by michelle silla
I am told the heartache will eventually ease, the loneliness and isolation will be filled with love again, the sadness will be replaced with happy memories, the grieving will subside and life will slowly return to normal. I know in my head this is all true but my aching heart is asking how long all of this will take. How long until the intense sadness fades? And how will it happen? How long will these feelings last and how do I get back to a place of peace and happiness? I have no idea but I am thinking this is going to be a process. My husband gave me a “families in transition” pamphlet that he received at the crematory and I have spoken to grief counselors who suggested some things like planting a tree, make a section of your home dedicated as a memorial, and journaling about my true feelings no matter how painful they are, but make sure they are honest. Only after dealing with the feeling am I supposed to journal about the many good memories. So here I am hoping that documenting all this will help bring some closure to my acute feelings of grief and sadness.
How do I feel now? Even though I have the rest of my family here, the house feels so lonely and empty during the day and yet I don’t want to leave. Why? Because I have raging fits of screaming and uncontrollable weeping that I don’t want anyone to see except my family that understands. I’m sad and grief stricken and broken hearted and bitter and angry and lonesome and yet I don’t want to see people. I don’t want to make small talk, I don’t want to have to smile, I don’t want a well-intentioned person who has no understanding of what I am going through to try and console me. It won’t work. If I am being completely honest, it will irritate me. I haven’t told many people about my loss yet because I don’t want them to call or stop by. Eventually I think I will, but not now, not yet. I still need time.
I have 3 people in my life who I know 100% categorically understand what I am going through because they had the same experience before me. These are the only people I have reached out to and I only spoke to 1 of the 3. The others were in writing because I knew I couldn’t get through a conversation without breaking down. Their experiences weren’t just about losing a beloved pet. It was much, much much deeper than that. Very similar to the past year and a half of my life. I know we share the type of familiarity most people won’t understand and that is ok. I get it. and that is totally fine. I may have been one of those people who say things like “it’s only a pet, it’s not like you lost a kid” had I not had such a special bond with my non-human family member. In fact, I think most people will not understand the depth of my loss and that is ok. I feel kind of lucky in a way that I did.
How I felt about my family member during the past 16 months was a bit different than the feelings in total from the past 15 years and 6 months that she was part of my family. I am told I need to be completely honest with my feelings to heal. Even though it hurts to admit some of this.
For most of the 15 years and 6 months that she was in my life I felt love, being loved unconditionally in return, happiness, joy, compassion, devotion, dedication, loyalty, having a best friend, comfort, warmth, contentment, enjoyment, satisfaction, amusement, gratification. All good things, right.
For the last 16 months there were special needs that became more and more severe as time passed. I was the primary care giver and eventually became mostly house ridden because she needed me to help her walk. Some days were better than others. I just never knew when she would need me so it came to the point that I was taking care of school rides and kids activities but not much else unless my husband was home to relieve me. We didn’t want to come home and find her arm or leg broken because she fell and was struggling. It was neurological in nature but yet otherwise she was very healthy. No failing organs, always eating, not having accidents. What else could I do? She was always there for me so I was going to be there for her when she needed me most. I always did it without complaining and talked about it sometimes but mostly only when people asked. I must admit to myself that some days I felt anger and resentment and even hurt feelings. How come I can’t go out to dinner or a movie like normal people, why can’t I hang out with friend or go on vacation or even spend the day with my kids at a zoo or an amusement park? Why don’t people ask me to lunch or to go out for a drink? Oh, yea because I always have to say no I can’t today and maybe they think I am making up excuses because I don’t want to do those things with them. And then I would have deep feelings of guilt that I felt resentment towards someone that was always there for me when I needed love. I had my whole life to do those things. How dare I feel this way? It also caused strains some nights in our marriage because lack of sleep on both our parts. We were both grouchy and cranky and taking it out on each other and on our beloved family member. And then we both would feel the guilt all over again. And on and on it went for what seemed to be forever. But when the day came that she was gone, we both cried and admitted we would do it all over again to have her back with us. We miss her so much it hurts.
