One of the costs of love is loss. With loss comes grief. Grief is a strange process. There are moments of joy in the remembrance, lack of hope in not having control, despair in the loss, alternating acceptance and denial of the reality of the situation, anger in the outcome or even the process. We can have moments of rational thoughts that quickly morph into the irrational.
Today (January 17, 2020) we are saying goodbye to Duchess, our precious Shih Tzu. Duchess was born October 31, 2004 and came into our life on March 16, 2005. Over the past 15 years she has been a faithful snuggler, energetic encourager, and sometimes an ornery mischief. My mom gave her the nickname Li’l Bit as she was so much smaller than our Lab, Panda, her much older brother dog. She has been more Dallas’ and Gabrielle’s dog than mine but she definitely captured my heart.
Shaken and convoluted
I like cut and dry, black and white, right and wrong, definite answers. The grief process offers almost none of those things. Will it last a few days, weeks, months, or years? Emotions flip from one to another without warning. Routines are out of whack. Things just don’t seem to be right.
Keeping our thoughts straight can be difficult. Even normal tasks take longer or become difficult when we have grief-brain. Seemingly meaningless things can become triggers that cause us to break down crying, often without warning.
Our current grief may be exacerbated by grief from prior losses. This week I’ve been more aware of the loss of my mom. It’s been 13 ½ years since cancer cut her life short, and yet, I still grieve losing her. Not to the degree of the early years, but it’s still there.
The world around us seems to just keep going as if nothing happened. People expect us to have a short time to grieve and then get over it and move on. But it’s not that easy. We want to move on, but something inside isn’t working in concert with our desire.
Processing through grief
Grief is a process but certainly not a linear one. We can talk about the different stages of grief like anger, denial, and acceptance but there is no order or system to how they come. And when we move from one stage to another, there’s a high likelihood that we’ll be going back to those other stages again.
Clinicians like to show nice clean cycles like the grief curve on the left. But most often reality is more like the image on the right where we bounce between each stage on the curve with no linear anything. (image obtained through google images with no credit information available)
So what do we do? Take each moment as it comes. Thank the Lord for the many memories and experiences that we got to share. Mourn the loss of future experiences with our loved one. Give ourselves permission to experience the plethora of emotions. Allow ourselves time to reflect and accept.
Time for grief
There’s a saying that time heals all wounds. I don’t believe it. Time provides distance, maybe some numbness, but I don’t see it providing healing on its own.
Healing requires effort and work. When we are physically hurt, our body gets to work producing stuff to promote healing of the wound. When we are hurt by people, we get to choose to forgive and do the work of recovering, or we can remain in a place of hurt. A wound uncared for that is not able to heal can turn worse or even deadly.
When we experience a loss, we need to do the work of healing. That work is done in the process of grief. It’s easy to get stuck. We must continue through for as long as it takes.
Even professionals who help others process through grief need someone to help them. None of us are fully able to go through the process alone. It is great if you have a friend or family member who can walk with you. If there isn’t anyone close, or if your grief is especially deep, you may need to seek professional assistance. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help.
Permission to grieve
We all suffer losses. Some are big like losing a loved one. Others are smaller like the loss of a job or dream, but all losses are real. Whatever loss you are dealing with, I encourage you to do the work of healing.
Give yourself permission to grieve as you need to. Each of us grieves in different ways and timing. Your family may have suffered the same loss, but likely you will each have your own process and pace of grief that will be different in timing, intensity, and duration.
Find activities that are healing. It may be to write, or paint, or some other creative outlet. It may be looking through pictures of times past. You may need to be alone, or you may need to be with other people. Be purposeful in doing the work, knowing that while it’s difficult, there is hope in the healing.
Putting theory into practice
I (Dallas) know the theory. I’ve walked with clients through it countless times, but the knowledge doesn’t give me a pass. I still have to walk through the days of countless tears, tripping over unexpected triggers, verbalizing the fun memories as well as difficult emotions, eating only because it’s time to eat, and writing everything down just so that I’m somewhat functional despite my intense brain fog. Each day gets a little easier to face when I awake, yet again, to the reality of having to adjust to a new normal/new routine without her.
Because I’ve been down this road before with loved ones and beloved pets, and because I’ve walked with others through it, I know that the depths of this grief will not last forever. So I offer you the same hope.
I have no regrets for having loved Duchess so deeply, nor for all the time I spent holding her so she wouldn’t be lonely during the last few days of her life. I am thankful for friends and family that understand that I have to grieve, and I am thankful that the Lord holds me close during this time of mourning and adjustment.
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