On Grieving and Healing

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One month ago today my dog, Rosie, passed away. It’s been the darkest, saddest month of my life. I’ve learned lessons about grief and mourning that I would have been perfectly content to never learn. But I’ve also learned a lot about healing.

A few days before Rosie died, when I was panicking that she would die, I Googled “how to get over dog dying.” Because her impending death felt like a scary wave that was about to crash on me and I thought that maybe somewhere out there was a life boat I could grasp onto before I drowned.

I didn’t find much help. I know now that you “get over” a dog dying the same way you work through any major loss—slowly and painfully and often haphazardly. But I’m learning about some things that are working. So, in case someone else is searching one day, and they come across my little corner of the internet, here’s what I’ve found—for wading through any kind of loss.

(1) Make Good Friends: I’m talking about Friends with a capital F. Those core people who know you. These were the people who crawled into my bed with me when I couldn’t get out of it. The ones who showed up on my doorstep with food and hugs. The ones who sat on my floor and cried with me. I will never forget the kindness of these people.

(2) Find a Grief Counselor: I got really lucky. My mom knew someone who knew someone and the afternoon after Rosie died, I went to her office. I’m a planner and she has repeatedly given me tasks and plans and ways to work through my grief. Possibly more importantly though, she’s created a safe space for it. I can put on a happy and hardworking face 23 hours a day, and then cry on her couch for the 24th. That’s important.

(3) Create a Box: This was a tip from my counselor. She said to find a beautiful box and to fill it with Rosie’s things. I put her harness and a few toys and some photos in there—things that hurt to see around the house, but I couldn’t imagine getting rid of. For now, I keep it on a shelf where I can see it every day.

(4) Do Things For Them: After Rosie died I realized how much taking care of her was part of who I was. Being Rosie’s Mom felt as intrinsic to my character as being Sarah. I have found some solace in continuing to do things for her. I designed and ordered her a personalized headstone. I’ve commissioned a small portrait of her. I’ve started to work on creating a photo memory book of her. This feeling will fade, but for now it feels good to continue to do things for Rosie.

(5) Share Stories: Some of the brightest moments of the last month have been laughing about funny Rosie stories with friends and family. People feel hesitant to bring her up around me—they don’t want to upset me. But a grieving person is always thinking about their loss. You’re not bringing up something that isn’t already on their mind. I’ve always loved to talk about her—her being gone doesn’t change that.

(6) Have Faith: I can’t imagine going through the loss of a loved one and not believing in heaven and a loving God. Not everyone shares this belief, but it has been a crucial part of my healing. I know that Rosie is in a place more wonderful than I can imagine and I know that our separation is only temporary.

(7) Take Care of Yourself: Do things that feel good. Warm baths. Sleeping in. Long walks. Comfort food. Massages. My counselor suggested thinking about these things along the lines of the five senses. Buy candles that are calming scents. Picture places that make you feel happy. Eat foods that taste good. Physical stuff really does translate to emotional stuff.

(8) Distract Yourself: I’ve read 12 books since January 1. Even Netflix isn’t immersive enough to pull my mind away from her, but a good novel will do it.

(9) You Do You: My only anger this month came when someone said to me “You need to move past this.” He now regrets his choice to say that because I didn’t hear it as advice to me—I heard it as an insult to Rosie’s memory. And I responded with all the defensiveness you’d expect. Don’t let anyone minimize your grief. Whether your loss is a person, a pet, a relationship, a dream—it’s your loss. You grieve in whatever way feels necessary to you.

(10) Take Your Time: There are no deadlines. Grief is messy and confusing. Working through it is more circular than linear. My pest control guy was at my house the other day and said, “Where’s the little barky dog?” I told him she’d passed away. He said, “I’m sorry. My son still sometimes cries about his little dog who died a year ago.” I’m sure I’ll still be sometimes crying about Rosie next year and the year after that. But I’ve given myself permission to do that. Give yourself permission to take as long as you need to be ok.

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