Friday, April 16, 2010
Complex layers of grief
(This is our wonderful poodle, Monte, sporting a fun St. Patty's Day hat, which he was hoping we would quickly remove....)
This has been a very difficult week. So much emotion flowing from a variety of
First, my cousin's wife went in for surgery to deal with colon cancer. They did a total resection, and removed 30 lymph nodes, 8 of which contained cancerous cells. They said she will need at least 6 months of chemotherapy, and the prognosis is uncertain. Eileen is only 50, and they have 6 children, ranging from age 4 to age 18, all still living at home.
Then, my beautiful baby, pictured above, became ill. It was very sudden. On Monday, he was playing and running and barking and acting like a pup again. (He is 10.5). Tuesday, when I got home, he was lethargic, listless, and struggling to breathe. So, I took him to the vet on Wednesday morning, and the diagnosis was congestive heart failure. His heart is enlarged, and his heart murmer (which he has had since he was six months old) was getting worse, meaning that the valves were leaking fluid. They did x-rays and discovered a huge build-up around his heart. The vet prescribed three different medications, administered twice a day, to see if we can reduce the edema and help him feel better.
And I fell apart.
I basically spent 24 hours sobbing and cuddling my baby.
When the sobbing began to recede, and I could again think with more clarity, I began to examine why I was so upset.
And that led me to think about the aspects of grief.
You see, only part of me was grieving the loss of either my cousin's wife or my pet. The idea that their physical presence might be removed was troubling, to be sure, and I certainly would prefer that they stick around indefinitely.
But there was much more to the grief than that.
I thought about Eileen, the wonderful mother, who might miss out on her daughters' weddings or the birth of her grandchildren. I thought about the strong bond between Eileen and Mark, and how he would feel a tremendous void in his life if she were taken from him. I thought about the wonderful community work that Eileen does, and knew that she would be missed by a wide circle of individuals.
And then I thought about Monte. And I wanted more than anything for him not to be suffering, not to be in pain, or struggling for breath, but to be the young, carefree pup once more. I wanted to remove his discomfort, and to make his life joyous once more.
I watched our three cats, too, as they responded to the events of the week. Our new kitten, Scarlett, seemed to hover around Monte, close enough to watch him but not close enough to torment (which she normally does). And yesterday morning, as I sat with Monte on my lap in the rocker, Scarlett put on a tremendous show for him, playing with a feather and hiding beneath a blanket on the sofa, as if to entice him back to good health.
And I thought about the grief our cats will feel if Monte transitions to another plane.
Monte and I have been through a lot together in our ten and a half years. He was there, literally, when no one else was, during the darkest moments of my life. He is a special puppy, with intuitive abilities. He has been "Doctor Monte" to me and to others who were ill. He is my familiar, and my faithful companion. But he's getting tired. He's worked hard through this earthly life. I need to recognize and respect that.
There is no "formula" for grief or for "working through grief." That much I do know for certain. Each of us feels it in our own unique way, and each of us must find the path to come to terms with the events that have caused us to mourn.
But in grief there is also recognition of past joy. And it is the joy that we must grab, and hold close, even as we say goodbye to the physical forms of our loved ones, and help them with their transitions.
Monte seems to be doing a little bit better today. I don't think he will be finding his 'sparkle suit' quite yet, thank goodness. Eileen has a long road ahead of her, with a very uncertain outcome, so we can only pray and hope that her path is the one of least suffering.
But I know now that whatever happens, whatever the outcomes, both of them graced this world by their engagement in it, and both of them have left us richer for their presence.
Don't be afraid to grieve. Just remember that it's not all about YOU.