Hello from the other side.
I just got back from visiting my mom in Los Angeles, and she mentioned that I hadn’t written a post in a long time. So I guess she finally looked at my blog. I know that she and a few of my friends were avoiding my blog because they didn’t want to read sad stuff.
Well I was avoiding writing anything as well. Not because I didn’t want to talk about sad stuff, but every time I would start a post by the time I came back to it days later, my feelings had changed. But it’s the end of the year and a natural time to look back. Things have stabilized around here and I can give some sort of update. Enough time has passed that I’ve also gone through a number of “full circle” moments.
Most notably in August my friend Pravi traumatically lost her bulldog Stanley. It wasn’t even really her dog, she hated him at first, and they only lived together for a few months, but he wormed his way into her heart and she was devastated when he passed away suddenly in front of her. She called me right when it happened, and it was shattering to hear all the grief in her voice in real time. By chance Ryan and I were already set to visit her in Texas a few days later. Being there for her was an out of body experience, but we got through it somehow. Having to comfort her through her loss made me feel like I was “grieving in 360 degrees” if that makes any sense. So surreal. She’s doing better now and the incident has pushed her to give a new pup a good life.
Then in October I finished the last of the free grief counseling sessions offered by my job (this therapist doesn’t take insurance, otherwise I might have continued and worked on other parts of my life). My therapist and I both agreed that I’d achieved the progress and perspective that I was looking for when I started back in April. How often does that happen with therapy?? I guess I should be proud of myself.
Because we can never be a dog-less household again, we adopted a new little buddy, Rufus, about 2 weeks after we lost Bogie. It was too soon for me, but I’m me so I don’t think I ever would have been ready. In the past I would have judged someone for moving on so fast, but once I was in it, I started to understand. The grief is so intense that you really are in physical pain. I would have pushed harder for longer without a dog, but Ryan needed to do it to move on.
Rufus is adorable, but because of his questionable past (he was found being sold out of the back of a car at a gas station) he’s anxious and reactive. Learning to live with and manage a reactive dog has been another particularly isolating and stressful experience. We can’t have guests over, we can’t take him anywhere, and he’s terrified of walks. We have a back yard, but he has to walk in order to poop. But he won’t go on a walk unless it’s both me AND Ryan. So every walk each day is a frenzied tag-team of crossing the street whenever we see another dog, peeking around corners for scary humans, plying Rufus with boiled chicken, and ultimately rushing to get it all over with.
It’s been hard on Ryan going from the easiest most laid-back and human-loving dog in the world to a cute but fearful terrier terror. Right now life looks a lot different than we’d hoped, and despite all we’re doing for Rufus it always feels like we’re letting him down. But we’ve been doing intensive day training for the past 2 months, and while he is still scared of walks, Rufus is becoming a more confident and less reactive pup. We’re surprised every time his trainer sends his progress videos. So there’s hope. And you can’t say we’re not doing everything we can for this little guy.
Another full circle moment- we had our first emergency vet visit with Rufus. I hadn’t been back to the ER since the euthanasia, but I survived. I wish there was some way you could tell animal hospitals “Hey please don’t put me back in room #3 I don’t want to have flashbacks please” but they don’t have time for that.
I will end with some new things I’ve learned about grief this time around:
- Grief is so strange. There are so many triggers and you can’t predict them. For example, I was overly prepared and anxious about Bogie’s birthday in April, which coincidentally was also the one month anniversary of his passing. He would have been four. When the day came I muddled through it with a few sniffles. Instead what absolutely broke me was the weather. The weather!! Several days after his birthday we experienced a short streak of brilliantly warm and sunny spring days, and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Seeing it so beautiful outside made me incredibly sad. All I could think was that Bogie should have been there to enjoy it, prancing around the fallen blossoms and sniffing all the new and curious sniffs, dragging me around and stubbornly refusing to go back home. It just wasn’t fair. I found myself crushed that instead his last few weeks were just heartbreaking and shitty. I wished I could have seen him happy one more time, or at least just himself and not a zombie.
