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 week has been one of the most emotionally challenging ones that I’ve had in a while. I had to to say goodbye to my dog that I have had since I was 16 or so. He was quirky, stubborn, spoiled, and a bit slow at times but he was mine. I remember when my family first got him. He jumped into our car after we opened our garage one day and just stuck around. He lived in four different states and took road trips from Georgia to Michigan and Colorado. The great thing about him was that he was very good-natured and loved children. I never had any worries about him becoming aggressive as he was always incredibly gentle. He had the most expressive brown eyes that expressed his displeasure when he didn’t get the food he wanted or he wasn’t taken outside soon enough. He also loved carbohydrates in all forms including pasta, pie dough, and ramen and preferred a boiled egg to any type of dog food. He slept beside me every night for years and would often hog my pillow as he sprawled out across the bed. He was alive for every major heartbreak of my adult life as well as some teenage ones. Unlike most dogs of his breed he enjoyed chilling out and wanted to be held and cuddled most of the time. He would often fall asleep on my lap or chest as I was doing my homework. He hated loud noises which included gunshots and fireworks. Whenever it stormed I would stay up with him all night because he was so scared and would shake uncontrollably. He was lost on several occasions, he was trapped in a hole for a day, he suffered a brain injury from an attack from another dog, and he almost hung himself from our deck after jumping off and getting caught by his leash. He also ran towards cars instead of away from them. This dog was a freaking walking miracle. And yet he remained unbothered and continued to demonstrate poor safety awareness up until the very end. He was the perfect sized dog to pick up and pull out of any immediate danger rather quickly. Despite all his flaws I knew that he loved and trusted me until the very end when he put his little head on my chest and sighed before he went to sleep forever. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. He lived a long, adventurous and full 17 years and I’ll miss him forever. Life will never be the same without him and his quirks.
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.
One of the things that I appreciate about social work is that there is an abundance of things to do. You aren’t required to stay doing the same thing for decades at a time. There’s room to try something different and learn a completely new set of skills while still working in the field. One thing I’ve noticed is that while people are all different, they share a lot of commonalities as well. There’s a video that went viral recently where a lady was recounting her experience at a popular store. She observed a customer being nasty to a cashier that appeared flustered and to be having a bad day. After confronting the customer, the cashier shared that he had had a very recent tragic loss and was struggling to pay rent. The lesson from the story is that you never know what someone is going through so be kind to everyone. The holidays can bring up so many emotions for people as they remember loved ones they miss and re-hash old wounds with family members. It’s a time that many people are especially fragile and as someone who has worked in mental health, I’ve noticed there’s a increase in suicide attempts after major holidays. This isn’t an appeal for world peace (as much as we need it). Just a reminder to try to be a bit more patient and kind as you interact with people. You don’t know their stories.
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.