Monday, 23 March 2015

Surviving grief

  1. GRIEF:  a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.

I thought I knew about grief.  I felt it when my grandmother died and definitely when we lost our mother, though my reaction to my father's death left a numbness that has never gone away.  I've felt the pain of loss over the death of family pets and friends and acquaintances, over broken relationships and distance between loved ones, over a close call on my own life  - and I thought I knew all about it .... but I didn't and I don't.

Five months ago a family we have known for a very long time, and who have been both neighbours and work mates, lost a daughter. She was 25 years old and had lived those years with cystic fibrosis.  I witnessed their deep and painful grief through friends, face book messages and on their faces when I saw them.  Their battle with grief continues and like ripples on the pond, has affected everyone who knows them, causing many people to examine their own lives and fully appreciate their family.

We are told that grief is a natural, healthy process that aids healing from emotional wounds but the journey takes us through shock, denial, anger and deep sorrow, and it is not a comfortable ride.

When, less than three weeks ago, our beautiful, friendly, happiest-dog-in-the-world, Rufous, died on the living room floor at 4.30am, in the two minutes of that night we were not in the room with him - we were (and I do not often use this word as it is over used) devastated. We were shattered, shocked, stunned, dazed, traumatised, crushed, overwhelmed, distressed and overcome with the deep sorrow of loss.

We had seen the vet the afternoon before, knowing things were not right - and they had not been right for several months, but, being in a state of hope, we didn't fully realise that. Rufous died a week shy of his 14th birthday. That made him about 98 in people years.  He was more than five years past his use by date after a diagnosis of cancer, he had problems with his pancreas and digestive system, arthritis in the spine and he'd had both knees rebuilt after wearing them out. Regardless of what areas of his little body were shutting down, I feel he died of old age - it was his time, we knew it was coming but would never be ready. I still weep as I write this because I miss him so much.

For three days we hardly ate, we walked around in a daze, crying in anguish.  We thought we were prepared, we had chosen a burial site five years ago and that made the first task a little easier.  But we kept hearing him in every creak of the house and seeing him out of the corner of our eye.  He was in every room, every part of our day.  We suddenly had the first of many, many things - the first mail delivery without Rufous, the first shopping trip without Rufous, the first washing day - the first visitor to not be welcomed by Rufous - our days were full of missing him.

There is no way our loss could be compared to our neighbour's loss, after all they lost their daughter, we only lost a dog. But our pain was the same. Possibly we will adjust sooner .......... whatever sooner is.

But it set me wondering about what we grieve for and I came up with relationship. We have lost a relationship that we enjoyed, treasured and were blessed by.  I feel that relationship with family and friends is the core of emotional life for human beings, especially as relationship is a two way deal.  We have a relationship with God, with animals, with our garden, and the loss is like an amputation as it rips away a precious part of us.

Many people have written about grief with more knowledge and understanding than I have, but I needed to gather my thoughts into words, so I can look at them.

RIP little man Rufous.  
The 14 years we had with you will never end as you live in our hearts forever.  
You were an angel, sent to teach us about life, 
about strength and survival,
about not complaining,
about unconditional love and forgiveness, 
about joyfulness and the miracles that joy can bring,
and we embraced all those lessons.
Thank you.

Rufous B the Happiest Dog in the World,  10.03.2001 - 03.03.2015


  1. Pelia Rose
    I'm forever changed. I'm undone. A broken heart is a broken heart. To take a measure is cruelty.
    (quote from the show Scandal that has stuck with me)

  2. Maureen Mackay Beautifully written Janine..I don't think there are degrees of grief. Rufous was a major part of yours and Rory's life.

