Friday, August 22, 2014

Grief - it is personal and varies

I was raised by parents who never sugar coated life for us. The saying "Life's a b*tch, and then you die" was often heard. My father is not shy to remind people that there is 100% chance that you and those you love will eventually die. Death was not a taboo or secret, it was just part of life. Not a great happy part of life, but a sucky part of it.

This philosophy as well as my experience saying goodbye to friends and family who have died, has shaped my attitude toward death and influenced my grieving process. The sadness I felt after the death of each human in my life differed and my experience with each of my pets has also differed. 

Loki:

Loki was my first pet as an adult who died. Loki was 8. For the last 11 months of his life he suffered from immune mediated hepatitis causing cirrhosis of the liver. At the time of his diagnosis we were told he likely had a year to live. So from the beginning we were prepared for a goodbye. We knew our goal for the next year was to enjoy him and give him the best quality of life possible. We did everything humanly possible to minimize his suffering and his medical care was often stressful. He was on as many as 15 pills a day, but not every day, we had charts and pill organizers to keep it all straight. He required first monthly, then biweekly blood work. The last 2 or so months of his life, we had contact with our vet clinic at least once a week. Everyone knew us. Slowly we could see the end coming and he had the best day he had in weeks, followed by the worst night ever. At about 5 am the day he died, he looked at me and I believe he told me it was time. We gave him a last day full of lots of love and I did an entire photo shoot before taking him to be euthanized. 

Last picture I have of Loki, getting a snuggle from the Man and Nin

When he died, I was profoundly sad. Loki was a wonderful, joyful pup, who I missed with an ache. At the same time, there was a relief from the constant care he required. I did have some guilt over this relief at first, but quickly realized that I shouldn't, - I hadn't realized the stress his care had taken. It took a few weeks, but I felt the deep ache in my heart lesson, and I could quickly remember Loki stories with a smile and a laugh.

Gemini:

It has been 3 years since my 6 year old girl died, and to this day, I can barely think about her  because it hurts too much. It is a grief I rarely speak about because it is still raw. As I am typing this, I want to be sick to my stomach, that is how painful it still is. 

Gemini was fatally injured in an accident that occurred right in front of me. She ended up with a brain injury and I had her euthanized 5 days later. (All of this is documented in this blog, in pages I will never, ever read again). To make it worse, all of this happened while my husband was away.

I realized shortly after this incident gave me PTSD. Because of this, her death has probably been one of the most influential single events in my life. The first days were so painful. I can't put into words what it was like. Breathing hurt. Showering was the worst thing in my life, I ended in a puddle on the floor every time. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. I could barely get through the day. Slowly, I was able to put this incident in a part of my brain I don't access often. I am sure I only survived this with what I know about cognitive behaviour therapy from work. I was able to use some of the strategies to survive.

Last picture I have of Gemi, in the clinic before the brain injury was apparent

However, there are times out of the blue when the PTSD rears its ugly head. This time of year is the worst because it is the anniversary of the incident, but it could be anytime. It often starts with a more generalized anxiety/feeling of panic I can't understand and then I will have that "a-ha" moment when I realize this is PTSD. I am not over it, but I can learn to live with it. I believe this is a wound that will stay raw in my heart forever. Compared to the scar Loki left on my heart. 

I am not done grieving for Gemini. 

Bagheera:

Baggy was our first pet. He had a great long life. He died at 19 and a half, without having been too ill. While we could see him slowing down, there was nothing the day he died to suggest that today was the day. He died the way I hope to, not too ill, at a decent age, sleeping in one of his favourite spots. While I shed my share of tears for my Baggy, from the moment I found out he had died, there was a lightness and a peace. From minute 1, I could smile. Don't get me wrong, I miss him terribly. I keep looking for him. I always have a second look before sitting in his favourite chairs. It is a lighter grief than I have experienced with a pet.


Last picture of Baggy, he is the cat on the grass, Nin is standing on Man (Nin hates grass)

Those are my 3 experiences:
Relief and profound sadness
Raw, terrible pain that I am not sure will every go away
Sad but a feeling of peace

I know I will have the opportunity to have at least 3 more grief experiences as Nin, Hailey and Zaphod will eventually die. I wonder how these will be different. 

Has your grief been different for your pets?




13 comments:

  1. Every pet touches us in their own special way - we don't like to think we favor one more than another but in reality we do - each pet is so different and each one has their own unique personalities that attract us to them. Some we have innate bond with and some we just are just happy to have in our lives. How we grieve for each one is based on the different connections we have them. It doesn't mean we love them any less - it just means we love them in different ways and so it is our grieving occurs in different ways too.

