Monday, August 22, 2022

Pet Loss: A Reader Asks, How Am I Doing?

The thing about grief is that it's a roller coaster -- it's up, it's down. The emotions sometimes take over.  ~ Brent Sexton

A reader writes: It's been a bit over 7 months now since the death of my cat and I'd like to say I'm doing wonderfully, but I'm not. In fact, between the numbness that lasted so long and trying too hard to 'improve', I've had even more of a delayed reaction to the deep grief than I'd first thought! In some ways, I think I did 'better' with the loss of my first cat than with this one, in that I knew very little about coping skills at first and went about it almost in a more natural way. Whereas this time, I tried to apply maybe too many of those coping strategies too soon, resulting in more of an avoidance of the deeper pain than I'd wanted, or that I think was healthy for me. I'm still stuck in that to some degree, but overall, I've been feeling pretty terrible and debilitated....despite still doing things for myself and my future. But I miss my girl more and more each day w/o her and many times still can't even begin to contemplate a world w/o her here.I'm just beginning my planned foray into animal communication, despite feeling so bad, because I'm desperate to talk to her....directly, if possible, w/o worrying about possible mistakes in interpretation from the pros....but I also won the draw, out of the whole class membership, for a free 20 minute reading with the pro whose course I'm taking currently, so that's a bonus. 

Life is going too fast and I often feel very pressured to get more accomplished before the next season begins. It's been killing me to step outside in our yard for longer than a few minutes on nicer days. It's at those times that I can't even imagine going on w/o her by my side.

I've lost another friend (her choice) or two (more my choice), but gained back a past friend, who's helped me tremendously as we're so much alike and have almost nothing but conversations about our beloved animals, other animals, thoughts and ideas, feelings.....she's saved my life from completely crashing. The local friends all deserted me, but I believe I'm better off w/o them as they're not adding to my pain anymore. 

I started trying to exercise more, then promptly hurt my knee quite badly, so haven't been able to keep it up (yet). I'd gained even more weight but need to get in better shape and lose some for a trip that's coming up....with lots of activity planned, so it's a MUST DO! 

I'm looking into more and more energy healing, trying to decide what to put my efforts into (both for myself and for helping animals), but have gotten nowhere concrete yet. I've also started attending a Spiritualist church in hopes of both learning more about mediumship and to get (free, or very cheap!) readings....but the weather here keeps making me miss a bunch of services! 

But in all this activity, I've kept postponing the hardest things ~ my cat's tribute, burial and service details, writing down memories, her shadow box, a life celebration slideshow, etc....I just keep avoiding the most painful parts, because it hurts so deeply to go there. And I'm still finding that bedtime is the hardest time of all in a day. I'm often staying up really late, just to be exhausted enough to not THINK AND FEEL SO DARN MUCH when my head hits the pillow and she's not in my arms. I cry more often now than I ever did before. Every better day I have, every 'high' I experience, is marked by an equal low the next day or day after....depending on how long I was more 'up'. I still can't really face the fact that she's not going to be here again...unless she reincarnates, but I'm still not ready for even that. I have to get my head, heart and act together and get more of a footing for a different life before I'd want her to return to me, because I realize that many things must be different, with me and my lifestyle, in order to not repeat everything in the same way again, ie. take out the unhealthier aspects. 

So the length of time that this might take is really bothering me and yet I know it's necessary. I'm impatient for this long, drawn-out process to be over and done with...natural, I know, but still frustrating. It was with that in mind that I can't tell you how appreciative I was when you mentioned in an interview that you really thought it was healthier for most people to 'complete' the whole process of grief before bringing a new furry soul into one's life. Since I seem to be quite a rarity in this respect (conclusion drawn from reading others' stories and thoughts on this and other pet loss boards), I've even felt different even among fellow animal people. So your comment was not only a breath of fresh air, but an encouragement to me that I'm doing something wise, at least for me. Plus, since visiting almost daily with one neighbourhood cat (the one I thought was stray, but turned out not to be - yay!), that's confirmed my decision is the right one. While I love her visits and don't feel they're even long enough, I can still only take the 'good stuff', and it only makes me miss my cat all the more in some ways (but I'm still grateful she's coming by).