  3. Wendy J. Whittingham (((hugs)))

  4. I identify with everything you say - Ann J

  5. Email - Sorry to hear about Rufous – only dog I ever looked forward to seeing – only dog that ever looked forward to seeing me. Sounds like you did all you did in your power to make him comfortable at the end but it’s never easy at times like this. One of the reasons that I don’t have pets is to avoid this situation.
    Regards David

  6. By Email - very sad, we are all thinking of you and Rory, you both gave him a loving and wonderful life. Kerry, Josh, Tyler, Austin, Zoe

  7. Email - So sorry to hear of your loss, and thank you for sending the photos.
    I kind of know how it feels to lose a companion like Rufous…Duke was 16 yrs & 3 months when he passed away. Tragic thing with his passing was that we were down the coast for the weekend at a soccer tournament for the boys. Came home on dusk to find he'd died of a heart attack. Our good neighbours had noticed he wasn't moving and had called the vet after checking him. On finding him, amidst the tears and heartache, we had to think of how to bury him - a large dog - in a backyard that is mainly rock! The vege patch was the only available spot where a hole could be dug deep enough.
    I often wonder if it was sudden. Did he need us in his last moments or did he know it was a good time to go? Did he really know how much I loved him?
    It breaks you heart when they leave and for ages you are still going through the motions of thinking they're still there or even hearing their bark.
    I think it was a vet's assistant who said to me that the fact they lived for so long proves how much they were loved. This is true for Rufous.
    Still it is a shame the way they deteriorate in old age. Kind of like us. I feel their inner spirit is always younger than their exterior mould. There is always the drive to fetch the stick or chase the bird or imagine going for a five mile "walkies" when you can barely move. You did your best to make him feel comfortable and in the end there was someone at his side all the way. A dog's love is so unconditional…that's what makes them so loveable.
    Let your tears come - they help in healing.
    God Bless Janine and Rory and Rufous.
    Love & Hugs, Sue XXXXXXX

  8. Email - 4th March 2015
    Aunty Janine and Uncle Rory, I am crying as I read this, my heart is broken for you both...... It is so hard to lose our pets, who really are family! I love you both and pray for your minds and hearts as you work through this sad sad lose.
    We are thinking of you ...... All my love, Liza

  9. Emailed 4.3.2015
    I'm so sorry! He was your baby. I remember he was just a baby the first time I met him. It sure doesn't seem like 14 yrs ago. I love guys and we will be praying for easing of you pain. RIP Rufus we will see you in heaven. I love auntie nee nee. Jacob

  10. Emailed 3rd March 2015 from Bradley 3
    Thanks for the details Janine. As I said to Rory, so sorry and such sad news. I enjoyed hearing about him over the years from you and knowing that he was such a good mate to you both. Love from us all.

  11. Emailed - 23.4.15.
    Hi Janine - I am very sorry to hear about Rufous. He always gave me an enthuiastic welcome whenever I came up to the house and he knew when I put out or collected the books - such good hearing!!! I know when Simmy cat goes I will be devastated too and will probably get a new cat asap (probably not a kitten) but definitely a rescue cat.
    Hope you are both doing well. Will have to arrange a day to catch up with you.

  12. Emailed 4th March
    Dear Janine, we know how you feel! We lost so many cats... 😥 I am happy that we met Rufous.
    Mel & Patrick

  13. 3.3.15
    So so sorry and sad. He was a brilliant dear dog. I know how upset I am for you all and I can only imagine how you must be. My love to you both. Thank you for telling me. xox Louise

  14. 4.3.15
    oh no !!! there are no words to say praying for you both love jen

  15. Grief is grief. My treasured, adored, always there for me Nana is slowly dying. She is almost 93. People often minimise my anxiety saying"well she is 92, she's had a good innings". What they fail to understand is that the longer her life, the stronger the connection. So sorry for your loss!!!

  16. Grief is a feeling that needs to be addressed and properly dealt with. I understand your feeling of being in a dazed and shocked after the loss; that is just normal. Allow time for mourning, and let go of the grief afterwards. I wish you all the best.

    Sabra Hoffmann @ StarkBehavioralHealth


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