My Personal Journey Through Grief
I purchased "A 30 Day Guide to healing from the loss of your pet" by Gael J. Ross, LCSW. It's also a place where you could vent your emotions on a day-to-day basis.
Before I get to my journal (which is listed at the bottom of this page), I thought I'd first mention some tips that I selected from this book. I feel it is important that anyone who is going through a grieving process should read this, and I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.
Loss related to pet loss consists of: The actual loss; the void; and loss associated with earlier losses.
The feeling of loss experienced when a beloved pet dies can be as intense as, or even greater than, that experienced when a human acquaintance dies.
The loss of a pet who played a significant role in your daily life can create a major feeling of total emptiness with a struggle to create a new and different routine.
Experts agree that the loss of a child is one of life's most traumatic events. For many animal owners, their pets are their children.
The Steps for Recovery:
Shock: This is usually the first reaction that you have upon the actual death of your pet. You might even lapse into denial of the actual loss
Anger: In my particular case, I couldn't stop beating myself up for a variety of reasons. I was angry at God when Skylar kept having seizures. I was angry at life and how it truly sucks at times! -- (Please note that other people experience other types of anger, and that the above pertains only to my individual case).
Guilt: Where one goes over and over previous events. An endless cycle of "would have, could have, should have." It brings about extreme sadness and depression. It is a form of obsessing that does nothing other than make one feel worse than one already does.
Reaching Out: Talk to other people who can understand your loss: (i.e. in my case: Richie, Ed, Mom, Dad, Steve). I'm holding onto these people like grim death. I need them all more than ever at this point in my life!!!
Re-Living - Regretting: Rethinking the things that you wish you had done differently. It is really going back to the "ruminating" or "guilt" phase where you are blaming yourself. Such thoughts feed a fantasy (however futile) that something you might have done could have saved your dog's life. It is normal for such self-blame to occur. Remember, grief is often two steps forward and one step back. The sooner you can stop this backwards movement the better.
Resolving - Readjusting: It is at this point that you begin to stop blaming yourself. You will still be feeling pain, but it is less intense and less omnipresent. -- This happened for me on Wednesday, March 7th (two weeks later).
Recovering: In the beginning, recovery from your loss may feel impossible. You are now feeling more energy and are able to take on more tasks or activities that you did not pursue when you were so absorbed by your loss. You might think about going on trips that you did not want to take for fear of leaving your dog. You might change your appearance, move, or engage in just about any activity that leads to making a better life for yourself without your beloved dog by your side.
Four Tasks Necessary to Complete Mourning:
1) Acceptance: Accept the reality of the loss; that reunion is impossible, at least in this life. The opposite of acceptance is Denial: (of the loss; of the meaning of the loss; and of the irreversality of the loss).
2) Pain: It is necessary to work through the pain of grief. That we experience pain, it means that we've experienced joy of the days we have with our beloved dog. Loving someone consists of both pain and pleasure. You can't have one without the other.
3) Adjusting: The next step is to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing. This can be especially difficult for those whose dog was an integral part of his/her daily life. The involuntary change in those habits can be overwhelming. Pets give us a sense of structure and continuity. When he is gone, so is the established pattern of our daily lives.
4) Emotionally relocate the deceased and move forward in your life. It is a most necessary step. Until we come to terms with our loss, the road forward will be very difficult.
5) Here's my own added tip: Remember all the good times and all the wonderful devotion you had toward your dog. This helped me pull through during my worst time(s). Although the memories hurt at certain stages during the grieving process, they can also comfort you knowing that you've done your very best for your best friend. I'm happy to admit that I've included Skylar in every possible aspect of my life. I grasped every possible opportunity to be with him and share activities with him. Keeping this in mind brings me a sense of peace.
