Today, as this post is being published, our dog, the irrepressible Jackson, is being put down. Perhaps dementia was triggering his increased aggression–we don’t know. Our trainer assures us that this is the right way to go; our old dog will be fine and it’s better to let him go now then wait for (another) bite. But no way does this make it easy, especially when most of the time Jackson was adorable. Despite the fact that he was “only” a foster dog, and we had him for “only” six months, the pain of letting him go keeps ricocheting unmercifully, through my body.
Love is love. Jackson will be better off. My husband and I are a mess.
I write because once again I am overflowing with empathy for those who have suffered loss, in any form.
I recognize the first steps in healing: stay away from platitudes (even “that it’s for his good)”, feel the pain, and keep moving. Keep my eyes up, stay present, don’t think too much, and find something, anything, that looks beautiful or feels comforting. I’ll share pictures below.
One thing I’m discovering is that our bodies are masterful at holding pain and trauma when we can’t deal with them. I’m grateful for this–there are times when we need to soldier on, delay dealing with grief, help others, or just get work done. But as much as I can, I want to give my body a little ease, offering times and safe spaces when it can let down, ungird itself from emotional protection, and soften. Maybe I’ll walk slowly, dance, or have a good sob. I figure that’s better than letting my rage fly out at the next inept customer service representative.
This loss, like the others I’ve experienced this year, can teach me to better support others through their losses and bad news. (For that reason, I’d really love to know what works best for you.)
Here’s what my experience has taught me so far:
When the loss is new, the grief acute, or the bad news is fresh: what I need most are friends who can just be present, almost without words or offering only an “I get it.” Being present is helpful at any stage of grief. Hugs are always good, but please don’t mind if I turn away. Sometimes I can’t deal with the pain.
When I’ve taken one step away from the acute pain, I appreciate the friends who can offer condolences and share their experiences–as long as what they offer is empathy, nor sympathy, and they don’t automatically assume that their experiences are the same as mine.
Later, as the grief settles a bit I can appreciate friends who offer thoughts about how to keep going or what to do. (Like please tell me how to find another Springer Spaniel NOW.) One caveat: be cautious with advice, which, unfortunately, can be a way of not being able to “be with” someone else’s pain.
Finally, there is longer-term support. I recently learned that a close family member has cancer–so I’ll be learning to give this form of support. I’m not the queen of cooking meals (not even for me) or baking cookies. Yet, I know that help with the ordinary matters of life: food, rides, visits, or help in the garden can be appreciated, especially when custom-tailored to the needs and desires of the person experiencing grief, or encountering a health crisis, as a patient or caretaker.
Today, in my grief, I move a small step at a time, trying to live in my senses rather than in my mind. A sweep of lavender. The smell of a rugosa rose. The crunch of fresh lettuce. The nuzzle of a horse on my neck. The beauty of a mushroom.
Rather than writing more, I’ll send a few images that have cheered me from the farm.
Tell me what helps you. I really want to learn.