A few weeks ago I received this e-mail from a Patch reader:
I so enjoy your postings.
A possible topic? In recent years I have lost my father, mother and only sibling (baby brother), also a best girlfriend .....despite very healthy living, cancer robbed two of them from me. ( I have no other immediate family except my husband) I chose to be their caregivers and advocates for the years of their journeys. I am now a Patient Advocate and Cancer Coach, have had grief counseling, etc. For me, I do not 'get over it' and move on......I endure. Life will continue but will never be as sweet. I know that new doors are open to me given that caregiving is no longer needed. I never 'took to my bed', but I did retreat from the world for about a year as I was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome (too many losses, witnessing too much suffering by those that meant the world to me). I am finally mentally, emotionally on track, engaged in life again, etc. But I would enjoy reading your thoughts on grieving, accepting loss, etc. I know that we all do it differently. But in my heart I am deeply offended by the often used expressions, "I am moving on, I am finally over it , etc." I will never get over the suffering, the 'goneness' of these fabulous, adorable people, but I will endure and will proceed with life with humor and hope, but.......
Death, dying, chronic illness, grief: these are enormous and enormously important topics. No one person and no one post can answer what it means to lose someone you love. But we are all humans, we have all lost someone or some thing, so this week and for the next several, let's take a look together at this most personal and profound of topics. Some of you may remember Deborah Leeds from earlier exchanges she and I had over relationships. Today she writes about losing her beloved dog Gracie:
My year-old puppy, Muki, lies down on the red blanket on the floor of my study. The first night he did so, the night after Gracie - his sister and constant compadre - was hit by a car and died, he pushed his nose into the blanket that had been her place to sleep, inhaled deeply, and then looked so sad it pierced my heart.
Each night he spends some time on that blanket, which I cannot bring myself to wash or throw away, before moving to spend the night on his own blanket which is now at the foot of my bed. He visits Gracie on that blanket, just as I have gathered up the blanket in my own arms, to my nose, to breathe in her smell, to have some tiny physical experience of her when the rest of that experience is gone for good. We are heartbroken and mourning.
It has only been a few days, and my small family is in shock and grief. But we can already feel the ways in which time pushes us forward - into other reflections, other responsibilities, reifying and re-classifying pictures and experiences as “memory”, no longer the buoyant “this-is-who-we-are-and-what-we-do-together”. This change makes her presence farther away, which feels even sadder.
I adored Gracie. My sister said, “...she was your darling.”
So I have been wrestling with this question: What does it mean to be connected?
If we are truly connected - in love, in Love, relationship, consciousness, being, Truth...then why can’t I experience her? Why am I so profoundly sorrowful?
I ask my husband about this.
I tell him about the prayer, written by Maryanne Williamson, for death; She said that we cannot truly be apart from those we have lost through death because we are truly connected in God. This feels too abstract, too distant. I tell him I want to experience the connection to my Gracie-girl, not just understand something about it.
Neil tells me: If Gracie was away because she was visiting a friend, I would still feel our connection; My connection to her itself is “essential”; we experience the essence of our connectedness. It is felt. It is not concrete, but it is real. And it is that essential experience of connection that cannot be lost.
So why are we so sad? Why do we cry and grieve?
Because we are denied the physical relationship with this being that we loved.
Because we are denied any future with her.
Because we are touched by death itself; that experience that blows us out of the water with the reminder that we are not in control in this life, that these lives are not infinite, that beings we love go away where we cannot reach them, and that we too will go away.
Most of the time we behave as impervious adolescents: “I have to drive this fast, I am late!” “I can just check this one text; I’m a good driver!”
It is not without some bitterness that I wonder about the driver that hit my puppy.... what was s/he thinking, or doing?
When I can, I focus on the other aspects of this experience: the enormous love, kindness, and warmth extended by all who were present at the accident, and present to us since then. I focus on beautiful and profound blessings and wishes made for Gracie and for us, “May you be held by Love in the hardest moments”.
I am grateful that I had Gracie at all. I am reminded of the extraordinary gift that is our shared humanity.
So I do what I need to do, at times, to stay connected to Gracie:
I reach for her collar, and press it to my face, kissing my love and sorrow for her into its green nylon, because that is what I have.
I try to honor my sorrow and the understanding that, as much as I can, in baby steps, I must accept. My sister reminds me, “Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today”.
I try to let things move, as life continues, and everything that lives must move.
And sometimes, when I can quiet my mind enough, I go to that essential place of connection between me and Gracie; I hold her face in my hands, or feel her press her body into my knees as I enfold her with my arms. We stay silently there for a long moment....connecting in Love that does not change....and I am calm once more.
Do you have a question about your marriage or relationship? Is there a particular topic on relationships or individual psychological issues you would like addressed in this blog? Ask Josh in the comments below or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah Leeds, MFT, is a couples and individual therapist with offices in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, CA. Visit her website at deborahleeds.com
Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples and individual therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com. He is currently accepting referrals.