An added note about "going home"
In contrast to the way I've been feeling about going home, I used to love going home. Especially after a long day at work, I couldn't wait to see Skylar! If I was out with a friend, my immediate goal was to get home. I didn't ever want to stay out too long, because I knew that my baby was waiting for me. I shyed away from and dreaded the idea of "going away on vacation" because that meant I'd be away from Skylar. We were so bonded - perhaps I moreso than he! The last time I "came home" (when Skylar was alive), I raced back as fast as I could, and (after he was able to calm down since he jumped around like a small pony), I held him, cuddled him and kissed him for -- I don't know how long -- but a very long time!!!
- There is no way around the pain of loss, but there is a way through it.
- There is never a good time to say goodbye.
- You may be going over "would have, could have, should have," but you made the best decision you could with the information you had.
- You did everything to give your pet a good life. Your pet knew that you loved him and only did what was best for him.
- Don't blame yourself. It is normal, but it will only make you feel worse. It is hard enough losing your best friend, so don't make it more difficult than it already is.
- Certainly no loving God would separate people from their animal friends for eternity.
- They carry away with them so many years of our own lives.
- There are only two ways to relieve the pain of loss. One is time, and the other is what you tell yourself. So, tell yourself the things that will make you feel better rather than what makes you feel worse.
- To get a dog is to open yourself to profound joy, and to equally profound sadness.
- There is never the right time to "let go." Sadly enough, this time always comes too soon.
- Remember: death ends a life, not a relationship.
- The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief.
- Don't blame yourself.
- Each day you will start feeling better, or at least a little less devastated by your loss.
- Read "Rainbow Bridge." You might start believing in heaven.
- Moving forward means being able to open up to new [things]. At this point try to focus on the joy rather than the sorrow; focus on the positive and not the negative.
- Grief is like the ocean; sometimes it is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.
- It may be that the most profound benefit of having a dog is that we come to better understand the experience of death, and, perhaps, lose some of our fear of it.
- Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. [Gilda Radner]
- People search their entire lives for unconditional love, and we find it in our pets. It is often the most perfect relationship that we have. No wonder saying goodbye is so hard to do.
Here is my journal. It wasn't until two weeks after Skylar passed away (Wed. 3/7), when I was finally able to write; when I started to begin my healing process. Prior to this, I couldn't function.
Day 1 (Thurs. 2/23 - the day after): I can't stand to be home. I couldn't go to work either for that matter. I can't function; I don't want to eat. Walked with my friend Steve that morning in Nyack along the Hudson river, then went to Piermont with Richie (my boyfriend). That evening, a bunch of us went out. I couldn't be home at all; it hurt too much!
Day 2 (Fri. 2/24): I forced myself to go to work. I don't really remember how it was. Still in shock, confused, and devastated. Went to Richie's house from work. Wasn't happy anywhere, with anyone, or with whatever I was doing. This is unbearable!
Day 3 (Sat. 2/25): Hung out at Richie's house most of the day until 3:00. Still no appetite. Ate to survive. Read a lot (therapy) about grieving. We then went back to my place. I dreaded going there. That evening, we celebrated Steve's birthday at Joe & Joe's in Pearl River, NY. It felt good having a few drinks.
Day 4 (Sun. 2/26): It's so hard to get out of bed knowing that I don't have to let my baby boy out or make his breakfast. What do I get up for? What purpose do I have? The house looks so different. I hate it here. I can't shake this feeling!
Day 5 (Mon. 2/27): I'm afraid being without him. I'm left all alone, with a huge void! I need to escape. I can't go home anymore. Went to Steve's from work and we went for a long walk then watched TV. Got home at 9:20, but not before getting Richie on the phone first. I needed him each and every time I walked into that empty house, where Skylar was no longer there to happily greet me.
Day 6 (Tues. 2/28): It feels just as bad -- if not worse -- than when I first lost him. The shock subsided, and I'm in anguish with the raw pain. I went to my mother-in-law's house from work and had a couple glasses of wine with dinner to help me to cope. I'm lonely, no matter where I go and whom I'm with.
Day 7 (Wed. 2/29): Went to Richie's house after work. I made up my mind that this is the turning point. By 7:30pm, it will be exactly one week. Amazingly, I did feel a notch better after 7:30. I stayed over Richie's and didn't set the alarm for work the next day.
