Grief is one of those things that can be complicated. While I’ve never sought formal training in being a grief coach or a grief therapist, it’s something that I’ve experienced in my years of practice. I’ve worked in hospice settings and in many hospitals where anticipatory grieving and grieving after a loved one has passed happened frequently. But there’s a significant level of less understanding for people who have lost a pet. Pet (especially dogs) are extensions of our families. My dog Sam was with me from high school all the way up until I finished my doctorate. He was a companion, pain in the butt, loyal friend, and a good listener. He didn’t have any safety awareness and tended to run up to cars instead of away. While he was brave in biting bigger dogs, his 13lb body shook from fear when there was a thunderstorm close by. He hated to have his paws touched but loved to find an empty lap to jump on and sleep. Overall, he was fairly mellow and didn’t have the explosive constant energy that was indicative of his breed. He usually slept through the night but on some occasions he wanted to go out every hour on the hour. Even after a year of him being gone I still miss him but I appreciate all the memories that I have of him. If there’s a doggie heaven I hope we’ll meet again.
This weekend has been one that has brought a myriad of emotions with it. It was the one year anniversary of my dog passing away and I woke up this morning to the news of the passing of a basketball great that unexpected and took the whole world by surprise. I remember watching his games growing up and feeling inspired by the work ethic that he displayed. His success was a product of hard work and also being a team player. He was loved and respected by millions but the gap that he and his daughter left in their immediate family will never be filled. It’s one of the things that’s just hard to wrap your head around. Life is so short and times like this remind you to hug your loved ones just a bit harder.
Today in lieu of being at work (which typically is the case on weekends), I had the chance to watch several episodes of Fix My Life on OWN. I was intrigued by the work that Iyanla does with couples. On a particular episode she addressed a couple who had been married 20 years but weren’t sure if they wanted to stay married. Iyanla brought up the point that wedding vows typically say “until death do us part” but they aren’t specific on what type of death warrants parting ways. Is it a physical death? The death of one’s commitment? Or is it the death of one’s individuality or emotional stability and wellbeing? What exactly does it mean? I think that these questions are up to each couple to define. However, I wonder how many couples actually have this type of conversation? It’s easy to promise something when you’re happy and naive but it’s a different story when you’re in the midst of a relational crisis. This is another reason why I think pre-marital counseling can be so important. It can bring up questions that you hadn’t considered before and help you lay a solid foundation for a successful relationship.
Recently I watched American Sniper–a movie that I always wanted to see but also somewhat dreaded. I’ve always been pretty sensitive and I try to stick to watching comedies. This was a movie about war and its horrors. There’s so much controversy now on what to do when the national anthem is played and all of a sudden people take it personal when someone exercises their constitutional right and peacefully protests. It’s interesting to me how a lot of the most vocal people complaining aren’t military members. The movie tells the story of a sniper who saved fallen comrades. It’s a great movie but the realities of war are hard to watch. I think that everyone should travel to the American cemetery in France where you can see the graves of soldiers of all ages and backgrounds who died to liberate others. I have to admit that I didn’t expect American Sniper to end the way that it did. I went and read about the book that it was based on. It’s not a happy movie but it’s a needed one that showed to some extent how serious PTSD can be. I remember meeting an army sniper in real life. He was in his early twenties but sobbed like a baby as he told me about how he shot a little boy who looked to be about the age of his brother. It was so sad to see how tortured he felt after doing his job and following the orders of his superiors. War is a horrible thing, but I wonder if people know that it’s possible to support the troops and not stand up for the National Anthem. Actions like that should never be mandated if we’re truly “the home of the free.” Furthermore, you can support the troops and advocate for better resources without agreeing with everything the military does. But that’s just my two cents.
Today was a rough day for me. It was also a rough day for a lot of people. I felt like I was on the verge of a full blown crying episode all day. I woke up to read about yet another senseless killing that should never have occurred. My social media page was inundated with the video of the man being murdered in cold blood by those who were supposed to protect him. I know my limits and I didn’t watch either of the videos that emerged from the incident. I read an article the other day about a man who got 15 years in prison for beating a puppy to death. It’s not easy to live in a place where justice can be served for the life of an animal but not for a black person. It’s a sobering reality that continues without any signs of stopping. We have a new hashtag, a new family that is grieving, but the same story. The truth is that black people have always been perceived as threats–even in times of slavery. There was a unanimous outcry on my timeline today for some sort of tangible action to happen. However, the vast majority calling for justice were those who had the skin color of the murdered man. I didn’t see any “allies” joining in. With all the talks of gun control in this country and the need for law abiding citizens to arm themselves against all enemies, foreign and domestic. maybe the first group of people we need to disarm is the police. It’s worked in other countries. This targeting of racial minorities and executing them needs to stop. It’s not about resisting arrest or feeling threatened, no one deserves a death sentence for selling CD’s.
