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?
All the “first”s are difficult to face when you have lost a loved one. First birthday, first holiday season, etc. Allow yourself to hurt when facing those firsts. Soon happier memories will surface more often than memories associated with grief.
So very true! Thanks for adding this consideration!
I just wanted to say again how sorry I am for your loss. A lot of people think pets/dogs are “just animals”. When we lost our son, Brody, in 2008 to SIDS, we were obviously devastated. But a year later we got our first Aussie, Elsa. Since then we got two others (and a Chihuahua). They help so much to fill that unfillable void; I dread the day we lose any of them.
Still, and I am sure you feel the same, I’d never trade a moment with them nor would (will) I ever regret allowing them into our hearts, souls, and lives. They are so special, and I have no doubt whatsoever that they will come running to greet us again one day.
Warmest thoughts and prayers,
I cannot IMAGINE living through something like SIDS. I am so sorry you’ve had to. I know we are all stronger than we think we are in this dance of life and death, and our animal companions are right there with us. Unfortunately we almost always outlive them… thanks for commenting and sharing.
Toby, a wonderful post. I just lost my mom less than 2 weeks ago. Your advice is spot on. I also found myself “food grieving” and making foods she had made when I was little. I took to writing as well. I wrote a few blog posts on two of my blogs. It is amazing how helpful that was for me. Writing about Pono clearly is helping you as well. It isn’t quite “stay distracted” or “tell stories”. It is a way I could introduce her and keep my mom living on for others who never met her. Hugs in your time of pain.
Sharon, on my FB page people were talking about this too and we differentiated a bit between Big Grief (like losing a parent) and Little Grief (losing a pet, or a job, etc) and the phases do seem similar but the intensity, complication and duration are different.
Yes, writing has always been a way I’ve found to explore and move through the things that are going on in my life! Glad to know this was a little helpful…
I’m so sorry to hear that you’re hurting Toby. I hope you can turn some of those ideas into help for yourself as well. Take good care!
Thank you Andrew, friend support helps!
This is good timing, though what I’m grieving isn’t a death. Just had my final appointment with my previous therapist yesterday, and I start with the new one tomorrow (we wound up with overlapping weeks), and I’m finding that grief lives in my throat. It rises up and makes me feel like it’s trying to burst through the skin. But then this is where I start to get into “well, nobody died, and it’s not like I lost a family member or a lover, so I have no ‘right’ to be feeling this much pain” garbage.
That goes back to “don’t judge your grief…” It is what it is, and must be got through.
sending deep wishes that you find solace.
Thanks so much.
Toby, I am so sorry to hear of your loss of little Pono. I know this was devastating as I have been there, done that. Our cats, Obie and Silver, are our children and bring a lot of love and laughter to our lives. They are just children who walk on four legs and speak a foreign language. May your heart find comfort knowing that you made a difference in Pono’s life. Rest in Peace, little Pono and enjoy your time in the Summerland.
thank you. This brought tears to my eyes yet again. *sigh*