The most amazing thing happened to me on November 28th 2011. I had a baby. Reflecting back on that day, I realize now that it was quite the emotional rollercoaster. There was the initial shock of, “Oh my gosh, I’m in LABOR!”, followed by the flurry of getting to the hospital, notifying family and then actually physically having the baby. Did I mention childbirth really, really hurts? But, enough about that.

Throughout my pregnancy, I prided myself on my laid-back approach towards the whole thing. Aside from the average worries and complaints, pregnancy was a great experience for me. As my due date approached, I kept an open mind, throwing any idea of an actual ‘birth plan’ out the window. The goal was to have a safe delivery, whatever way the doctor saw fit. Luckily, for me and baby, that happened and my son’s birth was the best ending to the most painful and exhilarating experience of my life.

Upon being discharged from the hospital, sleepless nights were followed by sleepless days and we were intoxicated by our overwhelming love for this tiny human. I felt like I was on top of the world! However, about a week after baby arrived, I started to experience some painful headaches and dizzy spells. A couple of days later, I woke up to find that these symptoms were accompanied by complete left-side facial paralysis.

An emotional trip to the emergency room ended with me being diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, a disorder where the nerve that controls the muscles of the face is so damaged that it results in paralysis. I was stunned.  The doctors told me that the condition was not terminal and only temporary (thank God), but that it would probably take up to six months to regain function of the facial muscles.

The emphasis that we place on vanity in our culture was enough to make the diagnosis upsetting, but when the reality that I may not be able to smile at my son for SIX MONTHS set in, the waterworks really started to flow. There were a lot of things that I expected to happen (or not) after childbirth, but Bell’s Palsy was not one of them. I quickly realized that, subconsciously, I did have a plan and Bell’s Palsy was NOT part of it.

In the week following my diagnosis, I gave in to my grief. Trying to balance keeping a baby alive and having a pity party for myself was difficult, but fortunately I had a great support system around me who helped with the baby and allowed me to mourn the loss of this subconscious plan I had, where everything post-childbirth would be great.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Bell’s Palsy is that there is virtually nothing the medical community can do to help treat it. The frustration is magnified when you have a proactive personality like I do. I wanted to do something, anything to help expedite my recovery.

Fortunately, one of my dearest friends is a skilled massage therapist and she was able to get my pain under control, nevermind provide me with amazing emotional and spiritual support. I do believe that massage helped me tremendously, both in my grief journey and in my road to recovery from Bell’s Palsy.

It’s now almost six weeks since the initial diagnosis, and I am happy to report that there has been great improvement in the paralysis. I truly believe that my prayers have been answered, as my smile is one of the first things that is coming back. The simple joy of being able to smile at my baby is one of the greatest gifts I could ask for.

3 days before onset, 3 weeks into recovery, 5 weeks into recovery

As a counselor, I often witness others in grief trying to find the blessings amidst all the chaos that life brings. I am witness to many of ‘plans’ falling apart and the pain that often ensues. Being on the receiving end, as counselors are not exempt, is always an interesting and humbling experience.

In some years, when I am sharing this story with my son, I hope that he will be able to learn something valuable from it. Sure, Bell’s Palsy was not part of my plan, but life isn’t about plans. Life is about growing, learning and blessing others.

Blessings.

I recently had dinner with one of my favorite local girlfriends. And, like girlfriends do, before the waiter even had a chance to take our order, we were knee-deep in conversation about our childhood’s. Conversations reminiscent of our early years are always interesting when I meet up with this particular friend, mainly because she shares my Mexican ethnicity. It’s a treat, mixed with a good dose of humor, when I can sit down and chat with someone who recognizes a tortilla as a proper eating utensil and can fully relate to stories about cranky Mexican grandmothers.

During this particular dinner conversation, my friend candidly shared struggles she’s had in her attempts to have a healthy and productive relationship with a certain family member. I listened as she summed up her feelings of frustration, sadness and constant state of questioning this relatives intentions. As a friend, who happens to be a therapist, I simply stated that it sounded like she was grieving the loss of what this relationship ‘should be’, ‘could be’ and may never be. Her response: “Wow, I’ve never thought of these feelings as grief.”

