Symbols are everywhere. The only things that even have hope of escaping symbolism are close loved ones, and they can quickly become symbols themselves -- depending on the nature of the relationship. An example of this would be referring to a significant other as "the old ball-and-chain." Sometimes, an object can be symbolic of several things, and these things increase progressively in significance. When we mourn the loss of a person, pet, or (as materialistic as it is) a possession, we're mourning at least partly, sometimes completely, for the death of what that object symbolized. The death of that object can become a symbol in itself. When your first car gives up the ghost, it is hard for you to part with that organized pile of metal scrap because of all it symbolized: a new level of freedom, independence, excitement. the death of that car symbolizes a coming-of-age ("you've learned all I have to teach you; now I must go.") Sometimes the symbol o the death is so powerful that it is immortalized in our memories, and that object is often glorified ("I could always count on that old car").
Take, for example, the birth of Mary's litter of puppies. There were seven in all: Mac, Melody, Monty, Megan, Maribel, Mercedes, and Max. First, the puppies already symbolize a standard of cuteness that is hard to match. What makes these puppies particularly special is that they were born with the help of a graduate vet med student. It was very exciting for her. None of us had ever seen anything like it before. So there is an aura of extremely cute natural miracles and an exciting experience overall. Plus, the anticipation of these puppies maturing.
Max was particularly symbolic. He was the second-to-last puppy born, and wasn't breathing. Janis did all she could, even rescue breathing, but couldn't get him to come around. She placed him under a heat lamp and decided to check on him in the morning. The next morning, he was fine. He was clearly the runt of the litter and it remained to be seen whether his brain had been damaged, but to see him doing okay was a big win. In nature, it is likely the pup would have died. Because of Janis' intervention, mankind defied the natural order.
Since Max was the runt, we doted on him the most. We invested more cuddles and compassion on him than on the others. they're eyes weren't open yet, so the only one who seemed to mind was his mother, Mary. This puppy symbolized the underdog, and we were going to make sure that puppy thrived.
One night, Janis came home and announced that she had used Max as a reference of God performing miracles. This small, almost entirely black puppy now represented God. It couldn't yet open its eyes and was already filling infinitely big shoes.
The next night, as I was leaving, I checked on the puppies. Max was laying down underneath his mother. When I pulled him out, he was completely limp. His tongue was pale and his eyes pressed shut. Janis wasn't home. Katie tried to find his heartbeat with Janis' stethoscope, but she only heard bubbling. Max's lungs were filled with his mother's milk. Katie gently shook it out and tried rescue breaths. Janis came home and found a small, slow heartbeat, but it wasn't enough to revive him. He died. He was perhaps two weeks old.
The death of the runt is common. It is a natural occurrence and part of the process of selecting the strong to survive. What was the most painful about Max's death was the death of the things he symbolized: an incredibly cute awesome miracle of nature; mankind's triumph over the natural order; the underdog defying the odds and rising to become special and precious; time and love in the forms of thoughts, hopes and cuddles; ultimately, God. There is something sickly ironic and unnatural about dying because your mother accidentally suffocated you and your lungs filled with her milk. He was so small. He was so young. I held him in my palm several times.
Of course, God did not die. What died was a runt who should have died the day he was born. When you remove the symbols, it means very little. the symbols make meaning, which makes us happier and more fulfilled when we're with them, and the more hurt when they unexpectedly leave.