Handling grief is necessary, and no one gets through life without dealing with this tough emotion. Grief is one of the main reasons clients come to therapy, and in fact many of life’s toughest issues (divorce, aging, abuse recovery) come with an underpinning of grief work that’s a part of dealing with it.
I’m grieving right now. It’s day three after our beloved rescue dog, Pono, had to be put down due to health complications from inbreeding. (He’d gone to live with my daughter in California where he was a source of joy and laughter in her life as he’d been in mine.) I feel the grief as a heaviness in my body, uneasy flu-like symptoms that periodically clench my belly with spasms of tears. I exhausted, and wish I could just stay in bed and sleep, but when it’s time for bed, I can’t sleep without chemical help. Grief makes my skin feel too tight, and the least prick releases tears.
I know it will get better, because I’ve been through grief before and I know it was a “good death” as such things go. His suffering ended painlessly, and I choose to believe he’s romping in Heaven and I’ll see him again someday. I feel embarrassed that I’m grieving the death of a dog, but like my daughter said, through her own tears, “Grief isn’t a contest about whose is bigger. We all just endure our losses as best we can.”
All of these thoughts are a part of handling grief. Making a story about it that tries to find meaning is part of coping. Having a belief system, or even the brave and stark lack of one, helps. We’re wired to make a stack of stones that give testament to a life lived and lost, human or animal. It’s part of being human that we create ceremonies and mourn our dead, and dispose of their bodies in a way that honors them. Below are a few ideas that may help you.
- Understand that grief’s a process and it will ebb and flow. Allow your feelings. Don’t fight them. This helps them move through you easier and pass quicker. Don’t judge your grief or be angry that you feel the way you do. It is what it is.
- Be kind to yourself. Now is a time for being gentle with yourself—take naps, get a massage, eat comfort food. Personally, I find work very helpful—being with other people and assisting with their problems, or entering the story world of my books, both distract and fulfill me even in grief.
- When you’re ready, create a ceremony or ritual to honor the loss. If it’s a human, that’s what funerals are for—they help us honor the fallen and they help us resolve our grief. If it’s an animal, doing a project that remembers them or giving to a charity for animals is a helpful gesture.
- Tell stories with friends and loved ones about the lost one. Remember the good times. I’ll never forget the Christmas six years ago when my daughter found the tiny, thin scrap of neglected dog that was Pono and brought him home—and even then, starving and matted, barely able to walk on his collapsing hind legs, Pono’s contagious joy won our hearts and our commitment to help him have the best life he could.
- Take extra vitamins and other medical help if needed. Again, it’s important to weather grief, not stuff it down…but if you’re having trouble sleeping or functioning, temporary medication or natural remedies can be an important tool.
- Stay distracted if that helps—but be prepared for the grief to “ambush” you during down time, and allow it. Grief honors the loss of the loved one. It’s a gift that shows they mattered.
Do you have any other strategies that have helped you to share?