Whether it be sessions with therapy clients, conversations over dinner with friends, or my own life experiences, it becomes more and more apparent to me how little our American culture acknowledges grief as a common emotion. We are very savvy when it comes to acknowledging happiness, sadness or anger, but often overlook the emotion of grief. Time and time again, this leaves people who are grieving feeling very confused because they are unable to fit their feelings into a happy/sad/mad category.

My friend and I spent the rest of our dinner conversation discussing unique life situations that may cause feelings of grief, but not necessarily be acknowledged as grief experiences. Some of these experiences may include:

  • Job loss/career change
  • The ending of a friendship
  • Transitioning from high school to college or college to career
  • A change in your physical ability/body image
  • Empty Nest
  • Moving to a new city, even if by choice

As you can see, there are many life experiences that do not include death/dying that could cause a person grief.  When looking up the definition of grief online, you will see that it is often defined by phrases such as sorrow, keen mental suffering, anguish, painful regret and distress over affliction or loss.  Simply put, grief is an emotion that we feel after a major (or minor) life event takes place.

What are some life experiences that have caused you feelings of grief in the past that may not be viewed as ‘typical’ grief experiences?  Your feedback will not only help me to identify topics of interest to write on, but may also help to normalize someone elses grief experience. I thank my readers in advance for their feedback and contributions!

Blessings

If our offspring proves to not be too terribly stubborn, my husband and I should welcome our first child in about twelve weeks. If this baby turns out to be terribly stubborn, I plan on blaming the genetics of one of my siblings. Regardless of what personality quirks this kid will possess, one thing is certain. Life, as we know it, is about to change.

I’ve spent the last 28 weeks putting a lot of thought into the ways that life is going to change. According to every person I know who has already had a child/children, this change is going to be the most awesome blessing we will ever experience. Although I cannot relate wholeheartedly yet to this theory, I can only imagine that it must be something pretty darn special. I’ve never heard anyone say otherwise. So, why does my brain keep coming back to, and zero-ing in on, the basic (yet, terrifying) fact that everything is about to change? I’m still trying to figure out a way I can blame this on one of my siblings.

My husband and I were lucky enough to spend Labor Day weekend alone, in a quaint, yet stylish home in the hills of West Virginia. We are blessed to have gracious friends who lent us this home for the weekend and urged us to soak up all of the nature and silence that it had to offer. It was glorious! We spent four days reflecting, hiking, eating, napping and enjoying each others company. Sure, there was a lot of talk about baby (like what to name this little being), but we also spent ample time talking about ‘us’ before baby. After knowing each other for ten years, six of which we’ve been married, we realized that there is a lot to ‘us’.

Come November, when baby makes three, the definition of ‘us’ is going to change. We planned for and very much look forward to this baby turning our world upside down, but there is a little piece of my heart that is going to miss and needs to grieve the loss of ‘us’ as we currently know it. In talking this over with some of my nearest and dearest girlfriends who have already crossed over into mommyhood, they helped me realize that this is a completely normal feeling to have when only twelve weeks away from one of life’s biggest changes.

So, it’s time to practice what I preach here on The Mourning News! Instead of neglecting, denying or stuffing these very real feelings I am experiencing, I am choosing to embrace, acknowledge and face them head on. I can’t stop at just acknowledging these feelings, but also need to find healthy ways to mourn (hence this blog post…so thanks for listening!). 

Maybe you find yourself in a different season of life right now, but experiencing similar feelings about a special relationship. The ‘us’ in your life might be the friendship that changes after you relocate for a job or go away to college. Maybe a loved one or a special pet died and changed the definition of ‘us’ for you or your family. We all experience this to some degree, and grieving and mourning these feelings is a healthy step towards coping with all the different ways the ‘us’ will change throughout life.