My 3-people understood exactly what I was going through but not many others. How could anyone else understand? They just never had the same experience so I get that they could not connect with me on that level. I am just so thankful for the peeps who did try to understand and called me to talk about it, or wrote to me asking how I was holding up, or showed up at my house to talk because they knew I couldn’t leave very often. Or who stayed over when Mike was traveling to help out with the girls so I can focus on my family member in need. And my husband who knew I was burned out so he let me get away a few weekends and devote time to my human girls who needed attention from their mom. And for my husband taking charge of things around the house so I can have a weekend away with girlfriends to recharge my battery, so I can start over again with a better attitude when I came home. I love all of these acts of kindness because they got me through a very difficult time.
I read the following quote from my pamphlet on dealing with death in the family and it totally hit home. This is a good way to explain loss for people like me and my 3-people, and it even helps explain how isolated we feel when becoming a caregiver to a loved one:
“Even though psychologist have long maintained the grief that pet owners experience after the death of their pet is comparable to the grief suffered after the death of a human family member, society doesn’t offer a grieving pet owner much sympathy or compassion. Consequently, pet owners often feel isolated in their grief, and are without the support they so desperately need. Often friends and family members don’t understand the depth of the loss that is felt.”
Our whole family was there with you to say goodbye. That was one thing that I was grateful for, even though I was inconsolable. We all kissed you, and petted you, and talked to you when you were leaving us. I was talking to you the whole time telling you how important you are to our family and how much we all love you. Every one of us was crying between the words. You heard us because you tried to open your eyes and I put my hand on them to tell you not to struggle. But we knew that you understood were we were all there with you.
We all told you stories about special memories we had with you. I talked to you the most and reinforced how loved you are but I know you already knew that.
I told you about how perfect you were when we brought Crissy home from the hospital and you wouldn’t leave her side when she was rocking in the swing in our room.
I told you about how you knew I was sick when I had Juliana in my tummy. Every single night when I came home from work I went to bed because I was so tired. And every single night you jumped on the bed right after me and snuggled as close as you could possibly get without laying directly on top of me. It was summer and I was so very hot with you next to me but I never pushed you away because I knew you were trying to make me feel better.
I reminded you of when I first brought you home. It was just you and me back then! We were the first two family members and look how we grew since then. I reminded you and how you never ever caused any damage to the house even when you were a little tiny puppy and left home alone all day.
I reminded you of what a little rascal you used to be when you used to run like greased lightning and no one could ever catch you. Like the time I had 8 adults and a couple of kids in Mountainside trying to catch you as you escaped down the street. No one ever did catch you, it was a big game to you and when you thought we had enough torture you just stopped and walked over to me and said I’m ready to go home now.
The funniest story I told you is when you slipped out of your leash when grandma was babysitting you and grandma got so scared that she pooped in her pants. That made the whole family stop crying for a second and we all started laughing. I think you may have even had a slight smirk on your face when we reminisced about that episode.
Well we had many many more great memories that we didn’t have time to share but I would like to do that now. Like all the vacations you went on with just me, you and daddy; and then more vacations with Crystal and Juliana after they came along. Like when we used to bike ride with you in the back tag along of daddy’s bike; like how you moved with us to 3 houses and one interim apartment along the way and you never ever complained once; like how you used to smile at certain people and show your teeth and they got scared but they didn’t know that you never ever bit or growled at anyone or anything; like how Snowie and a visiting dog friend ate out of your food bowl the same time as you and you never once growled or complained, you just let them eat because you knew I would fill up your bowl after they left. Like how you were immediate friends with all living creatures: the birds in our bird house, the squirrels in our yard, any dog or cat you ever met, and you even became immediate friends with an ugly loose pet ferret that someone had at a house we visited. Honey I could go on and on forever about the good memories I have of you and I wish you were still here so I can tell them to you all over again. But you’re not and this process of telling my story has already helped me laugh and cry and maybe even start to heal whether or not I publish it. They were right. It made me feel good to write this for you and about you.
My sweet angel - I love you forever and ever, you will always be in all of our hearts until we meet again!