There is one thing humans across the universe have in common, yet bizarrely, in our western cultures, many of us find it difficult to talk about. That taboo subject is bereavement. Most of us are familiar with meeting someone who is in mourning. For so many reasons, it might feel impossible to broach the subject comfortably, if at all.
Grief will affect every one of us at some point in our lives. We are all destined to know that gut wrenching pain from losing someone or something very dear to us. The devastating sense of hopelessness, that raw ache in our chest from knowing a precious time in our lives has ended.
The definition of grief is an emotional response to loss, not necessarily death.
The day my little Oscar was ‘put to sleep’ is the most difficult day of my entire life. My heart was screaming ‘noooo, no, don’t do it’, but a swirling head was firmly pushing me forward, ‘Yes, YES, you must’.
I vaguely recall leaving the surgery without him. Friday peak time traffic through London was buzzing all around me, the noise and headlights somehow bounced off this grim sense of desolation.
Driving home in a trance like state, the most powerful emotion was fear. I was utterly terrified; still am to a lesser extent. Being fortunate not to have experienced bereavement in the past, I didn’t know what to expect.
There were other options for Oscar. This is the most difficult part to come to terms with. I just could not see any of those alternatives being viable for my little Oscar. Whether that was right or wrong, I need to live with that decision for the rest of my life. Ultimately, I believe it was right for so many different reasons but the bargaining, “what if’s” are a natural progression though anyone’s grief.
Unlike other relationships, the love from a pet is unconditional. Some might find it difficult to appreciate the bond of love and complete acceptance we share with our “fur-babies”. Society doesn’t recognise losing an animal to be a significant cause for bereavement. Consequently, the death of a beloved pet can be amongst some of the loneliest experiences we will ever have to face in our lifetime.
Sharing our lives with a pet has huge guardianship responsibilities. We are the sole provider of their mental and physical wellbeing. For many, it can be their only companion or contact with another living being. When that is removed, it’s hardly surprising we experience the full range of devastating grief.
In the past two weeks, I’ve read about the stages of bereavement. I swing in and out of the anger, guilt and ‘if only’s’ on a daily basis, sometimes hourly. The debates with such painful guilt feel eternal; was it mercy or the ultimate betrayal? I think that question might remain with me forever. At the core of these emotions, I realise that there is a foundation of acceptance.
For someone with Recurrent Depressive Disorder, a relapse of depression can be the trickiest part of grieving. I am trying hard not to succumb to Oscar’s death acting like a trigger. Of course, there is sadness and tears. I’m desperately keen on processing the full range of emotions, allowing the grief to unfold in its own time. I read somewhere that “healthy grieving is getting through, not over our loss”.
I’ve never been good at dealing with emotional pain and have gone to great lengths to avoid it, often to my own detriment. In the past, I might have numbed the pain with mind-altering substances, but this is all completely different territory. I’m terrified that the grieving process will further complicate my already precarious mental state. It seems that providing space to feel and work through those painful emotions is my only choice right now.
It feels a bit like fumbling around in the darkness. I believe that taking those little cautious steps forward through the pain is a huge achievement in comparison to my past life. I move forward in the knowledge of whatever causes the deepest sorrow has also been our greatest satisfaction and love.
“Life is a blend of laughter & tears, a combination of rain & sunshine”
Norman Vincent Peale