A quote I often hear used is, “The only thing constant in life is change.” Agreed. Big changes are on the horizon for the Wilson family. What lies ahead for us is new, unchartered, and life altering territory. However, I can honestly say that the horizon has never looked sweeter.

Blessings

I love my parents.  And, I’m fairly certain that they love me.  At certain points in my life, I pridefully assumed that my parents loved me more than they loved my other four siblings.  However, I’m fairly certain that they love us all equally, meaning they love us all A LOT.  My parents were very hands-on, rarely missing an opportunity to attend sporting events, concerts, art shows or other venues where they could put their love on full display (i.e. screaming “Always remember Mama loves you!” or standing on a table in the Detroit airport ‘raising the roof’ as I boarded my first international flight).  Oh, I love my parents and they love me…err, I mean, us.

With five children in a small bungalow with one bathroom, our house was always full of energy, noise and clutter.  As each of us aged from adorable infants to downright moody adolescents then finally young adults who thought we “knew it all”, the dynamic of the house changed.  I remember having a conversation with my dad about “flying the nest” the summer before I left for college.  He told me that he was proud to see me succeed, but sad to see me go.  At 18 years old, it’s safe to assume I did not understand what he meant, but now with some clinical training, a baby on the way and 30 years under my wings, I think I “kind of” get it.  My parents were getting their first taste of an empty nest, a very unique grieving process.

Empty Nest Syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes (psychologytoday.com).  Historically, empty nest syndrome is believed to affect more women than men, but as family dynamics and our culture changes and becomes increasingly sensitive to the emotions of both genders, research is showing that both a female or male caregiver can feel this grief when their child(ren) leave home.

Whether a parent stays at home and/or seeks employment outside of the home, many mom’s and dad’s consider parenting their primary job.  Once the only or the last child moves out, parents may feel that their top responsibility in life is suddenly extinct and feelings of emptiness, loss of purpose/identity, sadness and depression may ensue. 

Research suggests that certain factors may also increase a parents difficulty to transition from a full to an empty nest.  Some of these factors include:

  • Having a difficult emotional transition out of their own parents home as a young adult.
  • Viewing change, in general, as stressful rather than challenging/refreshing.
  • Experiencing other major life events simultaneously such as retiring, menopause, death of a spouse etc.
  • Lack of a support system.
  • A marriage being unstable/unsatisfactory.
  • Measuring your self-worth solely by the roles that you play in life.
  • Apprehension about your child’s ability to “make it” in the real world.  (www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au)

Like other types of grief and loss, the most important thing a parent can do is acknowledge how having an empty nest makes them feel and then allowing themselves to grieve and mourn these feelings.  Empty nest grief is an individual spectrum, and the emotions felt are going to be unique to each individual parent, even if they are grieving over the same nest. 

Secondary to acknowledging your grief and allowing yourself to mourn, here are some tips that may help cope with an empty nest:

  • Give yourself time to adjust to the changes that an empty nest brings.  Research suggests that it can take over a year to establish a “new normal” in regards to your day-to-day living.
  • Seek advice and support from friends who may have experienced empty nest grief.
  • If one child has moved out and others are still at home, start preparing for an empty nest now.  Small gradual changes and preparation along the way can lessen the blow when your last child leaves home.
  • Make a list of hobbies/interests and things you could not do while raising children.  Devise a plan to start exploring these things one at a time.
  • Don’t make big decisions (i.e. selling your house) for at least one year.  Give yourself time to adjust to an empty nest before incorporating other major life transitions.
  • Keep/make self-care a priority.  Healthy eating and exercise can have major physical, emotional and psychological benefits!
  • Seek professional counseling if your depression worsens, if you find yourself turning to unhealthy ways of coping  (i.e. drugs/alcohol, gambling etc.) or if you feel you would benefit from additional help.

Parenting and an empty nest are both important and emotional seasons of life.  It is important to embrace both the bitter and the sweet aspects of each season.  I can remember, as a little girl, sitting on my dad’s lap and begging him to never make me leave home.  Fast forward 18 years and it was my dad on one pant leg and my mom on the other begging me to never leave them. 