- One of the worst parts about fresh grief was how my mind processed time. My memory was a mess, and I couldn’t stop thinking in terms of T minus the time we euthanized him. My daily thoughts came with sick reference points like “Time for another haircut. The last time I got a haircut the dog was alive.” “I want to go to that bakery but the last time I went there was his last good day.” “I was wearing these jeans to the ER that day.” “It’s Thursday again, it’s the day.” I’ve experienced this kind of thinking before, and it is seriously the most persistent and annoying symptom of trauma. Thankfully it eventually went away on its own.
- The flipside of #2: At a certain point you will stop having such odd thoughts. You will start to feel better and then you’ll feel guilty for feeling better, and scared that you’re starting to forget them. That’s not possible. Also you should try to enjoy it, because pretty soon something else will trigger you and you will feel awful all over again.
- When you’re grieving, you start to see it everywhere. TV shows, books, movies, podcasts. Is grief having a moment or were these plotlines always there? Two of the best tv depictions I came across were the Succession death episode (in real time!) and the first season of And Just Like That (one of the few good things to come out of that dumpster fire of a show).
- From what I’ve gleaned from pet loss support groups, no one comes through pet loss without guilt. I have guilt for the things I did and didn’t do, but no matter what had happened I would have found something else to feel guilty about. This is because we control our pet’s entire lives. So when they die, it feels more like our responsibility. The most common example I’ve seen of guilt no matter what is around euthanasia. People either think “Did I do it too soon? Could he have gone on for another few weeks, months, maybe years with the right medication? Did I give up too soon?” but then there’s the flip side of “I waited too long and I hate that I let him suffer. I should have done it earlier but I just didn’t want to let go because I was selfish.”
- I want signs to be real. I want to believe. When my dad died the very next day I had a strong feeling of peace and comfort while I was riding my bike. Something about the air and energy of that spring day told me that things were going to be okay. It wasn’t like a spirit, but it was a feeling. Did I get a sign from Bogie? One time when I was taking a shower, the light hit the glass just so and a rainbow appeared on the shower wall. Bogie hated water and bath time, so TBH it probably wasn’t him, might have been some other ghost saying hi. But it was a beautiful moment!
- There is no quick fix, the only way to get through grief is to grieve. It helped to think of this when I felt like I was getting stuck in my emotions. I’m not stuck, I’m just going to have to cry 100 times in order to move on.
- This sounds so arrogant, but I thought that I was a “pro” at grieving. I’ve had a little loss in my life. I know how this goes. I had a grief plan, I was going to tackle it head on, and I got a therapist. But every loss is truly singular, and this sounds obvious when you think about it, but new losses naturally open up old wounds. While I was processing Bogie’s loss, I was also bombarded with all the painful memories of losses from the past (family members, friends…). So while experiencing loss wasn’t new, there was a lot more to experience, if that makes sense.
- Surprisingly, this shit rocked me to my core and really messed with all my relationships. I didn’t see that coming, and now I’m wary of when the NEXT bad thing happens (Seymour you can’t go!!!). Obviously I’ll survive, but I have seen how bad it can get, and how easily everything can fall apart.
- I didn’t mean to make this a ten point list, but I’m close so let’s round it out. Two ideas that I continue to think about since hearing them: “Grief is just love with nowhere to go.” and “Energy can’t be created or destroyed. Your loved one is still out there, just rearranged.” -> made famous by the “Eulogy from a physicist” but I like this speech from the series finale of The Good Place better.
From what I’ve learned this year, I am definitely feeling my own mortality. In my head now is this idea that as you live longer, the bad things will naturally pile up over time, and you have to learn to carry it all. This weight is an unavoidable consequence of living, I don’t know why it never occurred to me before.
2023 was mostly about surviving and getting through a tough year. I’d like 2024 to be about having fun and really thriving.