no sense in worrying.  

At the hospital, the doctor said there was no hope, that Lincoln had cancer in his pancreas and liver. They brought him into our room, and he was very excited to see us. But he quickly picked up on our tears as we laid with him on the floor. We sang to him the baby song I’ve used to relax him since he was a puppy, “Go to Sleep.” The doctor then injected a drug to put him at rest, and another to stop his heart. We cried and cried as we sat with him before an orderly showed up with a stretcher.  

When people write that “there are no words to comfort your loss,” it’s true in the very beginning. We were in an emotional free fall. Yet grief lets go of its grip when you feel that you’re not alone, when you trust others to understand. Over 1,000 people sent messages of support, and flowers for Lincoln’s little shrine. And the chocolate chip cookies helped keep the dementors at bay.  

We’ll soon be grateful that we had six years with this extraordinary manifestation of love and joy. We know all things are temporary, that life is about change. Ray and I have weathered a lot of painful losses, so we’re not ill-equipped. But, boy, does it hurt.

Brian McNaught has been an author and educator on LGBTQ issues since 1974. Former Congressman Barney Frank said of Brian, “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it’s like to grow up gay."