As I stand on the brink of parenthood, I feel that it’s important to send one more message before I cross over to “the other side”.  From one child to her parents: It is a fact that your kids will always need you, we will just need you in different ways throughout our lives.  Thanks in advance for always being there.

Blessings

In your opinion, what makes a loss “complicated”?  You’ll probably explore several variables when trying to answer this question.  The relationship you had with the one you lost.  The age of the person who died.  The circumstances surrounding the death.  All of these are valid circumstances to factor in. 

In my work as a grief and loss counselor, I’ve never met an individual who would define their loss experience as “uncomplicated”.  As an individual who has experienced the loss of many people I have loved, I would agree.  It’s all complicated.  However, there are some losses that leave many unanswered questions, with the remaining byproduct being survivors feeling torn inside out and upside down.  Suicide is one of these losses. 

In the past few months, myself and my peer group have been affected by two suicides.  The tragic loss of the father of a good friend brought many to their knees in sorrow and prompted a rally of support.  Another suicide, one of a school mate I first befriended in 5th grade, shocked the community and initiated a firestorm of Facebook posts of people sharing their disbelief and sadness.  Suicide leaves people bewildered, emotionally stunned and most of the time asking “why?”.  To say that suicide is complicated, well, is a understatment.

When our friend’s father committed suicide in March, people asked things like, “What should we say to him?” and “How can we make it better?”.  It was truly one of those times in life where there was nothing to say to make it better and no amount of support could be given to make our friend’s pain go away. However, the support, the words, the cards and the love seemed to be just what our friend wanted and needed.  So, that’s what we gave.

Many of my previous articles have discussed the taboo nature that our society has imposed on issues of grief and loss, and unfortunately, grief after a suicide is no different.  Some people may feel that a suicide is not a valid loss because the person chose to take their own life.  Others may view it as a valid loss, but feel that a funeral or a celebration of life memorial are not appropriate given the circumstances surrounding the death. 

I recently looked up the definition of “taboo” in the dictionary and it read as follows: “A ban or an inhibition resulting from social custom or emotional aversion”.  I then went on to look up the definition of “aversion” which read: “The avoidance of a thing, situation or behavior because it has been associated with a painful or unpleasant stimulus”.  So basically, we avoid lending support to people who are coping with a loss due to suicide because it is too emotionally painful for us???  Come on, we can do better than that! 

Below are some suggestions I hope you find helpful if you ever need to give support to a person you care about after a suicide.

Don’t judge the person for how they feel

Grief after a suicide may bring about a wealth of mixed emotions for survivors. Shock, sadness, anger, guilt and relief are a few emotions they may experience.  Support your friend or loved one by validating any emotion they might have, even if it is one that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Don’t add to societal stigmas

Like I mentioned above, our society has already developed various ideas and opinions that cause suicide to be viewed as taboo.  When you are supporting someone who is grieving after a suicide, the last thing they need is for you to add to any stigma.  Don’t avoid them, don’t judge them or the deceased person and don’t pretend that the death didn’t happen.  This can cause survivors to feel alienated and alone.

Encourage and validate the need to grieve and mourn 

Grieving and mourning are sometimes used synonymously in our culture when, in fact, they are very different.  Grieving is how we feel and mourning is how we show those feelings.  Encourage those affected by suicide to explore how they are feeling and to find safe ways to show those feelings.  Healing comes when we stop denying ourselves or each other the right to grieve and the right to mourn.

Offer practical assistance 

After a loss, most families find themselves in the throes of a logistical nightmare.  Funeral planning, hosting out-of-town guests, sorting out insurance policies and selling real estate are all things that have to happen on top of the every day demands of living like cooking, cleaning and transporting kids to and from school.  Offer concrete assistance such as making meals, picking people up from the airport or babysitting so that the family can tend to immediate needs.