This weekend on Sunday I looked at my phone as I usually do when I wake up and was horrified with what I read. It brought back memories for me of a Friday morning when I woke up to messages from people asking if I was ok when a gunman went into a theater about 15 minutes away from me and killed people. As the days have passed, I’ve watched the interviews with the survivors, observed all the varying views and conspiracy theorists on social media, and just felt generally sad. My heart goes out to all those affected. The people who just wanted a fun night out to celebrate with their friends and their families who have been sick with worry finally finding out if their loved one was one of the survivors or one that didn’t make it.The story about the guy whose last text to his mother was “I’m gonna die.” just broke my heart. It’s such a horrible horrible tragedy and lives were needlessly ended due to the decision of one disturbed individual. There’s really nothing that can be said to rationalize the murder of a group of people who were targeted (it appears) because of who they were as people. This event was also preceded by the murder of a singer as she was signing autographs after her concert. While it’s touching to see the kind acts of humanity by the community and the outpouring of love and support and genuine empathy and sympathy for all the lives lost, it’s still a sad reality that this happened in the first place. Maybe I’m jaded but I really don’t have a strong burning desire to bear and raise a child in the world we live in today. It feels unrealistic to hope that the next generation “gets it right.” No place is safe and it seems like an impossibility to change that. I appreciate the attitude of never-ending optimism because we really can’t afford to lose hope because it’s literally all we have. It just breaks my heart.
My thoughts and prayers for all those impacted by the Orlando tragedies
This article caught my eye and I wanted to blog about it because of its accurate description of an issue that many don’t want to address. You can read the article here. I don’t think that I’ve read an article that was so clear, honest. and straight forward about suicide. It’s a world that is foreign to a lot of people. Not because so few are affected, but because there’s little honest dialogue about it. The article reports that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the state for people ages 10 to 44. This is highly disturbing for a lack of a better word and it’s a world that I live and breathe in since it is so closely connected to my profession and current line of work. An interesting irony is that depression can make you feel as if you’re the only person in the world whose is struggling but in reality there are millions who share a similar struggle. The common thread that I observe in a lot of patients who have either attempted or are contemplating suicide is that they don’t want to be in pain anymore. This pain can be emotional, physical, or a combination of both. It can be related to stress or a situation that was out of their control that significantly affected them in a negative way. In some situations just being alone with their thoughts starts a downward spiral that can be hard to interrupt. Another reason why having empathy and compassion is important along with being supportive and knowing resources can be helpful. You don’t always know the internal struggles and battles of those around you.
One big part of my experience as a social worker who worked with patients in hospice care was provide emotional support to the families as they went through one of the toughest times in their lives. There are literally no words to describe the feeling of going into someone’s room who is surrounded by their family and knowing that they are mere hours or minutes away from death. I say all this to say that many times family and loved ones start to go through some or all of the stages of grief when the person is still alive. This is generally referred to as anticipatory grief. One thing that I’ve seen as a therapist is how people start to demonstrate some of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) when the relationship is about to die or appears to be on life support. However, one thing that has been interesting to me has been the people who are going through the stages of grief over a relationship that does not exist. This is what I mean. Let’s say someone is attracted to someone else but they have not taken the time or the initiative to show their interest to the one they find attractive. This person, having no idea that they are being admired from afar pursues other relationships to the horror of the one who likes them from a distance. The person admiring from a distance can go through the stages of grief because of the rejection that they feel and also at the many thoughts of having this individual and then losing them. But yet, the relationship never existed except in the mind of this individual. It’s funny how our minds can be creative and innovative but can also imprison us. Sometimes we have to get out of our own heads and stop inflicting the emotional wounds on ourselves because of distorted thoughts. Definitely easier said than done, but possible with self awareness and new thought habits.
I’m not going to lie, as a fairly young adult I don’t think about my mortality on a adult basis. Growing up I went to more funerals than most people have been to in their lives. It was always really sobering. This week on the wake of basking in the achievement of another significant professional stepping stone in my career, I was reminded of how previous life is. One of my jobs entails working the elderly population in a residential setting. This week I lost one of my patients. And by lost I mean that the patient died. As someone who is trained to intervene in situations in order to ensure safety and prevent death, providing emotional support as someone is dying is a new challenge. You find yourself going beyond your job description in order to do small things that might improve quality of life. To experience of starting a shift and seeing a patient alive to hours later when their body is rolled out by the mortuary technician is so sobering. I say all this to say that you never know how your actions can impact someone. Many times we are quick to talk about how we should have done things differently but how it’s too late. Hug your loved ones and tell them you love them. Express love and appreciation while they’re alive.