I wrote a post a few months ago where I admitted that the older I get the less I know for sure. Clearly, I’m getting older again.
I spent the past weekend at Oprah’s The Life You Want Weekend, in Seattle. To be honest, it was pretty amazing. I was surprised by the level of faith woven into the fabric of the event, from start to finish. Really, the whole weekend was based on listening to the voice of God. The voice of your intuition. The voice that guides each of us, whatever we choose to call it. For her, for me, for many of the speakers, it is God.
I came home Sunday evening and my mind started to spin. The grief I left behind for my weekend away came flooding back to the forefront of my mind.
Grief can do strange things with your mind. If you follow me on my Facebook page you know we lost our beloved 4-legged friend at the end of last week. We knew he was dying. After running every test known to veterinary medicine a few months ago, they delivered the news they believed he was the unlucky recipient of a rare disease, the canine version of ALS.
A friend of mine recently lost her mother to this disease and therefore I knew more about it than I cared to. I knew how it would ultimately take him, and his ever-present smile from our lives. We knew. We knew it was coming and yet we weren’t prepared for the ache that would come with his absence.
Truth be told, he frustrated me to no end. Ten years ago, before kids and chaos, he was our everything. He was our first baby and we spoiled him with love and affection. But one child came, then two, and three. Life got busy and crazy and he lost his place in the limelight. His grooming, and our lack of time for it, became a burden. In the end, his care required enormous amounts of grace. We gave it, but not always cheerfully. He never complained and He loved us anyway. Most importantly, he loved each of our children as if they were his own; they were a pack.
And now he’s gone.
Honestly, I still don’t believe it. I’m learning acceptance is the hardest thing. Accepting the fact of what is, instead of what I want to be. I stare out the back door to the backyard and wait for him to come around the corner. I swear I can hear him rustling around in the garage or on the back patio.
My husband and I have cried together so much this last week. Remembering some of the things that make us smile but mostly just about the ache that longs to be filled. Not with another pet, there is none that could ever replace him. We just want him back. We want him again. We want another chance to love him better; to love more like he did.
Just a few days ago, I held his little face in my hands as he stared in my eyes and slowly, quietly fell asleep. Nearly a week has passed and my heart is still breaking.
I spent this past weekend with some amazing voices. People encouraging us to live the life we want. To follow our calling, our dream, the voice of God as He speaks to our hearts. And in the wake of the loss of our sweet friend, all I can think of is taking all the time back to do it differently. To invest in the things and people in my own home. The ones I love so much in my own backyard.
And I honestly don’t know if that’s the message I was supposed to learn or if it’s just the one that’s fiercely beating against the walls of my heart anyway. I don’t know. The older I get, the less I know anything for sure. But I do know grief is real. I do know that if we allow it, it will teach us.
I can’t tell you how many tears I have shed writing this post. Writing about my sweet old friend that left us too soon. Who I didn’t love and cherish as much as I wish I would’ve. He left us with a deep soul ache and I know someday we will be okay. Unfortunately, today is not that day. But as we grieve his going and our staying behind, here are a few of the ways we are practicing how to cope in grief.
1. Show up
Grief often makes us feel unfit for public consumption. Truth be told, sometimes we are. But there is something so raw and true about wearing our grief in the open. Our society has become so consumed with the image of things that we don’t even know how to be real. Or if we do, we’re scared to death of it. Scared of the judgment and criticism and just plain haters that are always going to do their thing. They’re always going to be there and it’s not the critic who counts. When we show up, bearing our grief, we give others permission to do the same. And the truth is, we’re all grieving something.
2. Talk about it
My husband and I have talked more about our sweet old friend this past week than we talk about virtually anything. Our common love for our beloved pet has connected and bonded us together in our grief. We have laughed, cried, mourned and held each other more in the last few days than I remember in our whole marriage. Talking about him, about our grief, and knowing we’re not alone in it, makes it feel normal. It makes it more bearable. We are never alone in our suffering.
I didn’t want to see people when it was happening and when it was fresh. The morning he was going to Heaven a friend texted to tell me she was crying at home too. She told me we were not alone in our grief and I knew she needed to say goodbye to him too. So I invited her over, warning that it was not pretty. We were a mess of tears and swollen, puffy faces. Sometimes the tears turned into a wracking, sobbing ugly cry. It just did. It was and is part of the process of grief. Of saying goodbye and letting go. It’s terribly hard and uncomfortable and painful, but crying is part of the grief process and necessary to find the other side. Let yourself cry. Let yourself be wherever you are in the process knowing it will take you to the next step.
For me, I wasn’t always as kind as I now wish I would’ve been. I saw my frustration or desires, or the inconvenience of a particular situation. I focused on me in the relationship and now I have regret. I wish I could take some things back, I wish I could have a second chance to love him better. Give him more attention during those years of kids and chaos where he sometimes got forgotten. But I can’t and he’s gone. So I live remembering how he loved me so unconditionally anyway. I remember what he taught me so that I can live better.
5. Let it teach
Everything we go through in life has the potential to teach us. That is, if we’re listening. If we’re willing to look deeply into the painful places in our lives we inevitably are faced with the most difficult and important questions: Who am I? What do I believe in? What am I here for? What will I do with the time I have left? It’s important to let grief do it’s work in us. That we not leave a painful situation the same way it found us. Grief, loss and pain can be our greatest teachers.
6. Be thankful
Eventually, we will laugh. We will look at his pictures and tell stories and instead of tears we will smile. We will smile and laugh because he made us better. I posted an image on my Facebook page that summed up how we were feeling the days before we had to let him go. It said: “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” When he left, he took a piece of our hearts with him and we will never get them back. But we’re better for it. We’re the lucky ones to have loved and been loved so purely in return. I’m thankful for his deep, kind, loving heart that knew no bitterness or envy or malice. Only love. I’m thankful for having something that made saying goodbye so incredibly hard.
Grief is real and painful and overwhelmingly raw. It waits. No matter how far we try to run or deflect or deny, it demands to be felt. I’ve lost many people and things in my life and I’ve learned to embrace the suffering. To fully invest myself in the process of feeling the unbearable so I can come to accept what is, instead of what I want to be. Nothing lasts forever. We will lose and grieve and mourn, and hopefully we will learn something that makes us better. It’s important to show up in our suffering. To talk about it with trusted friends. To cry, and laugh and remember and be thankful because there is always something to be thankful for, even in the midst of sorrow.
We are the lucky ones. Those of us who have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. Let us remember that. Let us make that our song.