Be there to offer support now, later and much later 

It’s obvious that immediately following a suicide, your friends and family may need your support.  However, like most losses, the days following the death end up being a blur and it may be at the end of those initial days that the shock wears off and the grief sets in.  Or it could be weeks or months later.  Regardless, be there to give support in the short and long-term.  Remember that holidays, anniversaries or other important days may be especially challenging.  Lend your support during these times by calling, visiting or sending a card. 

The day before the memorial service for our friend’s father, about fifteen guys came together to help our friend celebrate his birthday.  It was, I’m sure, different than birthday celebrations before.  But most importantly, it was a chance for the guys to sit around, let our friend and his brother talk openly about the loss in addition to talking about sports, work and women.   I have no doubt that this night was very healing for everyone involved.

Know that your words matter 

In preparing for this article, I conversed with our friend, trying to pick his brain about what direction he would like to see this writing go.  I appreciated his honesty, in saying that the couple of months following his father’s suicide have been jam-packed with taking care various logistical details, and that he hasn’t had much time to focus on his own grief.  Aware of his grief, and the importance of both grieving and mourning, he acknowledged that he knows the hard days are to come…when he finally has time to confront those feelings.  Although busy, he said that he seeks comfort each day in reading the hundred or so cards he has received since the time of his father’s suicide.  To him, the words on those cards really do matter. 

One card that particularly touched him read as follows: “Why? That’s what we ask. The truth is, we may never be able to know for sure why. But we do know that there is no single “should have done” or “could have done” or “did” or “didn’t do” that would have changed that why. All that love could do was done.” 

Believe me, your words matter.

I know that this article doesn’t hold all of the answers and there are plenty of other healthy and productive ways you can support someone who has been affected by suicide that I didn’t mention.  However, I hope this article helped to show you that you need not be intimidated of giving support to surviving family members and friends after a suicide.  Put aside your apprehension, all of the societal taboos you’ve been fed over the years and unleash your uninhibited love and support.  They need it.

Blessings

For additional reading and support check out these books:”Understanding Your Suicide Grief” and “The Wilderness of Suicide Grief: Finding Your Way” by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. or this article http://griefwords.com/index.cgi?action=page&page=articles%2Fhelping14.html&site_id=202

If someone you know is contemplating suicide, visit www.suicide.org for practical information on how to get them immediate assistance.

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting family in a part of Arizona known as “The Valley of the Sun”.  Born and raised in the Midwest, I have a great appreciation for (and never take advantage of) sunshine in March.  Especially sunshine that is accompanied by a warm 75 degrees. 

We try to make it to Arizona once a year to visit my husband’s grandparents, who live in a stunningly nice retirement community near Phoenix.  And, by “retirement community” I mean a neighborhood full of charming stucco and tiled roof homes that sit on a beautiful golf course, a community that is complete with a club house and multiple swimming pools.  

During this year’s trip, I found myself coming back to the same thought.  I am truly blessed.

I’m no stranger to hard work, spending most days in Toledo growing my counseling practice and tending to my marriage, home and family.  I financed my way through undergrad and graduate school to not only take a shot at making the world a better place, but also to be able to take vacations and hopefully, one day, retire comfortably.  However, I would be remiss to think that I am at this juncture in my life solely by my own doing.  Again, I am truly blessed.  As are the many retirees down in Phoenix.

Last I checked, the U.S. unemployment rate is still hovering around 9.0%.  And while the economy looks (on some days) to be making a half-hearted comeback, that probably doesn’t provide too much immediate solace for those who are, as I write, skimming through the classifieds and agonizing over what, if anything, will be put on the dinner table tonight. 

The loss of a job and/or the ability to provide for one’s family can bring on immense feelings of grief.  This grief, however, often gets overlooked, pushed aside or frowned upon.  In the land of “we put one foot in front of the other” it may be hard to recognize or admit the grief one may feel when their livelihood is stripped away. 

Maybe your employer closed up shop, downsized or laid you off.   Or maybe you had to walk away from your job due to other logistical reasons.  Whatever the case, allow yourself to grieve the loss of what was, and what is no more.  In America, we often define ourselves by our job or the title that comes with it.  Grieve the loss of this definition before you venture into the world of redefinition. 

