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