In a novel I read recently, one character spoke to another whose life was going to hell in a hand basket. She told her friend that she had spent her life trying desperately to keep things in control and had not allowed herself to grieve for people who were dear to her who had died. As I was reading, I was immediately in tears. And I realized that I had not allowed myself to grieve fully for people and things no longer in my life.
A few days later, one of my sisters had her dog – a giant teddy bear who loved everyone and who was always looking for the next cookie – euthanized. We all knew that it was coming and the moment of decision seemed to come so quickly. As I read her email about Leroy, I cried. And I know that the tears that fell then and which are falling now were not only for him but for every pet I’ve ever had and which had died.
All of this got me thinking about loss and grieving.
For anyone who has a pet, making the decision to have that pet put to sleep comes with the territory. As hard as it is, pet owners know that life and death are part of the total relationship. And so allowing ourselves time to grieve should also be part of it.
The first person in my family who died was my favourite aunt. Her death came suddenly of complications from a car accident. Even after the accident, she still seemed indestructible to me. And then she died. There was no time to talk to her and share memories and prepare for her death. She was in my life and then she was gone. Even now, over 35 years later, I miss her.
For six months, I watched my dying father become not the man I had known him to be. That was harder to bear than getting the phone call from the hospital telling us he had died. I had some time to prepare myself for his dying even as I could not talk to him about that or my memories – my difficulty as well as his.
My mother’s death was quick from the time of her diagnosis to her last breath – only about a month. I know that I had a lot of time to talk to her about being thankful that she was my mom and to let her [and myself] know that I would miss her and that I would be okay. I know that I gave myself more time to grieve her loss and I still miss her and our Helen and Lauritz hugs.
I’ve lost several students over my career. It was part of my job to help other students come to terms with the totally unexpected loss of a friend. Even as I was doing that, I wondered where the support that I needed was going to come from as I felt as deep a sense of loss as my students did. In the end, I found my own ways to deal with it.
Losing pets and significant people in our lives is part of living. To me, these losses are givens. How each of us handles the death of these members of our ohana is a very personal thing. Some of us cry out loud and may display our sorrow publicly. Some of us choose to be stoic and deal with our loss in private. We all must eventually deal with our grief and we all need to let go – let go of missing them and their voice and how we respond to their physical presence in our lives.
Yet, as I’ve thought about what my tears were about as I was reading that novel, I’ve realized that there were parts of my life which had ended and for which I had not grieved.
There have been friendships which have ceased to be – one minute these people were in my life and I was in theirs and the next the connection was gone. There was no preparation for this – just there and then not there.
My most surprising realization was that I had not given myself the time and space to grieve leaving the profession which was so much a part of my life and my sense of who I am. Even as I had a year to prepare for retirement, there was an emptiness inside when I was no longer connected to the energy of working with kids. And even as I know that the I AM that I AM would have been lost to me if I had stayed longer, I know that, if I had been able to stay in a way which served me and lit up my days, I would have chosen to do so.
In fine, what am I trying to say about letting go and grieving? Don’t be afraid of feeling a sense of loss and grief for people and things that are no longer part of your life – of the depth and intensity which can be part of it. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself the time and space you need to grieve for what has been a significant part of your life and which is no longer. Grieve in the way which you need to – talk or write or sit silently or cry. Accept that letting go and grieving is a process which takes its own time. You cannot rush it and, in the end, you cannot ignore it. And know that you will be changed by it and that you will go on.