I cleaned out the pond in my yard yesterday. Since I moved into this house four years ago, I have made the first weekend of May “clean the crap out of the pond” weekend. This seems reasonable; warm enough to not have to wear winter gear while playing in water, and earlier enough to deter a proliferation of a mosquitos.

The pond is actually nothing more than a plastic, slightly over-sized, kidney shaped bathtub-like structure sunk into the ground; I inherited it when I moved in. It has been a challenge to create something aesthetically pleasing, and algae and mosquito free. I had a half ton of quarry rocks delivered. I have installed a waterfall, pulled it out and then put in a fountain. I have tried various aquatic plants (some invasive, I later learned), and experimented with a myriad of mosquito and algae remedies. It is a work in progress.

This annual clean out is a sludgy, stinky, disgusting process. It takes all day. None of my friends are on board to help. I understand this- occasional snakes make their presence known, or a dead “thing” shows up and well… I forgive my friends for their annual unavailability.

I started at 10:30, resplendent in old work clothes, rubber gloves, a denim hat from the 80’s and an attitude of determination. Using the pond net, I scooped out piles of black, decaying leaves, leaving the net ripped from the weight. Then I lowered the sump pump into the sludgy, smelly content.

I heard the frog before I saw him; yet his presence wasn’t a complete surprise, there were tadpoles last year.

“Hey, Joey”, I yelled out without thinking, “Look at this”. Joey, was my border collie-a cross of genius and neurotic that delighted in the aquatic wonders of the pond. Instead of finding him at side, his head cocked as he examined the croaking amphibian, there was an absence, because as many of you know, Joey died last year.

It is hard to explain what it feels like when you forget, for just a moment that someone you love is dead. There was a pang in my chest and a gasp for air as I looked around the yard and confirmed what I already knew to be true; he was not there.  I felt a little foolish for just a second, but I moved forward with my task and shook it off. Strangely, before the project was completed, I called for him twice more. So, what’s up with that?

It wasn’t until the evening when I remembered, Joey died two weeks AFTER last year’s pond cleaning. Of course! It was then that I realized, I HAD always done this with a friend by my side; this really was the first time I had done it alone.

Loss is like that; it is often the small things; a song, a piece of clothing, a smell or even a frog that resurrects loss in a way that we don’t expect.

Next weekend is Mother’s Day. Then there is Father’s Day. Graduations and wedding anniversaries abound in May and June. Memorial Day and Fourth of July conjure up memories of family get-togethers. These are months filled with days designed to celebrate, but with a loss, they take on a new meaning. We brace ourselves for them and so we are, at least, a little prepared.

But it is those unexpected moments, triggered by a small private memory or experience that may hit us the hardest. Then, we simply take a deep breath and do the only thing we can- we keep moving forward through the sludge until eventually the water runs clear again.


© 2016 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She has a special interest in working with people dealing with life transitions. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce which is available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback. 

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