Allow me to share with you a few of my recent losses. In just the past six months, I have lost my longtime career, my beloved mother and my precious fur baby of nearly 17 years. It’s been a time of painful decisions, devastating change, prayerful reflection, strong faith, total acceptance, and continual growth. And it isn’t over. I’m sure this cycle of self-reflection will continue for months and years to come. But I do believe the worst of it is over and things are already getting better as I adjust to a new normal.
These are three very different losses. My job was a loss that I began to somewhat suspect well before it happened. And honestly, my new health coaching role is now able to be my full-time work instead of part-time. So, this loss was eased by focusing on the tremendous opportunity availed to me. My grief in this situation was more around the timing and the nature in which the news was delivered, rather than the loss itself. But all is well at this point. I know I have been enabled to do what I was put on the planet to do, and that is bringing wellness to you through educational and coaching sessions.
My mother’s earthly journey came to an end three months later. Hers was a lengthy, heartbreaking illness and we knew this was inevitable. But that doesn’t make the loss any easier as some may think. It’s very painful to see someone you love so much in progressive demise. Even when you read about the stages of death, there is confusion because it’s so different for every individual. It’s only in the aftermath that you can look back and see how the different stages played out. I could question things I said or didn’t say, do or didn’t do. But honestly, I know deep down inside my heart that we did everything we could to comfort and care for her. I did the best I knew at the time. And so did others. There is no benefit to blaming others or yourself if you think something wasn’t good enough. We all do the very best we can do at the time we do it. We can do no more. And you are on your own life path to learn the lessons you need to learn, as am I. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything unfolded precisely as it was meant to unfold. And that sits well in my soul.
Before she left us, I took the time to tell my beautiful mom all the things I loved about her. I shared my favorite memories of her and told her how extensive my love and gratitude for her are. I knew at one point she was between two worlds (human and spiritual), so I would encourage her to reach out to Jesus or her “Dearie” (my father who predeceased her) if she saw them. I wanted her to reassure her we would all be fine and she had nothing to worry about back here in the earthly realm. Nothing was left unsaid. I felt like this was the most important thing both for her to hear, and for me to say. I was blessed to have the time to say it. I encourage you to do the same. Say all that you need to say to those you love now!
Losing my furry best friend of 17 years was hard in a very different way. If you’ve ever had a beloved pet, you know the unconditional love and total reliance on you for food, water, shelter, cleaning, medicine, relief. Everything! And indoor cats, while independent, are very prone to the routine of their owner’s care. Since they don’t speak our language, we need to pay close attention to what they tell us in other ways. In an elderly cat, I saw numerous clues of demise, but also many aspects of his playful, youthful side. So, it’s hard to know when the right time to say good-bye is.
The decision to put them down carries with it a tremendous level of guilt, sadness, trepidation, and anxiety. We are ending their lives. Is it the right thing to do? Is it too soon? Is it too late? I can’t tell you how many times I thought it would be best for me to come home to him already gone. That would certainly be less of a burden on me. but that’s not what was to be. After knowing there were some biological and measurable signs that his body was not holding up well, ending his suffering seemed like the right move but I needed a spiritual sign as well. I asked for a sign and got it. Twice, in fact. This reassured me that I was making the right decision for my precious little guy. I immediately felt a knowing that he wasn’t enjoying this world but was ready to be free. As many have told me, at his ripe old age of nearly 20 cat years (almost 100 in human years!) he sure had a good run.
What have I learned about healing from grief? I understand that healing is many things. Mostly, it’s very individual. There really isn’t any right or wrong way to heal, as long as you are indeed healing. And honestly, I don’t even know if you ever heal fully. I mean, there are always physical scars when your skin is deeply cut, so I believe there will remain some emotional scars when you undergo deep grief as well. I would say that you have successfully healed from grief if you can look back on the event and see the good that came out of the experience, or feel the positive aspects of the lost relationship, or if you focus on the happiest times with the person or pet that is gone now, instead of feeling hurt and unbearable pain again and again, as if it just happened yesterday. If you have repeated feelings of guilt, pain or anxiety, you will want to keep working at your healing methods.
