Flash has been dead a month now and I’m trying to come to grips with everything I feel. I have never gone through anything like this and I’ve been trying to figure it out. This long post lists my conclusions. (And it will probably be the last time I talk about this. Thank you for being with me on this journey. Your support has meant more to me than I can possibly say.)
I added it up – between feeding Flash, letting him out, cleaning his yard, our training, being on the treadmill, playing, brushing, cuddling, and brushing teeth, I spent three hours a day in purely Flash activities. There are currently 1103 posts on my blog. 275 of them mention Flash, so I think it’s fair to say that he was a big part of my life. He was my dog, but he was also my friend, my buddy, and the reason behind my few social outings. I’ve read that our dogs are also our proteges, in that we treat them like we do our children, arranging play dates, classes, grooming, etc. I know I certainly did that with Flash.
I’ve already mentioned my other losses. In every other situation my grief was cut short by different pressures. I had to go to work or I had to appear halfway sane and “with it” in front of other people. Or I had to “pull myself up by my bootstraps”. I loved that one. That’s the advice I got after my husband died. Or I had to care for John. I had to go on and part of that meant I had to hide that I was suffering.
This is the first time I’ve been able to freely express what I’m feeling. I’m not living with anyone. I don’t have to show up at a building every morning to work. I don’t have to pretend to be fine when it’s obvious I’m not. Other than my son, you all, and the vet no one else knows about Flash. I have no societal and cultural restraints on how I feel.
The freedom to cry
So I’ve given myself the freedom to cry any time I want. Flash has been dead a month and I’m still crying. It will take as long as it takes until I don’t.
This is a really helpful article:
The truth is, the strongest thing you can do is to allow yourself the space to cry. Sitting with our emotions can be incredibly hard within the grief process. Sometimes we feel as though we will never stop. Some of us don’t want to face the grief or move through the pain. We can attempt to distract ourselves by throwing ourselves into our work, cleaning frantically, or running away from the pain. (1)
As the paragraph states – I have always attempted to distract myself by throwing myself into my work – or using other means to escape from the pain. I’m handling this loss differently and it’s exponentially more painful. Weird.
Here’s more from that article:
If we don’t allow ourselves an emotional release, our bodies will attempt to figure that out for us. Our bodies are constantly regulating themselves to achieve homeostasis. For example, we sweat when we are too hot in order to cool off, and we shiver when we are too cold in an attempt to warm up.
As we grieve the loss of a pet, our bodies will experience immense ups and downs of emotion. When our emotions need to be released, we commonly cry as an outlet to return to our homeostasis and move through our grief. Each time we release our emotions, our bodies are working towards healing. (1)
I’ve also been wondering if some of the grief I’ve been feeling deals with Euthanasia Remorse. I had spent so many years – not to mention those awful six weeks before his death – trying to make sure Flash was healthy that making that decision went against every one of my instincts. Sitting with him as he died was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do and I hope to God that I can stop replaying the memory of those moments soon. Yet, if I had to do it over again I would, with one change – if I could have made it. I was hyperventilating so bad on the way to the vet’s that I had to pull over and calm down. That made Flash anxious and I wish I could have spared him that.
Walking through the grief
When you break a leg it hurts. You’re immediately swamped with pain. Pain is nature’s way of saying, “Hey, something’s really wrong.” I think the pain of grief is the same thing. It’s a sign that something’s really wrong. You’re experiencing not only the death of a person or a pet, you’re experiencing the death of the person you were with this being.
I loved my life, but my life is not the same now. I have to glue it together, wire it in places, use sticks and whatever I can find. It will never be the same as it was and that’s part of the grief I’m feeling. I’m a great proponent of change, but change on my terms, not something thrust on me by a malicious, malignant cancer. Too bad, Karen, these are the cards you were dealt. Now play this hand.
One of the first things I did when my mom died was buy a pack of cigarettes, and I’d quit three years earlier. (It took another 4 years for me to quit again.) When my husband died I was still drinking, so I drank to excess. When I lost my son I started in on pain pills. (Yep, I’ve pretty much done it all.) This time, with Flash, I didn’t have anything. At first I didn’t have any appetite, and then I really didn’t care what I ate, until I realized that self-medicating with food was the same as self-medicating with alcohol. It’s a temporary fix, because you’re left with more problems than when you started. So, this grief process with Flash is pretty much cold turkey, which may be why it seems to be so damn difficult.
From that same article referenced earlier:
In order to begin the healing process, we must sit with our emotions and allow ourselves to process. To experience the pain means that the connection we shared was real, was powerful, and that connection and memories shared is something that is never lost. (1)
Not having anyone to love
One of the wonderful things about having a pet is that we have someone to love freely and without reservation. We pamper and protect them. We talk to our pets. We confide in them. We are our best selves with them. When they’re no longer there, we’re robbed of not only their love for us, but our ability to give love. That loss of a being to love is a huge hole in your day and your heart. (Yes, I have my son, John, but I’m balancing being too needy with giving him his “space”.)
A time to mourn and a time to heal
After I lost my oldest son, I went to a grief support group. I found myself absolutely horrified when a woman who’d lost her son thirty years earlier discussed her grief. She cried intensely and when the other group members offered their support I told myself that I didn’t want that. I will forever miss my son. His loss is a hole in my heart as I’ve mentioned earlier, but dying of grief won’t make the situation better. Nor will it bring him back. It’s my obligation to live the best life I can, to give love, and to try to be the best person I can be. Clutching my grief to me is not the way to do that. I’ve also come to believe you can allow grief to be addictive – and that means grief about anything, even my dear Flash.
I know that I’ll miss Flash for the rest of my life. That’s just one of those things I have to accept. I’m still doing things like thinking, “Oh, no, hurry and pick that up before Flash gets it.” Or not eating cherry tomatoes in front of him because he was on a diet and he loved cherry tomatoes. Or going to the kitchen door first thing in the morning. Or being cautious opening the garage door – does Flash have his collar on? I will probably do those things for a while. After all, Flash was in my life 2555 days, so it’s going to take some time to change my behaviors.
I’m getting better at saying Flash’s name. I actually talked about him with my son today and I didn’t cry that often. However, writing this post has taken about half a box of tissue. Baby steps.
The tone deaf woman
Remember the tone deaf woman at the vet’s office? Well, about a week after Flash’s death his groomer called me. She asked why she hadn’t seen Flash in a while. Well, of course I burst into tears. I told her about everything and then I asked her if she knew the woman in question. She did. I relayed what had happened to me, including one little bit that I didn’t tell y’all about, and asked if she thought that behavior was as tacky as I thought it was. She did. She urged me to call the office manager of the hospital. I didn’t. However, a few days ago I got a card from the office manager stating that the groomer had a heart to heart talk with her and told her everything that had happened. She wanted to apologize – and did, in a lovely way – and assured me that training had been done in the front office and that nothing like that would ever happen again.
Flash’s last lessons
Some dogs come into your life and they’re special. I’ve always known that Flash was unique, which is why I called him Flash the Wonder Pooch. I’m so grateful for his presence in my life and will cherish the lessons he taught me:
Love someone every day.
Protect those you love.
Ask for a cuddle. Find someone to scratch your butt.
Kibble is good. Salad’s not bad, either, and cheese is the bomb.
My final point
The other night I was watching a hospital drama. The doctor was talking to a grieving father and he said, “Your daughter is dead. She’s at peace. Your job is done.” I realized that the dialogue fit my situation, too.
Flash is at peace. My job is done.