Grieving doesn’t mean giving up.  Grieving means you are being honest.  It’s surprising how being honest with ourselves is often the initial catalyst towards positive change.

I know that allowing yourself to grieve will not bring your job back or magically put food on the dinner table.  However, what grieving can do is stave off a deeper depression that you might fall into if you deny yourself the right to grieve.  You need to be well mentally, physically and emotionally to take on this economy.  

Cry, pout, confide in a trusted friend and then, when you’re ready, pull out those classifieds again.  It will get better, it has to.

Blessings

To look for jobs in the U.S. visit www.usajobs.opm.gov  or www.monster.com.  To look for jobs in Northwest Ohio visit www.thesourcenwo.com

Questions to TMN Readers: Have you ever had to grieve the loss of a job?  How did you cope with this loss? 

I recently finished reading the New York Times Bestseller, Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.  The summary on the inside of the book jacket describes Still Alice as “an extraordinary debut novel about an accomplished woman who slowly loses her thoughts and memories to a harrowing disease -only to discover that each day brings a new way of living and loving”.  I have to agree, that Still Alice is a pretty extraordinary story. 

Alice Howland is the main character in this novel.  The beginning chapters highlight, in vast detail, the accomplished life that Alice led.  As a noted scholar and professor of psychology at Harvard, Alice spent her entire adult life making a name for herself in the dog-eat-dog world of Ivy League academia.  In addition to working her way into the upper echelon of her career field, she is also married to another Harvard professor and has three well-adapted and successful adult children.  The first few chapters give readers the feeling that Alice is somewhat of a superhero.  But then, you read on.  The chapters that follow describe, in heart-wrenching detail, the stripping away of everything Alice worked for, cared about and loved.  Stripped away, at the hands of a debilitating disease.  For, at the mere age of 50, Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Alice’s grief journey begins the moment she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  Some may think that the only grief Alice would/should feel is the grief surrounding the knowledge that she will ultimately die from this incurable disease.  However, the author of this novel, Lisa Genova, eloquently and empathetically shows readers just how far the depth of grief can go for someone living with Alzheimer’s.  Alice is losing and grieving so much, all while still living.  Over the course of two years, Alice loses her ability to do most everything that brings her joy.  Unable to stay organized and remember pertinent class material, she is asked to step down from her teaching position at Harvard.  Once an avid runner, Alice is forced to stop when, on more than one occassion, she gets lost only blocks from her home and can’t find her way back.  As the Alzheimer’s progresses, she confuses her children for strangers and is robbed of the ability to be intimate with her husband.  Beautifully written, yet devastatingly sad, Still Alice demonstrates that there are so many layers of loss that the terminally ill (and their families) will grieve.

Another part of this easy to read page-turner that captured my attention was when Alice asks her doctor and social worker to help her find a support group for early-onset Alzheimer’s patients.  Even though Alice lived in an urban community, a community centered around an Ivy League university, the doctor and social worker had not one support group referral to suggest.  The only established support groups in the area were for the caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients.  A natural go-getter, Alice refuses to stop there, and finds a way to start her own support group, inviting other patients she finds through online communities.  As an avid reader, I’m well aware that some books tend to embellish facts in order to make the story more interesting.  However, as a clinical social worker, I know that the lack of resources for those grieving (regardless of the circumstances) is astonishing, even in our most equipped communities.  The author did a fabulous job bringing this very real need to the attention of her readers.

Many of you reading this may have the resources and ability to start a support group in your community.  However, I know from experience, that this can be a huge feat.  If you’re not up to that challenge just yet, please remember that all of us are capable of one thing for sure.  We can commit to showing empathy, support and compassion to those around us who are suffering from incurable diseases, and remain sensitive to their grief.  Remember that, along with the eventuality of death, these individuals are grieving the loss of so many things that define their life. 

So, today, make it a priority to send them a card, treat them to lunch or offer to come over, sit with them for a while and just listen.