There is no absolute timeline on healing. Again, everyone is different. Some folks need more time than others to get to a place where they feel like they are recovered. There can, however, be extremes. And if you are suffering major heartache many months or years later, or if you are unable to live a full life now because of something that happened in your past, then the healing you have undergone may not be sufficient. Pay attention to your specific needs and reach out for help if you need it.
“The number of tears you shed does not reflect the amount of love you felt.” This was wisdom shared with me. So even when you love that person more than anyone else in the world, you don’t need to grieve for them extensively for the rest of time. Sometimes we feel we are not honoring their memory if we live a good life. There may be a sense of guilt by living a joyful life. But I would suggest you rethink that. Ask yourself what they would have wanted for you.
I find it comforting to believe that the loved ones we lost would want us to be happy, healthy, positive, joyous, fulfilled, successful and filled with love for others in our lives. I feel that the best way to honor their wish is to commit to myself that I will, indeed, become all of that and more. I believe our loved ones are in the heavens cheering us on to a victorious life!
It is important to understand that feelings of guilt, anxiety, pain, shame, anger, bitterness, etc. (any negative emotion basically) are detrimental to your health. As you undergo the grieving process, it will be important to fully feel every emotion that comes. And it’s even more important to release these feelings. This is critical to the healing process. You need to “go through the fire” to get to the other side. Yes, it will be hard. It will be painful. It will be unpleasant and messy. That’s okay. Life is messy sometimes. The human experience is very hard at times. Losing a loved one or experiencing a tragic event is one of those times life is allowed — even expected — to be messy. Let it be. Don’t judge yourself for feeling what you feel. Let it happen. Feel all the feels. Cry, vent, cry more, feel the pain. I felt pain literally in my chest. It felt like my heart was actually breaking open and weeping. At a point, I even felt like I was going to throw up, the anguish was so bad. And at that moment, it felt like nothing good was going to come out of this. It felt like I would never get past this pain. I was sure I would have this same heartache forever. But now I see that I did get past that deep level of pain. The heartache does subside eventually. It may never go away fully. But much like a scar on your skin, it won’t be red and swollen forever. In time, you will only notice it when you look for it.
We often hear people say, “Big boys don’t cry” or “Be a man”. These are intended to be helpful suggestions that we say because we see someone we love in pain. However, it sends the wrong message to the person in grief. It tells them that they should not cry. The message is to tough it out and get over it. It suggests that crying is a negative emotion that we don’t want to encourage. However, that may be more relief for us than the person crying. After all, it’s hard to see someone hurting. It makes us uncomfortable. But it is better to be a shoulder for them to cry on than to dissuade them from crying.
I can’t make this point clearly enough. It is dangerous to your health to stuff your feelings down. Not crying or not feeling real emotions because you want to stay strong for someone else, is a bad idea. It’s detrimental to your health. In fact, there are studies that say stuffing our feelings leads to mental and physical problems and a higher risk of heart disease and certain kinds of cancers. Read more about emotional repression and mortality here: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/timi-gustafson/bottling-up-negative-emotions_b_5056433.html and here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939772/
So here I sit, six months after the pain from one career ending, the loss of my loving mother and my sweet fur baby. I’ve felt all the feelings I could feel. I’ve let the grief show itself in all the ways it needed to. I prayed, talked to trusted friends and family, meditated, worked out, done restorative yoga, read scripture, taken very, very long showers (there is just something healing and symbolic about water washing away the pain), and visualized positive imagery of my mom and pet with angel wings, smiling, and looking down at me with love. These are things I’ve done. I encourage you to explore the things that bring comfort to you.
If or when you undergo a loss, please connect with someone who understands. Talk to people about your feelings. That may be a trusted friend or relative, a counselor, coach, clergyman, or even lean on a personal relationship with your Spiritual God or Universal Power. Everyone is different so you need to do what speaks to your heart.nd please know that everything that is put in your life, including the bad or hurtful things, is put there to teach you something. And to resist it will allow it to persist. So, don’t deny the pain. Feel it. Allow it. And you will get beyond it eventually in a healthy way.