Grief Revisited: Lessons Learned

I’m going to cut to the chase with the first thing I’ve learned. People are amazing and kind. I have cried endless tears over the death of Kai. I have cried almost as many over the generous, surprising compassion of others. There was the letter from Dakin with notification of gifts given in Kai’s memory (my clients never mentioned making a donation). There was the BEAUTIFUL painting a client commissioned of Kai that arrived one day in the mail. Oh my, I was on my way to a lesson in Leverett and was glancing through my mail. Saw the painting and started bawling. Arrived at my client’s house a red-faced, teary mess. She sweetly gave me some face wash and a moment and then we got down to business with clicker training her cats. The stories, the hugs, the love were startling in their authenticity and touching in their simplicity. I would never wish grief on anyone but it allows a rawness, a depth of human interaction that is so meaningful. The impressions and actions of my clients and friends will stay with me forever. Now, when I see postings on Facebook about loss, I reach out. I have learned that reaching out is a brave gift to give to others…even when I am feeling shy or like I might not have the right to say something so personal to another person…I reach out. If someone doesn’t want the comfort, they can ignore it. But, I imagine most times that effort is received like a soft hug.  I know that, for me, it literally kept me going.  People.Are.Amazing.

The next lesson I learned is to never think it’s finally over (as in, you’re over it). At first, the grief was like being buried underground. Each breath, each movement was as hard as swimming in a hard-packed pool of dirt. Each night I collapsed in bed, finally able to be free to sob myself to sleep immersed in a wave of inconsolable pain. After three months, I could finally say I made it through a day without crying. But, understand, grief is like a hiccup waiting to happen and each hiccup is a brutal episode of sobbing. There was a song that came on the radio (hiccup). There were Kai’s toys that were unearthed with the melting of snow as spring approached (hiccup hiccup).  There was the herding lesson where I saw a Kai-like dog move the sheep (’t hiccup now..oh no here it comes…hiccup).  At night I would cuddle with a dog when I was mostly asleep…oh, wait, that’s not Kai (hiccup). Grief is relentless and exhausting.

And then there’s the grief you don’t expect…the grief of losing the grief. After a time, I came to rely on grief as my constant companion. I prepared for it, I counted on it, and I leaned on it. So, when the day came when THAT song came on and there were no instant hiccups, I felt like I was betraying my beloved dog. I looked around. I squeezed my eyes and the betrayal was that there were no tears.  Kai died on a Monday night. So, the first Monday that came and went without me noticing crushed me. I was ashamed for forgetting, for living life and being insensitive to his death. Rational? No. Nonetheless, painful.

So, what comes after that? I still feel guilty for each moment that I don’t hiccup for Kai. I still have many hiccups for my boy and I embrace them bittersweetly. Grief is like the tides of the ocean. It waxes and wanes, alternates between overwhelming me and being barely present. It’s both beautiful and sad.

On one last, more positive, note – my dogs have been a huge support in this process. In their ever-presentness, they help me to focus on the here and now, to not harbor resentments. Losing Kai from the pack was like having a tooth pulled. At first there was a huge gap but, as time passes, the gap is smaller and smaller. They softly shifted behavior, pulling together and going back to functioning as a seamless group.

I’ve been humbled in this experience and can only wonder what the future holds. I am sure there are more phases to this grief. With a deep breath, I can say I am ok, I am ready, and I am open to whatever comes next.

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