Blessings

Growing up, I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have a dog. In fact, I am blessed to have a mom who not only loves her children unconditionally, but also has a HUGE heart for adopting “misunderstood dogs”. And, when I say “misunderstood”, I really mean dogs that were too big and too rowdy for our modest two bedroom bungalow. It took us a few tries to find the best dog for our family’s lifestyle, but when I was sixteen, we hit the jackpot of all doggy jackpots! We adopted Porkchop!

Porkchop Toby Harris was our lazy beagle who we liked to refer to as “a cat trapped in a dog’s body”. He didn’t fetch, showed no interest in dog toys (but too much interest in food), barked once a day (at the mailman, naturally), tolerated being dressed up in ridiculous costumes and loved to just lay around snuggled up to a warm body. Porkchop was the epitome of a “loyal companion” and “man’s best friend”. More than that, Porkchop was one of us. He was family. His run in the Harris household lasted 13 years, and sadly in October 2010, we had to have Porkchop put to sleep. It was one of the most difficult losses our family has had to face. However, some in our society may not consider Porkchop’s death a “real” loss.  

Recent surveys indicate that over half of American families have a pet (only 34% have children) and more than 84% consider their pets family members (source: associatedcontent.com). I think it’s safe to assume then, that more than 84% of pet owners would say that they love their pet. So, when trying to figure out if a pet’s death is a “real” loss, let’s ask ourselves this: “If we have the capacity to love our pet, don’t we have the capacity to grieve the loss of our pet?”

As with any loss, it is necessary to surround yourself with support when your pet dies. Make sure there are people in your life that you can talk to openly about fond memories as well as your feelings of grief. Remember that your feelings of grief will vary and that sometimes you’ll be able to talk about your pet and laugh and at other times you’ll feel like crying. Laugh when you need to and cry when you need to! Shortly before Porkchop died, a couple of my siblings and I laid on the floor with him, shedding tears and sharing memories. It was such a sad, but healing moment! Today, four months after his death, there are still a few tears shed when talking about Porkchop or when someone is missing his presence at a family function. There is a healing quality to those tears, so shed them at your dismay!

When a pet dies, it’s also important to remember that every family member may experience feelings of grief that are unique to them. For older adults, the relationship with a pet is often the most meaningful relationship they have in their lives. The death of the pet can have a significant impact, particularly if the older adult is isolated from human contact (source: A Wolfelt). For the person in charge of the pet’s day to day care, their total daily routine changes when that pet dies which may a difficult transition. A child’s experience with the loss of a pet can be significant not only because the pet is considered a family member, but also because the death of a pet is often a child’s first experience with grief and loss.Close friends of mine recently lost their dog Missy (an adorable, meek and loving Toy Poodle) after finding out that Missy had a rare blood disorder. I was blessed to be kept in the loop and able to provide support from the time that Missy was diagnosed, to the time that my friends had to make the devastating decision to have her euthanized. Such an agonizing few weeks for my dear friends! Although I would never wish this situation on anyone, I will say that I was in awe of the way my friends coped through (and are coping with) this loss. Missy was loved by all in that household, especially my friends two daughters, ages 3 and 6. With the sudden onset of Missy’s illness, my friends had quite the parenting dilemma on their hands. How should they involve or not involve the girls in Missy’s illness and pending death? Their approach to this very difficult situation is why I am in awe. As parents, they made sure that the girls were kept informed in an age-appropriate and sensitive way and gave their daughter’s the choice to be as involved as they wanted in Missy’s care, yet encouraged them to take the distance they needed. My friends shed tears in front of their daughters (daddy included) and explained that they were very sad about Missy’s sickness and death. They allowed the girls to make “get well” cards, visit Missy in the vet hospital and gave the girls an opportunity to say goodbye before Missy was euthanized. Recently, my friend called to tell me that the girls had just finished two paintings of Missy that were promptly hung up in the hallway for the family to admire. What an awesome ritual of remembrance! As difficult as this loss has been for my friends, I am confident that these little girls have had such a healthy first experience with grief.