So I'm still going up, down, sideways on this roller coaster, and not liking it one bit. Still scared of the depth of my pain....another thing it was good to be reminded of (its normalcy, and prevalence) in your interview. Still seeing a therapist pretty regularly, too...though this weather doesn't seem to WANT me to half the time! I'm constantly having to rebook! But I'm still wishing those who dismiss and minimize animal loss, and especially that of my personal relationship with my cat, would just smarten up already!  I feel like even others who have loved their animals so greatly (except for this one friend, who's more like me), are leaving me in the dust, healing-wise. 

If I may...I could sure use some words of encouragement about this (or anything else!) from you. How do YOU think I'm doing? 

My response: You ask how I think you are doing, and based on what you’ve told me in your message, it seems to me that you are doing very well. I know that it’s a roller-coaster ride, I know you don’t like it, you’re sick of it and you want to get off ~ but that is not an option. All you can do is keep your seatbelt buckled, hold onto the sides, and stay in the car until the track levels out. 

The fact is that you are right where you need to be, my dear, and it simply does not matter that your experience of loss seems so different from everyone else’s ~ that is only because it’s true! Your story IS different, your attachment to your cat IS different, your personality IS different, and your coping style IS different from everyone else’s. In this vast universe, that’s what makes your kitty so special, and that’s what makes you so uniquely who you are! It’s good to read about what works for other people, because you might find something that works for you, too ~ something that you may not have considered otherwise ~ but even then, you still must do whatever it is in your own unique way. As the saying goes, you have to take it all, chaff and grain together, then you sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and blow the rest away

Let’s take a look at what I would consider the specific and very positive steps you’re taking.

Even though you’re “constantly having to rebook,” you’re still seeing your therapist on a regular basis.

Even though “the length of time this might take is really bothering me,” you’re consciously and deliberately letting your grief run its course, however long it takes, because you know it’s necessary.

Even though you injured yourself, you’ve still been trying to exercise more, and you’re still determined to “get in better shape” so you can participate in all the activities you’ve planned for your trip because it’s a MUST DO!

Even though you know you’re not quite ready yet, even though you “still can’t even begin to contemplate a world without [your cat] here,” you still realize that many things must be different with you and your lifestyle; you recognize the need to “take out the unhealthier aspects” in your life, and you’re still taking concrete steps to relearn and rebuild your world as it exists for you now, by

• Re-establishing and developing a close, satisfying, and supportive relationship with a past friend

• Letting go of unhealthy relationships with so-called friends who only added to your pain

• Planning a trip this summer with lots of activities included

• Pursuing special interests that may lead to a new career or a new direction in your life ~ by taking a class in animal communication, looking into energy healing, and attending a Spirtualist church

I also think it's telling that you won the draw for a free reading with the teacher of your animal communication class, and I cannot help but think that your precious kitty had a paw in that! 

Even though you’re “postponing the hardest things” and “avoiding the most painful parts” by not completing your plans for memorializing your companion, you’re still able to state what you intend to do, and you will do it when you are ready to do it! 

I will share with you that after my beloved Muffin died, three years passed before I could so much as tell the story of his life and tragic, accidental death ~ and even then it wasn’t planned! I happened to be taking a creative writing class, and one of our assignments was to write a description of an important person who’d had a great impact on our lives. For some unknown reason I felt a need to ask if that “person” could be a companion animal. The teacher was a little taken aback, but she said okay. I then wrote a piece about my dog entitled Memories of Muffin, and I couldn’t even read it out loud to my classmates without sobbing when I got to the part about his dying. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but several years later that same piece was to become the introduction to my book, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet. And as you may know, my totally unexpected and profound reaction to Muffin’s death ~ and what I subsequently learned from that ~ is what initially got me interested in the subject of pet loss and grief, and started me on the path toward my career in grief counseling. So you just never know where these major crises in life will lead you ~ much less how long it will take you to get there! ♥ 

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Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

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