Day 8 (Thu. 3/1): Woke up 8:00am, but didn't rush to get ready for work. This was the first time in over a week I was finally able to completely relax, waking up somewhere else other than my own place, where Skylar used to be. Got to work 1-hour later. Life went on...Still feeling bad. No ... Awful! My brother Ed came over that evening. However, I'm still lonely, no matter what!
Day 9 (Fri. 3/2): The weekend's here and, although it's a relief, I'm still not relieved. The pain is still not going away and I realized and accept the fact that I'm going to have to ride it out with time. How long does it take?! Went to Richie's and went out later. I feel a sense of peace looking at Richie. Thank God I found him! I'm also grateful that Richie got to know and love Skylar too!
Day 10 (Sat. 3/3): It still hurts. Soooooo much! I hate going home. Thank God Richie comes back with me to my place. My brother Ed will be over later too. The three of us walked a small part of the neighborhood (part of my and Skylar's daily walk). It was a beautiful day. Skylar's ashes were ready afterwards, and we all went together to pick him up. Even though my brother & Richie have been there for me, it was devastating all over again! I can't escape this pain!!!
Day 11 (Sun. 3/4): I woke up still wanting to let Skylar out and make his breakfast. Where's my purpose in life? Richie and I went to Rockland Lake and walked the inside loop (where I generally couldn't bring Skylar). It felt a bit uplifting, though there are many memories of him there! Much of the day, however, I was in a daze.
Day 12 (Mon. 3/5): I started to learn that I have to take one day at a time... Another Monday. I hated Mondays, because I had to leave Skylar to go to work after being with him all weekend. Now I don't hate Mondays as much. Work is a place to go -- a place to escape -- a place to bide more time. I went to Steve's house from work and we hung out and watched TV until 10:00. I couldn't wait to go to sleep that night so that I could think of and reconnect with my baby boy!
Day 13 (Tues. 3/6): Where can I place all this guilt and regret that I keep reliving -- over and over again? Where can I put it, other than the core of my being?! During the past nearly 2 weeks, all I've done was read and read and read. Therapy, as you'd call it, about grieving, guilt, heaven, etc. etc. I went to Richie's house from work and stayed over. No matter what, I'm still not happy wherever I go; whomever I'm with. I realize now that I have to readjust to my "new life!" -- a "new normal."
Day 14 (Wed. 3/7): Two weeks after Skylar: I'm finally able to write in this Journal! Finally, a break through! I'm feeling a bit more relief! I'm starting to open up again recognizing the things I love. It does get better as I'm getting used to the transition. The weather is getting better. (Skylar would've enjoyed it)! I've come to terms with my negative emotions and am able to tuck them further away from me.
I spent Day 15 on reorganizing my life, getting back to business with doctor appointments, haircut, etc., and sent Skylar's doctor a gift basket thanking him for the nearly 16 years he took care of all four of my fur-babies.
By now, several days have gone by beyond Day 14. Since then, I've experienced more ebbs and flows. However, the tidlewaves have subsided a bit.
Two Recommended Books:
Friday, Day 16, I spent the day reading "A Travel Guide to Heaven" by Anthony DeStefano. Although it sounds like a fairytale, it's based on facts from the Bible. Heaven is a fairytale-like place, and I highly recommend that anyone going through grief reads this.
Over the weekend, I also read "All Pets go to Heaven" by Sylvia Browne. This was the icing on the cake. Please read both of these books if your heart still aches.
An added note:
God has never let me walk alone. My brother, Ed, Richie, and my parents, have been constantly there for me. I thank God for being blessed with loved ones in my life. Although there is no way around the pain of grieving for a loved one, close friends and family members who understand are very much needed, especially during this difficult journey.
Throughout all of my grieving experiences, I've learned that God has never takes away without giving back. He has a way of balancing by surrounding you with loved ones -- especially when you need them most. It is important to recognize these wonderful blessings along your journey through life!
Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them. [Tolstoy]