 

So, is saying farewell to Fido a “real” loss? YES! We love our pets and, despite all our flaws, our pets unconditionally love us! So, if you’ve lost a pet, grieve that loss. You deserve it and so do they.

Blessings 

 For more information on pet loss, check out this article by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D www.centerforloss.com/articles.php?file=helping22.php

(Post originally written on Feb. 13, 2011)

February is a month that represents a variety of things to me. Cold weather (accompanied by dirty gray snow), the Super Bowl (Go Packers!), mid-winter vacation, and another government holiday (President’s Day) where I’ll undoubtedly trudge over to the post office before realizing it is closed. I would be amiss, however, if I failed to mention that February is also a month that represents LOVE. For each year, on February 14th, us Americans celebrate (or protest) the holiest of all Hallmark holiday’s….Valentine’s Day! I am neither a lover or hater (no pun intended) of this holiday, however, I do enjoy a good excuse to go out to a nice restaurant and pick out a sappy romantic card for my husband.

Today, on the eve of this grand holiday, I spent a couple of hours engaged in one of my least favorite (but necessary) weekly chores. I went grocery shopping. As soon as I walked through the door of my local supermarket, it was if Cupid himself assaulted me with all things red, pink and “heart-y”. A huge Valentine’s Day display greeted me in the foyer (staring me down as I sanitized my shopping cart) and it seemed as though a similar display was stationed at every congested turn in the store. Strategically displayed between the cereal aisle and natural food department was an entire aisle devoted Valentine’s Day. Well, let me rephrase that. It was a partial aisle. About half of the aisle was littered with boxes of chocolate, picked over Toy Story and Dora the Explorer cards and a variety of stuffed animals holding stuffed hearts. All things I would expect to see at a store on the day before Valentine’s Day.

Where things get confusing is that the other half of the aisle was already set up with chocolate bunny’s, ceramic bunny’s, grass filled baskets, Peeps and those delicious Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (my greatest springtime vice). That’s right, the store is all set to go for Easter! A holiday that is a month and a half away! Now, those who know me personally, would probably classify me as more of a “planner” than a “free-spirit”, but as I stood there in the grocery store today I found myself thinking, “Man, what is the RUSH?”.

It didn’t take me long to come up with a logical explanation that would justify this Half Valentine’s Day/Half Easter (with a little bit of St. Patty’s Day and 75% off Hanukkah gear mixed in) aisle. My Answer: This is America. In America, we eat our fast-food fast, drive fast and want to get rich/thin/qualified as fast as possible. Slowing down is often not part of our repertoire. As a grief and loss counselor, I meet with bereaved individuals who often express a desire to resolve their grief FAST. Most of the time, this is not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. In recent years, American culture has fallen victim to trying to find the fastest, easiest and preferably the most painless avenue we can to “get over” our grief. Yet, to heal in grief one must turn inward, slow down, embrace pain, and seek and accept support [Source: A. Wolfelt]. Unlike our commercialized approach to holidays, grief is not something that should (or feasibly can) be rushed through. Your grief journey should not be about “finding the fast way out” or measuring how “well” you are doing compared to others around you. The human heart doesn’t heal according to a time clock. When it comes to embracing grief, fast is certainly not better [Source: A. Wolfelt].

As we approach February 14th, I challenge you to stop and smell the roses (literally and metaphorically). Even if you choose not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, make it a point to tell someone special that you love them or do a small charitable deed before the month of February is over. For those of you who are grieving the loss of someone you love, my heart and prayers go out to you. I encourage you also to slow down, find a safe place to share your grief, mourn openly and remember that in order to heal your grieving heart you must allow yourself to feel your grieving heart.

Blessings

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The Author

Raquel Wilson, MSW, LISW-S

TMN’s Mission

The mission of The Mourning News (TMN) is simple: To give grief a new name. In recent years, our culture has drastically changed the way we view grief. Grief is not something we uplift, but rather look down up. My hope is that TMN gives readers a chance to look at grief in a whole new light. To embrace it rather than push it away.