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  2. Ditto Reilly. Each is different for many reasons but in the end we come full circle and we miss each and every one of them. Never forgotten and always fondly remembered and that it how it should be. Have a fabulous Friday.
    Best wishes Molly

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  3. I sometimes think it really goes never away. It hurts as if it was yesterday. Maybe the time when it happens is an important factor too, it's the worst to lose pet if you are anyway more Donald Duck than Gladstone Ganter ... Thanks for a very touching post, I know all our beloved friends live on in our hearts and our memories...

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  4. I've said goodbye to more cats than I care to remember, and each time it's different. I had a one-eyed little guy that I really loved, and yet, when it was time for him to go, I had no trouble saying goodbye. On the other hand, we had a twenty-year-old cat who had lived with us almost his entire life, and I had such an emotional reaction when he passed that I embarrassed myself crying at the vet's office. You just never know what's going to happen.

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  5. So sad, and it doesn't ever stop hurting, it just gets a bit easier to deal with over time.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

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  6. I read your post today with tears in my eyes. Since Lily & Muffin are my first pet's, I've never had to deal with this issue. (I've only had to deal with my Mom's death.) Thank you for being so very honest about it all. I know eventually the day will come for the both of them and I honestly don't know how I will handle it. Probably just find me a nice padded room to put me in!

    Hugs,
    Kim

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  7. What a wonderful post, full of honesty. The only pet loss I have been was my first adult pet, my calico Addie. She was my companion during good and bad...I was lucky enough to have her in my life for almost 17 years before she let me know it was time. After an initial crying jag at the vet, I found myself remembering the good times, and the times she was there for me.

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  8. Yes, my grief is very different, though it is a topic I rarely talk about because I bawl like a baby. I had 2 dogs die within 3 weeks of each other. The first, my heart dog Rosie, died at 4 years old from cancer. Devastated doesn't begin to describe how I felt. Pasha died after a long slow decline at the ripe old age of 15. While I missed him, I knew he had a long and loving life and it was time to let go. Rosie's death still hurts, 6 years later. It happened this time of year, and I feel it when the weather starts to turn.

    What an open and honest post. Thanks for sharing so deeply.

    Wags and purrs from Life with Dogs and Cats

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  9. The grieving is deep, but the wonderful memories come and overtake the sadness.

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  10. We all still miss our Charisma and Ginger a lot! We know exactly what it's like to lose a beloved pet.

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  11. Yes, the grief has been different. My first dog, Fuzzy, was born the same day I was. She died when she was 19 years old and. She was my heart dog ad I never wanted another dog. It was 23 years before I had another dog. That was Samantha. She was almost 15 when she died. She suffered so much the last year of her life first with Cushing, that led to Kidney failure and then to diabetes. The vet taught me how to give her IV fluids under the skin. I did it 3 times a day for 6 months. As long as she wanted to live I did everything I could. I truly believe she told me with one look when she was ready to go. I was brokenhearted but seeing her suffer like she did, I knew it was best. I still think of her but now I don't cry.

    I would never had gotten involved with rescue were it not for her passing. My vet new I had to have another dog and contacted DROH. First there was Mona and then 4 boys, 2 of which I was a failed foster with. It is a long and sad story why I had to give my boys up in 2007 and stop fostering, I'm almost in tears now, so enough said.

    Then in 2011 I agreed to foster a little blind boy. But I failed fostering again. That of course was Weenie. I only had him for less than 3 years when he was bitten and killed by killer bees. The pain of losing Fuzzy and Samantha was terrible but nothing like losing Weenie. For him to die the way he did was devastating and even though it's been over a year since he went to the bridge, my heart still breaks.

    Yes grief is hard but when I think of the what life would have been like without those 3 furbabies, it almost makes it bearable.

    God Bless..........Sarah, the Mommy

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  12. The loss of a loved one is never easy and you are so right we grieve differently for each. Gentle nose nudges to you.

    Aroo to you,
    Sully

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  13. I think each is different. Kobi was our first dog to actually make it to being a senior, and I find it easier to accept because he lived a good long life. But I still miss him just as much. Shelby and Moses both died too young of cancer, 6 and 8. That is more difficult. But the worst, as you obviously know, was the sudden tragic death of our Maggie being hit by a car at only 5 years old. I can't imagine how much worse it would have been if I had seen it happen like you did, but I will forever live with the guilt that I wasn't home, she was in the care of our neighbor, when it happened. The way things played out have left a scar that I'm not sure I'll ever recover from. It's the one story I may never tell on my blog, even though it might be cathartic to do so.
    This was a great post, thank you...it's a tough subject.

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