I got the call at 8.05 p.m. I knew the time because I had just settling in to watch ‘Sewing Bee’. I don’t know what it is about that program… but I love it! Anyway I got the call that told me Blue had deteriorated. The appointment was fixed for 9 p.m. at the ‘animal euthanasia clinic’. Who knew these places existed?
Blue was our dog and had been with us since my son picked him out at 9 years old. Now at 24 years old tears rolled down his face the like I hadn’t seen since he was a small child. We were ushered into a room surrounded by boxes doggie biscuits. Blue was made comfortable on the floor. We all said our goodbyes in our own ridiculous way. The vet administered the overdose. I asked how long it would take. There I was thinking that he would slip away just like in the movies. No sooner had she inserted the needle into the prepared catheter… he was gone. He looked at us…for a second…then his eyes just glazed over. I stared at him. He twitched and moved as if he was sleeping and having one of his doggy dreams. Gone…gone where? Where do dead dogs go? I was asked to switch off the light to let the vet know we had said our ‘goodbyes’. We took his collar and left. What I want to talk about here is grief. I write this…feeling ridiculous about having so many tears for a mere dog when I know that there is so much suffering in the world. It is quite cathartic though. ….and hopefully it will help someone who is grieving or will go through it one day.
Grief is a natural response to loss. A child grieves for her hamster. A person grieves for their dog. A mother grieves for her son. The loss of someone or something hits us in different ways. It cannot be qualified or quantified. It just is. Anyone who has gone thorough bereavement counselling is familiar with Elizabeth Kubler Ross. This women devoted all of her professional life to understanding the process of grief.
The 5 stages of grief
Stage1. When we lose someone our system goes into shock, denial, or all three. When we suffer a loss it is such a blow that our system actually protect us by not allowing the enormity of the loss to get through in one go. People may even be accused of not caring or acting odd. They may function as normal, getting on with funeral arrangements going back to work. Intellectually the person may seem Ok but they are not. They are in a daze. Functioning through fog. It is as if they have stumbled into someone else’s nightmare and they can find the exit.
Stage 2. At some point… and there is no time factor on this. The person will get angry. I felt it when my mother died. I was angry with the doctors. I was angry with my mother for not taking care of herself more. I was angry at the world. Happy people made me sick. I was especially angry at God. This is not a pretty stage of grief but every necessary. The anger is the manifestation of the helplessness and powerlessness we feel. The cocktail of emotions is crazy and they come…fast and furious. There are feelings of abandonment together with a sense of relief that the person is out of pain. There is sadness, anger, loneliness, despair, bewilderment… on top of it all there may a need to put on a brave face and not make too much off a fuss… you name it.
Stage 3. The next stage is depression. After the roller coaster of stage 2. The person may feel depleted. It is very possible for depression to set in. It may be difficult to ‘get it together’. The person may experience difficulty sleeping, eating and connecting with others. Nothing has a rhyme or reason any more.
Stage 4. This stage is the bargaining stage. In this stage the person may start to have obsessive and crazy thoughts. They think that maybe they could have… should have done something to prevent the loss. My good friend committed suicide many years ago and for months after I obsessed about her death. I spend hours thinking about how I could have saved her. Why she hadn’t tell me she was suffering? I felt guilty for not being there for her. I analysed our last conversation in my head to see if there was anything I could have done.
Stage 5. When the person gets to this stage they start to accept their loss and they start to move on with their lives slowly.
I have studied and I have used Kubler Ross in grief counselling and I have used Kubler Ross in my own times of need. She took a hell of a lot of stick defending her model and she concluded when she was about to meet her maker that grief is bigger than 5 stages. Indeed it is! Yet I think the 5 stages is the only real theoretic model we have to explain the stages of grief otherwise there is not much else. It is a structural model, a crutch if you will, to let people/me/you know that …one day the horror will pass. For that alone the model is useful.
What I now know…
-Grief is grief. I think it is important for a person not to minimize their grief. Whether the loss it is a cat, a dog, or a person, a job or a relationship… people should be able to grief as much and for as long as they want. It is not for bystanders to comment. When a person grieves the brain doesn’t separate the grief into past and present….important or not important. Near or far. Human or animal. No! When the person opens the grief box….everything that is in there comes flooding out. I find myself thinking about my mother, my friends’ that I have lost, Prince, Mohammad Ali and my dog. I find that my tears are the tears of unfinished business and for anyone suffering loss.
-Everyone griefs differently. It has no sell by date. There is no cut of point. I will grief for my mother until I join her. I am not ashamed to say that I miss her every day. Grief never ends its just changes that’s all.
-Grief is the body’s way of healing and it is a necessary process. Holding on to grief or suppressing it does damage to the system.
-When we grieve it is for a reason. It is because we had love or something in our lives that we cherished. We need to be grateful for that. The grief is equal to the loss and the love. When you look at it at the heart of grief there is love and it is beautiful.
-Grief is not a linear process. The stages are zigzag. It is a 2 step forward 5 steps back. One day the person may feel better and then find it difficult to get out of bed the next. Grief comes in waves. Sometimes everything is calm and at other times the pain is overwhelming. No matter what people say time doesn’t heal it just creates distance. All time serves to do is allow people to get used to the loss.
– Sometimes we need to think about the other person and let go. Just maybe they wanted to go and we need to respect that and come to terms with the fact that wanting them to be around for ever is selfish.
-Grief is very personal thing and so people must grieve in their own personal way. The relationship we have with our nearest and dearest is unique and special. We need to do what we feel is right to honour our relationships.
When I looked into Blue’s eyes for the final time. In that moment when life and death crossed over. I hope he knew this: that he brought a lot of unity to our family. He brought fun and joy. He brought love.
…And in death Blue brought the biggest gift of all. He showed us all that death is nothing. When I saw his body finally relax. I knew he was at peace. I also realised that death is like coming home after a long time away. It is like sinking into your own bed with fresh clean sheets…closing your weary eyes and falling asleep.